Tag Archives: Matthews

Toronto Maple Leafs 2018-2019 Season Preview

Toronto Maple Leafs

49-26-7, 105 points, third in the Atlantic Division

Lost in First Round to Boston, 4-3

Additions: RW Adam Cracknell, F Tyler Ennis, C Josh Jooris, C Par Lindholm, G Eamon McAdam, D Igor Ozhiganov, D Jordan Subban, C John Tavares

Subtractions: F Miro Aaltonen (signed with Vityaz Podolsk, KHL), RW Kyle Baun (signed with Belfast Giants, EIHL), C Tyler Bozak (signed with STL), W Martins Dzierkals (signed with Dinamo Riga, KHL), F Colin Greening (signed with Toronto Marlies, AHL), F Leo Komarov (signed with NYI), W Matt Martin (traded to NYI), C Tomas Plekanec (signed with MTL), D Roman Polak (signed with DAL), F Ben Smith (signed with Adler Mannheim, DEL), LW James van Riemsdyk (signed with PHI), LW Nolan Vesey (traded to EDM)

Offseason Analysis: Let’s just get this out of the way early: Johnny T is coming home!

I’m not even a Maple Leafs fan and that gets me mildly excited.

After all, Tavares is departing a team that qualified for the playoffs only thrice during his nine-year tenure and joining one that scored a (t)third-best 270 goals last season without his offensive acumen. With Tavares’ 272-349-621 career totals effectively replacing Bozak’s 136-229-365 marks in just as many seasons (the only difference being Tavares will play no lower than on the second line, while Bozak was the Leafs’ third-line center), it’s safe to say Toronto’s offense – which was already stacked by simply mentioning C Auston Matthews‘ name – is now rivaled only by Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg.

So, that means the Leafs are locks for the Stanley Cup, right? I mean, that’s what all the Toronto fans have been telling me…

Regrettably, I must poke a hole in that balloon, at least until the squad proves me wrong in the first month or so of the regular season.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubts about the Leafs’ offense. Few are going to keep up with Toronto’s attack, which may very well be capable of flirting with the 300-goal mark this year (that’s 3.66 goals per game, Leafs fans).

Instead, my concerns reside along Toronto’s blue line, and I’m sure G Frederik Andersen agrees with me. With Andersen in net last season, the Maple Leafs allowed at least 30 shots on goal 44 times.

He started 66 games last campaign.

For those struggling to do the math, Andersen – who started 80 percent of the Maple Leafs’ games last season and accrued 3889 minutes – faced at least 10 shots per period in two-thirds of his appearances.

Talk about a heavy workload.

To Andersen’s credit, he posted five shutouts and a solid .918 save percentage last season, so he performed marvelously given the immense pressure on him. However, there’s no doubt he would have preferred to see fewer than the 33.9 shots against per game coming his way, a regression from the 32.6 shots the Leafs allowed in 2016-2017.

In my last season preview, I mentioned how Pittsburgh might be a team looking to trade a defenseman should Juuso Riikola continue to impress. If that proves to be the case, General Manager Kyle Dubas would be wise to get in contact with counterpart Jim Rutherford to at least inquire about an asking price, as the Pens have exactly what the Leafs are in the market for: an established, NHL-ready defenseman with significant playoff experience.

The asking price would likely be high considering both are expected to be major players in the Eastern Conference. However, with visions of Stanley Cups dancing in their dreams, the initial cost of addressing the Maple Leafs’ defensive deficiencies likely pale in comparison to the time wasted in a contention window with a porous blue line.

Offseason Grade: B+

Yes, the Maple Leafs landed Tavares. As a result, they automatically earn better than a passing grade. However, doing little to improve a blue line that allowed the fourth-most shots has me very concerned that this club won’t see much of an improvement on that end of the ice. Dubas had better have a plan to address that issue soon, as Matthews’ contract next summer is not going to be cheap, which will make it difficult to retool the defense. In the meantime, hopefully the offense will meet or exceed expectations, as Scotiabank Arena could see more than a few high-scoring games this year.

