Tag Archives: Matthew Murray

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals Logo

1. Washington Capitals– 31-17-5 (67 points, 53 GP)

After spending a couple of months figuring themselves out and weathering the storm that’s been Braden Holtby‘s second-to-last career worst season (his 2.76 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 39 games played are better and the same as his 2013-14 2.85 GAA and .915 SV% in 48 games played respectively).

It’s a bit of an off year for Washington, but even an off year for the Capitals is still a pretty good season, considering they’re currently first in a division that is more active than a lava lamp in terms of rising and falling.

Washington has a plus-11 goal differential through 53 games played despite the loss of Marcus Johansson in a trade with the New Jersey Devils this offseason and an injured Andre Burakovsky seeing limited time so far. That doesn’t even mention the loss of depth for the Capitals last July either– remember Justin Williams (signed with Carolina) and Karl Alzner (signed with Montreal)?

Luckily for the Capitals they only have about $412,000 in cap space as I write, so their trade deadline plans are pretty much already determined for them.

If they’re able to dump a guy like Brooks Orpik— and his $5.500 million cap hit that runs through next season– that would provide the organization with some much needed relief.

Potential assets to trade: F Jay Beagle, D Brooks Orpik

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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2. Pittsburgh Penguins– 30-22-3 (63 points, 55 GP)

After bouncing around the Metropolitan Division standings, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are currently four points behind first place in the division.

Much like his rival in Washington, Matthew Murray is having a season to forget. Injuries and the death of his father have taken a toll on the two-time Cup winning goaltender, limiting Murray to just 34 games thus far with a 2.97 GAA and .903 SV% (again, both career worsts– though he is in just his second full season since his 13 GP in 2015-16).

Despite their plus-three goal differential and gifted scorer (turned 2018 All-Star snub), Phil Kessel (24-41–65 totals in 55 games), the Penguins have been porous on defense. Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, is a minus-15 through 52 games played.

Only Justin Schultz (plus-5, 38 GP) and Jamie Oleksiak (plus-6, 20 GP– split between Dallas and Pittsburgh) are positive plus/minus blue liners.

Since November, Pittsburgh has been trying to move defenseman, Ian Cole– though head coach, Mike Sullivan, has been forced to play him (thereby keeping him on the Penguins roster) due to injuries affecting Schultz and friends.

Antti Niemi didn’t pan out and bring stable backup goaltending to the Steel City (he’s since departed via waivers to Florida, then Montreal). Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been left to pick up the tab with some impressive performances at times.

Midseason acquisitions F Riley Sheahan, as well as Oleksiak, have not been enough to fill holes left by Nick Bonino (the forward signed with Nashville in July) and Trevor Daley (left via free agency, landed in Detroit) respectively.

But with roughly $425,000 in cap space to work with currently, the Penguins can’t afford to make much noise on February 26th– but they should definitely snag a defenseman and rental backup goaltender.

Potential assets to trade: D Ian Cole, D Brian Dumoulin, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Carl Hagelin, D Matt Hunwick, F Riley Sheahan

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Jason Garrison (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

New Jersey Devils Logo

3. New Jersey Devils– 27-17-8 (62 points, 52 GP)

New Jersey has almost $8.000 million to work with currently as things approach the trade deadline at the end of the month.

The Devils are one of the biggest surprises this season east of the Mississippi River.

First overall pick in the 2017 draft, Nico Hischier, has been quietly setting the tone with forwards, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha in the resurgence of youth. Travis Zajac is back in his dominant, physical, ways and the Sami VatanenAdam Henrique trade has worked out quite well for both teams.

And that’s not even mentioning Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.

Will Butcher is quite the offensive threat on the blue line and John Moore is firing on all cylinders. Despite Marcus Johansson’s concussion, New Jersey hasn’t faced much adversity in overcoming injuries this year.

There’s a lot of cap room to work with, but not a whole lot that this team can really give up to bring in the best guys on the trade market, like Evander Kane, unless the Devils are comfortable parting ways with prospects and draft picks (spoiler alert, they might be).

New Jersey really should be in the hunt for Kane, Rick Nash, Max Pacioretty, David Perron and other great offensive assets– either as the front-runner or the stealthy dark-horse that’ll make one or two big moves to carry them to glory.

The Devils have the time and space to add a veteran forward or defenseman that might eat some salary, but put them lightyears beyond their Metropolitan counterparts.

It’s a buyers market.

Potential assets to trade: F Ben Coleman, F Jimmy Hayes, D Ben Lovejoy, F Drew Stafford

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

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4. Philadelphia Flyers– 25-19-9 (59 points, 53 GP)

Aside from the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now.

Goaltender, Brian Elliott, has found his top-notch form once again while Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux are rolling along. With almost $3.000 million to spend at the deadline, the Flyers could make some improvements to their team.

Trading away Brayden Schenn was costly for Philadelphia this offseason, but thankfully Jakub Voracek and the rest of the roster decided to pick up some of the points left behind by Schenn’s departure.

Adding Jori Lehtera, on the other hand, was a big mistake– both in production value and in cap management.

The Flyers could really solidify their offense with one or two moves and probably should anchor their defense with at least a depth blue liner or two coming down the stretch. Someone like David Perron, Patrick Maroon or Nic Petan could flourish in the Philly system. Meanwhile, a defenseman like Cody Franson would help put them over the edge if someone’s injured.

Potential assets to trade: D Radko Gudas, F Jori Lehtera, F Matt Read, F Dale Weise

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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5. Columbus Blue Jackets– 27-22-4 (58 points, 53 GP)

After getting a fast start out of the gate the Columbus Blue Jackets have really cooled off. It’s not that they’re a bad team, but rather, they’re just average.

Sergei Bobrovsky can’t stop the puck and play every other position too. Otherwise, the Blue Jackets would probably be first in the division. But good news, Columbus, you’ve got some cap space to work with at the end of the month.

As I write, the Blue Jackets have about $5.000 million to work with in cap room.

That’s good enough to bring in just about any player without considering what the future impact on the team his cap hit might have (unless Jarmo Kekalainen brings in a clear-cut rental player that won’t be re-signed in July). The point is this, Columbus has enough room to mess around with something valuable at the deadline, but they’re going to have to re-sign a plethora of core/future core pieces of the franchise this offseason.

The Blue Jackets aren’t doomed– they know their future plans more than anyone else.

But what could they bring in to make this team better? Someone. Is there anyone they could snag now and really shake things up as a contender moving forward? Short answer, yes.

For all of the return of Rick Nash to Columbus talk, well, that’s not ideal. Kekalainen should consider someone like Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before taking back a guy like Nash– who will only break the franchise’s heart again in July when he goes back to the Rangers *bold prediction alert*.

Potential assets to trade: D Andre Benoit, D Jack Johnson

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF)F Blake Comeau (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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6. New York Islanders– 26-22-6 (58 points, 54 GP)

The biggest question heading into the 2018 trade deadline for the New York Islanders is the same one that’s been asked since Steven Stamkos signed his extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning– will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?

New York has expressed that they are not looking to trade Tavares should things go detrimentally south between now and February 26th, but if things do…

The Islanders have almost $1.500 million in cap space to play around with before the deadline. They also have 13 pending free agents at season’s end, meaning there’s plenty of options the franchise could pursue.

Should Tavares get a raise and a long-term deal? Absolutely.

The  Islanders could pack it up and go home on this season given their injuries, lack of defense and well, let’s just say, things aren’t going so great for the team that ranks 31st (out of 31 NHL teams) in average attendance this season.

Or they could be active in trying to scrap together a good team centered around their current stars (Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Joshua Ho-Sang and others).

Potential assets to trade: F Josh Bailey, F Jason Chimera, F Casey Cizikas, D Thomas Hickey, D Dennis Seidenberg

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)

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7. Carolina Hurricanes– 24-21-9 (57 points, 54 GP)

New Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, might call an audible heading into this year’s trade deadline and decide to spend money on the roster. With almost $15.500 million in cap space, the Hurricanes are in the best possible position to land not just one or two of the big names floating around the rumor mill, but rather three or four quality pieces.

The trouble is, who would they get rid of, since their prospects and youth are worth keeping for further development and overall organizational growth?

Jeff Skinner is someone to build around. So are Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

Lee Stempniak might make his annual trip around the league, but other than that, who are the Hurricanes actually going to offer up from their forwards? If anything, Carolina would move a guy like Noah Hanifin given the contract extensions (and pay raises) that kick in next season for Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.

Regardless, though they’re not out of contention, the Hurricanes could really use a goaltender to pull them through the stretch. This whole Cam Ward/Scott Darling thing isn’t working out.

Potential assets to trade: G Scott Darling, D Noah Hanifin, F Lee Stempniak, F Derek Ryan, draft picks

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ),  D Mike Green (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

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8. New York Rangers– 25-24-5 (55 points, 54 GP)

Look, the New York Rangers are still (technically speaking) in contention– but they absolutely shouldn’t waste another year of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career in the National Hockey League without a Stanley Cup.

The team they have right now? Yeah, they aren’t winning.

They’ve aged out. The core’s been decimated by the Vegas expansion draft and some offseason moves (namely trading Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona after losing Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in June).

Not every player is washed up.

Some will find better homes and rejuvenate their careers before potentially signing with the Rangers in free agency and going back “home” *ahem, Rick Nash*.

Others will simply be a superb rental/long term participant in a franchise, like Michael Grabner.

Basically I’m saying that all the guys New York’s been rumored to trade should get traded and the team can pull off a quick turnaround with their up-and-coming youth, plus whatever they get in return for Nash, Grabner and Co.

And with only about $1.400 million in cap space, the Rangers could have some fun blowing things up (partially).

Build around Mika Zibanejad and friends. Do it, New York. Do it now.

Potential assets to trade: F David Desharnais, F Michael Grabner, D Nick Holden, D Ryan McDonagh, F Rick Nash, G Ondrej Pavelec, D Marc Staal, F Jimmy Vesey, F Mats Zuccarello

Potential assets to acquire: D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

February 6 – Day 118 – Episode II: Return of the Flower Power

I may not get to watch hockey on Tuesday nights, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Fortunately for you, there’s a whopping 11 games on the schedule to choose from, so surely one game strikes your fancy.

Like most nights, the action starts at 7 p.m. with four puck drops (Anaheim at Buffalo, Vegas at Pittsburgh [SN1/TVAS], Philadelphia at Carolina and Washington at Columbus), followed half an hour later by three more (New Jersey at Ottawa [RDS], Boston at Detroit and Vancouver at Florida). The next two games (Minnesota at St. Louis [NBCSN] and Arizona at Winnipeg) get started at 8 p.m., with Calgary at Chicago waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, San Jose at Colorado closes out the night with their tilt at 9 p.m. All times Eastern.

