Tag Archives: Leafs

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Weeks 12 & 13

With New Years and the GLI preventing me from posting last week (and being out of town this weekend pushing this yet another day back) I’ll be combining the past two weeks of action, because I make the rules here and you all just have to deal with it. So there.

Skater of the Week(s): Mikko Rantanen

Though the big Finn was overshadowed slightly by teammate Nathan MacKinnon by two points over this stretch, Rantanen’s 10 points in six games are still nothing to scoff at. An even split of five goals (one on the power play) and five assists (also one power play tally) to go with a ridiculous +9 rating over the six games put the 21-year old at 41 points in 41 games and dug him out of a -8 +/- hole to put him at a +1 on the season.

If Rantanen can continue producing at a point-a-game rate to go along with the incredible numbers MacKinnon is putting up, he may well lead the Avs (and my fantasy team) right into the playoffs.

Tendy of the Week(s): Tuukka Rask

(Special mentions to Jimmy Howard, Connor Hellebuyck, Jonathan Bernier and Ben Bishop, who all posted one more win than Rask over this span and all had terrific numbers of their own, as well.)

The Bruins are scorching hot right now and Rask is a huge part of that. The man with two Us and two Ks truly was too good over these past two weeks, posting wins in all three of his starts with a scarcely believable .974 save percentage and 0.67 GAA to his credit, along with a shutout (duh) for good measure.

Boston is never going to run down Tampa for the division’s top spot without some sort of extinction-level event befalling the Lightning, but with three games in hand over third place Toronto and the Grand Canyon between them and fourth place, the Bs look to be fairly comfortable in their push towards the playoffs. If Rask carries this play into the postseason, everyone should be scared.

Game of the Week(s): Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…………

Okay, so, admittedly I did not watch a lot of hockey over the past 14 or so days. I can tell you that Michigan vs Michigan State in the consolation game of the GLI was a lot of fun, and the Winter Classic looked like it was a barnburner. Also the Jackets and Panthers went eight rounds into the shootout Sunday night, a game that I was originally supposed to attend (you’re welcome, friend who I gave the tickets to), and all five goals scored were gross.

But if I’m being honest, I simply haven’t watched enough to make a solid pick this time around. So, tell you what, the game of the week is whatever you want it to be! Yeah, how about that? That’s me giving back to you, the reader.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

David Savard was fined $5,000 for Paul Bunyon-ing Vincent Trocheck, a move that Cap’n Cornelius would probably deem the most solid defensive play he’s seen out of Savard all season.

Dan Girardi blocked a Martin Frk shot with his head, which is definitely not recommended, but luckily had all concussion tests come back negative and is only listed as day-to-day. In Girardi’s defense, at least half of the time Frk lets a shot go, even he doesn’t know exactly where it’s going (a point Red Wings’ color analyst Mickey Redmond made himself after the play occurred). For those unfamiliar with Frk, I can tell you that he almost certainly has one of the hardest shots you will ever witness. Living in northwest Ohio, I’ve had multiple opportunities to watch him in action over the past few years when he spent time with Toledo of the ECHL, and even his wrist shot hits the boards with a sound unlike anything you’ll hear from 99 percent of other players. Maybe work on keeping them down, Marty.

Patrice Bergeron had himself a four-goal game, which I assume was just to remind all of us that he’s still the best hockey player that no one ever remembers exists.

Glen Gulutzan had a meltdown for the ages at Flames practice, highlighted by heaving his stick into the stratosphere. No one has seen the stick land yet, and I assume it has simply joined Jose Bautista’s bat on its eternal journey through the cosmos.

Speaking of the Flames, the team is reportedly looking to release Jaromir Jagr, in a move that would likely put them on a level of heel heat that would rival Vince McMahon post-Montreal Screwjob (Bonus points to any reader that actually understands that reference).

Nazem Kadri fought Joe Thornton (bad idea) and apparently thought ripping some of Jumbo’s beard out would cause Joe to lose some of his strength (decent theory, story of Samson and whatnot). It did not cause him to lose his strength, though, so a bad day for Kadri there.

The Oilers nabbed goaltender Al Montoya from the Habs in exchange for a conditional 4th round pick, in a move that could be titled “Two dumpster fires exchange things in attempt to convince livid fanbases that improvements are being made.”

January 8 – Day 93 – Selections are slim, Vol. V

If you were planning on coming back from another miserable Monday at work and watching hockey, you’re in luck: there’s a nationally broadcasted game on the schedule. If you were hoping to watch more than one game, you might want to come back tomorrow.

That’s right, there’s only one game on the schedule this evening, and it features Columbus at Toronto (NHLN/TVAS) at 7 p.m. Eastern time.

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.

 

Unfortunately, neither team enters tonight’s game in exceptionally good form. Both 24-16-3 Columbus and 25-16-2 Toronto are the third place team in their respective divisions, but they’ve slid into that position in the past month.

With Tampa Bay playing in the same division, the Leafs – no matter how good they are – didn’t have much of a chance at the top spot in the Atlantic. However, they settled into second place quite nicely… until late December. Approximately two weeks ago during a 2-3-0 run, the Leafs lost home ice in the first round to the Bruins, and they’ve been trying to play catch up ever since.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Division – though it is certainly the stronger group in the Eastern Conference – has been in an almost constant flux all year. As recently as December 14, the Jackets were the class of the Metro, but they too have settled into third place and trail Washington by four points for the division lead.

If tonight is the beginning of the quest for second, both teams face tough opposition.

Let’s start with the visiting Jackets, who enter tonight’s game as winners of two of their last three games. The main reason they’re winners? 20-12-3 G Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bobrovsky would probably be the first to tell you he had a miserable December. In a dozen starts, he allowed 41 goals for a .891 save percentage and a 3.46 GAA. That’s right, the two-time Vezina winner was the worst goaltender in the league in the month of December among the 22 netminders with at least nine starts to their credit.

But it seems Santa delivered a new calendar to the Bobrovsky household, because the Russian looks like he’s back to his old ways since the start of the new year. He’s started all three games the Jackets have played in 2018, posting a .949 save percentage and 1.63 GAA to earn two victories.

