It’s that time of year again – it’s time to analyze the NHL’s schedule for the upcoming season.
As mentioned in last year’s edition of this post, these sorts of columns aren’t usually associated with the NHL due in large part to the fact that every team plays every other team at least twice – once at home and once on the road – for a fairly even strength of schedule for each and every club. However, there’s more than a few benchmarks on the league’s calendar, as well as some important stretches in each organization’s individual schedule, that makes each team’s campaign unique.
In terms of how the schedule can be divided, the NHL’s offering for this upcoming season is very similar to the one we just completed in June in that it can be divided into fourths. One quarter of the season – approximately 21 games played for every team – is compacted between Opening Day (scheduled for October 3) and American Thanksgiving, the second of nine days this year without any regular season play.
American Thanksgiving is not an arbitrarily picked date, mind you. Longtime fans of DtFR know there’s more than a few stat-heads in residence around here, and one of our favorites is that teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving qualify for the postseason over 75 percent of the time. For those wondering, last season was a bit wild in regards to that statistic, as only 11 (instead of the usual 12) of the teams in playoff position by the Thanksgiving Break punched tickets to the dance.
I’m not here to point fingers, but the St. Louis Blues were on top of the Western Conference when they sat down for their 2017 turkey feasts. Maybe the tryptophan stuck around for the remainder of the season?
Excuse this Blues fan’s digressions.
I usually consider the second and third quarters as one group (for those bad at math, that’s half the schedule), meaning Black Friday (November 23) to February 24 provides the main bulk of the season – approximately 41 games per team (funny how that works out to half an 82-game season, isn’t it?). Just like Thanksgiving, February 24 is not a date simply drawn out of a hat. Instead, that is the last day of play before February 25’s trade deadline.
It is in this chunk of the season that a team truly proves itself in the face of a grinding schedule, as clubs will be playing at least three games a week for 13 weeks with only two major breaks – the standard three-day Christmas holiday and the All-Star Break/bye week (more on that in a moment).
After the trade deadline, the NHL’s regular season schedule is hot and heavy until it comes to a close on April 6 (You hear that Boston? No extending the season this year!). With every club packing approximately 20 games into only 41 days, teams will effectively be in action every other day as they scramble to complete their playoff qualification or improve upon their seeding.
Of course, there’s always a few wildcards that try to mess with this system. Take, for example, the Florida Panthers, who for the second season in a row have a backlogged schedule. With only 19 games on their calendar before Thanksgiving, the Panthers will play a whopping 22 games after the deadline to close out the season, meaning they just might complete they playoff push they came so close to pulling off last season.
On the flip side, Nashville is a team that has potential to see a stellar position in the standings – say, possession of the Presidents’ Trophy like Tampa Bay had for much of the season – slip through its fingers at the bitter end. The Predators will lace up their skates only 18 times after the trade deadline for the fewest number of tilts in that time span of any club in the NHL.
In terms of spacing their games evenly across the season, the teams with the most-balanced schedules include the Avalanche, Blackhawks, Bruins, Canadiens, Flyers, Lightning, Rangers, Senators, Sharks, Stars and Wild.
This season marks the third season of bye weeks in the NHL, and the league is continuing to make adjustments on the breaks to maximize the benefits for players while minimizing the impact on its overall product.
Year 1 featured byes scattered throughout the schedule from New Year’s all the way into March, creating confusion among fans and, presumably, opposing coaching staffs alike as we tried to keep track of which organizations had taken their breaks already and which were still playing on tired legs.
To alleviate that concern, the NHL condensed all byes into the span of two weeks in January last season with relative success. Gone was the chance of catching a team that had played for four-straight months without much of a break, as well as the chance a team could enter the playoffs with any sniff of an edge due to enjoying their bye later in the season. However, what that design created was a month book-ended by the Christmas and All-Star Breaks that lacked much action, as it’s tough to have games taking place when literally half the league is resting.
In my opinion, the league just might have found a winning formula in its third try. This year’s schedule sees every team’s bye week attached to the All-Star Weekend in San Jose. 21 clubs will enjoy the majority of their breaks following the festivities on January 24-27, while the remaining 10 will take their byes before the weekend or have it split on either side of the break.
What results is a minimum of four days off for all players regardless of their participation in San Jose, plus the four days allocated to the All-Star events that only a handful of players will attend. In addition, by selecting a majority of the 10 teams that will take their byes before the All-Star Break from the Eastern Conference, the NHL can schedule those sides for enough games to fill the scheduling void since travel between those cities is far shorter than in the West.
The players get their breaks and the NHL keeps hockey in arenas and on TV: I’d say everybody wins.
My favorite days of the regular season are always when there’s 15 games on the schedule, leaving only one team inactive. I guess that means I’ll have to do my Christmas shopping on a different day, because the first of those dates is November 23 – right after American Thanksgiving.
Unfortunately for Kings fans, their favorite club will be left out in the cold that day (who am I kidding, is there ever a cold day in Los Angeles?), but they’ll get to participate in December 29’s loaded schedule at the expense of Columbus.
Finally, the last 15-game day of the calendar is on April 6 – the final day of the regular season. Just like the Kings were the first team to be absent on a slammed schedule, the Ducks will be the odd team out, as their 82nd and final game of the regular season will take place the day before against Los Angeles at Honda Center.
ANAHEIM DUCKS – eliminated in First Round, 101 points
It’s hard to tell: did the Ducks have the worst road record of any 2018 Pacific Division playoff team because of all their injuries, or because their style of play is on the verge of extinction in the NHL’s current era of speed and skill?
I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll know soon enough, as four of Anaheim’s first six games are away from Honda Center. Should the Ducks struggle in Glendale against the potentially up-and-coming Coyotes in Game 2 of the regular season on October 6, there just might be cause for concern in Orange County.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 15-27)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (December 29-January 11)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Colorado, vs. Florida, vs. Winnipeg, vs. San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary, vs. Los Angeles
ARIZONA COYOTES – 29th, 70 points
Going 0-10-1 in your opening 11 games is going to have a majorly detrimental effect on more than your overall record, so it’s no surprise the Coyotes ended the season with the worst home and road records of any club in the Western Conference. However, Arizona posted an 11-7-2 record in its last 20 games to close the campaign, so perhaps the Yotes aren’t as far off the mark as they seem on the surface.
Just like last season, Arizona’s first 11 games could answer a lot of questions about this organization moving forward, as the Coyotes have drawn a balanced schedule to open their season. Six of their first 11 opponents qualified for the playoffs last season (including Winnipeg [Oct. 20] and the Lightning [Oct. 27]), but almost all of the other five were nowhere close to the playoff bubble (Dallas [Oct. 4] was closest, but still missed the postseason by three points). Now, the Coyotes don’t necessarily have to have a winning record by the time October is through, but at least a .500 record would be reason enough to begin believing in this squad.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (February 24-March 9)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at New Jersey, at NY Islanders, vs. Chicago, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, vs. Los Angeles, at Vegas, vs. Winnipeg
BOSTON BRUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 112 points
Known for its brutal winters and Nor’easters, few look forward to making the trip to Boston during the wintertime. Count hockey players in particular among the professionals unexcited about a visit to New England, as TD Garden was home to the best home team in the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins fell just one point short of claiming the Eastern Conference crown last regular season, but they’ll have a chance to take an early lead this year when they open the season with eight-straight games against teams that failed to miss the playoffs. After visiting Washington D.C. for the Capitals’ banner raising ceremony on October 3, Boston will head to Buffalo (Oct. 4) before returning home to host the Senators (Oct. 8), Oilers (Oct. 11) and Red Wings (Oct. 13). Then, they’re off to Canada, taking on Calgary (Oct. 17), Edmonton (Oct. 18), Vancouver (Oct. 20) and Ottawa (Oct. 23) before returning home.
BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (February 15-23)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (February 26-March 9)
LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Islanders, at New Jersey, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Detroit, at Columbus, at Minnesota, vs. Tampa Bay
BUFFALO SABRES – 31st, 62 points
Is it a surprise that the worst home team of the NHL ended up being the worst team at the end of the season? KeyBank Center was not a friendly place for the Sabres last year, but that’s sure to change with first-overall draft pick D Rasmus Dahlin joining the club to excite the loyal Buffalo fans.
Surely to the surprise of many, the Sabres did not finish the 2017-18 season with the worst road record in the league (that belonged to division rival Montréal). 14-20-7 away from home is far from pretty, but is is certainly something to build off of as Buffalo tries to return to the postseason for the first time in eight years.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 17 days (January 14-30)
BYE WEEK: January 19-28 (10 days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 15 days (February 1-15)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at Montréal, at New Jersey, at Ottawa, vs. Detroit, at NY Islanders, vs. Columbus, vs. Nashville, vs. Ottawa, at Detroit
CALGARY FLAMES – 20th, 84 points
Teams with outstanding road records in the regular season are usually pretty dangerous in the postseason – but only if they qualify. Enter the curious case of the Calgary Flames last season, as they tied St. Louis for the honor of Best Road Team among those that failed to qualify for the playoffs with a 20-15-6 mark away from the Saddledome.
If new Head Coach Bill Peters can maintain that success in white, he’ll need to make sure his troops are in tip-top shape at the start of the New Year when the Flames begin their longest home stand. During that extended stay in Alberta, Calgary will host tough competition of the likes of the Avalanche (Jan. 9) and Panthers (Jan. 11), as well as the improving Coyotes (Jan. 13) and Sabres (Jan. 16).
