Tag Archives: Kucherov

March 17 – Day 157 – No green here

Top o’ the mornin’ to you, or whatever people say today to fool themselves into believing they’re Irish.

I’m obviously infatuated with the holiday.

One thing I actually enjoy is hockey, and I think that’s something we can all get behind. A perfect 10 games are on today’s schedule, starting with Chicago at Buffalo (NHLN) at 1 p.m. and Edmonton at Florida an hour later. 4 p.m. marks the puck drop of New Jersey at Los Angeles, the last matinee of the day. The usual 7 p.m. starting time brings with it four tilts (Montréal at Toronto [CBC/NHLN/SN/TVAS], Boston at Tampa Bay, Philadelphia at Carolina and Ottawa at Columbus [CITY/TVAS2]), while the New York Rangers at St. Louis waits an hour before getting underway. Minnesota at Arizona’s puck drop is scheduled for 9 p.m., and San Jose at Vancouver (CBC/SN) – tonight’s nightcap – sees the green light 60 minutes later. All times Eastern.

Two games stuck out to me at the start of this season, including…

  • Montréal at Toronto: Who cares that the Habs have no shot at winning this game? It’s Original Six action!
  • New York at St. Louis: D Kevin Shattenkirk has played over seven seasons’ worth of games at Scottrade Center, but tonight will be his first in the arena as a visitor. Of note, he won’t be wearing normal road attire tonight, as the Notes are electing to sport their white sweaters at home this evening. Guess that shows how well I’ve paid attention to the Rangers during their decline – Shattenkirk has been sidelined with a knee injury since mid-January.

However, there’s no way anyone can miss the potential title fight going down in Florida this evening.


Ooh boy, what a showdown we have today!

Let’s start with the 48-18-4 Lightning, who have sat atop the Eastern Conference for almost every day of the 2017-’18 season. Though it’s been a wee bit stressful (seven of the Bolts’ last 11 games have required extra time), things have been looking up for Tampa Bay lately, as it has earned an impressive 9-1-1 record.

Now, before I jump in talking about how great the Lightning have been lately, we do need to acknowledge there’s a major reason for their offensive explosion. Tampa has allowed a miserable 3.55 goals against per game over its last 11 showings, which just so happens to be the fourth-worst mark in the NHL since February 20. The defense has been abysmal by allowing 35.27 shots against per game ([t]fifth-worst in the league) since February 20, and even the greatness that is 40-13-3 G Andrei Vasilevskiy cannot keep up with that kind of nightly assault.

Fortunately for the Lightning, there’s two ends of the ice and they’re really, really good on that end. Specifically, they have the luxury of employing C Steven Stamkos, who just so happens to be one of those guys that’s pretty good at his job.

Not only has Stamkos posted impressive 27-55-82 totals on the season – already locking himself in as a point-per-game scorer a year removed from a 17-game campaign – but he’s also managed team-leading 3-11-14 marks since February 20.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the weapons Stamkos does as linemates, as both RW Nikita Kucherov and F J.T. Miller have also been stellar lately. With respective 3-11-14 and 5-4-9 totals, both join Stamkos in averaging a point-per-game since February 20 (Kucherov has played only eight games, and Miller seven with Tampa). The Lightning’s current top line has accounted for 10 of the club’s last 42 goals, just short of 25 percent.

Talk about an offensive presence, especially considering the pressure they’ve been under during this defensive lapse. Even with their backs against the wall, the Lightning have managed a (t)second-best goals per game since February 20 with 3.82.

Of course, Tampa is not the only team in the Atlantic Division that knows how to win. Second place 44-17-8 Boston is pretty good in its own right, made evident by its 7-2-0 record in its last nine showings.

What makes this game fun is that the Bruins are effectively a mirror image of the Bolts lately. Though the defensive end has had its lapses lately (Boston has allowed a 13th-worst 3.22 goals per game since February 27), the Bruins have scored an impressive 4.11 goals per game in their past nine games to lead the league since February 27.

Beloved he may not be, but there’s no denying LW Brad Marchand‘s ability to create offense. In his last eight games, Marchand has posted impressive 6-8-14 totals to elevate his season marks to team-leading 30-42-72 numbers.

Joining him in averaging at least a point per game since February 27 are RW David Pastrnak (5-8-13), D Torey Krug (3-7-10), F Riley Nash (3-7-10) and the injured LW Jake Debrusk (2-7-9). With a top line of Marchand, Nash and Pastrnak lining up against Tampa’s best in Miller, Stamkos and Kucherov, it’s hard to tell which team has the upper hand – and that’s even without the help of Boston’s C Patrice Bergeron.

With the Bruins trailing only Tampa in the Eastern standings, the potential playoff implications of this game are pretty easy to discuss.

While the Lightning are the only team in the conference with 100 points to their credit, Boston – which trails by four points – is actually neck-and-neck in the race for home ice through the conference tournament due to its fewer games played. Should the Bruins earn the win tonight, they’ll pull within two points of Tampa Bay with two more tilts against the Bolts and a game in hand.

There’s a major difference between playing the Maple Leafs in the first round and the whichever team ends up as the second wild card, so it goes without saying that both sides in tonight’s game want to emerge victorious.

Even though the end of the regular season is only a few weeks away, tonight’s meeting between the Bolts and Bruins is only their second of the year. The first tilt occurred way back on November 29 at TD Garden, and it went the way of the hosts as Boston survived to earn a 3-2 victory (Krug posted the eventual game-winning goal in the second period when he set the score at 3-0).

If this matchup strikes your fancy, you’re in luck: Boston and Tampa will meet two more times before the year is through. They’ll square off again at TD Garden on March 29, followed six days later by a final southern showdown.

Whether these teams square off in the second round of the postseason or not, this game is definitely a preview of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs as a whole.

But that’s a month from now – who wins today?

I’m leaning towards the Bruins for the simple fact that Boston’s unstoppable offense has the chance to play against a slumping defense. While I don’t expect Tampa to be a pushover at home, the Bruins should come away with two points tonight – even if the game requires more than 60 minutes to determine a winner.

For a game expected to be a defensive matchup, there were a whole lotta goals scored at Scotiabank Saddledome in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as the San Jose Sharks beat the Calgary Flames 7-4.

This tilt started innocently enough, as only one goal apiece was struck in the first period. First Star of the Game LW Evander Kane (W Jannik Hansen) got the Sharks on the scoreboard with a wrist shot 6 minutes into the game, but W Troy Brouwer (F Curtis Lazar and C Matt Stajan) leveled the game 10:42 later with a snap shot.

Instead, it was the second period where this game took a turn towards the insane with a whopping combined six markers. Calgary took its first lead of the game 2:10 into the period when C Mark Jankowski (RW Garnet Hathaway) scored a wrister, but that advantage lasted only 4:19 before Kane (D Dylan DeMelo and D Brenden Dillon) scored his second of the game to pull San Jose even at 2-2.

Next up on the scorecard is LW Johnny Gaudreau (Third Star W Micheal Ferland and D Michael Stone), who returned another one-goal advantage to the Flames with 9:44 remaining in the period, but RW Kevin Labanc (D Brent Burns) needed only 1:26 before he matched Gaudreau’s tally.

Things started tilting in San Jose’s favor with 3:28 remaining in the second frame, as that’s when Kane (C Chris Tierney) completed his hat trick to give the Sharks their first lead since scoring the opening goal. 1:30 after Kane’s marker, Second Star F Tomas Hertl (D Justin Braun and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal.

There’s pretty goals, and then there’s goals like Hertl’s. Braun advanced the puck into the offensive zone along the right boards before attempting a quick shot to the far post from the face-off circle. G Mike Smith was able to make that save, but Hertl jammed the rebound through the netminder’s legs to set give San Jose a two-goal advantage.

As if a hat trick isn’t enough, Kane (F Joe Pavelski) posted a four-goal night with a tip-in 1:02 into the third period to set the score at 6-3. Ferland (C Sean Monahan and D Dougie Hamilton) was able to strike back with 5:35 remaining in regulation, but the Flames couldn’t muster a fifth – much less a game-tying sixth – goal. That forced Head Coach Glen Gulutzan to pull G David Rittich for an extra attacker, allowing F Eric Fehr (Hertl) to score his second goal of the season on an empty net with 3:58 remaining in the game.

What might be most unbelievable about this final score is that none of these 11 goals were scored with the man-advantage. Talk about some serious five-on-five offense.

G Martin Jones escaped with the victory after saving 30-of-34 shots faced (.882 save percentage), leaving the well-deserved loss to Smith, who saved only 14-of-20 (.7). Smith was lifted following Kane’s third period goal in favor of Rittich, who saved all seven shots he faced for no decision.

San Jose’s victory marks the seventh-straight win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the 87-51-19 hosts now have only a 34-point advantage in the series.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 22

Skater of the Week: Brad Marchand

Yeah, I know, it hurts me to do it. But eight points in three games is a tough stat line to argue against.

*leans away from microphone looking off to stage right* THAT’LL BE ENOUGH OUT OF YOU, @nlanciani53! WE KNOW HE’S GOOD, WE JUST REALLY HATE HIS FACE!

Anyway, here’s how the ‘Little Ball of Hate’ earned the nod for the week.

Marchand started the week by single-handedly ruining the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, racking up three goals and two assists (one of each on the power play) for a five-point night, and tacked on the game-winner for good measure. Then on Thursday he notched a single goal against Philadelphia, with it also being the game-winning tally. Then he capped the week with a pair of ‘apples’ on Saturday to finish off the week with a 50/50 split of four goals and four assists.

Also he possibly tried to murder Anthony Duclair maybe.

Brad Marchand, folks.

Tendy of the Week: Cam Talbot

The Oilers have suddenly remembered how to hockey. It’s a bit late, but hey, good on ’em.

Talbot has, like basically everyone in Edmonton not wearing #97, had a bit of a forgettable year. Currently carrying a .906 save percentage and 3.03 GAA, but sporting a near-.500 record, Talbot’s stats are basically a microcosm of the year the Oilers are having. In fact, his three-straight wins this week directly followed three-straight losses.

