Nick reacts to coaching changes, the draft lottery and the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs already in progress while providing an update.
In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.
In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.
P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)
The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.
Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”
Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.
Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.
Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.
Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.
For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.
Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.
Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.
Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.
In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.
Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.
Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?
Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th
4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2
4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*
4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*
4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*
P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)
The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.
Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.
There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.
Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.
Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.
Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.
In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.
For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.
The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.
But this time around feels different.
San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.
Regular season outcomes:
4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th
4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2
4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*
4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*
4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*
C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)
A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.
It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.
For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).
Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.
Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.
Oh. Again. Never mind.
While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.
In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.
Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.
This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?
Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.
On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.
Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.
But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.
Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.
As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.
Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.
Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.
It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th
4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2
4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2
4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*
4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*
4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*
C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)
After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.
This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.
Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.
Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.
In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).
Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.
Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.
Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.
However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.
The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.
This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.
Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.
Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).
Don’t try to mess with what’s working.
Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.
Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.
For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.
Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.
Regular season outcomes:
1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th
4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3
4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2
4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*
4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*
4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*
The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The DTFR Duo runs through some Tampa Bay Lightning franchise records, Conor McGregor reactions, hands out more awards, fixes the NHL and takes a look at how things are shaping up in the Pacific Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Nick and Connor talk the latest trades, Torts drama (and latest record), Casey DeSmith’s extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as a tribute to the careers of Rick Nash and Josh Gorges who both announced their retirement this week.
Additionally, what’s up with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues this season and why can’t they just pick a side? Plus, it’s time to hand out awards for being slightly more than halfway through the 2018-19 regular season. #FlamingNotToFlamingHot
A bunch of minor trades were made in the last week, the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game rosters were released, as well as the 2019-20 outdoor game schedule. Nick and Connor also discuss the legacy that was the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Quarterfinal upsets.
*Editor’s Note: Of course, after recording this week’s episode, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed G Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks.
Jake DeBrusk had the defacto game-winning goal in the third period for the Boston Bruins, as DeBrusk and Brad Marchand each scored two goals in Boston’s, 6-4, win over the Calgary Flames at TD Garden on Thursday.
Jaroslav Halak (13-6-2 record, 2.36 goals against average, .926 save percentage in 23 games played) made 33 saves on 37 shots against for an .892 SV% in the win for the Bruins.
Mike Smith (12-9-1, 3.09 GAA, .886 SV% in 23 GP) turned aside 21 shots on 26 shots faced for an .808 SV% in the loss for the Flames.
As a result of the win, Boston improved to 23-14-4 on the season (50 points) and remained 3rd in the Atlantic Division, while Calgary fell to 25-13-4 (54 points) on the season.
The Flames held onto 1st place in the Pacific Division despite the loss, but with a two-point lead over the Vegas Golden Knights.
Cassidy ruled McAvoy out of the lineup for Thursday night and unlikely to play Saturday, while indicating the sophomore blue liner is aiming for a return to the lineup next week– either Tuesday or Thursday.
Nordstrom, in the meantime, will be out for at least three weeks with a non-displaced fibula fracture sustained in Tuesday’s Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks. He will be re-evaluated at that time.
Cassidy also congratulated David Krejci and his wife, Naomi, on the birth of their son Thursday morning. The Krejci family welcomed their second child as they previously had a daughter in 2015.
And in other news, Kevan Miller played in his 300th career NHL game Thursday night.
Michael Frolik tripped Krejci early in the first period at 5:39 and sent the Bruins on their first power play of the night, which quickly became a 5-on-3 advantage when Elias Lindholm caught Brad Marchand with a high-stick at 5:44.
As Frolik was fresh out of the box, Mark Jankowski found the Flames forward for a shorthanded opportunity.
Frolik (9) made no mistake and capitalized on the lack of a defensive effort from the Bruins with Calgary’– league-leading– 13th shorthanded goal this season to give the Flames a 1-0 lead at 7:46 of the opening frame.
Jankowski (11) had the only assist on the ninth shorthanded goal allowed by Boston this season (which also is league-leading in all the wrong ways).
Late in the power play, the Bruins worked the puck back to John Moore (2) as he blasted one past Smith to tie the game, 1-1, at 9:02.
Late in the first period, Jake DeBrusk (12) tipped in a shot from the point by Krejci to make it, 2-1, Boston at 14:19. Krejci (25) and Ryan Donato (3) had the assists on DeBrusk’s goal.
