Tag Archives: Mason

The Customer Is Always Right—Sports Fans Should Not Be Silent

Just over six years ago, on January 28, 2012, approximately 300 Blue Jackets fans braved bitter cold to hold a protest as a Blue Jackets season that held great promise spiraled into chaos.  Earlier in the month, the team had fired Head Coach Scott Arniel ending a tenure that was probably most notable for Arniel’s infamous quip after a question from Lori Schmidt in a press conference (“so just keep piling on”).  Days later it would come out that the team’s superstar and captain, Rick Nash, had demanded a trade.

The preceding offseason looked good on paper.  A team that had only made the playoffs once seemed to have finally acquired the center it had needed for so long when an offseason trade landed them Jeff Carter.  They had also attempted to address their problems on defense by adding free agent James Wisniewski.  The Nikita Filatov era ended as the former first round pick was shipped to Ottawa for the Sens’ third round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

However, there was also a conspicuous failure to address concerns about the goaltending situation.  Mark Dekanich was signed to backup Steve Mason with Curtis Sanford, out of the NHL for two years at that point, signed as the primary goaltender for the AHL affiliate in Springfield.  Sadly, Dekanich would never see a game with the Jackets due to injury.

Things quickly went off the rails and never recovered.  Wisniewski would be suspended as a “repeat offender” for a preseason incident with Cal Clutterbuck in a preseason game that meant he didn’t start his first game for the Jackets until Game 9 of the season, which was, coincidentally, the team’s first win of the season.  Carter would get injured and be out for 10 games.  Steve Mason struggled.  Management, desperate to turn things around, made trades for Mark Letestu and Nikita Nikitin.  Rumors started to surface that, grasping at straws, the Jackets might bring back Ken Hitchcock as head coach. Fortunately for Hitchcock, he instead took a job with St. Louis.  Ownership seemed to be questioning management when they brought in former Pens GM, Craig Patrick as a “special advisor.”

Just six months after they enacted one plan to right the ship, they were about to enact a new plan—blow it all up.  And, to that point, it looked like they would let the architects of the prior failed plan—GM Scott Howson and President Mike Priest—carry out the new plan.

With the All-Star Break approaching, on January 23, 2012, the Jackets played a seemingly meaningless game against the Predators in Nashville and got shellacked, 4-1.  In many ways, it was a typical Blue Jackets loss for that era.  The Preds always seemed to have the Jackets’ number.  Mike Fisher had two goals in the game, bringing his total goals that season against the Jackets to six.  Over half of his goals to that point in the season were against Columbus, to which he responded after the game: “It’s kind of a funny stat. I know I’ve got to make sure I keep going and see if I can score against some other teams.”  The Jackets were 13-29-6 after that game. One loss shouldn’t have been any different than the 28 that preceded it.

But the fact that the loss was so typical, so ordinary, was probably what set me off.  It was a Monday night.  With the All-Star Break coming up, the team wouldn’t be in town on Saturday, but, as luck would have it, I would.  I had moved to the West Coast, but I was back visiting family.  That night I was in Northeast Ohio when I went on HFBoards and posted that we needed to have a fan protest to make it known that casual losses and being dead last in the league weren’t acceptable for a team that had been in the league as long as the Jackets had.  I didn’t really expect much to come out of it, but it struck a nerve and soon it was like a snowball rolling downhill.

I was driving south to Columbus the next afternoon when a fellow HFBoards member called me on my cellphone.  One of the local radio stations wanted to talk to the “organizers.”  To this point, no one was really organizing anything.  Suddenly there was a level of expectation.  Suddenly we had to think about things like permits, PA equipment, some sort of riser for speakers, a podium, speeches, etc., on a Tuesday afternoon, for something that was now, apparently, really going to take place on Saturday morning.  In the next 48 hours, somehow a core group of six of us came together to coordinate these things.

I had never met any of these guys in person before.  One of them was a guy I had sparred with over the years on HFBoards.  One was a musician and Day 1 season ticket holder.  One was a fan who traveled up to games from Kentucky.  One was an Iraq war vet and another was a father who brought his kids to games.  Other people volunteered to help in various ways including lending us PA equipment, picking things up where we couldn’t, etc. It was the first experience I really had of how quickly you could organize something with social media and with crowd-sourcing.  The protest would have never happened without the contributions of a number of people, and I cannot thank them enough.

Meanwhile, people debated the protest online, particularly at HFBoards.  Some thought it was a joke or an embarrassment. When national hockey media started to cover it, I think some started to fear that this would make the Jackets and, by extension, Columbus, a punchline.

The Jackets, for their part, were concerned about how this would play and, allegedly, hired a PR firm out of Chicago to address the situation.  On the eve of the protest, owner John P. McConnell wrote a letter to the fans and via the press let protesters know that they would be welcomed with a cup of hot coffee on what was expected to be a blustery day as a way of the organization showing its appreciation to the fans.  A nice gesture by McConnell which pretty much wrote my speech for me since I had a 2/3 replica Stanley Cup at my disposal.  (“You offered us a cup of coffee, but that’s not the Cup we want!”)

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The night before the core group of six of us and my always patient wife met up at a bar in the Arena District to make our final arrangements as to order of speakers and what we wanted to cover.  Who happened to walk into the same bar?  John P. McConnell’s son!  You really can’t make this stuff up. We finalized our plans in hushed tones about 10 feet away from him.

The next morning, the rumors about the Jackets being awarded an All-Star Game were everywhere.  I showed up at Nationwide at least an hour before the start time for our protest.  The Arena District was dead quiet.  It was bitterly cold.  I wasn’t sure if, after all of this, anyone would actually show up.  It didn’t look good 15 minutes before start time.  Then, suddenly, people started spilling out of the various bars and restaurants in the Arena District.  Probably 10-20 people at first.  With minutes to go before the start time the courtyard was nearly filled.  With only a few days’ notice, approximately 250-300 people had showed up on a cold day.  They showed up with signs supporting the team, but questioning management.

As we kicked things off with Bush’s “Machinehead,” the Jumbotron across the street carried the news that the Blue Jackets had been awarded an All-Star Game.  It was a bittersweet moment given the state of the team, but it was the first sign that maybe things would get better.  Over the next year, Rick Nash would be traded to the Rangers in a blockbuster deal, Mike Priest would be “promoted” and replaced by John Davidson, Scott Howson would be fired, and current GM Jarmo Kekalainen would be hired to replace him.  I don’t know if we influenced any of those decisions, but I’m glad the decisions were made.

In the aftermath, a lot of people who had been skeptical about the protest felt that it was well done and that it wasn’t the embarrassment they feared it would be.  At All-Star Weekend, Gary Bettman was forced to address the protest, doing so in the way you’d expect Gary Bettman to respond to such a question:

I saw that somebody was trying to organize a pep rally. But that’s a good sign.  It’s kind of like when you get booed when you go out on the ice, it’s better than when it’s quiet. I know about that firsthand.”

It was interesting to see the Browns Perfect Season Parade last month.  I heard a lot of the same things I remember hearing when we were planning the protest about whether it should be done, whether it would be an embarrassment.  You had another element that we didn’t have—players taking to social media to voice their anger over the parade.  In the end, Chris McNeil and the organizers deserve a lot of credit.  They raised over $15,000 for a good cause–wish we would have had the time and forethought to do this.  McNeil and his fellow organizers should be very proud in what they did, bringing out over 3,000 fans on another cold Ohio day.  Hopefully the Browns ownership and management takes the frustration of their fans to heart.  Bettman was right:  having 3,000 fans show up to voice their anger beats having 30,000 empty seats in your stadium.