What a slate of games! There’s potential for the playoff picture to look wildly different Wednesday morning. As for matchups that have caught my eye…

  • Vegas at Pittsburgh: Welcome home Flower. Welcome home.
  • Boston at Detroit: Where are the Original Six fans at?
  • Minnesota at St. Louis: D Nate Prosser played exactly one game this season with the Blues before being placed on waivers. Was there any doubt the Wild would pick him up?

Of course, that list ignores important fixtures like Philly at Carolina, Washington at Columbus, Calgary at Chicago and San Jose at Colorado – all of which should be competitive matchups between teams either currently qualifying for the playoffs or trying to climb the table.

In an effort to appease both lists, I think its clear we have to make the trip to Pittsburgh to take in G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s return.

 

Fleury’s tenure in Pittsburgh began when he was selected with the first-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft from the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

Though he was sent back to Nova Scotia after playing 21 games with the Pens to complete his final year of junior eligibility, Fleury had certainly impressed with his .896 save percentage and 3.64 GAA. He made 46 saves in his NHL debut and posted a shutout in only his sixth professional game.

Pittsburgh knew it had made a good choice in trading RW Mikael Samuelsson to Florida for the pick. I mean, Samuelsson only won one Stanley Cup in his career (ironically, against the Penguins in 2008). Fleury has won three.

It seems like basic math to me.

After joining Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the 2004 Calder Cup playoffs, he remained in the AHL for the entire 2004-’05 season before laying claim to Pittsburgh’s starting position a year later.

2005-’06 wasn’t exactly a stellar year for the Penguins – in fact, quite the opposite. Pittsburgh finished dead last in the Eastern Conference and only a point ahead of St. Louis – the worst team in the league. However, Fleury showed improvement from his first stint in the world’s top hockey league, posting a .898 save percentage and 3.25 GAA.

It didn’t take long for the Pens to assume the form we’ve come to expect. Behind a season .906 save percentage and 2.83 GAA, Fleury – who posted a 40-16-9 record – qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time of his career in 2007. The postseason ended almost as quickly as it began (Ottawa needed only five games to advance to the Eastern Semifinals), but Fleury and the Pens were establishing themselves among the league’s best teams.

That climb up the league table was officially realized during the 2007-’08 season when Fleury, with a career-best .921 save percentage and 2.33 GAA, led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992. Though Detroit was able to win its 11th Stanley Cup in franchise history, Fleury performed marvelously by posting a .933 save percentage and 1.97 GAA in the playoffs – by far the best marks of his postseason career.

Of course, the Penguins were able to exact revenge against the Red Wings only a year later. Perhaps the most memorable play from that June 12, 2009 Game 7 in Detroit occurred with two seconds remaining on the clock. D Nicklas Lidstrom, himself a four-time Stanley Cup champion and winner of the 2002 Conn Smythe Trophy, had the opportunity to beat Fleury near side to tie the game at 2-2 and force a Cup-clinching sudden-death overtime, but Flower flopped in that direction just in time for his 23rd save of the game, securing the Penguins’ third championship and Pittsburgh’s second of the year (the Steelers had won their sixth Super Bowl four months earlier on February 1).

From 2009-’10 to 2014-’15, the Penguins toiled away to limited playoff success considering the talent on their roster. Though some would rightly say Fleury was part of the problem during those seasons, that’s not to say he didn’t have incredible performances. In fact, he managed a whopping 10 shutouts during the 2014-’15 season, a career-high that led the league that season.

I’d argue all those shutouts were a major reason for the resurgence of Flower Power in Pittsburgh in the 2015′-16 season. That year, Fleury matched his current career-high .921 save percentage and set a new career-best 2.29 GAA in the regular season.

The emphasis on regular season is important here, because that’s when Fleury’s tenure in Pittsburgh began to take a turn. Just as we began with Fleury as a rookie netminder, the emergence of rookie G Matthew Murray during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs is a major reason the Sorel, Quebec native now calls the desert home.

With Fleury sidelined with a concussion suffered during the regular season, Murray exploded onto the scene to lead the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In Game 4, Fleury was able to take the ice for the third period with Pittsburgh trailing 4-0. The goalie swap rejuvenated the skaters, inspiring a comeback that fell one goal short of forcing overtime.

Head Coach Mike Sullivan saw this as an opportunity to return the crease to his starter as well as continue the positive energy from Game 4. Instead, Fleury laid an egg in Game 5, allowing three goals in regulation and the game-winner only 53 seconds into overtime.

With the Pens trailing the series 3-2, Sullivan went back to Murray in Game 6. The renewed nod of confidence is all the youngster needed, as he led Pittsburgh past the Lightning in Games 6 and 7 against the Lightning as well as a Stanley Cup Finals victory against the San Jose Sharks.

With Murray starting 47 games in the 2016-’17 to Fleury’s 34, the Flower Power Era in Pittsburgh had effectively come to a close – but not without one last ride.

Just like a Fleury injury opened the door for Murray to earn playoff starts, the youngster suffered a non-contact ailment before Game 1 of the First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Enter Fleury, who needed only five games to knock off the Jackets, including a dominant 49-save performance in the series clincher.

Fleury would continue to be a stellar force in the Eastern Semifinals against the rival Washington Capitals, leading the Pens to a seven-game victory. The most memorable occurrence of the series involving Fleury wasn’t exactly his save against W Alex Ovechkin in Game 7, but his celebration afterwards.

He’s… uh… playing an electric guitar, kids.

However, Fleury’s Penguins career would last only three more games. He was pulled in Game 3 of the Eastern Finals against the Ottawa Senators after allowing four first period goals in 12:52 of action. Murray returned to the crease to lead Pittsburgh to a second-consecutive Stanley Cup Finals after a double-overtime victory in Game 7, as well as another championship following a six-game series against the Nashville Predators.

But this most recent success is all Vegas General Manager George McPhee needed to convince him who his first goaltender in franchise history was going to be. With Pittsburgh wanting to officially deed the crease to Murray, General Manager Jim Rutherford left Fleury exposed to the Expansion Draft and shipped his second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft to the Golden Knights to ensure Fleury would be selected.

With the exception of a concussion that kept the goaltender off the ice for two months, just about everything has gone 35-13-4 Vegas and Fleury’s way in the Knights’ inaugural season. Should he continue playing like he is, Fleury is in line for the best save percentage of his career (currently a .939) as well as an unbelievable 1.84 GAA – also a potential career-best mark.

Over their past four games, the Golden Knights gave earned a 3-1-0 record. 15-4-2 Fleury has been in net for all three victories and played well, posting a .917 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.

However, I’ve been most impressed with the effort of the defense playing in front of him over this run. Led by the stellar efforts of D Deryk Engelland (three blocks and 1.5 hits per game over this run) and D Nate Schmidt (six takeaways in his last four games), Vegas has allowed only 29.75 shots against per game, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since January 30.

With a win tonight, Vegas – who already leads the Pacific Division and the Western Conference – can claim the top spot in the NHL with 76 points, one more than Tampa Bay in as many games played.

However, the Golden Knights will have to get past 29-22-3 Pittsburgh to do that, and beating the Penguins has been a tough ask of late. Making the matchup even more exciting, it puts Fleury and his defense even more at the center of attention, as the Pens’ offense is absolutely dominating lately.

Since January 23, no offense has been as imposing as Pittsburgh’s. Led by the incredible efforts of F Evgeni Malkin, the Pens are averaging a league-leading 4.4 goals per game in that time, almost half a goal more than Toronto and Washington’s imposing attacks.

In his last five games played, Malkin has been the most frightening goalscorer in the NHL, posting 8-3-11 totals (the most goals and points in the league in that time) to average over two points per game to increase his season totals to 29-31-60. Making the Penguins even more intimidating, RW Phil Kessel (2-7-9), C Sidney Crosby (0-7-7) and W Bryan Rust (3-2-5) all join Malkin in averaging at least a point per game, giving Pittsburgh three explosive lines.

For those wondering, 17-12-1 Murray has been decent of late too. Even though his defense has allowed a terrible 34.8 shots against per game over this run, he’s won both his starts with a .92 save percentage and 3 GAA. He’ll need to be better against a Vegas offense that ranks second-best on the season (3.37 goals per game), but he’s well rested since his last showing was February 2 against the Capitals.

The Penguins made their trip to The Silver State on December 14, but they didn’t receive very warm hospitality. Behind a 24-save performance by First Star Fleury in his first game back from a concussion, the Golden Knights claimed a 2-1 victory.

This is going to be an emotional game for Fleury, Penguins fans and probably a few of the Pens as well. The team that can put the tears behind them fastest will likely come out the winners, which is why I’m leaning towards the Penguins’ offense taking two points this evening.


With a two-goal, three-point night from First Star of the Game F William Nylander, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Anaheim Ducks 7-4 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Air Canada Centre.

There may have been 11 goals struck in this game, but almost all of them were scored in the final two periods. Second Star C Auston Matthews (F Zach Hyman and Nylander) registered the lone tally, burying a wrap-around shot 6:32 into the game.

One intermission is all this contest needed to find the wild side. A whopping six goals were buried in the middle frame, starting with C Ryan Getzlaf‘s (Third Star F Rickard Rakell and W Corey Perry) wrist shot 43 seconds after play resumed to level the game at 1-1. Toronto answered back 5:09 later thanks to Nylander’s (D Jake Gardiner) first goal of the night, but the game was tied once again only 2:31 after the horn stopped blaring due to a Rakell (Getzlaf and Perry) backhanded shot.

With F Leo Komarov in the penalty box for hi-sticking D Kevin Bieksa, Anaheim took its first lead in the game when W Ondrej Kase (Perry and W Jakob Silfverberg) scored a power play wrister with 8:54 remaining in the period, setting the score at 3-2. However, it was a case of “whatever you can do, I can do better” as F Mitch Marner (C Nazem Kadri and LW James van Riemsdyk) took advantage of LW Nick Ritchie serving a slashing penalty against D Roman Polalk by scoring a power play snap shot of his own 4:22 later. Komarov (Gardiner and Kadri) completed the period’s scoring with 2:20 remaining, setting the score at 4-3 in favor of the Leafs with a snapper.

After a wild second period, there was no chance the Ducks were going to allow that score to stand. Rakell (Perry and D Josh Manson) tied the game at 4-4 with a wrister 2:07 into the frame, but that turned out to be Anaheim’s final goal of the night. That set up Nylander’s (Gardiner) second tally of the match to be the game-winner.

A sloppy pass by D Brandon Montour intended for Silfverberg ended up on Gardiner’s stick, and the Leaf knew exactly what to do with the gift. Spotting Nylander tearing towards the offensive zone, the defenseman ripped a perfect blue line-to-blue line pass to set up a one-on-one opportunity for the 21-year-old, which he used to beat G Ryan Miller glove side.

Insurance goals from Matthews (RW Kasperi Kapanen) and Hyman (RW Connor Brown and Matthews) sealed the Leafs’ victory, keeping them within three points of the Bruins in the race for second place in the Atlantic Division.

