Tag Archives: Los Angeles

October 15 – Day 12 – Kings of the Isle

These Sundays during football season are tough, aren’t they? Since the NHL knows it isn’t always the hottest ticket in town during the fall, they intentionally backlog their Sundays until later in the year, leaving these early-season Sundays lightly populated.

Oh well, I suppose we’ll have to do with what we have.

Tonight’s action starts at 7 p.m. this evening when Boston makes its inaugural visit to Vegas (SN1), followed by Buffalo at Anaheim two hours later. Finally, our nightcap drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. when the New York Islanders make their annual visit to the Staples Center for a tilt with Los Angeles. All times Eastern.

I want the most competitive game we can find today between teams we haven’t featured yet, and according to the standings that game is being contested between the Islanders and Kings.

 

 

 

 

 

Based off preseason predictions, I don’t think there were many that would have pegged this as the game of the night. Few here at DtFR are predicting either to make the playoffs, and certainly not both.

Instead, we’ve been presented with a Los Angeles team that has started the season with a strong 3-0-1 record, and an Islanders club that is not far behind at 2-2-1.

Starting with the Kings, they’ve been one of the elite defenses to start the season, having allowed only 1.75 goals per game to rank second-best in the NHL behind Ottawa. In particular, D Derek Forbort has played spectacularly by allowing only one goal against while he’s on the ice, while D Drew Doughty has also been very good managing 2.5 blocks-per-game. Together, they’ve contributed to a corps that has allowed only 30.5 shots against-per-game to reach G Jonathan Quick, the eighth-best effort in the league.

Speaking of Quick, he’s easily been on of the top-six goaltenders in the league through two weeks of play. Having posted a .943 save percentage and a 1.74 GAA, he has silenced any and all doubters wondering if he’ll be able to resume his form from before last season’s injury.

Unfortunately for Angelenos, it will not be Quick in net tonight since he was a part of the Kings’ 4-2 victory over the Sabres last night. Instead, it will be G Darcy Kuemper making his first start for the Kings after signing as a free-agent this offseason. Though last season’s .902 save percentage and 3.13 GAA with the Wild was certainly not the best of his five-year NHL career, Kuemper is certainly a capable backup as he managed an 8-5-3 record in 17 starts.

As far as the Islanders are concerned, they think they’re pretty good on defense too, and G Thomas Greiss is nice enough – and good enough – to let them think that.

In all honesty, New York doesn’t exactly have a good defense at all. The Isles allow a (t)11th-worst 34.4 shots-per-game to reach Greiss, but he’s played brilliantly even with the heavy workload. Though his 3.07 GAA is only 20th-best in the league right now, his .921 save percentage is 14th. If only he had a defense playing in front of him.

But, in a similar situation to Los Angeles, Greiss is getting the night off after posting a 3-1 victory in San Jose last night. Instead, it’ll be G Jaroslav Halak making his third start of the season.

It seems the defense plays better when Halak is in net, as he as a 2.45 GAA that is much better than Greiss’, even though his .914 save percentage is certainly not.

Since both clubs played last night, I’ll be interested to see the energy level in this game. Since the Kings did not have to travel for tonight’s game – and the fact that I believe they’re better – I’m leaning towards Los Angeles taking this game.


They needed an overtime goal from Third Star of the Game Brandon Saad, but the Chicago Blackhawks were able to avenge their four-game elimination at the hand of the Nashville Predators last postseason, winning yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 2-1.

Chicago’s victory is actually of the  come-from-behind variety, as it allowed Filip Forsberg (Scott Hartnell and P.K. Subban) to take a lead with 1:44 remaining in the second period with a power play wrist shot.

Patrick Sharp (John Hayden and Cody Franson) eventually leveled the game at one-all, but it wasn’t until only 5:36 remained in regulation. His backhanded shot forced ended up being 3:05 of three-on-three action before Saad (Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith) ended things on a tip-in.

Saad’s goal began before he was even on the ice, as an extended possession in the Blackhawks’ offensive zone allowed Jonathan Toews to depart the ice so he could come on. While the change was happening, Keith held the puck at the blue line under no pressure from Colton Sissons. As Saad entered play, Keith passed the puck to him as he advanced towards Second Star G Pekka Rinne. Though he did pass to Kane across the ice along the far boards, Kane returned the favor when Saad reached the crease to set up an easy deflection goal.

First Star G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 37-of-38 shots against (.974 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Rinne, who saved 33-of-35 (.943).

Since October 10, wins have alternated between home and away teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. After tonight’s hosts held serve, they earned a 7-4-1 record that is three points better than the roadies’.

Sabres’ Early Struggles Lead to Questions

Bad habits die hard, as the Buffalo Sabres have had another bad start to the season. And because of those slow starts, the team gets in a hole at the beginning of the season so deep that they can never battle back and salvage the campaign.

The Sabres are 0-2-1 through the first three games, and the past two games against the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils have seen them give up a total of 12 goals. One of the biggest problems is that Buffalo is giving up a great deal of odd-man rushes. In the New Jersey game, odd-man rushes cost the Sabres four goals against.

But it is not just odd-man rushes. A lot of the goals against are because of the sloppy play in the Sabres’ own end and turnovers in key areas. Phil Housley, the Sabres’ new head coach, says the team needs to work harder and the results will come.

As if the defense is the only group struggling, Buffalo’s offense has also had its short comings. The Sabres have only had one line producing goals this season. Evander Kane has four goals, Jason Pominville has two goals and Jack Eichel has one goal. Big name players like Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo have been snack bitten thus far. O’Reilly has been basically invisible through three games and Sam Reinhart has looked lost playing his original center position.

Last year, the Sabres finished with the best power play in the league. Well, that was last year folks, as this year the Sabres are currently 16th with a lousy 15 percent success-rate early in the season. That’s not the worst part though, as the Sabres have given up four shorthanded goals already this season. That is the same amount the club gave up all of last season.

The team doesn’t have many excuses for the bad play. They don’t have many injuries, with just Zach Bogosian being the only serious loss to the team. So why is this team struggling so badly already? Sabres fans are looking for answers and if the squad continues to play the way it is, the loyal fan base will look for change.

Most of the Sabres’ struggles are because this team is weak-minded. They don’t handle adversity well at all. For example, when the Sabres were down 2-0 against the Devils, Kane found a goal to cut the lead to one. But, that positive momentum didn’t last a two full minutes as the Devils responded with goal of their own, and then found a fourth minutes later. Housley put it best when he stated the team doesn’t have push back when the game needs it or they face adversity. With a young team, learning to win is a hard thing to teach, but they need to show more fight if they want to be in more games.

The next issue has a lot to do with the goaltending, but Robin Lehner is not entirely to blame for this struggle. The fan base is used to having star and franchise goals, as the Sabres were lucky to have two elite goalies play for their organization in Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller. Lehner is not one of those goalies: he is a tweener until the next franchise goalie comes along.

Lehner has been left out to dry for the two games he’s played this season. This is a goalie who posted a .920 save percentage last year and bailed the team out of a lot of games. His main weakness is the shootout, as he has yet to find a win in the shootout in his three seasons as a Sabre. He struggles to even make one save, but – again -it’s not just his fault as his team also forgets to score in shootout.

It’s easy to blame the coach and his system. Housley wants to play a five-man attack and wants the team to play with speed. This is part of the issue as the team doesn’t have a lot of speed with the exceptions of Eichel and Kane. Learning the new five-man attack is taking some time and, without the correct cycle, is leading to those odd-man rushes going the other way.

It looks bad right now, but I would like to remind people that last year the Nashville Predators struggled to start the season. They started their first 10 games 3-5-2 under Housley’s defensive system. That being said, things need to change for the Sabres because Jason Botterill has a plan and I’m sure could find a way to make moves to better this team.

The league is getting younger and the youth movement is on. It’s only a matter of time before the youngsters of Alex Nylander, Brendan Ghule and Linus Ullmark get a spot in the NHL. Players like Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges are going to move on and the youth will get a chance to wake this team up.

The Sabres are heading west as they have San Jose tonight at 10:30 p.m. EDT. They have had luck against this team over past few years, and they need to get on the right path on this trip with other games against LA, Anaheim and Vegas. If they could take 2 or 3 out of 4 games, the fans will calm down and they could start getting out of the big hole.

NCAA Weekly Match-Up, 10/6/17

Welcome back for another rendition of the NCAA Weekly Match-Up!

This is the first full week of college hockey action, as there are many great games to choose from. As I am scrolling through all the options, I realized I couldn’t possibly pass up on a battle between two Minnesota squads. The State of Hockey will be divided this weekend as Minnesota University takes on Minnesota-Duluth in the Ice Breaker Tournament. It is the only time these two teams will face off this season (unless we have the fortunate opportunity to see them meet up in the NCAA Tournament), so how will these two powerhouse programs fare against one another?

Minnesota Golden Gophers v. Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Game Details:

Friday, October 6th

7:37 PM ET

AMSOIL Arena

Preview:

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are hoping to make some noise right out of the gate in the 2017-2018 NCAA season, and winning an Ice Breaker Tournament Trophy wouldn’t be a bad way to start things out. For those uncommon with college hockey, several schools host invitational tournaments such as this. Although they do not have a significant impact on a team’s overall season, it is a privilege to play in these tournaments, as well as a boost in confidence for the few that get to take home some hardware.