After one period of play, the B’s led the Flames, 2-1, on the scoreboard and trailed Calgary, 11-9, in shots on goal. The Flames also led in blocked shots (10-6), giveaways (8-4) and face-off win percentage (63-38) through 20 minutes, while the Bruins led in takeaways (5-3) and hits (11-10).
Calgary had yet to see time on the power play, while Boston was 1/3 entering the first intermission.
Just over a minute into the second period, Lindholm (20) tied the game, 2-2, having followed up on a rebound generated by Johnny Gaudreau.
Boston used their coach’s challenge on the basis that there was goaltender interference, but after review, the call on the ice still stood as Lindholm had tapped the puck in with his stick without any contact with Halak after Gaudreau’s initial shot.
Gaudreau (38) and Noah Hanifin (17) had the assists at 1:05 of the second period.
Less than a minute later, while in the attacking zone, Patrice Bergeron sent a pass back to the point where Torey Krug one-timed a slap pass to Marchand (14) in front of the goal for the redirection from point blank.
Marchand’s goal put Boston ahead, 3-2, at 1:41 of the second frame and was assisted by Krug (21) and Bergeron (21).
While on the penalty kill, the Bruins allowed a 3-on-0 opportunity for the Flames and were penalized for too many men on the ice at 11:31.
Boston killed off the ensuing 5-on-3 disadvantage.
Late in the period, the two clubs swapped minor penalties as Marchand went to the box for cross checking at 18:39 and Lindholm was sent to the visiting sin bin for interference at 19:53.
Both teams went into the dressing room tied, 2-2, after two periods, with the Flames leading in shots on goal, 21-20.
Calgary also led in takeaways (9-7), giveaways (14-12) and face-off win% (58-42) through 40 minutes with Boston leading in hits (20-16). Both teams had 11 blocked shots aside, while the Flames were 0/4 on the power play and the B’s were 1/3.
Less than a minute into the third period, Pastrnak chased down a puck that Krug had indirectly slap passed off the end boards from about 160 feet away.
No. 88 in black-and-gold then deked and beat Smith to make it, 4-2, for Boston just 54 seconds into the final frame. Krug (22) and Halak (3) had the assists on the goal.
Halak’s three assists this season are the most by a Bruins goaltender since Tim Thomas had three assists in the 2010-11 season.
About midway through the third period, Gaudreau (23) scored from below the goal line– banking the puck off of Halak and in to bring the Flames to within one and make it, 4-3, at 9:27 of the third.
Sean Monahan (29) and Hanifin (18) had the assists on Gaudreau’s goal.
Keeping with the trend of the night, the teams kept swapping goals as DeBrusk (13) added his second goal of the game on a backhand from close range after rushing into the attacking zone with the puck.
Krejci (26) had the assist on DeBrusk’s goal at 13:46 of the third period and the Bruins led, 5-3.
Moments later, Mikael Backlund (9) made it a one-goal game again with a backhand shot of his own that sailed over the glove side of Halak and into the twine to make it, 5-4.
Flames head coach, Bill Peters, pulled Smith for an extra attacker with about 1:54 remaining in regulation. Shortly thereafter, Marchand (15) put the game away with an empty net goal to make it, 6-4, for the Bruins at 18:10.
Pastrnak (27) and Bergeron (22) had the assists on Marchand’s second goal of the game as the B’s scored six or more goals for just the fourth time this season.
At the final horn, Boston secured the win, despite trailing in shots on goal, 37-27, to the Flames.
The Bruins finished the night leading in blocked shots (16-13) and hits (27-22), while Calgary wrapped up Thursday night’s action with the lead in giveaways (20-16) and face-off win% (60-40).
The Flames finished the night 0/4 on the skater advantage, while the B’s went 2/4 on the power play.
Pastrnak now has 6-16–22 totals in his last 14 games and was the only Bruin named to the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game in San Jose for the Atlantic Division.
Bruins fans can vote for a “Last Man In” representative in each division, with Boston’s “Last Man In” candidate being Bergeron.
The B’s take on the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday before staying at home for the Minnesota Wild next Tuesday (Jan. 8th) and the defending Stanley Cup champion, Washington Capitals, next Thursday (Jan. 10th).