Though he didn’t start the game, G Curtis McElhinney earned the victory after saving 15-of-16 shots faced (.938 save percentage), leaving the loss to Miller, who saved 33-of-39 (.846). McElhinney replaced G Frederik Andersen with 6:15 remaining in the second period after taking a kick to the head from Perry. He saved 25-of-28 shots faced (.893) for no decision.

Winners of five of the last six games in the DtFR Game of the Day series, the 65-38-15 home teams are absolutely rolling of late. With the Leafs’ victory, the hosts now have a 25-point advantage over the visitors.

February 2 – Day 114 – An overflow of goals

Happy Friday to you and yours! Celebrate the last day of the work week with some hockey!

To help you in that process, the NHL has scheduled four games this evening, including three at 7 p.m. (Washington at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS], Detroit at Carolina and San Jose at Columbus). Vegas visits Minnesota (NBCSN) an hour later to close the evening out early. All times Eastern.

Obviously, the game that sticks out above the rest is going down in the Steel City this evening. Even though we just featured the Capitals Wednesday, there’s no way we’re missing this one!

 

No matter the time of season, these tilts between the Capitals and Penguins always seem to mean just a little bit more, don’t they? Having W Alex Ovechkin and C Sidney Crosby on these respective teams is probably a big reason for that.

In fact, it’s to the Metropolitan Division-leading 30-15-5 Capitals’ offense that I was about to turn, so we’ll consider that as good a transition as any.

There are few attacks in the league that have been better than Washington’s since January 12, and it’s not really that close. In their past six outings, the Caps have scored an average of 3.17 goals per game – a mark that is tied for fourth-best in the NHL in that time.

As you might have guessed, Ovechkin has been a big part of that charge. Since mid-January, the 13-year veteran has posted a team-leading 3-4-7 totals to improve his season numbers to 30-23-53, the most goals in the league.

But it’s not just Ovi. D John Carlson and F Evgeny Kuznetsov have been incredible lately as well, as they have both averaged a point-per-game over their last six showings. Carlson and Ovechkin have been meshing particularly well of late, as the defenseman has provided the primary assist on two of Ovechkin’s three most-recent markers.

Of course, Washington also has the luxury of 26-9-2 G Braden Holtby manning the pipes in the defensive end. As a result of his .916 save percentage and 2.67 GAA, his 26 victories on the season are the (t)second-most in the league.

Meanwhile, the 28-21-3 Penguins – who occupy third place in the Metropolitan – have dreams of capping their four-game home stand with their fourth-straight victory.

Offensive struggles have been one of the issues facing Pittsburgh for most of the season, but if this home stand is any indication, those concerns are in the rear-view mirror. The Pens have scored a whopping 4.67 goals-per-game during this three-game winning streak, an effort that tops the league during this time frame.

A total of six players are averaging at least a point-per-game (including D Ian Cole, even though he wasn’t a part of the 3-1 victory against the Hurricanes on January 23) during this run, but none stand out quite like F Evgeni Malkin. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the man whose 26 goals are (t)fifth-most in the league knows what to do with the puck, but Malkin has posted a 5-1-6 effort to improve his season numbers to 26-29-55 totals.

Of course, success should be a given when Malkin has the supporting cast of Cole, Crosby, RW Phil Kessel, W Bryan Rust and F Dominik Simon – all of whom join the Russian in posting at least a point-per-game. With teammates that include the player that’s (t)fourth in points and 10th in assists in Kessel (21-38-59 totals) and the skater that’s (t)eighth in assists and (t)ninth in points in Crosby (17-39-56), losing is a hard thing to do.

Tonight’s tilt is the third in the four-game regular season series, and the title of victor is still very much up for grabs. Both the previous games took place at Capital One Arena, with the Pens winning 3-2 on October 11 (W Conor Sheary provided the deciding goal) and the Caps exacting revenge November 10 with a 4-1 victory (Holtby took First Star honors). Pittsburgh and Washington will tangle for the final time this season on April 1 at PPG Paints Arena.

Holtby and 16-12-1 G Matthew Murray will have to be in their best form tonight if they want to earn their respective club two points, but who will find the save to slow down these potent onslaughts? The Penguins may have home ice, but I’m leaning towards Washington taking the victory considering its defense has been performing better than Pittsburgh’s of late.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Boston Bruins successfully defended TD Garden by beating the St. Louis Blues 3-1.

As far as the scoreboard was concerned, this game was a slow starter as only one goal was struck in the first two periods. That tally belonged to Second Star of the Game C David Krejci (LW Jake Debrusk and F Ryan Spooner), who buried his backhanded shot with 7:28 remaining in the first frame to give the hosts a one-goal advantage.

However, the scoreboard never tells the whole story. Even though Krejci scored in the first period, it was actually the Blues that out-shot the Bruins in the first frame 14-9. The game then turned on its head during the intermission, as Third Star G Jake Allen had to fend off a whopping 22 Boston shots in the second while his offense managed only six shots on goal at the other end.

Things leveled out in the third period as far as shots on goal were concerned (15-13 in favor of Boston), but the Bruins still outscored St. Louis 2-1 in the frame for the 3-1 final score. The first goal belonged to C Patrice Bergeron (RW David Pastrnak and Spooner), who took advantage of RW Vladimir Tarasenko serving a penalty for hooking D Torey Krug to bury a power play snap shot from the right face-off dot that proved to be the game-winner over Allen’s right shoulder. F Jaden Schwartz (F Brayden Schenn and Tarasenko) managed to pull the Notes back within a tally on a wrist shot with 1:32 remaining in regulation, but F David Backes completed the victory against the team he used to captain with an empty-netter with one tick left on the clock.

First Star G Tuukka Rask earned the victory after saving 32-of-33 shots faced (.97 save percentage), leaving the loss to Allen, who saved 43-of-45 (.956).

It seems all the 62-37-15 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series was the All-Star Break to resume control, as they’ve won three out of the last four contests to take a 21-point advantage.

January 25 – Day 110 – Daddy’s home!

Unless you’re headed to a game, make sure to sit down in front of your TV tonight because there’s much to be watched!

As hinted at yesterday, the NHL is closing out the unofficial first half of the season with a bang today, as all but Los Angeles is in action (and believe me, the Kings are 100 percent happy with this situation). Like it does most weeknights, the action begins at 7 p.m. with three games (Nashville at New Jersey, Tampa Bay at Philadelphia [SN1] and Minnesota at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by four more (Carolina at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Boston at Ottawa [RDS2], Chicago at Detroit [NBCSN] and Washington at Florida). Next up is Colorado at St. Louis in the 8 p.m. time slot, with Toronto at Dallas dropping the puck 30 minutes later. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of a pair of tilts (Calgary at Edmonton and Columbus at Arizona), while three contests (Buffalo at Vancouver, the New York Islanders at Vegas [SN1] and Winnipeg at Anaheim) wait until 10 p.m. to get underway. Finally, the New York Rangers at San Jose close out the evening as the 10:30 p.m. nightcap. All times Eastern.

There’s more than a few of tonight’s games that I’ll have my eye on…

  • Minnesota at Pittsburgh: It’s the return of F Matt Cullen to PPG Paints Arena. Time for him to grab his third Stanley Cup ring!
  • Boston at Ottawa: No matter how poor the Sens are this year, it doesn’t take away from their playoff run from a season ago – which began with a six-game series with the Bruins.
  • Chicago at Detroit: Original Six matchups are always fun, right?
  • Colorado at St. Louis: Welcome back to the Gateway City, W Nail Yakupov.
  • Calgary at Edmonton: This rivalry always has the chance of getting truly nasty.

It’s been a while since we’ve featured either the Pens or the Wild, so let’s head to the Steel City.

 

Remember when you were little and you would run to your dad every night when he got home from work?

That’s kind of what happened at the Penguins’ morning skate today when Cullen showed up – and yes, all of them probably did call him “dad.”

Cullen has been a bit of a journeyman over the course of his career. Since being selected 35th-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft by Anaheim (back when they were the Mighty Ducks), he’s worn eight different sweaters, including two stints with both the Hurricanes (with whom he won the 2006 Stanley Cup) and the Wild.

One of those teams is, of course, Pittsburgh. After not being offered a deal after two years in Nashville, he signed a one-year, $800 thousand contract with the Pens to be their fourth-line center, as well as provide a veteran voice in the dressing room, for the 2015-’16 season.

It goes without saying that it was a marvelous relationship. He posted 16-16-32 totals (all top-eight marks on the team that season) from his bottom-six position during the regular season, followed up by decent 4-2-6 marks in the postseason to help the Pens to their fourth Stanley Cup.

In fact, the pairing was so good that General Manager Jim Rutherford offered Cullen another one-year deal to stay with the club for the 2016-’17 season, this time with a $1 million price tag.

The results came up spades once again for Pittsburgh, as the resident father figure posted even better 13-18-31 totals (all top-11 on the squad) in 10 fewer games played, followed by a 2-7-9 effort in the playoffs as the Penguins beat Cullen’s former team for their second-consecutive and fifth-overall title.

However, this offseason wasn’t as simple as the year before’s. Not only did Rutherford have to figure out how to successfully navigate multiple signings, but Cullen was mulling retiring from the NHL. That forced the Penguins to look elsewhere to fill their holes at center on the third and fourth line (with a roller coaster of results, ranging from the highest heights to the lowest lows), making Cullen’s decision on whether he would return to the club or not for him.

With Cullen on the outside looking in, Minnesota General Manager Chuck Fletcher caught wind that he was interested in at least one last ride and signed him to a one-year, $1 million deal to play the same veteran fourth-line center role he did in Pittsburgh.

I can’t vouch for his presence in the dressing room, but the Virginia, Minn. native’s solid performance on the ice has not followed him back to his hometown team. Missing only one game so far this season, Cullen has posted only 4-7-11 totals for .23 points-per-game, well under the .41 he managed in 154 regular season games in Pittsburgh. If he continues scoring at this pace, Cullen is in line for 19 points in 81 games played. It’d be the worst season of his career.

Fortunately for 26-17-5 Minnesota – the sixth-best team in the Central Division – it has 18-9-3 G Devan Dubnyk at its disposal. When he’s on fire like he is right now, he keeps the Wild in every game they play. As a result, Minnesota has earned a point in six-straight games with a 4-0-2 record.

Dubnyk has started four of the Wild’s last six games, and with much success. He’s posted a .94 save percentage and 1.73 GAA to improve his season numbers to .919 and 2.59. As a result of his winning ways and the opportunity to play behind a defense that has allowed only a 12th-fewest 30.5 shots against-per-game since January 9, the Wild have allowed a (t)second-best average of 1.83 goals against per game during this solid run.

As mentioned before, Cullen rejoining the Wild was a result of the Penguins turning to other players to fill the third and fourth-line center positions. Currently, those players are C Riley Sheahan and F Jean-Sebastien Dea, and it seems Pittsburgh is starting to find success with them in those positions.