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (January 9-18)
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 9-16)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, at Vancouver, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Edmonton
CAROLINA HURRICANES – 21st, 83 points
Upon first glance at their 36-35-11 record, you might think you would want the Hurricanes to be traveling to your favorite team’s arena in hopes of them earning two points. However, just the opposite was true, as the Canes tied Florida for the best road record of any Eastern Conference club to miss the postseason.
With that in mind, Metropolitan rivals Pittsburgh (Feb. 5) and New Jersey (Feb. 10) cannot afford to rest on their laurels when Carolina takes to its longest road trip of the season just after the bye week, as the Hurricanes are going to be more than eager to defend their Road Warrior title.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (November 10-23)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 5-12)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Montréal, at Washington, vs. Washington, vs. Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh, at Toronto, vs. New Jersey, at Philadelphia
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – 25th, 76 points
My, how the mighty have fallen. After winning its most recent Stanley Cup only three years ago, Chicago took a massive tumble last season to end up in last place in the Central Division, only six points removed from the bottom of the Western Conference. To add insult to injury, the Hawks’ 18-18-5 record at home and 15-21-5 record on the road qualified them for the division’s worst in both categories.
Playoff teams take care of business at home, so that is where the Blackhawks should focus most of their energy at the start of the season. It won’t take United Center very long to spring back to life if the Hawks can earn at least 10 points on home ice in October – an easy task considering four of their seven visiting opponents that month failed to qualify for the playoffs last season.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in seven days (December 12-18)
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Three games in five days – 3x (February 1-5; February 27-March 3; March 26-30)
COLORADO AVALANCHE – eliminated in first round, 95 points
This might be intrinsic of any 16 seed, but the Avs had the worst home record of any Central Division playoff team and the worst road record of all playoff teams.
Excitement in Denver for the Avalanche is growing by the minute, so I think it’s a safe assumption that Colorado will improve on its 28-11-2 mark at Pepsi Center this season. However, it’s the Avs’ 15-19-7 away record that I’m most concerned with, and they’ll get a nice, balanced road trip in January to work out the kinks in their white sweaters. That road swing starts in Winnipeg with a tough match against the Jets (Jan. 8), followed by two softer tilts against the Flames (Jan. 9) and Canadiens (Jan. 12). The intensity gets ratcheted up again with a stop in Toronto (Jan. 14) before culminating with a visit to Ottawa (Jan. 16). If Colorado can come home with at least seven points from that Canadian swing, it will be more than set up for another playoff appearance.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 8-16)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 18 days (January 19-February 5)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Minnesota, at Dallas, vs. Chicago, at Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Arizona, at St. Louis, vs. Edmonton, vs. Winnipeg, at San Jose
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – eliminated in first round, 97 points
A 2-0 advantage heading back to Nationwide Arena wasn’t enough to get the Blue Jackets their first playoff series victory, so it’s back to the drawing board again this season.
Going off last year’s table, the toughest stretch in Columbus’ schedule is surely its six-game run leading up to the Christmas break. The Jackets host the Kings (Dec. 13), Ducks (Dec. 15), Golden Knights (Dec. 17) and Devils (Dec. 20) before heading east to take on Philadelphia (Dec. 22) and New Jersey (Dec. 23). Since those last three matchups are in the division, they’re obviously more important, but if Columbus is as good as I think it is, it should come away with at least eight points over that stretch.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (December 8-20)
BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (March 16-24)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. Boston, at NY Rangers, at Ottawa
DALLAS STARS – 19th, 92 points
Dallas’ 26-12-3 home record tied with Columbus for the 13th-best home mark in the NHL last season, yet the Stars failed to qualify for the postseason (in fact, the Stars had the best home record of any Western Conference club to miss the playoffs).
That’s what draws me to the Stars’ Halloween road trip throughout the Eastern Conference. If American Airlines Center is going to maintain its status as one of the tougher places to play in this league, the Stars are going to need to expel some ghosts and improve on their road effort if they want to extend their season beyond 82 games.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (October 28-November 6)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 21 days (January 12-February 1)
BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Florida, vs. Colorado, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Philadelphia, at Chicago, vs. Minnesota
DETROIT RED WINGS – 27th, 73 points
How nice is it that the league is letting the W Filip Zadina Era officially get underway with his NHL debut taking place at home? That game might be against a solid Blue Jackets team, but there shouldn’t be an empty seat in Little Caesars Arena on October 4 in anticipation of seeing what this kid is capable of.
Unfortunately for the rebuilding Red Wings, there’s 81 more games remaining on their schedule that might not be met with quite the same fanfare. Even if Detroit is still in contention late in the season, it’ll be hard pressed to make up any ground in the standings as six of its last 10 games – including five straight – are on the road.
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (February 17-26)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (March 19-28)
LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Rangers, at St. Louis, at Vegas, at San Jose, at Buffalo, vs. New Jersey, vs. Boston, vs. Pittsburgh, at Pittsburgh, vs. Buffalo
EDMONTON OILERS – 23rd, 78 points
With one of, if not the best player in the game in C Connor McDavid on their team, the Oilers surely have to be better than last season, right? If that is the case, Edmonton’s comeback story will find an interesting start when it squares off against New Jersey at Sweden’s Scandinavium – the home nation of LW Pontus Aberg, D Oscar Klefbom, D Adam Larsson and RW Jesse Puljujarvi – on October 6.
However, the point of the Oilers’ schedule I’m most interested in is the seven games leading up to their bye week. All seven of those tilts will be against clubs that missed the playoffs last year, with all but one taking place at Rogers Place where the Oil were the best home team in the Pacific Division that failed to qualify for the postseason. If Edmonton can’t capitalize on a juicy stretch like that, this team is beyond hope.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (December 18-31)
BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 25-March 4)
LAST 10 GAMES: at St. Louis, vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at Vegas, at Colorado, vs. San Jose, at Calgary
FLORIDA PANTHERS – 16th, 96 points
Though finishing in ninth place in the Eastern Conference in 2017-18 is usually reason enough to predict the Panthers could qualify for the playoffs this season, there’s even more evidence for those willing to dig a little bit deeper.
The Devils (Nov. 26), Ducks (Nov. 28), Lightning (Dec. 1), Bruins (Dec. 4) and Avalanche (Dec. 6) may be coming to Sunrise during Florida’s longest home stand, but the fact that the Panthers were the NHL’s best home team to miss the playoffs will surely play in their favor. Similarly, there will be no fear in the Cats’ eyes when they travel to Philadelphia (Nov. 13), Columbus (Nov. 15) or Tampa Bay (Nov. 21) during their longest sabbatical from BB&T Center, as Florida also boasts (along with Carolina) the best road record of any Eastern Conference team to fail to qualify for the 2018 postseason.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 13-23)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 15 days (November 24-December 8)
BYE WEEK: January 22-31 (10 days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Dallas, vs. Arizona, vs. Boston, at Toronto, at Montréal, at Ottawa, at Boston, vs. Washington, vs. NY Islanders, vs. New Jersey
LOS ANGELES KINGS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points
This year’s winner of the 2018-19 Bye Lottery is none other than the Kings of Tinseltown, who’ll get a whopping 11 days off the ice to rest and recuperate for the final 32 games of their regular season.
Speaking of byes, keep an eye on the Kings in the days following American Thanksgiving. From November 24-December 4, they’ll play seven games, all of which are against competition who’s 2017-18 campaigns ended after 82 games last season. Making that slice of their schedule even sweeter, six of those sides are from within Los Angeles’ own division, meaning the Kings could start staking a real claim for the Pacific before Christmas if they take care of business – something they didn’t exactly do a good job of last season (the Kings had the worst home record of any playoff team last season).
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 17 days (October 28-November 13)
BYE WEEK: January 22-February 1 (11 days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (February 2-11)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. San Jose, vs. Anaheim, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Chicago, vs. Calgary, at Arizona, at Anaheim, vs. Vegas
MINNESOTA WILD – eliminated in First Round, 101 points
Every team looks forward to its bye week, but none will need it as much as the Wild. The toughest stretch of Minnesota’s schedule is the six games leading up to the festivities in San Jose, as all of those matchups are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs a season ago.
Minnesota starts that run in Philadelphia on January 14, followed only a day later by a visit to Xcel Energy Center by the Kings. After that, the Ducks (Jan. 17) and Blue Jackets (Jan. 19) both make trips north before the Wild head west to take on Vegas (Jan. 21) and Colorado (Jan. 23). It’s a tough run (especially the game against the Avs, against whom the Wild lost three of four games last season by a combined 19-4 score), but this Minnesota club is a veteran group that should rise to the occasion.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 14 games (October 29-November 11)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (March 11-19)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. NY Islanders, vs. Colorado, at Washington, at Carolina, vs. Nashville, at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Boston, at Dallas
MONTRÉAL CANADIENS – 28th, 71 points
The start of the season has a decent chance of being painful for the Habs (they open their campaign at Toronto [Oct. 3] and Pittsburgh [Oct. 6] before returning home to host the Kings [Oct. 11] and Penguins [Oct. 13]), but they’ll then have five-straight tilts against teams that missed the playoffs last season to warm up in anticipation of their first meeting of the year against arch-rival Boston (Oct. 27).
If the Canadiens are going to improve this campaign, they’re going to need to figure out their road woes from a season ago. Finishing the season with a league-worst 11-26-4 record away from Bell Centre is simply not going to cut it – unless Montréal is planning on drafting D Bowen Byram, F Cole Caufield or C Jack Hughes with another lottery pick next summer.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 19-31)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 22 days (January 19-February 9)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Philadelphia, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Buffalo, at Carolina, vs. Florida, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, at Washington, vs. Toronto
NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Presidents’ Trophy winner, 117 points
The Predators had their sights on something a little bit bigger than the Presidents’ Trophy last season (the Capitals know all about that plight), but their championship window is still wide open – just as long as they figure out when they want to hand the crease over to G Juuse Saros.