David is Goliath: Pastrnak’s hat trick; 6 points too much for Leafs

 

 

 

 

 

If Pastafarianism wasn’t already a religion, Boston would definitely be trying to make it one. (But seriously, it is already a religion. Look it up. It’s a hoot.)

It was a rocking night at TD Garden, with Rene Rancourt bringing his two-game fist pump totals to 8 (kid’s on a roll) and the Boston crowd (that included our own @nlanciani53) was thunderous.

After having the proverbial sand kicked in their faces in Game 1, it was expected that Toronto would come into Game 2 looking for redemption, and prove they were the threat they were made out to be. Sure they’d have to do it without Nazem Kadri (serving the first of his 3 game suspension, replaced by Andreas Johnsson playing his first career NHL playoff game) in the lineup, but Boston would be without Tommy Wingels (the one who received the suspension-worthy hit, replaced by Ryan Donato also playing his first career NHL playoff game) so that should even things up, right?

It, uh…it didn’t.

The first solid action kicked off just 1:30 into the game, as Jake DeBrusk sprung Rick Nash on a breakaway with a beautiful stretch pass, but Nash would fire just wide of the net.

Soon after, it was Tuukka Rask making the game’s first notable stop, grabbing a redirect off the stick of William Nylander. On the following shift Rask covered up another puck and took a snow shower from young Kasperi Kapanen, drawing the ire of…basically everyone wearing black and gold. This seemed to be when the troubles really started for the Leafs, actually.

First it was Kevan Miller absolutely freight train-ing James van Riemsdyk in the corner to Rask’s right, igniting the Boston crowd and giving a jolt of energy to his team.

Just over 30 seconds after the big hit, the Bruins’ top line started zipping the puck around, capped off by Torey Krug firing a hard pass to a streaking David Pastrnak. The pass caught a Toronto stick and deflected up in the air, but Pastrnak somehow managed to corral the puck and settle it on his tape while doing a 360 past a Leafs defender and tucking a backhand past the outstretched pad of Frederik Andersen to take the 1-0 lead at 5:26. If you haven’t seen this goal yet, go find it.

Krug would make the church bells ring a few minutes later, firing one off of the post, shortly before Toronto took a penalty. Early in the penalty kill it looked like Toronto was going to tie the game, as Kapanen broke in alone and deked Rask out of his pants, but fired the puck right off the post and sent the play in the other direction where shortly after DeBrusk would tip in a centering feed from Krug (who had pinched all the way to the goal line on the right wing boards) to score Boston’s 4th power play goal of the series to put his team up 2-0 9:46 into the game.

Less than two and a half minutes later Boston would find the back of the net again, with another defenseman, this time being Kevan Miller from the left wing boards, would fire a pass to the middle of the ice from along the goal line. Miller’s pass hit the skate of Leafs defender Nikita Zaitsev and beat Andersen, putting Boston up 3-0 with 7:47 to play in the first.

Mike Babcock decided he had seen enough, and rather than burning a valuable timeout, he chose to make a goaltending switch to get the attention of his team, pulling Andersen in favor of Curtis McElhinney, who made just the second playoff appearance of his entire career.

Unfortunately for Babcock and the Leafs, the Bruins were having none of this attempt to slow things down. Tim Schaller made sure the building stayed in it by flattening Mitch Marner on the forecheck, leading to a fight with Ron Hainsey.

On the power play resulting from Hainsey’s instigator penalty, the Bs extra man unit improved to five-for-eight in the series when Rick Nash cleaned up the garbage from a ricocheting Pastrnak shot just 11 seconds into the man advantage, giving the Bruins a 4-0 lead at the 15:00 mark.

Toronto did manage to somewhat stop the bleeding for the final five minutes, and mounted a bit of a counter-attack, but never got a serious scoring opportunity out of it and went to the room trailing by four with little in the way of positives to build on. Boston scored four goals on eight shots, including the last three on consecutive shots.

Early in the second, Toronto finally found life, with Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner pouncing on a David Krejci turnover to set up a two-on-one, where Marner would bang in the back door goal to make it 4-1 just 1:22 into the middle frame.

