Tag Archives: Lindholm

January 13 – Day 98 – Freeway Face-Off

It’s Saturday, and a lot of the teams in action today are well rested and ready to roll. This should be a good one!

The action sees an early start today, as there’s two (the New York Islanders at the New York Rangers and Detroit at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN]) 1 p.m. matinee games. Next up are the three contests (Winnipeg at Minnesota [CITY/SN1], Boston at Montréal [CBC/NHLN/SN/TVAS] and Philadelphia at New Jersey) dropping the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed by Colorado at Dallas two hours later. Edmonton at Vegas (CBC/SN) will get underway at 10 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Anaheim at Los Angeles and Arizona at San Jose. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Columbus, Florida, Nashville, Ottawa, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Washington.

More than a few of these games caught my eye…

  • New York at New York: It’s the Battle of New York! Which borough is supreme: Queens Brooklyn or Manhattan?
  • Detroit at Pittsburgh: Not only is this the rivalry of two consecutive Stanley Cup matchups, but it’s also the first returns of D Trevor Daley and F Scott Wilson to PPG Paints Arena since joining the Red Wings.
  • Boston at Montréal: One of the NHL’s most storied rivalries finally gets started for the 2017-’18 season.
  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: The Battle of the Turnpikes is always solid, and both these teams are coming off five days rest.
  • Anaheim at Los Angeles: It’s a Freeway Face-Off night in Tinseltown!

Now that the Ducks are rested and healthy, there’s no way we can miss this rough-‘n’-tough rivalry game!

 

Both of these teams enter today well-rested, as they were both enjoying their six-day bye weeks from January 7-12. Hopefully we get a high-energy contest and not one that features two rusty clubs.

The similarities between these clubs extend beyond that. Besides the simple fact that they both call Southern California home, they both entered the bye week losing week, even though they both play some of the best defense in the league.

Let’s start with the 24-13-5 Kings, who are currently in second place in the Pacific Division. With the exception of the active losing streak, most things have gone Los Angeles’ way this season, and a lot of it has to do with the dominant play of 19-13-2 G Jonathan Quick.

Quick has been solid in his first full season back from his 2016 groin injury. His .926 season save percentage is (t)fifth-best in the league among qualified goaltenders, and his 2.31 GAA is sixth-best. Only six netminders have more wins than Quick on the season, and this three shutouts are (t)fourth-best in the NHL.

Oh yeah, it also doesn’t hurt that D Drew Doughty wears the black and silver. He’s been solid this season to post a (t)third-best in the league +21 rating on 7-23-30 totals. Doughty’s point totals are (t)third-most on the Kings’ roster.

It’s highly doubtful that much will change for the Kings coming out of the bye, but the same can’t be said for 19-15-9 Anaheim. Though the Ducks sit three points outside the playoff picture coming into today’s action, they’re poised for a surge since almost their entire roster is now healthy.

C Ryan Getzlaf has played only 19 games this season. F Ryan Kesler only six. Tonight will be D Hampus Lindholm‘s 31st contest, and only D Cam Fowler‘s 32nd. Even W Corey Perry has played fewer than 35 games.

But tonight, they’ll all be back and ready to roll, bringing with them a combined 3.4 points-per-game. Add in the fact that Anaheim allows a seventh-fewest 2.67 goals per game, and this Ducks team should be in business to inflict some damage in the Pacific Division.

These teams have already squared off twice this season, and both games took place back in November. Even though the Kings won both meetings, don’t think they had an easy time of it. Los Angeles needed an overtime game-winning goal from C Nick Shore to beat the Ducks on The Pond 4-3 on November 7, and November 25’s meeting in Hollywood required a four-round shootout to declare the Kings the 2-1 winners.

Considering the Kings are playing at home this evening, you’d be led to believe they should have what it takes to beat the rival Ducks. However, it’s still unknown just how good this Anaheim team can be. Regardless of who wins, I think it’s a safe assumption that this will be a physical, closely contested match.


With four goals in the second period, the Vancouver Canucks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though the game would ultimately belong to Vancouver, the Jackets took credit for the game-opening tally at the 4:33 mark courtesy of a power play slap shot from Third Star of the Game D Seth Jones (F Nick Foligno and LW Artemi Panarin). With First Star C Henrik Sedin in the box for holding F Boone Jenner, Jones’ eighth goal of the season proved to be the lone marker of the first frame.

After the first intermission, it didn’t take the Canucks long to level the game. LW Sven Baertschi (Second Star W Thomas Vanek and F Sam Gagner) took advantage of D Zach Werenski earning a seat in the sin bin for tripping W Loui Eriksson late in the first period to tie the game-at one-all with a power play snap shot at the 1:19 mark. 4:19 later, D Erik Gudbranson (Eriksson and Sedin) scored his first goal of the season to give Vancouver the lead.

Scoring subsided for almost 10 minutes, but the next goal to be struck proved to be the game-winner. With 5:29 remaining in the second period, F Brendan Gaunce (Vanek and D Michael Del Zotto) scored Vancouver’s second power play goal of the night to set the score at 3-1. With C Lukas Sedlak in the box for hooking Sedin, Vanek entered his offensive zone along the right boards before D Jack Johnson got in his way and forced him back towards the blue line. To avoid the Canucks getting caught offsides, he shoved a pass across the zone to Gaunce, who was undefended. Every stick wants to die a warrior, and this one did – Gaunce’s wrist shot found the back of G Sergei Bobrovsky‘s net three seconds before Sedlak was to be released from the box.

D Alexander Edler (LW Daniel Sedin and H. Sedin) set the score at 4-1 on a wrister with 2:45 remaining in the period.

After that scoring explosion by Vancouver, the Jackets were in desperate need of a goal. However, they would not find the back of the net until only 7:25 remained in regulation courtesy of a LW Matt Calvert (D Scott Harrington and Foligno) clapper. Facing  a two-goal deficit, Head Coach John Tortorella pulled Bobrovsky in hopes of turning the tides for his offense. However, he allowed RW Jake Virtanen (F Markus Granlund) to score an empty-netter to set the 5-2 final score.

G Jacob Markstrom earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (.931 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bobrovksy, who saved 24-of-28 (.857).

The road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are starting to feel it, as they’re now riding a three-game winning streak. This streak has pulled them within 20 points of the 54-32-12 hosts.

November 10 – Day 38 – Duchene’s Stockholm syndrome cured

In a league that already features players from all around the world,  today’s schedule has an especially international flavor as the Avalanche and Senators square off at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden.

To ensure it takes place during prime time in Sweden, that game is scheduled for 2 p.m. Eastern time (NHLN/RDS). Back on our side of the Atlantic Ocean, the action begins at the usual time of 7 p.m. with four tilts (Florida at Buffalo, Boston at Toronto, Pittsburgh at Washington [NHLN/SN/TVAS] and Carolina at Columbus) followed by the New York Islanders at Dallas 90 minutes later. Finally, this evening’s nightcap drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. when Winnipeg visits Vegas. All times Eastern.

Yes, there’s an Original Six rivalry taking place in Ontario tonight; and yes, the Penguins and Capitals will meet up for the second of four times this season. But there’s something really exciting happening in Europe – and it’s not just the fact that the NHL is in town.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m always intentional about the order logos are presented in this column, and today is no exception: the Avs are designated the home team for today’s contest and they’ll swap benches for tomorrow’s game. Does that make them the Stockholm Avalanche today?