But for now we’re focusing on those three wins, as I’m sure all of Edmonton would like to do. Talbot carries a .949 and 1.61 out of the week with him, stopping 94-of-99 shots faced. He did start the week with three goals against on Monday when Arizona visited Rogers Place, but still managed a .914 save percentage on 35 shots. After that he basically completely shut down both the Islanders on Thursday (one goal on 31 shots) and Wild on Saturday (one goal on 33 shots).

It’s definitely a case of too little too late in Edmonton, but a strong finish to the season could give the team, organization, and fans a much-needed morale boost heading into the offseason.

Besides, regardless of where they finish in the standings, we know they’re winning the draft lottery…

Game of the Week: Florida Panthers 4 @ Tampa Bay Lightning 5 (OT), Tuesday March 6th, 2018

If you like hockey games that have a little bit of everything, go watch the condensed game highlights of this one.

Nine goals on 82 shots, 56 hits (evenly split at 28 per team), a fight, a hat trick, and a beautiful overtime winner in a tilt between two in-state rivals. Definitely a candidate for game of the year.

You’d have never guessed there would be nine goals scored if you just watched the first half of the first period. Both Andrei Vasilevskiy and Roberto Luongo were fully on their game, and both goaltenders made multiple standout saves just in the opening minutes alone. In particular, Vasi’s early denial of Nick Bjugstad on a two-on-one and Luongo’s breakaway glove snag on J.T. Miller stand out.

Also early in the first period we had a scrap between the Lightning’s Braydon Coburn, who is 6’5″ and 223 lbs., and Michael Haley, who is neither of those things. Haley, the NHL’s penalty minutes leader this season, more than held his own in a fairly uneventful scrap, but it certainly got the crowd at Amalie Arena into the game.

Finally first blood would be drawn at the 10:38 mark, when Yanni Gourde would pounce on an off-the-glass rebound at the side of the net before Luongo could locate the puck and put the Lightning on top. Vasilevskiy would make a pair of outstanding stops on consecutive shots from Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov to keep the score 1-0, eventually allowing Miller to take a Gourde centering pass from behind the goal line and roof a backhand over the glove of Luongo to extend the Tampa lead to 2-0 at the 12:51 mark. Although being outshot 15-8, the Lightning would nearly survive the first with their lead unblemished, but with just 1:37 to play it would be Bjugstad firing one from the goal line to Vasilevskiy’s left that ricocheted off the goaltender’s shoulder and into the net behind him, sending the two teams to the locker rooms with the score at 2-1.

The second period would see a much faster start, as once again Yanni Gourde (recording his third point in three Tampa goals) put his entire heart and soul into a turnaround wrist shot from the right circle that beat Luongo high glove and put his Lightning up 3-1 just 1:27 into the second. A good chunk of the second would pass rather uneventfully (sans a great save by Luongo on Nikita Kucherov) before Bjugstand would walk out from the corner with Steven Stamkos all over him, drive to the crease and bang home his own rebound to bring the Panthers within one again at the 13:35 mark. But less than three minutes later the lead would stretch again as Alex Killorn picked up a juicy rebound off of a Stamkos one-timer and send the game to its final intermission with a 4-2 score in favor of the home team.

The two-goal lead would last just 21 seconds into the third period, as Bjugstad would bury his third of the game to cut the deficit in half. After an Andrej Sustr tripping penalty a few minutes later, Vincent Trocheck would finally knot the score with a power play wrister from the right circle, beating Vasilevskiy just between the glove and left pad. 4-4 would remain the score through the end of regulation, despite the best efforts of the Panthers who would total 16 third period shots to Tampa’s 11, though a tipped Sustr point shot finding Luongo’s left goal post was probably the closest call of the rest of the third. But, alas, off to overtime we’d go.

A fairly tame start to OT would give way to serious offensive zone pressure by Tampa right around the midway point of the frame. Anton Stralman nearly ended things with a one-timer fired at a gaping net, but it would hit the outside of the post and be collected in the corner by Tyler Johnson. Johnson would give it back to Stralman, who saw an open Brayden Point (waving every available limb and utensil frantically) waiting just inside the right circle. Point would receive the pass, absolutely dance a charging Evgeny Dadonov out of his skates, then roof a laserbeam over the glove of Luongo to rid Amalie Arena of its roof and send the Bolts faithful home happy.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

The Carolina Hurricanes are accepting job applications for their next General Manager via Twitter. Obviously we here at DTFR are biased, but I think we’d all gladly throw our hats in the ring for our own @capncornelius to get the gig.

Sidney Crosby reached 1,100 career points, which seems like a slightly obscure number to celebrate. But congrats, I guess.

…this was a slow news week…umm, hey @connorzkeith, can you throw in some sort of funny cat photo or something for filler in the edit? Thanks, buddy.

*Editor’s note: Don’t forget Alex Ovechkin‘s 600th career goal and Marc-Andre Fleury‘s 400th career win last night, @vanekatthedisco! Anyways, time to empty the cat folder. Here’s a few of my faves:*

February 26 – Day 138 – And the dust settles

Today’s the day, hockey fans: the NHL trade deadline is finally upon us. As of 3 p.m. Eastern, every roster will effectively look how it will for the end of the regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Once all the dust settles, there’s five games to be played tonight, with fans potentially seeing their new additions for the first time. The action begins at 7 p.m. with Washington at Columbus (SN), followed half an hour later by two more (Philadelphia at Montréal [NBCSN/RDS/TSN2] and Toronto at Tampa Bay [TVAS]). Next up is Vancouver at Colorado at 9 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at Los Angeles (SN) – waiting until 10:30 to drop the puck. All times Eastern.

I must admit: I composed this article following the completion of yesterday’s games. Because of that, the featured matchup cannot take into account any of today’s deadline deals.

That being said, there’s only one clear choice for the title of today’s most important game.






If you’re a regular listener to the DtFR Podcast, you know how much I rail on the lack of quality in the Atlantic Division (though not quite as often as the miserable Pacific). While I still stand by that claim when looking at the division as a whole, the Atlantic is also home to the best top-three of any division in the NHL.

Let’s start with the visiting 39-20-5 Maple Leafs, who have been the league’s hottest team in the past month. Since January 24, Toronto has earned a dominant 13-2-0 record by pairing a standout offense with the exemplary play of 32-16-4 G Frederik Andersen.

Sometimes, all it takes is one person to propel a team to greatness. There’s a few of those types of players on Toronto’s roster, but the one that deserves the most credit for the Maple Leafs’ recent run is Andersen. He’s played lights out since January 24, posting a solid .928 save percentage and 2.58 GAA.

Those may not be the best numbers in the league in that time, but it’s the fact that he’s been able to play so well and lead his team to allowing only a second-best 2.33 goals against per game over the past month in spite of his defense’s poor effort that makes him so important. Few netminders would be able to keep up behind a team that has allowed a second-worst 35.4 shots against per game over their past 15 showings.

Of course, there’s more to this Toronto roster than Andersen. Since January 24, the Leafs’ attack has been dominated by current first-liners F Mitch Marner (10-9-19 over this run) and C Nazem Kadri (9-10-19 totals in his past 15 games), as well as second-liner F William Nylander (5-10-15) and C Auston Matthews (7-7-14 in his last 14 games) – who landed on injured reserve yesterday with a shoulder injury that will keep him off the ice for at least seven days.

All four are averaging at least a point per game over the past month, and the top line especially looks like it could take on any defense in the league right now and find much success.

Whether or not 42-17-3 Tampa Bay’s defense will pose much of a problem tonight is certainly up for discussion, but there’s no doubting the Lightning’s offense, which has propelled them to a 4-1-0 record in their past five showings.

For those that haven’t heard: RW Nikita Kucherov is really, really good at his job. In his past five games, he’s posted disgusting 3-7-10 totals to average two points per game and elevate his point streak to nine games. Joining him in averaging a lowly point per game since February 15 are F Brayden Point (5-1-6), D Victor Hedman (1-5-6) and C Steven Stamkos (3-2-5).

Though Kucherov and Point have been playing together on the second line lately, Kucherov’s favorite dance partner over the last 11 days has been Hedman. In addition to the Russian providing the primary assist on Hedman’s goal in Ottawa on Thursday, the defenseman has contributed to another five of Kucherov’s last 10 scoring plays.

Digging even deeper into those six plays, Hedman and Kucherov have completed plays directly to each other (in other words, they both provided assists on another player’s goal or one provided the primary assist on the other’s tally) in five of the six scores. If Toronto’s defense can take away those passing lanes, it can effectively shut down Tampa’s attack.

The Lightning and Maple Leafs were scheduled for a four-game regular season series this year, and both games to take place at Air Canada Centre are already behind us. The Bolts made their first trip to Toronto on January 2, beating the Leafs 2-0 (36-12-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy earned First Star honors for his 29-save shutout). Game 2 took place on February 12, but this one favored the hosts as Toronto earned a tight 4-3 victory (LW James van Riemsdyk scored the game-winner).

While tonight’s result won’t impact the standings in terms of playoff matchups, Toronto especially can benefit from a win tonight. The Leafs currently hold on to second place in the division by only one point while the third-place Bruins have a whopping five games in hand. Any lead the Leafs can generate is important, because they’re well behind the eight ball in keeping Boston behind them at season’s end.

Of course, Tampa Bay is also more than interested in two points – especially considering the Golden Knights are also in action tonight. The Lightning have only a one-point advantage on Vegas for the Presidents’ Trophy, a lead which is even slimmer when taking into account the Knights’ game in hand.

Tampa Bay has the luxury of playing at home this evening, but I’m of the opinion that it won’t matter. Two of the three most important phases of Toronto’s game has been firing on all cylinders for the past month and show no sign of slowing down. Even without Matthews, I think the Leafs can earn two points tonight.

