Welcome to 2019! Nothing quite rings in the new year like hockey (shh, nobody asked you what you think, college football!), and in case you haven’t heard, the Blackhawks and Bruins are headed to South Bend, Ind. for this year’s iteration of the Winter Classic.
However, there’s far more than that tilt going down this week, so here’s all the fixtures for 2018’s finale and the first six days of 2019.
|NHL SCHEDULE: December 31-january 6|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, December 31|
|1 p.m.||Vancouver||New Jersey||0-4|
|6 p.m.||New York Islanders||Buffalo Sabres||3-1|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||St. Louis Blues||2-1|
|7:30 p.m.||Florida||Detroit||4-3 (SO)|
|8 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Anaheim||2-1 (OT)|
|8 p.m.||Los Angeles||Colorado||3-2 (OT)|
|8:30 p.m.||Montréal||Dallas||3-2 (OT)|
|9 p.m.||San Jose||Calgary||5-8|
|Tuesday, January 1|
|9 p.m.||Los Angeles||Vegas||0-2|
|Wednesday, January 2|
|7 p.m.||Vancouver||Ottawa||4-3 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh Penguins||New York Rangers||7-2|
|8:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Dallas||4-5|
|9:30 p.m.||San Jose||Colorado||5-4|
|Thursday, January 3|
|7:30 p.m.||Chicago Blackhawks||New York Islanders||2-3 (OT)|
|8 p.m.||Washington||St. Louis||2-5|
|10:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Los Angeles||6-2|
|Friday, January 4|
|7:30 p.m.||Nashville||Detroit||3-4 (OT)|
|8 p.m.||Washington||Dallas||1-2 (OT)|
|9 p.m.||New York Rangers||Colorado Avalanche||1-6|
|9 p.m.||New Jersey||Arizona||3-2 (SO)|
|Saturday, January 5|
|1 p.m.||Calgary||Philadelphia||3-2 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Columbus||Florida||4-3 (OT)|
|8 p.m.||New York Islanders||St. Louis Blues||4-3|
|10 p.m.||Edmonton||Los Angeles||0-4|
|11 p.m.||Tampa Bay||San Jose||2-5|
|Sunday, January 6|
|4 p.m.||New Jersey||Vegas||SN|
|4 p.m.||New York Rangers||Arizona Coyotes|
|8 p.m.||Edmonton||Anaheim||SN, SN360|
If you enjoyed the 1988 and 1990 Stanley Cup Finals and rivalries are your jam, this week’s slate of games was made just for you. Both Boston and Edmonton squared off against two rivals this week, with the Oilers taking on Winnipeg on Monday and the Kings on Saturday and the Bruins playing Chicago and Buffalo on Tuesday and Saturday, respectively.
Speaking of the Kings, their Tuesday tilt in Vegas was a rematch of the First Round from the most recent Stanley Cup playoffs – the only such tilt of the week.
Finally, in the “Player Returns” department, W Dmitrij Jaskin takes the cake for the longest tenure with his former club, as he was claimed off waivers by the Capitals earlier this season after six campaigns with the Blues – Washington’s opponent on Thursday.
In an attempt to avoid repeating teams too frequently, I turned my attention away from the Winter Classic (we all knew how it was going to go anyways) and the Flames and Sharks’ major showdown. Instead, let’s take in a pivotal game in the race for the Western Conference’s second wild card.
To put things simply, life has been much better for the Oilers and their faithful fans.
As recently as three weeks ago, Edmonton was in third place in the Pacific Division and looking like a real threat for the remainder of the season. However, that impressive 9-2-2 run that got them to that point is long forgotten now, as the 19-19-3 Oil enter tonight’s tilt on a disastrous 1-7-0 skid, accented by last night’s embarrassing 4-0 loss to lowly Los Angeles.
Without a doubt, the worst aspect of Edmonton’s play over this eight-game run has been the play of its two goaltenders. 12-8-1 G Mikko Koskinen has received six of those starts, but his .869 save percentage and 4.45 GAA in those appearances (compared to a .915 season save percentage and corresponding 2.64 GAA) hardly reflect starters’ numbers.
However, handing the reins over to 7-11-2 G Cam Talbot has rarely been the fix Head Coach Ken Hitchcock’s club has hoped for, as almost every time they’ve turned to him they’ve gotten the same old Talbot they’ve gotten all year. Boasting an .893 save percentage and 3.23 GAA for the season, Talbot has stayed true to his form for this campaign in his last four appearances since December 16, posting almost identical .888 and 3.25 marks in those outings.
With both Koskinen and Talbot seeing action in yesterday’s tilt in Tinseltown, it remains unclear which will earn the nod this evening. Koskinen did start against the Kings, but he only logged 13:57 of action before getting pulled due to allowing three goals on eight shots (.625 save percentage). Conversely, though Talbot saw more TOI, his 14-for-15 performance (.933 save percentage) in relief could earn him the opportunity to reclaim his starting job tonight.
Though not the sole reason for the netminders’ struggles, part of their problems might be related to the Oil’s defensive play of late. Edmonton has allowed an average of 30.7 shots on goal per game this season, a mark that is good enough for 11th-best in the NHL. However, that mark has climbed ever so slightly to 31.75 shots per game in Edmonton’s games since December 16, the 14th-highest in the league in that stretch.
If any are to blame for that defensive decline, it is surely not F Jujhar Khaira (3.8 hits per game since December 16), C Connor McDavid (10 takeaways in the last eight games) or D Darnell Nurse (1.5 blocks per game during this run), as all three lead the team in their respective statistics.
There’s certainly still time for Edmonton to rediscover its winning groove, but the Oilers must make sure to stop the bleeding against Anaheim tonight, considering it is those very Ducks they’re trailing by four points for the Western Conference’s second wild card.
Since December 18 (the date of Anaheim’s 3-1 loss at Madison Square Garden, the first of these consecutive losses), no offense in the NHL has been as anemic as the Ducks’. The entire league has averaged 2.84 goals per game since that date, but Anaheim has ranked dead last with an uninspiring 1.57 goals per game.
Unsurprisingly, no players have averaged a point per game or better during this losing skid – not even the usually reliable C Ryan Getzlaf (9-20-29 totals in 36 games played) or W Ondrej Kase (11-8-19 in 24 appearances). In fact, only eight of Anaheim’s 20 skaters have registered more than a lone point in the Ducks’ last seven games – an alarmingly low number, especially for a team without a dominant top line of the likes of Boston, Colorado or Dallas.
Of course, it’s not as if Anaheim’s offense has exactly lit up the scoreboard this season. At this point in the campaign, the Ducks have averaged 2.4 goals per game for 2018-19, a mark that ranks second-worst ahead of only their crosstown rivals’ 2.26. However, dropping almost three-quarters of a goal per game is far more noticeable for a team lacking in offensive firepower than it is for a club like Tampa Bay that has averaged over four goals per game for the entire season. The Bolts can spare a goal here or there – the Ducks most certainly cannot.
And so, that brings us to our usual question: how does all this factor into tonight’s game?
This evening’s tilt features weak goaltending squaring off against a lackluster offense, and – by virtue of an NHL game being unable to end in a tie – one of them must win.
Usually I would favor the offense in that matchup, but Anaheim’s attack has been so awful I simply can’t bare to do it. Similarly, I think the Oilers will be fired up to score some goals this evening considering they got blanked by the *former* worst team in the league less than 24 hours ago. Edmonton should come away with two points tonight and pull within two points (not to mention its game in hand on Anaheim) of a playoff spot.