MinnesotaMinnesota was tabbed as the pre-season favorites of the Big Ten Hockey Conference. There is a lot of pressure on this team, but they have been known to handle high expectations. A season opening bout with in-state rival Minnesota-Duluth will surely be an early measuring stick. Not to say their whole season will ride on this game, but it’s an opportunity for them to test their team early.

Minnesota will need to replace a top scorer, as Justin Kloos has graduated and moved on to the AHL. He had a stat line of 18-25-43, which will need to be made up by younger forwards. Fortunately, they do return starting goaltender Eric Schierhorn, who appeared in 38 games for a 2.61 goals against average and 0.908 save percentage. If he performs strongly and gets some support from the defensive corps, Minnesota’s end of the ice will be well-cared for tonight and for the rest of the season.

Minnesota-Duluth might well be the most anxious team to take the ice this season. They were left with a bad taste in their mouth when they made a great run in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, only to lose by one goal to Denver, a fellow conference opponent. They hoisted the championship trophy back in 2011, but these are new, fresh players that wanted to bring one home for their team. For the Bulldogs, this season will be all about putting in the hard work and hopefully making it back to take another shot at a title.

Here is the thing about NCAA Hockey; teams at this level face arguably the most adversity, even when compared to professional teams. Imagine your team coming up just short of a championship and then turning the page to the next season and seeing them try it again, but without ten players that helped them get there. Suren there is UMDChamp1turnover in all leagues, but replacing ten players is nearly impossible. This is the reality for Minnesota-Duluth as they head into this season. Seven seniors, including their Captain and team MVP, graduated from the program. These players combined for 60 goals and over 150 points overall. This is critical offense, as well as important leadership, that they will need to replace within. Three players, Neal Pionk, Adam Johnson, and Hunter Miska, departed from the program early as they signed with professional clubs. This is simply an unfortunate reality for NCAA teams. Overall, they lost their leading scorer, four core defensemen, and their starting goaltender in one clean sweep. I’m not counting out Minnesota-Duluth, but that is one massive hill to climb.

It will be interesting to watch both teams tonight, as they face their first serious competition of the season (with no disrespect intended towards Alberta… Wait a minute… did I forget to mention something kind of important… That reminds me – Alberta!) Although it was exhibition play, Minnesota-Duluth lost their game against Alberta by a score of 4-3. If you are someone who likes to compare games against common opponents, Minnesota skated by the same team with a 6-2 result. Again, you have to take exhibition games with a grain of salt, but this could also be an indicator of how this game will go. Who will win this one and advance to the tournament finals? Well, we will find out tonight. Best of luck to all teams involved in the Ice Breaker Tournament!

Players to Watch:

Minnesota – Senior Forward, Leon Bristedt; Freshman Forward, Casey Mittelstadt (Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres); Junior Goalie, Eric Schierhorn

Minnesota-Duluth – Sophomore Forward, Riley Tufte (Drafted by the Dallas Stars); Sophomore Defense, Jarod Hilderman; Sophomore Goalie, Hunter Shepard

Los Angeles Kings 2017-’18 Season Preview

Los Angeles Kings

39-35-8, 86 points, fifth in the Pacific Division

Additions: GM Rob Blake, F Mike Cammalleri, D Christian Folin, G Darcy Kuemper, Head Coach John Stevens

Subtractions: G Ben Bishop (traded to DAL), D Matt Greene (retired), GM Dean Lombardi, D Brayden McNabb (drafted by VGK), Head Coach Darryl Sutter

Offseason Analysis: If postseason berths were awarded based on goals allowed, Los Angeles would have been not only the third seed in the Pacific Division in 2017, but also the entire Western Conference. In fact, at 205 goals allowed, Los Angeles was the only non-playoff team in the entire league in the top-15 of the statistic.

Unfortunately for the Kings’ offense, that’s not the way this game works.

Last season, Los Angeles couldn’t score to save its life. Even with F Jeff Carter’s team-leading 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists), the Kings could only manage 201 markers – tying for the fifth-fewest in the league.

If a club is struggling on offense, what better place to find a scorer than the entry draft? That’s exactly where new GM Blake looked, selecting 18-year-old C Gabriel Vilardi (29-32-61 in the OHL) with the 11th-overall pick. Fans shouldn’t grow too attached to the idea of him wearing black and silver this year though, as Los Angeles’ top two center positions are locked up for at least the next five seasons (Carter will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022), barring a big trade. Both Nick Shore (6-11-17) and Nic Dowd (6-16-22) will be free agents following this season (restricted and unrestricted, respectively) and could open up a hole in the lineup for the youngster, but I’d be concerned about playing the potential future of the offense, should the scouting reports prove correct, on these more physical lines during his development. Vilardi will almost certainly be back in Windsor trying to win his second-straight Memorial Cup this season.

And that leads us to a major problem with the Kings: they are returning almost an identical roster as last year. That is just fine for the Pittsburgh Penguins or Nashville Predators, but teams like the Kings that are trying to capitalize on a two-time Cup-winning goaltender still in his early 30s – like Jonathan Quick – should be doing all they can to help him out.

General Managers in all sports face the tough job of building a competitive team, keeping a balanced budget, appeasing the owner and making the fans happy. It’s a touchy situation that often doesn’t have clear right or wrong answers.

Unfortunately, Lombardi didn’t find the right balance between those things last season. Currently, the Kings have eight forwards signed to contracts through at least the 2019-’20 season for $1.6 million AAV, at minimum. Six of those are Lombardi’s responsibility, as his attempts to keep the 2014 Stanley Cup-winning gang together and hope they rediscover that magic ultimately led to him losing his job this offseason.

Then again, it doesn’t seem Blake learned from his predecessor’s mistakes, as he is responsible for signing 25-year-olds LW Tanner Pearson (24-20-44) and F Tyler Toffoli (16-18-34) this summer. My concern with these signings is not that these players aren’t worth their contracts, but that it has only added to the logjam of talent that will make it difficult for youths like Vilardi to make the team and could make it difficult to trade pieces in the future.

Offseason Grade: C+

The Kings added Cammalleri to replace unsigned Jarome Iginla and shored up the backup goaltending position (sorry Mr. Game 1 Jeff Zatkoff, but Kuemper is better and younger), but they’re returning almost an identical lineup as last season. Unless Stevens can find a way for the offense to increase production and Quick can add four more wins than Peter Budaj could manage in his absence last year, the Kings are on their way to another postseason on the couch.

NHL Schedule Analysis

Welcome to Down the Frozen River’s first-ever attempt at offering some schedule analysis of the upcoming NHL season.

I know what you’re thinking: these types of columns are usually associated with the NFL and not the NHL – or any other league, for that matter, where all teams play at least once per season. But when and where different clubs appear on the  schedule can still play a big role in a team’s success. An important home stand or an ill-timed extended road trip can determine if a club is a buyer or seller at the trade deadline, make or break a squad’s chances for playoff qualification in March or affect seeding in April.

For starters, I’d like to explain how I approach the season. Maybe it’s my varying degrees of affection for the NFL (the only other Big Four league in the United States that uses bye weeks), but I view a campaign in thirds.

Thirds?

Yes, thirds. They may not be perfect thirds, but each section takes on its own characteristics. Take a look at how the NFL arranges its 16-game, 17-week season. For example, during the 2017 season, the NFL’s byes will begin in Week 5 and extend to Week 11, effectively cutting the season into approximate thirds: (1) Weeks 1-4 featuring no byes, (2) Weeks 5-11 and (3) Weeks 12-17 (Week 12 corresponds with American Thanksgiving and the following Sunday/Monday, just to put things in perspective).

Now lets take that approach to the 2017-’18 NHL season, a campaign featuring 82 games for each of its 31 clubs. With the regular season beginning October 4, most teams will play approximately 21 games before American Thanksgiving, another 41 before the trade deadline and 20 to close out the season.

Pretty close to thirds, right? Well, maybe it’s fourths but the middle two are combined… Whatever. My degree isn’t in math.

But regardless of what they are, what do they mean?

Well, if you buy into the stat that teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving qualify for the postseason over 75 percent of the time, that proves how important a quick start can be. If nothing else, it is certainly an early barometer of which teams are good and which should already be making plans for the 2018-’19 campaign.

Speaking of plans, that leads us to the second part of the season. It involves Christmas Break, the Winter Classic, bye weeks (more on those in a minute) and, of course, the All-Star Weekend in Tampa. Those are all fun and exciting, but most important are the transactions between clubs at this time, as contenders try to shore up chinks in their armor and the lesser clubs (*cough* Colorado *cough*) prepare for the future. This almost ho-hum, business-as-usual state of play is status quo for most of the season, which makes sense why this section is double the games of the other two phases of the year.

Then comes the final push. With the exception of the playoffs, this is some of the most exciting hockey of the season – night in, night out. Almost every game matters not only for playoff qualification and seeding, but also for fully integrating those deadline acquisitions before April 7,  the final day of the regular season, comes to a close.

Having more or less games in comparison to the rest of the league in any of the three sections can have its positives and negatives, but they’re impossible to predict given the unpredictability of hot or cold streaks, injuries and even the weather issues the league has had to deal with the past few years.

Another thing to keep in mind is the still relatively new change to the schedule: the addition of bye weeks. Making their debut only a season ago, the league has done a little tweaking to when each teams’ breaks occur on the calendar.