Of the many games and series I’m looking forward to this season, few shine as bright as the Preds’ four showdowns with Winnipeg. Fortunately for us, the first of those is scheduled for October 11 – only nine days into the 2018-19 season – but the series will really heat up in March when the final two meetings take place in the span of 23 days. Though Winnipeg is known for its home-ice advantage, Nashville has full intentions of improving on a NHL-best of its own: a 25-9-7 road record.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (November 25-December 3)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (January 4-13)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Minnesota, at Pittsburgh, vs. Columbus, at Buffalo, vs. Vancouver, vs. Chicago
NEW JERSEY DEVILS – eliminated in First Round, 97 points
Like a top-flight college football team, the Devils are playing a neutral-site game to open their regular season. However, what sets New Jersey apart from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and the likes is that its tilt against the Oilers will not take place in North America, but instead at Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden (homeland of W Jesper Bratt and F Marcus Johansson).
Talk about a truly impartial crowd.
Few teams are going to be looking forward to the Christmas break quite like Jersey. Starting with a showdown in Washington on November 30, the Devils will begin a series of 10-straight games against teams that were in the playoffs last season – none more anticipated than a home rematch against the Lightning on December 3.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in eight days (October 11-18)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 13 days (October 30-November 11)
BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)
NEW YORK ISLANDERS – 22nd, 80 points
As someone who’s never visited either Barclays Center or Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, I do not know if the Isles’ three homecoming games are going to be awesome because (a) the team returns to the building where they won four-straight Stanley Cups or (b) they’re playing in a building actually built for hockey, but I do know they’ll be awesome nonetheless.
Another thing I know is that the Islanders’ longest home stand (five games, all of which will be contested in Brooklyn) will likely not be a fun one, as C Mathew Barzal‘s side will be hosting the Maple Leafs on February 28 (complete with former captain C John Tavares), Capitals (Mar. 1) and Flyers (Mar. 3) in the span of four days, all of which were playoff teams only a few months ago. That tough stretch will do the Islanders no favors as they try to shed the label of the Metropolitan Division’s worst home team.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (October 13-20)
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in eight days (February 26-March 5)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Boston, at Montréal, at Philadelphia, vs. Arizona, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, vs. Toronto, at Florida, at Washington
NEW YORK RANGERS – 24th, 77 points
There’s a few fans and analysts out there that think the Rangers can complete their rebuild and get right back into the playoffs this season. That remains to be seen, but we’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from these Blueshirts by the end of November.
No, I’m not talking about the American Thanksgiving thing that was mentioned earlier – though that is mathematically backed. Instead, I offer this note: good teams can beat other good teams, but great teams almost always defeat the clubs they’re supposed to. In that strain, eight of New York’s last nine tilts before Thanksgiving are against sides that failed to make the playoffs last year, with a majority of those tilts taking place in the Big Apple. If the Rangers can earn at least 12 points during that run, I’ll buy in that this team is for real. For them to do that, they’ll need to improve on a Metropolitan Division-worst 13-23-5 record away from Madison Square Garden.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days – 2x (October 25-November 1; February 12-19)
BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (February 2-10)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Detroit, at Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Boston, vs. St. Louis, at Philadelphia, at New Jersey, vs. Ottawa, vs. Columbus, at Pittsburgh
OTTAWA SENATORS – 30th, 62 points
We shared our hot-like-a-Canadian-Tire-fire takes in the season previews earlier this summer, but I always have my concerns about a team enjoying its longest home stand before October even comes to a close. That means much of the Senators’ travels will be condensed into six months without the opportunity for an extended series of nights sleeping in their own homes.
If Ottawa can, by some unpredictable act of God, manage to get back on track this season, it has a very favorable schedule to close the campaign. Seven of its last 10 opponents failed to qualify for the playoffs last season, and the three that did all have to come to Canadian Tire Centre. If the Sens are within six points of a playoff spot by mid-March, they could be just the team to squeak into a fifth postseason berth in the last eight seasons.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (October 10-23)
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 14-21)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Buffalo, vs. Florida, vs. Toronto, vs. Tampa Bay, at NY Rangers, at Buffalo, vs. Columbus
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points
To all Flyers season ticket holders: consider grabbing a holiday ticket package to the 76ers this December, because you’re going to be hard pressed to watch much hockey at Wells Fargo Center that month. Of the 14 games Philadelphia will play in the final month of the year, a whopping 10 will be away from Broad Street.
Making matters even more difficult, eight of those December games will be against clubs that qualified for the postseason last year, including two contests against division rival Columbus. By midnight of January 2 (the Flyers are in Nashville on New Year’s Day), we will surely know if this season’s Philadelphia club can build upon last year’s success. If last year’s campaign is any indication, these Flyers should return to the City of Brotherly Love in good shape, as they had the best road record of any team in the Metropolitan Division last season.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days – 2x (November 8-17; February 2-11)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (December 23-January 1)
BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Montréal, at Chicago, vs. NY Islanders, at Washington, vs. Toronto, at Carolina, vs. NY Rangers, at Dallas, at St. Louis, vs. Carolina
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points
Last season, Penguins fans bemoaned the number of back-to-back games on their favorite club’s schedule. The NHL must have heard those complaints, because there’s only 11 instances of that occurring this season, the first of which isn’t until November 23 (at Boston) and 24 (vs. Columbus) – the weekend following American Thanksgiving when every team but Minnesota and Ottawa plays two games in three days.
However, what Pittsburgh got in fewer back-to-backs, it gave up in home stands. The most consecutive home games the Pens will play this season is three, which they do a whopping six times in a 41-game home schedule at the toughest arena in the Eastern Conference (at least according to the Pens’ home record last season). That’ll lead to a lot of plane rides and hotel stays, which could wear on the squad as the season progresses.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Three games in eight days (October 4-11)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 11-19)
BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, at Carolina, at Nashville, at Dallas, at NY Rangers, vs. Nashville, vs. Carolina, at Detroit, vs. Detroit, vs. NY Rangers
SAN JOSE SHARKS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points
Good luck finding a more balanced schedule in the Pacific Division, if not the entire NHL. The Sharks have two five-game road trips to go with their six-game home stand, and it’s rare that they have only a one-off stay at SAP Center. That means the Sharks should spend more nights in their own beds than other clubs, which will surely pay dividends later in the season when other teams are getting tired after a full season of play.
Based on last year’s standings, one of the toughest stretches of San Jose’s schedule looks like it will occur in mid-March, as the Sharks will host the Predators (Mar. 16) and Golden Knights (Mar. 18) before heading south to take on their California brethren on back-to-back days (Mar. 21 and 22). With that in mind, I’d expect San Jose to be in the mix for its seventh Pacific Division title and maybe, just maybe, a shot at the top seed in the Western Conference.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (October 5-14)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (November 11-23)
BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Vegas, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Detroit, vs. Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Calgary, at Vancouver, at Edmonton, vs. Colorado
ST. LOUIS BLUES – 18th, 94 points
One of the most striking things about the Blues’ schedule is that, of the five times they play Chicago all season, three of those showdowns are scheduled in October. If that doesn’t get F Ryan O’Reilly excited to play for the Notes, I don’t know what will.
Undoubtedly, one of the most important six-game stretches in St. Louis’ schedule occurs around American Thanksgiving, as the Blues will square off with five of last season’s Western Conference playoff teams, including a home-and-home series with the Predators on Thanksgiving Eve and Black Friday. For the Blues’ sake, hopefully G Jake Allen will choose any other time of the season for his annual month-long meltdown.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 25-November 11)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 18 days (January 21-February 7)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Detroit, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Vegas, at NY Rangers, at New Jersey, vs. Colorado, at Chicago, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Vancouver
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – Prince of Wales Trophy runner-up, 113 points
There’s no way to start a campaign quite like an extended home stand, and that’s just what the Lightning have the privilege of this season. However, the Bolts can’t afford to get too comfortable (even if the toughest competition they’ll face during that home stay is Columbus on Oct. 13), as they’ll immediately embark on their longest road trip (a tour of the Western Conference) after a division tilt against the Red Wings (Oct. 18). Fortunately, they boasted the Eastern Conference’s best road record last season, so that surely won’t be a problem for them.
Coincidentally, we can combine a Californian road trip and the Blue Jackets to find the toughest stretch of Tampa Bay’s schedule – at least in terms of last season’s standings. The Bolts will head to Orange County for a New Year’s Eve showdown against the Ducks, followed three days later by a Tinseltown tilt and a jaunt up to San Jose on January 5. When C Steven Stamkos and co. return to the friendly confines of Amalie Arena on January 8, Columbus will be waiting for them to cap a four-game streak against playoff teams from a season ago – the longest such run on Tampa’s schedule.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 6-18)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 20-27)
BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Arizona, at Washington, at Carolina, at St. Louis, vs. Boston, vs. Washington, at Ottawa, at Montréal, at Toronto, at Boston
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – eliminated in First Round, 105 points
The Maple Leafs were good before Tavares showed up, but now Torontonians have Stanley Cups dancing in their dreams. We’ll have a discussion about the Leafs’ chances in their season preview later this summer (spoiler: that defense still hasn’t been fixed), but first it’ll be worth mentioning that they seem to have a balanced schedule in front of them.