With an overtime goal from Second Star of the Game D Trevor Daley, the Detroit Red Wings beat the New York Rangers 3-2 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first period almost ended in a scoreless draw, but F Andreas Athanasiou (D Nick Jensen and F Dylan Larkin) didn’t seem to interested in that when he buried his wrist shot with seven seconds remaining on the clock.

Detroit’s advantage read 2-0 4:31 into the second period when F Darren Helm scored an unassisted wrister, but that advantage lasted only 3:20 before F J.T. Miller (Third Star F Ryan Spooner and D Anthony DeAngelo) pulled the Rangers back within a one-goal deficit with a slap shot.

The tale of two halves was completed with 8:44 remaining in regulation when RW Jesper Fast (F Kevin Hayes and Spooner) scored a wrister to tie the game at 2-2. Surprisingly, even though the Blueshirts fired a whopping 19 shots on goal in the third period, they could not break the tie, sending this game into overtime.

Considering they had powered all the way back from 2-0 down to tie the game, common sense would say New York had all the energy coming into the five minute three-on-three overtime period. However, both defenses rose to the occasion to allow only one combined shot on goal. Unfortunately for the Blueshirts, that shot belonged to Daley (C Frans Nielsen and F Tomas Tatar), who redirected Nielsen’s initial shot between G Henrik Lundqvist‘s legs with six seconds separating the game from the dreaded shootout.

First Star G Jimmy Howard earned the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (.947 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Lundqvist, who saved 31-of-34 (.912).

That’s the second-straight win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the 73-46-19 hosts now have only a 19-point lead over the visitors in the series.

February 25 – Day 137 – MSG’s newest addition

Don’t be sad that the Olympic hockey tournaments are gone. Instead, remember the fun we had.

That brings our full attention back to the NHL, and not a moment too soon: today’s half-dozen games are the final fixtures before tomorrow’s trade deadline. Here’s hoping your favorite player is still on your team’s roster by tomorrow’s puck drop!

Today’s schedule gets underway at noon with St. Louis at Nashville (NBC/TVAS), followed by Boston at Buffalo (SN360) five hours later and Detroit at the New York Rangers (NHLN) at 7:30 p.m. Two games drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Edmonton at Anaheim [SN] and San Jose at Minnesota), followed by tonight’s nightcap – Vancouver at Arizona – at 9:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s more than a few interesting narratives associated with today’s games. Here’s just a few:

  • St. Louis at Nashville: It’s a rematch of one of last year’s Western Conference Semifinals! The Predators won that series in six games.
  • Boston at Buffalo: This rivalry has died down with the decline of the Sabres, but perhaps there’s a surprise in store today.
  • Detroit at New York: Not only is this an Original Six rivalry, but the Rangers are retiring C Jean Ratelle‘s 19.
  • Edmonton at Anaheim: The other 2017 Western Semifinal is also being revisited today. The Ducks needed all seven games to beat the Oil.

There have been few like Ratelle, so let’s make the trip to Manhattan to ensure his sweater ends up where it rightfully belongs: in the Madison Square Garden rafters.


Ratelle played his first NHL game during the 1960-’61 season following three successful campaigns with the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters/Guelph Royals, the Rangers’ OHA farm team before the creation of the NHL Entry Draft.

After suffering and recovering from a back injury during the 1963-’64, Ratelle earned a permanent spot on the Blueshirts’ roster a season later – and he never looked back. In 54 games, he scored decent 14-21-35 totals, followed by even better 21-30-51 marks in 1965-’66.

Those are decent numbers, but nothing really worth retiring a sweater over.

That all changed during the 1967-’68 campaign. Entering the season with only 139 points in 259 games played for his career, 27-year-old Ratelle registered a whopping 32-46-78 performance, starting a run of six-consecutive 70+ point seasons and 13-consecutive 67+ point seasons.

During the 1970-’71 season, Ratelle finally had the opportunity to start his trophy case. After posting 26-46-72 marks, he was awarded the Masterton Trophy for his impressive production paired with taking only 14 penalty minutes. That is a theme that followed Ratelle throughout his career, as we’ll discuss in a moment.

That recognition apparently did a lot to motivate Ratelle, because his 1971-’72 season was by far his best season as a Ranger and in the NHL. In only 63 games, he posted a career-high 46 goals and 109 points. For those astute at math, you probably realized that Ratelle averaged 1.73 points per game, or seven points every four games.

By comparison, Tampa Bay Lightning RW Nikita Kucherov is averaging a league-leading 1.32 points per game this season.

Yeah, Ratelle was pretty darn good.

As would be expected, that effort earned a few more accolades, most notably his lone listing as a season-ending All-Star team – he was the second team’s center. Ratelle also brought home the Pearson Award (now known as the Lindsay Award) and his first Lady Byng Trophy.

Ratelle had one last 100-point season up his sleeve, but in a bizarre twist of fate it was in 1975-’76, the year he was traded to Boston with D Brad Park and D Joe Zanussi for C Phil Esposito and D Carol Vadnais. Ratelle departed the Big Apple having registered 5-10-15 totals through 13 games. Upon arriving in Beantown, he exploded for 31-59-90 marks (36-69-105 season totals). His success through the difficult circumstances paired with committing only 18 penalty minutes earned him his second Byng.

Speaking once again of the Byng Trophy, there is one award that alluded Ratelle throughout this 21-year NHL career: the Stanley Cup. Whether with New York or Boston, he qualified for the playoffs 15 consecutive times, advancing to the Finals thrice (1972, ’77-’78). However, all three times ended in disappointment.

But rings aren’t what makes a player great. His achievements on the ice indicated greatness, as did his ability to it while also being one of the game’s true gentlemen.

Tonight, the Rangers will honor Ratelle’s impact on the franchise and the game by officially retiring his 19 alongside their eight other previously retired sweater already hanging in Madison Square Garden.

He joins another another 19 already hanging in The World’s Most Famous Arena: that of Willis Reed Jr. of New York Knickerbocker lore. Reed led the Knicks to both of their two NBA championships (1970, ’73), earning the Finals MVP award both times.

There’s no doubt that the Rangers’ hoisting Ratelle’s sweater is an honor by the entire franchise, but can these 27-30-5 Blueshirts, who occupy last place in the Metropolitan Division, honor him with their play?

It doesn’t seem likely, given the fact that they’re riding a six-game losing skid.

There’s little good that can be said about New York’s effort lately, but the Rangers’ play in their defensive end has left much to be desired. Even with the play of F J.T. Miller and W Mats Zuccarello (both with a team-leading four takeaways since February 13), W Cody McLeod (4.4 hits per game in his last five showings), D Rob O’Gara (averaging two blocks per game since joining the Rangers), New York has allowed 35.33 shots against per game during this losing skid, the sixth-worst mark in the NHL in that time.

That’s put a lot of pressure on 23-21-4 G Henrik Lundqvist, and he just hasn’t been able to steal enough victories behind this team this season. In his last four starts, Lundqvist has managed an uncharacteristic .859 save percentage for a 4.77 GAA, pulling his season marks down to .914 and 2.89.

Put Lundqvist’s struggles with a porous defense, and you get a Rangers team that has allowed 4.33 goals per game since February 13 – far and away the worst mark in the league in that time.

Turning our attention to the 25-26-10 Red Wings, we find a team currently in fifth place in the Atlantic Division coming off a 1-2-1 home stand. Over that run, Detroit actually played some decent defense to earn its three points.

Led by the solid efforts of W Justin Abdelkader (3.8 hits per game since February 18) and D Danny DeKeyser (2.8 blocks per game during the home stand), the Wings have allowed only 30.5 shots to reach 17-19-7 G Jimmy Howard per game, and he’s reacted very well to the limited workload to post a cool .92 save percentage and 2.31 GAA. That strong play has improved Howard’s season marks to a .911 save percentage and 2.8 GAA.

Between the Wings’ defense and Howard’s effort, Detroit has allowed only 2.5 goals per game in its last four showings – the (t)10th-best effort since February 18.

Tonight’s game is the finale of the three-game season series between these clubs, and it’s an important one considering either side has earned three point against the other. New York won the first meeting at Madison Square Garden on Black Friday 2-1 in overtime (Zuccarello provided the game-winning goal only 37 seconds into overtime), but the Wings leveled the series December 29 by defending Little Caesars Arena to a 3-2 shootout victory (F Andreas Athanasiou took First Star honors for his eight-shot, one-goal performance).

If the Rangers need an example of how to play defense, they’ll get a decent one tonight. With that in mind, I think the Wings can pull off the road victory at MSG.

Thanks to Kirill Kaprizov’s game-winning goal to complete his four-point night, the Olympic Athletes from Russia’s men’s hockey team won the Olympic gold medal by beating Germany 4-3 at Gangneung Hockey Centre.

Germany almost escaped from the first period tied at 0-0, but Slava Voynov (Nikita Gusev and Kaprizov) ruined that opportunity with half a second remaining before the intermission. Voynov roofed a wrist shot over G Danny aus den Birken’s right shoulder to give the OAR the lead.

A misplayed puck got Germany right back into the game. Driving towards the goal line, Felix Fchutz (Brooks Macek and Patrick Hager) flipped a puck towards G Vasily Koschechkin with little more than a prayer of if finding the back of the net. However, Koshechkin let the puck bounce off his arm and fall into the crease, where it eventually rolled across the red line to level the game at 1-1 at the 9:32 mark of the frame.

Tied through the second intermission, the OAR reclaimed the lead with 6:39 remaining in regulation courtesy of a goal from Gusev (Kaprizov and Pavel Datsyuk), but that advantage lasted only 10 seconds before Dominik Kahun (Frank Mauer and Yasin Ehliz) tied the game once again at 2-2. Germany claimed its first (and only) lead of the championship game with 3:16 remaining in regulation when Jonas Muller (Ehliz and Frank Hordler) beat Koshechkin, but an uninformed dump by the Germans while they were on the power play led to Gusev (Artyom Zub and Kaprizov) scoring a shorthanded, but even-strength with Koshechkin off the ice for the extra attacker, goal.

Overtime lasted 9:40 before Kaprizov (Gusev and Voynov) took advantage of a Patrick Reimer high sticking penalty to score the medal-winning goal.