That is the challenge for fans of dysfunctional sports franchises.  Some would propose boycotts as a way motivate teams, but boycotts can backfire.  Sometimes a boycott isn’t an option.  Witness the situation with the Columbus Crew where, once again, a dedicated fan base is speaking up.  In the case of the Crew, the issue isn’t as much the team’s performance as it is ownership’s desire to move the team and mischaracterize the fan base in the process.  Columbus was the first team to have a soccer-specific stadium, but the old house is starting to show its age.  Instead of sitting down in good faith with officials of the City of Columbus, team owner, Anthony Precourt, is more focused on moving the team to Austin and is doing everything he can to paint a picture of a franchise that no longer has local support from fans or businesses.  While John P. McConnell did all he could to show that he heard the fans concerns, Anthony Precourt is content to thumb his nose at Crew supporters, area businesses and local government officials.

Morgan Hughes and others behind the #SaveTheCrew effort have done a brilliant job of attempting to disprove Precourt’s anti-Columbus narrative by getting support not just from fans, but from businesses in Columbus.  They’ve put up billboards and have developed a “community kit” complete with a corporate sponsor.  We still don’t know how the story will end with the Crew, but I applaud the creative efforts of all of those behind #SaveTheCrew and I hope it shows other fans of troubled franchises in other cities that they don’t have to be hopeless, that they can attempt to do something about it instead of just accepting the loss of their franchise.  Show them some support in their efforts even if it is a little thing like sending them a few bucks.

I don’t know what the future will hold for fan advocacy, but I think fans are better off speaking up than being silent.  For years, fans of teams were the one group without a voice.  Fans have been used as pawns in disputes between players and owners over labor matters and in disputes between owners and government officials over financing matters.  At the end of the day, the fans are a team’s consumer base and they shouldn’t be silent about an investment of hundreds or thousands of dollars any more than they would be silent if they went to a restaurant and were given the wrong food, much less if they got the wrong food every time they went to that same restaurant.  Remember the words of Gary Bettman—it is better for owners to hear your “boos” than silence. Sometimes that means you need to hold a “pep rally.”

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 6

Player of the Week: Nathan MacKinnon

Remember that kid from the same town as Sidney Crosby that got drafted #1 overall by the Avs a few years ago? Yeah, I’m betting more of you than would care to admit didn’t.

MacKinnon has sort of fallen off the radar in recent years, though playing for a perennial also-ran in a smaller market can certainly take some blame. A promising rookie campaign was followed up by 3 less-than-stellar seasons, and MacKinnon sort of disappeared from the spotlight. Always producing enough to stay out of the doghouse, but never matching the lofty expectations, he seemed doomed to float around on a mediocre team and risk hearing the ‘bust’ associated with his name.

But this year MacKinnon has come out firing, and has helped the Avs to be…well, at least less bad than predicted. With 22 points in 19 games (in addition to eight on the power play, one shorthanded, and a rare +1 rating on a team that isn’t exactly the first word in positive goal differentials), he has shown flashes of the firepower that landed him that #1 draft spot.

In 3 games this week, MacKinnon tallied 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points, including a 5 point night during the Avs’ 6-2 shalacking of Washington, and the game-winning OT goal against Detroit Sunday night. Take out a scoreless effort against Nashville, and it becomes an even more impressive week for the 22 year old.

With Matt Duchene gone, the Avs will look to MacKinnon to continue to carry the offensive load, so let’s see if he can pull that spotlight back his way and remind a few people of his existence.

Team of the Week: Winnipeg Jets

*insert horrible cliche’ something akin to ‘flying high’ here*

What has gotten into these guys, eh?

Winnipeg soared (oh no) through their three-game week with a perfect 3-0-0 record on the back of a ridiculous string of “Iceman” (stop) Connor Hellebuyck performances. Stopping 97 of 102 shots faced, and never allowing more than two goals in any game, the young netminder backstopped his team right to fourth place in the league. Patrik Laine (1G, 2A) and Joel Armia (1G, 3A) carried point streaks through the week (resisting “Maverick” and “Goose” reference), but perhaps more impressive was the balance of scoring throughout the team, as only three players that played in all three contests were held scoreless over the week.

The Jets are in the discussion for Canada’s best team. I’m not actually sure why that’s significant, but I’ll (barrel) roll with it. Hard to say whether or not the success will continue, I mean, at some point they have to use Steve Mason in net again, but Winnipeg has the afterburners lit (please help) for now.

Fans are just hoping that things don’t end up going inverted.

Game of the Week: Buffalo Sabres 4 @ Pittsburgh Penguins 5 (OT), Tuesday November 14th, 2017

In a game that saw nine goals, 77 shots, 63 hits, eight power plays (with three resulting goals), and the winning team never officially having the lead for an actual amount of time, the Sabres gave the defending Cup champs all they could handle.

Only 3:45 into the first period it would be Evander Kane converting on a 2-on-1 with Jack Eichel that would set the tone of Pittsburgh chasing the game. Sam Reinhart would add to the Penguins’ deficit later in the period when, while on the power play, he would jump on a rebound created by Marco Scandella‘s shot hitting the end boards at approximately 17,000 mph. But with just 19 seconds remaining in the first Patric Hornqvist would capitalize on a weird bounce of his own, collecting a misplayed puck from Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner and firing it off the Ryan O’Reilly‘s leg and into the net to halve the Buffalo lead.

But just 16 seconds into the second Sidney Crosby would make a drop pass to no one behind his own net, allowing Jack Eichel to pick up the puck and deposit it into the Pittsburgh net before Matthew Murray had any inkling of impending doom. Conor Sheary would draw the Pens back to within one just over four minutes later, before Crosby would atone for his earlier sin to even the score with a PPG at the 17:15 mark of the middle frame. In the dying minutes of the second, however, Ryan Reaves would take an elbowing penalty, and Benoit Pouliot would capitalize on the power play with just seven seconds remaining in the period to regain the Buffalo lead.

Lehner and the Sabres spent most of the third period trying to hold onto their lead, getting outshot 13-6 in the final frame, but with just over six minutes to play Evgeni Malkin would send the most picture-perfect saucer pass you could ever hope to witness across the ice to Phil Kessel who would make no mistakes and draw the game even. Conor Sheary would then win the game just 16 seconds into overtime, after Crosby dominated board play behind the Buffalo goal and sent a feed directly to his tape, sending the Pittsburgh fans into a frenzy and this Jackets fan who remembers last year’s first round series-clinching goal far too clearly into the fetal position.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Radko Gudas got a 10-game suspension for being Radko Gudas, Luke Witkowski got a 10-game suspension for being Luke Witkowski, and Matthew Tkachuk got a two-game suspension for being Matthew Tkachuk.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will feature the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. This, partnered with the Flyers hosting the Penguins in the first announced Stadium Series game, goes to further prove that Gary Bettman acknowledges the existence of approximately 7-8 of the 31 teams in the league.

Speaking of underperforming teams that Gary Bettman loves, holy smokes are the Canadiens a dumpster fire. Complete disarray from the product on the ice all the way up to upper management, it’s almost like having possibly the worst defense corps in the league suddenly becomes extremely worrisome when you can no longer rely on the best goalie in the world to win every game for you because his limbs are falling off.

Some guy that apparently makes rap music (to steal a line from Dave Mustaine: “Two words combined that can’t make sense”) did a hockey-themed thing on SNL. I didn’t know who he was so I didn’t care.