Toronto gets a nice and easy initiation into its 2018-19 campaign by playing its first five games against clubs that failed to qualify for the 2018 postseason, but the pedal hits the metal on October 13 when five of the Maple Leafs’ next six opponents finished in the NHL’s Sweet 16. In fact, from Opening Day until American Thanksgiving, just under 60 percent of Toronto’s first 22 games will be against 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff teams, meaning the Leafs will need to be ready right out of the gate if they want to avoid playing catch-up in the standings for the remainder of the regular season.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in 10 days (December 29-January 7)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (February 9-19)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Philadelphia, at Ottawa, at NY Islanders, vs. Carolina, vs. Tampa Bay, at Montréal
VANCOUVER CANUCKS – 26th, 73 points
With RW Brock Boeser and C Bo Horvat already in Vancouver and F Elias Pettersson champing at the bit to fulfill the Canucks’ Swedish quota, it’s hard to believe British Columbia’s NHL representative can remain at the bottom of the table for many more seasons.
Pretending, if only for a moment, that this is the year the Canucks start their upward climb, their seven-game home stand that effectively closes the season (Games 81 and 82 are in Nashville [Apr. 4] and St. Louis [Apr. 6]) will play a major role in determining their postseason fate. That series starts slow with visits from the Senators (Mar. 20) and Flames (Mar. 23), but picks up some real steam when Columbus (Mar. 24), Anaheim (Mar. 26), Los Angeles (Mar. 28), Dallas (Mar. 30) and San Jose (Apr. 2) roll into town. Every point is precious that time of year, so the blue-and-green’s extended time in their own beds could provide just the edge they need to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in six seasons.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (October 6-18)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (March 20-April 2)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Chicago, vs. Ottawa, vs. Calgary, vs. Columbus, vs. Anaheim, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. San Jose, at Nashville, at St. Louis
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS – Stanley Cup runner-up, 109 points
In their inaugural season, the Golden Knights got blessed with an unbelievable seven-game home stand to open T-Mobile Arena (the venue that proved to be the best home-ice advantage in the Pacific Division). It looks like it’s time for the NHL to cash that $500 million check, as Vegas will embark on a five-game road trip only three days into the season after hosting the Flyers on October 4 (much to the chagrin of the rest of the league, Vegas finished last season tied with Los Angeles for the honor of “Best Visitor in the Pacific Division,” as they both had matching 22-14-5 records away from home).
Speaking of five-game runs, an important one for Vegas will get underway on Valentine’s Day. The Golden Knights host Toronto that night, followed by a visit from the Predators two days later. Then Vegas is off to Colorado (Feb. 18) before returning home to host the Bruins (Feb. 20) and Jets (Feb. 22). That is Vegas’ longest stretch of consecutive games against 2018 playoff teams, and the fact that three of those clubs are Western Conference foes means postseason seeding could be on the line.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 6-13)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 16-28)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Detroit, at St. Louis, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, at San Jose, vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Los Angeles
WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Stanley Cup champion, 105 points
Winning a championship is hard, but successfully defending that title can be even harder. That’s the next challenge facing W Alex Ovechkin‘s crew, and we’ll see if they’re up to it after their first five games – all of which are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs last season, including rival Pittsburgh (Oct. 4) and the reigning Western Champion Golden Knights (Oct. 10).
Even if the Caps don’t come out with a solid record after that series, they’ll still have more than enough time to whip their play under new Head Coach Todd Reirden into shape, as their next eight opponents all failed to extend their seasons beyond 82 tilts.
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (February 1-11)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 12 days (February 12-23)
LAST 10 GAMES: at New Jersey, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Carolina, at Carolina, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, vs. Montréal, vs. NY Islanders
WINNIPEG JETS – Campbell Bowl runner-up, 114 points
RW Blake Wheeler and the Jets took a major step forward last season to advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals before falling in five games to Vegas. Expectations in Manitoba are going to be extremely high this campaign, but it’ll be interesting to see if this young roster can perform with a large target on its back.
A good indication of how Winnipeg will perform under that pressure will come in the first month of play. After a nice, long home stand that ends with a major matchup against the Maple Leafs (Oct. 24) at the league’s most intimidating home arena, the Jets will take to the road for a back-to-back in Detroit (Oct. 26) and Toronto (Oct. 27), then fly to Finland (RW Patrik Laine‘s homeland) for another back-to-back against the up-and-coming Panthers (Nov. 1 and 2). If G Connor Hellebuyck and co. can come away with a winning record after that extended, 9328-mile (that’s 15 megameters, Canadians) road trip, I have no doubt these Jets will be challenging for their first division title since 2006-07’s Southeastern title as the Atlanta Thrashers.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (October 14-24)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in 13 days (January 17-29)
BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Anaheim, at Vegas, vs. Nashville, vs. Dallas, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Chicago, at Minnesota, at Colorado, at Arizona
Entering Wednesday night the Tampa Bay Lightning held a 2-1 series lead over the New Jersey Devils and after leading most of the game, 2-1, it was only fitting that Nikita Kucherov’s empty net goal at 18:52 of the third period reflected what the game and the series would be— 3-1, in favor of Tampa.
Yes, the Lightning stole Game 4 on the road at Prudential Center and the Bolts will have a chance to finish the Devils in Game 5 on home ice.
It didn’t take long for the first penalty of the game to be called. In fact, it only took 34 seconds. Taylor Hall was sent to the penalty box with a minor penalty for hooking Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point. The Lightning did not convert on the ensuing power play and the Devils made the kill without their best player on the ice.
Alex Killorn got his name on the event sheet as a result of hooking New Jersey forward, Marcus Johansson, 7:47 into the first period providing the Devils with their first power play of the night. Cedric Paquette made his way to the sin bin shortly thereafter for tripping Hall and gave New Jersey a 5-on-3 power play at 8:12.
It only took 11 seconds for the Devils to convert on the two-man advantage.
Will Butcher (2) and Hall (4) had the assists on Palmieri’s power play goal that made it 1-0 New Jersey.
Not long after, the Lightning responded with a goal of their own to tie the game, 1-1, at 11:30 of the first period.
J.T. Miller (1) rushed on a breakout and sent a pass to Steven Stamkos who dropped it back to Kucherov. With Miller heading for the goal, Kucherov lobbed the puck to his linemate and Miller sent a shot high and past Schneider’s blocker side.
Kucherov (5) and Stamkos (4) notched the assists on the goal and Tampa surged in momentum.
Cory Conacher thought he had his first goal of the postseason when he beat Schneider cleanly on the glove side, but Devils head coach, John Hynes, challenged the call on the ice and the refs reviewed the play entering the zone for offside.
After review, the ruling on the ice was reversed and the score remained tied, 1-1. Hynes’s coach’s challenge was successful.
But the Lightning had already got the ball rolling on a momentum swing and nonetheless, capitalized on their next great scoring chance as Kucherov (3) sent a shot past Schneider’s glove side to put the Bolts ahead for the first time in the game, 2-1. Braydon Coburn (1) and Miller (2) had the primary and secondary assists, respectively.
Late in the first period, Kucherov was the topic of controversy as he caught Sami Vatanen without the puck in what some may view as a shoulder-to-shoulder check, while Devils fans may see otherwise. There was no penalty called on the play and Hynes was irate behind New Jersey’s bench as Vatanen skated off the ice and left the game with an upper body injury.
It’s hard to tell via replay whether or not Vatanen’s head is the point of contact at all, but regardless of whether or not it was the principal point of contact— given the precedent set this postseason by Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty’s one-game suspension for his hit on Vegas Golden Knights forward, William Carrier— Kucherov should expect something from the league.
Once the blood got boiling as a result of Kucherov’s hit, both teams were riled up the rest of the night.
Lightning forward, Alex Killorn, hit New Jersey defender, Ben Lovejoy, from behind and was assessed a minor penalty for boarding at 16:49 of the first period. As a result of the blatant hit to the numbers, a scrum ensued prior to Killorn’s exit from the ice to the penalty box.
This scrum mentality continued a couple of minutes later when a stoppage in play resulted in every player squaring off with an opponent. New Jersey’s Miles Wood and Blake Coleman, as well as, Tampa’s Anton Stralman, were given roughing minors and the Lightning ended up on the power play with less than a minute to go in the first period.
After 20 minutes of play, the Lightning led the Devils, 2-1, on the scoreboard while New Jersey led, 13-12, in shots on goal. New Jersey had a slight edge in blocked shots (2-1) and hits (9-6) and was 1/3 on the power play through the end of the first period. Tampa was 0/2 on the man advantage.
Midway through the second period, Hall tripped up Stralman and the Bolts went back on the power play until Kucherov’s ensuing holding minor penalty ended the run of 5-on-4 hockey at 11:28. Less than 20 seconds of 4-on-4 hockey occurred and Hall was released from the box, giving New Jersey a shorter than usual power play.
Brayden Point followed up with the next penalty in the game after he bumped into Schneider and got sent to the sin bin for goaltender interference about three minutes later.
Finally, Stefan Noesen got his name on the event sheet for high-sticking Point at 18:38 of the second period.
Through 40 minutes of play, the score remained 2-1, Tampa. The Lightning led in shots on goal (24-18) and blocked shots (7-6), while the Devils led in hits (18-12), takeaways (8-7), giveaways (8-5) and faceoff win percentage (63-38). The Bolts were 0/4 with the man advantage and the Devils were 1/5 on the power play.
Miller slashed Hall at 7:18 of the third period. New Jersey didn’t get anything going on the power play.
Andy Greene tripped Stamkos at 12:52 of the third period. Once again, the Lightning didn’t get anything going with their special teams.