Koshechkin saved 22-of-25 shots faced (.88 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the overtime loss to aus den Birken, who saved a solid 26-of-30 (.867).

After that result in the DtFR Game of the Day, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day now have a 21-point advantage over the roadies with their 73-46-18 record.

February 10 – Day 122 – Only 4 the Captain

Get ready, because there’s a whole lot of hockey coming at you today.

With the Olympics underway, the hockey festivities get an early start today. Switzerland and the unified Korean women’s hockey teams will square off in Group B play at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time.

As for NHL action, the first five of nine games (Buffalo at Boston, Ottawa at Toronto [SN/TVAS], Nashville at Montréal [CITY/NHLN/SN360/TVAS], Los Angeles at Tampa Bay and New Jersey at Columbus) wait until the usual 7 p.m. starting time before getting underway. Next up is the three tilts (Philadelphia at Arizona, Chicago at Minnesota and Colorado at Carolina) scheduled for 8 p.m., followed two hours later by Edmonton at San Jose (CITY/SN/SN360), tonight’s NHL nightcap. All times Eastern.

Finally, we’ll also include Finland vs. the United States’ women’s hockey team’s Group A tilt in today’s listing. That puck drop is scheduled for Sunday at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time.

Here’s just a few of the games on today’s slate that stuck out to me:

  • Switzerland vs. Korea: Let’s see if this unified Korean team can shock the sixth-ranked women’s side in the world.
  • Buffalo at Boston: It’s rivalry night in New England!
  • Ottawa at Toronto: Speaking of rivalries, the Battle of Ontario rages on in the Queen City tonight.
  • Nashville at Montréal: Another former Canadiens defenseman moved to Nashville this offseason. This year, it was Alexei Emelin.
  • Los Angeles at Tampa Bay: C Vincent Lecavalier‘s sweater is being sent where it belongs tonight: hanging above the Amalie Arena ice.
  • Chicago at Minnesota: Saturdays are apparently for rivalries, because every game between the Blackhawks and Wild is a good one.
  • Edmonton at San Jose: This tilt may not be a rivalry, but it is a rematch of one of last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals.
  • Finland vs. USA: Every game in Group A of the women’s Olympic tournament is a big deal. This one is no exception.

A sweater can only be retired once, so it looks like we’re headed to Florida!






Lecavalier’s outstanding story of an NHL career began on June 27, 1998. It was a beautiful 78 degree day in Buffalo (that’s 25.5 degrees to you Canadians) outside Marine Midland Arena, but that didn’t interest the 18-year-old L’Île-Bizard, Quebec native all that much, as he was the top-overall pick in that year’s NHL Entry Draft –  the Bolts’ second such pick in six years.

With only two years of play under his belt with QMJHL side Rimouski, Lecavalier immediately joined a Tampa Bay team that had posted a horrendous 17-55-10 record the year before to finish dead last in the league standings, 19 points behind second-worst Florida.

The rookie didn’t exactly put up stellar numbers, finishing with 13-15-28 marks, but he did play all 82 games of his first regular season to help the Lightning improve, albeit moderately, to 19-54-9. Lecavalier finished 14th in Calder Trophy voting, well behind winner C Chris Drury, the 22-year-old center of the Colorado Avalanche.

Considering then-new Lightning owner Art Williams had dubbed Lecavalier “the Michael Jordan of hockey,” his rookie season must have been a disappointment. However, real champions are those that learn and grow from their struggles.

That’s exactly what Lecavalier did over the summer, and he reaped the benefits during his sophomore season. The still teen-aged youngster exploded during the 1999-’00 season, more than doubling his rookie production with 25-42-67 totals in two fewer games played- far and away the best marks on the team. Though the Bolts held firm in fourth place in the Southeast Division, Lecavalier was starting to show that he was worth the top-overall pick.

After stumbling a bit and continuing to grow into the NHL game over his next two seasons (not to mention assuming captaincy of the Lighting for the 2000-’01 season), Lecavalier’s next breakthrough came during the 2002-’03 campaign. In 80 games played, he posted a then career-best 33-45-78 score line, barely missing out on averaging a point-per-game for the first time since his dominant 44-71-115 effort during his final year in the QMJHL. Additionally, he posted his first non-negative season goal-differential, which is just as much a testament to his improved play as it is to the improvement of the squad around him.

This improved team effort earned Tampa Bay a 36-25-16-5 record, good enough for its first-ever division title and second-ever playoff berth. Lecavalier and the Lightning performed well in the postseason, advancing to the Eastern Semifinals before falling to the mighty Devils in five games.

That sparked a run of four-consecutive postseason appearances for the Bolts (ignoring, of course, the locked-out 2004-’05 season), which included what is probably the pinnacle of Lecavalier’s NHL career: hoisting the 2004 Stanley Cup after a seven-game war against the Calgary Flames.

After taking a back seat in Tampa’s five-game victory over the Isles in the Eastern Quarterfinals, Lecavalier absolutely dominated his hometown Canadiens in the semifinals (growing up a Red Wings fan, he probably brought some Original Six bad blood into the matchup). In only four games, he posted unbelievable 5-2-7 totals to have a hand in half of the Bolts’ goals.

Lecavalier continued his scoring ways in the Conference Finals against third-seeded Philadelphia, nearly managing a point per match with 4-2-6 totals in the seven-game series.

Though not to the extreme of his 0-0-0 performance against New York, Lecavalier struggled to find much traction in the Stanley Cup Finals against Calgary – the West’s sixth-seeded team – and its dominant defense. He posted only 0-3-3 totals in the seven-game series, but one of those assists proved to be the primary helper on LW Ruslan Fedotenko‘s Cup-clinching goal.

But Lord Stanley’s Cup is not the only piece of hardware associated with Lecavalier. The same year he was named to the Second All-Star Team (not the group that competes during the break in late January, but the arguably more important season-ending honor), he took home the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for his career-best 52-56-108 performance in 2006-’07, beating Ottawa’s LW Dany Heatley by two tallies.

In addition to being a stellar hockey player, Lecavalier was – and undoubtedly still is – an incredible human being. Only a year after winning one of the most prestigious awards for achievements in the rink (and finishing in fourth place for the Hart Memorial Trophy as well), Lecavalier was bestowed the 2008 King Clancy Memorial Trophy for pledging $3 million to build the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at St. Petersburg’s All Children’s Hospital (now Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital).

As for Lecavalier on the ice, things started to decline following his respective 108 and 92-point seasons in 2006-’07 and 2007-’08. Though he came close in 2012-’13 with his 10-22-32 totals in 39 games played, never again would Lecavalier reach the illustrious point-per-game mark that all forwards strive for.

As such, the Lightning were forced to buyout the remaining seven years of Lecavalier’s contract on June 27, 2013 – 15 years to the day after being drafted by the club.

However, that didn’t mark the end of Lecavalier’s career. He would go on to play three more seasons in the NHL, including 42 regular season games in the 2015-’16 campaign with tonight’s opponent: the Los Angeles Kings. After five postseason games with the Kings, in which he managed 1-1-2 totals before being eliminated by San Jose, Lecavalier retired from the league on June 21, 2016, six days before the 18th anniversary of an 18-year-old boy from L’Île-Bizard being drafted first overall.

It was a beautiful 89 degrees that day in Los Angeles, but that didn’t interest Lecavalier all that much.

Made known by his Richard Trophy, there’s nothing Lecavalier loved more than scoring. Though he won’t be lacing up the skates this evening, he would certainly fit in with his would-be teammates on the league-leading 37-14-3 Lightning, as they’ve posted a 6-2-0 record since January 22 with an imposing 3.75 goals per game, the third-best mark in the league in that time.

If the leaders of an offense during a run like this are those that average at least a point per game, Tampa has had three stars in its past eight tilts: F Yanni Gourde (6-4-10 points over this run, 20-20-40 overall), C Steven Stamkos (3-5-8 over this run, 20-42-62 overall) and sophomore LW Adam Erne (1-0-1 in his one NHL game of the season so far, Thursday’s 5-2 victory against the Canucks).

In all seriousness, the Lightning’s top line – which currently consists of Gourde, Stamkos and F Tyler Johnson – has been playing lights out over the past 19 days. Whether it’s been on the power play or at even-strength (Tampa’s 24.1 percent power play success rate on the season is [t]second-best in the league), the Bolts have been an imposing threat every time they have the puck on their sticks.

Of course, it would be wildly irresponsible to discuss Tampa Bay’s offense without bringing up RW Nikita Kucherov. The Russian has been unstoppable all season, as his 68 points on the year is the most in the league, followed by his (t)sixth-most 28 goals. Stamkos has also been the consistent threat everyone expects him to be, as his 62 points on the year is (t)seventh-most in the NHL and his 42 assists (t)eighth-most.

Of course, the Lighting aren’t just all offense. They dominate the defensive end too, allowing a ninth-fewest 2.63 goals against per game since January 22.

Considering Tampa’s defense has allowed an abysmal 36.25 shots against per game over its past eight games (third-worst since January 22), no one but 32-10-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy deserves any credit for that success. Vasilevskiy has posted a dominant .938 save percentage and 2.29 GAA over his past six starts to improve his season marks to .929 and 2.27, and he’s all but certain to be in net this evening.

As for the visiting 30-19-5 Kings, it’s been an up-and-down season so far. However, Los Angeles seems to be experiencing one of its ups lately, as it’s posted a 5-1-0 record in its past six games to jump into second place in the Pacific Division.

The person behind these recent winning ways is none other than 9-1-3 G Darcy Kuemper. He’s started four of the past six games for an undefeated record, sporting an almost unbreakable .973 save percentage and .74 GAA to improve his season marks to .942 and 1.78. With 21-18-2 G Jonathan Quick dominating the crease to a 3-1 victory in Sunrise last night, it seems probable that Kuemper will be in net this evening

Of course, Kuemper has also had the luxury of the league’s (t)ninth-best defense since January 24 playing in front of him. Led by the efforts of LW Kyle Clifford (2.5 hits per game since January 24), F Alex Iafallo (four takeaways over this run) and D Alec Martinez (4.5 blocks per game in his past four appearances), the Kings have allowed an average of only 30.83 shots against to help Kuemper earn these victories.