Upon the conclusion of the current four-game homestand, Boston travels to Scotiabank Arena for a matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs next Saturday (Jan. 12th).
It’s time once again for DtFR’s weekly featured matchup! Let’s take a gander at the NHL’s offerings for this edition, shall we?
|NHL SCHEDULE: December 3-9|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, December 3|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||New Jersey||5-1|
|Tuesday, December 4|
|7 p.m.||Winnipeg Jets||New York Islanders||3-1|
|7:30 p.m.||Toronto||Buffalo||4-3 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Detroit||6-5 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||Arizona||Los Angeles||2-1|
|Wednesday, December 5|
|8 p.m.||Edmonton||St. Louis||3-2 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||Carolina||San Jose||1-5|
|Thursday, December 6|
|7 p.m.||Detroit||Toronto||5-4 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Columbus||Philadelphia||4-3 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Pittsburgh Penguins||2-6|
|7:30 p.m.||Boston||Tampa Bay||2-3|
|10:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Los Angeles||6-3|
|Friday, December 7|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Dallas||2-3|
|8 p.m.||St. Louis||Winnipeg||1-0|
|Saturday, December 8|
|4 p.m.||Vegas||Los Angeles||1-5|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Ottawa||1-2 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Detroit Red Wings||3-2|
|7 p.m.||Colorado||Tampa Bay||1-7|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Florida Panthers||5-4 (SO)|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Arizona||5-3|
|Sunday, December 9|
|3 p.m.||Vancouver||St. Louis|
|6 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||Chicago Blackhawks||NHLN, RDS, SN, SN1|
|8 p.m.||New Jersey||Anaheim|
|9 p.m.||Calgary||Edmonton||SN, SN1|
This week’s rivalries included the Battle of the QEW (Toronto at Buffalo), Ottawa at Montréal, Detroit at Toronto, the Islanders at Pittsburgh, Montréal at Ottawa, Toronto at Boston, Montréal at Chicago and the Battle of Alberta (Calgary at Edmonton).
In a similar strain, there were also more than a few rematches of playoff fixtures from last spring. Tampa Bay continued its beat down of New Jersey on Monday, while Vegas exacted some revenge against Washington on Tuesday. The Bolts then headed home to host Boston on Wednesday, winning 3-2. Vegas is heading to Los Angeles this afternoon looking for its fifth-straight victory against the Kings, followed by tonight’s tilt between the Capitals and Blue Jackets.
Finally, in the “player returns” department, only two really stuck out among this week’s tilts. Now a member of the Avalanche, D Ian Cole made his first trip back to Pittsburgh Tuesday to take on the club he was a member of for the past four seasons. Then, Wednesday night, C Kyle Brodziak made his first return to St. Louis as a member of a visiting team, having spent three seasons with the Blues.
Of all those, the one I’m most interested in is the Battle of Alberta, so pack your coat and start heading to the City of Champions!
Don’t everyone look all at once (it’ll make the team self-conscious), but with last night’s 5-2 win over Nashville, the 19-9-2 Calgary Flames have claimed a one-point lead for first place in the Western Conference.
Not the Pacific Division, mind you. The Flames have been running that show for about a month now. We’re talking about the entire conference.
I guess Head Coach Bill Peters knows a bit more than we give him credit for around here.
A major reason Calgary is in the position it’s in right now is due to the impressive 9-1-1 record it’s riding right now – a stretch that started with a 4-2 victory over the Oilers on November 17.
A solid argument could be made that no team in the NHL has been better than the Flames in the past three weeks, as they are among the top-three in the league in goals per game, goals against per game and shots against per game.
Starting with the offense (a stat in which Calgary ranks sixth on the entire season, averaging 3.47 goals per game), the Flames have been the class of the conference since November 17, as their 4.45 goals per game in their past 11 outings tops the West and ranks second in the NHL, trailing only Tampa Bay’s 4.58 goals per game.
Leading the charge with 6-14-20 totals in those 11 games is exactly who you expected: LW Johnny Gaudreau. Only RW Nikita Kucherov (5-18-23) has registered more points in the past 22 days than Johnny HockeyTM , but he’s also had the benefit of one extra game played.
But don’t think Gaudreau has been doing it all on his own. C Sean Monahan (9-7-16), F Elias Lindholm (7-8-15), LW Matthew Tkachuk (4-8-12), suspended D Mark Giordano (1-10-11 in 10 games played) and even fourth-liner C Alan Quine (he scored a goal in his season debut last night) are all averaging a point per game or better over this run.