Editor’s note: Poor Chance the Rapper.

Jason Zucker still hasn’t stopped scoring goals, but rest assured now that I’ve realized that he had been on the bench of my fantasy team throughout this entire hot streak, he’s 110% guaranteed to go colder than Red Deer in January.

Edmonton and LA made waves by trading Jussi Jokinen and Mike Cammalleri straight up for one another, in an absolute blockbuster of a deal circa 2009.

The Blue Jackets signed winger Cam Atkinson to a seven-year deal, mere hours after Aaron Portzline reported the two sides were apparently nowhere even remotely close to a deal. (This is newsworthy/funny to me, Cap’n, and pretty much no one else)

The Golden Knights used their 5th goalie of the season on Tuesday night, as Maxime Lagace seemed to be dealing with an injury during a blowout loss to the Oilers. WHL emergency call-up Dylan Ferguson played the final 9:14 of the 3rd period, allowing one goal, but living a dream in the process. Ferguson was all of us, citing that he was starstruck when Connor McDavid went out of his way to give the 19 year old netminder a tap on the pads and a “Good job, kid” at the end of the game. Lagace has played since, and Malcolm Subban is back off of IR, so it’s likely…okay, fairly likely…that Ferguson has seen the last of his NHL experience, at least for the time being.

October 4 – Opening Day – Let’s get this show on the road

You know when you go to a Mexican restaurant and they bring you chips and salsa? That’s great, but what you’re really looking forward to is what you ordered: those sizzling fajitas or a burrito stuffed to the max.

That’s exactly what the first day of the regular season is like. Preseason was fun, but now it’s time to feast.

As has been NHL custom since the 2014-’15 season, the league will open play with four contests this evening. The festivities officially begins at 7 p.m. when Toronto visits Winnipeg (SN and TVAS) in a matchup of the top two picks from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, followed an hour later by St. Louis at Pittsburgh (NBCSN) for the Penguins’ banner raising ceremony. Round two finds its start at 10 p.m. with Calgary at Edmonton (SN and TVAS), trailed half an hour later by Philadelphia at San Jose (NBCSN). All times eastern.

In Season One of the “Game of the Day” series, we featured only one game. Last year, that number exploded to include all four opening day contests.

This season, let’s rein things in a bit and focus on one game per nation. Canada, you’re up first!

 

Given the Battle of Alberta happening later tonight, picking Canada’s featured game was a tough decision. There is no shame in wanting to watch a hard-fought rivalry C Connor McDavid and the Oilers dominate their first game of the season.

Unfortunately, that pales in comparison to the opportunity to take in the first of only two meetings of the season between RW Patrik Laine and C Auston Matthews.

There’s no doubt these offenses are capable of scoring. The Leafs registered 251 goals last season to rank fifth-best in the league, and Winnipeg trailed them by only two tallies to tie Columbus for sixth-most markers.

Of course, a lot of that offense came from each club’s respective first-round pick last year. Reigning Calder-winner Matthews buried all four goals in his NHL debut against the Senators en route to a 40-29-69 season. Not to be outdone too much, Laine – who finished in second in Calder voting last year – got his 36-28-64 rookie campaign kick-started with a power play goal and an assist on C Mathieu Perreault‘s game-tying goal in his first NHL game.

For those keeping score, Laine was the only one to win his first game in the big leagues. Then again, Matthews beat Laine to the playoffs… Suffice to say, these guys are good at their jobs.

With all that in mind, I’m most focused on Winnipeg’s net this evening for G Steve Mason‘s debut. While I am of the opinion that Mason is a minor improvement over last year’s starter G Connor Hellebuyck (seriously, emphasis on “minor” – to the point of being negligible), tonight may not be the best to prove that claim. In his only game against the Leafs last year, Mason – then a member of the Flyers – allowed six goals, including four in the third period. Of particular note was D Martin Marincin‘s tally to tie the game at three-all, his lone goal of the season and only the third of his career.

Yeah, that probably left a bad taste in Mason’s mouth when he heard that.

While making improvements in net is probably a good idea in the next couple years for General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff (all three current goalie contracts will be off the books by the 2019 offseason), he would also be wise to work on his defense that allowed an 11th-worst 31 shots against-per-game last year.

Then again, maybe all the Jets needed was a year of experience and an offseason of training. We’ll know if that’s the case based on the performance of another player entering his second season: D Josh Morrissey. At the ripe age of 21, he registered a +6 rating and a team-leading 139 blocks last season. If he can continue to grow into the shutdown blueliner he hinted at last year – and, if we get really greedy, improve on his 20 points (there’s few better to learn from than D Dustin Byfuglien) – maybe Winnipeg isn’t as far off the mark as we think.

Until then, Mason will have to be on top of his game to keep the Jets alive in this game – and ultimately the season.

 

As if the action in Manitoba wasn’t fun enough, there’s also the Penguins’ banner raising ceremony to take in. For Pittsburgh supporters, this is a joyous night; for most other hockey fans, it’ll be a night they’re glad to put behind them.

And even after the festivities are complete, fans are going to be treated to quite a hockey game featuring two of the most consistent teams of the past dozen years. The Penguins have qualified for the postseason for the last 11 years – three of which ended with them hoisting the Stanley Cup – for the longest active streak in the league, trailed by the Blues’ fourth-best six-straight playoff appearances.

If there’s one Blue Note ready to play this game, I’d peg newcomer F Brayden Schenn. He’s making his first club-debut since 2011-’12, and the team he was traded from has nurtured a special hatred in him for the black-and-gold.

The former Flyer has been brought into the St. Louis fold to generate more points for an offense that featured only three 50+ point scorers a season ago (RW Vladimir Tarasenko, F Jaden Schwartz and F Alex Steen). Schenn is a talented former first-rounder capable of playing either center or left wing that is coming off a 25-30-55 season, and it looks like he’ll center the second line for Schwartz and W Dmitrij Jaskin to start the season.

Beyond the usual culprits of C Sidney Crosby, RW Phil Kessel and C Evgeni Malkin, one Penguin to keep an eye on this evening is RW Ryan Reaves.  No, he probably won’t score a goal tonight – or maybe even a point at all – but I’m more interested in seeing if he has it in him to bring the muscle against former teammates of seven seasons. And if he does, who does he hit? Who hits back?

Seeing LW Cody McLeod‘s response to playing the Avalanche last season after being traded to Nashville, I have my suspicions on the topic: let’s just say I expect St. Louis’ new enforcer, RW Chris Thorburn, to be dressed this evening.


At least eight points are to be had this evening for these eight teams in action, and I expect Toronto, Pittsburgh, Edmonton and San Jose to be at the top of their respective divisions after all the action is complete.

Winnipeg Jets 2017-’18 Season Preview

Winnipeg Jets

40-35-7, 87 points, 5th in the Central Division

Additions: C Matt Hendricks, D Dmitry Kulikov, G Steve Mason, C Michael Sgarbossa,

Subtractions: C Quinton Howden, G Ondrej Pavelec, RW Anthony Peluso, D Paul Postma, D Brian Strait

Offseason Analysis: Wait…Kevin Cheveldayoff did something in free agency?

I hadn’t planned on actually having to cover any transactions in this article…

For those who may be unaware, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is perhaps best-known for his complete disregard for those of us who cover offseason (and trade deadline, for that matter) roster moves and the like. So when he came out firing on July 1st picking up notable free agents like Kulikov and Mason, it came as quite a surprise.