Last year, the first bye weeks began as early as New Year’s Day when the Islanders and Penguins began their five- and seven-day breaks, respectively, but Anaheim – the last club to take its 2017 hiatus – did not complete its vacation until early March.

What resulted was just over two months of action where fans had to keep track of which clubs had already taken their breaks and which hadn’t and trying to calculate how that affected the standings.

Sound like too much effort? Don’t worry, the league thought so too. This year, all bye weeks will take place in the span of two weeks in January, just before the All-Star Break.

I’m intrigued by this decision. With last year’s setup, the volume of games in a given week did not seem to change enough to be noticeable – which is good. Everybody wants to watch games all the time. But as I mentioned before, 2017’s situation required media, fans and teams to stay on top of which sides had or had not taken their week off.

Although condensing the bye week-schedule resolves that problem, it may also create a lull in the season only two weeks after Christmas Break and a week before the All-Star Break by having only 15 teams active at a time, potentially making January an overall anemic month. We’ll have to wait and see if that is the case, but if my prediction proves correct the NHL might have to find a happy medium between the two formats.

Perhaps the original reason the league condensed the bye week schedule was to account for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, but that is no longer the case as the NHL has elected not to release its players to their national federations for the February 10-25 tournament. Though some players have said they intend to participate in the tournament regardless of the NHL’s decision to abstain (whether they actually do or not remains to be seen), everyone’s favorite international tournament will certainly have a different flair – especially involving the rosters of usual favorites: Canada and the USA.

The last final major date on the calendar is always the previously hinted at trade deadline. This year, the deadline is scheduled for February 26 at the usual 3 p.m. Eastern time. Like most Mondays, the schedule is fairly light that evening with only five contests taking place (Washington at Columbus, Philadelphia at Montréal, Toronto at Tampa Bay, Vancouver at Colorado and  Vegas at Los Angeles).

After last year’s Cody McLeod episode that featured him fighting and scoring against the Avalanche only a day after being being traded from that very team (he didn’t even leave Denver, instead meeting up with the Predators when they arrived in town), I’m looking forward to even more excitement at this deadline.

For those that enjoy the days where every team is in action, I regret to inform you that the addition of Vegas has made that impossible. Instead, you’ll have to settle for dates that feature 15 contests and leave one club inactive.

Five such days exist this season: October 7 (first Saturday of the season), November 22 (day before American Thanksgiving), December 23 (day before Christmas Eve), January 25 (day before the All-Star Break) and April 7. On those dates, don’t expect to catch Boston, St. Louis, Calgary, Los Angeles or Pittsburgh – respectively – as they’ll be just as glued to their televisions as you will be, taking in all the day’s action.

ANAHEIM DUCKS – Campbell Cup runner-up, 105 points

Don’t tell anybody, but the Ducks have won the Pacific Division for five straight seasons. The main reason? An impressive 29-8-4 record at the Pond last season. But don’t let that distract you from a blemish growing in the Ducks’ armor: the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead they’re only 17-15-9 outside Orange County. That road trip to end November just so happens to occur right after Edmonton finishes a five-game home stand, meaning Anaheim may be forced to hold serve within the Pacific Division in an uncomfortable position.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (November 7-19)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 25-December 5)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. New Jersey, at Calgary, at Winnipeg, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Colorado, vs. Minnesota, vs. Dallas and at Arizona

ARIZONA COYOTES – 28th, 70 points

Remember in high school when the football team’s weakest opponent always aligned with homecoming? Keep that in mind when you realize that the Coyotes get to help the Golden Knights open T-Mobile Arena. Also keep in mind Arizona was 12-24-5 away from home last year.

BYE WEEK: January 7-11 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 17 days (February 15-March 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in nine days (March 21-29)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Buffalo, at Carolina, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, at Vegas, at Los Angeles, vs. St. Louis, at Calgary, at Vancouver and vs. Anaheim

BOSTON BRUINS – eliminated in first round, 95 points

Usually, rivalry series are supposed to take place over the course of an entire season. Instead, the NHL has elected to schedule all four matchups of one of its premier rivalries in the span of seven weeks, including three meetings in eight days. The Bruins should be relatively happy though, as they’ll get their bye week to prepare for their first visit to the Bell Centre and the Canadiens will have games in Washington and Brooklyn the night before their January 20 and March 3 matchups, respectively, while the Bruins get the nights off.

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (February 17-25)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (February 27-March 10)

LAST 10 GAMES: at St. Louis, at Dallas, at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Florida, at Philadelphia, at Tampa Bay, at Florida and vs. Ottawa

BUFFALO SABRES – 26th, 78 points

Some teams simply struggle on the road. The Sabres were one of those squads last year, amassing only a 13-22-6 record away from Upstate New York. Though a four-game trip in early December doesn’t seem too taxing on the surface, Buffalo will be hard pressed to come back with more than two points as it’ll visit Pittsburgh (December 2), Colorado (December 5), Chicago (December 8) and St. Louis (December 10) before returning home to host Ottawa.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (December 2-10)

BYE WEEK: January 12-17 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (March 10-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Arizona, vs. Montréal, at NY Rangers, at Toronto, vs. Detroit, at Nashville, at Toronto, vs. Ottawa, at Tampa Bay and at Florida

CALGARY FLAMES – eliminated in first round, 94 points

If only one team from the Western Conference gives up its playoff spot this season, I’d bet the house on it being the Flames. Last year’s side had an unimpressive 24-17-0 home record, including a 4-7-0 start over the first two months at the Saddledome. In a cruel bit of irony, the Flames’ longest home stand begins the last weekend of October, so Glen Gulutzan will need to get his troops in order in a hurry to avoid another backwards-step season similar to 2015-16.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 27-November 13)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 15-25)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, vs. Columbus, vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Winnipeg and vs. Vegas

CAROLINA HURRICANES – 21st, 87 points

In terms of off-season moves, last year’s Predators are this year’s Hurricanes. And, just like last year, everyone will be watching the Canes’ first few games to see if their new additions will be an immediate success. Carolina will certainly be put to the test in those contests, as their opening five matchups are against Minnesota (October 7), Columbus (October 10), Winnipeg (October 14), Edmonton (October 17) and Calgary (October 19). As long as Carolina can head to its sixth game in Dallas with at least five points on the table, I have no doubt the squad can come together and be a real threat in the Metropolitan Division.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (December 5-15)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 15 days (January 30-February 13)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Ottawa, vs. Ottawa, at New Jersey, at Washington, vs. NY Rangers, at Florida, at Philadelphia and vs. Tampa Bay

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – Central Division Champion, 109 points

The Blackhawks have not missed the playoffs since 2008, and I don’t expect that to change this year. That being said, they’ll be tested early and often this year, starting with their first eight games – all against 2017 postseason clubs. In particular, Chicago will have October 14 circled on its calendar, as it represents an opportunity for the Hawks to avenge getting swept by the Predators in April.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 14 days (December 21-January 3)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (January 10-24)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. St. Louis, vs. Colorado, vs. Vancouver, at NY Islanders, vs. San Jose, vs. Winnipeg, at Colorado, at St. Louis, vs. St. Louis and at Winnipeg

COLORADO AVALANCHE – 30th, 48 points

If only the schedule was the only thing holding the Avalanche back from finding success. Instead, their last five games represent a gimme two points for Chicago (March 30), Anaheim (April 1), Los Angeles (April 2), San Jose (April 5) and St. Louis (April 7) – all teams that will be finalizing either a qualification push or establishing their seeding.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (December 27-January 6)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (January 22-February 3)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Chicago, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Vegas, at Vegas, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Chicago, at Anaheim, at Los Angeles, at San Jose and vs. St. Louis

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – eliminated in first round, 108 points

After last year’s dominant performance at the midway point of the season, Columbus won’t be taking any by surprise this campaign – especially with Artemi Panarin, 2016’s Calder Memorial Trophy winner, on the squad. The Jackets face an interesting schedule that doesn’t feature an extended West Coast trip in exchange for any home stand of much worth – their longest stay in Ohio is a measly nine days early in the season with only four games played. But, should this squad keep last year’s positive energy rolling through the summer and cash in on their frequent flyer miles, they could be the most prepared of any for a lengthy postseason and all the travel associated with it.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in nine days (October 19-27)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Three games in five days – 2x (November 2-6; March 27-31)

BYE WEEK: January 13-17 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Boston, at NY Rangers, vs. Florida, vs. St. Louis, at Edmonton, at Calgary, at Vancouver, vs. Detroit, vs. Pittsburgh and at Nashville

DALLAS STARS – 24th, 79 points

A season ago, Dallas was a horrendous 12-24-5 away from the American Airlines Center. That’s what makes a potential late-season playoff push daunting, as the end of March has the Stars departing the Lone Star State for an Eastern road trip that also bizarrely includes a visit to Winnipeg in the middle. As if the travel wasn’t scary enough, all five of the Eastern opponents qualified for the playoffs last year, so Dallas would be very wise to take advantage of a fairly easy October schedule (includes Vegas, Detroit, Colorado twice, Arizona twice and Vancouver) to pad themselves some points in the standings ahead of time.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 16 days (December 29-January 13)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (March 11- 20)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Winnipeg, at Washington, vs. Boston, vs. Vancouver, vs. Philadelphia, at Minnesota, vs. Minnesota, at San Jose, at Anaheim and at Los Angeles