Obviously.

A few fun facts about today’s venue (all research from this Wikipedia article unless otherwise noted): the Ericsson Globe, located in southern Stockholm, opened in 1989 and “is the largest hemispherical building on Earth.” The design is no accident, as The Globe “represents the Sun in the Swedish Solar System, the world’s largest scale model of the Solar System.”

Huh. That’s neat.

The home arena of both Djurgårdens IF and the Swedish Men’s National Hockey Team, The Globe can hold 13,850 hockey fans. Though that would make it the smallest arena in the NHL by nearly 1500 seats, that hasn’t stopped it from hosting some major events in the past.

Limiting our list to just hockey, it has hosted the Ice Hockey World Championships four times (most recently in 2013 when host Sweden, led by C Henrik Sedin, took gold and F Alex Galchenyuk‘s Team USA won bronze in a shootout), the World Cup of Hockey twice (most recently the 2004 quarterfinals when Sweden fell 6-1 to the Czech Republic), five NHL Challenge series games (the most recent of which were two Maple Leafs games against Djurgårdens IF and Färjestad BK in 2003) and eight previous regular season NHL games, the last of which was during the 2011-’12 season.

Some famous Swedes participating in today’s contest include Senators defensemen Fredrik Claesson, Erik Karlsson and Johnny Oduya and the Avs’ LW Gabriel Landeskog. Of the four, three – Claesson, Landeskog and Oduya – are Stockholm natives.

Anton Lindholm, a rookie defenseman for Colorado, also would have been one singing “Du gamla, du fria” before today’s game, but he joined four other Avalanche players on injured reserve after breaking his jaw Saturday in Philadelphia. D Patrik Nemeth (undisclosed) and F Carl Soderberg (paternity leave) also did not make the trip back to their homeland.

While those are the names that will attract the most attention from Swedish hockey fans, those of us on this side of the ocean are far more interested in the play of F Matt Duchene, who will be making his Senators debut against the very team he was playing for only five days ago.

Though it’s been expected since last season’s trade deadline that Duchene would eventually play against the Avalanche during the 2017-’18 campaign, few could have predicted the events that took place Sunday night in Brooklyn. Instead of trading the 27-year-old during the offseason, General Manager Joe Sakic had Duchene stick around Denver for an awkward photo shoot, 13 games and two shifts before concocting a three-team trade to send him to Ottawa.

That’s right, Duchene was traded right in the middle of a game. Not before. Not after. Perhaps it was D Scott Mayfield‘s goal that Duchene was on ice for that was the final straw. Who knows?

It seems humorous and unlikely, but given how the Avalanche have been run of late, it just might be a safe assumption.

You can find a more in-depth analysis here courtesy of @nlanciani53, but I got all the information I needed from F Nathan MacKinnon‘s interview with Adrian Dater following the Islanders game:

 

All-in-all, it seems the squad would have still loved to have Duchene in the fold, but seeing him return from the offseason frustrated was enough to convince them that his heart was no longer in Colorado – no matter how much of “a real pro” MacKinnon says he was about the situation.

With that in mind, I’d figure it won’t be too tough – emotionally, at least – for the 8-6-0 Avalanche to square off against their old pal. As far as playing against the 6-3-5 Senators, though? That might be a taller task.

Though we’re used to saying it about every game the Avs play for the past year or two, it’s certainly true here: they’re just a bad matchup against the Senators, as it’s a situation of “anything you can do, I can do better.”

MacKinnon’s 4-10-14 totals might be good enough to lead Colorado to a seventh-best 3.36 goals-per-game, but Karlsson and his 1.44 points-per-game simply looks at that and scoffs, as his Senators have managed a superior 3.57 goals-per-game.

Well, maybe the Avs might have an advantage on defense.

Think again. D Erik Johnson might be managing 2.1 blocks-per-game, but that’s not enough to keep goaltenders Semyon Varlamov or Jonathan Bernier from facing a seventh-worst 33.6 shots-per-game. Meanwhile, although the other end of the ice is no brick wall, the efforts of D Cody Ceci (2.5 blocks-per-game) and co. has limited netminders Craig Anderson and Mike Condon‘s nightly workload to only 31.7 shots against.

Even the special teams skew Ottawa’s way. Led by F Mike Hoffman‘s five power play points, the Sens are converting 20 percent of their man-advantages into goals, a rate that is (t)11th-best in the NHL. Though RW Mikko Rantanen‘s eight extra-man points are individually more successful, the fact that the Avalanche’s 19.3 percent conversion rate ranks only 14th-best must be discouraging.

While not exactly successful in comparison to the rest of the league, Ottawa can take solace in the fact that its penalty kill that is successful 80.5 percent of the time is yet another point in its favor when compared to the Avalanche. Colorado plays the (t)10th-worst PK in the league, killing off only 78.6 percent of its infractions.

If there’s anywhere Colorado does have the advantage, it might be between the pipes. In most cases, you’d expect 5-3-3 Anderson to be superior to 6-3-0 Varlamov, but the Senators’ netminder has had a slow start to this season, managing only a .896 save percentage and 3.13 GAA that bows to Varlamov’s .911 save percentage and 3.09 GAA effort.

Whether they start today or tomorrow, I expect them to square off against each other. Just in case they don’t assume their spots in crease today, know that Ottawa’s 1-0-2 Condon has a .924 save percentage and 2.6 GAA that is easily superior to 2-3-0 Bernier’s .884 save percentage and 3.63 GAA.

No matter how you slice it, this weekend’s international series is looking like four points for Ottawa. If the Colorado Stockholm Avalanche can earn any points out of this trip to Europe, they’ll have Varlamov to thank for it.


By scoring four goals in 2:02 against the defense that entered the game giving up the fewest goals-per-game in the league, the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

For a California road trip that was supposed to be difficult, the Lightning aren’t having too much trouble finding wins. That was no more apparent than when the Lightning blitzed G Jonathan Quick in the first period. The attack started with First Star of the Game RW Nikita Kucherov (Second Star C Steven Stamkos and D Slater Koekkoek) burying a backhanded shot 9:27 into the contest, and it was followed up 34 seconds later by an F Alex Killorn (D Dan Girardi and C Tyler Johnson) tip-in.

Coincidentally, only 34 seconds ticked off the clock before Tampa scored yet again. This one, which proved to be the game-winner, was struck by D Victor Hedman (F Yanni Gourde and W Ondrej Palat) – a snap shot to give the Lightning a 3-0 advantage. Stamkos (Killorn and Kucherov) completed the attack with a power play slap shot struck with 8:31 separating the Kings from the safety of their dressing room.

Los Angeles did eventually have to emerge from its safe haven to play the second period, though probably not before Head Coach John Stevens gave his club a spirited tongue lashing. Whatever he did obviously worked, as F Tyler Toffoli (Third Star C Anze Kopitar and D Jake Muzzin) was the only player on the ice to find the back of the net in the frame, setting the score at 4-1 at the second intermission.

D Oscar Fantenberg (W Dustin Brown and F Brooks Laich) provided the Kings a plausible chance of a comeback at the 8:39 mark pf the third period with his first goal of the season, but F Vladislav Namestnikov (Hedman and Kucherov) squelched that optimism with a snapper with 7:01 remaining in regulation to set the final 5-2 score.