The Jets have have generally always been one of those bubble teams that are hard to predict, but are usually a fun group to watch. Ironically, those two qualities are basically tied together around one central theme: They often struggle to keep pucks out of their own net. Winnipeg has no shortage of offensive punch, but it’s hard to win games 5-4 every night.

With all that in mind, and having done a very solid job of building within the organization for the past few years, Cheveldayoff apparently decided the time was finally right to bring in some outside help to try and push his team over the proverbial hump. We’ll start in net, where former Calder winner Steve Mason was brought in on a 2-year, $4.1M (I scoffed, but the Jets had the cap space) deal to supplement young stud Connor Hellebuyck. Obviously Mason hasn’t turned out to be the world-beater he appeared to be during his unbelievable rookie campaign with Columbus all those years ago, but with his 26-21-8 record, 2.66 GAA and .908 SV% last year with Philadelphia all nearly mirroring his career averages, he’s proven himself to be a more-than-useful backstop, particularly when used in a ‘1a-1b’ goaltending duo role, which could very well be what we see utilized in Winnipeg. Should he or Hellebuyck falter, the Jets have the luxury of having proven backup Michael Hutchinson and 2013 2nd round pick Eric Comrie waiting in the wings with AHL-affiliate Manitoba.

Moving away from the blue paint, the Jets also bolstered an already solid, if not always consistent blueline with the addition of 6’1″ 204lb Russian defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. The jury is still deliberating on Kulikov’s true value (even after over 500 games of NHL experience), but he has certainly shown flashes of high-quality play over the years. His offensive production hasn’t often been what he was once thought capable of, but with all of the talent on Winnipeg’s blueline, that’s not a high priority for him to fill, anyhow. A physical force capable of some absolute filling-loosening hits, the Jets simply need Kulikov to limit his mistakes and help stabilize their D corps. At just 26 years of age, he’s still more than capable of learning and adapting his game, but brings with him the benefit of being an NHL regular since his draft year, giving him experience beyond his years. Slot Kulikov next to big Dustin Byfuglien dishing out plenty of physicality with a steady amount of added offense on Winnipeg’s 2nd pairing, with 2012 and 2013 1st round picks Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey munching up the minutes on the top pairing and smooth-skating vets Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers (picturing 5’10” Enstrom and 6’8″ Myers standing next to each other on the blueline makes my heart happy) rounding out the rotation. Throw in the versatile Ben Chiarot as the 7th man, and Winnipeg’s blueline looks more than capable of stepping up their performance from seasons past.

Up front, the Jets went into this offseason with little to worry about, but adding the versatility of guys like Matt Hendricks and Michael Sgarbossa on low-risk deals obviously didn’t hurt them. Hendricks can replace some of Anthony Peluso’s grit while also being a much more serviceable player, while Sgarbossa, though likely to spend much of the season in Manitoba, can bring a bit of extra offensive prowess into the lineup as opposed to Quinton Howden, whom he essentially replaced.

The rest of the forward group carries over, and there’s not a slouch among them. Of the 12 forwards I have on Winnipeg’s projected opening night roster, only one has reached the age of 30 as of this writing, and that’s 31 year old captain Blake Wheeler, who is coming off of a 26 goal, 74 point season. Eight of those forwards are former 1st round picks; five of whom were Winnipeg’s own choices. There’s also in-house 2nd round pick Nic Petan (who I have as the 13th forward) accompanying 3rd round pick Adam Lowry and 4th rounder Andrew Copp. Strong camps from youngsters like 2015 Jets 1st rounder Jack Roslovic or Sabres 2014 2nd round pick Brendan Lemieux could easily get them out of Manitoba for the start of the year, as well.

Remember what I said about Cheveldayoff building from within?

Offseason Grade: B

The Jets weren’t that far off from contending, even in the hyper-competitive Central. Cheveldayoff has done an excellent job of building his team the way he wants it, with his own core group of young talent. He knew he didn’t need to throw that big of a wrench at it, and he didn’t. With a few small tweaks, on generally reasonable deals, the Jets look to have covered the few leaks they had. If this young team can continue to gel, and play with the consistency they’ve lacked in key moments over the past few years, they have the tools to put a serious hurting on some unsuspecting opponents.

Oh, and say a prayer for all of the crossbars Laine will be punishing in the coming months.

January 22 – Day 99 – We’re seeing orange

It’s our last Sunday of action before the All-Star break, and six different games will be played before the day is through. The action starts at 12:30 p.m. with the New York Rangers at Detroit (NBC), followed by Boston at Pittsburgh at 3 p.m. (NHLN/SN) and Columbus at Ottawa (RDS2) at 5 p.m. Philadelphia at the New York Islanders drops the puck at 6 p.m., followed 90 minutes later by Vancouver at Chicago (NHLN/SN). Finally, Nashville at Minnesota drops the puck at 8 p.m. as the last game of the day. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New York at Detroit: Everybody loves an Original Six rivalry, right?
  • Boston at Pittsburgh: NFL fans can treat this as a preview for the SteelersPatriots AFC Championship game.
  • Philadelphia at New York: Doug Weight hasn’t lost a game since taking over as coach.
  • Vancouver at Chicago: Back when the Canucks were one of the big players in the Western Conference, their series against the Blackhawks was must watch TV.

The Eastern Conference is so tight that the Islanders, currently sitting in last place, could pull within three points of the second wild card with a victory tonight. Let’s head back to Brooklyn to see if the Isles are truly pulling something together.

Philadelphia Flyers LogoNew York Islanders Logo

 

 

 

 

It’s been two-and-a-half weeks since the 22-19-6 Flyers have been featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series. They’ve had a tough go of it during that span, including their current three-game losing skid. Due to those mistakes, Philadelphia currently finds themselves in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and ninth in the conference, a point behind Toronto for the second wild card. The main reason? Goaltending. It’s allowed 148 goals in 47 games, which ties for the third-worst rate in the league.

As has been the case since the 2013-14 season after he was traded to Philadelphia, 14-15-6 Steve Mason has been the goalie of choice on Broad Street. Unfortunately, his .897 save percentage and 2.95 GAA are (t)41st and (t)37th in the league against 46 other goalies with at least 17 appearances.

Mason has to take full responsibility too, as his defense is doing all they can. Led by rookie Ivan Provorov‘s 92 shot blocks, the Flyers‘ blueline has allowed only 28.9 shots-per-game to reach Mason’s crease, the eighth-fewest in the league.

As expected, that issue continues to rear its ugly head on the penalty kill, where the Flyers‘ 80% kill rate ties for 10th-worst in the NHL. Philly has been shorthanded 145 times – the 14th-fewest in the league – but Mason’s .853 save percentage against the power play is 34th-worst.

The Flyers cover up for that deficiency by excelling on their own power plays. Successful on 21.8% of attempts, they rank ninth-best in the league. Captain Claude Giroux has been an important facet of that effort with his 21 power play points, but Brayden Schenn has been the most has been the most powerful goalscorer, with 11 man-advantage tallies.

As stated before, 19-17-8 New York is certainly down, but in no way out of the playoff discussion. Much of the issue this season for the Islanders has been their offense, which has managed 126 goals so far this season – the 15th-fewest in the league.

Captain John Tavares has been at the head of that effort with his 36 points. Impressively, most of those points have been goals, and those 19 tallies are also tops in Brooklyn.

The real offensive issue has been the Isles‘ inability to capitalize on prime opportunities. Converting only 14.6% of power plays into goals, New York is fifth-worst in the league with the man-advantage. Nick Leddy and Tavares have done all they can to help the cause with their co-leading 10 power play points, and Anders Lee joins the captain with five extra-man goals.