Finally, with Schneider pulled for an extra skater, Tampa put away the game with an empty net goal courtesy of Kucherov (4) at 18:52. Miller (3) had the only assist on the goal that put the Bolts up 3-1 in the game and in the series.
Tampa finished the night leading in shots on goal (37-28), but the Devils led in just about every other stat— hits (25-19), giveaways (11-5), faceoff win% (59-41) and even had a power play goal (1/6 on the night). The Lightning didn’t bring the thunder on any of their power play opportunities and finished the night 0/5.
Game 5 is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. Puck drop is expected to be a shortly after 3 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in on NBC/NBCSN (check your local listings, because it appears they’re going to do what they did when New Jersey and Tampa were playing at the same time as Colorado and Nashville about a week ago). Fans in Canada can tune in on SN360 or TVAS2.
The Chicago Blackhawks have begun to unload some salary as they contemplate a looming rebuild. What’s that? It was only $900,000 and they’re still tight against the salary cap? Oh. Carry on then.
On Monday, the Blackhawks sent 27-year-old defenseman, Michal Kempny, to the Washington Capitals in exchange for a conditional 3rd round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
A native of Hodnin, Czech Republic, Kempny notched 1-6–7 totlas in 31 games with Chicago this season and has three goals and 12 assists (15 points) in 81 career NHL games (all with the Blackhawks). A pending-UFA this July, he signed with Chicago as a free agent on May 23, 2016 and carries a cap hit of $900,000.
The conditional pick the Capitals are sending in return will be the higher of Washinton’s own 3rd round pick or Toronto’s 3rd round pick (previously acquired from the New Jersey Devils in the offseason Marcus Johansson trade).
With the acquisition of this conditional 3rd round pick, the Blackhawks will have seven picks in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
1. Washington Capitals– 31-17-5 (67 points, 53 GP)
After spending a couple of months figuring themselves out and weathering the storm that’s been Braden Holtby‘s second-to-last career worst season (his 2.76 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 39 games played are better and the same as his 2013-14 2.85 GAA and .915 SV% in 48 games played respectively).
It’s a bit of an off year for Washington, but even an off year for the Capitals is still a pretty good season, considering they’re currently first in a division that is more active than a lava lamp in terms of rising and falling.
Washington has a plus-11 goal differential through 53 games played despite the loss of Marcus Johansson in a trade with the New Jersey Devils this offseason and an injured Andre Burakovsky seeing limited time so far. That doesn’t even mention the loss of depth for the Capitals last July either– remember Justin Williams (signed with Carolina) and Karl Alzner (signed with Montreal)?
Luckily for the Capitals they only have about $412,000 in cap space as I write, so their trade deadline plans are pretty much already determined for them.
If they’re able to dump a guy like Brooks Orpik— and his $5.500 million cap hit that runs through next season– that would provide the organization with some much needed relief.
Potential assets to trade: F Jay Beagle, D Brooks Orpik
2. Pittsburgh Penguins– 30-22-3 (63 points, 55 GP)
After bouncing around the Metropolitan Division standings, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are currently four points behind first place in the division.
Much like his rival in Washington, Matthew Murray is having a season to forget. Injuries and the death of his father have taken a toll on the two-time Cup winning goaltender, limiting Murray to just 34 games thus far with a 2.97 GAA and .903 SV% (again, both career worsts– though he is in just his second full season since his 13 GP in 2015-16).
Despite their plus-three goal differential and gifted scorer (turned 2018 All-Star snub), Phil Kessel (24-41–65 totals in 55 games), the Penguins have been porous on defense. Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, is a minus-15 through 52 games played.
Since November, Pittsburgh has been trying to move defenseman, Ian Cole– though head coach, Mike Sullivan, has been forced to play him (thereby keeping him on the Penguins roster) due to injuries affecting Schultz and friends.
Antti Niemi didn’t pan out and bring stable backup goaltending to the Steel City (he’s since departed via waivers to Florida, then Montreal). Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been left to pick up the tab with some impressive performances at times.
Midseason acquisitions F Riley Sheahan, as well as Oleksiak, have not been enough to fill holes left by Nick Bonino (the forward signed with Nashville in July) and Trevor Daley (left via free agency, landed in Detroit) respectively.
But with roughly $425,000 in cap space to work with currently, the Penguins can’t afford to make much noise on February 26th– but they should definitely snag a defenseman and rental backup goaltender.
Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Jason Garrison (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
3. New Jersey Devils– 27-17-8 (62 points, 52 GP)
New Jersey has almost $8.000 million to work with currently as things approach the trade deadline at the end of the month.
The Devils are one of the biggest surprises this season east of the Mississippi River.
First overall pick in the 2017 draft, Nico Hischier, has been quietly setting the tone with forwards, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha in the resurgence of youth. Travis Zajac is back in his dominant, physical, ways and the Sami Vatanen–Adam Henrique trade has worked out quite well for both teams.
Will Butcher is quite the offensive threat on the blue line and John Moore is firing on all cylinders. Despite Marcus Johansson’s concussion, New Jersey hasn’t faced much adversity in overcoming injuries this year.
There’s a lot of cap room to work with, but not a whole lot that this team can really give up to bring in the best guys on the trade market, like Evander Kane, unless the Devils are comfortable parting ways with prospects and draft picks (spoiler alert, they might be).
New Jersey really should be in the hunt for Kane, Rick Nash, Max Pacioretty, David Perron and other great offensive assets– either as the front-runner or the stealthy dark-horse that’ll make one or two big moves to carry them to glory.
The Devils have the time and space to add a veteran forward or defenseman that might eat some salary, but put them lightyears beyond their Metropolitan counterparts.
It’s a buyers market.
Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)
4. Philadelphia Flyers– 25-19-9 (59 points, 53 GP)
Aside from the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now.
Goaltender, Brian Elliott, has found his top-notch form once again while Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux are rolling along. With almost $3.000 million to spend at the deadline, the Flyers could make some improvements to their team.
Trading away Brayden Schenn was costly for Philadelphia this offseason, but thankfully Jakub Voracek and the rest of the roster decided to pick up some of the points left behind by Schenn’s departure.
Adding Jori Lehtera, on the other hand, was a big mistake– both in production value and in cap management.
The Flyers could really solidify their offense with one or two moves and probably should anchor their defense with at least a depth blue liner or two coming down the stretch. Someone like David Perron, Patrick Maroon or Nic Petan could flourish in the Philly system. Meanwhile, a defenseman like Cody Franson would help put them over the edge if someone’s injured.
Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)
5. Columbus Blue Jackets– 27-22-4 (58 points, 53 GP)
After getting a fast start out of the gate the Columbus Blue Jackets have really cooled off. It’s not that they’re a bad team, but rather, they’re just average.
Sergei Bobrovsky can’t stop the puck and play every other position too. Otherwise, the Blue Jackets would probably be first in the division. But good news, Columbus, you’ve got some cap space to work with at the end of the month.
As I write, the Blue Jackets have about $5.000 million to work with in cap room.
That’s good enough to bring in just about any player without considering what the future impact on the team his cap hit might have (unless Jarmo Kekalainen brings in a clear-cut rental player that won’t be re-signed in July). The point is this, Columbus has enough room to mess around with something valuable at the deadline, but they’re going to have to re-sign a plethora of core/future core pieces of the franchise this offseason.
The Blue Jackets aren’t doomed– they know their future plans more than anyone else.
But what could they bring in to make this team better? Someone. Is there anyone they could snag now and really shake things up as a contender moving forward? Short answer, yes.
For all of the return of Rick Nash to Columbus talk, well, that’s not ideal. Kekalainen should consider someone like Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before taking back a guy like Nash– who will only break the franchise’s heart again in July when he goes back to the Rangers *bold prediction alert*.
Potential assets to trade: D Andre Benoit, D Jack Johnson
Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF)F Blake Comeau (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)
6. New York Islanders– 26-22-6 (58 points, 54 GP)
The biggest question heading into the 2018 trade deadline for the New York Islanders is the same one that’s been asked since Steven Stamkos signed his extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning– will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?
New York has expressed that they are not looking to trade Tavares should things go detrimentally south between now and February 26th, but if things do…
The Islanders have almost $1.500 million in cap space to play around with before the deadline. They also have 13 pending free agents at season’s end, meaning there’s plenty of options the franchise could pursue.
Should Tavares get a raise and a long-term deal? Absolutely.
The Islanders could pack it up and go home on this season given their injuries, lack of defense and well, let’s just say, things aren’t going so great for the team that ranks 31st (out of 31 NHL teams) in average attendance this season.
Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)
7. Carolina Hurricanes– 24-21-9 (57 points, 54 GP)
New Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, might call an audible heading into this year’s trade deadline and decide to spend money on the roster. With almost $15.500 million in cap space, the Hurricanes are in the best possible position to land not just one or two of the big names floating around the rumor mill, but rather three or four quality pieces.
The trouble is, who would they get rid of, since their prospects and youth are worth keeping for further development and overall organizational growth?
Lee Stempniak might make his annual trip around the league, but other than that, who are the Hurricanes actually going to offer up from their forwards? If anything, Carolina would move a guy like Noah Hanifin given the contract extensions (and pay raises) that kick in next season for Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.
Potential assets to trade: G Scott Darling, D Noah Hanifin, F Lee Stempniak, F Derek Ryan, draft picks
Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), D Mike Green (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)
8. New York Rangers– 25-24-5 (55 points, 54 GP)
Look, the New York Rangers are still (technically speaking) in contention– but they absolutely shouldn’t waste another year of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career in the National Hockey League without a Stanley Cup.
The team they have right now? Yeah, they aren’t winning.