Defense has been a major strength of Calgary’s all season long (the Flames’ 28 shots against per game for the entire campaign ranks third-best in the NHL), and the same can be said for the Flames’ last 11 games. Led by D Rasmus Andersson and D Travis Hamonic (both averaging 1.5 blocks per game since November 17), RW Garnet Hathaway (2.6 hits per game in the past 22 days) and Monahan (his 16 takeaways in the past 11 games lead the club), the Flames have allowed only 27.18 shots against per game since November 17- the third-lowest mark in both the Western Conference and NHL in that time.
While Peters might say he appreciates that solid defensive play, no one is happier for the Flames’ success than 11-7-1 G Mike Smith. And even though the blue line is making his job easy, Smith is putting together one of the best runs of his season so far – especially in light of his season stats.
On the campaign as a whole, Smith boasts a lowly .894 save percentage and 2.88 GAA – both stats considerably worse than backup 8-2-1 G David Rittich’s .919 and 2.39, to the point that there were more than a few calling for the Czech to assume starting duties.
However, Smith’s past six appearances have been reminiscent of his incredible 2011-12 season with the Coyotes (he posted a .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA and led the team to the Western Final), as he’s won six-straight games with a dominant .936 save percentage and 1.59 GAA in those showings.
Having been in net for last night’s home win over Nashville, Smith will likely ride the pine this evening with Rittich getting the start.
Though the 15-12-2 Edmonton Oilers currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, they only trail the second wild card Vegas Golden Knights by a point (with two games in hand, no less), so it is possible for tonight’s hosts to force themselves into the playoff picture with as little as an overtime or shootout loss.
Wait, I thought the Oilers were back to being bad again. I’m so confused.
Sometimes a change of voice from behind the bench is exactly what a team needs to get in shape, because the Oilers have been playing some solid hockey since hiring Head Coach Ken Hitchcock on November 20. Before Hitchcock arrived in Northern Alberta, the Oil boasted a record of 9-10-1, but they’ve gone on a solid 6-2-1 record since then to position themselves right on the playoffs’ doorstep.
Considering Hitchcock’s history, it wasn’t unexpected that his first goal upon taking over Edmonton was teaching his club how to play defense. Instead, the bigger surprise is that the team – one rarely known for its defensive play for its entire history – actually responded and is finding success.
Under Hitchcock, the Oilers have allowed only 29.11 shots against per game, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since November 20. Injured F Drake Caggiula (averaging 4.3 hits per game during this run), D Oscar Klefbom (averaging 2.6 blocks per game in the last 20 days) and C Connor McDavid (his 12 takeaways in his last eight appearances pace the team) have all been integral in leading this strategic shift, and the results are clearly showing in the standings.
Both G Mikko Koskinen and G Cam Talbot have shown considerable improvement playing behind this revamped defense, but Koskinen seems to have gained Hitchcock’s favor as the Oilers’ starting goaltender – at least for the time being. Though he has managed a decent .925 save percentage and 2.23 GAA for the entire season, Koskinen has posted a solid .934 save percentage and 1.82 GAA in his last six starts and will get the nod tonight.
For those wondering, Talbot’s .895 save percentage and 3.12 GAA for the season have been steadily improving under Hitch as well, as he’s managed a .925 save percentage and 2.29 GAA in his last three starts.
So, it’s time for that priceless question: who wins tonight?
With both defenses playing as well as they are right now, my immediate reaction is to pick the team with the superior offense. As that is not the style Hitchcock is having the Oilers play, that leads me to lean towards Calgary earning two points despite playing yesterday and having to travel last night/this morning.
However, with so much for Edmonton to play for and the fact that this is one of the better rivalries in the league, the only thing we can truly predict is unpredictability!
The Calgary Flames erupted for five goals (including one empty net goal) against the Boston Bruins on home ice Wednesday night at Scotiabank Saddledome to improve to 4-2-0 (8 points) on the season. Calgary remains 2nd in the Pacific Division standings, while the Bruins fell to 3rd in the Atlantic with a 4-2-0 (8 points) record of their own.