The penalty kill has also been a big issue for New York. Just like Philadelphia, the Islanders have stopped only 80% of opposing power plays to tie for the 10th-worst effort in the NHL. Calvin de Haan can’t take the blame for the team’s failures, as his 22 shorthanded shot blocks not only lead the team, but also tie for 15th-most in the league.

These squads have only met up one time previously this season, with the Flyers winning 3-2 in a shootout in early November on the same surface they’ll be playing on tonight. New York‘s goaltender that night was Jaroslav Halak, the veteran with 11 seasons of experience that currently finds himself playing in the AHL after clearing waivers.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Thomas Greiss (.927 save percentage [sixth-best in the league]) and Philadelphia‘s Jakub Voracek (41 points on 150 shots [both lead the team]).

Vegas has picked New York to win tonight’s game with a -125 line. Personally, I like Philadelphia, based solely on their offensive and power play efficiency. Tonight could be the night they get out of their funk and return to winning ways.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bill Durnan (1916-1972) – This Canadiens-lifer may have only been in net for seven seasons, but they were some incredible campaigns. Not only did he win two Stanley Cups, he was also a three-time All Star and six-time Vezina winner, all adding up to a 1964 Hall of Fame induction.
  • Elmer Lach (1918-2015) – Another player that spent his entire career in Montréal, this center played in just as many All Star games as he won Stanley Cups: three. The Hall of Famer was also the 1945 Hart and 1948 Ross winner over the course of his 14-season career.
  • J.C. Tremblay (1939-1994) – This blueliner hoisted the Stanley Cup five times during his 13 seasons in the NHL, all with – you guessed it – Montréal. He also played in seven All Star games between his NHL and WHA careers.
  • Serge Savard (1946-) – It seems if you want to play for the Canadiens, you should be born today, as this blueliner spent all but two of his 17 seasons in Montréal. As far as he’s concerned, seven Stanley Cups, four All Star selections, the 1969 Smythe and 1979 Masterton all adds up to a Hall of Fame induction.
  • Mike Bossy (1957-) – Yet another decorated player, this right wing was drafted 15th-overall by the Islanders in the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft, where he played all 10 years of his career. He was a member of those infamous New York squads that won the Stanley Cup four-straight times, and also took home his share of personal accolades, including seven All Star selections, three Byng trophies, the 1978 Calder and the 1982 Smythe. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
  • David Vyborny (1975-) – Drafted 33rd-overall by Columbus in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played all his seven NHL seasons with the Jackets. By the time he left for the Czech Extraliga, he’d notched 317 points.
  • Ben Eager (1984-) – Although picked 23rd-overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Phoenix, this left wing never suited up for the Coyotes. Instead, he spent most of his nine-year career in Chicago, where he was a member of the 2010 Stanley Cup team.

It took a shootout, but the Senators won last night’s edition of the Battle of Ontario 3-2 in the DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one tally was struck in the first period, and it belonged to the victorious visitors. Bobby Ryan (Marc Methot and Chris Neil) is the guilty party with his slap shot with 5:58 remaining in the frame.

Similarly, there was only one goal in the second period, but this one counted for the Leafs. Tyler Bozak (James van Riemsdyk and Second Star of the Game Nazem Kadri) takes credit with his power play snapper at the 7:31 mark of the frame.

Seven minutes into the third period, Matt Martin (Jake Gardiner and Kadri) scored to give the Maple Leafs a 2-1 lead, a lead they almost turned into a victory. Instead, Third Star Mike Hoffman (Erik Karlsson and Dion Phaneuf) buried his power play slap shot with 1:11 remaining in regulation to force three-on-three overtime.

Since neither club could find a winner in those five minutes, we were treated to a shootout. As the home team, Toronto elected to go first.

  1. If anything is alluding rookie Auston Matthews, it’s the shootout. His shot was saved by Mike Condon, lowering his shootout shot percentage to 16.7%.
  2. Ryan pounced on that opportunity for the Senators, burying his shot for a 1-0 lead.
  3. Mitch Marner answered the call for Toronto to level 1-1.
  4. Kyle Turris was next up for the Sens, but his shot was saved by Frederik Andersen.
  5. Next up for the Leafs was van Riemsdyk, but it seemed as if it simply wasn’t his night in the shootout as he blatantly missed the net.
  6. With an opportunity to clinch the bonus point, Karlsson attack Andersen’s net, but the goalie was up to the pressure and made the save.
  7. Bozak ended up being the final Leaf to take his turn, but his shot met the same fate as Matthews’: saved by Condon.
  8. First Star Tom Pyatt provided the winner. Making it more impressive, it was the first shootout goal of his NHL career in three attempts.

Condon earns the victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (93.9%), leaving the shootout loss to Andersen, saving 25-of-27 (92.6%).

Ottawa‘s victory is the second-straight in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which now stands in favor of the hosts by only four points with a 52-34-15 record.

November 25 – Day 44 – Broadway vs Broad Street

Get out of your turkey coma or home from your Black Friday shopping, because we have tons of hockey to keep an eye on today! The action gets started early at 1 p.m. with the New York Rangers at Philadelphia (NBC), followed three hours later by a trio of contests (Chicago at Anaheim [NHLN/SN], the New York Islanders at San Jose and Pittsburgh at Minnesota). 5 p.m. marks the puck drop of Buffalo at Washington, trailed an hour later by Winnipeg at Nashville (TVAS). 7:30 is the starting time for three matchups (Calgary at Boston, Columbus at Tampa Bay and Detroit at New Jersey), followed an hour later by Vancouver at Dallas. Finally, tonight’s nightcap, Edmonton at Arizona, drops the puck at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

There’s only one rivalry today, so lets head to Philly!

New York Rangers LogoPhiladelphia Flyers Logo

 

All NBC has done for the last week plus is promote this game, so it’d better be good. I think it will be, as these are the top-two offenses in the NHL, combining for 149 total scores.

The 14-6-1 Rangers are the best team in the Atlantic Division. As hinted at before, the offense has led the way with 82 goals to their credit, tops in the league.

Who better to headline the red, white and blue than two Americans? Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller pair to co-lead the forwards, both with 18 points to their credit. Most of those points have been assists, so Michael Grabner has picked up the slack by scoring the puck a dozen times, best in the Big Apple.

Whether that success as sparked the power play or vice versa, the Rangers are seventh-best playing against a short-handed team. They’re successful on 22.2% of their attempts and were led by Mika Zibanejad and his five power play points before the center broke his leg Sunday. That leaves Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Brandon Pirri and Derek Stepan to lead the charge with four power play points apiece, with Nash and Pirri scoring three man-advantage goals apiece.

Winning ways lends itself to more winning ways. New York‘s penalty kill is also pretty envious, successfully defending 86.2% of their infractions to rank sixth-best in the NHL.

Hosting them this afternoon are the 9-9-3 Philadelphia Flyers. Even though the offense has been good, Philly has been held back by their lackluster goaltending that has allowed 70 goals already this year, the second-most in the league.

The Flyers‘ netminder is 5-7-0 Steve Mason, who has a .893 save percentage and 3.04 GAA to his credit – the fifth and 13th-worst, respectively, marks among the 44 goaltenders with seven or more appearances to their credit.

Unfortunately for Mason, he must take credit for his numbers, because the defense playing in front of him has been fairly good. Led by Radko Gudas‘ 44 blocks, Philly‘s blueline has allowed only 27.7 shots against per game, the sixth-fewest in the league.

