Tag Archives: Kopitar

Weekly Bumblings for Week 8 with Special Guest Host, Cap’n Cornelius

While Peter is out enjoying a trip to see some hockey games in person, I’m filling in with a recap of the past week’s NHL action.

Player of the Week:  Blake Wheeler

Wheeler has been the definition of streaky, of late, but this week was the good side of the coin.  He broke a four-game pointless drought last Monday against Minnesota, getting one goal and two assists.

After being held without a point against Colorado, he put in another three-point performance (all assists) against Vegas.

But he would save his best for Sunday against the Ottawa Senators.  In a game that saw the Jets beat the Senators 5-0, Wheeler had a point on all but one of the goals, putting up one goal and three assists.  He had a beautiful cross ice pass to set up Mark Scheifele on the first goal of the night and the Jets never looked back tallying three of their goals on the power play.

Wheeler has passed Steven Stamkos to take the league lead in assists with 28 and has helped power the Jets to the top of the Western Conference, something few expected as the season began.

 Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings

Just when it looked like the Kings might be fading after a hot start, they went 4-0 this week and moved six points ahead of the second-place Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division, exactly as the media expected before the season began, right?  The Kings won the first three of those games by three goals each.

After one period of play in their Tuesday game in Detroit, the Kings found themselves down 1-0, but Dustin Brown, who has had a heck of a comeback season, evened it up at 1 and Anze Kopitar then put them ahead 2-1 before the second period was over.  LA would add two more in the third on goals from Adrian Kempe and Kopitar’s second of the night.

Next up for the Kings was another road game against the Caps.  Again, the Kings gave up an early lead on a goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Marian Gaborik would even it up, only for Kuznetsov to get a second goal.  Jonny Brodzinski would tie it again and nine seconds later Jussi Jokinen would put the Kings ahead.  After that, it was all Kings.

The Kings continued their road trip Friday with a visit to play the St. Louis Blues, one of the best teams in the league to this point in the season.  This time the Kings got the early lead on a Tyler Toffoli tally. Kopitar would then bang home a rebound to make it 2-0.  Before it was over, Kempe and Toffoli would add goals and the Kings would win 4-1 despite being outshot 40-28 on a stellar performance by backup goaltender, Darcy Kuemper.

The Kings finished their week and their road trip in Chicago on Sunday.  Through two periods the game was scoreless.  Christian Folin finally put the Kings up with just over 10 minutes left in the game.  Then things got a little weird with just over two minutes left in the game.  First, Brown would get an empty net goal.  Then the Hawks would answer on a goal from Jonathan Toews with 1:46 left to end Quick’s shutout bid.  But Kopitar would put the final nail in the coffin with 51.5 seconds left in the game with a final empty net goal.

As long as the Kings continue to get these types of performances from Brown, Kopitar and solid goaltending, they will have a very good chance to lock down the Pacific Division.

Game of the Week: Edmonton Oilers 7 @ Calgary Flames 5, Saturday, December 2, 2017

One of the first NHL games I can remember watching on TV was Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers against Lanny McDonald’s Flames.  This game was a throwback to that era when goalies for some reason spent much of their time standing up and, consequently, watching pucks go past them.  This is the type of game you hope to see with all of the offensive talent on these two teams and the reason you stay up to watch the late game on Hockey Night in Canada if you live in the Eastern Time Zone.

Connor McDavid skated around the Flames zone early and his persistence led to Jesse Puljujarvi cashing in on the rebound. The Oilers then had what looked like their second goal of the night from Patrick Maroon taken off the board as the goal was kicked.  Eric Gryba then set up Puljujarvi for his second of the night on a redirection of Gryba’s point shot.

Mikael Backlund then forced a turnover on the penalty kill that set up Michael Frolik for a short-handed goal to pull the Flames within one goal.  But the Oilers scored again before the first period ended to go up 3-1.  In the second period, Mark Letestu scored on a short-handed breakaway to expand Edmonton’s lead.  Gryba made another shot from the point which was tipped in, this time by Milan Lucic, to go up 5-1.

As the third period started, Mike Smith was replaced in net by David Rittich.  Unfortunately for the Flames, Rittich bungled a handoff behind the net and the Oilers capitalized to go up 6-1.  One might assume this is where the Flames might call it a night.  But Sam Bennett made a tough angle shot to get the score to 6-2.  Next, Micheal Ferland notched a power play goal to bring the Flames within three goals.  Bennett added a second goal on a 2-on-1 where he took the puck top shelf.  Suddenly the score was 6-4 with a lot of time left in the game.  Johnny Gaudreau then made another tough angled shot off a stretch pass, taking advantage of young Oilers netminder, Laurent Brossoit.  The impossible seemed possible with the score 6-5.  But Brossoit would make a key save on Gaudreau on a two-on-one to prevent the tying goal.

With 1:01 left, the Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tried to center a pass, but it bounced into the net off T.J. Brodie’s stick to salt away the win for Edmonton by a final of 7-5.  While the Flames couldn’t quite finish their comeback, it was the sort of game that reminded you why the Battle of Alberta was once such a big deal.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Trade Rumors seem to be starting earlier than normal and we have already seen one blockbuster and several smaller trades.

This past week saw Anaheim and New Jersey make a significant hockey trade if not a true blockbuster.  The Ducks sent right-handed defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional pick to the Devils in exchange for Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a third round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.  The move was a much-needed improvement on the back end for the Devils, who are one of the surprises of the early season.  As for the Ducks, with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler still out, Henrique can help at center and, when they return, he can provide forward depth.

Who is next?

Well, the name that seemed to be coming up repeatedly during the past week was Pittsburgh’s Ian Cole.  The left-handed defenseman was a healthy scratch and several sources had stated that his relationship with Mike Sullivan had been rocky, leading the Pens to consider a trade.  However, their asking price may be higher than what a willing buyer will give them for Cole—Pittsburgh is still seeking an improvement at center for their third line after Riley Sheahan has failed to impress.  Toronto is a destination that has been mentioned with Tyler Bozak falling out of favor and the Leafs wanting to upgrade their defense, but to this point nothing seems imminent.

The Edmonton Oilers have also been frequently mentioned in trade rumors.  While Ryan Nugent-Hopkins name has probably been mentioned the most, more recently the Oilers have been mentioned in connection with smaller trades that might see them shipping out the likes of Pat Maroon.  It is hard to see how Maroon would produce the sort of return that might get the Oilers back into contention in the Western Conference.

Another name that has been brought up repeatedly is Evander Kane.  Buffalo is one of the few teams clearly out of the hunt at this early date, but it seems most likely they will wait until the deadline to move Kane when they might extract the highest possible return for the wing, who will be a free agent this summer.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 5

Player of the Week: Nikita Kucherov

Tampa is kind of making these choices too easy every week.

The hottest team in the league continued to roll, and the hottest line in the league followed suit. Linemates Vladislav Namestnikov (4 goals, 1 assist) and Steven Stamkos (1 goal, 5 assists) were certainly no slouches, but Kucherov’s 2 goals and 7 points in 3 games were easily the most impressive output of the week, especially considering both goals and 6 of those points were in the first 2 games of the week.

Kucherov is even being talked about as having a shot at 50 goals in 50 games. While it’s certainly still quite a ways away, it will definitely be interesting to see if he can reach the fabled mark.

Team of the Week: Toronto Maple Leafs

Fans of Steve Dangle’s LFR series will know that this was a week chock full of victory puppies.

After a very shaky stretch that saw the Leafs nearly fall all the way back to a .500 record after a scorching start, things looked increasingly bleak as they learned they’d be without superstar Auston Matthews heading into this week’s 4-game schedule. But the loss of #34 seemed to light a spark under his teammates’ collective tails.