Mike Smith stopped 24 shots out of the 26 shots he faced for a .923 save percentage in the win, while Boston netminder, Tuukka Rask turned aside 24 shots on 28 shots against for an .857 SV% in the loss.
Boston travels to Rogers Place Thursday night to take on the Edmonton Oilers before Saturday’s matchup at Rogers Arena against the Vancouver Canucks to round out the Western Canada portion of their four-game road trip.
Bruce Cassidy made no changes to his Bruins lineup from Saturday’s 8-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings as Boston was unable to put together their fifth consecutive win Wednesday night. The Bruins are now 1-2-0 on the road this season, suffering a 7-0 loss in Washington, D.C. at the hands of the Capitals on Opening Night (Oct. 3rd) in addition to Wednesday’s loss to the Flames.
The B’s shutout the Buffalo Sabres, 4-0, in Buffalo on Oct. 4th.
Tkachuk’s spin and pass to Backlund freed up enough space for Frolik to sneak in down the right side and catch Rask lagging in time behind the play as his defenders in front of him were catching up themselves.
Backlund (2) and Tkachuk (7) had the primary and secondary assists on Frolik’s goal, respectively, and the Flames led, 1-0.
Midway through the opening frame, Tkachuk again had a great break-in, dropped a pass for the one-timer, but Rask made the sprawling save from one end to the other side of the crease with about 8:24 remaining in the period.
Moments later, Johnny Gaudreau (3) recorded the 100th goal of his NHL career on a rebound off Rask that bounced wide left to Gaudreau as the Bruins netminder was attempting to cover the loose puck up.
Less than a minute later, Juuso Valimaki (1) threw a shot on net that got a chunk of Rask, deflected high, then landed just behind the Boston goalie with enough force to trickle in behind the goal line for his first career NHL goal and a 3-0 lead for the Flames.
Mark Jankowski (1) had the only assist on Valimaki’s goal at 16:08 of the first period.
The Bruins lacked effort in their own end throughout the first period and thought they had a quick response to going down by three goals, but David Pastrnak‘s would-be goal was overturned by Calgary’s head coach, Bill Peters’ intelligent use of the coach’s challenge for offside as Patrice Bergeron had just barely entered the zone ahead of John Moore‘s initial dump-in.
Moore later received a minor penalty for holding Calgary’s Rasmus Andersson at 19:39 of the first period.
The Flames power play would carry over into the middle frame.
After one period of play, Calgary had a 3-0 lead over the Bruins and led in shots on goal, 14-10. Blocked shots were even, 7-7, but the Flames also led in takeaways (3-2), giveaways (9-7), hits (8-6) and face-off win percentage (63-38). Boston had yet to see any time on the skater advantage, while Calgary was technically 0/1 after 20 minutes.
Bergeron caught Flames blue liner Mark Giordano with a high-stick 24 seconds into the second period and gave Calgary a 5-on-3 advantage for about 1:16.
The B’s successfully managed to go unscathed and killed off the minor penalties, yielding a scoring chance as David Krejci worked the puck to Bergeron fresh on a rush out of the box in the low slot.
No. 37 in black-and-gold spin and batted the puck out of the air past Smith to put Boston on the board, making it 3-1, in favor of the Flames. The goal was Bergeron’s 6th of the season and assisted by Krejci (5) at 2:40 of the second period.
Not to be outdone, Calgary responded less than a minute later, as Frolik (3) added his second of the night on a forced turnover by Backlund that led to the one-timer opportunity with Frolik in the low slot charging in to the right of Rask.
Backlund (3) had his second assist of the night as the Flames lead– once-again– grew to three goals.
Despite the initial turnover from the Bruins’ first line in their own end, Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy looked dumbfounded as Calgary worked the puck past the Boston defenders for the 4-1 lead at 3:32 of the second period.
The ensuing power play for Boston was largely powerless as Calgary forced two incredible shorthanded breakaway opportunities of their own– including one in which Frolik was on the hunt for the hat trick completing goal, but sent the vulcanized rubber biscuit high and wide of the 4-by-6 net.
Bruins rookie, Ryan Donato, tripped up Gaudreau while trying to avoid knee-on-knee contact– inadvertently going knee-on-knee but not as bad as it would’ve been. Regardless, Donato went to the box on a tripping minor after a small scrum ensued post-whistle, at 7:00 of the second period.
Calgary did not convert on the ensuing power play.