G Peter Budaj earned the victory after saving 22-of-24 shots faced (.917 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 38-of-43 (.884).

There’s a trend that has formed in the DtFR Game of the Day series since Halloween: the road teams win two games, followed by hosts winning one. Well, Tampa Bay’s road win comes on the heels of a home victory Wednesday night, so we’ll see if that pattern continues in today’s game.

In the meantime, the 19-15-4 hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day still hold an advantage in the series, but it has been trimmed to only two points.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 12

 

Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks – Game 1

With their 3-2 overtime victory over Anaheim at the Honda Center, the Predators have stolen home-ice advantage and a one-game lead in the Western Finals.

The biggest difference in this game seemed to be energy and rest. The Predators eliminated St. Louis on May 7 while the Ducks just finished their series against Edmonton on Wednesday, meaning Nashville had three more free days before resuming play.

That extra energy showed itself in a multitude of ways, but it was most noticeable in the shots on goal category. Led by Ryan Ellis‘ seven attempts that made their way to Second Star of the Game John Gibson, Nashville led the Ducks  in shots by a whopping 46-29 differential.

It took 5:15 of action before the Ducks could register even their first shot on Third Star Pekka Rinne, but it’s all they needed to take a 1-0 lead. Jakob Silfverberg was the one to register the goal, using the defending Roman Josi as a screen to bury a potent upper-90 snap shot from the near face-off circle.

But that lead didn’t last all that long, as the Predators’ efforts finally bore fruit with 7:26 remaining in the first period via a Filip Forsberg (Matt Irwin and Ryan Johansen) redirection through both Antoine Vermette and Gibson’s legs to level the game at one-all.

In terms of of the Predators’ shooting effort, it was a similar start to the second period as they managed five shots before the Ducks reached Rinne once. Fortunately for Nashville, its second tally came quicker than its first, as Austin Watson (Johansen and Mattias Ekholm) scored a slap shot only 2:42 into the middle frame for the first playoff goal of his career.

The rest of the second period was a test of special teams, specifically an Anaheim power play that can’t find results no matter how well it performs.  Only 34 seconds separated Colin Wilson exiting the penalty box after hooking Rickard Rakell and Ellis earning a seat for roughing Andrew Cogliano. Between the two man-advantages, the Ducks managed only one shot that reached Rinne (courtesy of Ryan Kesler), but the postseason’s best goaltender was more than up to the task and stopped the attempt with ease.

Randy Carlyle apparently had enough of his club being dominated offensively in the first two periods, so the Ducks turned the tables in the third. Anaheim fired five shots at Rinne in the opening 7:21 of the third frame, the last of which was a Hampus Lindholm (Nate Thompson) snapper to level the game at two-all.

Anaheim won 56% of face-offs against the Predators all game, and that came into play on Lindholm’s goal. Thompson beat Calle Jarnkrok at the dot to Rinne’s right to maintain possession in his offensive zone. He shoved the puck back towards the far point to the waiting blueliner, who was more than able to bang home his marker over the netminder’s stick shoulder.

Following their game-tying tally, the Ducks tried their hardest to lose the game by firing not one, but two pucks over the glass within 33 seconds of each other. Though Nashville earned 87 seconds of five-on-three play, it could not find its game-winning goal in regulation.

Instead, the Predators waited until the 9:24 mark of overtime before First Star James Neal (P.K. Subban and Ekholm) ripped his winning snapper into Gibson’s net. It doesn’t quite qualify for a tic-tac-goal play, but it was an absolutely brilliant assist by Subban to set up the marker.

Ekholm began the sequence by driving on Gibson’s crease in attempts of forcing the puck across the goal line, but the netminder was up to the challenge and somehow forced the puck into the far corner. The defenseman got back to his skates, chased down the puck and reset the play at the near point to Subban. The former Hab looked like he had all intentions of firing a slap shot back into the scrum, but decided instead to find a wide-open Neal in the near face-off circle. In the same swipe, Neal took possession and fired his shot over a splayed Gibson to end the game.

It’s only fitting that between these clubs’ primary colors both black and blue are represented. Hockey has never been classified as a gentleman’s game, and neither Anaheim nor Nashville are wasting any effort on chivalry. Not only were 55 total hits thrown between them, but tempers were also flaring even before the first intermission.

In particular, Johansen was certainly frustrated after Ryan Getzlaf fired a slap shot right at the Predator’s right hand covering his groin. A player would certainly be within his rights for being aggravated after taking a puck in that area, but it looks as if Getzlaf intentionally took aim at Johansen’s crotch, making the action all the more egregious. The physicality between these sides will be something to behold as this series advances.

This series will resume Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. American viewers can catch the action on NBCSN, while SN and TVAS will broadcast the game in Canada.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 30

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

St. Louis Blues at Nashville Predators – Game 3

With a goal per period, Nashville beat the Blues 3-1 at Bridgestone Arena Sunday to take a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference Semifinals series.

While the Predators played well, it certainly didn’t hurt that St. Louis struggled to find any rhythm for most of the contest. That became no more apparent than during the second period when the Notes didn’t register their first shot on goal until 7:01 remained in the frame, their first of only four in the second period and 13 in the final 40 minutes.

Of course, that shot was the one that ended up being St. Louis’ lone goal of the game. Alex Steen takes credit for deflecting Alex Pietrangelo‘s initial shot from the near point past Third Star of the Game Pekka Rinne to set the score at 2-1.

That tally was struck exactly 10:30 after Nashville’s game-winner, the first of Cody McLeod‘s (Colton Sissons and Mattias Ekholm) postseason career. McLeod certainly earned the marker after receiving Sissons’ pass from the near boards in the slot. He couldn’t make full contact on his initial attempt, but Jake Allen could not freeze the puck. The enforcer-turned-striker took advantage and lifted his backhanded shot over Allen’s left pad to then set the score at 2-0.

Second Star Roman Josi (Sissons and Harry Zolnierczyk) tacked on an insurance tally with 5:49 remaining in regulation, but it is First Star Ryan Ellis who has truly been impressive so far this postseason. Thanks to his pure snap shot (Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban) with 9:26 remaining in the first period, he has registered eight points in these playoffs, a total that ties the incredible Erik Karlsson for most by a defenseman in the 2017 postseason. In fact, it could be argued that Ellis has been superior to the Senator so far, as he has achieved his production with two more goals and one fewer game played.

Game 4 is scheduled for Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time. NBCSN will televise the game in the United States, while Canada will be served by SN and TVAS.

 

Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 3

The Ducks seem to enjoy playing in Alberta, as they beat Edmonton 6-3 at Rogers Place Sunday night to pull within a victory of tying their Western Conference Semifinal.

Sometimes, all one needs is a change of scenery. That’s usually said around the trade deadline or during the offseason, but the Ducks took advantage of the three-hour plane ride to formulate an offensive gameplan that produced three goals before the Oilers could react.

That attack started only 25 seconds into the game courtesy of a Rickard Rakell (Second Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf and Brandon Montour) snap shot, followed 5:08 later by First Star Jakob Silfverberg‘s (Third Star Hampus Lindholm) wrist shot. Getzlaf completed Anaheim’s first period attack by scoring a snapper with 8:09 remaining in the frame.