They’ve aged out. The core’s been decimated by the Vegas expansion draft and some offseason moves (namely trading Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona after losing Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in June).
Not every player is washed up.
Some will find better homes and rejuvenate their careers before potentially signing with the Rangers in free agency and going back “home” *ahem, Rick Nash*.
Others will simply be a superb rental/long term participant in a franchise, like Michael Grabner.
Basically I’m saying that all the guys New York’s been rumored to trade should get traded and the team can pull off a quick turnaround with their up-and-coming youth, plus whatever they get in return for Nash, Grabner and Co.
And with only about $1.400 million in cap space, the Rangers could have some fun blowing things up (partially).
Build around Mika Zibanejad and friends. Do it, New York. Do it now.
Potential assets to acquire: D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)
Skater of the Week: Brad Marchand
The league’s premiere super-pest tallied two goals and five assists in four contests this week, made arguably more impressive by the fact that he started the week being held scoreless against Dallas before recording three consecutive multi-point games to close the week. Burning arch-rival Montreal for a goal and assist in the first meeting, then adding two helpers in the rematch, together with a three-point night against the Islanders, the former unheralded third round pick continues to prove all the critics wrong, as he’s currently on pace to shatter his breakout 85-point performance from last season.
Marchand’s 48 points in 37 games is good for 16th in league scoring, having played no less than seven-fewer games than any player ahead of him, and his performance over the last seven days is good for this award.
Tendy of the Week: Jonathan Bernier
Bernier’s NHL career has been a well-documented roller coaster of epic proportions, and the former 11th-overall pick has often seen the ‘Bust’ label floating near his name. But he seems to have really found a home with the upstart Avs this season.
In three starts this week, Bernier faced a ridiculous 110 shots and turned aside 105 of them to pick up three victories. On Monday he stopped 33-of-34 to down the Ducks, on Saturday he stifled 27-of-28 against the Rangers, and even when he gave up three to the Sharks, he managed a .938 save percentage on 48 shots faced. Of the Avs’ strengths, the defense is not high on the list.
Bernier is still shaking off some shaky performances earlier in the year, but in 21 appearances his 13-7-1 record, 2.61 GAA and .919 save percentage are more than respectable behind the run-and-gun Avs. If he continues this sort of play, the Avs could potentially use Semyon Varlamov as trade bait to solidify their D-corps come the deadline.
Game of the Week: Washington Capitals 3 @ New Jersey Devils 4 (OT), Thursday January 18th, 2018
A showdown between the top 2 teams in the stacked Metropolitan Division lived up to the hype, delivering seven goals, 51 shots, 48 hits, and 36 penalty minutes.
Drew Stafford would get things rolling 8:01 into the game, taking advantage of a misplay at the blueline by Dmitry Orlov to flee the zone and receive a breakout pass courtesy of Marcus Johansson, fighting off the back-checking Devante Smith-Pelly and going forehand-backhand-roof on Braden Holtby to give the Devils the early lead. Brett Connolly, who was stifled on a golden opportunity just seconds after the Stafford goal, would get his revenge and even the score at the 12:10 mark, pouncing on a long wrister from T.J. Oshie that deflected off of the skate of Jersey d-man Will Butcher right to his tape and burying it past Keith Kinkaid to give us a 1-1 game after one.
The second saw both the scoring and intensity ramp up, started off by Devils captain Andy Greene (playing in his 750th game) scoring on an almost-identical play to the Connolly goal, this time a Taylor Hall effort from the left point deflecting off the stick of Matt Niskanen and coming right to Greene who was just able to squeeze the shot between the left arm and torso of a sliding Holtby to regain the Jersey lead 3:33 into the frame. Then at the 8:33 mark came some shenanigans. Tom Wilson laid a hammering hit on Brian Gibbons along the boards in the neutral zone, leading Brian Boyle to come to the defense of his teammate and earn himself a misconduct and extra minor for instigating. I could go on a tangent about clean hits leading to fights (Gibbons himself appeared to try to wave off Boyle as he approached Wilson), but I’ll save that for another day.
Further into the secnd we go, and the Devils capitalize (see what I did there?) on another breakout pass, this time with Miles Wood sneaking behind the Washington defense and receiving some airmail from Sami Vatanen before getting one through five-hole of Holtby to give New Jersey the 3-1 edge at the 10:55 mark. But just 14 seconds later Dmitry Orlov would collect a long rebound off the boards and spanked the ‘Made In Slovakia’ lettering right off of the puck as it screamed past Kinkaid into the back of the net, sending us into the final frame with a 3-2 Devils lead after some strong netminding by Holtby in the closing stages of the middle frame.
Kinkaid and the Devils would hold the fort for most of the third, but finally with just 3:48 remaining it would be Connolly (who had himself a very good game, I might add) who collected a terrific Evgeny Kuznetsov feed from below the goal line and slid the puck right underneath the left pad of Kinkaid to knot the score at three and send the game to overtime (though not before Kinkaid would shake off a ‘Nisk-cannon’ to the noggin that removed his mask in the dying seconds).
The crowd at ‘The Rock’ would have little to fret over, though, as just 34 seconds into the extra frame it would be Taylor Hall receiving a chip pass from Sami Vatanen, before giving himself a second chip pass to get around Kuznetsov and streaking in on Holtby, roofing a quick wrister over the glove hand and sending the Jersey-faithful into a frenzy.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
The Golden Knights are, at the time of this writing, the #1 team in the NHL. I don’t actually have anything clever prepared for this, I just wanted to say it out loud.
A couple of high-profile injuries struck this week, with Edmonton losing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a hand injury for at least a month, and the Rangers losing Kevin Shattenkirk to a meniscus tear, an injury that could sideline the defenseman for quite some time.
The Senators have supposedly made it their #1 organizational goal to re-sign Erik Karlsson. I’m not sure how much money it will take to keep him with a franchise that doesn’t appear to be set up for major success any time soon, but if anyone has any suggestions for convoluted schemes to marry into his family, I’m all ears.
Dustin Brown was fined (but not suspended) for brutally cross-checking a helpless Justin Schultz face-first into the boards, in a move the Department of Player Safety referred to as “We have no idea who this Andrew Cogliano person you speak of is, and we’re not sure what two-game suspension you could be referring to.”
The Colorado Avalanche have won nine consecutive games, which might be the only thing less people would have bet on at the beginning of the year than Vegas spending time at #1 in the league.
Rene Rancourt has announced that he will retire from his position as the Bruins’ longtime anthem singer. Personally, I never actually thought he was that good of a singer, but his showmanship has always been absolutely second-to-none, and anyone legendary enough to be referenced in a Dropkick Murphy’s song gets a pass in my book, so congrats to Rene on an incredible career and best of luck in retirement.
Finally, I’ll close on two sombering notes. First, I extend my sincerest condolences to Matthew Murray and his family, as the Pittsburgh goaltender has taken a leave of absence from the team to mourn the passing of his father, and I’ll repeat the sentiment to the family of USA Hockey executive and two-time Olympian Jim Johannson, who passed Sunday morning at just 53 years of age.
In preparation for New Year’s Eve tomorrow, the NHL has elected to schedule a light slate of games this Saturday.
Only half a dozen contests will be played this evening, starting with three (Boston at Ottawa [SN], Montréal at Florida [CBC/CITY/TVAS] and New Jersey at Washington) at 7 p.m. Two more games (Carolina at St. Louis and Minnesota at Nashville) drop the puck an hour later, while Los Angeles at Vancouver (CBC/SN) – tonight’s nightcap – waits until 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.
Two of today’s contests have caught my eye…
- Boston at Ottawa: It’s a rematch of one of last year’s Eastern Conference First Round matchups. The Sens won the series in six games.
- New Jersey at Washington: Not only is this an important Metropolitan matchup, but F Marcus Johansson is also making his first return to the American capital after seven seasons with the Caps.
Considering the Senators have been a bit of a disappointment (that’s probably putting things lightly) this year, I think we have to make the trip to D.C.
Johansson’s presence in the NHL began during the 2009 Entry Draft when the Capitals selected him with the 24th-overall pick on the heels of a 3-2-5 performance in the 2008 IIHF World U18 Championships.
Though he didn’t immediately join the Caps, instead playing one more season with Färjestad BK in Sweden’s top league and posting 10-10-20 totals in 42 games played, he did eventually carve out a spot for himself on Washington’s roster during the 2010-’11 season, his first in North America.
Johansson posted rather unimpressive 13-14-27 totals during that rookie season, but it’s safe to say he’s improved with every season he spent in a Capitals sweater. With the exception of the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 season, Johansson earned a minimum of 44 points in each of the next six seasons he spent in Washington. No campaign was better than last year’s, as he established new career-highs in goals (24) and points (58). He also earned valuable playoff experience, playing in 69 postseason games for 9-21-30 totals.
Unfortunately for the Capitals, they faced some well-documented salary cap issues this offseason, and that forced them to make at least one move that would probably hurt their hockey team. Johansson proved to be one of those tough decisions, as General Manager Brian MacLellan opted to dump the forward’s remaining two-year, $4.58 million-per contract within the division in exchange for two 2018 draft picks.
So far, Johansson has not yielded the return New Jersey General Manager Ray Shero was expecting when he traded for him. He’s managed only 5-3-8 totals so far this season, but he’s been limited to only 19 games played. That puts his points-per-game at .42, which is barely better than his .39 points-per-game rookie season. After spending four mid-December games in the press box nursing an ankle injury, he’s regained his spot on the second line (and second power play unit, for that matter) and will be expected to begin converting more opportunities with linemates W Kyle Palmieri (5-7-12) and C Travis Zajac (2-0-2) sooner than later.