DETROIT RED WINGS – 25th, 79 points

Without even acknowledging the Red Wings’ roster troubles, they’re going to be hard pressed to get back into the playoffs this year given their extended trip away from Little Caesars Arena (that’s still weird to type) at the trade deadline. Between February 25 and March 18, Hockeytown will come to life only once when the Wings host Vegas on March 8. That contest splits what could have been a 10-game, 22-day road trip against steep competition into perfect halves, just for the Wings to get back on a plane to Columbus for another road game the next day.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (November 11-22)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days – 2x (February 25-March 6; March 9-18)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, vs. Washington, at Toronto, at Montréal, vs. Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Ottawa, at Columbus, vs. Montréal and vs. NY Islanders

EDMONTON OILERS – eliminated in second round, 103 points

As if the Oilers weren’t already poised for greatness, their schedule is arranged in a way that they should be competing for the top seed in the Western Conference. Edmonton has three five-game home stands spread throughout its schedule, including one right after the Oil’s six-day bye week that also includes the All-Star Weekend. Add in the fact that their longest road trip is behind them by Thanksgiving and you find a team prepared for anything or anyone that makes the mistake of wandering into Rogers Place.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (November 18-26)

BYE WEEK: January 14-19 (six days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Carolina, at Ottawa, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Anaheim, vs. Columbus, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Minnesota, vs. Vegas and vs. Vancouver

FLORIDA PANTHERS – 23rd, 81 points

Florida opens up its season with a home-and-home series against Governor’s Cup rival Tampa Bay before hosting St. Louis and visiting Pittsburgh. It’s a tough start to what many expect to be another disappointing season for the Panthers, especially giving their awful 19-19-3 record in Sunrise a season ago.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days – 2x (December 11-19; February 12-20)

BYE WEEK: January 13-18 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (February 22-March 4)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Columbus, vs. Arizona, at NY Islanders, at Toronto, at Ottawa, at Boston, vs. Carolina, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston and vs. Buffalo

LOS ANGELES KINGS – 22nd, 86 points

Especially for a club that missed out on the playoffs last year, there is nothing more exciting than seeing the Avalanche twice in the last 17 days of the season. Add in the fact that the Kings also drew Arizona in that stretch and the Kings could be a well-rested club in the first round of the playoffs – if they qualify.

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 12 days (February 9-20)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (March 1-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, at Colorado, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary, vs. Arizona, at Anaheim, vs. Colorado, vs. Minnesota and vs. Dallas

MINNESOTA WILD – eliminated in first round, 106 points

On the fifth day of Christmas, the Scheduler gave to Minny… a tough, nine-game stretch!

Yes, I’m pretty proud of that.

In all seriousness, the Wild are certainly going to be looking forward to the three-day holiday break, as it will signal an end to the nine-game run of playing against eight playoff teams from a season ago. The gauntlet starts on December 8 in Anaheim, followed by a contest in San Jose on December 10 before returning home to host Calgary (December 12), Toronto (December 14) and Edmonton (December 16). The Wild take back to the road to play the Blackhawks (December 17), Senators (December 19), Panthers (Decmber 22) and Lightning (December 23) before hanging up their skates in exhaustion for a few days.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (October 24-November 4)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (December 17-23)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Los Angeles, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, at Nashville, vs. Dallas, at Dallas, vs. Edmonton, at Anaheim, at Los Angeles and at San Jose

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS – Atlantic Division champion, 103 points

March is looking like its going to be a taxing month on the Canadiens, a club that could lose control of a division its won twice in the past three seasons. After the Habs close out their season two-and-a-half month series with rival Boston on March 3, they’ll have to clean up a six-game road trip that involves visits to Tampa (March 10) and Columbus (March 12), host the Penguins (March 15), travel to Toronto (March 17), Pittsburgh (March 21) and Buffalo (March 23), host the Capitals (March 24) and travel to Pittsburgh again (March 31). That’s quite a gauntlet for an aging defense.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (November 7-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 15 days (December 16-December 30)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Florida, at Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Washington, vs. Detroit, at Pittsburgh, vs. New Jersey, vs. Winnipeg, at Detroit and at Toronto

NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Campbell Cup winner, 94 points

Now that the Predators have cemented themselves as one of the big players in the NHL, they’ll need to back up last year’s postseason performance with a big target on their backs. That’ll be no more apparent than in their last 10 games (see below). With the exception of Florida, all of those clubs could be fighting for a playoff spot, making Nashville’s efforts to improve its seeding a difficult affair.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (November 1-7)

BYE WEEK: January 10-15 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in eight days (January 16-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, vs. Minnesota, vs. San Jose, vs. Buffalo, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at Washington and vs. Columbus

NEW JERSEY DEVILS – 27th, 70 points

Sometimes the scheduler has a cruel way of making a team a whipping post. That is the Devils’ fate over their last dozen games of the season. It’ll be no surprise that Jersey is solidly out of playoff contention by that time, but they’ll be squaring off with at least 10 teams (they play the Penguins twice) potentially in desperate need of two points to solidify a playoff spot or seed, which will make a tough season even harder for Jersey fans. Keep your heads up though, folks! Hopefully Nico Hischier can lead you back to the Promise Land!

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (December 15-29)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 14 days (March 10-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, at Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Carolina, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. NY Islanders, at Montréal, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Toronto and at Washington


NEW YORK ISLANDERS – 17th, 94 points

A year ago, the Islanders missed out on a playoff spot by only a point even though they ended their campaign on a six-game winning streak. The main reason? A slow, 8-10-4 start to the season (specifically a 1-6-1 road record through November) that eventually cost Jack Capuano his job. Surely Doug Weight is aware of this, so I expect him to have his club prepared for their California trip a week into the season. If the Isles aren’t up to snuff, Garth Snow may start fielding calls early.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (October 11-19)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (December 16-27)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Chicago, vs. Florida, at Ottawa, vs. Toronto, at New Jersey, vs. Philadelphia, vs. NY Rangers and at Detroit

NEW YORK RANGERS – eliminated in second round, 102 points

There’s some mean scheduling going on in the Metropolitan Division this season, and that is no more apparent than with the Rangers. The Blueshirts play their last regular season game at Madison Square Garden on March 30, a full eight days before their season finale in Philadelphia. Then again, is any team better prepared to complete its playoff push wearing white than New York? Last season, the Rangers won an impressive 27 games beyond the shores of Manhattan – three more than Chicago, the second-best road team. Making the four-game road trip even less frightening, the Rangers will still be able to sleep in their own beds for at least six of those nights as two of the games are against Jersey and the Islanders.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (October 14-26)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (March 31-April 7)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Columbus, at Philadelphia, vs. Buffalo, vs. Washington, at Washington, vs. Tampa Bay, at Carolina, at New Jersey, at NY Islanders and at Philadelphia

OTTAWA SENATORS – Prince of Wales Trophy runner-up, 98 points

And the winner of the second annual bye week lottery is… the Ottawa Senators! For being runner-up for the Prince of Wales Trophy a season ago, the Sens earned the longest bye week of any club in the league by at least a day. The vacation will be especially useful for the Senators, as they’ll be able to effectively prepare for their imposing five games before the All-Star Break: vs. St. Louis, vs. Toronto, at Minnesota, at St. Louis and vs. Boston.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (October 17-26)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 14 days (November 29-December 12)

BYE WEEK: January 11-17 (seven days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Carolina, at Carolina, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Florida, at Detroit, vs. Winnipeg, at Buffalo, at Pittsburgh and at Boston

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – 19th, 88 points

It seems someone within the Flyers organization offended the schedule maker in the last year, because they have the unfortunate predicament of starting the season on a four-game Western road trip, culminating with a visit to Bridgestone Arena against the current owners of the Campbell Cup, the Nashville Predators. But every cloud has a silver lining, and Philly’s is twofold: not only is that (tied for) the club’s longest road trip, but they also come home to a nice long home stand.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (October 4-10)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 11 days (October 14-24)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Washington, at Detroit, vs. NY Rangers, at Pittsburgh, at Dallas, at Colorado, vs. Boston, at NY Islanders, vs. Carolina and vs. NY Rangers

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – Stanley Cup Champion, 111 points

At this point, I think the Penguins are only concerned with what day the Stanley Cup Finals begin. For those wanting to dig a little bit deeper, we need to look no further than Pittsburgh’s first five games of the season against clubs with playoff aspirations, including one that may or may not feel as if it was robbed of a goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals (*hint* they definitely were).