However, with him playing to a 3-2 shootout victory yesterday against the Panthers, it seems likely he’ll relinquish his crease this evening at Air Canada Centre. Fresh off a 37-for-40 (.925 save percentage) shootout loss with the Cleveland Monsters, Columbus’ AHL affiliate, on Saturday, 4-4-0 G Joonas Korpisalo very well could draw his first NHL start of 2018. With the senior team, Korpisalo has posted a .904 season save percentage and 3.1 GAA.

Just like the Blue Jackets, Toronto enters this game after winning its last showing on a shootout. In fact, the Maple Leafs have gone so far as to perfectly duplicate Columbus’ 2-1-0 record for 2018.

Ready to continue having the mirror image conversation? The Leafs have won both their last two games because of solid work by 22-12-1 G Frederik Andersen.

Go figure, right?

Over his last three starts, Andersen has posted a .944 save percentage and 1.92 GAA, both of which are the third-best effort in January among goaltenders with at least three starts. This solid start to the calendar year has elevated his season numbers to a .922 save percentage and 2.64 GAA, the eighth- and (t)12th-best efforts, respectively, in the NHL among the 31 netminders with 18 or more starts to their credit.

These squads have already tangled once this season, and that December 20 contest went the way of the Jackets. Behind the two-point game of D Seth Jones and Korpisalo saving 39-of-41 Toronto shots, the Blue Jackets were able to beat the Leafs 4-2 in their lone trip to Ohio of the regular season. They’ll complete the three-game series on Valentine’s Day (that’s 37 days away, guys!).

Pitting Andersen against either a tired Bobrovsky or Korpisalo doesn’t seem like a fair fight, especially when we remember that Toronto has the league’s seventh-best offense at its disposal (obligatory C Auston Matthews shout out here). Even though Korpisalo’s last victory came against the Leafs, I think the boys in blue can come away with the victory tonight.


Though they needed overtime to do it, the Washington Capitals beat the St. Louis Blues 4-3 at Capital One Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Even the opening 20 minutes proved to be an evenly contested first period (Washington led 8-7 in shots on goal), the scoreboard read 1-0 in favor of the Caps going into the first intermission. That’s because W Brett Connolly (Second Star of the Game W Alex Ovechkin and D John Carlson) was able to score a power play tip-in with 6:45 remaining in the frame to break the scoreless tie.

Whatever Head Coach Mike Yeo said to the Blues during that intermission obviously worked, because St. Louis dominated the second period to claim a 2-1 lead. RW Vladimir Tarasenko (F Ivan Barbashev and D Joel Edmundson) leveled the game at one-all only 78 seconds into the period with a snap shot, followed 3:44 later by Third Star F Alex Steen (F Brayden Schenn and D Alex Pietrangelo) potting a power play deflection.

Like the Notes exploded out of the first intermission, Washington did just the same following the second. Ovechkin (Carlson and First Star C Nicklas Backstrom) took advantage of D Jay Bouwmeester‘s tripping penalty against LW Jakub Vrana at the 7:57 mark to level the game at two-all only three seconds later. 2:49 after the goal horn was quieted, C Lars Eller (F T.J. Oshie and D Madison Bowey) recaptured a one-goal advantage for the Caps. However, D Carl Gunnarsson (F Patrik Berglund and F Tage Thompson) wasn’t going to let his club go down without a fight, and he leveled the game once again on a wrist shot with 4:09 remaining in regulation.

With neither squad able to break the 3-3 tie in regulation, the contest shifted into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period. It’s there where Backstrom (Oshie) found the game-winning goal, his first of the season and the 30th (35th if you include the postseason) of his 11-year career.

With only 43 seconds separating the game from the dreaded shootout, Oshie took advantage of a mistimed line change by his former club. He ripped a pass from the right face-off circle in his own defensive zone to a wide-open Backstrom cruising up the right boards. With only G Carter Hutton to beat, he ripped a wrister from the slot high cheese over the netminder’s right shoulder to give Washington its ninth-straight home victory.

G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 31-of-34 shots faced (.912 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Hutton, who saved 29-of-33 (.879).

It’s another win for a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have a 53-29-11 record that is 25 points superior to that of the roadies.

Hey, why isn’t (insert NHL team here) playing?

Still trying to figure out why your favorite team has games all next week, but your rival gets to take five-straight days off? Or maybe you’re most concerned about your fantasy hockey team? Either way, *NSYNC has the answer:

The NHL is in Year 2 of its experiment with bye weeks. Some things – like the average length of each team’s break – stayed the same. 19 of the 31 clubs are taking the minimum five days off, while 11 others get an extra sixth before returning to action. Of course, the winners of the bye week lottery are the Ottawa Senators, who get a whopping seven days to rest, regroup and rediscover the art of ice hockey before hosting St. Louis.

But there are a few differences from last year, most notably where these breaks occur within the league schedule. Last season when the bye weeks debuted, the Islanders and Penguins had already started and finished their breaks by now, while others wouldn’t see the gap in their schedule until well beyond the All-Star Break or even the trade deadline. In fact, the Ducks didn’t take their week off until the beginning of March.

It was probably because Anaheim is on Pacific Time. That’s how time zones work, right?

Anyways, all 31 bye weeks this season – whether five, six or seven days – will start and end in the span of the 18 days between today and January 19.

Though initial thoughts were that the bye weeks were consolidated in anticipation of the NHL potentially releasing its players to their respective national federations for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, it instead will simply be an opportunity for the league’s scheduler to determine which format is better for business.

But we’re not worried about attendance, advertising dollars or TV ratings here at Down the Frozen River (actually, that’s a lie: we love to talk about that stuff during podcasts). Let’s talk about who’s going to be off when. Teams are presented in order of the league table as it stands entering play January 7, and you might find some notes from myself and @nlanciani53.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

29-9-3, 61 points, leading Presidents’ Trophy race

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 11

Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 18

Nick’s Notes: A hot team must cool off a bit and then play the Vegas Golden Knights on their first night back to action? Talk about a prison sentence. At least they’ve still got the Presidents’ Trophy (lead) as consolation.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

28-10-2, 58 points, leading the Western Conference

Final game before the bye: Hosts the NY Rangers on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Son, where the Golden Knights are from, they don’t need no breaks. Polar opposites of the Tampa Bay Lightning bye week, Vegas plays a good team before taking time off. Then they play Edmonton. Next!