However, the real reason 26-21-3 Pittsburgh – the Eastern Conference’s second wild card – has been wining lately is because of some stellar play in net. Over their past eight games, the Pens have gone 6-2-0 by allowing only 2.13 goals per game, the fourth-best mark in the league since January 5.

Specifically, much of that defensive success has occurred in the crease since the Pens’ defense has allowed 30.88 shots against during this run. Of the three goaltenders that have played since January 5, 2-2-0 G Casey DeSmith has easily been the most impressive and will be in net this evening for the Pens.

In line for the fourth start of his NHL career tonight, DeSmith has posted an imposing .96 save percentage and 1.35 GAA since January 5 in three starts. In fact, he’s been so solid lately that, to make room for 15-12-1 G Matthew Murray returning to the roster, the Penguins sent 9-4-2 G Tristan Jarry back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL instead of him. After starting the season as Jarry’s backup with the Baby Pens this season, that is certainly a major compliment to DeSmith and the potential Head Coach Mike Sullivan sees in him.

The Penguins have already made their annual trip to St. Paul this season, but it is not a trip they look back upon fondly. Minnesota ended up winning the October 28 game 2-1 thanks to First Star C Mikko Koivu‘s game-winning goal at the 9:03 mark of the third period.

If picking winners of games was as simple as choosing the team with the superior overall record, Minnesota would be in line for two points this evening. However, the Wild have a miserable 9-13-1 record on the road this season, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can perform well away from the State of Hockey.


With an overtime winner from Third Star of the Game LW Tanner Pearson, the Los Angeles Kings beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Flames’ lone goal of the game was struck with 5:57 remaining in first period, courtesy of Second Star C Sean Monahan (LW Johnny Gaudreau and W Micheal Ferland). The wrist shot is Monahan’s 22nd goal on the season, the most on the club.

Including this game, Calgary’s average of 10:52 penalty minutes per game is fifth-most in the league. The Flames certainly lived up to their reputation, as they served a whopping 22 PIM, including a C Mikael Backlund misconduct. Most of those infractions took place in the second period, as both squads committed four infractions each.

However, the penalty that led to the Kings’ game-tying goal didn’t take place until the 3:23 mark of the final frame when C Mark Jankowski was caught tripping C Anze Kopitar. 46 seconds later, D Jake Muzzin (Kopitar and D Drew Doughty) buried a power play slap shot to tie the game at one-all.

With neither squad able to break the draw, the contest advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.  Almost all five of those minutes were necessary, but Pearson (Doughty and W Dustin Brown) was able to avoid the shootout with 27 seconds to spare. The main action on the scoring play occurred when Doughty faked a clapper from above the face-off circles. That fake made G Mike Smith commit just long enough that he wasn’t able to react in time when Doughty set up the Pearson wrister, which beat him five-hole.

First Star G Darcy Kuemper earned the victory after saving 30-of-31 shots faced (.968 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Smith, who saved 25-of-27 (.926).

The road teams are coming in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors in the series have won five in a row and earned points in seven-straight, pulling them within 17 points of the 59-36-15 hosts.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 15

Skater of the Week: Brad Marchand

You may not (probably don’t) like him, but the Little Ball of Hate doesn’t give a damn about what you like. He’s gonna score on your team, and you’re gonna deal with it.

The league’s premiere super-pest tallied two goals and five assists in four contests this week, made arguably more impressive by the fact that he started the week being held scoreless against Dallas before recording three consecutive multi-point games to close the week. Burning arch-rival Montreal for a goal and assist in the first meeting, then adding two helpers in the rematch, together with a three-point night against the Islanders, the former unheralded third round pick continues to prove all the critics wrong, as he’s currently on pace to shatter his breakout 85-point performance from last season.

Marchand’s 48 points in 37 games is good for 16th in league scoring, having played no less than seven-fewer games than any player ahead of him, and his performance over the last seven days is good for this award.

Tendy of the Week: Jonathan Bernier

Yeah, I know, right? I couldn’t believe it either.

Bernier’s NHL career has been a well-documented roller coaster of epic proportions, and the former 11th-overall pick has often seen the ‘Bust’ label floating near his name. But he seems to have really found a home with the upstart Avs this season.

In three starts this week, Bernier faced a ridiculous 110 shots and turned aside 105 of them to pick up three victories. On Monday he stopped 33-of-34 to down the Ducks, on Saturday he stifled 27-of-28 against the Rangers, and even when he gave up three to the Sharks, he managed a .938 save percentage on 48 shots faced. Of the Avs’ strengths, the defense is not high on the list.

Bernier is still shaking off some shaky performances earlier in the year, but in 21 appearances his 13-7-1 record, 2.61 GAA and .919 save percentage are more than respectable behind the run-and-gun Avs. If he continues this sort of play, the Avs could potentially use Semyon Varlamov as trade bait to solidify their D-corps come the deadline.

Game of the Week: Washington Capitals 3 @ New Jersey Devils 4 (OT), Thursday January 18th, 2018

A showdown between the top 2 teams in the stacked Metropolitan Division lived up to the hype, delivering seven goals, 51 shots, 48 hits, and 36 penalty minutes.

Drew Stafford would get things rolling 8:01 into the game, taking advantage of a misplay at the blueline by Dmitry Orlov to flee the zone and receive a breakout pass courtesy of Marcus Johansson, fighting off the back-checking Devante Smith-Pelly and going forehand-backhand-roof on Braden Holtby to give the Devils the early lead. Brett Connolly, who was stifled on a golden opportunity just seconds after the Stafford goal, would get his revenge and even the score at the 12:10 mark, pouncing on a long wrister from T.J. Oshie that deflected off of the skate of Jersey d-man Will Butcher right to his tape and burying it past Keith Kinkaid to give us a 1-1 game after one.

The second saw both the scoring and intensity ramp up, started off by Devils captain Andy Greene (playing in his 750th game) scoring on an almost-identical play to the Connolly goal, this time a Taylor Hall effort from the left point deflecting off the stick of Matt Niskanen and coming right to Greene who was just able to squeeze the shot between the left arm and torso of a sliding Holtby to regain the Jersey lead 3:33 into the frame. Then at the 8:33 mark came some shenanigans. Tom Wilson laid a hammering hit on Brian Gibbons along the boards in the neutral zone, leading Brian Boyle to come to the defense of his teammate and earn himself a misconduct and extra minor for instigating. I could go on a tangent about clean hits leading to fights (Gibbons himself appeared to try to wave off Boyle as he approached Wilson), but I’ll save that for another day.

Further into the secnd we go, and the Devils capitalize (see what I did there?) on another breakout pass, this time with Miles Wood sneaking behind the Washington defense and receiving some airmail from Sami Vatanen before getting one through five-hole of Holtby to give New Jersey the 3-1 edge at the 10:55 mark. But just 14 seconds later Dmitry Orlov would collect a long rebound off the boards and spanked the ‘Made In Slovakia’ lettering right off of the puck as it screamed past Kinkaid into the back of the net, sending us into the final frame with a 3-2 Devils lead after some strong netminding by Holtby in the closing stages of the middle frame.

Kinkaid and the Devils would hold the fort for most of the third, but finally with just 3:48 remaining it would be Connolly (who had himself a very good game, I might add) who collected a terrific Evgeny Kuznetsov feed from below the goal line and slid the puck right underneath the left pad of Kinkaid to knot the score at three and send the game to overtime (though not before Kinkaid would shake off a ‘Nisk-cannon’ to the noggin that removed his mask in the dying seconds).

The crowd at ‘The Rock’ would have little to fret over, though, as just 34 seconds into the extra frame it would be Taylor Hall receiving a chip pass from Sami Vatanen, before giving himself a second chip pass to get around Kuznetsov and streaking in on Holtby, roofing a quick wrister over the glove hand and sending the Jersey-faithful into a frenzy.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

The Golden Knights are, at the time of this writing, the #1 team in the NHL. I don’t actually have anything clever prepared for this, I just wanted to say it out loud.

A couple of high-profile injuries struck this week, with Edmonton losing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a hand injury for at least a month, and the Rangers losing Kevin Shattenkirk to a meniscus tear, an injury that could sideline the defenseman for quite some time.

The Senators have supposedly made it their #1 organizational goal to re-sign Erik Karlsson. I’m not sure how much money it will take to keep him with a franchise that doesn’t appear to be set up for major success any time soon, but if anyone has any suggestions for convoluted schemes to marry into his family, I’m all ears.

Dustin Brown was fined (but not suspended) for brutally cross-checking a helpless Justin Schultz face-first into the boards, in a move the Department of Player Safety referred to as “We have no idea who this Andrew Cogliano person you speak of is, and we’re not sure what two-game suspension you could be referring to.”

The Colorado Avalanche have won nine consecutive games, which might be the only thing less people would have bet on at the beginning of the year than Vegas spending time at #1 in the league.

Rene Rancourt has announced that he will retire from his position as the Bruins’ longtime anthem singer. Personally, I never actually thought he was that good of a singer, but his showmanship has always been absolutely second-to-none, and anyone legendary enough to be referenced in a Dropkick Murphy’s song gets a pass in my book, so congrats to Rene on an incredible career and best of luck in retirement.

Finally, I’ll close on two sombering notes. First, I extend my sincerest condolences to Matthew Murray and his family, as the Pittsburgh goaltender has taken a leave of absence from the team to mourn the passing of his father, and I’ll repeat the sentiment to the family of USA Hockey executive and two-time Olympian Jim Johannson, who passed Sunday morning at just 53 years of age.

January 14 – Day 99 -Steel City Second Act

The league has scheduled a light, but very exciting slate of four games for us today. Thanks NHL!

The action starts at 12:30 p.m. with Detroit at Chicago (NBC/TVAS), followed by Calgary at Carolina at 3 p.m. The New York Rangers at Pittsburgh (NBCSN) is the next game on the schedule at 7:30 p.m., and it is trailed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Vancouver at Minnesota (SN). All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Columbus, Edmonton, Florida, Nashville, Ottawa, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Washington and Winnipeg.

Is there any doubt of which game we’re featuring today? Let’s get to the City of Bridges!

 

This game was supposed to be NBC’s “Game of the Week” (a.k.a. the Sunday matinee time slot the Detroit-Chicago contest now occupies), but the Steelers’ 1 p.m. playoff game at Heinz Field changed those plans.

Don’t think the rescheduling plays into the decision to feature this game. That pick was made by 23-19-3 Pittsburgh – a club that many were wondering if it was reaching the end of its dynasty – having the opportunity to climb into the first wild card after being outside the playoff picture for the last month.

Since turning the calendar to 2018, there’s only been a handful of teams better than the Penguins, who have won four of their last five games – including three straight. The offense is humming near 2016-’17 efficiency by scoring a (t)fifth-best 3.8 goals per game, and the defense has allowed sixth-best 2.2 goals against per game.