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 28-November 4)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (December 2-11)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, vs. New Jersey, vs. Philadelphia, at Detroit, at New Jersey, vs. Montréal, vs. Washington, at Columbus and vs. Ottawa

SAN JOSE SHARKS – eliminated in first round, 99 points

The Sharks have home stands aplenty throughout their schedule – but the best one may not be the one you’re thinking of. Sure, they get to spend the first half of March in the Bay Area and play six games, but I expect Brent Burns‘ club is licking its chops even more about its opening five games. Over the first two weeks of the season, San Jose hosts Philly, LA, Buffalo, the Islanders and Montréal – four teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs and one that fell in the first round. If the Sharks can find their rhythm early, they can carry that momentum into their Eastern road swing and try to stake their claim in the Pacific Division.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (October 20-28)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (February 27-March 12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. New Jersey, vs. Vegas, vs. Calgary, at Chicago, at St. Louis, at Nashville, at Vegas, vs. Dallas, vs. Colorado and vs. Minnesota

ST. LOUIS BLUES – eliminated in second round, 99 points

The Blues’ biggest games every year are against Chicago, and 2018 will be no different. This year the matchup earns added importance as the series is backlogged in the season schedule. Game 80 for both teams will take place at Scottrade Center (soon to be the Artist Venue Formerly Known as Scottrade Center), followed only two days later by another contest at the United Center. Given the fact that first and second place in the Central Division has been separated by an average of only 2.75 points over the last four seasons, first round home ice – and maybe even a banner – could be on the line.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 11 days (November 21-December 1)

BYE WEEK: January 10-15 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in 10 days (March 3-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Boston, vs. Vancouver, at Columbus, vs. San Jose, at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Washington, vs. Chicago, at Chicago and at Colorado

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – 18th, 94th

As exciting as hosting the All-Star festivities is, there’s always one negative repercussion that sometimes gets overlooked: the extended time away from home. To allow arena staff and the NHL to prepare a venue for the event – and then return it to its original state – the Lightning will have to make two four-game road trips, before and after the event. That being said, they’ll be handsomely compensated for their time away from Amalie Arena with a long eight-game home stand for almost the entirety of March. But don’t mark those as wins yet, Bolts fans: six of those eight teams qualified for the playoffs last year.

BYE WEEK: January 12-17 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Eight games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 18 days (March 3-20)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at NY Islanders, at New Jersey, vs. Arizona, at Boston, at NY Rangers, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, vs. Buffalo and at Carolina

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – eliminated in first round, 95 points

Remember last season when the Maple Leafs finally clinched their playoff spot in their penultimate game? That may be a bit harder to do this year as Toronto has only 18 contests following the trade deadline, tied with Anaheim for the lowest total over that stretch of time. Instead, Mike Babcock’s club will have to get their work done early this year with 23 games before Thanksgiving. Given Auston Matthews‘ four-goal debut a season ago, something tells me that won’t be too big a task.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 12 days (December 20-31)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (January 2-16)

BYE WEEK: January 11-15 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Tampa Bay, at Nashville, vs. Detroit, vs. Buffalo, vs. Florida, at NY Islanders, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, at New Jersey and vs. Montréal

VANCOUVER CANUCKS – 29th, 69 points

Last season, Vancouver went a measly 12-26-3 away from Rogers
Arena, the second-worst road record in the league. That’s what makes January so frightening for the Canucks, even if their bye week occurs in the middle of their seven-game road trip. If Vancouver can survive that and is still in the playoff hunt at the end of March, it has a tough five-game home stand that should either more than properly prepare it for the playoffs or allow the squad to set up their April 8 tee times early.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days – 2x (October 26-November 6; January 23-February 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 16 days (January 6-21)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vegas, at Chicago, at St. Louis, at Dallas, vs. Anaheim, vs. Edmonton, vs. Columbus, vs. Vegas, vs. Arizona and at Edmonton

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

What better way to build quick interest in the NHL’s newest market than by having not one seven-game home stand in its debut season, but two? The first should certainly be the more exciting of the two, as four of the Golden Knights’ seven opponents failed to make the playoffs a season ago. The better Vegas capitalizes on this …ahem… golden opportunity, the better its chance of achieving the club’s primary on-the-ice objective: finishing ahead of Colorado.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 10-27)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (January 30-February 8)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Vancouver, at San Jose, at Colorado, vs. Colorado, vs. Arizona, vs. St. Louis, vs. San Jose, at Vancouver, at Edmonton and at Calgary

WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Presidents’ Trophy winner, 118 points

Washington’s roster may have taken a hit, but that doesn’t mean the Capitals’ goal has changed. The first four games on their schedule should give us a good impression of what to expect from them this year, as they’ll visit Ottawa, host Montréal, travel to Tampa Bay and host Pittsburgh – four quality sides in seven days that also have their eyes on the postseason.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (November 30-December 8)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (December 19-27)

BYE WEEK: January 13-17 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Dallas, at Detroit, at Montréal, at NY Rangers, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Carolina, at Pittsburgh, at St. Louis, vs. Nashville and vs. New Jersey

WINNIPEG JETS – 20th, 87 points

After the All-Star festivities in Tampa have died down, make sure to turn your attention to Manitoba where Patrik Laine and the Jets could dominate the month of February. The club that missed the playoffs by only seven points a season ago will play 12 games before the trade deadline, the first 10 of which will be at The Phone Booth. If Winnipeg can’t improve on last year’s 22-18-1 home record over that stretch, it could signal an early end for the Jets’ quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

BYE WEEK: January 14-19 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: 10 games in 22 days (January 30-February 20)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (March 4-13)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Los Angeles, vs. Anaheim, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, at Chicago, at Toronto, at Ottawa, at Montréal, vs. Calgary and vs. Chicago

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 4 – Day 167 – Who gets Game 7?

After a quiet Monday in the NHL last night, the final Tuesday of the regular season should be absolutely stellar.

Barring some freak weather system or facilities complication, 13 contests will take place this evening. All but four teams will be in action tonight, including the entire Western Conference.

The action gets started at 7 p.m. with three games (Tampa Bay at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Philadelphia at New Jersey and Columbus at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by two more (Washington at Toronto and Detroit at Ottawa [RDS]). Another trio (Winnipeg at St. Louis, the New York Islanders at Nashville and Carolina at Minnesota) will be contested at 8 p.m., with Arizona at Dallas waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Chicago at Colorado is the only matchup to start at 9 p.m., which is the same for Calgary at Anaheim (SN1) at 10 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Edmonton at Los Angeles [NBCSN] and Vancouver at San Jose) will drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to finish the night.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: Both teams may be eliminated from the postseason, but that won’t take away from the Battle of the Jersey Turnpike, which was already heated before Dalton Prout‘s hit on Radko Gudas.
  • Columbus at Pittsburgh: While the rivalry status of this matchup is still in the air, one thing is certain: it will have an immediate impact on the Metropolitan Division with only six days remaining in the season.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: With a little help from the Flames, this old-timey rivalry could provide the Oilers a shot at first place in the Pacific Division.

Riding a two-game winning streak, it seems like the Penguins are getting healthy and returning to form just in time for the playoffs. They’ll need all the help they can get tonight to try to retain home ice in the Eastern Quarterfinals.

 

There’s a lot at stake tonight in this game. 48-19-11 Pittsburgh currently has a one-point advantage on 49-21-8 Columbus for the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. Of course, that second seed is ultra-important in the not-so-new-anymore playoff format the NHL is using nowadways.

Instead of a conference tournament where the best team was paired with the worst team in a given conference until the conference championship (effectively the NBA’s playoffs, except the NHL used to reseed after every round), the league now crowns two division champions, determined by three seven-game playoffs, to play for one of the conference titles.

Whether you’re a fan of the format or not (Hint: I’m not. #TeamOldFormat), it’s the world we live in. And that’s what makes this matchup so integral. As all sports fans know, a home ice/court/field advantage can be wildly important in deciding who wins a Game 7 and advances to the next round, or loses and schedules tee times a week later.

All that aside, this also acts as a week-early preview for a highly-probable first round playoff matchup. Considering what is on the table, I doubt either of the coaching staffs are too concerned about putting too much film in their opponent’s hands. Then again, we are talking about John Tortorella, so who knows?

While I’m in no way implying that I think the Jackets have lost their edge, they have hit a slight rough patch in the past week; since March 30, they’ve amassed only a 0-2-1 record. Given, their two regulation losses are in Chicago and against the Capitals, but beating playoff teams is relatively important when the postseason starts next week.

The Blue Jackets have been one of the best defenses in the league all season long, allowing only 2.28 goals-against per game – the second-best mark in the NHL. In the last three games, they’ve allowed eight goals – well above that mark.

Much of that season success has been due to a solid blueline. Unfortunately for 41-15-5 Sergei Bobrovsky (more on him in a minute), a blueline collapse is not the reason for Columbus‘ recent struggles. They’ve allowed only 28.3 shots-against in the past week, which is actually down from the usual 30.4 they’ve averaged all year.

No, the blame rests on Bobrovsky’s shoulders. While he’s been almost as far from horrible as one can get, he’s not been his usual super-reliable self. On the season, he has a .934 save percentage and 1.99 GAA (both are best in the league among goalies with more than eight games played), but he’s let his numbers drop to .906 and 2.56 in the past six days.

As showcased by Chicago and Washington, that extra sliver of space is all elite offenses need to capitalize.

With the postseason on the horizon, the important thing is that the penalty kill has remained healthy. The fact that the Jackets have allowed only one power play goal against since March 30 is proof enough that nothing needs to be retooled in Columbus; Bobrovsky just needs to focus back in and the Jackets should be set for an effective postseason.

The thing that does need to be checked for life is the power play. Usually successful on 19.9% of attempts – an above-average effort – the Jackets haven’t scored on the man-advantage in their past seven attempts. It is moments like these where Captain Nick Foligno and power play-mastermind Alexander Wennberg need to step up and provide the offensive spark for their club, a squad that desperately needs one with the extra-man.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if the Penguins are doing much better of late. Since March 23, they’ve gone 2-2-2, though their last two contests were victories against solid offenses in Carolina and New York.