Toronto opened the week hosting the Golden Knights and whoever they could find willing to throw on some goalie pads (we love ya, Max) and the two squads treated us to an extremely fun night that ended in a 4-3 Leafs victory on the strength of a silky shootout goal from Mitch Marner. They would follow that effort up with a 4-2 victory over Minnesota, heading into a back-to-back home-and-home with arch rival Boston.

Now, the Bruins are more Providence than Boston right now as they deal with a slew of injuries, particularly in the forward group, but credit them for putting up one heck of a fight at the ACC on Friday night as they came just 60 seconds from victory before James van Hockey (who notably had 4 points in the 2 games against the Bruins) tied the game and sent it to overtime. In overtime, Patrick Marleau touched the ice, so the team he played for won the game. (If you’re not familiar with Marleau’s ridiculous GWG stats, go have a look. Legitimately about 1/5th of his career goals have won a game.)

Saturday night the Leafs would wrap up a Matthews-less week 4-0 after a 4-1 victory over the Bruins in Boston, with backup goalie Curtis McElhinney shining in net. The Leafs now get 4 days of rest, riding a boatload of momentum, and likely will see the return of Matthews the next time they hit the ice. Maybe hope your team doesn’t play them anytime soon.

Game of the Week: Los Angeles Kings 4 @ Anaheim Ducks 3 (OT), Tuesday November 7th

The NHL likes to think of Wednesday as rivalry night, but boy were they a day late this week.

What was easily the most entertaining game of the year to this point (in this humble writer’s opinion) saw some fantastic stat lines. 7 goals, 79 shots, 54 hits, 51 penalty minutes, and 12 power plays should tell you what sort of game you missed if you didn’t happen to catch this barn-burner.

To put the insanity of this game into simple terms, Jared Boll opened the scoring. Yeah, that Jared Boll! Isn’t that spectacular?! Like, okay, Brandon Montour did 99% of the work and just had his wrap-around attempt bounce onto Boll’s stick so he could hack it into an open net, but who really cares? Somebody get that man a cookie.

Sami Vatanen would send the Ducks up 2-0 later in the 1st just as their power play opportunity expired, and for most of the 1st period the Ducks looked like they had the game by the throat. If not for some simply spectacular goaltending (see also: strategical flailing) by Jonathan Quick, this game could have gotten out of hand early. But after watching their goaltender perform miracles for most of the opening frame, the Kings decided maybe they should help him or something, so Anze Kopitar figured he’d go ahead and score a goal with just over 3 minutes remaining to send the teams to the locker rooms with Anaheim leading 2-1.

The second period saw less offense and more punches in the face. Jonathan Quick attempted to help Derek Forbort ruin Corey Perry‘s day, but the referees felt that someone with a full cage getting into fisticuffs with someone who isn’t wearing a full cage isn’t decidedly fair, so Andy Andreoff (great name, btw) had to go to the penalty box and feel Quick’s shame for him. Jared Boll would later fight Andreoff, I would assume feeling that Andy should earn his own time in the penalty box and not just bum it off of others. Oh, also Rickard Rakell and Adrian Kempe scored goals, so that was kinda neat.

The Kings absolutely mugged the Ducks in the 3rd, racking up 17 shots on John Gibson to just 6 mustered against them, but only Dustin Brown managed to get one past the Anaheim netminder, so off to bonus hockey we would go, knotted at 3. It would take nearly 4 minutes of 4-on-4 madness to decide the game, but finally Nick Shore would complete the Kings’ comeback and end a terrific night of hockey and shenanigans.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Jarome Iginla is still unsigned (podcast listeners will appreciate that), but he says he’s not ready to retire. I think he should play on a line with Jagr in Calgary, and we can nickname the line the Geri-hat-tricks or something like that.

Roberto Luongo picked up career win number 455 this week, passing Curtis Joseph for 4th all-time in that category. I’m pretty sure nobody above him is better at self-deprecating Twitter humor, though, so really he’s probably the greatest of all time.

Brian Boyle scored his first goal since returning to the Devils lineup, and his celebration was pretty much the most sincere display of happiness that doesn’t include a dog that you’ll ever see.

The Hockey Hall of Fame inductee class of Danielle Goyette, Clare Drake, Jeremy Jacobs, Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi, Teemu Selanne, and Paul Kariya was one for the ages, and if you need a solid laugh, check out the back-and-forth between longtime friends Selanne and Kariya, some of the finest chirping you will ever find.

November 12 – Day 40 – Battle of California

It’s amazing to think this is already the 40th day of NHL action. It feels like the Toronto-Winnipeg game to start the season was just a week or two ago.

While I figure out where the days have gone, take a look at today’s four-game schedule. The action begins – as it does most nights – at 7 p.m. as two contests (New Jersey at Chicago and Edmonton at Washington [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) drop the puck, followed by Tampa Bay at Anaheim an hour later. Finally, San Jose at Los Angeles finds its start at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

There’s few things that get me as excited as a good rivalry game, and that’s especially true when it’s the only game featuring two teams in the top-half of the league, so it looks like we’re headed for the Staples Center for the second time in  four days.

 

 

 

 

 

In the same strain as the rivalries between the 49ers and Rams, the Chargers and Raiders, the Dodgers and Giants and the Earthquakes and Galaxy, the animosity between these clubs began by simply being linked geographically – but it has blossomed into something even fiercer over time.

One of the best fertilizers in growing a rivalry is playoff series, and these teams have met up four times in the past seven postseasons. Even though San Jose has gone 14-11 in the playoffs against the Kings, they have each won two series apiece against one another.

Go figure.

The most recent of those playoff meetings was in the First Round of the 2016 Western Conference Playoffs, and the Sharks showed absolutely no mercy. On the back of an eight-point performance by D Brent Burns and five goals from F Joe Pavelski, San Jose cruised to a 4-1 series victory en route to its first-ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Of course, that success against the Kings shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise considering how the regular season series played out: the Sharks won three of their five meetings against Los Angeles that season to snap a three-year streak of the Kings winning the season series, and has since built on that success by also winning last season’s Battle of California.

Unfortunately for San Jose, its quest for a three-peat in the series did not start as planned, as C Anze Kopitar‘s 2-1-3 night led the Kings to a 4-1 victory over the Sharks at the SAP Center on October 7.

If the 9-6-0 Sharks want to get back on track and earn their first win of the season against the Kings, they’ll need to get back to playing the elite defense that they’ve been known for this year. San Jose is home to the best goals against-per-game in the NHL, allowing only 2.33 tallies.

7-4-0 G Martin Jones certainly deserves some credit, as his .922 save percentage and 2.24 GAA is certainly nothing to scoff at and has easily earned him recognition as a top-10 goaltender so far. Then again, it’s not too hard to be a good netminder behind a defense that allows only 28.9 shots against-per-game, the second-best in the NHL. Whether it’s the nasty, physical effort of D Brenden Dillon – who averages 3.2 hits-per-game – or D Justin Braun and his 2.3 blocks-per-game, San Jose has held 10 of its 15 opponents to two goals or less.

Of note for the Sharks is their 5-0 victory last night against the Canucks. In addition to proving my point about their defense, it’s also important to acknowledge that 2-2-0 G Aaron Dell was in net, meaning that Jones will be rested and ready for the Kings.

If any team is going to be afraid of the Sharks’ defense, it’s definitely not the 11-3-2 Kings, because they also have an elite weapon in their defensive zone that has led them to a (t)second-best 2.44 goals against-per-game.