But the Ducks weren’t in the clear yet. Patrick Maroon (Kris Russell and Leon Draisaitl) scored a tip-in 40 seconds before the close of the first period, followed by Anton Slepyshev (David Desharnais and Russell) and Connor McDavid both burying the puck before the close of the second period’s ninth minute to tie the game at three-all.

That’s when Anaheim reclaimed control of the contest – and this time, they would not yield.

McDavid tied the game at the 8:40 mark of the second period. Chris Wagner (Josh Manson and Shea Theodore) scored the game-winning goal only 48 seconds later.

Though Theodore does get an assist, this play truly starts when Manson receives his pass in the Ducks’ defensive zone and advances into the attacking third. Once he crossed the blue line, he bounced a pass off the near boards to Wagner. The first-year Duck took possession and fired a slap shot from the face-off circle all in the same motion to send the puck towards Cam Talbot. The goaltender should have been able to make the save, but he seemed to be caught off-guard. That led to him trying to awkwardly use his blocker to deflect the puck in mid-air, which ultimately led to his giving up a five-hole goal.

Though the Ducks managed only one goal in the second period, Wagner’s tally represented all the work being done on the defensive end of the ice. John Gibson faced 14 tough shots in the second frame and allowed only two tallies. If not for him, this game could have been a true barn-burner – a situation that would almost certainly favor the Oilers.

Silfverberg (Manson and Theodore) and Ryan Kesler (Silfverberg) provided the two insurance goals at the 4:56 and 10:38 marks, respectively, to ensure the Oil had no chance of another comeback.

The Ducks’ opportunity to tie the series at two-all is scheduled for Wednesday at 10 p.m. Eastern time. NBCSN will broadcast the game in the United States, while Canadians should tune to either SN or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 28

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues – Game 2

After dropping Game 1, St. Louis desperately needed a victory to salvage home ice at the start of the second round to level the series at 1-1. Thanks to First Star of the Game Vladimir Tarasenko‘s two goals, the Blues did just that by beating Nashville 3-2 Friday night at Scottrade Center.

Though the fourth-best (okay, tied for fourth-best) goalscorer of the 2016-17 regular season earned the spotlight, it was actually Nashville’s defense that performed the best all night. Spearheaded by Roman Josi‘s four blocks, St. Louis managed only 20 shots all game – led by Tarasenko’s six.

Making that effort even more impressive is the fact that the Predators served a whopping 23 penalty minutes. By comparison, St. Louis served only two and Patrik Berglund‘s interference corresponded with an embellishment penalty by Third Star Ryan Ellis, meaning Nashville did not earn a single man-advantage all game.

In all, the Preds faced five Blues power plays and yielded only one tally: a Tarasenko (Alex Pietrangelo and Alex Steen) wrist shot with 20 seconds remaining before the first intermission.

Most of those penalty minutes belonged to Vernon Fiddler, who was caught practicing questionable form when hitting Colton Parayko with 92 seconds remaining in the first period. The skaters made knee-to-knee contact as Fiddler hit the defenseman behind Jake Allen‘s net. It earned him a game misconduct and a major penalty, giving the Blues a five-minute unlimited power play that led to Tarasenko’s marker to tie the game at one-all.

All the shorthanded situations is also a major reason the Preds only managed 24 shots on goal of their own. It is difficult, even for the postseason’s third-best offense, to get any rhythm going when playing without a full fleet of weapons.

But even when faced with that self-imposed handicap, a defensive effort that impressive will eventually produce chances on the other end of the ice. That was no more apparent than when Ellis intercepted Vladimir Sobotka‘s attempted pass to Berglund at St. Louis’ blue line. Since both squads were advancing towards the Blues’ offensive zone, the defenseman had to steer his shot past only one possible defender to beat Allen’s glove 3:07 into the third period and set the score at 2-1.

James Neal (Colton Sissons and Ellis) accounted for Nashville’s other marker, a deflection scored on Ellis’ initial shot from the far point 7:49 into the game. It was only the Predators’ second shot on goal of the night.

Nashville’s lead lasted only 4:32 until Second Star Jori Lehtera (Berglund and Parayko) leveled the game once again for the Blues, but they had yet to lead in the contest.

Until, that is, Tarasenko (Joel Edmundson and Jaden Schwartz) buried his game-winning wrister with 3:51 remaining in regulation. Schwartz attacked up the far boards, traversing all three zones with the puck in his possession. Once he reached the face-off dot, he passed back towards the blue line to Edmundson, who kick-passed to St. Louis’ favorite right wing. Tarasenko dropped to a knee to get the proper contact on his shot to beat Pekka Rinne‘s right pad.

In a game dominated by defense, it’s only logical that a strong Blues stand at the end of the contest would be the reason they held on for victory. Even more fitting, the biggest play came from one of the biggest stars on the ice. With Rinne pulled for the sixth attacker, Ryan Johansen had a wrist shot cocked and ready to fire from the near face-off circle. But instead of sending a shot flying towards Allen, his stick met Tarasenko’s, who dove to knock the puck away from the center.

The now best-of-five series shifts a little over 300 miles southeast to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. for Games 3 and 4. Speaking of Game 3, puck drop is set for Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast on NBC in the United States of America or SN and TVAS in Canada.

 

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 2

When the best player on the ice is the goaltender, the team attacking him faces an uphill battle. That’s exactly what happened to Anaheim Friday, as it fell 2-1 at the Honda Center to give the Oilers a two-game advantage in their Western Conference semifinal.

No matter what the Ducks threw at him, First Star of the Game Cam Talbot was absolutely electric in the crease. In all, he faced 40 shots in Game 2, and stopped all but one of them for a ..975 save percentage.

The opposite goaltender, John Gibson, played nowhere near Talbot’s level, but he didn’t necessarily need to be that often. He faced only 23 shots, but did let two by (91.3%).

Instead, Anaheim played an incredible defense to counter the Oil’s fantastic netminder, made evident by the few shots Gibson faced. Though Edmonton did give the puck away 13 times, the Ducks caused more than their fair share of turnovers by playing a very physical game. In total, Anaheim threw 32 hits, including five by Second Star Ryan Getzlaf to lead the club.

Whether by a corps of blue liners or goaltender, what resulted was a grind-it-out, tough contest typical of a playoff matchup featuring the top two teams of a division.

Then again, that doesn’t well explain the first goal of the game, as Andrej Sekera buried a quick unassisted slap shot only 65 seconds into the game to give Edmonton an early one-goal lead. Hampus Lindholm was trying to pass to Jakob Silfverberg at the goal line and set up a breakaway opportunity, but his dish was too strong and sneaked to Sekera at the near point. Seeing no better option, the defenseman banged home his first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and only his second career postseason marker (his first was scored way back in 2011 with the Sabres).

The game-winning tally belongs to Patrick Maroon (Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) at the 6:41 mark of the second period, but his play started before he even took to the ice. 1:43 before he scored his tip-in, Korbinian Holzer was caught holding Zack Kassian‘s stick to earn himself a seat in the penalty box.