Though I love statistics, Pittsburgh‘s drop in production can be attributed to one thing and one thing along: injuries. There’s still seven Penguins on the injury report, including the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Chris Kunitz, who went down against the Rangers Saturday.

That explains why the best offense in the league has managed only 13 goals in six games, but why has Pittsburgh allowed so many goals of late?

I’m going to give  30-10-4 Matthew Murray a pass here and blame the blueline. Of course, the Penguins‘ defense is hurt too. Trevor Daley, Letang and Olli Maatta have not registered a game since at least February 21, all of whom average more than a shot block per game when healthy.

One of those pieces looks to be coming back soon though. The Penguins‘ official Twitter handle indicated that Daley returned to practice today, so it remains to be seen when he will see game action.

Until then, Pittsburgh needs to find a way to keep shots off Murray. In the past six games, the Pens blueline has allowed 213 shots (35.5) to reach their goaltender, which is worse than their already very bad 32.6 season average.

Both Justin Schultz and Ian Cole have been fantastic in their efforts, as they’ve combined for 26 shot blocks in the past six games. But it’s skaters like Brian Dumoulin and Chad Ruhwedel that need to improve their effort.

It is hard to have such high expectations for Ruhwedel, who has bounced between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but the fact that he has only one block in five games with the Penguins should be alarming to Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan, and could impact if he gets a contract of any kind this offseason.

Where Murray doesn’t get a pass is the penalty kill. He’s faced seven power play shots in the past six games, and has saved only four of them. Four. As you’d expect, a .571 power play save percentage has dropped the Penguins‘ penalty kill numbers to the bottom of the league in that stretch of time, as they’ve successfully stopped only 76.9% of opposing attempts in the last 13 days.

The current Penguins‘ brightest spot has to be a a power play that has managed to convert 30.8% of its opportunities since March 23, the seventh-best effort in that time. Though Phil Kessel, who has 29 power play points on the season, still leads the team’s man-advantage, it’s been a full-team attack of late as both lines have found the back of the net. In fact, even though the squad has managed four power play goals in this stretch, no player has more than two points to his credit.

Though the Blue Jackets have gone 2-0-1 against Pittsburgh this year, they still have yet to clinch the season series. The Pens could tie it all up tonight if they can best Columbus in regulation.

If February 17 is any indicator, the Penguins will have to work extremely hard to get that done. Columbus needed overtime to best Pittsburgh 2-1 the last time they met (Brandon Dubinsky scored the game-winner), though they had that pesky home ice we were talking about earlier in their favor.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include ColumbusCam Atkinson (34 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]), Bobrovsky (1.99 GAA on a .934 save percentage [both best in the NHL] for 41 wins [tied for the most in the league], including seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL]) and David Savard (+30 [sixth-best in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Sidney Crosby (43 goals [leads the NHL] for 84 points [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Murray (.923 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]).

Though wounded, Vegas has marked Pittsburgh a -130 favorite going into tonight’s game. I expect a tight game, but I’m actually leaning towards the Blue Jackets. I think their special teams are an even match for those of the Penguins and their offense should take advantage of a struggling Pittsburgh defensive corps.

Hockey Birthday

  • Pat Burns (1952-2010) – It may have been the shortest stop in his 14 years of head coaching, but Burns is most remembered for leading the 2003 Devils to the Stanley Cup.
  • Dale Hawerchuk (1963-) – Winnipeg selected this center with the top pick in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, and it turned out to be a good pick. In addition to winning the 1982 Calder Memorial Trophy, this Hall-of-Famer played in five All-Star Games over his 16 seasons.
  • Yanic Perreault (1971-) – Selected 47th-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, this center played 14 seasons – most of which with Los Angeles. Though he appeared in only one All-Star Game, he scored 247 goals over his career.
  • Kevin Weekes (1975-) – Before working for NHL Network and starting his clothing line No5Hole, this goaltender was selected 41st-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by Florida. He ended up playing 348 games over 11 seasons – most of which with Carolina – for a 105-163-39 record.
  • Roberto Luongo (1979-) – Another goalie, Luongo was picked fourth-overall by the Islanders in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. Currently in his second stint with the Panthers, he’s played 494 of his 966 games with Florida. He has a career 453-365-117 record.
  • Evgeny Artyukhin (1983-) – Tampa Bay selected this right wing 94th-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his three-year career. He managed only 49 points before returning to Russia.
  • Doug Lynch (1983-) – Another player whose career didn’t last long, this defenseman was selected 43rd-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton. He only played two games with the Oilers, and has since played most of his career in the EBEL.
  • Cam Barker (1986-) – This defenseman was the third-overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, and that’s where he spent most of his eight-year NHL career. Most recently, he was playing in the KHL for HC Slovan Bratislava.

Led by Nazem Kadri‘s two-point effort, the Maple Leafs bested Buffalo 4-2 in the Battle of the QEW, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Toronto took command of this game quickly, as it had a 3-0 lead by the 5:09 mark of the first frame. Third Star of the Game Leo Komarov (Kadri) took credit for the Leafs‘ first tally, tipping-in a shot 4:26 after the initial puck drop. 35 seconds later, First Star Auston Matthews (William Nylander and Jake Gardiner) doubled that lead by potting a wrist shot. That surge culminated with Second Star James van Riemsdyk (Tyler Bozak), who notched the game-winner only eight seconds after Matthews’ 39th tally of the season, the most ever by an American rookie.

Buffalo finally got on the board 1:51 into the second period. Though Marcus Foligno still had nine seconds remaining on his cross-checking penalty against Kadri at the end of the first period, Ryan O’Reilly (Brian Gionta) notched a shorthanded snap shot to pull the Sabres within two goals of their Canadian rivals.

That 3-1 score held until the 5:50 mark of the third period. That’s when Kadri (Mitch Marner and Nikita Zaitsev) buried his power play marker to reclaim a three-goal advantage for Toronto. Jack Eichel (Sam Reinhart) buried a backhanded shot with 56 seconds remaining in the game, but it was too little too late to effect Buffalo‘s fate.

Frederik Andersen earned the win after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (90.9%), leaving the loss to Robin Lehner, who saved two-of-five (40%). He was pulled after van Riemsdyk’s game-winning slap shot in favor of Anders Nilsson, who saved 39-of-40 (97.5%) for no decision.

Toronto‘s victory snaps the four-game winning streak by the 85-59-25 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Though hosts have still had more success when featured, their advantage over the visitors is now only three points.

March 24 – Day 156 – Isle have what he’s having

Just like you look forward to Friday to begin your two-day break, this is a lot of the league’s rest day before a weekend of excitement.

There’s only four games on the schedule tonight, starting with the New York Islanders at Pittsburgh (NHLN/SN/TVAS) at 7 p.m. and Tampa Bay at Detroit half an hour later. San Jose at Dallas drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., with Winnipeg at Anaheim – tonight’s nightcap – getting underway at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New York at Pittsburgh: Not only is it rivalry night in the Steel City, but the Isles have a chance to move into the playoff bracket.
  • Tampa Bay at Detroit: It’s been almost a year now, but these clubs did meet up in one of last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.

With the Bruins on a four-game losing skid, they’ve opened the door for the Islanders to once again enter the playoff picture. Pair that with one of my favorite rivalries in the Metropolitan Division (at least), and we’ve got a surefire featured matchup!

 

The rivalry between these two clubs is well documented in multiple places around the web, though I would recommend the YouTube videos I included on November 18 when these teams met for the second time this season. In gist, previous meetings between these clubs have been… scrappy.

As mentioned before, 34-26-12 New York is licking its chops in anticipation for tonight’s game, because a win over a rival is made only sweeter by moving into the second wild card spot that is currently occupied by 38-30-6 Boston.

For the ninth-place Isles (fifth in the Metropolitan) to actually secure that win, they’ll need to shore up a defensive end that has been a little more than leaky this season. They’ve allowed 216 goals against already this year, the #fifth-most in the NHL.

Of course, that starts with the goaltender. Enter 25-16-5 Thomas Greiss, who was officially declared New York‘s starting goaltender after 6-8-5 Jaroslav Halak was sent to Bridgeport on New Year’s Eve. Greiss has tried to make solid use of his time, but his .914 season save percentage and 2.67 GAA rank only #(t)24th and #28th-best among the 46 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

While those are below-average numbers, it’s not as if he’s the only hole on that end of the Islanders‘ ice. The defense playing in front of him is not much better, as they allow 32.1 shots-per-game to reach Greiss’ net – the #fifth-highest average in the NHL. The main reason New York isn’t worse is the incredible play of Calvin de Haan, who has 170 shot blocks to his credit to not only lead the team, but also rank #fifth-best in the league.

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but another issue in New York has been a power play that is successful on only 15.8% of attempts – the #fifth-worst effort in the league. Just like he does on the even-strength attack, Captain John Tavares has been the star of the man-advantage with his team-leading 17 power play points. He’s joined at the top of the Isles‘ extra-man scorers list by Anders Lee, as both have buried seven tallies.

Though their injury list is nearly as long as this preview, the 46-17-10 Penguins are the second-best team in the Metropolitan, Eastern Conference and the NHL. Having already locked up their spot in the playoffs, Pittsburgh will try to continue their impressive offensive performance that has returned 250 goals – the #most in the NHL.