Of course, even though they’d prefer more production out of him, it’s not like the 22-9-6 Devils are really hurting for offense. The Metropolitan Division leaders have managed an impressive 3.14 goals-per-game to rank (t)seventh-best in the NHL this season, and they’ve been even better since December 12, scoring 29 goals (second-most) during their eight-game point streak (3.63 per game).
During this dominating run Jersey is on, no two players have been a more dominating force than F Brian Boyle (5-4-9 since December 12; 10-6-16 overall) and F Taylor Hall (3-4-7; 12-24-36 overall), both of whom are averaging more than a point-per-game since mid-December. Boyle’s success is especially exciting given not only his health concerns coming into the season, but also his position as the third line center.
One of the major reasons for the Devils’ stellar attack is they don’t miss on too many power play opportunities. Over their past eight games, the Devils have converted 28.6 percent of their man-advantages – the (t)third-best rate in the NHL – which is even better than their (t)eighth-ranked 21.4 percent conversion rate on the season.
If 23-13-3 Washington, the second place team in the Metro, wants a chance of beating the Devils, it’ll need to successfully employ a solid penalty kill or try its hardest to stay out of the penalty box. The latter will probably be the better game plan, because the Caps’ 80.1 percent kill rate is the 11th-worst in the NHL.
But don’t read that as the Caps being a bad team defensively, because that’s erroneously far from the truth. On the season, Washington has allowed a 14th-best 2.82 goals against-per-game, but that number has dropped to 2.38 since December 12 while the Capitals have earned points in seven of eight games.
Though the Capitals employ the reigning William M. Jennings Trophy winner, I’d argue that Washington’s defensive success has less to do with 21-8-0 G Braden Holtby (even though he has the second-most wins in the league) and more to do with the impeccable efforts of late by RW Alex Chiasson, D Dmitry Orlov and D Brooks Orpik, who’ve respectively posted eight takeaways, 15 blocks and 26 hits since December 12.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have W Alex Ovechkin playing on the same team either. Sometimes the best defense is stellar offense, and Ovi has provided that throughout his career. This season is no exception, as his 24 goals are tied for the most in the league.
Of note, Jersey did play last night to a 4-3 overtime loss against the Sabres at The Rock. That loss snapped a five-game winning streak for both the club and 17-6-5 G Cory Schneider (his 17 wins are the [t]eighth-most in the NHL). Since he was in net last night, I’d expect 5-3-1 G Keith Kinkaid, who’s lost his last two games, to assume starting duties this evening.
Another important note is that these teams have already met once this season, and that game went the Capitals’ way. On October 13, Washington descended upon New Jersey and dominated the Devils to a 5-2 win, thanks in large part to a four-point night by C Nicklas Backstrom.
But who takes the two points tonight? I’m leaning towards the Devils. Even though they’re playing on the road, I’m concerned that Washington’s inability to stay out of the penalty box (the Caps’ 136 times shorthanded is eighth-most in the league) will bite it in the butt. Look for Jersey to exact revenge for October 13’s home defeat.
In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 at the Honda Center.
Though the score doesn’t indicate it, Anaheim absolutely dominated this game, as it out-shot the Flames 41-23. That was especially true in the first period, as the Ducks managed to fire a whopping 20 shots on goal compared to Calgary’s five. Third Star of the Game G Mike Smith was up for the task for most of that onslaught, but First Star D Cam Fowler (Second Star C Ryan Getzlaf and F Rickard Rakell) was able to sneak a backhanded shot past him at the 3:48 mark to give Anaheim an early lead.
Calgary’s best frame was easily the second, as it out-shot the Ducks 11-8. As a result, W Micheal Ferland (D Matt Bartkowski and Smith) was able to level the game with a snap shot with 8:05 remaining in the period.
With that pesky long change out of the way, the Ducks resumed their command of the game in the third period, and that control was only heightened when LW Matthew Tkachuk made the mistake of sending a puck over the glass to earn himself a seat in the penalty box. However, he was held out of action for only seven seconds, as Rakell (Getzlaf and W Jakob Silfverberg) was able to use the man-advantage to score a game-winning power play wrist shot at the 2:17 mark.
If tic-tac-goals are among your favorite things, you’ll like this tally. After Getzlaf won the face-off at the right dot in his attacking zone, C Adam Henrique tapped the puck back to Fowler at the point. The defenseman sent the biscuit back towards the crease to Silfverberg, who tapped back towards the slot to Getzlaf in a centering attempt. However, instead of taking the obvious snapper, the captain instead elected to shove the puck towards the left face-off circle to the waiting Rakell, who one-timed a wrister over a diving Smith.
G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (.957 save percentage), leaving the unfortunate loss to Smith, who saved 39-of-41 (.951).
Mark it down as another win for the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have a 47-27-10 record that is exactly 20 points better than the visitors’.
There may be some great college football games and the World Series on today, but remember to make room for hockey!
There’s only one matinee on the schedule today, and it occurs in Buffalo when the Sabres host San Jose (SN) at 1 p.m. The rest of tonight’s action starts at its usual time of 7 p.m. when six contests (Los Angeles at Boston, Philadelphia at Toronto [CBC], the New York Rangers at Montréal [CITY/NHLN/SN1/TVAS], Anaheim at Tampa Bay, Detroit at Florida and Arizona at New Jersey) drop the puck, followed by three more (Columbus at St. Louis, the New York Islanders at Nashville and Pittsburgh at Minnesota) an hour later. Chicago pays a visit to Colorado at 9 p.m., while Washington makes its yearly trip to Edmonton (CBC/SN1) 60 minutes later to complete the night’s festivities. All times Eastern.
Before the season started, I had the New York-Montréal fixture circled on my calendar for being a rematch from last season’s playoffs and an Original Six game. Considering how both those clubs have started their seasons, I’m reconsidering that decision and am instead far more interested in seeing W Alex Ovechkin and C Connor McDavid try to outscore each other.
Somehow, we’ve made it 25 days into this season without featuring the Oilers. I know they’ve had a slow start to a season of high expectations, but what kind of atrocity have I committed?
Yes, now that NHL coaches have had an offseason to prepare plans for taking on 3-5-1 Edmonton’s high-flying offense, life hasn’t been quite as simple as many orange-clad fans would have hoped while analysts were pegging the Oilers for a deep 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs run.
Figuring out what has been the Oil’s problem is a tall task, as it seems they’re under-performing on both ends of the ice. Of course, the most obvious struggles have occurred on the offensive end.
As we all so well remember, Edmonton’s offense last season was a truly thrilling pleasure to watch, as they averaged 2.96 goals-per-game – the third-best mark in the league. This year, the Oilers are performing a tribute to the 2010-’11 season that earned them the opportunity to select C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall in the ensuing NHL Entry Draft, as their 2.22 goals-per-game is second-worst in the NHL.
Though it’d be easy to say that they’ve grown complacent after earning massive contracts this summer, this lackluster effort is no fault of F Leon Draisaitl or McDavid. Both are averaging more than one point-per-game (a benchmark for the best forwards in the game), and their first line (completed by LW Patrick Maroon) has accounted for nine of the Oil’s 20 goals on the season.
One player that has really stood out to me is Zack Kassian, the third-line right wing that had a major coming-out party in the playoffs by scoring two game-winning goals against the Sharks. So far this year, he only has an assist to his credit, well under his .31 points-per-game scoring rate for his career.
Perhaps Kassin is one of those “Mr. April”-types: a player that has a knack for coming through in the clutch. That’s all fine and well when the calendar is flipped to that month, but it can be a major burden on the club in the remaining six months of the season. For Edmonton’s sake, let’s hope he can find a way to rediscover his scoring touch.
If he – and the rest of his team, for that matter – can’t, you have to wonder how much longer Head Coach Todd McLellan will keep Draisaitl on the top line if the offense continues to struggle. Though the Oilers have solid depth at the center position (Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Strome and Jujhar Khaira are currently the bottom-three at the position), moving the German to his natural position on the second line could spread the offensive spark needed to get this team going.
Of course, I say all this after the Oil posted a 5-4 victory over the Stars Thursday. Perhaps the offense is finally finding its groove after all and McLellan will be able to keep his super line intact.
While the better half of Edmonton’s game so far has been defense, it still has not been as exemplary as last season. For the entirety of 2016-’17, the Oilers allowed 207 goals against, or 2.52 goals-per-game, which was the fifth-best effort in the Western Conference and eighth-best in the entire NHL.
A major part of that success was G Cam Talbot, who rocked a .919 save percentage to a 2.39 GAA, both of which ranked eighth-best in the league among goaltenders with at least 49 starts. Making those numbers even more impressive was the fact that Talbot, then 29-years-old, started a whopping 73 games last season to 4294 minutes.
Remember, those are only regular season numbers. Add in the postseason, and Talbot saw 5093 minutes last year. The fact that he showed up for camp this year is a true testament to his character given that workload.
Maybe it’s last season’s work schedule that is playing its part on 3-4-1 Talbot this year, because he simply has not been as good in his eight starts this season (out of nine games played by Edmonton, for those keeping track). Though it doesn’t help that he’s playing behind a defense that gives up a 10th-most 31 shots-per-game, his .909 save percentage and 2.96 GAA are the biggest change from last year’s Oilers team to this one, so either he needs to return to last season’s form or McLellan needs to better utilize backup G Laurent Brossoit, or else General Manager Peter Chiarelli will be forced to further tax his tight budget to improve the defense while keeping in mind Draisaitl and McDavid’s contracts.