Again, it took no time at all for Boston to push Toronto’s faces right back in the dirt, coming out on the very next shift and responding with two thundering hits. First it was David Backes stapling Zaitsev to the end boards behind his own net, then just a few seconds later Leo Komarov tried to step into Miller and instead ended up laying on the ice seemingly unsure of his whereabouts. Or identity. (He’d return only briefly on a power play shift a few minutes later, taking the ice for about 10 seconds before immediately returning to the locker room and never reappearing)

Then just 2:24 after the Marner goal, it would be Krejci making amends for his costly turnover by tipping a Pastrnak shot past McElhinney as he skated across the front of the net, restoring Boston’s four-goal lead 3:46 into the second.

The Leafs would get a power play soon after, but the only real opportunity they’d have was a hard wrist shot by Auston Matthews labeled for the glove side corner that Rask seemingly lackadaisically snagged out of the air.

Rick Nash and Auston Matthews traded breakaway opportunities, both on terrific power moves through defenders, but both were turned aside by the respective netminders.

Toronto again pulled within 3 when Tyler Bozak tipped home a nice spinning feed from below the goal line by Connor Brown with 10:57 remaining. They managed to build a little momentum off of this, having a few good scoring chances (Gardiner one-timer out of a netfront scramble, Marleau getting his own rebound off the end boards and nearly beating an off-balance Rask) turned aside in the next few minutes. Rask continued to be the story for most of the dying minutes, making two of his best stops with just over 4 to play, first on Matthews walking out from behind the net, then stretching out the opposite side pad to deny Patrick Marleau on the rebound. Shots were evened up at 22 at the end of the second period.

Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk spent the last part of the second and the third period nursing an apparent leg injury of some sort, often limping noticeably, but finished the game.

The early minutes of the third passed without incident, until Brown and Tomas Plekanec jumped on a loose puck after Charlie McAvoy tripped near his own blueline for a two-on-one, but Rask again turned it aside. On the following shift at the opposite end it would be McElhinney stopping a Patrice Bergeron one-timer on a feed by Brad Marchand.

With 8:26 remaining Boston would strike again, Marchand turning the puck over from Gardiner and walking in on a breakaway that Gardiner somehow managed to get back and poke check away at the last second, but before Toronto could regroup Bergeron had already retrieved the puck in the corner and handed it to Pastrnak, who walked to the front of the net almost uncontested and roofed a shot over the blocker side of McElhinney for the 6-2 lead.

JVR managed to again cut the defecit to 3 with 5:07 to play when he banged home a rebound past Rask, who had little help on the play, after a hard forecheck by Bozak caused Zdeno Chara to lose his stick, leaving him unable to tie up van Riemsdyk in front of the net.

Just to make sure the winning margin was four goals, and just because he could, Pastrnak took a Marchand pass from behind the goal line, toe dragged it between his own legs, then backhanded the puck into the net past a prone McElhinney to scored the hat trick, bring his point total to six on the night (nine in the first two games of the series), and drive the dagger firmly into the hearts of the Toronto faithful with 1:36 to play. ‘Pasta’ became the first player in franchise history to score 3+ points in each of the team’s first two playoff games of the year.

The simple fact in this series is that Toronto has yet to find any answer for the Bruins’ top line (14 points between them in Game 2). Should they be able to, they could find success, as the rest of the Boston lineup is not supremely dangerous (New Jersey has found a way to keep the Miller/Stamkos/Kucherov line quiet, but can’t match the Bolts’ ridiculous depth). But the Toronto defense looks almost helpless at times, and Rask has simply been too good for Toronto to rely upon their offense to solve all their problems.

Mike Babcock and his team will search hard for an answer, I’m sure, and will hope for a little reinvigorating energy from an energetic home crowd at the ACC. Game 3 will come to you on Monday night at 7 p.m. Eastern with DTFR coverage brought to you by shameless Boston homer @nlanciani53

March 28 – Day 168 – Expect another close one

Only four games are on today’s schedule, but there’s at least a couple stellar matchups to be seen!