As you’d probably guess, the man behind that charge is none other than Captain Sidney Crosby. He leads Pittsburgh‘s offensive juggernaut with 81 points, 41 of which are goals – another mark he paces the club in. His season goal total is already the second-highest of his career, but it doesn’t seem he’ll match or succeed his 2009-’10 personal best of 51 tallies in a campaign.

One of the Pens‘ favorite ways to score the puck is via the power play, as they are #tied for third-best in the league with their 22.3% success rate. Second-year Penguin Phil Kessel has been instrumental in that effort with his team-leading 28 power play points, but Crosby still manages to get his beak wet, as 13 of his goals have come with the extra-man – the most on the squad.

So far this year, the Penguins have had the upper-hand when squaring off against the Islanders, as they’ve won two of the previous three matchups. Of course, the most recent meeting on November 30 was the one the Isles won 5-3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Josh Bailey (37 assists [leads the team]), Cal Clutterbuck (193 hits [leads the team]), Dennis Seidenberg (+23 [leads the team]) and Tavares (62 points [leads the team]) & Pittsburgh‘s Ian Cole (+28 [seventh-best in the league]), Crosby (41 goals [leads the NHL] for 81 points [tied for second-most in the league]), Matthew Murray (.925 save percentage [sixth-best in the NHL] for a 2.34 GAA [10th-best in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+32 [tied for best in the NHL]).

I haven’t seen Vegas’ line for tonight’s game yet, but I can only assume it favors the home Penguins. None are better than Pittsburgh at scoring the puck, and the Islanders can’t help but allow goals. All signs point toward the Isles fighting for a playoff spot on a different night.

Hockey Birthday

  • Doug Jarvis (1955-) – Toronto selected this center 24th-overall in the 1975 NHL Amateur Draft, but he never played a game for the Leafs. Instead, he played most of his 13 seasons in Montréal, where he hoisted four-straight Stanley Cups. His hardware collection also includes the 1984 Frank J. Selke and the 1987 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophies.
  • Pat Price (1955-) – 13 picks before Jarvis was selected, the Islanders picked up this defenseman. He played 13 seasons in the NHL, and spent most of his time in Quebec. From 1976-’78, he registered an impressive +51 rating on only 37 points.
  • Philippe Boucher (1973-) – The 13th-overall selection in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo, this defenseman spent 16 seasons in the league, mostly in Los Angeles. During his sixth campaign with Dallas, he was traded to Pittsburgh to win the 2009 Stanley Cup and close out his career.
  • Maxim Kuznetsov (1977-) – Detroit selected this defenseman 26th-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent most of his NHL career. Unfortunately for him, his tenure in the league was only 136 games and four seasons long.
  • Ron Hainsey (1981-) – A longtime member of the Thrashers/Jets organization, this defenseman was selected 13th-overall by Montréal in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Similar to Boucher, Hainsey was traded to Pittsburgh at this season’s trade deadline in hopes of claiming his first Stanley Cup.
  • P.A. Parenteau (1983-) – Though selected by Anaheim in the ninth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing has been a career journeyman over his nine seasons in the league. Currently, he plays for the Predators after joining them at this season’s trade deadline.

I predicted a defensive matchup, and that’s exactly what we got in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Washington needed a shootout to knock off the Blue Jackets at the Verizon Center.

Although a combined total of 48 shots were fired over the course of the first 40 minutes, the first goal of the game wasn’t struck until the 41 second mark of the third period. That tally belonged to Seth Jones (Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner) and the Jackets, but the Capitals were more than prepared to deal with that obstacle. 5:58 after Jones’ marker, Third Star of the Game Dmitry Orlov (Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams) buried his sixth goal of the season to tie the game at one-all, the score that held through the remainder of regulation and the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

Who knew that even a shootout could be a defensive affair?

  1. The only person that didn’t apply to was T.J. Oshie, who scored the first shootout attempt to give the Caps an early lead.
  2. Cam Atkinson was charged with leveling the shootout for Columbus, but First Star Braden Holtby was having none of that. He saved Atkinson’s shot to keep Washington‘s 1-0 shootout lead.
  3. Evgeny Kuznetsov tried to improve on the Capitals‘ advantage, but Second Star Sergei Bobrovsky would not yield.
  4. Sam Gagner tried to reward Bobrovsky’s work, but he met a worse fate than Atkinson – he completely missed.
  5. Nicklas Backstrom had a chance to end the shootout with a goal, but Bobrovsky earned one more shot for his club after saving the center’s attempt.
  6. It’s not often a team gets three tries to tie a shootout, but Alexander Wennberg did not take advantage of that opportunity. Holtby made the save to earn the extra point in the standings.

Holtby saved 29-of-20 shots faced (96.7%) to earn the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 44-of-45 (97.8%).

That victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which is now tied at 79-56-23.

March 18 – Day 150 – The previewiest of playoff previews

Saturdays are known for being action-packed, and today does not disappoint with its 10 contests. The first two games (Colorado at Detroit and Columbus at the New York Islanders [NHLN]) are matinees and drop the puck at 1 p.m. They’re just a sampler of excitement to come, as five matchups (the New York Rangers at Minnesota [NHLN], Chicago at Toronto [CBC/CITY], Montréal at Ottawa [SN/TVAS], Washington at Tampa Bay and Nashville at Carolina) get underway at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. St. Louis at Arizona gets green-lit two hours later, followed by Vancouver at Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. and Anaheim at San Jose at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Colorado at Detroit: It’s an old-school, former Western Conference rivalry between teams that have seen better days.
  • Chicago at Toronto: For the first time in a long while, the Blackhawks‘ lone visit to the Air Canada Centre should provide a thrilling contest.
  • Montréal at Ottawa: The Atlantic Division lead is on the line in this rivalry tonight, the first half of a home-and-home series this weekend.
  • Anaheim at San Jose: Another rivalry, this one takes place in another competitive division: the Pacific.

I tried to come up with a better reason for any other game, but this weekend’s home-and-home between the top two teams in the Atlantic Division is just too big to ignore. Off to the Canadian capital!

 

Talk about a playoff preview. Not only does tonight’s game offer a look into a potential second round meeting between these two clubs, but the fact that they square off again tomorrow night at the Bell Centre gives a full sense of how that series could play out.

Oh yeah, and these teams aren’t necessarily fond of each other to start with. As if this weekend’s games couldn’t get more exciting, they just found a way too.

Of course, the 39-23-8 Canadiens cast a large, imposing shadow in light of both what they’ve done in their history as well as what they’ve simply done this year. They’ve topped the Atlantic Division for effectively the entire season, and it’s all been on the back of their incredible goaltending which has allowed only 174 goals against, which ties for seventh-fewest in the NHL.

A major reason for that is the fact that 31-17-5 Carey Price calls Montréal home (shh, we’re not talking about how he’s originally from Canucks-country). Joint-winner of the 2015 William M. Jennings Trophy, he has a .922 season save percentage and 2.27 GAA, the seventh and eighth-best rates, respectively, among the 40 goaltenders with at least 27 appearances.

Price is excellent on his own, but it doesn’t hurt to have one of the better defensive corps in the league playing in front of him. Led by Shea Weber and his team-leading 143 shot blocks, that’s exactly what Cluade Julien has at his disposal, as the Habs‘ blueline has allowed only 29.8 shots against per game, which ties for the 10th-best effort in the league.

If you like goaltender matchups, this weekend’s series is the one for you. The 39-23-7 Senators have been stuck in Montréal‘s shadow for most of the season, even though they trail the Habs for first place in the Atlantic by only one point. They are another team that prefer to grind out a victory, as they’ve allowed only 176 goals against – the ninth-fewest in the NHL.

Although 21-8-1 Craig Anderson had resumed his starting responsibilities since rejoining the Sens, he’s been forced to miss the last two games with a lower body injury. With that in mind, I’d guess that 18-12-6 Mike Condon – a former Montréal goaltender – will once again be called into the fray. The second-year player is definitely the second-best netminder Guy Boucher has had at his disposal this season, but he hasn’t been abysmal. In fact, Condon’s .914 season save percentage and 2.49 GAA (those numbers include his short time with Pittsburgh earlier in the year) ranks 25th and 18th-best in the league, respectively, among the 50 other goalies with at least 18 appearances.

Beyond experience, what makes Condon’s task a little more difficult than counterpart Price’s is the fact that Ottawa‘s defense is not on par with that of Montréal‘s. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s league-leading 187 shot blocks, the Senators still allow 30.3 shots to reach their netminder’s crease per game, which is the 15th-highest average in the league.

Another facet of the game where the Sens definitely do not have an advantage over the Canadiens is in the power play. Though led by Karlsson’s 23 power play points, Ottawa has converted only 17.7% of its man-advantages into goals – the 10th-worst rate in the NHL. That being said, Mike Hoffman has been a shining star on the power play, as he has buried a dozen goals with the extra-man, which ties for fourth-most in the league.

It’s been all Ottawa so far this season when these two clubs have met, as the Senators have a three-point advantage in the two-game series. The last time they squared off was on November 22 in Montréal where, thanks to Karlsson’s game-winning third period goal, the Sens won 4-3.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (33 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Price (31 wins on a .922 save percentage [both seventh-best in the league] and a 2.27 GAA [eighth-best in the NHL]) & Ottawa‘s Condon (five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Karlsson (50 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL]).

