I thought about posting Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” but decided instead to write about hockey.
There’s only three games on the schedule this evening, which makes choosing the featured game a breeze. Pittsburgh at Columbus (NHLN/SN/TVAS) starts things off at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Colorado at Carolina. Finally, Florida at Anaheim (SN1) drops the puck at 10 p.m. as tonight’s nightcap. All times eastern.
It is with great deliberation that we will feature Pittsburgh at Columbus for the third time this season in as many meetings.
Winners of its past two games, Pittsburgh makes its second trip of the season to Nationwide Arena with a 36-13-7 record, which is good enough for second place in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have been magnificent with the puck on their stick this season, as they’ve buried 199 goals so far – the most in the NHL.
Leading that charge has been none other than Captain Sidney Crosby, who’s 64 points not only top the team, but are also the second-most in the league. Of course, just last night he joined the 1000-point club with a three-point effort against the Jets, including taking credit for the game-winning overtime goal. Speaking of goals, that’s another department Crosby heads for Pittsburgh, as his 31 markers are tops in the Steel City.
As you’d expect from the club with the best offense in the league, Pittsburgh‘s power play is a thing of beauty. The Penguins convert 22.2% of opponents’ penalties into goals – the fourth-best rate in the league. Since Crosby commands the even-strength play, Phil Kessel has taken up residence as the power play manager in his second season with the team. His 25 power play points lead the team, even if Crosby has the man-advantage goal-scoring lead with 10 tallies.
If the reigning Stanley Cup champions have one thing to fix, it is definitely their penalty kill. They are ninth-worst in the league when down a man, stopping only 79.6% of opposing power plays. Ian Cole certainly doesn’t deserve the blame though, as his team-leading 32 shorthanded blocks are tied for third-most in the league.
Playing host this evening are the 36-15-5 Blue Jackets, the third-best team in both the Metropolitan and the East. Columbus is a very strong team that plays well on both ends of the ice, but I’m most impressed by their offense. The Jackets have managed 180 tallies so far this season, the fifth-most in the league.
No one deserves more credit for that effort than Cam Atkinson, who leads the team with 49 points. Just like the star forward for the opposition, Atkinson is not afraid to call his own number, as his 27 goals are also a team-high.
Few (three, to be exact) power plays are better than Pittsburgh‘s. The Jackets are the proud owners of one of said power plays, as they convert 22.8% of their man-advantages into goals – the third-best rate in the NHL. Alexander Wennberg has been the mastermind behind that fantastic effort, as his 21 power play points are tops in Ohio, but it’s been Nick Foligno that has been the most impressive. He’s buried 10 goals with the man-advantage, which ties for sixth-most in the league in addition to leading the Jackets.
Both teams have already hosted one game in this best-of-four season series, and both teams can claim a home victory. That being said, the most recent game, which took place at PPG Paints Arena, was nowhere near as dominant a performance as the Jackets had when they hosted. Columbus won 7-1 when these clubs met December 22, but the Penguins needed overtime to win 4-3 on February 3.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Columbus‘ Atkinson (27 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Sergei Bobrovsky (30 wins [second-most in the league] on a 2.19 GAA [fourth-best in the NHL] and a .925 save percentage [seventh-best in the league], including three shutouts [10th-most in the NHL]) and Wennberg (36 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (31 goals [most in the NHL] among 64 points [second-most in the league]), Evgeni Malkin (58 points [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]), Matthew Murray (.926 save percentage [tied for third-best in the league] for a 2.27 GAA [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]) and Justin Schultz (+31 [tied for third-best in the league]).
Vegas has marked the Jackets to win with a -110 line, and it’s hard to pick against that. There are few clubs that can go toe-to-toe with the Penguins, but Columbus is one of them. Pair home ice with a penalty kill that is superior to that of the Penguins‘, and we should see a Blue Jackets victory – even if it’s not by six goals.
- Lindy Ruff (1960-) – Selected 32nd-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, this skater spent most of his 12 seasons with the club that drafted him: Buffalo. With one assist during the 1990-’91 campaign, he claimed exactly 300 points over his career. Nowadays, he’s the head coach in Dallas.
- Luc Robitaille (1966-) – This left wing was a special player. Although drafted by Los Angeles in the ninth-round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, he won the 1987 Calder and proved to be an eight-time All Star. The Hall-of-Famer spent most of his career with the Kings, but he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup in 2002 with Detroit.
- Vinny Prospal (1975-) – This center might have been drafted by Philadelphia in the third-round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his 16-year career in Tampa Bay. He registered 765 points before hanging up his skates for good.
- Drew Miller (1984-) – Anaheim selected this left wing in the sixth-round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s spent the last eight seasons with the Red Wings organization. He’s one of the lucky players to make his NHL debut during the playoffs, and he was even luckier to win the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007.
With a 4-2 home victory against the crosstown rival Rangers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Islanders have pulled within a point of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
The game didn’t start the Isles‘ way though, as Nick Holden (Mats Zuccarello and Brady Skjei) took credit for the lone goal of the first period. He buried his wrist shot only 6:23 into the contest to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead that held into the first intermission.
Only 2:43 after returning to the ice, Anders Lee (Josh Bailey and First Star of the Game John Tavares) pulled the Islanders even with a wrister, followed only 3:41 later by Second Star Andrew Ladd‘s (Stephen Gionta) wrister. The Isles took their 2-1 lead into the second intermission.
The Isles‘ third straight goal proved to be the winner, and it was a special one. Only 3:03 after returning to the ice, Third Star Nikolay Kulemin (Tavares) buried a shorthanded wrister to set the score at 3-1. Jimmy Vesey (Rick Nash and Skjei) eventually converted the Rangers‘ power play into a goal, but Ladd’s (Jason Chimera) second goal of the night on an empty net squelched any chance of a late Blueshirts comeback.
Thomas Greiss saved 25-of-27 shots faced (92.6%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 19-of-22 (86.4%).
The Isles‘ victory snaps a three-game losing skid by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series and sets the hosts’ record at 63-42-18, four points better than visitors.