Connor’s Notes: That may be true, but there’s surely some concern among Gerard Gallant and his staff that the Knights just might lose some of this positive energy over the break. They’ve posted a 9-1-0 record over their last 10, and it’d be a shame if the only reason this club drops from Cloud 9 to Cloud 8 is just five little days off.

WINNIPEG JETS

24-11-7, 55 points, leading the Central Division

Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 13

Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Calgary on January 20

Nick’s Notes: The Winnipeg Jets are vying for first place in the Central Division this season after missing the playoffs last year. Their second best point-scorer (that’s right, point-scorer, not goal-scorer, Patrik Laine), Mark Scheifele‘s been nursing an upper body injury and this break won’t hurt the team for a week while he remains out of the lineup.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

24-11-6, 54 points, second in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 9

Bye week: January 10-15

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 16

Nick’s Notes: Most people think the party never stops in Vegas, but they’re wrong. The party never stops in Smashville and let’s just hope none of the Predators players get carried away on Broadway in their week off.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

26-16-2, 54 points, third in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Florida on January 9

Bye week: January 10-15 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Toronto on January 16

Connor’s Notes: Any way to avoid playing games while Jaden Schwartz‘ ankle is still healing is a good thing. While he won’t be ready to go until the end of the month, the Blues will hope to get out of a rut that has led to them posting a 4-6-0 record over their last 10 games entering Sunday.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

25-13-3, 53 points, leading the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 12

Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 18

Nick’s Notes: It’s not that Braden Holtby‘s been bad, but he’s having his worst season since 2013-14, so like, maybe send him to a remote mountain top or whatever it takes for Holtby to regain his form and focus (a water bottle usually does the trick). Seriously though, his 2.68 GAA and .917 save percentage is not great, Bob.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

24-13-5, 53 points, second in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: Hosted Nashville on January 6, lost 4-3

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Anaheim on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Best of luck to the Los Angeles Kings who will smash bodies against the boards with Nashville leading into their bye week and then smash bodies all over again with the Anaheim Ducks fresh off their vacations. It’s a grueling game. Ice those bruises.

BOSTON BRUINS

23-10-6, 52 points, second in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Montréal on January 13

Connor’s Notes: Similar to Vegas’ current run of success, with an 8-0-2 record over their last 10 games played entering Sunday, the Bruins arguably have the most positive energy to lose by going on break of any team in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately for them, they’ll play in what I expect to be a rivalry game that’s even more heated than usual given the Habs’ position in the standings to get right back into the swing of things.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

25-16-2, 52 points, third in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Ottawa on January 10

Bye week: January 11-15 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 16

Connor’s Notes: While the Leafs aren’t currently certain he’ll be ready to go by then, the original hope was that sophomore defenseman Nikita Zaitsev‘s lower-body injury would be healed by the time Toronto returned to action against the Notes. If St. Louis’ offense is ticking that day, his presence in the defensive zone will be a big help to Frederik Andersen

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

22-11-7, 51 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At the NY Islanders on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Philadelphia January 13

Nick’s Notes: The New Jersey Devils have been quietly good as of late. They’re this year’s biggest surprise outside of the Golden Knights. Nico Hischier just turned 19, so unless he’s going outside of the United States for his break, he can’t (legally) party hard.

DALLAS STARS

24-16-3, 51 points, fourth in the Central Division – first wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosted Edmonton on January 6, won 5-1

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Colorado on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Wouldn’t it be mean if nobody tells Kari Lehtonen when the break is so he just drives up to the practice rink on the first day like “where’d everybody go”? Just a thought.

NEW YORK RANGERS

22-14-5, 49 points, third in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Great, another week off means Henrik Lundqvist has to wait even longer for a Stanley Cup.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

23-16-3, 49 points, fourth in the Metropolitan Division – first wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 12

Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Dallas on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Columbus Blue Jackets have been the St. Louis Blues of the Eastern Conference this season. One week they’re amazing, the next week they’re losing. A lot.

Connor’s Notes: Nick is right, and the Jackets are in one of their losing funks right now. Entering Sunday, they’ve posted a 3-5-2 record over their last 10 games played. They won’t regain any of their four injured players during the break, but perhaps John Tortorella can find a way to regroup his troops before they lose any more ground in the Metro.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

21-12-6, 48 points, third in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Winnipeg on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Arizona on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Joe Thornton should use this break to regrow that part of his beard that got torn off his face by Nazem Kadri in Toronto.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

22-16-3, 47 points, fifth in the Central Division – second wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosted Minnesota on January 6, won 7-2

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Dallas on January 13

Connor’s Notes: Goaltender Semyon Varlamov should be prepared to return to action following the bye week after suffering a lower body injury on January 2, and there’s a possibility J.T. Compher get back into the lineup too. However, considering the Avs’ unbelievable position in the standings, does Jared Bednar even think about pulling Jonathan Bernier?

MINNESOTA WILD

22-17-3, 47 points, sixth in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19

First game out of the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Oft-injured and finally healthy, the Minnesota Wild should place everyone in bubblewrap for their bye week. Just a suggestion.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

19-15-9, 47 points, fourth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Calgary on January 6, lost 3-2

Bye week: January 7-12

First game out of the bye: At Los Angeles on January 13

Connor’s Notes: With Corey Perry returning to action last night against the Flames, Anaheim is effectively at 100 percent once again after losing basically every star at one point or another this season. After seeing what an injured Ducks team was capable of, the Pacific Division should get ready, because a rested and healthy Ducks team just might wreck havoc against weak competition.