It’s about time the Penguins’ top stars started performing. From opening day on October 4 through December 31, F Evgeni Malkin managed only 13-22-35 marks (one point per game) and C Sidney Crosby tacked on only 14-21-35 (.9 points per game). In fact, with RW Phil Kessel currently posting team-leading 19-31-50 totals, the Pens are in line for a new season points-leader not named Crosby or Malkin for the first time since D Dick Tarnstrom‘s 16-36-52 effort in 2003-’04.

However, since Head Equipment Manager Dana Heinze – who’s a solid follow on Twitter whether you’re a Pens fan, Flyers fan or anything in between – hung a new calendar in the Pens’ dressing room, Crosby and Malkin have regained their roles as leaders of Pittsburgh’s offense. Both have averaged two points per game in 2018, with Malkin leading the way with 5-5-10 marks.

One constant Pittsburgh is happy to carry over from its lackluster start to the season is its dominant power play. The Pens have converted a league-leading 46.7 percent of their man-advantages since the beginning of the new year, which pulls their season success rate up to an also league-leading 27 percent. The leader of that attack – whether for the season or of late – is none other than Kessel, who has registered a whopping 29 power play points this season, the best mark in the NHL. While Malkin might have more power play points in 2018, Kessel has him beat in extra-man goals with three to his credit in five games.

Of note, 8-3-2 G Tristan Jarry was in net for yesterday’s 4-1 victory over the Red Wings. With 15-12-1 G Matthew Murray taking a leave of absence for a personal matter, 0-1-0 G Casey DeSmith was probably hoping for a chance to earn his first NHL start. However, Head Coach Mike Sullivan has been reluctant to hand DeSmith the reins in the past when the Pens are in this situation, and he’ll stay true to form by giving Jarry – who saved 29-of-30 shots faced yesterday (.967 save percentage) – both starts of the weekend.

For the Penguins to move into the first wildcard spot, the club currently holding that position will have to get out of the way. Considering that team is the 22-16-5 Rangers, I doubt they’ll do that voluntarily.

Unfortunately, the Blueshirts don’t enter tonight’s game in top form. They’ve posted a measly 3-4-2 record over their past nine games, which includes their two most recent games: regulation losses by a combined score of 9-3.

It might seem like the goals against might be the issue based off the last two games, but New York’s biggest concern is an offense that has absolutely dried up. The Rangers have managed a (t)13th-best 2.95 goals per game for the entire season, but that effort has dropped to a (t)league-worst 1.78 goals per game since December 21.

The hard part with this scoring slump is no one person is responsible. 18 of New York’s 21 skaters since December 21 have registered at least one point, and eight have three or more points. LW Jimmy Vesey in particular has been giving it his all to try to resolve the Rangers’ scoring woes, as he’s scored three goals and tacked on another assist over these nine games. W Mats Zuccarello has also been strong, as he’s posted four assists in his last eight games.

Just like the Penguins, New York played its usual backup in yesterday’s game. 3-6-1 G Ondrej Pavelec saved 14-of-19 shots faced (.737 save percentage) in the 7-2 home loss against the Islanders. Even though 19-10-4 G Henrik Lundqvist was forced to play over half the game (saving 16-of-18 for a .889 save percentage) for no decision, he’ll get the start today.

Tonight’s meeting marks Game 3 of four between the Blueshirts and Pens this regular season. Both teams have won on road ice, but New York is winning the season series due to forcing extra time when it hosted October 17’s contest (the Penguins won 5-4 thanks to Malkin’s overtime goal, by the way). The Rangers then returned the favor on December 5, beating Pittsburgh 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena. W Pavel Buchnevich scored the game-winning goal near the midway point of the third period, but it was Zuccarello that took First Star honors with his two-point night.

The Penguins seem like they’re getting rolling at the right time this season, and it just so happens that the Rangers are slumping at the exact same moment. Jarry starting two consecutive games is certainly a plus for New York, but I think Pittsburgh’s offense will be enough to get it two points.


The Anaheim Ducks’ comeback tour is in full force, as they beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 at Staples Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Before we even jump into a recap of the goals scored, let’s discuss this rivalry. I predicted a fierce, nasty, scrappy game between these two, and the Freeway Face-Off did not disappoint.  A combined 38 PIM were handed out (led by the six players that took five for fighting in the first period) and 75 hits thrown (led by LW Kyle Clifford and C Ryan Getzlaf, both with five apiece) in what was undoubtedly the meanest game of the night in the Western Conference, if not the entire league.

Of course, those stats don’t earn wins – goals do. Two were struck in the first period, and both belonged to the Ducks. First Star W Ondrej Kase (F Rickard Rakell and Getzlaf) took credit for the first at the 6:14 mark, followed 12:36 later by F Ryan Kesler‘s (D Brandon Montour and Kase) second tally of the season, a power play snap shot that set the 2-0 score that held through the remainder of the first period and the entirety of the second.

Whoever said third-liners can’t provide offense hasn’t seen Anaheim’s stellar sophomore. Only 2:10 into the final frame, Kase (LW Nick Ritchie) buried a wrist shot that proved to be the game-winner.

As good as G Jonathan Quick has been this season, this is at least the second time he’s made a mistake in the DtFR Game of the Day series playing a puck behind his goal that has led to an opposing goal. This time, he was caught trying to settle the puck in the trapezoid with no teammates around him. That allowed Ritchie to drive behind the net and take possession, which he quickly dished to Kase in the left face-off circle. Try as he might, Quick just wasn’t quick enough to get back in his crease, as Kase’s wrister easily found the back of the net.

Facing a 3-0 deficit, the Kings finally decided to find some offense. C Nick Shore (D Christian Folin and F Trevor Lewis) scored their first 6:22 after the goal horn stopped blaring for Kase’s tally, and C Anze Kopitar (D Derek Forbort and Second Star F Alex Iafallo) pulled Los Angeles back within a goal with 6:14 remaining in regulation.

However, the offense dried up following Kopitar’s 18th tally of the season, to the point that Head Coach John Stevens was forced to pull Quick for an extra attacker. W Corey Perry (D Hampus Lindholm) never needs much of an invitation to score goals, so he took advantage of the empty cage with 1:28 remaining in regulation to set the 4-2 final score.

G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 23-of-25 shots faced (.92 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 18-of-21 (.857).

Though the 54-33-12 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series still have an 18-point advantage, they should beware the road teams right now. With Anaheim’s victory away from The Pond, that is the fourth-straight victory for visitors.

Hey, why isn’t (insert NHL team here) playing?

Still trying to figure out why your favorite team has games all next week, but your rival gets to take five-straight days off? Or maybe you’re most concerned about your fantasy hockey team? Either way, *NSYNC has the answer:

The NHL is in Year 2 of its experiment with bye weeks. Some things – like the average length of each team’s break – stayed the same. 19 of the 31 clubs are taking the minimum five days off, while 11 others get an extra sixth before returning to action. Of course, the winners of the bye week lottery are the Ottawa Senators, who get a whopping seven days to rest, regroup and rediscover the art of ice hockey before hosting St. Louis.

But there are a few differences from last year, most notably where these breaks occur within the league schedule. Last season when the bye weeks debuted, the Islanders and Penguins had already started and finished their breaks by now, while others wouldn’t see the gap in their schedule until well beyond the All-Star Break or even the trade deadline. In fact, the Ducks didn’t take their week off until the beginning of March.

It was probably because Anaheim is on Pacific Time. That’s how time zones work, right?

Anyways, all 31 bye weeks this season – whether five, six or seven days – will start and end in the span of the 18 days between today and January 19.

Though initial thoughts were that the bye weeks were consolidated in anticipation of the NHL potentially releasing its players to their respective national federations for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, it instead will simply be an opportunity for the league’s scheduler to determine which format is better for business.

But we’re not worried about attendance, advertising dollars or TV ratings here at Down the Frozen River (actually, that’s a lie: we love to talk about that stuff during podcasts). Let’s talk about who’s going to be off when. Teams are presented in order of the league table as it stands entering play January 7, and you might find some notes from myself and @nlanciani53.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

29-9-3, 61 points, leading Presidents’ Trophy race

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 11

Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 18

Nick’s Notes: A hot team must cool off a bit and then play the Vegas Golden Knights on their first night back to action? Talk about a prison sentence. At least they’ve still got the Presidents’ Trophy (lead) as consolation.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

28-10-2, 58 points, leading the Western Conference

Final game before the bye: Hosts the NY Rangers on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Son, where the Golden Knights are from, they don’t need no breaks. Polar opposites of the Tampa Bay Lightning bye week, Vegas plays a good team before taking time off. Then they play Edmonton. Next!

Connor’s Notes: That may be true, but there’s surely some concern among Gerard Gallant and his staff that the Knights just might lose some of this positive energy over the break. They’ve posted a 9-1-0 record over their last 10, and it’d be a shame if the only reason this club drops from Cloud 9 to Cloud 8 is just five little days off.

WINNIPEG JETS

24-11-7, 55 points, leading the Central Division

Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 13

Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Calgary on January 20

Nick’s Notes: The Winnipeg Jets are vying for first place in the Central Division this season after missing the playoffs last year. Their second best point-scorer (that’s right, point-scorer, not goal-scorer, Patrik Laine), Mark Scheifele‘s been nursing an upper body injury and this break won’t hurt the team for a week while he remains out of the lineup.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

24-11-6, 54 points, second in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 9

Bye week: January 10-15

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 16

Nick’s Notes: Most people think the party never stops in Vegas, but they’re wrong. The party never stops in Smashville and let’s just hope none of the Predators players get carried away on Broadway in their week off.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

26-16-2, 54 points, third in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Florida on January 9

Bye week: January 10-15 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Toronto on January 16

Connor’s Notes: Any way to avoid playing games while Jaden Schwartz‘ ankle is still healing is a good thing. While he won’t be ready to go until the end of the month, the Blues will hope to get out of a rut that has led to them posting a 4-6-0 record over their last 10 games entering Sunday.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

25-13-3, 53 points, leading the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 12

Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 18

Nick’s Notes: It’s not that Braden Holtby‘s been bad, but he’s having his worst season since 2013-14, so like, maybe send him to a remote mountain top or whatever it takes for Holtby to regain his form and focus (a water bottle usually does the trick). Seriously though, his 2.68 GAA and .917 save percentage is not great, Bob.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

24-13-5, 53 points, second in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: Hosted Nashville on January 6, lost 4-3

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Anaheim on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Best of luck to the Los Angeles Kings who will smash bodies against the boards with Nashville leading into their bye week and then smash bodies all over again with the Anaheim Ducks fresh off their vacations. It’s a grueling game. Ice those bruises.