For the icing on the cake, Los Angeles has also been able to turn Kuemper’s confidence in the crease into goals on the other end. With C Anze Kopitar (3-5-8 totals since January 24, 22-36-58 overall) and D Drew Doughty (1-5-6 totals in his past six games, 8-31-39 overall) leading the way, the Kings have scored an impressive 3.17 goals per game over their past six tilts – the 10th-best effort in that time.

Back on November 9, the Lightning made their annual trip to Tinseltown and found much success, beating the Kings 5-2. Kucherov took home First Star honors from that tilt with his one-goal, three-point effort.

Two teams come into this game playing with confidence, but only one can earn two points. Considering the Kings had to travel to Tampa last night, it’s hard to pick against the Bolts. However, considering how well Kuemper has been playing of late, the Lightning just might need more than 60 minutes to get enough pucks past him.

With three goals in the second period, the St. Louis Blues beat the Winnipeg Jets 5-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Bell MTS Centre.

Before the Jets even got on their own scoreboard, St. Louis had already earned found its game-winner. First Star of the Game RW Vladimir Tarasenko (Third Star F Alex Steen) scored the first goal of the game with a wrist shot 24:18 into the contest.

Once that opening tally was out of the way, the Blues were able to score seemingly at will. With 9:47 remaining in the second frame, F Patrik Berglund (D Robert Bortuzzo and F Jaden Schwartz) doubled St. Louis’ advantage, followed only 1:26 later by Steen’s (D Alex Pietrangelo) game-winning snap shot.

Though Pietrangelo technically goes down as providing the only helper on Steen’s tally, he should really receive the secondary assist while handing the primary honors over to G Connor Hellebuyck. Pietrangelo fired a low wrister from the right face-off circle that the netminder easily deflected with his pads, but that save ended up right on Steen’s stick. Having scored 11 goals on the season before this one, the forward knew exactly what to do with the opportunity, burying a snapper in Hellebuyck’s wide open net before he could figure out what was going on.

Second Star LW Kyle Connor (F Jack Roslovic) made sure the period didn’t totally belong to the visitors, as he pulled the Jets back within a 3-1 deficit with 2:27 remaining in the frame.

Winnipeg’s comeback attempt continued in the third period, as W Patrik Laine (Connor and RW Blake Wheeler) took advantage of F Vladimir Sobotka hooking him only 39 seconds before to score a power play slap shot with 8:21 remaining in regulation. With Winnipeg now only a goal away from tying the game, Tarasenko (C Paul Stastny and D Jay Bouwmeester) set the score at 4-2 with an insurance snapper 66 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Laine. Finally Schwartz tacked on another insurance tally with three seconds remaining on the clock, scoring a shorthanded wrister on an empty net.

G Jake Allen earned the victory after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (.909 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hellebuyck, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).

With points in three-straight games, the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are trying to do all they can to get back into the season series. With the Notes’ victory in white sweaters, the roadies are now 24 points behind the series’ 67-40-15 hosts.

January 23 – Day 108 – Stanley Cup preview?

Even for a Tuesday, a dozen games on the schedule is a crazy high number! Count me among the thankful!

Like it does most nights, the action begins at 7 p.m. with two contests (New Jersey at Boston [SN] and Carolina at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by another pair (Colorado at Montréal [RDS/TSN2] and Philadelphia at Detroit [NBCSN]). A third pair of fixtures (Ottawa at St. Louis [RDS2] and Tampa Bay at Nashville [TVAS]) will get underway at 8 p.m., while Florida at Dallas will wait 30 minutes before seeing the green light. Next up is Buffalo at Edmonton at 9 p.m., trailed an hour after by three games (Los Angeles at Vancouver, Columbus at Vegas [SN360] and the New York Rangers at Anaheim). Finally, Winnipeg at San Jose finishes the night out with their game starting at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

As might be expected, there’s a few games that have some added narrative associated.

  • New Jersey at Boston: After two seasons wearing black and gold, RW Jimmy Hayes returns to TD Garden for the first time as a member of the Devils.
  • Florida at Dallas: Though this is year two of F Colton Sceviour‘s tenure with the Panthers, he has yet to return to Dallas, where he spent the first five seasons of his NHL career.
  • Buffalo at Edmonton: Journeyman LW Benoit Pouliot spent three seasons before this one in Edmonton. Tonight, he returns for the first time as a member of the Sabres.

However, since I’ve remained steadfast in my prediction of a Nashville-Tampa Bay Stanley Cup Final for most of the season, I think we have to take in the Bolts’ visit to Music City.


Of course, don’t let me convince you that I’m the only one to think this is a very likely Finals matchup. According to an ESPN article on August 14, the Bolts had 12-1 odds to win for the championship series, trailed closely behind by Nashville’s 14-1 mark. For reference, the Pens were Vegas’ favorites at 6-1.

Then again, the Devils and Golden Knights were two of five teams to have 200-1 odds that day, so what did anybody know almost two months before the season began?

Of course, based on how it’s played lately, 32-12-3 Tampa Bay has not exactly lived up to expectations. Before yesterday’s 2-0 win in Chicago, the league-leading Lightning had lost three-straight games in a skid that started before their bye week.

The biggest reason for that losing skid was an offense that absolutely disappeared on the Lightning. Even though the Bolts still own a league-leading 3.49 goals per game on the season, they managed only a 1.5 goals-per-game since January 11 – the fourth-worst in that time.

Perhaps no stat is more telling of Tampa Bay’s struggles than this one: Over their past four games, F Brayden Point has been the Lightning’s leading scorer.

That’s certainly not a knock on Point’s effort, either of late or on the season. He’s averaged a point-per-game in his past four outings with 3-1-4 totals, and his 19-24-43 marks have already exceeded those of his 68-game rookie season that earned him a 10th-place finish in the race for last year’s Calder Trophy. In fact, he’s (t)ninth in the league with his +20 rating.

However, Point is no W Nikita Kucherov, who leads the league in points (61), is (t)second in goals (27) and 10th in assists (34); or C Steven Stamkos, who’s (t)sixth in points (54) and eighth in assists (37). Together, they’ve combined for only three assists over these last four games, and their team has obviously suffered without their leadership. In a big game tonight, they will need to perform well to ensure their club’s return to form last night is not short-lived.

With the Bolts in action last night, the goaltending situation is never set in stone until puck drop. However, I have a hard time believing 1-6-0 G Louis Domingue will steal 28-9-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s crease away from him given the magnitude of tonight’s tilt. The league’s wins and shutouts (seven) leader’s .93 save percentage is third-best in the NHL, and his 2.21 GAA fifth-best.

If the Lightning are trending down lately, 28-11-6 Nashville – the Central Division’s second-best team – is definitely heading in the right direction. The Preds have won five-straight games to pull within a point of division-leading Winnipeg, on whom they have three games in hand.

If Nashville’s winning streak belongs to any one player, it has to be 23-8-3 G Pekka Rinne. Even though his defense has allowed an unimpressive 33.4 shots against-per-game over this five-game run (11th-worst average in the league since January 6), he’s won all four of his starts with a .927 save percentage and 2.21 GAA. Add 5-3-3 G Juuse Saros‘ shutout victory against the league-leading Golden Knights last week into the mix, and the Preds have allowed only 1.8 goals against-per-game – the third-best mark in the NHL since January 6.

As we all know, this stellar performance by Rinne is nothing new. Not only has he won the (t)fourth-most games in the NHL, but his three shutouts are (t)fifth-most and his .925 season save percentage is eighth-best. Is there nothing he can’t do?

A sputtering offense taking on a goaltender having a Vezina-caliber season is never a good matchup, however I think we all know better than to count the Lightning out of any game. That being said, I believe Bridgestone Arena’s home-ice advantage will propel the Predators to a well-earned victory.

With a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Colorado Avalanche have extended their winning streak to 10 games.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it belonged to Third Star of the Game W Gabriel Bourque (F Tyson Jost and F J.T. Compher). He buried a wrist shot 2:19 into the game to give the Avs an early one-goal advantage.

Colorado’s lead lasted until the 19 second mark of the second period. That’s when F Patrick Marleau (F Leo Komarov and D Jake Gardiner) scored a slap shot to level the game. 8:58 later, Second Star C Auston Matthews (F William Nylander and D Andreas Borgman) gave the Leafs their only lead of the night with a wrister. However, that advantage didn’t last long, because W Nail Yakupov (F Alexander Kerfoot) tied the game at 2-2 only 1:34 later. That score held into the second intermission.

Both defenses took over the third period, as only a combined 15 shots were fired. However, the Colorado offense was the one to break through and score two goals – the most important of which was First Star W Blake Comeau‘s (F Carl Soderberg and D Erik Johnson) game-winning tip-in with 7:43 remaining in regulation.

After Comeau brought the puck to center ice, he passed to Soderberg to complete the entry into the offensive zone from his left wing position. While Soderberg was working to get around D Connor Carrick, Comeau continued to advance towards G Frederik Andersen‘s crease, allowing him to redirect a centering pass through the five-hole.

With his club trailing by only one goal late in the game, Head Coach Mike Babcock was forced to pull Andersen with 2:27 remaining in regulation. LW Gabriel Landeskog (RW Mikko Rantanen) took advantage of the gaping cage only 1:33 later to set the 4-2 final score.

G Jonathan Bernier won his return to the ACC after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving Andersen with the loss, saving 23-of-26 (.885).

Road teams have won three-consecutive games in the DtFR Game of the Day, but they still trail the 59-36-13 hosts by 19 points.

January 11 – Day 96 – Seeing red

Usually Thursdays are among the busiest days of the week, but this particular edition doesn’t quite fit the bill with only three East Coast games to offer.