One team that knows more than its fair share about the salary cap is the 4-5-1 Capitals. As a result of following a “this is the year” mentality for the last three seasons (at least), General Manager Brian MacLellan was forced to make some tough decisions that eventually resulted in D Karl Alzner, F Marcus Johansson, D Kevin Shattenkirk and RW Justin Williams all exiting the Washington fold.
What’s left is a team that is struggling on both ends of the ice, made most apparent by their two-game losing skid at the hands of Florida and Vancouver.
While the offense is far from its former form (the Capitals average a 13th-worst 2.9 goals-per-game), it has been G Braden Holtby that has been the biggest blemish on Washington’s efforts. Even though he has a defense in front of him limiting his workload to 32.7 shots-per-game (14th-most in the NHL), he’s managed only a .913 save percentage for a 2.87 GAA.
For a netminder that owns career .921 and 2.32 marks, this is the definition of a slump.
Unfortunately for Head Coach Barry Trotz, helping Holtby out of his tough stretch is not as simple as starting G Philipp Grubauer, as the backup has been even worse than the starter with an .85 save percentage and 4.67 GAA.
I think Grubauer is a fine backup, but I can’t vouch for his ability to bounce back and get his season turned around. Holtby, however? I’ll bet you every cent I own (it’s a depleting total, cash in now!) that he’ll find a way to get this campaign back under his control to help a downgraded, but certainly not talent-less Capitals team to a fourth-straight playoff appearance.
The question is, of course, if his comeback begins tonight. It’s certainly possible, but considering both of Edmonton’s top-two lines got on the scorecard at least twice in its last game, I think the Oilers can keep their positive momentum rolling in tonight’s tilt.
Behind the impeccable play of First Star of the Game G Pekka Rinne, the Nashville Predators beat the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Rinne allowed only one goal on 44 shots faced for a .977 save percentage. Making that stat even better – or worse, depending on your perspective – his lone blemish was an unassisted shorthanded wrist shot by F Artem Anisimov with 26 seconds remaining in the first frame.
Though G Corey Crawford entered the second period in line for the win, he exited the ice for the second intermission in line for what proved to be his fourth loss of the season. The only way for that to happen was for Crawford to allow both of the Predators’ goals in the middle frame, and he did just that.
First up was C Calle Jarnkrok, who leveled the game only 57 seconds into the period with an unassisted wrister, his first goal of the season. But it was Second Star F Craig Smith‘s (D P.K. Subban and LW Kevin Fiala) power play wrister, buried with 8:58 remaining in the frame, that proved to be the deciding goal.
The Predators’ extra-man opportunity owes its start to D Jan Rutta for tripping C Frederick Gaudreau at the 9:30 mark of the period. Chicago was within 28 seconds of a successful kill before Smith took advantage of C Colton Sissons‘ screen to beat a blinded Crawford’s blocker with a wrister from the top of the left face-off circle.
Though the Blackhawks would fire 15 shots in the third period, Rinne stood tall to earn his fifth victory of the season. Crawford took the loss after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage).
Nashville’s victory helped road teams avoid the business-week sweep at the hands of the 14-7-4 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but visitors still trail the series by eight points.
Now that all the fun of the opening week is behind us, it’s time to get focused for the two-month run to American Thanksgiving.
Don’t think the holiday is that important in the NHL? Maybe this will change your mind.
With that in mind, let’s jump into the five games on the schedule this evening. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with two contests (New Jersey at Toronto [SN] and Pittsburgh at Washington [NBCSN]), followed two hours later by Boston at Colorado. Fixtures continue to fall in line every half hour as the New York Islanders visit Anaheim at 10 p.m. and tonight’s nightcap, Calgary at Los Angeles, drops the puck 30 minutes later. All times Eastern.
Tonight was supposed to be Brian Boyle‘s return to Toronto, but since his diagnosis of chronic myelogenous leukemia has kept him off the ice to star the season, we’ll delay the celebration of the Leafs’ trip to the second round until his return in mid-November.
Instead, let’s take in one of the NHL’s best rivalries in recent years.
If not for the Capitals’ significant roster turnover this offseason, it would have been safe to pencil these two squads into a third-straight meeting in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Then again, given Washington’s 2-0-1 record to lead the Metropolitan Division after a week of play, maybe that assumption isn’t too far off the mark.
What has made Washington so deadly to start the season has been its ultra-efficient offense. Though the Capitals average 4.33 goals-per-game ([t]fourth-best in the NHL), they take the fewest shots-per-game in the league at 25.7.
In effect, the Caps are attacking opposing goalies with scalpels instead of battle axes.
At the head of that attack is head surgeon W Alex Ovechkin (.389 shooting percentage), who’s assisted by American Sniper F T.J. Oshie (.375) – both of whom are in the top-15 of shooting percentage and combine for 10 of Washington’s 13 goals. With two solid centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov feeding them passes, Head Coach Barry Trotz is optimistic his top-two lines won’t miss a beat after the offseason departures of F Marcus Johansson and RW Justin Williams.
Speaking of the title of “American Sniper,” Oshie should look out for Columbus’ LW Sonny Milano and his obnoxious .571 to start his rookie season. The kid’s going places with a shot like that, but we’ll worry about that when the Capitals and Jackets tangle in early December.
Back to our game tonight, Washington has felt its turbulent offseason most within the defensive corps. It’s a good thing G Braden Holtby moonlights as a brick wall, as his career .922 save percentage has been put to the test by facing an average of 37 shots-per-game, the (t)fourth-highest in the league. If the Pens want any chance of beating the reigning Jennings Trophy winner, they’ll need to attack him early and often.
All but two (D Nate Schmidt and D Kevin Shattenkirk) of the goalscorers from the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs have returned to Washington this season. Mentioned above as simply play-makers, Backstrom and Kuznetsov both found much success against Pittsburgh in May, as they both beat former Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury for four goals apiece.
Similarly, only two players (C Nick Bonino and F Matt Cullen) that scored on Holtby last postseason departed Pittsburgh. In particular, Holtby is least looking forward to seeing F Jake Guentzel again, as the 23-year-old scored on him four times five months ago.
The Penguins simply haven’t played the same way twice to start the season (most notably falling flat on their faces in Chicago, losing 10-1), though they’d like to repeat their performance from Saturday when they beat Nashville 4-0.
Beyond simply jumping out to a quick start (F Evgeni Malkin scored the game-winning goal only 66 seconds into the game), Pittsburgh got back to playing a sound defensive game. The Predators managed to fire only 26 shots at G Matthew Murray, far below the Penguins’ average of 34.7 shots-against-per-game.
It was also in that game where the city of Pittsburgh fell in love with RW Ryan Reaves, similar to how St. Louis did seven years ago, as he provided a goal to go with his fights with W Cody McLeod and F Austin Watson. Fans and pundits alike questioned General Manager Jim Rutherford‘s decision to bring in an enforcer, but if he can manage to be a goon with a little bit of touch and put up similar numbers to his 7-6-13 performance last season, he’ll be a welcome addition to this lineup.
This is a tough game to pick, as it seemed the Penguins turned a corner last Saturday and are resuming the form we’ve come to expect from them year in and year out. That being said, I think this Capitals team matches up well against them. No matter how hard Pittsburgh’s defense tries, I believe that either Ovechkin or Oshie will be able to find just the right shot to beat Murray.
In an exciting and emotional night for the city of Las Vegas, the Golden Knights were able to beat the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 to win their first-ever home tilt at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
The Knights absolutely blitzed the Coyotes out of the gates, as they scored four of their five goals in 10:42 of play. First up was F Tomas Nosek (F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and D Luca Sbisa) burying a wrist shot 2:31 after puck drop, followed by Second Star of the Game D Deryk Engelland (LW Brendan Leipsic) finding the back of G Antti Raanta‘s net only 107 seconds later. Scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal was none other than Third Star W James Neal (D Brayden McNabb and W David Perron), the same man who has now accounted for all three of Vegas’ winners to begin its inaugural season.
Within this sequence, the puck first made its way towards the goal off a shot by McNabb from the top of the offensive zone. It was casually blocked by D Jason Demers at the top of the crease, but Neal was able to collect the rebound and pivot towards the face-off circle to Raanta’s right. Once he finished his spin, he squeezed his wrister between the goaltender’s blocker and the near post.
But Neal wasn’t done. Thanks to F Mario Kempe interfering with Fleury, Vegas earned a power play that Neal (W Reilly Smith and F Erik Haula) was able to convert with a wrister from the crease to beat a fallen G Louis Domingue five-hole. Though F Tobias Rieder (D Niklas Hjalmarsson) was able to get the Coyotes on the board with 7:23 remaining in the first period, it did little to dampen the spirits of the newborn hockey fans.
After a wild opening frame, the second and third periods were much more tame. C Oscar Lindberg (Leipsic) and D Kevin Connauton (C Derek Stepan and F Clayton Keller) were able to score for Vegas and Arizona, respectively, but their tallies had little impact on the outcome.
Overall, the Knights absolutely dominated this game. To start with, they won 68 percent of face-offs, but they were further helped by sloppy play from the Yotes. Though the statistic is recorded as takeaways, most of Vegas’ 12 steals (led by Smith’s three) were a result of aimless passes from Arizona. The Coyotes supposedly improved on paper this offseason, but this showing was not evident of that.
Fleury earned his third victory in as many games played by saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the loss to Raanta, who saved two-of-five (.4) before being pulled. He was replaced by Domingue 6:15 into the game, and saved 21-of-23 (.913) for no decision.
That’s a fourth-straight win by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, a series that now favors the 5-2-1 hosts by four points.