BOSTON BRUINS

23-10-6, 52 points, second in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Montréal on January 13

Connor’s Notes: Similar to Vegas’ current run of success, with an 8-0-2 record over their last 10 games played entering Sunday, the Bruins arguably have the most positive energy to lose by going on break of any team in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately for them, they’ll play in what I expect to be a rivalry game that’s even more heated than usual given the Habs’ position in the standings to get right back into the swing of things.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

25-16-2, 52 points, third in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Ottawa on January 10

Bye week: January 11-15 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 16

Connor’s Notes: While the Leafs aren’t currently certain he’ll be ready to go by then, the original hope was that sophomore defenseman Nikita Zaitsev‘s lower-body injury would be healed by the time Toronto returned to action against the Notes. If St. Louis’ offense is ticking that day, his presence in the defensive zone will be a big help to Frederik Andersen

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

22-11-7, 51 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At the NY Islanders on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Philadelphia January 13

Nick’s Notes: The New Jersey Devils have been quietly good as of late. They’re this year’s biggest surprise outside of the Golden Knights. Nico Hischier just turned 19, so unless he’s going outside of the United States for his break, he can’t (legally) party hard.

DALLAS STARS

24-16-3, 51 points, fourth in the Central Division – first wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosted Edmonton on January 6, won 5-1

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Colorado on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Wouldn’t it be mean if nobody tells Kari Lehtonen when the break is so he just drives up to the practice rink on the first day like “where’d everybody go”? Just a thought.

NEW YORK RANGERS

22-14-5, 49 points, third in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Great, another week off means Henrik Lundqvist has to wait even longer for a Stanley Cup.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

23-16-3, 49 points, fourth in the Metropolitan Division – first wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 12

Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Dallas on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Columbus Blue Jackets have been the St. Louis Blues of the Eastern Conference this season. One week they’re amazing, the next week they’re losing. A lot.

Connor’s Notes: Nick is right, and the Jackets are in one of their losing funks right now. Entering Sunday, they’ve posted a 3-5-2 record over their last 10 games played. They won’t regain any of their four injured players during the break, but perhaps John Tortorella can find a way to regroup his troops before they lose any more ground in the Metro.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

21-12-6, 48 points, third in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Winnipeg on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Arizona on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Joe Thornton should use this break to regrow that part of his beard that got torn off his face by Nazem Kadri in Toronto.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

22-16-3, 47 points, fifth in the Central Division – second wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosted Minnesota on January 6, won 7-2

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Dallas on January 13

Connor’s Notes: Goaltender Semyon Varlamov should be prepared to return to action following the bye week after suffering a lower body injury on January 2, and there’s a possibility J.T. Compher get back into the lineup too. However, considering the Avs’ unbelievable position in the standings, does Jared Bednar even think about pulling Jonathan Bernier?

MINNESOTA WILD

22-17-3, 47 points, sixth in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19

First game out of the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Oft-injured and finally healthy, the Minnesota Wild should place everyone in bubblewrap for their bye week. Just a suggestion.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

19-15-9, 47 points, fourth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Calgary on January 6, lost 3-2

Bye week: January 7-12

First game out of the bye: At Los Angeles on January 13

Connor’s Notes: With Corey Perry returning to action last night against the Flames, Anaheim is effectively at 100 percent once again after losing basically every star at one point or another this season. After seeing what an injured Ducks team was capable of, the Pacific Division should get ready, because a rested and healthy Ducks team just might wreck havoc against weak competition.

CALGARY FLAMES

21-16-4, 46 points, fifth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Winnipeg on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Whoever’s running the airport gates in Calgary should make sure that wherever the player’s are going doesn’t actually say “Seattle” on their ticket. Unless the gate agent is originally from Seattle. *dramatic Twin Peaks music plays in the background*

CAROLINA HURRICANES

19-14-8, 46 points, fifth in the Metropolitan Division – second wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Detroit on January 20

Nick’s Notes: One thing’s for sure, even with their potential new majority owner, none of the Carolina Hurricanes players are going back to Hartford for their break. What a shame.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

21-19-3, 45 points, sixth in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Boston on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Phil Kessel doesn’t like time off (remember the 2016 World Cup of Hockey?) and Matthew Murray should probably go to the same place as Braden Holtby for a week. Murray’s goals-against average is almost a 3.0.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

19-15-6, 44 points, last in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Jeff Glass is the feel good story of 2018 so far, so why would anyone want to see him take five nights off? *Checks standings* Oh, right, this team isn’t in playoff worthy right now.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

18-15-8, 44 points, seventh in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Buffalo on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Someone make sure the Philadelphia Flyers don’t try to move to the Atlantic Division over their bye week. They’ll do anything to make the playoffs this season.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

20-18-4, 44 points, last in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts New Jersey on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 13

Connor’s Notes: The reason the Islanders have been making by with their horrendous defense, which was made worse by Calvin de Haan requiring a season-ending shoulder surgery, has been their explosive offense. Josh Bailey should be back at 100 percent following New York’s bye to reunite the BLT Line, allowing the Isles to get back to their version of Russian Roulette: finding out which goaltender is going to allow just one more goal than the other.

DETROIT RED WINGS

17-16-7, 41 points, fourth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 13

Nick’s Notes: If the Detroit Red Wings were a young, rebuilding, team I’d recommend a five-day long pizza party at The Pizza Box (Little Caesar’s Arena). Maybe they can figure out the right way to tank during their time off instead of winning a lot before the break.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

17-18-5, 39 points, fifth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 12

Bye week: January 13-18 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 19

Connor’s Notes: Just as James Reimer is beginning to run out of steam, Roberto Luongo is expected to return to the Panthers’ crease with his club seven points outside playoff position. Whether he resumes his starting job before or after the bye, the break allows both of them to be fully rested.

EDMONTON OILERS

18-21-3, 39 points, sixth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 13

Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Peter Chiarelli can’t possibly figure out how he’s going to save his team in six days when he spent $21 million on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in about that amount of time over the summer.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

16-19-6, 38 points, seventh in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Edmonton on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Like Mark Scheifele and the Winnipeg Jets, Bo Horvat and the Vancouver Canucks haven’t seen each other in a little while due to injury. Take some time and rest up.

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS

17-20-4, 38 points, sixth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Boston on January 13

Nick’s Notes: I’m pretty sure you can’t trade players during your bye week, so don’t try to move Max Pacioretty while nobody’s paying attention, Montreal.

OTTAWA SENATORS

14-17-9, 37 points, seventh in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: At Toronto on January 10

Bye week: January 11-17 (seven days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Ottawa Senators will find a way to lose games over their seven day break. Meanwhile, Eugene Melnyk will have just enough time to figure out an escape plan while nobody’s at Canadian Tire Centre.

BUFFALO SABRES

10-22-9, 29 points, last in the Eastern Conference

Final game before the bye: Hosts Columbus on January 11

Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Sabres should hold an exhibition matchup with some bantam teams while on their break. You know, so they can get better.

ARIZONA COYOTES

10-27-6, 26 points, last in the NHL

Final game before the bye: Hosted the NY Rangers on January 6, won 2-1 in a shootout

Bye week: January 7-11 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 12

Nick’s Notes: Wait, you mean Arizona hasn’t already been taking time off all season?


Final notes: I strongly dislike how the NHL is abandoning entire markets for a week at a time. This is most noticeable in the United States’ two biggest cities: New York and Los Angeles. All five teams that play in those markets will be dormant for the same five days (January 8-12). Why didn’t they stagger these byes so those important markets would still have at least one squad active at all times? After all, if there’s one thing Devils fans love to see as much as a Jersey win, it’s a Rangers loss. Whether they take in that loss at Madison Square Garden or from their couch doesn’t ultimately matter. The fact that those markets could turn their attention away from the NHL to either the Clippers, Knicks or Friends reruns on TBS does.

But this extends further. The entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will be shut off from NHL hockey from January 8-12 (The same days as New York and Los Angeles? Who is making these decisions?), as neither the Flyers nor Penguins will be in action. Boston and Montréal? Nope, they’re both on the bye at the same time too (you guessed it, January 8-12). The Blues and Predators can vacation together as well – though I doubt they’d want to – as they are both out of action from January 10-15.

I’m sure the league’s competition committee is going to claim that they’re trying to reduce the possibility of one particular team getting too much of an advantage, but this just seems silly from a business perspective. If that is truly the case, perhaps one day when the league reaches 32 teams it will simply shut down an entire conference for five days and then the other (the odd number of teams right now makes scheduling a little… interesting in that scenario), or – the more likely of these two options – perchance expand the distribution of byes over the course of three weeks instead of just two. Who knows?

Beyond this issue, while I don’t necessarily like where it is in the schedule, I do like that the NHL has condensed the time period for bye weeks in the season. Keeping track of which teams had and hadn’t taken their week off last season was a bother, and this system eliminates that. Of course, we’ll know how NBC and Sportsnet react based on how these byes are arranged next year.

As for my final complaint, the byes have the possibility of creating a very staggered January. We just got out of the three-day holiday break 12 days ago. Each team has played an average of only 5.4 games since then. Now we have these bye weeks of at least five days, and the four-day All-Star Break (January 26-29) is only 20 days out. If those sentences were confusing, I’m concerned that’s how the month of January is going to feel – scattered hockey thoughts until Groundhog’s Day.

The NHL Players’ Association demanded these bye weeks in return for the league turning the All-Star Game into the divisional three-on-three format we have had for the past two years. They’re not going anywhere: the players obviously like the idea of getting some time off, and putting it near the midway point of the season seems like a logical idea.

However, how this change is impacting the league’s product is still being understood. Unless we could see a plausible situation where bye weeks don’t happen until the end of February or March (remember, that’s likely after the trade deadline), the existence of the midway-point byes could be yet another reason the NHL could axe the All-Star Game, eliminating that break altogether.

Throw in the fact that the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement could expire as soon as 2020’s offseason – should either party opt out early – and no later than the summer of 2022 and we could be looking at a whole heap of changes  – or a whole heap of no hockey – within the next four years.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 10

The prodigal son has returned, and it is time, once again, for me to assault your reading receptacles with my meaningless awards and incessant ramblings. Thanks to Cap’n for stepping in for me while I was off going to random ECHL games and concerts.

A special note: I’ve dropped the ‘Team of the Week’ section of these articles in favor of a new bit of weekly content that will be debuting here shortly. It will be replaced by a split of the ‘Player of the Week’ section, now giving one award to a skater, and one to a goaltender.

Skater of the Week: Josh Bailey

Heyyyyyyyyyy, HEYYY BAI-LEY, ooh…ahh, I wanna KNOWWWWOhhohhohh-Ohhoh, if you’ll score my goals…and assists…

Anyway, in the season’s first repeat performance, Josh Bailey again earns the nod for being the only Islander better at being underappreciated league-wide than John Tavares. The New York centerman is on a five-game point streak, four of those taking place this week. In those four games, he has four goals and four assists, including a hat trick in a losing effort to the Columbus Blue Jackets (the first time in franchise history the CBJ allowed a hat trick and won the game, a stellar 1-32-1 record for my boys in blue), and has a scarcely-believable 40 points in just 33 games this season. For reference, Bailey has previously topped the 40-point plateau only twice in a full season in his entire career. 28 years old seems a bit late for a coming-out party, but Isles fans are hardly going to complain about finally giving JT some depth scoring support.