CALGARY FLAMES

21-16-4, 46 points, fifth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Winnipeg on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Whoever’s running the airport gates in Calgary should make sure that wherever the player’s are going doesn’t actually say “Seattle” on their ticket. Unless the gate agent is originally from Seattle. *dramatic Twin Peaks music plays in the background*

CAROLINA HURRICANES

19-14-8, 46 points, fifth in the Metropolitan Division – second wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Detroit on January 20

Nick’s Notes: One thing’s for sure, even with their potential new majority owner, none of the Carolina Hurricanes players are going back to Hartford for their break. What a shame.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

21-19-3, 45 points, sixth in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Boston on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Phil Kessel doesn’t like time off (remember the 2016 World Cup of Hockey?) and Matthew Murray should probably go to the same place as Braden Holtby for a week. Murray’s goals-against average is almost a 3.0.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

19-15-6, 44 points, last in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Jeff Glass is the feel good story of 2018 so far, so why would anyone want to see him take five nights off? *Checks standings* Oh, right, this team isn’t in playoff worthy right now.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

18-15-8, 44 points, seventh in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Buffalo on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Someone make sure the Philadelphia Flyers don’t try to move to the Atlantic Division over their bye week. They’ll do anything to make the playoffs this season.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

20-18-4, 44 points, last in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts New Jersey on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 13

Connor’s Notes: The reason the Islanders have been making by with their horrendous defense, which was made worse by Calvin de Haan requiring a season-ending shoulder surgery, has been their explosive offense. Josh Bailey should be back at 100 percent following New York’s bye to reunite the BLT Line, allowing the Isles to get back to their version of Russian Roulette: finding out which goaltender is going to allow just one more goal than the other.

DETROIT RED WINGS

17-16-7, 41 points, fourth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 13

Nick’s Notes: If the Detroit Red Wings were a young, rebuilding, team I’d recommend a five-day long pizza party at The Pizza Box (Little Caesar’s Arena). Maybe they can figure out the right way to tank during their time off instead of winning a lot before the break.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

17-18-5, 39 points, fifth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 12

Bye week: January 13-18 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 19

Connor’s Notes: Just as James Reimer is beginning to run out of steam, Roberto Luongo is expected to return to the Panthers’ crease with his club seven points outside playoff position. Whether he resumes his starting job before or after the bye, the break allows both of them to be fully rested.

EDMONTON OILERS

18-21-3, 39 points, sixth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 13

Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Peter Chiarelli can’t possibly figure out how he’s going to save his team in six days when he spent $21 million on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in about that amount of time over the summer.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

16-19-6, 38 points, seventh in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Edmonton on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Like Mark Scheifele and the Winnipeg Jets, Bo Horvat and the Vancouver Canucks haven’t seen each other in a little while due to injury. Take some time and rest up.

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS

17-20-4, 38 points, sixth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Boston on January 13

Nick’s Notes: I’m pretty sure you can’t trade players during your bye week, so don’t try to move Max Pacioretty while nobody’s paying attention, Montreal.

OTTAWA SENATORS

14-17-9, 37 points, seventh in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: At Toronto on January 10

Bye week: January 11-17 (seven days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Ottawa Senators will find a way to lose games over their seven day break. Meanwhile, Eugene Melnyk will have just enough time to figure out an escape plan while nobody’s at Canadian Tire Centre.

BUFFALO SABRES

10-22-9, 29 points, last in the Eastern Conference

Final game before the bye: Hosts Columbus on January 11

Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Sabres should hold an exhibition matchup with some bantam teams while on their break. You know, so they can get better.

ARIZONA COYOTES

10-27-6, 26 points, last in the NHL

Final game before the bye: Hosted the NY Rangers on January 6, won 2-1 in a shootout

Bye week: January 7-11 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 12

Nick’s Notes: Wait, you mean Arizona hasn’t already been taking time off all season?


Final notes: I strongly dislike how the NHL is abandoning entire markets for a week at a time. This is most noticeable in the United States’ two biggest cities: New York and Los Angeles. All five teams that play in those markets will be dormant for the same five days (January 8-12). Why didn’t they stagger these byes so those important markets would still have at least one squad active at all times? After all, if there’s one thing Devils fans love to see as much as a Jersey win, it’s a Rangers loss. Whether they take in that loss at Madison Square Garden or from their couch doesn’t ultimately matter. The fact that those markets could turn their attention away from the NHL to either the Clippers, Knicks or Friends reruns on TBS does.

But this extends further. The entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will be shut off from NHL hockey from January 8-12 (The same days as New York and Los Angeles? Who is making these decisions?), as neither the Flyers nor Penguins will be in action. Boston and Montréal? Nope, they’re both on the bye at the same time too (you guessed it, January 8-12). The Blues and Predators can vacation together as well – though I doubt they’d want to – as they are both out of action from January 10-15.

I’m sure the league’s competition committee is going to claim that they’re trying to reduce the possibility of one particular team getting too much of an advantage, but this just seems silly from a business perspective. If that is truly the case, perhaps one day when the league reaches 32 teams it will simply shut down an entire conference for five days and then the other (the odd number of teams right now makes scheduling a little… interesting in that scenario), or – the more likely of these two options – perchance expand the distribution of byes over the course of three weeks instead of just two. Who knows?

Beyond this issue, while I don’t necessarily like where it is in the schedule, I do like that the NHL has condensed the time period for bye weeks in the season. Keeping track of which teams had and hadn’t taken their week off last season was a bother, and this system eliminates that. Of course, we’ll know how NBC and Sportsnet react based on how these byes are arranged next year.

As for my final complaint, the byes have the possibility of creating a very staggered January. We just got out of the three-day holiday break 12 days ago. Each team has played an average of only 5.4 games since then. Now we have these bye weeks of at least five days, and the four-day All-Star Break (January 26-29) is only 20 days out. If those sentences were confusing, I’m concerned that’s how the month of January is going to feel – scattered hockey thoughts until Groundhog’s Day.

The NHL Players’ Association demanded these bye weeks in return for the league turning the All-Star Game into the divisional three-on-three format we have had for the past two years. They’re not going anywhere: the players obviously like the idea of getting some time off, and putting it near the midway point of the season seems like a logical idea.

However, how this change is impacting the league’s product is still being understood. Unless we could see a plausible situation where bye weeks don’t happen until the end of February or March (remember, that’s likely after the trade deadline), the existence of the midway-point byes could be yet another reason the NHL could axe the All-Star Game, eliminating that break altogether.

Throw in the fact that the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement could expire as soon as 2020’s offseason – should either party opt out early – and no later than the summer of 2022 and we could be looking at a whole heap of changes  – or a whole heap of no hockey – within the next four years.

January 4 – Day 89 – Dangerous waters

Thursdays in the NHL are some of the best days of the week, and the first such iteration of 2018 doesn’t disappoint with a dozen 11 games on the schedule.