Similar to the Rangers-Senators game Thursday, hockey has a way of perfectly playing out the “what comes around, goes around” idiom. Only 8:34 after Maroon had scored the insurance goal, Darnell Nurse was sent to the sin bin for hi-sticking Jared Boll. Silfverberg (Third Star Cam Fowler and Ryan Kesler) didn’t wait long to capitalize on that mistake, waiting only 20 seconds before pulling the Ducks back within a goal.

Unfortunately for Anaheim, they could not manage to break through the might Talbot over the remaining 24:26 of regulation. The Ducks now face an intense uphill climb to the Western Finals, as they will need to win three of the next five games – and at least one in Canada – to simply force a deciding Game 7 on The Pond.

Their first chance to get back into the series will be this Sunday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. Puck drop is scheduled for at 7 p.m. Eastern time and the contest may be viewed on NBCSN in the USA and SN or TVAS in Canada.

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

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

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

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

Short list:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hockey Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 1 – Day 164 – Ducks dominance or Oilers ownage?

Eight games will be played this penultimate Saturday of the NHL regular season, starting with Florida at Boston (SN) at 1 p.m. The other matinee of the day drops the puck an hour later and features Minnesota at Nashville. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the beginning of five contests (Ottawa at Winnipeg [SN], Toronto at Detroit [CBC/NHLN], Montréal at Tampa Bay [CITY/TVAS], New Jersey at Philadelphia and Dallas at Carolina), and tonight’s nightcap – Anaheim at Edmonton (CBC/SN) – gets underway at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Detroit: Not only is this one of the more historical rivalries in the game, but Alexey Marchenko also makes his first – and last – trip to Joe Louis Arena as a visitor.
  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Battle of the Jersey Turnpike rages on tonight on Broad Street.
  • Anaheim at Edmonton: Oh, you know, there’s nothing major on the line in this game. Just the lead in the Pacific Division, that’s all.

There’s no joking about it, tonight’s festivities in Edmonton are going to have a significant impact on the race for the Pacific championship. Though we were just there a couple days ago, it’s off to Edmonton with us!

 

The best way to complete our three-day stop in Alberta is by featuring the best two teams in the Pacific Division. Only a point separates the Ducks and Oilers from each other with five fixtures left on the schedule.

What makes this game even more important is this is the last time they’ll run into each other this year – barring a postseason meeting. The reason for Anaheim‘s advantage can be found in their second run-in with Oilers of the year. On December 3 – ironically at Rogers Place, the same surface on which they’ll square off tonight – Edmonton needed overtime to best the Ducks 3-2.

That overtime loss is the differential in the season series between these clubs. Since both have won two of the previous four meetings, Anaheim has a one-point advantage on the Oilers in both the series and the standings as a whole.

The 42-23-12 Ducks have been playing some fantastic hockey since mid-March. They’re riding a nine-game point streak that has seen them go 7-0-2 and climb to the top of the Pacific Division.

As has been the case all year, Anaheim has made this surge on the back of its defense and goaltending. The Ducks have allowed only 17 goals in their past nine games, which is the second-fewest in the league since March 12.

Though normally bearing the title of backup, a main reason for the Ducks‘ surge is 19-7-4 Jonathan Bernier, who has been the only goaltender to take to the crease during this run. He’s played remarkably, as his .938 save percentage and 1.86 GAA over this stretch are (t)fifth and (t)seventh-best among the 42 goalies who’ve made at least four appearances since mid-March.

What makes Bernier’s play even more impressive is he hasn’t had quite the defense that he and 23-16-8 John Gibson have grown accustomed to this season. Though not by much, Anaheim‘s blueline is under-performing by their standards as they’ve allowed 30.3 shots-per-game to reach Bernier’s crease in the past nine games, which is actually sixth-tenths more than their season average.

That slight decrease in performance can’t be blamed on Hampus Lindholm or Sami Vatanen though. They’ve been playing out of their minds of late, as they both have 18 shot blocks to their credit since March 12.

Perhaps the reason for the Ducks‘ almost indiscernible drop in defensive production is due to Cam Fowler‘s recent play.  Though he averages 1.7 shot blocks per game for the entire season, that rate has dropped to 1.3 in the last nine games.

Like I said, almost indiscernible. We’re splitting hairs here; Fowler has still been excellent, as have Lindholm and Vatanen. The Ducks still have a defense to be reckoned with, not to mention the red-hot Bernier playing in net. In short, scoring against the Ducks is not an easy thing to do.

The true mark of a good defense is a solid penalty kill, and Anaheim has one of those. It ranks fifth-best on the season and stops 85.1% of opponents’ power plays. As you’d expect, the reason for the Ducks‘ success is twofold – as in two fantastic goalies. Both Bernier and Gibson save over 90% of power play shots against. Of the 28 netminders who’ve faced 175 or more man-advantage shots this season, they’re the only two goaltenders in the league who can make that claim.

Of course, every team has a hole. For the Ducks, that issue this year is the power play, and that’s especially been the case over the last 20 days. The Ducks have found the back of the net with the man-advantage only three times in the past nine games for a horrendous success rate of 10%. Only three teams in the NHL have been worse since March 12.

43-25-9 Edmonton has also been playing incredible hockey since mid-March, especially when it has the puck on its stick. Since March 14, the Oilers have buried 37 goals – five more than Carolina, Chicago and Washington (incredible offenses in their own rights) to lead the NHL. That offensive explosion has led the Oil to a 8-1-0 mark in that time, which ties for second-best in the league.

Just like it’s been all year, Todd McLellan‘s club has utilized a two-headed attack of none other than Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Both have 16 points apiece since the 14th to co-lead the league.

Since both play a solid, unselfish game, they get credit for a lot of helpers. Patrick Maroon, the final third of Edmonton‘s top line, has been the man taking advantage of that of late, as he’s potted six beauties in the past 18 days to lead the squad.

An offense of this caliber does not mess around. Since March 14, Edmonton has taken advantage of 29% of its man-advantage situations to score nine power play goals. Four of those have been a direct result of Draisaitl’s play, though they’ve all been apples. Half of those assists have gone to Mark Letestu and the other half to Milan Lucic, both of whom join Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with two power play goals apiece to headline the Oil‘s extra-man attack of late.

Maybe the most impressive part of Edmonton‘s game during this impressive run is its effort on the penalty kill. Only two tallies have resulted due to an Oilers penalty for a 91.3% kill rate, the second-best in the league in that time frame.

While 39-21-8 Cam Talbot has been good over the stretch, the real reason for Edmonton‘s success is McLellan’s leadership. The best way to succeed at the penalty kill is to avoid it, and the Oilers have been shorthanded only 23 times in their past nine games, which ties for sixth-fewest in the NHL.