First up is Florida at Toronto (SN/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Washington (NBCSN). Finally, our co-nightcaps – Arizona at Vegas and Philadelphia at Colorado – drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the night’s action. All times Eastern.

Originally, I had marked the Rangers-Capitals game as a potential featured matchup, but their rivalry has nothing on the importance of tonight’s showdown in Ontario. To Hogtown!

 

 

 

 

 

As you’d expect from a team that’s been in playoff position for basically the entire season, the 45-24-7 Maple Leafs have been a tough out lately. They’ve posted a solid 6-2-0 record over their past eight showings, due in large part to sporting the second-best attack in both the Eastern Conference and the NHL in that time.

Toronto has been as close to unstoppable as a team can get with its 4.13 goals per game since March 10. A total of five players have averaged at least a point per game over that stretch, but none have been as impressive as LW James van Riemsdyk and his 8-3-11 totals in eight outings, improving his season numbers to 34-18-52.

There’s little to argue considering van Riemsdyk has personally scored 24.2 percent of the Leafs’ last 33 goals, but his effort has been even more impressive considering the almost constant carousel of linemates he’s had to play with. In total, JVR has gotten on the scorecard with goals or assists from a total of six different forwards in his past eight games (three different forwards on the power play and five at even-strength).

In particular, van Riemsdyk has gelled especially well with C Tyler Bozak and F Mitch Marner – two of the players joining him in averaging at least a point per game since March 10. Even with a seemingly revolving door at the right wing position, Bozak has been van Riemsdyk’s constant center and has three primary assists to prove it. Meanwhile, Marner has also found success when he’s added to the mix on the power play, adding three more assists of his own.

In total, van Riemsdyk, Marner (2-9-11 totals since March 10, 20-45-65 overall), D Morgan Rielly (0-10-10 since March 10, 6-42-48 overall), Bozak (1-7-8 since March 10, 11-30-41 overall) and C Auston Matthews (1-2-3 in his three games since returning from injury, 29-24-53 overall) make up Toronto’s most consistent scoring threats during this run.

If two men can will their team to the playoffs, it has to be the 39-28-7 Panthers’ starting goaltender 15-10-2 Roberto Luongo and backup 20-13-5 James Reimer. Since March 19, Florida has posted a 4-1-0 record, and Luongo and Reimer have been a big part of it.

Florida’s goaltending is the focus tonight, and for good reason: without them, the Panthers would yield so many goals to that elite Toronto offense. After all, Florida’s defense has allowed an average of 31.2 opposing shots on goal during this five-game run, good enough for only (t)14th-best in the NHL in that time.

However, Luongo and Reimer have played marvelously despite that adversity, combining to allow only 1.6 goals against per game since March 19, the best mark in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the NHL in that time.

In his past two starts, Luongo has managed an impressive .95 save percentage and 1.51 GAA, marks eclipsed only by Reimer’s .958 save percentage and 1.33 GAA in his past three outings.

With lowly Ottawa on the schedule tomorrow night, Luongo will be in the crease this evening looking to improve his .927 season save percentage and associated 2.55 GAA.

The Panthers have so much more to gain from a victory tonight than the Leafs do its not even funny.

As things stand going into tonight’s action, the Devils have a three-point advantage on the Panthers for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card. With tonight’s tilt being one of the two games in hand Florida has on Jersey, the Panthers have to earn at least one point (two would obviously be preferable) to maintain control of their own destiny.

Meanwhile, Toronto is just sitting back and twiddling its fingers in anticipation of the playoffs. After all, the Bruins have all but locked up home ice in the first round considering they have a game in hand to go with their eight-point lead on the Leafs for second place, and Toronto has a 12-point advantage on tonight’s opponent for third. At this point, the Maple Leafs’ main goal is getting healthy and staying focused on their goal of advancing to the second round for the first time since 2004.

This has been a close matchup all season, to the point that even though the Panthers have two victories to the Leafs’ one, the clubs have earned an equal four points in tilts against each other.

Game 1 between these sides occurred way back on November 22 at BB&T Center. Led by F Nick Bjugstad, who scored Florida’s lone regulation goal as well as the game-winner in the shootout, the Panthers won that game 2-1.