That weapon’s name is G Jonathan Quick, who has managed an incredible .932 save percentage and 2.29 GAA en route to a 9-3-1 record. Only G Corey Crawford has a superior save percentage than Quick, and it doesn’t look like American is slowing down anytime soon. Considering the Sharks manage only 2.73 goals-per-game, scoring is going to be at a premium anytime Quick is involved.

The Sharks played yesterday, but the fact that they saved Jones for this game speaks loudly about how seriously they take this matchup. This should be an excellent defensive contest that ends in two points for the home team and its seventh-ranked offense.


Though they needed a shootout, the Nashville Predators have finally exacted revenge against the Pittsburgh Penguins for defeating them in the Stanley Cup Finals by beating them 5-4 at Bridgestone Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day

One of the major events of the first period was W Conor Sheary getting caught holding D Matt Irwin‘s stick to earn two minutes in the penalty box, but it was not the Predators that took advantage of the odd-man advantage. Instead, W Bryan Rust (D Kris Letang) scored a shorthanded wrist shot with 8:02 remaining before the first intermission for the lone goal of the frame.

Almost all of Nashville’s offense was struck in the second period, as it scored three of its four regulation goals in the span of 3:28. The first belonged to First Star of the Game C Kyle Turris (W Miikka Salomaki), who buried a snap shot 2:01 into the frame to level the game at one-all. D P.K. Subban (Third Star F Filip Forsberg and W Viktor Arvidsson) followed that up 1:51 later with a power play slap shot, and Second Star F Craig Smith (Forsberg and F Ryan Johansen) potted a power play goal of his own at the 5:29 mark to give the Preds a 3-1 advantage.

The period didn’t entirely favor the Preds though. RW Phil Kessel (F Evgeni Malkin and Letang) pulled the Penguins back within a goal with 7:33 remaining in the second frame with a solid wrister.

Thanks to F Jake Guentzel‘s (D Justin Schultz) backhanded shot 2:27 into the third period, Pittsburgh tied the game at 3-3, but that score didn’t last long. Only 2:19 after Guentzel’s goal hit the scoreboard, C Calle Jarnkrok (Turris and Smith) returned a 4-3 lead to the Predators. The final goal of regulation belonged to D Brian Dumoulin (Sheary and Kessel), a snapper struck 7:43 into the third frame to once again tie the game.

Since neither side could find a tie-breaking goal in three-on-three overtime (even though Nashville had a 21 second power play due to Malkin tripping D Roman Josi), this tilt required the shootout to declare a winner.

  • Head Coach Peter Laviolette decided to give Turris, the Predators’ first goal scorer of the night, the opportunity to open the shootout. Turris proceeded to rip a shot over the crossbar.
  • Fresh off a seat in the penalty box, Malkin was Head Coach Mike Sullivan‘s first choice for Pittsburgh. The Russian performed slightly better than Turris since his wrister was at least on frame, but G Pekka Rinne was there to make the save.
  • Thank goodness for W Kevin Fiala, the Predators’ second shooter. He opened up the tiebreaker scoring by beating G Tristan Jarry with some slick stick handling.
  • Never one to be shown up (even though he didn’t register much more than five shots on goal in 22:39 of play), C Sidney Crosby matched Fiala’s goal with one of his own to level the shootout.
  • Nashville’s third – and ultimately final – shooter proved to be Forsberg. The forward made perfect use of his second shootout opportunity of the season to score his second shootout goal.
  • Forsberg’s tally set up a miss-and-lose situation for the Pens, so they sent out the obvious choice in this situation: Letang, who completely missed the net with his shot. It seems Kessel was ordering a hot dog at the time… or something.

Rinne earned the victory after saving 26-of-30 shots on goal (.867 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Jarry, who saved 24-of-28 (.857) and is still in search of his first NHL win after three starts.

With the Preds’ home victory, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a 20-15-5 record that is two points better than the visitors.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 3

Player of the Week: Jakub Voracek

Stealthy good. Not only an apt description of the big Flyers winger’s week (and season), but really of his entire career. Voracek has been one of the best ‘under-the-radar’ players in the league for some time, and this week he was really flying (pun somewhat intended). On a team that finished the week 1-2-0, Voracek was a major bright spot, tallying 2 points in every game. The Kladno, CZE native notched an assist on both Flyers goals in a 6-2 thumping against Anaheim, then tallied 1 & 1 in each of their next two contests (a 5-4 loss to Ottawa and 4-2 victory over Toronto). Oddly, not a single one of his 6 points in those 3 games came on the power play, an area where Voracek usually excels.

Side note: Though Voracek is currently 3rd in points in the entire league (trailing only Tampa’s dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov), those goals in back to back games were just his 1st and 2nd tallies of the year. He’s 2nd in the league in assists with 14.

Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings

One of the league’s resident surprises, LA has surged to the top of the standings with a 9-1-1 record, and though they suffered their first regulation loss this week, it wasn’t enough to prevent them earning this recognition.

With 8 players having recorded at least 5 points so far in the young season, and a goaltending duo both boasting sub-2.00 GAAs and >.930 save percentages, the resurgent Kings are getting contributions from seemingly everyone. Dustin Brown has burst back to life after multiple subpar seasons, seemingly flourishing in the system of new coach John Stevens. Anze Kopitar continues to make an argument for being possibly the most undervalued center in the league, and youngster Adrian Kempe has been sublime.

Only a 3-2 loss to Toronto managed to blemish an otherwise-flawless week, as the Kings toppled Ottawa 3-2, Montreal 4-0, and Boston 2-1. A long summer and a fresh face behind the bench may have been just what the doctor ordered for the battle-weary club, and other clubs may need to start worrying about how to deal with a Cup-hungry LA franchise once again.

Game of the Week: Dallas Stars 4 @ Edmonton Oilers 5, Thursday October 26th

I admittedly have an affinity to games decided in extra frames when it comes to this award, but the Stars and Oilers simply put on a barn-burner too good to ignore.

One of those matchups that just looks like it’s going to be fun on paper (two high-octane offenses backed up by less-than-stellar defenses), this tilt certainly delivered. 9 goals (3 on the power play), 67 shots, 56 hits, and even a fight (okay, more of a facial reconstruction on Antoine Roussel by Eric Gryba), this one had plenty of everything.

The opening period started with a bit of a goaltending duel, with Ben Bishop and Cam Talbot both making a handful of quality stops in the opening half of the frame. But as a penalty to Ryan Strome was expiring just past the 11 minute mark, Leon Draisaitl collected a loose puck and fought through a check along the boards to push the puck ahead to the newly-freed Strome, who flicked a no-look backhand from the boards into the middle of the ice, feeding a streaking Connor McDavid in full stride, who proceeded to shelf the puck over the blocker side of Bishop to give the hometown Oilers the 1-0 lead. A see-saw contest would develop from there, as just over 1 minute later opposing captain Jamie Benn would bury a sweet feed from Alex Radulov to knot things up. Patrick Maroon would see a centering attempt turn into a goal after bouncing off the skate of Dallas defender Marc Methot and into the net with just 25 seconds to play in the opening frame, sending the Oil to the locker room with a 2-1 lead.