Like it usually does, the action begins at 7 p.m. with a pair of contests (Columbus at Buffalo [SN] and Carolina at Washington [NHLN]), but the nightcap – Calgary at Tampa Bay (TVAS) – gets an early start at 7:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Toronto and Vegas.

Fortunately, all three tilts are being broadcast nationally so no one gets left out on tonight’s fun. However, it is citizens of the United States that are truly the lucky ones, because they get tonight’s best matchup.


Hidden within this tilt between Southeast-turned-Metropolitan Division rivals is the homecoming of Mr. Game 7 to Washington for the first time since returning to Raleigh this offseason.

RW Justin Williams played the last two seasons before this one with W Alex Ovechkin and company. Following a successful seven seasons in Los Angeles that earned him his second and third Stanley Cup rings (not to mention the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy), the Kings left him unsigned and he joined the Caps on a two-year, $6.5 million contract.

Beyond the simple offensive prowess he had shown throughout his NHL tenure (he’d averaged .63 points per game for his career leading up to the 2015-’16 season), Williams was brought into the Washington fold to bring the very thing it had missed in seasons past: the clutch factor. The ability to take the ice in a Game 7 knowing they had the experience and scoring touch to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998.

Williams brought exactly what the Capitals expected as far as his scoring was concerned. Having scored .63 points per game for the first 14 seasons of his career, Williams managed a .62 in two seasons with the Caps to post 46-54-100 totals during his tenure.

However, Mr. Game 7 apparently didn’t travel from the West to East Coast, because he managed only 2-1-3 totals in five elimination games with Washington. In fact, even though the Capitals clawed their way back into last year’s Eastern Semifinal against Pittsburgh from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7, all Williams can claim for his last three postseason games are six shots on goal. No goals, no assists. Heck, he even has a goal-differential of zero.

While I’m sure the Caps’ dire cap situation is the primary reason he swapped out red sweaters this offseason, Williams not delivering in the postseason like he was expected to must have factored into the decision to not resign him at least a little bit.

Regardless of the reason, Williams was presented with the opportunity to resign with the Hurricanes, the club with which he won his first Stanley Cup in 2006, on a two-year, $9 million contract. He pounced on the opportunity immediately.

So far, Williams has continued his stellar offensive production. With 7-19-26 totals alongside LW Brock McGinn and C Victor Rask on the Canes’ third line, he’s posting his .62 points-per-game while while also providing a guiding hand for a team with an average age of 26.4-years-old – 1.3 years younger than the league average according to hockeyreference.com.

That guiding hand is apparently working, because Carolina has a 19-15-8 record that is only one point behind Pittsburgh for the second wildcard spot.

We already talked on Tuesday about the impressive surge the Canes have been on lately, earning 17 points over their past 13 games with an 8-4-1 record. However, the next step for this Carolina team is to start beating some of the best teams in the league with a little bit more consistency.

The last six games the Hurricanes have played have been against teams currently in playoff position. In those contests, they’ve managed only a 2-3-1 record, and it’s due in large part to the defense meeting their match against some of the best offenses the game has to offer.

Usually, Carolina is one of the soundest defenses in the NHL. On the season, F Jeff Skinner (42 takeaways), D Jaccob Slavin (2.1 blocks-per-game) and F Jordan Staal (2.4 hits-per-game) have led the Canes to allowing only 29.1 shots against per game, the fewest in the league by half a shot.

Statistically, that defense is still unmatched. Over its past six games, Carolina has allowed only 28 shots per game, the fewest in the league since December 29. However, 11-4-2 G Cam Ward‘s numbers are plummeting from his season marks of a .907 save percentage and 2.78 GAA. How can it be that he’s managed only an .883 save percentage and 3.18 GAA in his past five starts?

Answer: solid offenses.

It is worth mentioning who these current playoff teams are Carolina has played lately: Pittsburgh (2-1 win), at St. Louis (3-2 loss), Washington (5-4 overtime loss), at Pittsburgh (4-0 win), at Boston (7-1 loss) and at Tampa Bay (5-4 loss).

Of these offenses, three are in the top-10 in goals-per-game, and for good reason: they have some of the best scorers in the league. In short, players on these teams (think RW Nikita Kucherov and Ovechkin, just to name a couple) don’t need much room to find the back of the net.

That would put the onus on Ward to perform better against these top teams to keep games close, as well as the offense to find a way to break through these clubs’ defenses with a little bit more success. However, with Carolina and Washington playing a home-and-home series tonight and tomorrow, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of 8-11-6 G Scott Darling for this evening’s matchup.

Darling hasn’t exactly been all the Canes had hoped he’d be when they acquired him this offseason, but he’ll get another opportunity tonight against the Metropolitan Division-leading 27-13-3 Capitals. Washington is rolling right now, as they’ve won five-straight and earned points in 11 of their past 12 games with a 9-1-2 record.

Just like Carolina, Washington is finding much of its success on the defensive end with solid play from RW Alex Chiasson, 24-8-0 G Braden Holtby, D Dmitry Orlov, D Brooks Orpik and RW Tom Wilson, but we tackled that conversation Sunday.

Instead, let’s talk offense.

We’ve already mentioned Ovechkin and the stellar season he’s having. Posting 27-19-46 points (a goal total that ties Kucherov for most in the NHL), he’s well on his way to having his best season since the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 campaign where he registered 56 points in 48 games.

He’s certainly been the hero during this impressive run the Caps have been on since December 12, but he’s also received tremendous support from D John Carlson and C Nicklas Backstrom, who’ve earned respective 3-9-12 and 4-7-11 marks over their past dozen games.

This offensive explosion has been happening all season for Carlson, who must have gleaned a thing or two from D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s short stay in the capital. He’s already posted 5-29-34 totals for the season in his first 43 games played, and if he continues on his pace, he may very well have a season even better than his 12-43-55 career year in 2014-’15.

Tonight marks Game 2 of four between these clubs for the 2017-’18 regular season. The Capitals made the trip down I-95 on January 2. Even though Rask managed to post a two-goal night, Ovechkin was able to match him and score the most important tally of the game: the overtime game winner. Washington won the contest 5-4.

With Darling in net on the road in a usually hostile environment, I have a hard time of seeing the Canes pulling out the victory tonight. However, they will have more than their fair shot at evening the weekend series tomorrow when theses teams square off once again in Raleigh.

In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Minnesota Wild snapped their four-game road losing skid by beating the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 at United Center.

Making it all the sweeter, the victory was of the come-from-behind variety, as Third Star of the Game D Brent Seabrook (D Michal Kempny and C Nick Schmaltz) – coming off his first-ever healthy scratch when Chicago played in Ottawa the day before – scored a wrist shot with 7:36 remaining in the first frame to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.

It took until the 9:58 mark of the second period for Minnesota to level the game. D Jonas Brodin (W Jason Zucker and D Mathew Dumba) was the guilty party, scoring a slap shot from the blue line for only his fourth tally of the season.

As for the game-winner, it was fired off First Star D Ryan Suter‘s (C Mikko Koivu and F Mikael Granlund) stick 3:03 into the third period during four-on-four play. Not usually known for his scoring touch (this was only his sixth goal of the year), Suter received a cross-ice pass from Koivu above the right face-off circle that he turned into a powerful top-shelf wrister that squeezed between G Anton Forsberg‘s left ear and shoulder – an area that is almost impossible to defend.

Another major player in the Wild’s victory was Second Star G Devan Dubnyk, who saved 34-of-35 shots faced (.971 save percentage) to earn the victory. That left Forsberg with the loss after he saved 25-of-27 (.926).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are showing life lately, as they’ve earned points in three of the last four contests. However, the series is still dominated by the 54-30-12 home teams, as they still have a 24-point advantage.

January 9 – Day 94 – It was a dark and Stormy night

With only one game on the schedule, yesterday was kind of boring. Darn you college football!

Fortunately for us, every day for the remainder of the regular season – barring the All-Star Break – has at least two games on tap, and today has way more. as it usually does, the action starts at 7 p.m. with a pair of games (Winnipeg at Buffalo and Vancouver at Washington), followed half an hour later by two more (Chicago at Ottawa [RDS] and Carolina at Tampa Bay). To clean up the evening’s festivities, the three remaining tilts (Florida at St. Louis, Edmonton at Nashville [NBCSN/SN1/TVAS] and Calgary at Minnesota) drop the puck at 8 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Vegas.

None of these games really excite me all that much, but the one that should prove to be the best of the bunch will be taking place in Central Florida this evening.


We all know the 30-9-3 Lightning are good. After all, they have a three-point lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and an eight-point advantage on Washington for the Eastern Conference lead.

But they’ve been even better lately. Tampa has posted a 6-3-1 record over its last 10 games, and earned points in all but one of its five-game road trip (darn those pesky Senators) that it just completed Sunday.

What’s it take to win like that on the road these days in the NHL? Apparently stellar offense, because that’s exactly how the Bolts pulled it off. Over their past five games, the Lightning have scored an impressive 16 goals. That’s the (t)seventh-most in the league since December 31.

I know what you’re thinking: “Duh the Lightning won on their offense. I mean, they average a league-best 3.64 goals per game.”

I have two notes on that:

  1. Good for you for knowing exactly how potent Tampa Bay’s attack is.
  2. The leader of the offense over this run is not who you think it is, and you probably wouldn’t pick him if I gave you five guesses.

Over their last five games, no one has been a more dominant force for the Lightning than F Yanni Gourde. Yes, Tampa’s favorite third-liner has been thunderstruck of late, as he’s posted 3-3-6 totals during the road trip to elevate his season numbers to 14-16-30.

Of course, Gourde didn’t take the weekly scoring title from a lack of effort by anyone else. Usual suspect RW Nikita Kucherov, who has league-leading 27 goals and 59 points to his credit on the year, performed just as he typically does, posting 3-2-5 totals to average a point-per-game over the past 10 days.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have 26-6-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. The second-year starter has been nothing short of phenomenal, as he tops the chart in almost every statistical category. His six shutouts (two of which occurred on the recent road trip) and 26 wins are both the best marks in the league, and his .935 season save percentage and 2.04 GAA put him in third place in those respective statistics. Pairing his stellar work with an unstoppable offense has yielded three (D Victor Hedman, F Brayden Point and D Anton Stralman) Bolts with top-10 +/- ratings, a total that is matched only by the Bruins.