The action starts – as it usually does – at 7 p.m. with the puck drop of four three games (Florida at Boston [SN360/TVAS], San Jose at Toronto, the New York Islanders at Philadelphia and Carolina at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by Tampa Bay at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). 8 p.m. marks the beginning of a pair of tilts (Vegas at St. Louis and Buffalo at Minnesota), while New Jersey at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, the role of tonight’s nightcap is split between four games (Columbus at Colorado, Los Angeles at Calgary, Anaheim at Edmonton and Nashville at Arizona) that all drop the puck at 9 p.m. All times Eastern.

You’ll notice there were a few edits in the above section. With the Nor’easter blatantly attacking New England today, the NHL has elected to postpone the Panthers’ visit to TD Garden. The game has yet to be rescheduled.

As regular readers have come to expect, here’s my list of quick headlines surrounding some of tonight’s matchups:

  • Vegas at St. Louis: In two stints, W David Perron played 422 with the Blues. Tonight marks his first return to Scottrade Center as a Golden Knight.
  • Buffalo at Minnesota: Speaking of returns, RW Jason Pominville and D Marco Scandella played a combined 700 games with the Wild over seven seasons. They’re back in Xcel Energy Center tonight, but as members of the visiting club.
  • Anaheim at Edmonton: No returns here. Just a good, old-fashioned rematch from last year’s Western Semifinals.

Of course, that list ignores two of the three games being contested by squads currently in playoff position, so there’s lots of great action happening throughout the league this evening.

One of those games between current playoff qualifiers is taking place in Air Canada Centre, and I – with a little help from @nlanciani53 – have decided that I want to feature that contest. Such is the privilege of authorship!

 

That was a tough decision. There’s so many good and important games today.

Things haven’t been going so well for the the 23-16-2 Maple Leafs of late. Though they’re still holding on to third place in the Atlantic Division (they shouldn’t fall any lower considering they have a nine-point advantage on Florida and Detroit), the Leafs are currently riding a three-game losing skid that has seen them earn only one point in an overtime loss at Colorado last Friday.

An offense that usually manages a fifth-best 3.24 goals-per-game scoring only six goals in three games is obviously a problem, but that issue is trivial in comparison to the terrible play going on in Toronto’s defensive zone over this skid. The Leafs’ 12 goals against since December 29 is the third-most in the NHL in that time.

Let’s start with the easiest position to pick apart when issues like this arise: the goaltender. 20-12-1 G Frederik Andersen is actually having one of the best years of his career posting a .921 save percentage and 2.69 GAA (his 20 wins are fourth-most in the NHL, and his three shutouts are also tied for fourth), but you wouldn’t know it from his last two games. In those contests, he managed only a .894 save percentage and 3.61 GAA.

Given, he did play at Vegas and against the Lightning, but this Toronto defense is – in my opinion – nowhere near capable of slowing down offenses of that magnitude.

However, that’s not giving the defensive corps a pass. Over its past three games, Toronto has allowed 95 shots against (31.67 per game), which is somehow an improvement on its season rate of 33.83 shots against per game. This defense simply needs more than what D Ron Hainsey (1.97 blocks per game), F Mitch Marner (37 takeaways) and W Matt Martin (3.07 hits per game) have provided so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see General Manager Lou Lamoriello find a way to add a solid defenseman before February 26’s trade deadline.

The return of D Nikita Zaitsev (2.76 blocks per game), who’s been on injured reserve since December 17 with a lower-body injury, will also be beneficial, but it’s unknown when he’ll be fit for action.

Meanwhile, the 21-12-4 Sharks have been playing extremely well lately to hold on to their third-place spot in the Pacific Division over the surging Ducks. They’ve gone 4-1-0 since December 21, and it’s all been because of some impressive defensive play. San Jose has allowed only 13 goals against over this run, the 12th-fewest in the league.

Just as it’s easiest to pick on a netminder while his team is not playing well, G Martin Jones earns a lot of the praise for a winning Sharks team. He’s started three of San Jose’s last five games and posted a solid .928 save percentage and 2.18 GAA. Those solid outings have improved his season numbers to a .914 save percentage and 2.57 GAA.

Just like Andersen, Jones has three shutouts to his credit on the season (tied for fourth-most in the league), but he has the luxury of a solid defense playing in front of him. On the season, the Sharks have allowed only 30.08 shots against per game, the fifth-fewest in the NHL.

Defensemen Brent Burns (40 takeaways), Brenden Dillon (2.75 hits per game) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (1.91 blocks per game) have been the biggest players for this corps, but there’s been significant contributions from almost the entire squad. Three players average more than 1.5 blocks per game

What Toronto has going in its favor is the fact that the Sharks’ offense is borderline miserable, averaging only 2.7 goals-per-game – the worst of any team currently qualifying for the playoffs. Though San Jose was able to beat the Maple Leafs 3-2 in The Tank on October 30, I think Toronto can defend Air Canada Centre this evening with the return of its usually dominant offense.


The Chicago Blackhawks ended their six-game road trip on a high note in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the New York Rangers 5-2 at Madison Square Garden.

Though the final score doesn’t indicate it, this was a very competitive contest to the bitter end. Both the first and second periods ended with a tied score, and the Hawks managed to score not one, but two empty net goals to inflate their goal differential.

First-liner F Vinnie Hinostroza (Second Star of the Game C Jonathan Toews and D Jordan Oesterle) opened the scoring with 3:51 remaining in the first period by burying a slap shot, but New York was able to level the game exactly two minutes later courtesy of a D Nick Holden (F Paul Carey and F Boo Nieves) clapper.

Chicago once again took a one-goal lead 8:56 into the second period thanks to C Nick Schmaltz‘ (Third Star F Patrick Kane and W Ryan Hartman) deflection, but the Rangers were equally up to the task. With D Brent Seabrook and F Lance Bouma both in the penalty box (Seabrook for cross checking W Mats Zuccarello and Bouma serving G Jeff Glass‘ delay of game penalty), C Mika Zibanejad (W Pavel Buchnevich and Zuccarello) took advantage of a five-on-three opportunity to level the score for the Blueshirts with a clapper.