Brad Marchand (2) brought the B’s to a two-goal deficit at 13:45, after Pastrnak entered the zone and left the puck for Bergeron to dish to his longtime left wing wearing No. 63.
Bergeron (7) and Pastrnak (3) notched the assists on Marchand’s 8th goal against the Flames in his last 12 games versus Calgary.
Garnet Hathaway tripped up Joakim Nordstrom at 14:04, but the Bruins didn’t score on the power play and Nordstrom would draw another penalty about four minutes later– this time, T.J. Brodie for holding.
Once again, however, Boston didn’t score on the power play, but Backlund took a hooking minor against David Backes at time expired on the second period, resulting in 58 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage for the Bruins to start the 3rd period.
The Bruins trailed the Flames, 4-2, after 40 minutes of action and did not convert on the two-skater advantage in the third period.
Instead, nearly midway into the final period of regulation, Gaudreau found a crazy carom off the boards that ended up on his stick, leading to a fast breakout with McAvoy trailing– ultimately diving to poke check the puck away from the Flames forward.
Rask stoned Gaudreau with the right pad and the young Bruins defender demolished the smaller Flames skater after he got the shot away.
McAvoy was given a minor for interference after a scrum at 8:29 of the third.
Keeping with the theme of the night, Calgary did not convert on the power play.
Cassidy pulled his goaltender with about 2:12 remaining in the game, opting for the an extra attacker to try to knot things up, but Tkachuk (2) would find the open twine at 19:09 to put the game away, 5-2.
Stone (3) recorded the only assist on Tkachuk’s empty net goal.
After 60 minutes, the Flames defeated the Bruins, 5-2, and led in shots on goal, 29-26. Boston held onto an advantage in blocked shots (19-15) and face-off win% (54-46), but trailed Calgary in giveaways (22-17). Hits were even 16-16 and both teams went 0/4 on the power play Wednesday night.
Among other stats from the action…
No Bruins skater recorded more than two hits, while Noel Acciari, Jake DeBrusk (who turned 22-years-old on Wednesday) and Grzelcyk were all a minus-two for Boston.
Bergeron led the way for the Bruins in shots on goal with seven, while Pastrnak was the next closest player for Boston with three shots on net. Moore blocked four shots, while McAvoy blocked three.
Hathaway took credit for the most hits in the game for Calgary with six, while no other member of the Flames had more than two. Frolik led the way for the flaming-C’s as a plus-three in plus/minus and Backlund, Gaudreau, Frolik and Valimaki all had three shots on goal.
Derek Ryan led the Flames in blocked shots with three.
37-35-10, 84 points, 5th in the Pacific Division
Offseason Analysis: Armed with one of the most potent top line/top defense pairing combos in the league, and with newly-acquired Mike Smith in net, hopes were high for the Flames to make some noise coming into the ’17-’18 campaign. Unfortunately, the noises they made were somewhat akin to a fish flopping around on the deck of a boat.
In a season that the term ‘streaky’ could possibly be defined by, Calgary often swung from appearing unbeatable to looking as if they had no idea what they were doing (and anywhere in between) on a game-by-game, week-by-week, and month-by-month basis. Managing to hang around in the wild card conversation through February, they’d finish the year with a dismal 6-13-1 record in their last 20 games, missing the playoffs for the seventh time in nine years.
Head coach Glen Gulutzan (along with assistants Dave Cameron and Paul Gerrard) was promptly sacked at season’s end and replaced with the newly-resigned Hurricanes coach Bill Peters. It wouldn’t be the only Carolina-linked theme of the offseason, either.
Faced with a draft stock that featured no picks until the 4th round, GM Brad Treliving had to use the phone at his table rather than his scouting staff to try and make an immediate impact on his team on draft weekend in Dallas. In one of the bigger trades in recent memory, Calgary dealt blue-chip defender Dougie Hamilton, hard-nosed winger Michael Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox to Carolina in exchange for young d-man Noah Hanifin and versatile scoring forward Elias Lindholm.