Games 2 and 3 took place within a week of each other. Toronto hosted the first of those on February 20, winning 1-0 on the back of 35-20-5 G Frederik Andersen‘s 40-save performance and van Riemsdyk’s first period goal. Seven days later, the Maple Leafs and Panthers were back at it in Sunrise, where Florida took a 3-2 victory courtesy of C Jared McCann‘s overtime game-winner.

Florida has proven it can hang with the mighty Leafs so far this season, but can it perform in light of the added pressure of this playoff run? I’m leaning towards Toronto taking two points tonight, but this might be yet another matchup between these clubs that requires more than 60 minutes.


It took overtime, but the St. Louis Blues snapped the San Jose Sharks’ eight-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Scottrade Center.

This game was all about the Blues responding to adversity, as they did not lead for a single second until scoring their game-winning goal.

That adversity started 6:26 into the game when LW Evander Kane (F Melker Karlsson and D Brent Burns) buried a wrist shot to give the Sharks a 1-0 advantage. Though it didn’t respond immediately, St. Louis did eventually find its leveling goal 11:17 later courtesy of an C Oskar Sundqvist (D Colton Parayko and Second Star of the Game D Vince Dunn) wrister.

With D Joel Edmundson in the penalty box for hooking RW Timo Meier at the 6:21 mark of the second period, San Jose reclaimed a one-goal advantage when F Joe Pavelski (Burns) potted a power play tip-in after only 46 seconds with the man-advantage. However, First Star RW Vladimir Tarasenko (F Brayden Schenn and D Alex Pietrangelo) was able to return the favor with 7:57 remaining in the frame, scoring a power play wrister 58 seconds after Meier tripped him to earn a seat of his own in the sin bin. Tarasenko’s marker leveled the game once again at 2-2.

Both defenses performed incredibly in the third period. St. Louis limited the Sharks to only seven shots on goal, while San Jose allowed only nine Blues attempts. Between those 16 offerings, none got by G Jake Allen or G Aaron Dell, meaning the tilt advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

Tarasenko (F Vladimir Sobotka) needed just over half the overtime period – three seconds more, to be precise – to find the game-winner for the Notes.

The play started with a face-off at the dot to Dell’s right. Though Pavelski was able to win the draw with a little help from W Mikkel Boedker, who proceeded to take the puck into the trapezoid behind his goal, an efficient forecheck by Sobotka resulted in him ending up with possession and moving towards the right post. Having attacked the trapezoid to help Sobotka win the puck, Tarasenko was busy getting above the goal line and setting up shop outside the crease near the left goal post, meaning all Sobotka had to do was backhand a quick pass through the crease to Tarasenko to set him up for an easy wrister to win the game, the Blues’ fourth overtime victory in their past six outings.

Allen earned the victory after saving 22-of-24 shots faced (.917 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Dell, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

Hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series have now earned points in six-consecutive tilts, not to mention winning four in a row. As such, home teams now have a 94-53-21 record that is 39 points better than the roadies’.

March 14 – Day 154 – Somebody’s gotta win

We’re reaching the midway point of March, meaning there’s only a few weeks separating us from playoff hockey! It’s time to get excited, fans!

Arenas start coming to life at 7 p.m. this evening with Dallas at Toronto (SN/TVAS), followed an hour later by Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers (NBCSN). San Jose at Edmonton (SN1) drops the puck at 9:30 p.m., while tonight’s co-nightcaps – New Jersey at Vegas and Vancouver at Anaheim – wait half an hour before wrapping up the night’s events. All times Eastern.

When the schedule was released before this season, I was most excited for the action in Alberta this evening since it was a rematch of a Western Quarterfinal matchup from a year ago. However, the game that must attract our attention is the other tilt taking place in Canada tonight.

 

The past two weeks have not been a stellar run for the 40-22-7 Maple Leafs, as they’ve posted a lowly 1-2-2 record over their past five games after rattling off a four-game winning streak.