The third period proved to be the deciding frame, and it was First Star F Patrick Sharp (F David Kampf and W Alex DeBrincat) who provided the deciding goal. 2:24 into the period, he ripped a snap shot high cheese over G Henrik Lundqvist‘s glove hand to set the score at 3-2.

Try as they might, the Rangers couldn’t find a way to level the game for a third time. They fired 11 shots at Glass in the third period, but to no avail. As time was winding down, Head Coach Alain Vigneault pulled Lundqvist to try and tilt the scales in his club’s favor.

Instead, all it did was allow Toews (W Brandon Saad and F Tommy Wingels) and Kane (Hartman and Schmaltz) to score empty netters to set the 5-2 final score.

Glass earned the victory after saving 23-of-25 shots faced (.92 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lundqvist, who saved 30-of-33 (.909).

Chicago’s victory is the second by a road team in the last three DtFR Game of the Days. The series still favors hosts however, as home teams have a 50-28-11 record that is 23 points superior to the roadies’.

December 20 – Day 77 – A star-less night

It’s Wednesday in the NHL, so you know what that means: time for me to pull out my weekly soapbox about supposed rivalries!

There’s three games on the schedule today, starting with Toronto at Columbus (SN/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m. and Detroit at Philadelphia (NBCSN) half an hour later. Finally, tonight’s nightcap of St. Louis at Calgary (SN360) will close out the evening at 9:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

If you can successfully pick the rivalry, be my guest. In the meantime, start heading towards Ohio for today’s featured matchup.

 

Before we start the preview, I need to vent for a moment: I need to do a better job of picking teams for this series. Combined, these clubs have been featured a only nine times before today (compared to Chicago and Nashville’s 11 times individually), even though they’ve both been at the top of their divisions all season.

You deserve better.

Ok, rant over.

Things haven’t been going exactly the way the 20-13-1 Blue Jackets would like in the month of December, as they’ve managed only a 4-5-0 record that includes an active two-game losing skid. Given the competitive nature of the Metropolitan Division, this little rough patch has dropped the Jackets into the top wildcard position.

On the season, Columbus has been among the best defensive teams, allowing only 2.7 goals against per game – the eighth-fewest in the NHL. However, that solid play has not been here this month, as the Jackets have allowed 33 goals, the (t)fifth-most in the league.

If we’re looking to place blame for this problem, I’m hard pressed to find an issue with Head Coach John Tortorella’s defensive corps. Led by RW Josh Anderson (1.22 takeaways per game), F Boone Jenner (three hits per game) and D Jack Johnson (1.77 blocks per game), the Jackets have allowed only 277 shots against this month, the 11th-fewest in the league.

Unfortunately, I’m leaning towards this defensive deficiency residing in net. Usually, 17-10-1 G Sergei Bobrovsky is among the best netminders in the league. After all, the two-time Vezina winner’s .919 season save percentage and 2.43 GAA rank are both top-10 efforts among the 31 goalies with at least 16 starts to their credits. However, his lackluster .878 save percentage and 3.81 GAA in December are both 11th-worst among all 65 goalies who have played this month.

But with an important Metropolitan Division game against Pittsburgh on the schedule tomorrow, all of that is water under the bridge since 3-3-0 G Joonas Korpisalo will be in net this evening. He’s managed a .902 save percentage and 2.97 GAA this season, and won his last start against the Ducks on December 1 (he relieved Bobrovsky on December 12, allowing two goals for no decision). If those numbers stand for the rest of the season, it’d be his worst NHL campaign, and considering he’s squaring against Toronto tonight, he’ll need to be on his A-game.

Speaking of those 21-13-1 Maple Leafs, they’ve been a consistent force to be reckoned with all season, as they’ve been in second place in the Atlantic Division for the entirety of the year. That was no more apparent than yesterday’s performance against a decent Hurricanes team: the Toronto thrashed them 8-1.

However, that win snapped a three-game losing skid, which shows that December hasn’t exactly been a friendly month to either of today’s squads. The Leafs have gone 4-4-0 since turning their calendar to its last page, and it’s because their floundering offense can’t take advantage of playing with a defense that has allowed only 16 goals in December (the [t]fewest in the NHL).

Even with the incredible efforts of second-liners C Tyler Bozak (3-4-7 totals), F Mitch Marner (1-7-8) and LW James van Riemsdyk (4-2-6), Toronto has managed only 18 goals in eight games this month – the third-fewest in the NHL. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a 2017-’18 Maple Leafs team without C Auston Matthews plays similar to the 2015-’16 team that was trying to draft him.

Ok, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but you get the idea.

If nothing else has been proven by this hand injury that has kept him out of the Leafs’ last five games, it’s proven how integral he is to his club. Matthews has followed up his amazing 40-29-69 rookie season with even better 13-13-26 totals through 26 games this campaign, putting him on pace for 36-36-72 marks by season’s end.

However, he won’t take a step towards achieving those totals this evening, as TSN’s Kristen Shilton is reporting that the only lineup change Head Coach Mike Babcock is making this evening is starting 3-3-0 G Curtis McElhinney due to 18-10-1 G Frederik Andersen being in net yesterday. That puts the onus on the Leafs’ offense to replicate yesterday’s success against a solid team.

With both backup goaltenders being in net tonight, this game has an interesting flair. Though McElhinney has been statistically better than Korpisalo this season, I’m leaning towards the Jackets finding a way to get their business done at home this evening.


With three goals in the second period, the Winnipeg Jets beat the Nashville Predators 6-4 at Bridgestone Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Even though the Jets registered the first goal of the game at the 8:05 mark of the first frame courtesy of F Adam Lowry (D Tyler Myers and First Star of the Game F Brandon Tanev), Nashville exited the first frame with the lead as it scored two goals in the final 41 seconds. Second Star F Calle Jarnkrok leveled the game with an unassisted wrist shot, followed by a snap shot from Third Star W Kevin Fiala (F Craig Smith) 20 seconds before reporting to the dressing room.

Going from winning to losing so swiftly didn’t seem to sit all that well with RW Patrik Laine (D Dmitry Kulikov and F Bryan Little), as he leveled the game at two-all at the 6:54 mark. However, the Preds took the lead once again only 61 seconds later on a D P.K. Subban (F Filip Forsberg and F Ryan Johansen) power play slap shot. The goal scoring spurt continued when W Nikolaj Ehlers (C Mark Scheifele and RW Blake Wheeler) buried a wrister at the 8:25 mark to level the game for Winnipeg, and he scored again (RW Joel Armia and D Tyler Myers) on a power play wrister with four minutes remaining in the period to claim the Jets’ first lead since Lowry’s tally.