Radulov and Benn would both tally power-play goals in the 2nd, with a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins goal splitting the two and sending the game into the 3rd period tied at 3. To break the streak of trading goals, Esa Lindell would bury Dallas’ 3rd PP tally after receiving a sweet cross-ice slap-pass from Jason Spezza just over halfway through the 3rd, giving the Stars their first lead of the night. Unfortunately for the Dallas faithful it would last just shy of 2 minutes, as RNH would net his second of the night to draw even at 4. Then with less than 3 to play, defenseman Matt Benning would give Draisaitl his 3rd assist of the night by burying a one-timer from the point (with a bit of help from the skate of Alexander Radulov) and giving the Oilers the final lead of the game.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Seriously, Golden Knights, about this Twitter campaign to be the next winning goaltender for your franchise? Oscar Dansk is 3-0-0 after being handed the starting job when both Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban went down with injuries, and boasts a ridiculous 1.34 GAA and .959 save percentage, along with a shutout.

I’m starting to actually believe anyone wearing goalie equipment could win the Vezina with this team.

 

Speaking of roster vacancies in Vegas, Vadim Shipachyov earned himself a suspension by going all ‘Russian’ on the franchise after being sent down to the AHL. He has supposedly gone AWOL from the Chicago Wolves, and his future with the Golden Knights (and potentially the NHL altogether) is looking pretty well decided.

Alex Ovechkin made headlines off the ice, as the Capitals superstar went out of his way to buy a sweater, coat, and hat for a shirtless homeless man he spotted while walking in Edmonton. Ovie downplayed his actions and attempted to avoid questions about it in interviews, stating that “It was nothing,” following up with “I think if you saw a guy almost naked out there with a cold temperature, I think every human can do something, a coat, a shirt, or whatever.” Autograph hounds throughout the league were seen disrobing and untidying their hair soon after word of Ovie’s actions reached the airwaves*.

*- I assume

Kevin Bieksa successfully utilized a ‘Superman Punch’ in a fight for the 2nd time in his career, with both instances occurring against the Philadelphia Flyers. Radko Gudas was on the receiving end of this most recent entry, while years ago it was Mike Richards. This does beg the question of why you would choose to fight Kevin Bieksa.

The Habs and Rangers had a contest to see who was the least worst, and in fitting fashion, it was an ugly thing. 9 total goals on Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, the former getting the…better?…of the latter, with both teams looking sloppy and discombobulated. I suppose either team can take solace in knowing they are better than Arizona, but I don’t know exactly how much solace can actually be taken from that knowledge.

Can Arizona go an entire season without a victory? I think we should all get behind them in their efforts to set the least enviable record in hockey history. 10 down, 72 to go.

October 23 – Day 20 – There will be goals

Another Monday, another start to the work week. It’s the same for hockey players, which is good for us; there’s nothing better than sitting back and taking in a game after a day’s work.

For those planning on doing just that this evening, you’ll have to games to choose from – both dropping the puck at 7 p.m. Eastern time. It’s two West vs. East matchups, as Los Angeles makes its annual trip to Toronto (TVAS) and San Jose takes on the New York Rangers (NHLN/SN).

With the Rangers and Sharks both off to slow starts this season, we have to turn our attention to the Air Canada Centre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When two of the current top-five teams in the league square off, it’s must-watch TV.

If it’s possible to be hotter than a 6-0-1 record indicates, the Kings have discovered how as they’re riding a four-game winning streak coming into tonight’s game.

Los Angeles has a long history of being a defensively-minded club, and this year is no different. Allowing an average of only two goals against-per-game, LA might as well be playing with the Great Wall of China in front of its net.

That wall has a name though, and it’s G Jonathan Quick. Having already earned a 5-0-1 record, Quick has returned to the elite status every fan at the Staples Center was hoping for following his lower body injury, as he’s rocking an impressive .938 save percentage and 1.99 GAA, numbers that pale only in comparison to Chicago’s G Corey Crawford (.945, 1.86).

To continue my analogy (because why not?), the wall alone was not expected to be the nation’s lone defender. Similarly, the Kings don’t rely only on Quick, as their defense is also 13th-best in the NHL in the shots-against category, allowing only an average of 31.4 per game. Two defensemen that deserve a lot of the credit are Derek Forbort and Alec Martinez, as both have blocked 16 shots this season, and C Anze Kopitar leads the team with eight takeaways. Martinez’ effort has been particularly exemplary, as he’s amassed his shot blocks in only four games played.

I need to admit something to you: I may have lied when I said this season has been no different in regards to the Kings’ defensive gusto. That part is true, but Los Angeles has also been one of the best offenses in the game, averaging 3.86 goals-per-game to rank third-best in the NHL.

The top line – especially W Dustin Brown and Kopitar – has been nearly unstoppable in the Kings’ first seven games played. Brown and Kopitar have posted almost identical numbers en route to their 11-point efforts, as the captain has managed 6-5-11 totals while Brown has produced a 5-6-11 contribution.

If the Maple Leafs want to win this game, their defense had better make a point of shutting those two down and instead take their chances with the bottom-nine.

Playing decent defense shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Toronto, which allows a 14th-fewest 32 shots against-per-game. Blocking 3.4 shots-per-game, D Nikita Zaitsev has been a mastermind at keeping pucks off G Frederik Andersen (he averages 3.4 blocks-per-game to lead the team), which has proven necessary given Andersen’s inconsistent play.

5-2-0 Andersen has started all but one game for Toronto this season, and for good reason – he’s definitely better than G Curtis McElhinney. Then again, that’s not exactly all that hard to do, as McElhinney allowed three goals Wednesday to a Detroit team that looks to be trending in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, Andersen has managed only an .892 save percentage and 3.41 GAA, marking him the second-worst goaltender in the league with at least five starts to his credit.

Maybe that explains Toronto’s (t)eighth-worst 3.5 goals against-per-game, huh?

As you might guess with Toronto’s goaltending situation, there’s a lot of pressure on the offense to keep the Leafs competitive. Fortunately for them, they drafted that C Auston Matthews guy last year, who’s absolutely perfect for the job. Just like we all expected, the sophomore from Arizona has been among the best scorers in the league to start the season, as he’s already registered 7-5-12 totals in eight games.

But what might be Matthews’ most important statistic coming into tonight’s game is his shooting percentage. He’s a managed a goal on 31.8 percent of his shots, which is best on the team among those that have fired the puck more than 10 times.

Remember Quick’s godlike .938 save percentage? Goals will not be easily earned, meaning a pure shot like Matthews’ will be necessary to earn victory.

Now’s the time to make a pick, which is very tough given the Maple Leafs’ solid 3-1-0 record at home. That being said, I have full faith in Quick and his offense to invade the Air Canada Centre and earn two points for the Kings.


With a dominant three-goal second period, the Vancouver Canucks beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 at Little Caesars Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

This contest remained scoreless until First Star of the Game LW Sven Baertschi (Third Star C Bo Horvat and RW Brock Boeser) buried a backhanded shot with 5:26 remaining remaining in the first period to give Vancouver a 1-0 lead. The Canucks almost took that advantage into the first intermission if not for a snap shot by W Anthony Mantha (F Gustav Nyquist and D Mike Green), buried with 92 seconds remaining in the frame.

Since Mantha’s marker was the only goal Detroit could muster, W Derek Dorsett‘s (Horvat and D Derrick Pouliot) wrist shot 8:30 into the second period proved to be the Canucks’ game-winning goal.

The play that led to this goal looks to be something Head Coach Travis Green has been running in practice, as the Canucks ran it to perfection. From his own defensive zone, Pouliot banked a blue line-to-blue line pass off the far boards to Horvat to set up Vancouver’s attack. As that was happening, Dorsett started streaking up the ice towards G Jimmy Howard‘s glove side. Almost immediately upon receiving Pouliot’s pass, Horvat sent a centering pass towards Dorsett, which he quickly put on net. Howard made the initial save with his left shoulder, but the puck bounced into the air and eventually rolled down his back into the goal.