Vegas is favoring a lot of road teams this evening, and Montréal is one of them – Ottawa‘s line reads +100. In light of the previous two meetings between these clubs, it would seem tough to favor the Habs, but the fact that Condon was not involved in those games is enough for me to go with the club wearing white.

Hockey Birthday

  • Stanley Cup (1892-) – You might have heard of this. It’s only the most desired trophy in the sport of hockey, if not all sports. You know, nothing major.
  • Guy Lapointe (1948-) – Speaking of the Stanley Cup, this defenseman hoisted it six times, all with the club he played a majority of his career with: Montréal. The four-time All Star was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.
  • Guy Carbonneau (1960-) – The Canadiens certainly have an affinity for Guys, as they drafted this center 44th-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. He played in Montréal for most of his 19-year career, and won two of his three Stanley Cups with the club. He also won three Frank J. Selke Trophies.
  • Kimmo Timonen (1975-) – Although selected by Los Angeles in the 10th-round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman ended up being a four-time All Star. He spent most of his career in Nashville, but was a member of Chicago‘s 2015 Stanley Cup winning team.
  • Zdeno Chara (1977-) – Although now known most for his 11 seasons with the Bruins, this defenseman was actually selected by the Islanders 56th-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. He’s a six-time All Star and hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2011 to go with his 2009 James Norris Memorial Trophy.

A 10-round shootout, decided by Zemgus Girgensons, earned the Sabres the bonus point in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat Anaheim 2-1.

The first goal of the game was struck by Rickard Rakell (Third Star of the Game Cam Fowler and Brandon Montour), a backhanded shot with 8:12 remaining in the first period. It is Rakell’s 31st goal of the year, an total made even more impressive since he missed 11 games this season.

Ryan O’Reilly (Jake McCabe and Second Star Jack Eichel) is the man responsible for leveling the game at one-all. He buried a slap shot with 4:25 remaining in the second period after Eichel’s 29th assist of the season.

Since I’ve already spoiled the surprise of the shootout, let’s jump right there, as none of the 30 combined shots in the third period or overtime found the back of the net.

  1. As the home team, the Ducks had the opportunity to go first in the shootout. They sent out Jakob Silfverberg, who’s shot was saved by Anders Nilsson.
  2. Speaking of saves, that’s exactly what First Star Jonathan Bernier did to Tyler Ennis. The shootout score stayed at 0-0.
  3. Next up was Ryan Getzlaf, who buried his shot for Anaheim.
  4. O’Reilly was quick to hold serve for the Sabres, once again tying the shootout at one-all.
  5. Rakell: saved by Nilsson.
  6. Eichel: saved by Bernier. Shootout still tied at 1-1.
  7. Corey Perry missed the net.
  8. Sam Reinhart: saved by Bernier. Still tied at 1-1.
  9. Patrick Eaves: saved by Nilsson.
  10. Evander Kane missed the net. 1-1 still.
  11. Fowler: saved by Nilsson.
  12. Matt Moulson missed the net. Yup, still 1-1.
  13. Antoine Vermette: saved by Nilsson.
  14. Brian Gionta: saved by Bernier. You know the shootout score by now.
  15. Ryan Kesler: saved by Nilsson.
  16. Evan Rodrigues: saved by Bernier. Still tied at 1-1.
  17. Brandon Montour broke the monotony by beating Nilsson, forcing a miss-and-lose situation for the Sabres.
  18. Under that pressure, Dan Bylsma sent out Rasmus Ristolainen, which proved to be the right choice. The defenseman continued the shootout by tying it at 2-2.
  19. Nick Ritchie: saved by Nilsson.
  20. Girgensons found the game-winner on his stick, pulling the Sabres within eight points of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Nilsson earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 (97.5%) shots faced in regulation and overtime, leaving the shootout loss to Bernier, who saved 30-of-31 (96.8%).

After all that, the 77-52-22 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a four-point advantage on home teams, due in part to their three-game winning streak.

March 13 – Day 145 – West is wild

It’s another Manic Monday in the NHL, with 16 teams in action this evening. Like it usually does, tonight’s festivities start at 7 p.m. with two games (Tampa Bay at the New York Rangers [TVAS] and Columbus at Philadelphia [SN1]), followed half an hour later by Carolina at the New York Islanders (NBCSN). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Winnipeg at Nashville, which precedes Pittsburgh at Calgary by an hour. A trifecta of matchups (Boston at Vancouver, Colorado at Arizona and St. Louis at Los Angeles) act as tonight’s tri-nightcap, as the all drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Things have really tightened in the Western Conference wild card race, and that competition will be on full display tonight when the eighth and ninth-place teams square off in the Staples Center!

 

 

 

 

 

St. Louis enters tonight’s game with a 35-27-5 record, which is good enough for fourth in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Blues, but they’re definitely riding an “up” right now with their four-game winning streak.

When St. Louis is winning like it is right now, it’s usually due to its offense. Having notched 185 tallies in 67 games, the Notes are tied for the 11th-best scoring rate in the league. As you’d probably guess, the engineer behind most of that scoring is Vladimir Tarasenko, who has an impressive 61 points to lead the team.

Even more impressive? His goal total, which currently stands at 32. He ties for third in the NHL in scores, and is on pace for seven more before the season comes to a close.

St. Louis is especially effective on the power play, as its 22.3% success rate ties for fourth best in the league (and best in the west). Although Tarasenko leads the team with 20 power play points and eight power play goals, he has not been very effective of late with the extra man. In his past five games, he’s only registered one point – albeit a goal – with the man-advantage.

Special teams seem to be a point of emphasis for Mike Yeo, because the Notes are also very strong on the penalty kill. Led by Captain Alex Pietrangelo‘s 29 shorthanded blocks, the Notes have successfully defended 83.6% of their penalties, the eighth-best rate in the NHL.

Playing host this evening are the 33-28-6 Kings, the fifth-best team in the Pacific Division and ninth-best in the West. Winners of their past two contests, Los Angeles‘ biggest struggle this season has been scoring, as their 166 goals is the eighth-lowest total in the league. That being said, the Kings have have managed to score a dozen goals in their past four games, so perhaps Darryl Sutter has finally found a solution for his club.

Although offense has been tough to come by for the club as a whole, Jeff Carter has been having a fantastic season. He’s notched 31 goals for 59 points, both totals that lead the team. It’s quite the resurgence for him, as – if he stays on pace – he’ll have the best campaign of his career since his 46 goal, 84 point effort with Philadelphia in 2008-’09.

But beyond Carter, scoring has been a struggle for Los Angeles. To put things simply, it’s not a good sign when the second-best scorer on the team – Tanner Pearson – has only 22 goals. Excluding those two, no other Kings have more than a dozen tallies.

The Kings have found their success this season on the defensive end of the ice, and that is no more apparent than when they’re on the penalty kill. Refusing to yield a goal on 84.9% of its infractions, Los Angeles ranks fourth-best in the NHL when down a man. Alec Martinez deserves a lot of credit for that prosperity, as his 28 shorthanded shot blocks lead the team.

To make this game even more important, it acts as a rubber match for the season series between these clubs, as they’ve both one of their previous two meetings. The Blues last visited the City of Angels on January 12 when they fell 5-1.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Los Angeles‘ Carter (31 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (32 goals [tied for third-most in the league]).

I’m not surprised that Vegas favors Los Angeles to win tonight, but I am surprised the Kings have a -145 advantage. Both teams enter the game hot, but I like Los Angeles to pull together a victory on the back of their solid defense and their newfound explosive offense.


Sparked by two quick first period goals to chase Devan Dubnyk, Chicago fought within a point of the Western Conference lead by beating the Wild 4-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Who else to get the Blackhawks on the scoreboard than Second Star of the Game Patrick Kane? Assisted by Artemi Panarin and Johnny Oduya, he scored a wrist shot only 51 seconds into the game to give the Hawks an early 1-0 lead. That differential doubled to two when Panarin (Kane and Niklas Hjalmarsson) scored a snap shot 3:47 later. Minnesota pulled back within a tally with 9:30 remaining in the frame when Eric Staal (Nino Niederreiter and Marco Scandella), but could not level the game before the first intermission.

5:28 into the second period, Trevor van Riemsdyk (Marcus Kruger and Jordin Tootoo) expanded Chicago‘s lead back to two goals with a wrister that proved to be the game-winner. Even though the Wild fired 20 shots on goal in the second period, they could not break through First Star Corey Crawford.

Once again the Wild pulled within a goal when Mikael Granlund scored an unassisted wrister 46 seconds after starting the third frame, but once again Minnesota couldn’t pull even. They couldn’t manage another goal for the rest of the game, and Marian Hossa (Third Star Duncan Keith) made sure a comeback would be difficult by setting the score at 4-2 with 6:18 remaining in regulation.

Crawford saved 42-of-44 shots faced (95.5%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Darcy Kuemper, who saved 18-of-20 (90%). Kuemper came into the game in relief of Dubnyk, who was pulled after allowing two goals on two shots. Dubnyk earned no decision after 4:38 of play.

With that victory, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have finally reclaimed an advantage, even if it is only by one point, over the roadies with a 74-52-21 record.