The excitement continued in the third period, which didn’t take long to get started. Only 30 seconds into the final frame, D Yannick Weber (Fiala) set the score at four-all with a clapper. Though a combined total of 24 shots were fired on goal in the frame, that tie held through most of the period. However, Tanev (D Josh Morrissey and Lowry) was not all that interested in playing an overtime game with a divisional rival. He scored the game-winning goal with 1:26 remaining in regulation.

Though Tanev buried the goal, much of this score was the result of some stellar play in the defensive end by Morrissey. D Mattias Ekholm had the puck along the right boards, but had no teammates in support near him. Lowry and Morrissey took advantage and collapsed on him, forcing the puck out of his possession. Morrissey ended up with the puck on his stick and saw Tanev streaking towards center ice with no defensive pressure. After the pass, all Tanev needed to do was squeeze the shot between G Pekka Rinne and his right post with a sneaky wrister.

With little time to force overtime, Head Coach Peter Laviolette pulled Rinne almost immediately after the face-off to resume play to get an extra attacker on the ice. Though it took the Jets a moment to steal the puck back, Wheeler (Myers) was able to score a long-range wrister on an empty net with two seconds remaining to set the 6-4 final score.

G Connor Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 30-of-34 shots faced (.882 save percentage), leaving the loss to Rinne, who saved 30-of-35 (.857).

Winning on the road is fun, especially when it snaps a four-game winning streak by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The 43-25-9 hosts still own an 18-point advantage in the series.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 10

The prodigal son has returned, and it is time, once again, for me to assault your reading receptacles with my meaningless awards and incessant ramblings. Thanks to Cap’n for stepping in for me while I was off going to random ECHL games and concerts.

A special note: I’ve dropped the ‘Team of the Week’ section of these articles in favor of a new bit of weekly content that will be debuting here shortly. It will be replaced by a split of the ‘Player of the Week’ section, now giving one award to a skater, and one to a goaltender.

Skater of the Week: Josh Bailey

Heyyyyyyyyyy, HEYYY BAI-LEY, ooh…ahh, I wanna KNOWWWWOhhohhohh-Ohhoh, if you’ll score my goals…and assists…

Anyway, in the season’s first repeat performance, Josh Bailey again earns the nod for being the only Islander better at being underappreciated league-wide than John Tavares. The New York centerman is on a five-game point streak, four of those taking place this week. In those four games, he has four goals and four assists, including a hat trick in a losing effort to the Columbus Blue Jackets (the first time in franchise history the CBJ allowed a hat trick and won the game, a stellar 1-32-1 record for my boys in blue), and has a scarcely-believable 40 points in just 33 games this season. For reference, Bailey has previously topped the 40-point plateau only twice in a full season in his entire career. 28 years old seems a bit late for a coming-out party, but Isles fans are hardly going to complain about finally giving JT some depth scoring support.

Tendy of the Week: Brian Elliott

Possibly the only thing hotter than the Philadelphia Flyers of late is their own goaltender. Riding a six-game winning streak overall, including a perfect three-win performance this week, Ells has drastically altered the fortunes of the once-floundering Flyers, and has the Philly Phaithful at least starting to bother watching anything but Eagles games.

Starting off the week with 20 saves on 22 shots to down the Leafs, Elliott followed that up with single-goal games against Buffalo and Dallas to carry a superb .943 save percentage and 1.31 GAA through the week. The Flyers are still a few games back from the current Wild Card teams, but they hold games in hand on a good portion of the conference, and are much closer than any team that at one point lost 10 consecutive games should realistically be.

Game of the Week: Pittsburgh Penguins 1 @ Vegas Golden Knights 2, Thursday December 14th, 2017

I’m not even going to bother with the advanced stats, or play-by-play, or whatever else you think pertains to being the game of the week. This game was basically from a movie script. Recently-returned Marc-Andre Fleury facing the only team he had ever known prior to this season, he gets a hug from opposing goaltender Matthew Murray, who’s reasoning was simply “I missed the guy!”, and if you don’t love that you have no friends.

Four total former Penguins have found refuge with the upstart Knights, who continue to crush every single expert’s opinion about what an expansion team is capable of and are slowly shedding their ‘Island of Misfit Toys’ appearance in favor of being a legitimate contender.

Fleury stops 24 of 25, two of the three other former Pens tally points, and the franchise that didn’t exist last year beats the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs. Somebody call Disney.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Longtime Senator Chris Neil decided to hang up the skates this week, after a career spanning 15 seasons and over 1,000 games. One of the last of the ‘enforcer’ breed remaining, Neil was always known as one of the most complete players to wear the tough guy label, and was a highly-respected player both within his own locker room and throughout the league. All the best to Chris in his future endeavors.

In other Senators news, owner Eugene Melnyk said this week that while he has no aspirations of selling his team, he would consider relocating the franchise. While I’d imagine this resulted in numerous flaming bags of feces being placed upon his doorstep by Ottawa residents, I’m sure Quebec City natives happily sacrificed their shoes for their new hero.

Devan Dubnyk went down with a lower-body injury this week and is considered ‘week-to-week’, and if you open your window and listen very carefully, you can hear the screams of Wild fans from hundreds of miles away. (Note: If you’re in the Eastern Time Zone and north of the Ohio-Michigan border, these screams do mix in with the screams of Nordiques fans trying to remove their flaming pants.)

Oh, also in Ottawa news, holy frigg did that NHL 100 Classic look cold. I mean, I know with it being Ontario there were probably shirtless locals in attendance, but I was more than happy to watch from home.

Seattle looks poised to be the next expansion city, which is great, but I’m only going to really get on board if they decide to go with popular opinion and name the team the Seattle McSeattle Faces.