Making matters worse, Michal Neuvirth injured his groin severely enough on November 11 to send him to the injured reserve list. Backup Anthony Stolarz has yet to see NHL ice in his young career, but does have a 36-33-11 record over his three AHL seasons. While I don’t expect him to see time today, he will need to be called on soon to give Mason rest.

As would be expected, Philadelphia‘s penalty kill has suffered the same fate as at even-strength. Successful on only 80.3% of their kill attempts, Philly ranks eighth-worst in the NHL when down a man.

Instead, they’ve put all their special teams efforts into the power play. Led by Claude Giroux‘ 10 power play points, the Flyers score on 25.7% of their man-advantages to rank second-best in the league. Don’t let Giroux’ efforts distract you from Wayne Simmonds though, as he’s scored five of the Flyers‘ 19 power play goals.

The rivalry between these clubs is almost as long as the Flyers‘ existence. Philadelphia is, of course, the first expansion team to hoist the Stanley Cup, but history was actually made the series before they earned the hardware. A “Second Six” club had never beat an Original Six franchise until Philly bested the Blueshirts in the semifinals of the 1974 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Whether that makes Boston‘s defeat in the Finals more or less painful is still up for discussion.

All-time, this series is knotted at 151-151-37, but Philadelphia has the playoff series advantage, winning six of 11 postseason meetings. That being said, the Rangers won the most recent playoff meeting in the 2014 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals with a 2-1 Game 7 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this afternoon include New York‘s Dan Girardi (+12 [tied for fourth-best in the league]), Grabner (+19 [best in the NHL] on 12 goals [tied for second-most in the league]), Hayes (+15 [third-best in the NHL]), Captain Ryan McDonagh (+12 [tied for fourth-best in the league]) and, on the off-chance he plays, Antti Raanta (.934 save percentage [tied for ninth-best in the NHL]) & Philadelphia‘s Simmonds (10 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]).

Even though they’re on the road, Vegas favors the Rangers in today’s contest. I’m comfortable with that pick. Since both teams have potent offenses, it boils down to a goalie dual: Henrik Lundqvist vs Mason. I’ll take the Swede any day.

Hockey Birthday

  •  Eddie Shore (1902-1985-) – A defenseman that spent all but 10 of his 550 NHL games with Boston, he hoisted the Stanley Cup twice. Visitors to the TD Garden can see his No. 2 hung in the rafters.
  • Gilbert Delorme (1962-) – The 18th-overall selection in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal, this defenseman played 541 games over his nine-year career with five different clubs.
  • Magnus Arvedson (1971-) – This left wing played seven NHL seasons, most of which with Ottawa. He had a phenomenal sophomore season, notching 47 points.
  • John-Michael Liles (1980-) – Another defenseman, he was traded to Boston at last season’s deadline from Carolina. That being said, most of his NHL days have been spent in Colorado.

Ottawa has been featured three times in the DtFR Game of the Day series, and with a 3-1 victory over the visiting Bruins, they improve their series record to 3-0-0.

With 11 seconds remaining in the first period, David Pastrnak (Matt Beleskey and Brad Marchand) capitalized on a power play opportunity with a backhander to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.

The Senators pulled even with 6:37 remaining in the second period with a First Star of the Game Mark Stone (Mike Hoffman and Dion Phaneuf) wrister. It was the lone goal of the middle frame, setting up an exciting third period.

Only 6:28 after returning to the ice, Ottawa notched their winning goal with a Chris Wideman wrister, and an insurance goal 3:48 later from Second Star Kyle Turris (Bobby Ryan) sealed the Sens‘ victory.

Third Star Craig Anderson notches another victory after saving 19-of-20 shots faced (95%), leaving Tuukka Rask with the loss, saving 23-of-26 (88.5%).

Ottawa‘s home victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 25-14-7, favoring the hosts by nine points over the roadies.

November 11 – Day 30 – Flyers bring the air to Air Canada Centre

For the first time in a while, we have a busy Friday schedule – something I think we can all enjoy. Per usual, the action gets started at 7 p.m. (New Jersey at Buffalo and Philadelphia at Toronto [TVAS]) with Los Angeles at Ottawa (RDS) trailing half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Washington at Chicago and tonight’s co-nightcaps, Winnipeg at Colorado and Dallas at Edmonton, get underway at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Lauri Korpikoski might be making his first return to Edmonton, the city he represented a season ago, but I’m more interested in the FlyersLeafs game.

Philadelphia Flyers LogoUnknown

 

6-6-2 Philly enters the contest on a two-game win-less skid, most recently falling 3-2 in a shootout to Detroit. The Flyers are a strong offensive team, but almost out of necessity as they’ve given up the second-most tallies in the league.

The fault lies nowhere along the blue line. The Flyers‘ defense allows only 27.5 shots to make it to the cage per game, led by Radko Gudas‘ 22-block efforts.

No, the goals against rest solely on the goaltending. Be it Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth (they’ve both started seven games apiece) in net, they’ve combined for a measly .875 save percentage and 3.39 GAA.

As expected, the goaltending struggles have extended into the penalty kill. Only 79.1% of opposing extra-man opportunities have been nullified by the Flyers, which ranks ninth-worst.

To put things bluntly, it is these two players holding this squad back. Many fans thought Neuvirth, who turned 28 in March, could continue to improve and potentially take over the starting job, but it appears last season was simply a break from his usual performance. It will be interesting to see if they try to work the trade market to bolster the back-end of a strong skating team.

The best way to accent how good Philadelphia has been on offense is their power play. They’ve been successful on 28.3% of attempts, the second-best rate in the league. Claude Giroux has led the way on the extra-man opportunities, notching nine points with six assists. Completing the plays has been Wayne Simmonds, who has buried four power play goals.

Hosting them this evening are the 5-5-3 Toronto Maple Leafs. They’re another team that has struggled to keep the opposition from burying the puck at will.

Frederik Andersen has a 5-3-3 record, which is almost impressive given the fact that he has a season .897 save percentage and 3.41 GAA. What gives him a little bit of a pass in comparison to Mason and Neuvirth is that Toronto does not have anywhere near the defense playing in front of him.

The defense allows 33.3 shots against per game, and only Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev and more than 20 blocks, with 28 and 22 respectively. Based on what Andersen was able to achieve last season in Anaheim with a good defense, Toronto would be wise to make a concerted effort to build up their blue line as they try to climb the table in the future.

Surprisingly, the Maple Leafs are capable of shoring up the defense when they want to, but apparently for only two minutes at a time. Their penalty kill ranks ninth-best in the NHL, an impressive stat given their play at even-strength.

One facet of the Maple Leafs offense that has worked particularly well has been their power play. Led by William Nylander‘s seven power play points on three goals, Toronto has been successful on 22.9% of their extra-man opportunities to rank seventh-best.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Philadelphia‘s Giroux (11 assists [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) and Jakub Voracek (15 points [tied for eighth-most in the league]) & Toronto‘s Nylander (eight assists, half of which were on the power play, and three power play goals for 12 points [all lead the team]).

Vegas has picked the Leafs to win with a -103 line, but I think Philly walks away with the victory in this one. Since neither team can keep the puck out of their own net, the Flyers offense should be able to best Nylander and Auston Matthews‘ efforts.

Hockey Birthday

  • Harry Lumley (1926-1998) – Apple Cheeks (seriously, that was his nickname!) played 803 games over his 16 seasons. Most of his time was spent in Detroit‘s net, where he earned a 163-105-56 record and won the 1950 Stanley Cup.