For me, what has been really disappointing about Toronto – both lately and, really, for the entire season as a whole – has been its performance on the defensive end. Over their last five games, the Leafs have allowed 34.2 shots against per game, the ninth-most in the NHL since February 26. F Leo Komarov (3.6 hits per game since February 26), F William Nylander (eight takeaways in his past five games) and D Nikita Zaitsev (1.8 blocks per game in his last four showings [he missed Saturday’s home game against the Penguins with the flu]) have stood out lately, but the Maple Leafs just don’t seem to be getting consistent production in their own zone from the entire roster.

However, that is just a microcosm of Toronto’s season as a whole. In terms of shots against, the Leafs have been the fourth-worst team in the NHL having yielded 34 pucks per game. As Head Coach Mike Babcock’s side is quickly learning, Komarov (three hits per game for the season), F Mitch Marner (team-leading 66 takeaways in 69 games played) and Zaitsev (2.5 blocks per game all season) cannot carry this club on their own defensively.

What makes this current defensive play all the more glaring is the recent struggles of 33-18-5 G Frederik Andersen. Having managed a .919 save percentage and 2.76 GAA for the entire season, those numbers have dropped to an .885 save percentage and 4.21 GAA in his past four starts.

This is not an attack on Andersen, because his decline in play has to be related to the pure exhaustion of facing over 1900 shots this year. In fact, it’s almost entirely because of him that Toronto has allowed only 2.83 goals all season, the (t)12th-best mark in the NHL. Fortunately, he’s played only two games in the past 10 days and is coming off a 5-2 win in his past outing, so he should be well rested entering tonight’s affair.

Speaking of teams currently in playoff position not playing necessarily well right now, Toronto is hosting the 38-26-6 Stars this evening, a club that has posted only a 1-3-1 record in its last five games.

While Toronto has struggled on the defensive end lately, all of the Stars’ issues have occurred when they have the puck on their own sticks. Dallas has averaged only 1.4 goals per game since March 5, a mark that is tied with Vancouver for worst in the league in that time.

However, that’s not to say none of the Stars are finding success. In fact, with 2-3-5 totals during this run, F Tyler Seguin has managed to average a point per game since March 5 to elevate his season totals to 36-29-65, far and away the best marks on the club.

Unfortunately, it’s the rest of the team that is putting Seguin at risk of delaying his sixth playoff appearance by at least a season. Besides the three-point efforts of stellar linemates (at least as of puck drop last night) LW Jamie Benn and RW Alexander Radulov (with 2-1-3 and 1-2-3 totals, respectively), no Stars have registered more than two points over this five-game stretch.

One source of offensive production that has fallen quiet lately is D John Klingberg. Having posted 7-50-57 totals for the season, he’s managed only two assists in his past six showings. Whether he focuses on creating plays for the Benn-Seguin-Radulov super line or increasing the potency of the other three trios, he’ll be a big key in getting this Stars team back on track.

I have a hard time believing a team in any sport has nothing to play for when it steps onto its playing surface, but the Leafs have literally nothing to play for as far as the standings are concerned. Toronto trails second-place Boston by nine points, and the Bruins will have two games in hand after tonight’s events. Even if the Maple Leafs win out starting tonight, the Bruins would need only 18 points (nine victories) in their remaining 14 games to hold on to home ice in the first round of the playoffs. I just don’t see Boston dropping that many games in regulation, especially since it can still grasp the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

“Well,” you say, “maybe the Maple Leafs could still lose third place in the division?”

Yeah, that’s not happening either. Florida is in fourth place in the Atlantic, and it trails the Leafs by a dozen points. Even with the Panthers’ two games in hand – which will increase to three following tonight’s tilt – the bottom is going to need to drop out on Toronto for it to become a wild card.

Instead, this game – and every other one until the end of the regular season – is effectively a live practice situation. The Maple Leafs should take these opportunities to get healthy, work out any kinks in their game and prepare for the return of C Auston Matthews and the postseason.

The same cannot be said for the Stars, as this is a very important game for them. After losing last night in Montréal in regulation, Dallas has fallen behind Colorado and is currently the Western Conference’s second wild card. Mix in the fact that three teams trail the Stars by a maximum of only three points, and Dallas is in desperate need of a victory tonight.