And to think, we had that whole discussion without mentioning two-time Richard Trophy-winner C Steven Stamkos. If that’s not an indicator of how good this Tampa Bay team is, I don’t know what is.

Suffice to say, 19-14-8 Carolina has a tough task on its hands to climb back in front of the Penguins for the second wild card tonight (they can do it with any result except a regulation loss). However, don’t count these Canes out: they’ve posted an 8-3-1 record since December 12 on the back of a solid defense.

Let’s play that game where I know what you’re thinking again. I bet you’re looking at me like, “Good defense? Don’t the Canes allow three goals per game?”

Man, you are so good at statistics. You should write a daily hockey blog.

Yes, it’s true: Carolina’s season numbers aren’t all that impressive. Averaging three goals against per game puts the Canes among the 12 worst on the year. However, what’s hidden within goals-per-game is responsibility. Who’s been bad: the defense or the goaltender?

Answer: goaltender.

On the season, Carolina has allowed only 29 shots against per game, easily the best in the league. F Jeff Skinner (40 takeaways), D Jaccob Slavin (2.1 blocks per game) and F Jordan Staal (2.39 hits-per-game) have performed phenomenally through their first 41 games to achieve that impressive mark. However, 8-11-6 G Scott Darling proved that he is not ready to assume a starting role, having posted a .893 save percentage for a 2.97 GAA after Carolina traded a third-round pick to Chicago for him to assume that position this offseason, wasting that solid effort.

Enter 11-3-2 G Cam Ward, the Conn Smythe winner during Carolina’s 2006 Stanley Cup run a dozen years ago. Since reclaiming his starting role once again, all the Hurricanes have done is win (well, almost). With that still solid defense playing in front of him, he’s posted a 7-1-1 record since December 12 with a .917 save percentage and 2.18 GAA that, while nothing to write home about, is enough for W Sebastian Aho‘s (team-leading 13-20-33 totals) offense to get the job done.

These teams have already squared off once before, but it is not a memory Carolina remembers fondly. On October 24, the Lightning wandered into PNC Arena and smacked the young Hurricanes around more than a little bit, beating them 5-1 in the midst of a four-game winning streak. Vasilevskiy saved 31-of-32 (.969 save percentage) and F Tyler Johnson paced the offense with his 1-1-2 night. Slavin scored the only goal for the hosts.

For those wondering: yes, Darling was in net that night.

With Ward in action, it seems anything is possible for the Canes right now. However, it’s hard to pick against the league’s best when they’re at home, so I have to pick the Bolts to win this one. Perhaps Carolina can find a way to force overtime so they can get back inside the playoff bubble.

Facing a 2-0 defect going into the third period, the Columbus Blue Jackets staged an impressive late comeback to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Air Canada Centre.

Though a 2-0 advantage through 40 minutes of play might indicate the Leafs had the game in hand, that was not the case. Columbus actually out-shot Toronto 25-22 in the first and second periods, but it was the Maple Leafs who had the lead. They finally broke through Second Star of the Game G Sergei Bobrovsky with 8:51 remaining in the second period courtesy of a tip-in from Third Star LW James van Riemsdyk (D Roman Polak and C Tyler Bozak), followed 4:53 later by F William Nylander (D Jake Gardiner) bagging a power play snap shot.

Knowing the Blue Jackets would come out of the second intermission with goals on the mind, Toronto’s defense performed phenomenally to allow only four third period shots. The Leafs’ offense did their part too, keeping the puck in Bobrovsky’s end and making him stop 13 shots.

However, they couldn’t hold off the Jackets forever. F Nick Foligno (F Jordan Schroeder and D Markus Nutivaara) finally got Columbus on the board with a tip-in, leaving his squad 4:35 to find a leveling goal. F Pierre-Luc Dubois (D Seth Jones) found that leveling tally with 2:47 remaining in regulation, beating G Frederik Andersen with a wrist shot.

Since neither defense allowed another shot on goal, the game advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period. With 1:49 remaining of those five minutes, First Star LW Artemi Panarin (D Zach Werenski and Jones) had had enough and ended the game with a tip-in.

Panarin entered the zone along the left boards, but because Gardiner was covering him, he slid a pass across the zone to Werenski. The uncovered defenseman immediately drove towards the net until he was on Andersen’s front porch, forcing the netminder advance towards him to defend any possible shot. However, that left a gap between Andersen’s left skate and his goal post that doubled as the passing lane Werenski used to get the puck back to Panarin, setting up a wide open shot that was impossible to miss.

Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 35-of-37 shots faced (.946 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Andersen, who saved 30-of-33 (.909).

Though the road team won this one, the DtFR Game of the Day series is still dominated by home teams. The hosts have a 53-29-12 record that is 24 points superior to the visitors’.

December 12 – Day 69 – For the Presidents’ Trophy

Given what day this is of the season and the number of games on today’s schedule, there’s only one thing that can be said:

You know what, I’ll let you figure it out.

Anyways, there’s nine contests on the slate for today, beginning with five (Ottawa at Buffalo [RDS], Los Angeles at New Jersey, Toronto at Philadelphia [TVAS], Colorado at Washington and Edmonton at Columbus) at the usual 7 p.m. start time. Next up are the two 8 p.m. games (Tampa Bay at St. Louis [NBCSN] and Calgary at Minnesota), followed by Florida at Chicago (SN) half an hour later. Finally, Carolina makes its first annual trip to Vegas at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

There were two games I had circled at the beginning of the season…

  • Ottawa at Buffalo: It’s rivalry night in the Queen City between the Eastern Conference’s two worst teams! Get excited Upstate!
  • Carolina at Vegas: For a combined three days, C Marcus Kruger and D Trevor van Riemsdyk were Golden Knights. Does this count as a homecoming?

… but they pale in comparison to tonight’s action in the Gateway to the West.


What a gauntlet the league-leading 21-6-2 Lightning have faced of late. It was only Saturday that they escaped with an overtime victory against an impressive Jets squad that plays a similar style to them.

There’s no denying how dominant the Bolts have been through their first 29 games, and that’s especially apparent when they have the puck on their own sticks. Tampa averages 3.75 goals-per-game to lead the league, thanks in large part to the incredible efforts of its top line. RW Nikita Kucherov (20-21-41 totals), F Vladislav Namestnikov (12-15-27) and C Steven Stamkos (12-30-42) have been nothing short of incredible, and it doesn’t hurt that they have F Brayden Point (12-14-26) and company backing them on the second line.

As I pointed out this weekend, this offense is also acting as the Lightning’s best defense, because it’s keeping pucks off 19-4-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy – not that he needs much help, as his .93 season save percentage and 2.24 GAA are both among the top four performances of any goaltender in the league with at least nine starts.

But we discussed all this this weekend. Let’s talk about Tampa’s special teams, which – as you would probably guess – are among the best in the NHL.

The Lightning are the league’s deadliest when they have the man-advantage, as they convert a 28.44 percent of opposing penalties into goals, a mark that is over two percent better than Nashville’s second-best effort.

Just as they do at even strength, Kucherov, Namestnikov and Stamkos have led the charge on the power play with their combined 46 extra-man points. Makhail Sergachev has also made his presence known on the Bolts’ second unit, as he’s managed 2-8-10 totals – the fourth-best effort on the team.

Perhaps one of Tampa’s biggest weaknesses is when it is on the penalty kill. If that is the case the rest of the league should be alarmed, because the Lightning successfully defend 82.6 percent of their infractions to rank eighth-best in the NHL. Vasilevskiy in particular has performed spectacularly when his club is shorthanded, managing a .924 save percentage against the power play to rank (t)fourth-best among the 32 goaltenders with at least 14 starts.

Before we jump into talking about the 21-8-2 Blues, it needs to be noted that they’ll be without three players this evening. In addition to D Jay Bouwmeester missing tonight’s game to rest an injury, F Jaden Schwartz and D Alex Pietrangelo are both on injured reserve with respective ankle and lower body injuries suffered blocking shots.

It certainly wouldn’t be without reason if the Notes’ offense struggles with these injuries, as they average a 3.29 goals-per-game average that ranks sixth-best in the league.

On that end, the biggest injury is certainly to Schwartz, who is posting career-best 12-21-35 totals. In his place, RW Vladimir Tarasenko moves up onto the top line with F Vladimir Sobotka and Vladimir C Paul Stastny. While Schwartz is a tough act to follow, there’s little reason to believe Tarasenko won’t thrive in that role, as his 14-19-33 performance from playing on the second line is already the third-best on the team. Instead, I’ll be interested to see if F Brayden Schenn, St. Louis’ leading scorer with a 16-37-37 effort, can turn W Dmitrij Jaskin (4-7-11) into a real scoring threat while filling in for Tarasenko.

Of course, this offense is not simply reliant on spectacular play from its forwards. Pietrangelo is also very active in the attacking zone, as his 7-16-23 totals are not only the most among St. Louis blueliners, but also the fourth-best marks on the entire team. In fact, Pietrangelo ranks fifth in defensive scoring across the league, behind only the likes of Drew Doughty, John Klingberg, Kris Letang and Nick Leddy (for what its worth, the Blue Notes’ captain has scored more goals than any of those players).

Fortunately for St. Louis, it has just the player to slide into his role as the top two-way defenseman on the team: D Colton Parayko. Currently owning 3-14-17 marks, the third-year player has put his arguable sophomore slump behind him and is well on his way to surpassing his solid 9-24-33 rookie performance. Should he continue on his current pace, Parayko is on track to post 8-37-45 totals that would exceed Pietrangelo’s effort in his third year in the league (yes, that was the lockout season – we’re going off points-per-game in this instance).