The last time these squads met was only 10 days ago on March 22 at The Pond. Both Ryan Getzlaf and Lindholm added three points to their season totals to lead Anaheim to a narrow 4-3 victory over the visiting Oilers.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Getzlaf (52 assists [fifth-most in the NHL]) and Gibson (five shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the league] and a 2.28 GAA [seventh-best in the NHL] on a .921 save percentage [10th-best in the league]) & Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (72 points [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), McDavid (63 assists for 91 points [both lead the league] for a +26 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) and Talbot (seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] among 39 wins [third-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked the Oilers a -125 favorite to win tonight’s game. I’m going to side with the odds-makers this evening, as I trust Talbot and Edmonton‘s defense more than the Ducks‘ offense. That being said, this should be an absolutely thrilling matchup.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ken Reardon (1921-2008) – This Winnipeg-born defenseman played all of his seven-year NHL career in Montréal. Though a short career, the Hall of Famer played in three All-Star Games and hoisted the 1946 Stanley Cup.
  • Guy Trottier (1941-2014) – This right wing played only three season in the NHL, and another three in the WHA. His longest tenured NHL team was Toronto, with whom he notched 45 points in 113 games.
  • Darren McCarty (1972-) – Detroit selected this right wing 46th-overall in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent all but two of his 15 seasons in the NHL. As you’d expect from a tenured Wing, McCarty is the proud owner of four Stanley Cup Champion rings.
  • J.P. Dumont (1978-) – Selected third-overall by the Islanders in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played most of his 12 seasons in Nashville. He found his game with the Predators, as he provided a defensive presence and focused his offensive efforts on assists, earning 174.

Scoring three goals in a period is usually a formula for success. That’s the strategy Calgary employed in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to beat the Sharks 5-2 at the Saddledome.

Third Star of the Game Johnny Gaudreau (Second Star Sam Bennett) provided a sample of what was to come after the intermission by scoring a tip-in with 7:34 remaining in the first period. That was the lone goal of the frame, giving Calgary a 1-0 lead with 40 minutes remaining.

Sean Monahan (Matthew Tkachuk and Kris Versteeg) provided Calgary‘s first tally of the second with a power play wrist shot. That goal was answered 4:46 later by Marc-Edouard Vlasic (Michael Haley and Marcus Sorensen), but there was no Sharks response for what the Flames did next. Matt Stajan (Michael Stone) scored what came to be a game-winning snap shot with 7:22 remaining in the period, followed 5:31 later by an Alex Chiasson (Versteeg and T.J. Brodie) backhander. After having a one-goal lead for much of the game, Calgary entered the second intermission with a 4-1 advantage.

Melker Karlsson (Joe Pavelski and Paul Martin) pulled San Jose back within two tallies with 6:54 remaining in regulation, but even that tally was erased by Bennett’s (Chiasson and Brodie) wrister on an empty net with 34 seconds remaining in the game.

First Star Brian Elliott saved 36-of-38 shots faced (94.7%) to earn the victory. That left the loss to Martin Jones, who saved 18-of-22 (81.8%) before being pulled after Chiasson’s tally. Aaron Dell saved all 12 shots he faced for no decision.

Currently riding a two-game winning streak, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have an 83-58-25 record, which is two points better than the visitors.

March 27 – Day 159 – Red hot

It happened again. The very day we detest the most: Monday.

Fortunately, the NHL is a true pal and hooked us up with a half-dozen hockey games to make it better. The action starts with three contests (Detroit at Carolina, Florida at Buffalo and Nashville at the New York Islanders [SN]) at 7 p.m., followed by Chicago at Tampa Bay (NBCSN/TVAS) half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Arizona at St. Louis, trailed an hour later by Colorado at Calgary, tonight’s nightcap. All times eastern.

A game of note this evening is the Red Wings‘ first of two straight visits to PNC Arena, as this is the game that had to be postponed in mid-December due to an issue with the arena’s surface cooling equipment.

Since we haven’t featured the Hurricanes all season and they’re quietly in contention for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, let’s make a trip to Raleigh!

 

You may not believe me, but it’s true: 33-27-13 Carolina is still in the playoff conversation with nine games left in their regular season. It may not look like it at quick glance since the Hurricanes have only 79 points, but that’s due in part to the reason they are active tonight.

Eleventh-place Carolina has two games-in-hand on 39-30-6 Boston (84 points) because of its rescheduled contest against Detroit. Should the Canes have played that game and lost, they’d be in much worse shape. Instead, they’ll trail the Bruins by only a point if they win both their games-in-hand and could be in prime position to end their seven-season playoff drought.

Of course, that ignores what the ninth and 10th place Islanders and Lightning do, but I don’t see them featured today!

Much of the reason the Canes are in the position they’re in right now is due to their three-game winning streak and their 7-0-3 record in their last 10 games. Carolina has been an offensive juggernaut since March 9, as their 37 goals for is the highest total in the league since then.

Though Jeff Skinner and his 54 points have been the Hurricanes‘ offensive leader for the entirety of the season, he’s been joined of late by rookie Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm, who both have 11 points during this recent streak.

Don’t read too much into that last graf though. Skinner is still the primary threat for 16-20-8 Petr Mrazek to focus on tonight. 10 of the left wing’s dozen points since March 9 have been goals, doubling Aho’s five and tying Nikita Kucherov for most in the league over that stretch.

To focus on Aho for a minute, the Fin has made a living on the power play with his five man-advantage points during this run – a top-five effort in that time-frame. That success has led the Canes to a 28% success rate with the extra man since earlier this month, the eighth-best mark in the NHL in that time and second-best in a dominant Metropolitan Division that features some elite offenses.

This offensive prowess is a change from what has been Carolina‘s priority all season: defense. In fact, the Canes have allowed only 203 goals against this year, which ties for the 16th-best mark in the NHL.

Nothing tells this story better than Carolina‘s 85.3% season penalty kill rate, the second-best mark in the league. The PK has been a major point of focus for second-year defenseman Jaccob Slavin. The Hurricanes selected him from Colorado College in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and all he’s done is lead the team with 37 shorthanded shot blocks this year. Not bad, kid (he’s almost exactly three months younger than me, I get to call him kid).

In fact, Slavin and Co. has been so good, 24-20-11 Cam Ward has faced only 155 shots against while his club is shorthanded, the lowest total among the 30 netminders with at least 39 appearances.

Other than Joe Louis Arena’s farewell season, the biggest story about the 30-32-12 Red Wings this season has been the prediction-turned-reality that they’ll miss the postseason for the first time in 25 years.

But that doesn’t mean the Wings are entirely incapable of good hockey. Though not as impressive as the Canes‘, Detroit is also riding a three-game streak of earning at least a point, and has a 4-1-1 record since March 16.

All but one of those six contests have been one-goal affairs, and it’s been a resurgent 9-8-1 Jimmy Howard, who just celebrated his 33rd birthday yesterday, that has led the charge. Sidelined for much of the season with a knee injury, he’s earned a .953 save percentage and 1.29 GAA since mid-March, the sixth and seventh-best marks in the league, respectively, during that stretch.

Howard has been especially exceptional when faced with an opposing power play. Though he’s faced 12 man-advantages since March 16, he has yet to allow a power play goal after saving all 12 shots he’s faced while his club is shorthanded.

As of publication of this article, it remains to be seen if Jeff Blashill will continue alternating goaltenders this evening. It’d be an odd time to stop the recent practice since the Wings played – and won – an overtime game yesterday before traveling from Michigan to North Carolina. I’d bank on seeing Mrazek in net this evening.

Offensively, nothing paints a picture like a 14% season success rate on the power play. It’s the second-worst rate in the NHL that still features Thomas Vanek – a current member of the Florida Panthers – as the third-best point-earner. Frans Nielsen and Henrik Zetterberg have been able to create symmetry at times this year, but now is not one of those moments. They’ve earned a combined three power play points since March 16. Three.

Thanks to the postponement of what became today’s game, these clubs have only met once this season. In what was the Canes‘ final visit to The Joe, Dylan Larkin scored two of Detroit‘s goals to lead the Wings to a 4-2 victory on October 25.