Kari Lehtonen joined a fairly exclusive club this week, as one of just 33 goaltenders to earn 300 wins in an NHL career. All the props in the world to him, because as someone who has spent his entire career with mostly-lackluster teams (I mean, he played for the Thrashers), it’s one hell of an accomplishment. Kari also surpassed Miikka Kiprusoff for most games played by Finnish goaltenders in the same contest, and trails only Kipper in wins by Finns. But with Preds stud Pekka Rinne at 285 career wins, the race to catch that record could be interesting. Cam Ward also reached 300 wins this week, but only managed to hold on to the distinction of ‘Most Unlikely 300-win Goalie’ for about 24 hours before Lehtonen would steal the distinction.

December 6 – Day 63 – This one might get ugly

Another Wednesday, another day to sell any random matchup as a rivalry when it almost certainly isn’t worthy of such designation.

Such is life in the world of sports broadcasting, I suppose.

Today’s slate of action features four games, starting with Calgary at Toronto (SN/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m. and Chicago at Washington (NBCSN) at 8 p.m. In a similar setup, Philadelphia at Edmonton (SN1) is scheduled to drop the puck at 9:30 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Ottawa at Anaheim (RDS) – following suit half an hour later. All times Eastern.

Though C Nate Thompson is making his first return to The Pond after calling it home for three seasons, I’m much more attracted to the contest involving the other team from Ontario.

 

 

 

 

 

No, it’s no rivalry like the one between Chicago and Washington (I mean, they are obviously warring over who wears red better), but this could be a good game nonetheless.

If nothing else, it should be the most entertaining, as the 17-10-1 Maple Leafs are always capable of putting on a good show with their third-ranked offense that averages 3.5 goals-per-game.

It’s no surprise who spearheads the Leafs’ attack, as all C Auston Matthews has done this season is improve on his Calder Trophy-winning 40-29-69 effort from a year ago. Having already earned team-leading 13-13-26 marks through 24 games played this year, he’s on pace for an incredible 84 points this season.

For those wondering, F Patrick Kane followed up his Calder-winning season with 25-45-70 totals in 80 games played. If you that think Kane is a solid player (hint: that should be all of us), Matthews has a chance to make Showtime simply an opening act.

While Matthews’ increased goal production certainly merits praise (his goals-per-game is up to .54 this season from last year’s .49), I’m actually most impressed with how he’s settled into his role as a top-line center. I often got the impression from Matthews that he felt he was the only one on Toronto’s roster capable of scoring goals (which, assuming he’d been watching the Leafs while he was in Switzerland, wasn’t exactly a misguided conclusion), which has made apparent by his four-goal NHL debut.

In a real test for Matthews, Head Coach Mike Babcock took the training wheels off Saturday by moving F William Nylander – himself a tremendous talent with 5-15-20 totals – to the third line to fill in for C Tyler Bozak while he was sick. As a result, Matthews and linemates RW Connor Brown (8-5-13) and F Zach Hyman (5-9-14) did not find the scorecard in Toronto’s 2-1 loss in Vancouver.

Word on the street is Bozak will be ready to go this evening, but I wouldn’t put it past Babcock to continue to play with his lines while the Leafs are in no danger of falling out of playoff position.

Tonight’s game might be a tough one for the 14-12-1 Flames, because even though they’re currently only one point outside of the Western Conference playoffs, they’ve made a bad habit of allowing 3.25 goals-per-game, the eighth-most in the NHL.

Considering last campaign’s starter G Brian Elliott has managed only a .908 save percentage this season in Philadelphia, I suppose Flames General Manager Brad Treliving did make an upgrade by trading for 12-9-1 G Mike Smith. Unfortunately, Smith’s .916 season save percentage and 2.79 GAA, which rank seventh- and fifth-worst, respectively, among goalies with at least 20 starts, has not been enough to keep the Flames in the playoff position they earned last year.

Of course, goaltending is a tough job when you’re being pelted with 31.71 shots-per-start like Smith has. Overall, the Flames defense has allowed the 10th-most shots to reach their goaltender, averaging 32.37 per game.

To put it simply, this team is not committed to playing defensive hockey. Not only are their 354 blocks the fewest in the Western Conference and third-fewest in the league, but they’ve also thrown the fewest blocks at 437, 27 less than Carolina’s second-worst effort. It is fortunate that C Mikael Backlund has managed a league-leading 34 takeaways, or things might be even worse for Calgary.

Oh wait, it can get worse. Backlund was sick yesterday and missed practice. Unless D Mark Giordano can assume his ultimate form and block more than his already team-leading 2.2 shots-per-game, this game has a really good chance of getting ugly for the Flames.


The New Jersey Devils are now the top team in the Metropolitan Division after beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Jersey never trailed in this game, due in large part to C Travis Zajac‘s (RW Stefan Noesen and F Marcus Johansson) first goal of the season, a backhanded shot 4:24 into the contest. The first period was also when the Blue Jackets got on the board, courtesy of a F Nick Foligno (RW Oliver Bjorkstrand and D Seth Jones) wrist shot with 6:14 remaining in the frame.

After that, this game belonged to the Devils, starting with Third Star of the Game F Taylor Hall‘s (Second Star C Nico Hischier and W Jesper Bratt) game-winning tip-in 4:47 into the second period. He was the benefactor of his own hard work, as it was Hall that won the scrum in his own defensive zone to get the puck to Hischier, who was off to the races after corralling the play. Once the rookie reached the right face-off dot, he pulled up and drew an additional defender before centering a pass to Hall, who tapped a one-timer past G Sergei Bobrovsky‘s blocker.

Noesen (LW Miles Wood and Hischier) also made sure to end the period with a bang, burying a wrister with 46 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

Bratt (Hall) tacked on the final insurance goal with 8:54 remaining in regulation with a tip-in.

First Star Cory Schneider earned the victory after saving 41-of-42 shots faced (.976 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 32-of-36 (.889).

December’s pattern of giving in the DtFR Game of the Day series continues, as hosts and visitors continue to exchange victories every other day. With last night being the road teams’ turn, they’ve now pulled back within 14 points of the home sides.

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

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

Player of the Week:  Blake Wheeler

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

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

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

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

 Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

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

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

Who is next?

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

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

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

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 5

Player of the Week: Nikita Kucherov

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

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

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

Team of the Week: Toronto Maple Leafs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

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

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

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

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

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 3

Player of the Week: Jakub Voracek

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

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

Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

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

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

 

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

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

*- I assume

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

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

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