Tendy of the Week: Brian Elliott

Possibly the only thing hotter than the Philadelphia Flyers of late is their own goaltender. Riding a six-game winning streak overall, including a perfect three-win performance this week, Ells has drastically altered the fortunes of the once-floundering Flyers, and has the Philly Phaithful at least starting to bother watching anything but Eagles games.

Starting off the week with 20 saves on 22 shots to down the Leafs, Elliott followed that up with single-goal games against Buffalo and Dallas to carry a superb .943 save percentage and 1.31 GAA through the week. The Flyers are still a few games back from the current Wild Card teams, but they hold games in hand on a good portion of the conference, and are much closer than any team that at one point lost 10 consecutive games should realistically be.

Game of the Week: Pittsburgh Penguins 1 @ Vegas Golden Knights 2, Thursday December 14th, 2017

I’m not even going to bother with the advanced stats, or play-by-play, or whatever else you think pertains to being the game of the week. This game was basically from a movie script. Recently-returned Marc-Andre Fleury facing the only team he had ever known prior to this season, he gets a hug from opposing goaltender Matthew Murray, who’s reasoning was simply “I missed the guy!”, and if you don’t love that you have no friends.

Four total former Penguins have found refuge with the upstart Knights, who continue to crush every single expert’s opinion about what an expansion team is capable of and are slowly shedding their ‘Island of Misfit Toys’ appearance in favor of being a legitimate contender.

Fleury stops 24 of 25, two of the three other former Pens tally points, and the franchise that didn’t exist last year beats the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs. Somebody call Disney.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Longtime Senator Chris Neil decided to hang up the skates this week, after a career spanning 15 seasons and over 1,000 games. One of the last of the ‘enforcer’ breed remaining, Neil was always known as one of the most complete players to wear the tough guy label, and was a highly-respected player both within his own locker room and throughout the league. All the best to Chris in his future endeavors.

In other Senators news, owner Eugene Melnyk said this week that while he has no aspirations of selling his team, he would consider relocating the franchise. While I’d imagine this resulted in numerous flaming bags of feces being placed upon his doorstep by Ottawa residents, I’m sure Quebec City natives happily sacrificed their shoes for their new hero.

Devan Dubnyk went down with a lower-body injury this week and is considered ‘week-to-week’, and if you open your window and listen very carefully, you can hear the screams of Wild fans from hundreds of miles away. (Note: If you’re in the Eastern Time Zone and north of the Ohio-Michigan border, these screams do mix in with the screams of Nordiques fans trying to remove their flaming pants.)

Oh, also in Ottawa news, holy frigg did that NHL 100 Classic look cold. I mean, I know with it being Ontario there were probably shirtless locals in attendance, but I was more than happy to watch from home.

Seattle looks poised to be the next expansion city, which is great, but I’m only going to really get on board if they decide to go with popular opinion and name the team the Seattle McSeattle Faces.

Kari Lehtonen joined a fairly exclusive club this week, as one of just 33 goaltenders to earn 300 wins in an NHL career. All the props in the world to him, because as someone who has spent his entire career with mostly-lackluster teams (I mean, he played for the Thrashers), it’s one hell of an accomplishment. Kari also surpassed Miikka Kiprusoff for most games played by Finnish goaltenders in the same contest, and trails only Kipper in wins by Finns. But with Preds stud Pekka Rinne at 285 career wins, the race to catch that record could be interesting. Cam Ward also reached 300 wins this week, but only managed to hold on to the distinction of ‘Most Unlikely 300-win Goalie’ for about 24 hours before Lehtonen would steal the distinction.

DtFR Overtime: Where’s the Star Power?

Welcome to DtFR Overtime, where somebody on the most recent podcast offers some deeper thoughts on one of the points of discussion.

Today’s subject: Star power and the absence of it.

We all know the list of current NHL stars: LW Jamie Benn, D Brent Burns, C Sidney Crosby, G Braden Holtby, F Patrick Kane, D Erik Karlsson, G Henrik Lundqvist, C Auston Matthews, C Connor McDavid, W Alex Ovechkin, G Carey Price, G Jonathan Quick, C Steven Stamkos, D P.K. Subban, RW Vladimir Tarasenko, C John Tavares

OK, I think you get the idea.

But how important are these stars really? I mean, of the skaters listed above, they play an average of only 21 minutes – or barely over a third of a game.

While the top NHL teams put a strong value on depth scoring, I would argue that, over the course of a season, it is necessary for Team X’s star to be the best player on the ice for that team to have success.

It sounds basic, right?

It is, but even the clubs that seem to be built to withstand the unfortunately inevitable scoring droughts from its top players are struggling this season.

My first example is the 12-11-5 Chicago Blackhawks, a club that currently sits in 12th place in the Western Conference and is at risk of missing the postsesaon for the first time since the 2007-’08 campaign.

I brought up Kane in the list of stars earlier, but his team-leading 10-17-27 totals are not the reason Chicago finds itself on the outside looking in. Instead, this star-laden team is struggling to find leadership from its captain.

Getting outplayed by rookie F Alex DeBrincat‘s 11-9-20 effort, C Jonathan Toews has only 8-11-19 totals to his credit and is on track for the worst offensive production of his professional career. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Blackhawks have an 11-2-2 record when Toews finds his way onto the scorecard, but a 1-9-3 record when he doesn’t.

That was fun, especially for a fan of a Central Division team that hasn’t worn a lick of red since the 1997-’98 season. Let’s head east and examine another city where it looks like the local club is in an even more dire situation

Welcome to Ottawa, the national capital of Canada.  Expectations were high after forcing a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series with Pittsburgh back in May, but all the 9-11-6 Sens, who currently sit third-to-last in the conference, have done this season is disappoint.

To be fair, Karlsson at least has the excuse of an injury to partially explain his slump. The hard part in figuring out Karlsson’s 1-16-17 effort is that he’s mostly on track from a points-per-game standpoint. Given he missed the Sens’ first five games, his .81 points-per-game is, while not exemplary by his standards, still a solid output.

Unfortunately, this is where points can distract from goals. You probably noticed he only had one tally to his credit, which is where I think his team needs him most.

The 14-10-2 Sharks are facing a similar situation with their star defenseman Burns, who has managed only 1-11-12 totals in 26 games a year after posting 29-47-76 numbers to win the Norris Trophy. As such, San Jose does not have the solid footing in the standings it would like, as the Sharks are holding onto their second wild card position by winning only a games-played tiebreaker.

Now, I’m not going to sit here on my couch and pontificate about how to score a goal in the NHL against the 30-something best goaltenders in the world. I mean, I live in the South and can barely keep my skates underneath me the entire time I’m at the rink. But, I am going to say that Karlsson’s .05 goals-per-game for the season and Burns’ .04 is – you guessed it – the worst performances of their careers.

Last year, Karlsson scored 17 of the Sens’ 212 regular season goals. That may only be eight percent of the total, but Ottawa earned a 12-3-3 record when he personally put a goal on the scoreboard, including a perfect 2-0-0 record in the postseason. Similarly, Burns’ career-high 29 goals earned the Sharks an 18-7-1 record last season, though it might be of bigger note that Edmonton did not allow him to find the back of the net in their six-game first round matchup, the Sharks’ only playoff series of the 2017 postseason.

Now, don’t read this as all doom-and-gloom for these respective squads. All of these teams can get right back into the playoff discussion (yes, even Ottawa thanks to a weak Atlantic Division) or better cement their position in the tournament if their biggest players can simply rediscover their mojo.

Take for example Montréal, where as recently as two weeks ago it looked like the 13-13-3 Canadiens had never seen, much less used hockey sticks before. Then Price came back from his lower-body injury, and the Habs look better than ever.

Of course, things weren’t exactly peachy in Québec before Price took time off. In his 11 appearances before retreating to the press box, Price had managed only an .877 season save percentage and 3.77 GAA to earn a 3-7-1 record, forcing Habs fans and bloggers alike to wonder when exactly this injury occurred.

But since Price’s return on November 25, Price and the Habs have been almost unbeatable, as they’ve won five of their last six games with him in net. The goaltender himself has been extremely successful as well, as he’s posted a .94 save percentage and 1.67 GAA in that time.

But the turnaround hasn’t been simply in the defensive end. Even the offense is gelling now that its true leader is back (Sorry LW Max Pacioretty, but this is Price’s team. You’re captain by technicality), as success breeds success and positive energy. Since Price’s return, Montréal’s offense has managed a whopping 4.5 goals-per-game, highlighted by Saturday’s 10-1 shellacking of the Red Wings. Even taking out that major outlier, the Habs’ 3.4 goals-per-game is much better than the 2.32 goals-per-game they’d managed before Price’s return. This surge has propelled the Canadiens from sixth place in the Atlantic Division into third – a playoff spot.

Since we’re on the topic of Montréal and its stars and I already brought up Pacioretty, we might as well discuss my concerns over this team. Pacioretty is struggling something fierce right now. He’s only managed 8-8-16 totals so far this season, and is on pace for his worst professional season since his first two years with the Habs.

Unfortunately for Canadiens fans, this scoring skid is not limited to just this season. I don’t need to remind them of the magic disappearing act he performed in the playoffs against the Rangers, managing only a lone assist. In fact, since March 14 of last campaign, he’s managed only 10-14-24 totals in games that count (aka everything but the preseason).

While I belittled the letter Pacioretty wears on his sweater, he is still one of the leaders on this team. For the Habs to sustain this recent success, Pacioretty is going to need to snap out of his slump – even if it means he has to become a play-maker before resuming a goalscorer role.

Another team that has had more struggles than it would like is the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions. While they’ve had trouble finding depth scoring and are now facing even bigger goaltending issues than they had before, the 15-11-3 Penguins have held onto a playoff position for most of the year.

Now, the operative word here is ‘most.’ There was a point in late November when the Penguins had fallen outside the playoff picture, and – as you might guess from the other examples – I would pin a lot of the club’s struggles on Crosby.

It is very hard to point at a player that is contributing a point-per-game on the season and say he is not doing enough for his team. After all, isn’t this the same team that supposedly embodies the speed-based future of the sport while also trotting out RW Ryan Reaves onto the ice every game? Why can’t his lousy 1-2-3 totals be the problem?

And yet, it’s hard to ignore that Pittsburgh’s slump aligned almost perfectly with Crosby’s goal-scoring slump. Between October 21 and November 22, Crosby managed only 1-6-7 totals in 15 games, which led the Penguins to earning only a 6-7-2 record in that time.

You might say that 6-7-2 isn’t a terrible run while one of the league’s top players is on the schneid, and I’d agree if that team wasn’t in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. The Penguins also have the luxury of employing RW Phil Kessel and F Evgeni Malkin, who were able to keep the team mostly afloat with their combined 10-18-28 effort.