Now, I was one of few to take a stand in defending this trade as equal (most found it to be heavily in Carolina’s favor on face value). While I admittedly know little about Fox (I’m told he projects as possibly a decent complimentary player at the NHL level), everyone else in this trade is a fairly proven commodity. Hamilton is admittedly probably the better all-around defenseman, but Hanifin might be a better fit for Calgary, as his game is traditionally a bit more reliable. With Ferland’s departure, they do lose some grit and complimentary goal scoring, but they still have no shortage of snarl, and it’s doubtful his 21-goal, 41-point campaign last year will ever be bettered. Lindholm, while not a natural goal scorer, is a skilled playmaker and has already twice surpassed Ferland’s career-best numbers, while being three years his junior. His ability to play the right side if needed also bolsters a thin depth chart at the position.
Treliving would make another splash soon after the draft, snagging sniper James Neal on the opening day of free agency, and signing him to a five-year, $5.75 million contract. The contract is probably a bit long for a 31-year-old already showing signs of losing foot speed, and Neal’s production has dipped a bit in recent years, but he’s still a near-lock for 25 goals and 45-50 points. Plus, playing alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau never hurt anybody.
The Flames would nab a few other pieces in free agency, in particular bolstering their center depth with adds like Tyler Graovac, Alan Quine, and Austin Czarnik. Perhaps their biggest under-the-radar move was acquiring another former Hurricane in Derek Ryan. The 31-year-old journeyman center finally found an NHL home in Carolina the past few years, blossoming into a solid 3C capable of consistent ~35 point production in addition to reliable PK work and a sublime faceoff record. With the departure of Matt Stajan, the Flames took advantage of Peters’ prior experience with Ryan to fill the hole. They also added some depth on the wings in Kerby Rychel (via trade) and Anthony Peluso, along with notable re-signings Garnet Hathaway, Morgan Klimchuk, and Mark Jankowski.
The prospect pool is a bit thin, but Morgan Klimchuk stands out as a threat to potentially grab himself a roster spot with a strong camp.
I have the forward corps looking something similar to this:
Gaudreau – Monahan – Neal
Tkachuk – Backlund – Lindholm
Bennett – Ryan – Frolik
Jankowski – Quine – Hathaway
Extra forwards Curtis Lazar and Austin Czarnik
On defense, things have shaken up a bit with the breakup of one of the league’s best pairings. Fleet-footed T.J. Brodie looks poised to grab the No. 2 defense slot next to captain Mark Giordano, though his sometimes-risky style of play could be of concern for top pair minutes.
Outside of the Hanifin/Hamilton deal, the Flames changed little about their defense corps in the offseason. Brett Kulak being awarded a one-year deal in arbitration was probably the biggest news. Longtime SHL stalwart Marcus Hogstrom was signed to a one-year, two-way deal to add some depth, and towering Viktor Svedberg, who saw some time with the Blackhawks last year, is heading to training camp on a PTO.
The defensive prospect pool is much deeper and more intriguing than the forwards. Juuso Valimaki is a highly touted prospect and Calgary’s ’17 1st round pick, but has yet to play North American pro hockey, so it’s likely he’ll spend the year in Stockton getting adjusted. Josh Healey brings a solid defensive game, but struggled to find the offensive touch he had at Ohio State in his first pro season last year. Oliver Kylington is a smart, if slightly undersized two-way defender that has shown well so far in the AHL. My personal pick to sneak his way onto the opening night roster, though, is Rasmus Andersson. He’s had no trouble adapting his offensive game to the pro level (nine goals and 39 points in Stockton last year) and his 215-pound frame bodes well for holding up to the rigors of the NHL. His right handed shot and offensive abilities bode well as a potential Hamilton replacement should the Flames find themselves in need of some extra defensive scoring.
The defense looks a little something like this:
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Kulak – Stone
Extra defender either Dalton Prout or the aforementioned Andersson
In net the depth chart looks to remain the same as last year after the re-signing of backup David Rittich to a one-year deal. Calgary will likely just hope for steadier play from Mike Smith (really from the entire team in general) to improve their fortunes as they continue to groom all-world prospect Jon Gillies for the eventual No. 1 job. Smith will turn 37 this year and is in the last year of his contract, so expect another year in the AHL for Gillies before taking the reigns in ’19-’20.
Offseason Grade: C-
They made a coaching change. They fired the coach of their 21st-place team and hired the coach of the 20th place team. C-
They got Noah Hanifin. They probably gave up a bit too much to get him. C-
They signed James Neal. They signed him for too long. C-
They didn’t lose most of their expiring contracts. They were all pretty average players. C-