These teams will complete their three-game season series tomorrow night on the same surface, which adds even a bit more intrigue to tonight’s game.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Carolina‘s Skinner (30 goals for 54 points [both lead the team]) and Slavin (149 blocks for +19 [both lead the team]) & Detroit‘s Zetterberg (46 assists [eighth-most in the league]).

There’s not few, if any, hotter than the Hurricanes right now, and they’re doing it at the right time of the year. Especially given the fact that the Wings were involved in an overtime game yesterday, I like Carolina to continue its playoff push with a win today.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bryan Campbell (1944-) – Though this center spent most of his career in the WHA, he began his professional hockey career in the NHL. He played five seasons in the league, and spent most of that time in Chicago. He scored 106 points over 260 games, including a decent 1970-’71 season with 17 goals for 54 points.
  • Dustin Byfuglien (1985-) – It’s hard to believe, but this season marks this defenseman’s seventh season with the Thrashers/Jets organization. It seems just yesterday he was hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head with the 2010 Blackhawks.

Last night’s 6-3 DtFR Game of the Day Duck victory over the Rangers was a big one, as they converted a game-in-hand on their fellow competitors for the Pacific Division title for two points to create a two-point lead with seven games remaining to be played.

The busiest period was the first, as it featured four goals. The icebreaker belonged to Rick Nash (Marc Staal and Mika Zibanejad) and New York on a wrist shot 5:54 after the initial puck drop. That lead didn’t last too long though, as Third Star of the Game Patrick Eaves (Second Star Cam Fowler and First Star Ryan Getzlaf) pulled Anaheim even 3:01 later on a wrister. Once again the Blueshirts took a lead, this time off a Derek Stepan (Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello) slap shot, but the Ducks had another answer. Ryan Kesler (Getzlaf and Fowler) scored a power play tip-in with two minutes remaining in the frame to tie the game at two-all, which held into the first intermission.

At the 9:39 mark of the second period, Anaheim finally claimed its first lead of the game when Josh Manson (Getzlaf) scored a wrister. Making that goal even more impressive, the Ducks were shorthanded. That didn’t seem to phase New York though, as Brady Skjei (Jimmy Vesey and Zibanejad) buried only his fifth goal of the season 3:31 later to pull the Rangers even at three-all. That score held into the second intermission.

Whatever Randy Carlyle said in the dressing room, it worked because Anaheim buried three tallies and held the Rangers scoreless for the final 20 minutes. Andrew Cogliano (Kesler) takes credit for the game-winner 2:19 after the beginning of the final frame, followed only 2:04 later by an insurance tally from Eaves (Rickard Rakell and Getzlaf). To ensure the Rangers could not stage a late comeback, Nick Ritchie (Corey Perry) scored a wrister on an empty net with 98 ticks remaining on the clock to clinch the win.

Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (89.3%), leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 28-of-33 (84.8%).

Thanks to the Ducks defending home ice, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series now trial the 81-57-23 road teams by only a lone point.

March 26 – Day 158 – Mats point

There’s only one more day before you have to go back to work. Make it worth it.

I assume that doing so requires hockey, so you have five games to choose from. Today’s action starts at 12:30 p.m. with Minnesota at Detroit (NBC), followed by Dallas at New Jersey at 5 p.m. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (NBCSN), followed an hour later by Vancouver at Winnipeg (SN). Finally, tonight’s nightcap drops the puck at 9 p.m. with the New York Rangers at AnaheimAll times eastern.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at Pittsburgh: If anything can spark a late playoff push for the Flyers, it’d be a victory in the Battle for the Keystone State.
  • New York at Anaheim: Seeing as Brandon Pirri only played nine regular season games with the Ducks last year, it’s hardly a momentous return. Yet, this contest promises to be the best of the day.

Since the FlyersPenguins rivalry’s zest is diminishing outside the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, let’s feature the Big Apple for the third-straight day.

 

Games between Eastern and Western Conference opponents are always weird this time of year. Sometimes both teams can be fighting for their playoff lives or scrapping for a better seed, while other teams are simply playing one of the remaining fixtures on their increasingly unimportant schedule.

Of course, the weirdest situation of all is the one we have tonight, when one club has little to nothing to gain from an inter-conference matchup since they are effectively locked into their playoff position, while the other is still fighting for the best of four spots available.

Tonight, the 46-25-4 Rangers own the role of the “little to gain, little to lose” character. They trail Pittsburgh by seven points for third place in the Metropolitan Division, and a dozen points separate them from the second wildcard.

This may be a weird metaphor, but I imagine New York as a retired elderly gentleman, sitting in a rocker in his screened-in porch. He does not care if it is hot and the bugs are out – he has a fan and the screen keeps the bugs away. He does not care if it rains – he will stay dry and appreciate the ambiance of the rain shower. He does as he wishes and prepares for the next thing he knows he has on his to-do list.

If that doesn’t give away that I live in the South, I don’t know what does.

For those wondering, the next thing for the Rangers to do is gel in anticipation of the playoffs. Of course, they’ve shown they can do that already this year – especially on offense, as their 235 goals is tied with Minnesota for the third-highest total in the NHL.

Mats Zuccarello has been on an absolute tear of late. If it weren’t for his pointless effort at New Jersey on Tuesday, the wing would be riding a seven-game point streak, including two games with two points. In fact, he’s been so impressive that he’s taken over New York‘s clubhouse points lead from J.T. Miller.

Of course, it would be unwise to ignore Michael Grabner. Though he hasn’t buried a goal since March 13, he still leads the squad with his 27 tallies. His lead has certainly slimmed during his dry spell, as he has only one more marker than Chris Kreider.

Much of the reason for Zuccarello’s surge has been his success on the power play. Since his hot streak has began, the Rangers‘ 29.4% power play ranks third-best in the NHL, and he’s been at the forefront of it all. The wing has earned four of his points with the man-advantage in this run, including two goals (both are the highest totals on the team during this stretch).

The one thing the Blueshirts have not been able to figure out all season has been their penalty kill. No matter what Alain Vigneault does, he cannot get his club to do any better than its 79.6% season kill rate – the eighth-worst in the league, and second-worst among clubs currently in playoff position.

Meanwhile, any result from tonight’s game can drastically effect 40-23-11 Anaheim‘s postseason. Currently, the Ducks are in a three-way tie with both Edmonton and San Jose atop the Pacific Division, and the Ducks win the games-played tiebreaker with their game-in-hand.

Since the Oilers and Sharks are both inactive this evening, that un-played contest takes place tonight and provides the opportunity to either take a true lead or drop the Anaheim to second place in the Pacific behind San Jose (the Ducks lead the season series against Edmonton 2-1-1, but have fewer regulation+overtime victories than the Sharks).

Defense is the name of the game on The Pond, as the Ducks have allowed only 179 goals against, which ties for third-fewest in the league. Usually, the crease has belonged to 23-16-8 John Gibson, but he’s been fighting a lower body injury for two weeks.

Instead, it’s presumed the Ducks will turn to 17-7-3 Jonathan Bernier, who currently has them riding a three-game winning streak. Since Gibson went down, Bernier has been in net for all of Anaheim‘s games and has allowed only nine goals against – tied for the fewest in the league in that time among the 14 goaltenders with six or more appearances. In addition, his .947 save percentage and 1.48 GAA over that stretch is second-best and tops in the NHL, respectively, among those 14 aforementioned netminders.