That was Dorsett’s fifth goal and sixth point of the year. After starting the season on the fourth line, he’s earned himself a promotion to a top-six position in the Canucks’ lineup and is certainly one of the most exciting stories in Vancouver.

Baertschi (F Alexander Burmistrov) and Second Star RW Jake Virtanen (LW Daniel Sedin) provided Vancouver’s two insurance goals in the remaining time of the second period, and the Canucks limited the Red Wings to only six shots on goal in the third to ensure the victory.

G Jacob Markstrom earned the victory after saving 20-of-21 shots faced (.952 save percentage), leaving the loss to Howard, who saved 33-of-37 (.892).

In the last four games in the DtFR Game of the Day series, all of them have come back as wins for the road teams. With this run of success, visitors in the series have pulled within two points of the 10-6-4 hosts.

April 9 -Day 172 – It all comes down to this

It’s all come down to this: the last day of the 2016-’17 NHL regular season. Don’t cry that it’s leaving; instead smile and laugh at the memories.

Oh yeah, and get amped for the Stanley Cup Playoffs!

To close out the season, the league has scheduled 10 games for our viewing pleasure. A trio of them (New Jersey at Detroit [SN1], Buffalo at Tampa Bay and Ottawa at the New York Islanders [RDS2]) start at 5 p.m., followed by another pair (Colorado at St. Louis and Columbus at Toronto [SN/TVAS]) an hour later. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the puck drop of three contests (Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers, Carolina at Philadelphia and Florida at Washington) and Los Angeles at Anaheim (SN1) waiting until 8:30 to get started. Finally, 9 p.m. brings with it the regular season nightcap: Vancouver at Edmonton (SN). All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New Jersey at Detroit: The day many had hoped would never come. This is the final game to be played at Joe Louis Arena. I’ll forever consider the Wings a rival to my beloved Blues, but I hope Motown gives this incredible place one more victory for old times’ sake.
  • Columbus at Toronto: As long as the Leafs can avoid a regulation loss, they’ll win third place in the Atlantic Division and avoid the mighty Capitals.
  • Pittsburgh at New York: The last rematch of last season’s playoffs will be contested in Madison Square Garden.
  • Los Angeles at Anaheim: Though the Kings‘ season is complete after today, the Ducks still have something to play for: a Pacific Division banner.
  • Vancouver at Edmonton: As long as the Oilers don’t need a shootout to win, they can surpass Anaheim for the division title if it loses to Los Angeles.

It’s such hard decision among the contests in Toronto, Anaheim and Edmonton, as all three could have a significant impact on how the postseason plays out. Since there’s so much at stake in the Pacific, I think we have to focus in on the Freeway Face-Off!

 

I’ll start this article in a similar way I began yesterday’s:

The 39-35-7 Kings enter this game in fifth place in the Pacific Division and 10th in the Western Conference, already eliminated from playoff contention. With Nashville’s regular-season campaign complete at 94 points, the best Los Angeles can do is finish seven points behind eighth place.

This game is not about them (though they have more reasons to play spoiler than Pittsburgh did last night – more on that later).

Instead, all eyes (specifically those in Southern California and Northern Alberta) are on 45-23-13 Anaheim, the club currently leading the Pacific Division with a day left of play.

Notice the phrase currently leading. That is very intentional, as the Ducks have not ordered their division championship banner yet. The job tonight is simple: don’t lose in regulation. As long Anaheim earns at least one point, the second place Oilers cannot surpass them for the division title.

Fortunately, the repercussions for not sealing the deal tonight aren’t too bad, at least immediately. If Edmonton could manage to surpass the Ducks for first in the division, Anaheim would host the third place Sharks in the first round instead of the wild card Flames.

Either way, the Ducks retain home ice in the first round.

Anaheim has definitely been trending upwards of late. In fact, the Ducks are tied with Washington for the best record in the NHL since March 12 with their 10-0-3 record.

Just like its been all season, they’ve returned to winning ways by keeping the opposition off the board. Only 24 goals have been scored on the Ducks since mid-March, the fewest in the NHL in that time.

Of course, that starts with the goaltending. Both 25-16-9 John Gibson and 20-7-4 Jonathan Bernier have been fantastic over this run, as both have save percentages and GAAs better than .93 and 2.0, respectively.

Though Bernier was extremely impressive while filling in for Gibson during his injury, it seems the usual Number 1 has reclaimed his crease as Gibson has started the last two games. I expect the owner of the superior .96 save percentage and 1.32 GAA to take to the crease again tonight, as Gibson’s effort in his past three games has been third and second-best, respectively, among the 62 goalies who have played at least two games since mid-March.

Much of the reason both goaltenders have found such success is they haven’t been overworked. Though the Ducks‘ blueline has been only slightly above-average at keeping pucks off the crease on the year (they average 29.8 shots allowed-per-game), the 395 they’ve allowed in their past 13 games is tied for fifth-fewest in the league.

Both Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen have been a big part of that play, as they co-lead the team with 21 shot blocks since March 12. Jakob Silfverberg has also been instrumental with his 11 takeaways in that time.

On the season as a whole, only two clubs have been better than the Ducks when faced with a penalty kill situation. Gibson has played a major role in that effort all year, as his .909 season save percentage against the power play is the fourth-best mark in the league among the 48 goalies with at least 25 appearances on the year.

Doing their best to play spoiler tonight will be the visiting Kings, Anaheim‘s greatest rival. Though the postseason is out of their grasp, there is probably nothing more they would like to do than harm the Ducks‘ Stanley Cup playoff chances by declining them the opportunity to outright win the Pacific Division.

Unfortunately, it’s been an up-and-down effort of late for Los Angeles. Since March 16, the Kings have matched every win with a loss for a 6-6-0 record. In fact, every game since March 31 has alternated results. The 31st was a win, the 2nd was a loss. The 4th was a win… you get the idea. April 8 was a win, so…. well, things aren’t looking good for Los Angeles if this trend continues.

Offense has been Los Angeles‘ biggest struggle not only during this stretch, but for the entire season overall. On they year, the Kings have averaged only 2.42 goals-per-game, the sixth-lowest average in the NHL. Since mid-March, that number is down to 2.25, including two shutouts.

The brightest star on the Kings‘ offense of late is easily Anze Kopitar. With 10 points in a dozen games, he’s the only forward that has contributed more than seven tallies in the past three weeks. That being said, Jarome Iginla has also been decent with his team-leading four goals during this run.

Though far from a dominant force throughout the season, Los Angeles‘ power play has been especially shoddy of late, converting only 16.7% of its 36 most recent opportunities. Just like he’s been on the entire offense, Kopitar has been the most impressive during this skid with his four power play points.

If anything positive can be said about Los Angeles‘ power play, it’s that it’s unpredictable. All six tallies since March 16 have come off a different stick, and those scorers are evenly split between the power play units.

If the season series is any indication, we’re in for a fantastic game tonight. Both clubs have won two of the four previous games between them this campaign for copied 2-2-0 records. Making things even more interesting, both teams have gone 1-1-0 on home ice.

The last time they met up was February 25 at the Staples Center. Speaking of home ice, that is the game the Kings scored four goals (including two from Tyler Toffoli) to give Jonathan Quick a 4-1 victory in his first full game of the season. He saved 32 shots faced in his first game back from his groin injury.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (55 assists [tied for third-most in the league]) and Gibson (2.22 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] on a .924 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the league], including six shutouts [sixth-most in the NHL]) & Los AngelesJeff Carter (32 goals for 66 points on 250 shots [all lead the team]) and Drew Doughty (+8 [leads the team]).