As far as defense, not much should change for the team that features the reigning Second Star of the Week in 17-6-2 G Jake Allen. Allen is riding a four-game winning streak and has not lost in regulation since December 1 against the Kings, posting a .939 save percentage over the five games since then. As long as the Blues don’t see a significant drop in its defense that has allowed an average of only 29.45 shots against-per-game (the third-fewest in the NHL), Allen should be able to keep his end of the ice under control.

Now, what makes this contest extremely exciting is that the winner will take the lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy. Both are tied at 44 points currently, but the Bolts do own a “games played” tiebreaker, having laced up their skates two fewer times than St. Louis. Considering the Lightning already beat the Blues 2-1 on October 14, St. Louis will no doubt want to exact revenge on home ice.

As for if that actually happens, I’m having a tough time making that prediction. With their injuries, I’m concerned the Blues’ lackluster special teams will take too much of a hit this evening, so I think Tampa Bay will come away with the road victory.

The New York Islanders exploded out of the gates to beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 at the Barclays Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It took New York only 2:36 of action before it had the lead. That’s when Third Star of the Game F Brock Nelson (RW Cal Clutterbuck and W Jason Chimera) buried a wrist shot to set the score at 1-0.

That advantage doubled to two goals 36 seconds into the second period when Second Star LW Andrew Ladd (D Calvin de Haan and RW Jordan Eberle) scored what proved to be a game-winning wrister.

When facing a goaltender of the likes of G Braden Holtby, quick passes become a necessity. That’s exactly what provided Ladd the opportunity for his eighth goal of the season. de Haan collected a drop pass from Eberle at the blue line and began crashing towards the goal line. But, instead of throwing a wrist shot on Holtby from an angle with low odds of success, he instead slid a centering pass across the crease to Ladd, who was camping out near the left goal post. Before the netminder could slide across his crease, Ladd had already buried his wrister.

Only 58 seconds after the Isles’ goal horn had been quieted, C John Tavares (F Josh Bailey and F Anders Lee) brought it back to life with a wrister to chase Holtby and set the score at 3-0.

The Capitals finally got on the scoreboard at the 8:23 mark of the third period courtesy of D Dmitry Orlov (F Chandler Stephenson and F Jay Beagle), but they couldn’t claw any further back into the game before the end of regulation.

First Star G Jaroslav Halak earned the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (.969 save percentage), leaving the loss to Holtby, who saved nine-of-12 (.75) before being pulled following Tavares’ tally. G Philipp Grubauer saved all 17 shots he faced for no decision.

New York’s regulation win is the first in six games in the DtFR Game of the Day series, snapping a five-game run of contests requiring more than 60 minutes. Hosts in the series now own a 39-22-8 record that is 17 points better than the roadies’ efforts.

Weekly Bumblings for Week 9 With Special Guest Host, Cap’n Cornelius

Peter’s vacation continues, so you are stuck with me once more for the recap of last week’s NHL action.

Player of the Week: Artemi Panarin

You didn’t really think I’d get through two straight columns without talking about the Blue Jackets, did you? The Breadman had been having a solid if unspectacular year as the calendar turned to December.  Despite his talent (or because of it), it had taken some time for the Jackets to find line mates that paired well with the Russian winger.  The initial thought was to put him with Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson.  On paper, that line made all of the sense in the world—two high scoring wingers paired with a player who showed his acumen for setting the table last season.  On the ice was a different story.  While Atkinson and Panarin clicked at points, Wennberg was too conservative, often playing in no man’s land beyond the offensive zone face-off circles.

This lead to weeks of John Tortorella running the blender to try and find lines that worked. In the meantime, Wennberg’s injury also forced Tortorella to get more creative at center, a position the Jackets had been looking to upgrade during the offseason.  Enter rookie, Pierre-Luc Dubois.  While the Jackets wanted Dubois to be their center of the future, the team had been hesitant to play him at the position, preferring to try and ease him in.  But Torts took the advice of Dubois’ father who had found that when he was struggling with his game, he actually improved when forced into the rigors of playing center.  After a bit of a cold spell for Dubois, Tortorella decided to give it a try and Dubois slowly moved his way up the lineup, taking advantage of the opportunity presented by Wennberg’s absence, and finding himself on the top line with Panarin and Josh Anderson.  If the Jackets make noise in the postseason, the decision to unite the three unlikely line mates may be looked back as the moment that set the table for their success.

So, in recent weeks, the line which has affectionately become known as PB&J (Pierre, Breadman and Josh) has started to click, but Panarin had yet to really have a performance where he went off. That changed on Friday night in New Jersey.  After a poor performance in Columbus on Tuesday against the Devils (notwithstanding excellent possession performances from the PB&J line), the Jackets’ backs were to the wall.  They really needed the win against their divisional opponent given how tight the race is in the Metropolitan.  The game didn’t start well for the Jackets with the team entering intermission down 2-0 and likely facing an unhappy LukasTortorella in the locker room.  But the tide would turn in the second period largely due to the efforts of Panarin.

Panarin caused a turnover which found its way to Dubois’ stick for his first assist of the night. Another turnover created by Panarin lead to a goal by Lukas Sedlak in the middle of a line change to even up the score.  Panarin’s third assist of the night may have been the most impressive.  As four Devils watched Panarin, he saw the trailer, Scott Harrington, and made a perfect cross ice pass to get Harrington the goal.  After the Devils tied it before the second period ended, the Jackets got a rare power play goal when Panarin made a backhanded pass to Wennberg who, in a rarer aggressive play, went to the net and buried the puck.  Panarin would add a fifth first assist of the night when he found an open Zach Werenski for the fifth and final goal of the night. And that summary of the game doesn’t even fully encapsulate how well Panarin played.  He was consistently finding his way through traffic and the puck seemed to be magnetically attracted to the tape on his stick blade.

While Saturday’s game was not nearly as exciting, Panarin still managed a Corsi For percentage of 58%. The Jackets would strike early as Panarin found Anderson behind the net and he would bury it top shelf.  When you have Sergei Bobrovsky in net, sometimes one goal is enough, and it would prove to be the case.  Panarin now has 6 straight primary assists for Columbus, but when you look back at Panarin’s performance this week, the thing that stands out that is underrated about him and is the big difference from Brandon Saad, is his play away from the puck.  His work in creating two turnovers that set up those first two goals against New Jersey during a crucial time in the game on Friday prevented the game from getting out of control and righted the ship for a team that had a couple poor performances against divisional opponents before that game.

Game of the Week: Winnipeg Jets 3 at Tampa Bay Lightning 4 (OT), December 9, 2017.

We’ve covered this game extensively this week, and with good reason. One of the top teams in the Western, versus one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. A classic matchup between the immovable object and the unstoppable force.  Even with the Jets coming off of two losses entering the game, you knew they would play up for this one.  Yes, I’m talking about Winnipeg for the second time in my two weeks doing this column and no it isn’t because there is a social media account that retweets anything you tweet featuring the word Winnipeg, positive or negative (yes, that really was a thing).

The game got off to a quick start as you’d expect from two offensive powerhouses. Adam Lowry showed some great patience with two Lightning players defending him to find Andrew Copp in the slot for the first goal of the game.  The Lightning continued their streak of nine straight games with a power play goal (that’s possible, eh?) when Brayden Point made a beautiful feed to give Yanni Gourde a goal that Connor Hellebuyck had no hope to stop.

A Cedric Paquette goal was overturned for goaltender interference by Chris Kunitz, so the score would stay 1-1, but Mikhail Sergachev would finally put the Lightning ahead with a beautiful shot after losing his defender with a quick change of directions. The Jets would not go away though.  Former Youngstown Phantom, Kyle Connor, would redirect a rising shot from Josh Morrissey to even the game at 2 and that is how the second period would end.

Winnipeg retook the lead near the midway point of the third period when Nikolaj Ehlers somehow found Andrei Vasilevskiy’s five hole before the goaltender could even react to the shot.  After Vasilevskiy would stop another attempt by Ehlers, Nikita Kucherov’s shot through traffic somehow found the net and the score was again tied at three.  Note—the sequence I just described happened in all of about 2 minutes of game time.  Both teams then settled down and got the game to overtime to salt away a point for their troubles.

Overtime wouldn’t last long though as Point would elude Bryan Little and get his backhand over Hellebuyck.

The Lightning continue to be in a class by themselves in the early part of the season, but the Jets gave it their all.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

A busy week in NHL and other hockey news. On Tuesday the news came down that Russia would be banned from the Winter Olympics as punishment for their concerted efforts to violate anti-doping rules during the Sochi games in 2014.  Clean Russian athletes will still be permitted to play at the games, but not under the Russian flag.  If they are looking for a team name, I suggest “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Russia, Steroid Free!”  There was concern that the KHL might prevent its players from playing in the Olympics, which would have thrown a monkey wrench in Team Canada’s plans for the games.  However, cooler heads prevailed as the KHL probably realized there was value to having its athletes compete on the world’s highest international stage…unlike the NHL.

Backing up slightly, last Monday the City of Seattle approved the memorandum of understanding with the Oak View Group to remodel the ancient KeyArena at a cost of around $600 million (most of it comes from private funds) so that it could be suitable to host one or more professional sports franchises. This will likely be the death knell for a competing project which would have seen a new arena built closer where the existing stadiums are, in SoDo.  The NHL owners, who conveniently had a Board of Governor’s meeting, couldn’t wait to let Seattle know that they would be willing to take their money consider their application for expansion.  Fee for expansion?  $650 million, exceeding the $500 million that Vegas just paid.  I think Seattle is a great market for hockey in an underserved part of the country, but I also think the economics of a team with startup costs of over one billion dollars are a bit shaky.  For comparison, the Blue Jackets paid a franchise fee of $80 million and built an arena at a cost of $175 million…and still eventually needed a bailout from local government.  From the league’s side, it is understandable why they prefer Seattle to, say, Quebec City, because of the geographic balance adding the market will create.

Finally, let’s take a moment to remember 11 years ago when Anson Carter and his Columbus Blue Jackets teammates released a Christmas album. Amazingly I see no trace of this masterpiece on YouTube, so, if you are looking for a Christmas gift for me, there you go.