Part of the reason Bernier has been able to find such success is because his defense has stepped up to make his job easier on him. While Anaheim‘s blueline has been good for the entire season (their 29.5 shots-against-average is ninth-best in the NHL), they’ve allowed only 169 total shots to reach Bernier since Gibson went down, the lowest mark in the league.

Hampus Lindholm is certainly deserving of much praise for those solid results, but he’s joined by an unlikely aide: center Ryan Getzlaf. Both skaters have blocked 13 shots apiece since Gibson’s injury, and they’re joined by six others that have blocked at least five or more shots in that time. The entire squad is buying in and sacrificing their bodies for the greater good of the club, and their efforts are paying off in the win column.

More on Getzlaf: he actually has blocked the most shots all season among Western Conference forwards, and the third-most overall. Add in the fact that he has 55 takeaways this year, and we just might have ourselves a Frank J. Selke Trophy candidate.

Making the defense’s performance even more impressive, it has been put under additional strain to perform by the Ducks‘ power play. Instead of taking advantage of teams when they’re shorthanded, Anaheim has scored only one power play goal in the past two weeks for a 4.8% success rate – the second-worst mark in the NHL.

Though he leads the club in power play goals (seven) and co-leads in power play points (18, tied with Corey Perry), Ryan Kesler has not buried a goal with the man-advantage since December 4. That’s almost four months ago! If the Ducks are not careful, this man-advantage slump will, not can, bite them in the butt.

The Ducks made their annual trip to Madison Square Garden on February 7, but it was a visit they’d sooner forget. Between Grabner’s two-goal third period performance and Henrik Lundqvist‘s 43-save effort, it was all Anaheim could to do avoid a four-goal shutout by notching only one tally.

Some players to keep an eye on during tonight’s game include Anaheim‘s Getzlaf (48 assists [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and New York‘s Lundqvist (30 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]).

Anaheim is marked as a -140 favorite to win tonight, which is actually the narrowest line I’ve found in a quick search. The matchup tonight is simple: can the Ducks‘ defense shut down Zuccarello? If they can, they’re on their way to two points. If not, their remaining seven games just got even more important than they already were.

Hockey Birthday

  • Roger Leger (1919-1965) – A Quebec-native is never happier than when he’s playing for the Canadiens. That’s what this defenseman got to do for four of his five seasons in the league, though he must be one of the few Habs during the Original Six Era to retire without winning a Stanley Cup.
  • Ulf Samuelsson (1964-) – In comparison, this longtime Whalers defenseman played in the NHL for 16 seasons and twice hoisted the most coveted trophy in sports – though not with Hartford, of course. Instead, he was a member of both Penguins squads that etched their names into the Stanley Cup in the early 90s.
  • Michael Peca (1974-) – Selected by Vancouver 40th-overall in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, this center is similar to Samuelsson in the sense that he won one trophy twice, but it was the Selke Trophy instead of the Stanley Cup. Playing most of his 14-year career with Buffalo, he notched 217 points while wearing the blue-and-gold.
  • Jimmy Howard (1984-) – This goaltender was selected by Detroit with the 64th-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he’s played each and every one of his 396 career games in the league. In total, he’s earned a 197-121-54 record and made one All-Star Game appearance.

Every once in a while, a player refuses to lose a particular game. In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, that player was First Star of the Game Riley Nash, who scored both Bruins goals to lead them to a 2-1 victory over the Islanders.

What seemed to spur Nash was Third Star John Tavares‘ (Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson) snap shot with 9:55 remaining in the first period. It proved to be New York‘s lone goal of the game, but that was all the spark Nash needed. He buried an unassisted wrist shot only 36 seconds later to tie the game at one-all.

The draw held until the 4:12 mark of the third period when Nash (Dominic Moore) scored only his seventh tally of the season and sixth game-winner of his NHL career on a snapper.

Not all heroes wear capes, as Nash’s solid effort ended Boston‘s four-game losing skid and moved it into the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference.

Second Star Anton Khudobin earned the victory after saving 18-of-19 shots faced (94.7%), leaving the loss to Thomas Greiss, who saved 16-of-18 (88.9%).

It’s a perplexing situation, but road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a combined 81-56-23 record, which is three points better than the series’ hosts.

Nashville at Anaheim – Game 7 – Rinne stands tall, Preds advance

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Pekka Rinne saved all but one of his shots faced to lead his Predators to a Game 7 2-1 victory in Anaheim.

Colin Wilson scored the first goal of the night at the 6:19 mark on an unassisted backhander.  Mattias Ekholm started the play in Nashville‘s defensive zone.  After collecting the puck along the near boards, he flipped it through the neutral zone to Wilson at the far blue line.  Mike Fisher entered the zone with him and split the defensemen while trying to collect a pass from Wilson, but the trio ended up skating past, leaving Wilson the opportunity to collect, advance towards the crease and score over Frederik Andersen’s glove hand.

Probably the most impressive feat of the period was actually Anaheim‘s defense, as they held the Predators off the board even through two overlapping penalties that caused a 40 second 5-on-3.

No, it continued to be the even-strength goal chances that bit the Ducks.  With 4:07 remaining in the frame, Paul Gaustad scored his first goal of the playoffs after assists from Shea Weber and Viktor Arvidsson.  As Anaheim was unable to score in the remainder of the frame, Nashville took a two-goal lead into the dressing room.

Arguably the strongest measure of Nashville‘s early success is the face-off dot, as they were victorious on 63% of puck drops.

The first real opportunity of the second period was for the Ducks on a delayed penalty against Roman Josi, but David Perron was unable to both corral the puck and put it past First Star of the Game Rinne.  The ensuing power play only yielded three shots, including a Jamie McGinn attempt that ricocheted off the crossbar of a wide open net.  Nashville actually committed three penalties during the frame, but the Ducks were not able to capitalize.

Once again, it was the Predators defense that stood tall.  Through two periods, Nashville had 18 blocks to their credit to Anaheim‘s nine, meaning that Rinne had faced only 22 shots.  In total, Josi had a game-leading seven blocks by the time the clock read zero.

Second Star Ryan Kesler finally got the Ducks on the board at the 1:45 on a carryover power play from the second.  His slap shot was assisted by Jakob Silfverberg and Hampus Lindholm.  It was a tic-tac-toe play, as Lindholm passed to Silfverberg behind the net, who immediately centered the puck into the crease for Kesler to score, but that was all the Ducks had in them as they lost 2-1.

It didn’t help that they didn’t play very aggressively.  The game almost effectively ended on a delayed penalty against the Ducks, as the Predators worked the clock for almost an entire minute before the play was ruled dead.  Although they put up a good fight during the remaining minute or so, Rinne continued his stellar night to secure the win.

Rinne ended the night saving 36 of 37 shots faced (97.3%), while Andersen takes the loss, saving 18 of 20 (90%).

With that win, Nashville earns a spot in the Western Conference Semifinals and a date with the San Jose Sharks.  That series will begin at 10:30 p.m. eastern on Friday, April 29.  Those games can be watched on NBCSN, SN or TVAS.