The easy pick is obviously the Ducks, who have much more to play for, to win on home ice. The problem is you can never use such concrete logic when predicting a rivalry game of this magnitude. I’ll still take Anaheim to clinch the Pacific Division tonight, but I have no doubt in my mind that the Kings will make it as difficult as they possibly can.

Hockey Birthday

  • Jimmy Roberts (1940-2015) – This skater spent most of his 15 seasons in Montréal, though he had a lengthy tenure with the Blues as well. He was a three-time All Star and, more importantly, has his name on the Stanley Cup five times as a player.
  • Michel Parizeau (1948-) – The Rangers selected this center 10th-overall in the 1965 NHL Amateur Draft, yet he never played a game with the Blueshirts. In fact, he spent only one season in the NHL, as he played most of his eight years with the Nordiques in the WHA.
  • Rick Tocchet (1964-) – Though a longtime Flyer – albeit in two stints – after being selected by Philadelphia in the sixth round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing won his lone Stanley Cup as a member of the 1992 Penguins.

Three goals in the third period is exactly what the doctor ordered for Toronto, as it beat the Penguins 5-3 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to secure its spot in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It was not the start the Maple Leafs wanted to this game, though. Former Leaf Phil Kessel (Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl) buried a snap shot only 6:11 into the contest to give Pittsburgh an early 1-0 lead. That advantage didn’t last long though, as James van Riemsdyk (Tyler Bozak and Roman Polak) leveled with a snapper of his own only 29 seconds later. The one-all score held into the first intermission.

Only 1:29 after Tom Sestito‘s goaltender interference penalty, Bozak (William Nylander and Jake Gardiner) scored a power play snapper at the 3:30 mark of the second frame. This time, it was the Pens who had the answer, as Sidney Crosby (Jake Guentzel and Justin Schultz) leveled the match at two-all 4:25 later with a power play slap shot.

Pittsburgh once again took a one-goal lead 6:51 into the third period courtesy of an unassisted Guenztel wrist shot, but that is what lit a fire under Toronto‘s belly. In all, the Maple Leafs fired a dozen shots on Marc-Andre Fleury‘s net in the final frame, and three got past him. Kasperi Kapanen (Matt Hunwick and Auston Matthews) leveled the game with 5:30 remaining in regulation with the first goal of his career, followed by Connor Brown‘s (Gardiner and Hunwick) game-winner 2:42 later. With four seconds remaining, Matthews scored his 40th goal of the season (only the fourth rookie under 20-years-old in NHL history to achieve that total) on an empty net to ensure the Leafs‘ victory.

Curtis McElhinney earned the victory after saving 12-of-14 shots faced (85.7%). He replaced Frederik Andersen, who had saved three-of-four (75%), after the starter was struck in the head by Sestito. Fleury saved 25-of-29 (86.2%) in the loss.

After 175 games in this 2016-’17 DtFR Game of the Day series, the 88-61-25 home teams have finally clinched the deciding victory in our featured series. The hosts have 201 points to their credit to create a five-point spread the visitors are incapable of surpassing.

San Jose at Los Angeles – Game 1 – Pavelski and the Sharks steal Game 1

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Who would’ve guessed that a one-goal third period would be the difference in this one?

The first goal was struck after only 2:53, courtesy of Jake Muzzin on a tip-in, assisted by Second Star of the Game Milan Lucic and Tanner Pearson.  After collecting a deflected shot, Lucic was taking the puck behind the net, put a puck into the exposed crease for Muzzin to send home.  Anze Kopitar quickly followed that tally with a trip to the box for interference with 14:14 remaining in the first, which First Star Joe Pavelski capitalized on with a slap shot to level the game.

Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the remaining 13:35, and the game leveled out in that time.  Neither team managed more than eight shots fired (Los Angeles only fired the puck five times), which was further improved by the Sharks‘ five blocks.

The second period was one of power plays, with five being awarded, and three of those penalties against San Jose.  Brent Burns gave San Jose a one-goal lead at the 6:50 mark with a long range slap shot from the face off dot assisted by Third Star Joel Ward, who followed the play by interfering with Dustin Brown.  The lead lasted only 40 seconds before Jeff Carter scored on the ensuing power play.  Muzzin committed a hooking penalty 2:17 after Carter’s goal, giving the Sharks a power play, which they almost capitalized on, but they were hurt by an iffy no-call on a potential Alec Martinez trip on the San Jose shooter.  Trevor Lewis gave the Kings their second lead of the night at the  17:18 mark on a stunning shorthanded roofer of a slap shot, but it lasted only half a minute before Tomas Hertl returned the favor at the completion of Drew Doughty serving his time for hooking Ward.  After all the action, which also included tons of hits, the second period ended three-all.

Only 17 seconds after returning to the ice, Pavelski connected on a wraparound for his second of the night.  Los Angeles certainly upped their pressure in the remaining time, but Martin Jones stood tall to earn the 4-3 victory.

Jones made 21 saves on 24 shots faced (87.5%), while Jonathan Quick takes the loss, saving 19 of 23 (82.6%).

These squads will meet again Saturday night at 10:30 p.m. eastern, which can be viewed on NBCSN, CBC and TVAS.

March 28 – Day 165 – Battle of California

It may have taken overtime, but the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Rangers 3-2 in New York to win the season series 3-1-0.

4:19 after dropping the opening puck, Second Star of the Game Eric Staal backhanded a goal after assists from Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast (his 17th helper of the season), but the Blueshirts could not enter the intermission with the lead.  Matt Cullen leveled the game with 4:11 remaining in the period for the Penguins, assisted by Derrick Pouliot and Trevor Daley (his 20th helper of the season).  The one-all score held into the break.

It was a night of early starts for Staal, as he scored only 2:07 after returning to the ice, assisted by Fast and Hayes (his 22nd helper of the season) to give the Rangers another lead.  They held onto that differential for only 6:29 before First Star Phil Kessel scored his 23rd goal of the season, assisted by Carl Hagelin, to again level the score for Pittsburgh.  Not only did the 2-2 score hold into the dressing room, but also to the final horn of regulation, forcing overtime.

With only 30 seconds remaining in the overtime period, Third Star Sidney Crosby scored the game winner, assisted by Kris Letang (his 43rd helper of the season) and Kessel, to pull the Pens within three points of second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Marc-Andre Fleury earns the win after saving 25 of his 27 shots faced (92.6%), while Henrik Lundqvist takes the overtime loss, saving 29 of 32 (90.6%).

Pittsburgh‘s win is the second straight for the road teams, setting the DtFR Game of the Day series at 74-43-18, favoring the home sides by 30 points over the roadies.

Eight games will take place this Monday evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. eastern (Winnipeg at Philadelphia and Columbus at Washington), followed half an hour later by another pair (Buffalo at Detroit [NBCSN] and Toronto at Tampa Bay [TVAS]).  Colorado at Nashville drops the puck at 8 p.m. eastern, with Anaheim at Edmonton trailing an hour later.  Finally, our co-nightcaps get underway at 10 p.m. eastern (Calgary at Arizona and Los Angeles at San Jose [NBCSN]).

Almost all of tonight’s games are between divisional rivals (only Winnipeg at Philadelphia isn’t), but only one is between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Los Angeles at San Jose).

As usual, Detroit and Philadelphia have the opportunity to swap spots for the final wildcard, but the game I’m more interested in takes place in The Tank.

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This will be Los Angeles‘ eighth appearance in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 3-4-0 record.  Their most recent time featured was last Monday, when they lost 5-2 in Nashville.  San Jose has been featured six times before tonight’s game, and own a 4-2-0 record in such occasions.  Last time we focused on them, they won 6-3 in St. Louis on February 22.