If that stat does nothing other than stress the importance of Crosby to his team, I don’t know what does. The fact that the Penguins were losing, or at least treading water, while two players created nearly 30 goals in 15 games is unbelievable.

Anyways, Crosby has rediscovered his scoring ways since then, and the Pens are all the better for it. Starting with November 24, the captain has earned 6-6-12 totals that are closer to what fans expect from him. As such, the Penguins have found their way back into the win column, earning a 4-2-0 record in spite of G Matthew Murray missing Pittsburgh’s last three games with a lower-body injury.

Of course, the Penguins are doing a great job of poking a hole in my argument by falling from third in the division back into the second wild card spot while Murray is healing, but I’m still going to hold firm that G Tristan Jarry has earned a 3-1-0 record filling in not because of his solid .926 season save percentage (though that doesn’t hurt), but because Crosby has scored a goal in every game but – you guessed it – Jarry’s one regulation loss.

Confidence – which I am led to believe is the word people are actually looking for when they discuss momentum in sports (I mean, “momentum” is technically mass x velocity, so the momentum of a sports team cannot change without either a plane or a player transaction) – is like hitting in baseball: it’s a contagious thing.

Star players are not star players simply because they can score or stop goals no one else can. Stars are stars because they can make those plays and make the athletes associated with them feel like they too can contribute to the ultimate goal and find wins and success.

Stars are leaders.

And that’s why stars have to perform their best. That’s why they have to have the best numbers on their team. It’s not to belittle the third and fourth liners, but it’s their success that should drive a team to achieve more.

Success breeds success.

In that same train of thought, leaders can’t create success from the rest of their team while they themselves are struggling to find their groove. Stars are stars because they find that motivation to excel within themselves, and then use that flame to light the others’ torches.

You might have noticed the thread that connects all of the players called out in this column: Toews, Karlsson, Burns, Pacioretty and Crosby are all captains. These players have been selected by their coaches and peers based not only on their undoubted skills, but also on their work-ethic and leadership abilities. They were honored with that distinction, so it is time for them to step up and serve the letter and crest on the front of their sweaters and get/keep their squads on track.

These teams are capable of winning; it just takes a little input from a star.

November 27 – Day 54 – Battle of Pennsylvania

Welcome to the last week of November! I know you think you need to be doing your Christmas shopping, but you have all of December to do that. Instead, sit down this evening and watch some hockey.

If you’re wise and followed my instructions, the NHL has scheduled five games for your viewing pleasure. Two of them (Florida at New Jersey and Philadelphia at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) start at 7 p.m., followed by Columbus at Montréal (RDS/TSN2) half an hour later. Minnesota at Winnipeg continues the half-hour intervals by dropping the puck at 8 p.m., as does Anaheim at Chicago, which waits until 8:30 p.m. to close out the evening’s action. All times Eastern.

I know we just featured the Penguins Saturday, but there’s no way we can miss the season’s first iteration of the Battle of Pennsylvania.

 

To keep the story short, there’s only a few things these teams can agree on:

  1. Hockey is a good game.
  2. Pennsylvania is a good state commonwealth.
  3. Mark Recchi is a good guy.

Beyond that, there’s very little these rivals see eye-to-eye about. Of course, what should one expect from teams that have met 316 times in regular or postseason play (played to a 172-114-30 record in favor of Philadelphia, by the way).

Looking at the overall numbers, the Flyers have certainly had their way with this series. In addition to already owning the overall series by almost 60 games, they’ve also beaten Pittsburgh in four of their six playoff series, including winning three-straight from 1989-2000.

You’d think Pittsburgh having players like C Sidney Crosby and F Evgeni Malkin would have had a way of leveling the playing field for the Pens of late, but every good rivalry has a way of dulling stars’ impact. Even though the Pens swept Philadelphia 8-0-0 during Malkin’s rookie season in 2006-’07, the Flyers have amassed a slightly superior 34-27-8 regular season record against the Penguins since Crosby first donned the black-and-gold.

The difference? Two points.

That’s right, a win by the Penguins tonight at PPG Paints Arena would level the Battle for Pennsylvania series during the Crosby Era – as if 12-10-3 Pittsburgh needed more motivation than it already had sitting a point outside of the playoff picture.

When we featured the Pens’ game against the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning a couple days ago, I mentioned that one of their problems seemed to be a dry spell by Crosby. Of course, he went out and proved me wrong, as he scored two goals and tacked on another assist to lead G Tristan Jarry to his first-ever NHL victory.

But there’s still another wound to poke on this squad: defense. Pittsburgh has allowed 3.4 goals-per-game this season, which is the fourth-highest in the entire NHL.

That being said, it seems even that problem might slowly be resolving itself. The Penguins search for a backup goaltender has been well documented, with offseason signing Antti Niemi failing miserably and already playing for his third team of the year. Since Jarry has been called up, the goaltending duo of him and starter 11-7-1 G Matthew Murray has found much more consistent play, as they’ve combined for a 2.89 season GAA.

Of course, it still seems probable that General Manager Jim Rutherford will eventually pursue a trade that allows him to send Jarry back to the AHL and resume playing consistently alongside fellow prospect Casey DeSmith, but his solid play has allowed management to take its time and find a good deal instead of rush into a bad decision.

Of course, that’s a discussion for another day, because it’s likely that Murray resumes starting duties this evening.

Compared to his rookie campaign and his 13 starts in 2015-’16, he’s left much to be desired in his first season as Pittsburgh’s undisputed number one, as he’s managed only a .906 save percentage and 2.94 GAA that ranks 14th and 11th-worst, respectively, among the 34 goalies with at least 10 starts.

But Murray is not the only contributor to Pittsburgh’s defensive woes. Even though D Kris Letang leads the team with 17 takeaways and RW Ryan Reaves throws 3.1 hits-per-game, Murray has already faced 595 shots this season, the eighth-most among that group of 34 goalies.

One of the odder things going on in Pittsburgh nowadays is D Ian Cole being a healthy scratch, as he leads the team with 1.8 blocks-per-game. He hasn’t dressed for the past two games, and word on the street from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey is that he’ll watch tonight’s game from the press box.

It’s peculiar that a defenseman so committed to keeping pucks away from his netminder that he’s only managed three points this season is the one being punished. Head Coach Mike Sullivan has yet to publicly show his hand (he claims Cole needs to improve his game), but the longer this goes on, the transaction rumors will only increase.

As for the 8-9-6 Flyers, they wish they were in as enviable a position as Pittsburgh to be unhappy with only being a point outside playoff position. For the umpteenth season in a row, Philly burst out of the starting gate to only find itself six points from the bottom of the conference.

A major reason for this slide has been the Flyers’ play over the second half of November. After beating the Blackhawks 3-1 on November 9, Philadelphia has earned only an 0-3-4 record since.

While the offense hasn’t been very good over this stretch (they’ve managed only 2.14 goals-per-game), it’s been the play on the defensive end that has been the true burden, as the Flyers have allowed 25 goals against in their past seven games.

Much of the responsibility for this struggle falls on the shoulders of 6-5-5 G Brian Elliott, who has started all but one of the games in this stretch for a .909 save percentage and 2.77 GAA that is actually better than his season marks of .905 and 2.85.

Unfortunately, that nominal improvement is simply not good enough behind an offense that scores only 2.83 goals-per-game on the season. Until the other three lines behind Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek decide to play hockey, General Manager Ron Hextall can only look forward to a trip to Dallas for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft to see if he can find a skater that can actually contribute (shots fired, F Nolan Patrick).

The reason Murray can put up comparable numbers to Elliott and still win is because of the goal support he receives from RW Phil Kessel, and it’s for that reason that I believe Pittsburgh will snap its two-game losing skid to the Flyers and beat them for the first time since February 25.


Though they needed the shootout to do it, the New York Rangers were able to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Vancouver’s offense was ticking throughout this entire game, as it managed a goal in all three frames. W Loui Eriksson (C Henrik Sedin) took credit for the first period’s marker, burying a wrist shot 7:54 into the game.

The Canucks doubled their lead at the 7:21 mark of the second period courtesy of RW Jake Virtanen‘s third goal of the season, an unassisted wrister. However, this tally did not go unanswered, as Second Star of the Game RW Jesper Fast (D Nick Holden and D Brendan Smith) scored a wrister with 2:20 remaining before the second intermission to pull the Rangers back within a goal.

All the offensive action that ultimately mattered in the third period occurred in the opening 5:05 of the frame. W Michael Grabner (W Mats Zuccarello and D Kevin Shattenkirk) took his turn first, bagging a wrister only 19 seconds after emerging from the dressing room to level the game at two-all. The Rangers weren’t even for long though, as Third Star F Sam Gagner (W Thomas Vanek) returned the lead to Vancouver only 41 seconds later. First Star LW Jimmy Vesey (W Rick Nash and F Kevin Hayes) scored the final goal of regulation at the 5:05 mark, and it was an important one: Vesey’s backhanded shot tied the game at three-all and forced three-on-three overtime and, ultimately, the shootout.

As for how the shootout went down…

  1. Vanek took the opening attempt for the Canucks, but his wrister was saved by G Henrik Lundqvist.
  2. That provided Zuccarello an opportunity to earn a mini-break, but just like Vanek, his wrister was saved by G Jacob Markstrom.
  3. Vancouver’s second shooter was C Bo Horvat, but the shootout remained tied thanks to Lundqvist’s save.
  4. C Mika Zibanejad apparently grew tired of seeing all these saves, as he ensured Markstrom couldn’t get his mitts on his shot by sending it wide of the net.
  5. RW Brock Boeser finally found the first goal of the shootout for the Canucks, which forced a miss-and-lose situation for New York.
  6. Put in a pinch, Head Coach Alain Vigneault turned to Shattenkirk, who hadn’t scored a shootout goal since the 2015-’16 season. The defenseman ended that skid to continue the tiebreaker.
  7. Now in a sudden death situation, F Markus Granlund was sent out to win the game for the Canucks. Lundqvist had other ideas and was there to make the save.
  8. W Pavel Buchnevich‘s offering met the same fate: saved by Markstrom.
  9. LW Sven Baertschi started round five with a bang, as he beat Lundqvist to force New York’s second miss-and-lose situation.
  10. Cool under pressure, Nash sent the shootout on to the sixth round by beating Markstrom.
  11. Though he was able to score in regulation, Gagner couldn’t beat Lundqvist in the shootout.
  12. F J.T. Miller hasn’t scored a goal since November 2, and his luck didn’t change here. His offering was saved by Markstrom.
  13. Another skater, another save: this time, Lundqvist stopped D Ben Hutton in round seven.
  14. He was the one to force overtime, and he was the one to end the shootout: Vesey beat Markstrom to earn two points for the Blueshirts.

Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 29-of-32 shots faced (.906 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Markstrom, who saved 17-of-20 (.85).

After being on the wrong end of a two-game winning run two days ago, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a two-game winning streak of their own. That has elevated their record to 29-19-6, 10 points better than the visitors’.