Just as I expected, Dallas took advantage of a Calgary team that has struggled to keep points off the board to earn a 4-2 victory in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

Korpikoski (Radek Faksa) struck the first goal for the Stars on a snap shot with 7:29 remaining in the first period. That lead doubled 3:04 later when First Star of the Game Jamie Benn (John Klingberg and Faksa) buried a backhand. It was the final goal of the first period, so Dallas took a two-goal shutout lead into the dressing room for first intermission.

Calgary returned with a vengeance in the second frame, scoring both their goals within 3:31 of returning to the ice. Second Star Johnny Gaudreau (Third Star Brett Kulak and Sean Monahan) takes credit for both goals, the first struck 1:33 into the period. 1:58 later, he (Kulak and Michael Frolik) tied the game at two-all with a tip-in goal, the final tally of the second period.

Benn’s (Tyler Seguin and Antoine Roussel) power play wrister 7:20 into the final period proved to be the game-winning goal. Dallas‘ lone insurance goal was an empty-netter courtesy of Roussel (Justin Dowling) with 54 seconds remaining in regulation.

Kari Lehtonen earns the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (93.5%), leaving the loss to Brian Elliott, who saved 18-of-21 (85.7%).

Dallas‘ victory is only the second by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series in the last six days. It pulls the roadies within seven points of the home squads, but the homers still have a 18-11-3 record.

October 24 – Day 13 – Something something Canadian aviation

There’s only two games on the schedule this evening. The first involves Philadelphia visiting Montréal at 7:30 p.m. (RDS), with Calgary at Chicago dropping the puck an hour later (NHLN/SN/TVAS). All times eastern.

Seeing as Philly has much higher expectations for this season than the Flames, we’ll head up to the Bell Centre to catch them take on the Habs.

Philadelphia Flyers LogoUnknown-1

 

This game was supposed to be made a little bit more fun by the return of Dale Weise, but he is serving one-third of his suspension for his illegal check to Korbinian Holzer‘s head this evening. We’ll just hold that story until November 5.

…Or will we?

The season hasn’t treated the 2-2-1 Flyers very nicely so far. Before beating the Hurricanes 6-3 on Saturday, the Flyers were riding a 0-2-1 skid, being outscored 14-9 in that stretch.

As indicated by that statistic, defense and goaltending have been the issue on Broad St. – something Flyers fans have become all too familiar with. Steve Mason has taken the decision in four of Philly‘s five games for a 1-2-1 record. He has a .882 save percentage for a 3.35 GAA, both numbers well below the league average. Although he’s seen limited time, Michal Neuvirth has statistically been worse, posting a .854 save percentage for a 4.24 GAA in 85 minutes played.

Offensively, the Flyers are led by Jakub Voracek, who has scored two goals and notched five assists for seven points. Matt Read leads the club in goals, with five to his credit.

Montréal has yet to not earn a point having gone 4-0-1 so far this season, including their current three-game win streak. Most recently, the Canadiens went into the TD Garden to beat the Bruins 4-2 on Saturday. That success has propelled this squad that many wanted dissected a season ago to the top of the Eastern Conference early on.

Defense has been the name of the game for the Canadiens so far this year. Overall the Habs have a +11 goal-differential, but their eight goals-allowed is seven below the league average. Al Montoya started the first three games, saving .962 percent of the shots he faced for a 1.3 GAA. Carey Price has since returned to post a perfect 2-0-0 record, saving .92 percent for a 2.02 GAA.

Offensively, Montréal has turned to Alex Galchenyuk (1G/4A), Brendan Gallagher (3G/2A), Max Pacioretty (1G/4A) and Shea Weber (1G/4A), all of whom have five points. Gallagher and Torrey Mitchell have both scored three goals to lead the squad in that department.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Montréal‘s Nathan Beaulieu (+7 [tied for fifth-best in the NHL]), Montoya (1.3 GAA on a .962 save percentage [both second-best in the NHL] for two wins [tied for eighth-most in the league], including one shutout [one-of-five this season]) or Price (2.01 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL]) and Weber (+8 [tied for third-best in the league]) & Philadelphia‘s Claude Giroux (six assists [tied for the NHL-lead]), Read (five goals [tied for second-most in the league]), Wayne Simmonds (four goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Voracek (five assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]).

Montréal has a -160 advantage over the Flyers this evening. Given Philly‘s goaltending situation and the fact that this game is in the Bell Centre, that might be a conservative mark. Expect the Habs to earn two points this evening.

Hockey Birthday:

  • Jamal Mayers (1974-) – Over 65% of Mayers’ 915 career NHL games were played with St. Louis. A right wing by trade, he scored 90 goals en route to a 219 point career and currently acts as an analyst for NHL Network.
  • Jonas Gustavsson (1984-) – This is the eighth NHL season of the goalie’s career and his first with Edmonton. One of his best accolades is the silver medal he won at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi with Team Sweden.

In case you didn’t watch the Heritage Classic yesterday, Edmonton scored three goals in 7:52 to beat the Jets 3-0 at Investors Group Field in our Game of the Day.

The first of those goals, thus the game-winner, was struck 36 seconds before the midway point of the game. Third Star of the Game Mark Letestu fired a unassisted short-handed snap shot past Connor Hellebuyck to open the scoring. 1:46 later, Darnell Nurse (Connor McDavid and Second Star Zack Kassian) doubled that lead with a snapper of his own. With 2:44 remaining in the second period, Kassian (Benoit Pouliot and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) scored the second insurance goal for the Oilers to set the score at the 3-0 final.

First Star Cam Talbot saved all 32 shots he faced en route to the shutout victory. Hellebuyck takes the loss, saving 29-of-32 (90.6%).

Edmonton‘s win is the second-straight for a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the home sides still have a four-point advantage with a 9-5-1 record.

Washington at Philadelphia – Game 3 – Ovi’s two goal night pulls the Caps within a win of the Eastern Semis

Washington Capitals LogoPhiladelphia Flyers Logo

 

 

 

The environment for this game was incredible.  All of Philadelphia seemed to be packed into the Wells Fargo Center, first to honor the late Ed Snider and then to try to propel their team to begin staging a comeback.  While the Flyers were the first team to score this evening, it was the Capitals who won 6-1.

Philly looked like they might try to cause some trouble in this series, as Michael Raffl scored at the 57 second mark, assisted by Brandon Manning and Sam Gagner, to give the Flyers an early lead.  Marcus Johansson and the Capitals leveled 3:46 later on the power play, assisted by First Star of the Game John Carlson and Third Star Nicklas Backstrom.

The Capitals took a lead they would not yield with Second Star Alex Ovechkin’s first goal of the night, a snapper at the 8:50 mark of the second period.  He was assisted by Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.

It was the second period when things really started going south for the trailing home team.  Although they were only down a goal, there was a noticeable difference in Philadelphia‘s approach to the game.  Things peaked at when 8:01 remained in the period, when Ryan White absolutely smashed Brooks Orpik into the boards.  Orpik did not return to his skates by his own power and had to be helped off the ice, and did not return from the dressing room.  I am no doctor, but his eyes did not look clear at all, and given Orpik’s history of concussions, things may not be looking good for a quick return.

Before the night was through, Philadelphia committed a whopping 53 minutes of penalties.  In fact, all four of the third period goals were a result of at least a one-man advantage, but many times the Flyers had a crammed penalty box, leaving Washington with 5-on-3 situations.