The 45-25-5 Los Angeles Kings currently occupy the top spot in the Pacific Division and third in the Western Conference (due to winning a games played tiebreaker over Chicago).  To get to that position, they’ve allowed the second fewest goals, paired with an offense that has scored the 13th most goals.  A more in-depth breakdown of LA‘s game can be found within last Monday’s article.

The Kings last played Saturday to a 6-4 home win over the Islanders.  With a win tonight, they have the opportunity to expand their lead for the division over Anaheim to five points, but they will need some help from Edmonton.

The 41-28-6 San Jose Sharks are the third best team in the Pacific Division, and seventh best in the Western Conference.  So far this season they’ve scored the fourth most goals in the league, paired with the 13th stingiest defense.

Led by Brent Burns’ 324 shots, the Sharks have fired the puck 2278 times, with a great 9.5% finding the back of the net for 219 goals (led by Joe Pavelski’s 35 tallies), fourth most in the NHL.  San Jose‘s power play has followed suit, scoring on 22.09% of their attempts for 55 power play goals (led by Pavelski’s 11 extra man tallies), the fourth best rate in the league.

The Sharks have also done well to keep pressure off their goaltenders, allowing only 2041 shots to reach 35-21-4 Martin Jones and co., who’ve collectively saved 91.4% for 196 goals against, the 13th fewest in the league.  San Jose‘s biggest problem this year has been their penalty kill, as their 79.91% kill rate, which has allowed 43 power play goals against, ranks eighth worst in the league.

San Jose enters today’s game riding a three game losing skid, with their last being Saturday’s 4-2 home loss to the Stars.  With a win tonight, they could pull within two points of second in the division and home ice for the quarterfinals, but, just like Los Angeles, are pulling for an Edmonton win this evening over the Ducks.

San Jose currently leads the season series 2-1-1 going into this pivotal fifth game.  The last times these squads met was also in the SAP Center, where Los Angeles won 3-2 in overtime on January 24.

Some players to keep an eye on include Los Angeles‘ Anze Kopitar (+31 [tied for second best in the league] and 68 points [10th most in the league]), Jonathan Quick (38 wins [second most in the league], 2.21 GAA [tied for fifth best in the league] and four shutouts [tied for seventh most in the league]) and Tyler Toffoli (+33 [leads the league]) & San Jose‘s Jones (35 wins [tied for third most in the league], five shutouts [tied for third most in the league] and 2.25 GAA [seventh best in the league]), Pavelski (35 goals [tied for fifth most in the league], +26 [tied for eighth best in the league] and 71 points [ninth most in the league]) and Joe Thornton (55 assists [tied for second most in the league], 72 points [eighth most in the league] and +26 [tied for eighth best in the league]).

This is always a fun game, and the almost even season record between these two shows that.  Even though they’re on the road, I think the Kings have this one, most notably due to San Jose‘s recent cold stretch.

March 21 – Day 158 – Los Angeles wants to replace Garth Brooks as the King of Country

Even with the four goal offensive explosion in the second period, these squads needed a shootout before Minnesota could earn the 3-2 win.

The first score didn’t find the back of the net until the 20:50 mark, courtesy of Minnesota‘s First Star of the Game Erik Haula, whose snap shot was assisted by Nino Niederreiter (his 22nd helper of the season) and Justin Fontaine, which was just the start of an exciting second period.  Niederreiter gave the Wild an insurance goal 6:14 later, assisted by Jordan Schroeder and Mikael Granlund (his 29th helper of the season).  It was an insurance goal they needed, as Third Star Andrew Shaw, assisted by Artemi Panarin (his 38th helper of the season), scored 1:34 later to pull the Hawks within a goal.  With 6:39 remaining in the period, Richard Panik leveled the game with a fancy wrap-around goal, assisted by Andrew Desjardins and Duncan Keith (his 34th helper of the season).  Neither team was able to score in the remaining time in the period and took their two-all tie into the second intermission and through the third and overtime, leading to a shootout.

Only one attempt found the back of the net, but it was all Minnesota needed.  After Second Star Devan Dubnyk made the save on Jonathan Toews, Charlie Coyle fired the Wild‘s first attempt past Scott Darling.  Dubnyk followed that with a save on Patrick Kane and Panarin to earn the victory.

Dubnyk earns the win after saving 29 of 31 shots faced (93.5%), while Darling takes the shootout loss, saving 32 of 34 (94.1%).

It’s the second straight win for the road teams under our observation, and it sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 70-41-17, favoring the home squads by 29 points over the roadies.

It’s a light Monday tonight as only four games will be played, starting with Florida at the New York Rangers at 7 p.m. eastern.  Half an hour later, two more games drop the puck (Philadelphia at the New York Islanders [NBCSN/TVAS] and Calgary at Toronto), followed at 8 p.m. eastern by this evening’s nightcap: Los Angeles at Nashville.

Philadelphia at New York is the only divisional rivalry being played this evening, but there are two games between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Florida at New York and Los Angeles at Nashville).

While the FloridaNew York game is important for the Rangers and their efforts to get home ice for the first round, I’m more interested in the preview of the highly probable first round matchup between the Kings and Predators.

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Tonight’s game will be Los Angeles‘ seventh appearance in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 3-3-0 record.  Their most recent game featured was March 9, a 4-3 overtime winner over the visiting Capitals.  Nashville has been featured nine times before this contest, and own a 5-3-1 record in the series, with their most recent being Thursday’s 4-2 victory over the Islanders on home ice.

The 44-22-5 Los Angeles Kings currently rank best in the Pacific Division and second in the Western Conference, although a win tonight could change that – more on that later.  To get to that position, the Kings have given up the least goals in the NHL, paired with the 11th best scoring offense.

Led by Alec Martinez’ 168 blocks, the Kings have allowed only 1959 shots to reach 37-17-4 Jonathan Quick and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.2% for only 160 goals against, the fewest in the league.  Although they’ve had overall defensive success, the penalty kill has been barely better than average, neutralizing 81.53% of their infractions for 46 power play goals against, only the 14th best rate in the league.

Led by Jeff Carter’s 199 shots, Los Angeles has fired the puck 2274 times, but only 8.5% have found the back of the net for 196 goals (led by Tyler Toffoli’s 26 tallies), 11th most in the league.  The special team that really takes the cake in the City of Angels is the power play, as their 21.05% success rate, good for 44 power play goals, ranks seventh best in the NHL.

The Kings come into tonight’s game riding a four game winning streak, with their most recent being Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Bruins on home ice.  With a win this evening, Los Angeles would not only pull themselves into a tie with the Stars, but also win the games played tiebreaker to take the lead in the Western Conference.

The 36-23-13 Nashville Predators currently occupy fourth in the Central Division and seventh in the Western Conference, qualifying them for the first wildcard spot.  To get to that position, they’ve played an incredibly well-rounded game, playing both the 10th best offense and defense.  A more in-depth analysis of Nashville‘s game can be found within Thursday’s article.

Nashville‘s last game was Friday, a 4-1 loss in Washington.  A win tonight by the Predators would pull them within four points of the Blackhawks with a couple weeks left in the regular season.

As it stands right now, Los Angeles would host Nashville in a Western Conference Quarterfinal, although a Kings win this evening would completely alter that.  Los Angeles has already won the season series 2-0-0, but both previous games ended in overtime.  These squads last met February 20 on this surface, with both teams scoring a lone goal in regulation before Tanner Pearson earned the Kings the bonus point.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Los Angeles‘ Drew Doughty (+23 [tied for ninth best in the league]), Anze Kopitar (+31 [tied for league lead] and 65 points [10th most in the league]), Milan Lucic (+23 [tied for ninth best in the league]), Quick (37 wins [second most in the league], 2.14 GAA [fourth best in the league] and four shutouts [tied for sixth most in the league]) and Toffoli (+30 [third best in the league]) & Nashville‘s Pekka Rinne (four shutouts [tied for sixth most in the league] and 29 wins [tied for ninth most in the league]).

The season series is a good indication of how well these two squads match up against each other.  That being said, I’m expecting the Kings‘ defense to lead them to yet another victory over the Predators and the conference lead.

March 9 – Day 146 – They left Kings…

For the second night in the row, Boston earned a win in the Sunshine State, and once again it required overtime.

If you like defense and goaltending, this was the game for you.  Although there was a combined total of 75 shots on goal, 98.7%, all but the last one, did not find the back of the net.

Marked at the 60:10 mark, Third Star of the Game Brad Marchand scored his 34th goal of the season to earn the Bruins the bonus point.  His wrister was assisted by Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug.

First Star Jonas Gustavsson saved earned the shutout victory after saving all 42 shots he faced, while Second Star Ben Bishop has to take the overtime loss, saving 30 of 31 (96.8%).

Thanks to the Bruins, the road squads are currently riding a five game winning streak in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which now stands at 64-37-15, favoring the home squad by 28 points over the roadies.

This Wednesday is a lighter schedule, although still busier than Monday’s.  To start the night, the New York Islanders visit Toronto at 7 p.m. eastern, followed an hour later by Chicago at St. Louis.  Nashville at Calgary drops the puck at 9:30 p.m. eastern, trailed half an hour later by two more games (Arizona at Vancouver and Anaheim at Colorado).  Finally, Washington at Los Angeles, this evening’s nightcap, gets underway at 10:30 p.m. eastern.

Chicago at St. Louis and Arizona at Vancouver are this evening’s only divisional rivalries being played, and another set of two games are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Chicago at St. Louis and Washington at Los Angeles).

This is usually the point of the post where you’ve already figured out which contest I’ve chosen.  Alas, the ChicagoSt. Louis game, while very important to the standings and a heck of a lot of fun to watch, is not this evening’s choice, but instead it is the return of Mike Richards and Justin Williams to the City of Angels.

Washington Capitals LogoUnknown-3This will be Washington‘s 15th appearance in the DtFR Game of the Day series, where they own a 10-4-0 record.  Their most recent showing in the series was Friday, a 3-2 loss on home ice to the Rangers.  Los Angeles was featured the next day in their 3-2 loss to the Ducks, also on home ice.  That was their fifth appearance in the series, setting their record in such games at 2-3-0.

Before jumping into game analysis, we must first set the stage.  Tonight’s game is the first return by both Richards and Williams to the Staples Center since joining the Capitals this January and last July, respectively.  For Kings fans, these returns are of strikingly different varieties – almost similar to a hero and heel of WWE, but few will be in favor of tonight’s villain.

Our hero this evening is Williams, a seven year veteran of the Kings.  The right winger joined the squad during the 2008-’09 season after being traded from the Carolina Hurricanes, where he had won a Stanley Cup in 2005-’06.  Although the Kings didn’t make the playoffs that season, they did the next five.  Williams was an important part of the 2010-’11 and 2011-’12 seasons, where he twice tied for second most points on the squad.  Of course, it is the ’11-’12 season that is most memorable, as his 15 playoff points (tied for fourth most on the team) helped lead the Kings to their first Stanley Cup Championship.  Williams’ success, especially in assists, continued in the following seasons, as he always ranked at least top-three in points leading up to the 2013-’14 Stanley Cup Championship.  After declining last season, the Kings elected not to renew his contract, leading him to sign with the Capitals over the summer.

Not everything about Washington‘s visit will be pleasant for Kings fans, as they also show up with Richards on the squad, our heel for the evening.  Richards joined Los Angeles before the 2011-’12 season, and was also on both the teams to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.  With the exception of the 2014-’15 season, which witnessed him being sent down to the AHL, Richards consistently ranked top-four in points during the regular season.  He was a much bigger contributor to Los Angeles‘ first Cup than the second, as he continued being a top-four point scorer, which he followed up a year later by leading the squad in playoff assists.

Richards’ downfall during the 2014-’15  season was completed in June when the Kings terminated his remaining contract due to drug charges at American-Canadian border.  After a long ordeal between the Kings and the NHLPA, Richards was finally eligible to be signed as a free agent in October.  Washington signed him to a one-year, $1 million contract in January.

Richards’ and Williams’ new team, the 49-13-4 Washington Capitals, look more and more like the team to have signed with this offseason.  Not only do they lead the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference and the entire NHL, but they’re doing it by an incredible 14 points.  As you’d expect of a team with this kind of success, the Caps play well on both ends of the ice, ranking second best in both scoring and goal prevention.

The offense starts just where you’d expect it to: Alex Ovechkin.  His 329 shots more than double Williams’ attempts, and he has the second most on the squad.  Overall, the Caps have fired the puck 2025 times, with a spectacular 10.4% finding the back of the net for 214 goals (led by Ovi’s 41 tallies), the second most in the league.  Washington‘s special teams are not too far behind, successful on 23.33% of attempts for 49 power play goals (led by Ovechkin’s 16 extra man tallies), the third best conversion rate in the league.

Defensively, the Caps are just as good.  Led by Karl Alzner’s 169 blocks, only 1904 shots have reached 41-8-3 Braden Holtby and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.4% for only 151 goals against, the second fewest in the league.  The penalty kill has also been stellar this season, responsible for neutralizing 84.76% of their infractions for only 32 power play goals against.

Washington is currently riding a two game win streak, with their most recent occurring Monday, a 2-1 shootout victory in Anaheim.  With 102 points already to their credit, the Capitals are already planning out which hotels they’ll be staying in when they play in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.  That being said, they’d like to maintain a 15 point minimum lead for the Presidents’ Trophy to ensure home ice throughout the tournament.

The 39-22-4 Los Angeles Kings currently sit in second place in the Pacific Division and fifth in the Western Conference.  They are led by their defense, which ranks best in the league, but their offense is 14th worst.  A more in-depth analysis of LA‘s game can be found within Saturday’s article.

The Kings‘ most recent game was 5-1 win over the Canucks.  Tonight’s game is an important one for the Kings, as a win paired with any type of loss for the Ducks propels Los Angeles back to the top of the Pacific Division.

Per usual, teams from opposite conferences meet only twice a year (excluding, of course, the Stanley Cup Finals).  Los Angeles has already made their visit to the Verizon Center this year on February 16, falling 3-1.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Los Angeles‘ Anze Kopitar (+26 [tied for fourth best in the league]), Tyler Toffoli (+27 [third best in the league]) and Jonathan Quick (33 wins [tied for third most in the league] and 2.17 GAA [tied for fourth best in the league]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (44 assists [tied for fifth most in the league]), Holtby (41 wins [leads the league], 2.21 GAA [tied for seventh best in the league] and .923 save percentage [tied for seventh best in the league]), Evgeny Kuznetsov (+31 [leads the league], 47 assists [fourth most in the league] and 67 points [fifth most in the league]), Ovechkin (41 goals [leads the league] and +21 [tied for ninth best in the league]) and Williams (+21 [tied for ninth best in the league]).

Los Angeles may own the best defense in the league, but Washington‘s offense will be too much to handle.  The Capital that will have the best time this evening will be Williams, who should be well received by the home crowd, but the same may not be able to be said about Richards, who, in fact, may enjoy beating the Kings all the more because of it.