1:58 into the third, Evgeny Kuznetsov cashed in on a Brayden Schenn slashing penalty on Tom Wilson at the end of the second period, as his wrister, assisted by Justin Williams and Braden Holtby, set the score at 3-1.  5:39 later, Carlson extended the Caps‘ lead with power play slap shot that found the back of Steve Mason’s net, assisted by Ovechkin and and Williams.  Washington struck again with 5:02 remaining in the game when Ovechkin found the net for the second time of the night with a slap shot from outside the left face-off circle, assisted by Carlson and Oshie.  Jay Beagle closed the scoring line for the Capitals with 1:40 remaining with his second goal of the series, as his wrister assisted by Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov set the score at the 6-1 final.

Holtby earns the win after saving 31 of 32 shots faced (96.9%), while Mason takes the loss, saving 21 of 27 (77.8%).

Washington will attempt to complete the series sweep Wednesday at 7 p.m. eastern.  That contest can be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

March 30 – Day 167 – Another playoff preview

With a 4-1 victory in yesterday’s Game of the Day, Minnesota completed the season sweep of Chicago, revenge for four-straight losses in the Western Semifinals almost a year ago.

Second Star of the Game Jarret Stoll scored the Wild‘s first goal after only 2:37 of play, assisted by Mike Reilly (his sixth helper of the season) and Jordan Schroeder, but Chicago leveled with a power play goal at the 11:55 mark, courtesy of Marian Hossa, who was assisted by Jonathan Toews (his 27th helper of the season) and Michal Rozsival.  The one-all score held not only into the first intermission, but also the second.

Tonight’s game-winner was a First Star Jared Spurgeon backhander at the 4:07 mark of the third, assisted by Mikko Koivu (his 38th helper of the season) and Jason Pominville.  Third Star Erik Haula scored the first of the two insurance goals at the 11:03 mark, assisted by Nino Niederreiter (his 23rd helper of the season) and Matt Dumba.  Niederreiter’s night was not done though, as he scored on an empty net with 1:19 remaining in the game after assists from Mikael Granlund (his 31st helper of the season) and Haula.

Devan Dubnyk earns the win after saving 18 of 19 shots faced (94.7%), while Scott Darling takes the loss, saving only 14 of 17 (82.4%).

The second straight home victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 76-43-18, favoring that side by 36 points over the opposing roadies.

It’s a light Wednesday night in the NHL, as only three games are taking place.  The action starts at 7:30 p.m. eastern when Ottawa visits Winnipeg (TVAS/SN), followed half an hour later by Washington at Philadelphia (NBCSN/SN360).  Finally, at 10 p.m. eastern, this evening’s nightcap, Calgary at Anaheim (SN) gets underway.

Two of the games this evening are between division rivals (Washington at Philadelphia and Calgary at Anaheim), but only Washington at Philadelphia is between playoff qualifiers.  Additionally, the CalgaryAnaheim game is a rematch of one of last season’s Western Conference Semifinals.

While the FlamesDucks game might be fun on an emotional level, the CapitalsFlyers game is important, as these two are headed towards meeting each other in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Washington Capitals LogoPhiladelphia Flyers Logo

Tonight’s game will be Washington‘s 16th in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 10-4-1 record.  Last time they were featured, they lost 4-3 in overtime in Los Angeles on March 9.  Philadelphia has been featured much more recently, as we focused on their 4-2 victory in Colorado last Thursday, which set their series record at 5-2-0.

The 54-16-5 Washington Capitals are living large, already clinching the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference, and regular season championship, aka the President’s Trophy.  As you’d expect, they play probably the best hockey in the league, as they’ve given up the fewest goals and scored the second most.

Led by Karl Alzner’s 186 blocks, Washington has allowed only 2142 shots to reach 46-9-4 Braden Holtby and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.2% for 175 goals against, the fewest in the NHL.  Along with that, they’ve successfully killed 84.81% of their penalties for only 36 power play goals against, the fourth best rate in the league.

Offensively, the Capitals focus on quality over quantity, as even with Alex Ovechkin’s team-leading 364 shots, they’ve only fired the puck 2280 times, but a whopping 10.2% have found the back of the net for 236 goals (led by Ovechkin’s 43 tallies), the second most in the league.  The Caps‘ power play has been even better, as they’re successful on 22.75% of their attempts, good for 53 extra man goals (led by Ovechkin’s 17 power play tallies), the second best rate in the NHL.

Washington last played to a 4-1 win over the Blue Jackets on Monday.  What makes the Capitals worth watching this evening (other than how well they play the game) is how they approach this game.  Although Philadelphia could still advance to the first wildcard spot, this could very well be the Capitals‘ first playoff opponent, so they will be using this game almost as a scouting event for a couple weeks from now.

The 37-25-13 Philadelphia Flyers are currently the fifth best team in the Metropolitan Division and eighth best in the Eastern Conference, qualifying them for the second wildcard spot.  To get there, they’ve played the 14th best defense in the league, paired with the 11th worst offense.

Even with Nick Schultz’ 159 blocks, Philadelphia has allowed 2320 shots to reach 20-17-9 Steve Mason and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.1% for 199 goals against, the 14th fewest in the NHL.  Part of that problem has been a poor penalty kill, which has neutralized only 80.82% of their infractions, allowing 47 power play goals in the process, the 12th worst rate in the league.

Led by Claude Giroux’ 222 shots, the Flyers have fired the puck 2303 times, with 8.4% finding the back of the net for 196 goals (led by Wayne Simmonds’ 26 tallies), the 11th fewest in the league.  Once again, part of that problem is due to poor special teams play, as Philly has connected on only 17.97 power play opportunities for 46 extra man goals (led by Simmonds’ 11 power play tallies), the 13th worst rate in the NHL.

Philadelphia last played Monday to a 3-2 overtime home victory over the Jets.  With a win tonight, the Flyers would pull within two points of the dormant Islanders, but New York will have a game in hand.  Of course, that is only an added benefit of pulling away from Detroit by two points while still having a game in hand over them.

Washington has already won the season series with their 2-0-1 record against Philly.  The last time these squads met was February 7, a 3-2 victory in Washington, but that was of course against a Flyers team under much different circumstances.  Washington will be using this game to get a better understanding of the Flyers, while Philly desperately wants to win to try to get away from the Capitals during the playoffs.

Some players to watch include Philadelphia‘s Giroux (64 points, including 42 assists, with 20 coming on the power play and 222 shots [all lead the team]), Radko Gudas (280 hits [leads the team]), Schultz (159 blocks [leads the team]) and Simmonds (26 goals, including 11 on the power play [both lead the team]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (47 assists [tied for sixth most in the league]), Holtby (46 wins [leads the league], 2.19 GAA [fifth best in the league] and .923 save percentage [tied for sixth best in the league]), Evgeny Kuznetsov (53 assists [fourth most in the league], +28 [fourth best in the league] and 73 points [tied for fifth most in the league]) and Ovechkin (43 goals [leads the league]).

This is a tough game to predict the outcome of.  On the one hand, since Washington has clinched, they have no need to strain themselves for victories and will be content to go the rest of the regular season without any injuries and well rested.  However, they can also play “Playoff Hockey God” if they’d like and try to influence who they’d meet in the first round: Flyers, Islanders or Red Wings.  The answer to that question could influence how they play this game.  On the other end, we have a Philadelphia team not only intent on qualifying for the playoffs, but also getting as far away from Washington as possible during the playoffs, and the best way to do that is to be the first wildcard team, sending them to the Atlantic Division to fight towards the conference finals.  To do that, they need a win tonight over the same competition they want to avoid.  Based on talent alone, Washington should win this.