When the Leafs made their annual trip to Dallas on January 25, 7-4-1 G Curtis McElhinney stole headlines with his dazzling 39-save performance. Pairing that with a two-goal performance by C Nazem Kadri, Toronto earned two points with a 4-1 victory.

There’s been a few games this season where I’ve felt so confident in a prediction that I’d consider betting the house. Today is one of those times. Dallas’ offense is anemic right now, and it is coming off a miserable 4-2 performance against a bad Canadiens team last night. Mix in the fact that the Stars have a lowly 14-16-3 record on the road, and this has the clear appearance of a Toronto victory.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Colorado Avalanche earned a 5-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Xcel Energy Center.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it’s probably no secret which club it belonged to. With 3:38 remaining in the frame, Second Star of the Game F J.T. Compher (D David Warsofsky) buried a wrist shot to give the Avs a 1-0 advantage.

The second period was a far more evenly-matched affair, as both sides came away with a marker. The first belonged to Third Star C Mikko Koivu (F Charlie Coyle) and the Wild, as he registered a wrister with 6:04 remaining in the period to level the game at 1-1. However, that scoreline lasted only 59 seconds before D Nikita Zadorov (W Blake Comeau) provided what proved to be Colorado’s game-winning goal.

Playing under four-on-four conditions due to LW Gabriel Landeskog and D Nate Prosser taking matching roughing penalties 25 seconds before Koivu’s marker, excellent forechecking by the Avalanche created this goal. Comeau initially advanced play into his offensive zone, but a sloppy pass to F Carl Soderberg resulted in F Mikael Granlund possessing the puck in the corner to G Devan Dubnyk‘s right. However, Colorado wasn’t ready to give up on the play yet, as Soderberg engaged the Finn to dislodge possession and allow Comeau a second chance at glory. He didn’t miss, as he centered a pass to Zadorov that was one-timed past Dubnyk’s glove, off the right post and into the net.

The pattern of scoring the same quantity of goals as the period’s number reached its trifecta in the final frame, as Colorado laid it on Minnesota with three markers. Having been held off the scorecard so far, F Nathan MacKinnon (D Patrik Nemeth) scored a wrister only 11 seconds into the period to give Colorado a two-goal advantage. He was followed by Compher (D Samuel Girard and W Sven Andrighetto) and F Tyson Jost (D Tyson Barrie and RW Mikko Rantanen) later in the frame, both with power play goals to set the 5-1 final score.

First Star G Semyon Varlamov earned the victory after saving 33-of-34 shots faced (.971 save percentage), leaving the loss to Dubnyk, who saved 17-of-22 (.773).

Though they would have obviously preferred to earn two points last night, the Wild are probably the happiest of the two teams coming out of this game because they know they won’t see the Avalanche again this regular season. In four meetings, Colorado dropped only one point to dominate Minnesota all year.

Things have been looking up for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series lately. Colorado’s victory was the fourth consecutive by a visitor in the series, meaning the 86-49-19 hosts’ lead has been trimmed to 37 points (Yes, those numbers don’t line up with yesterday’s. I discovered some clerical errors that have now been resolved.).

March 3 – Day 143 – You can put your mind at ease

If Saturdays are good for nothing else, the joy of having hockey on for almost 12-straight hours makes a week at work almost worth it.

Almost.

Today’s action starts at 1 p.m. when Philadelphia visits Tampa Bay, followed an hour later by St. Louis at Dallas. The next matinee is a 4 p.m. tilt featuring Chicago at Los Angeles (NHLN), trailed by a pair of games (Montréal at Boston [SN/TVAS] and the New York Islanders at Pittsburgh) 60 minutes after. The evening’s festivities get underway at 8 p.m. with two matchups (Ottawa at Arizona [CITY] and Toronto at Washington [CBC/NBC/TVAS]), while the New York Rangers at Edmonton (CBC/SN/SN1) close out the night at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s more than a few important games on today’s schedule…

  • Chicago at Los Angeles: This rivalry was important when the Blackhawks were competitive.
  • Montréal at Boston: If you’re looking for a rivalry, this one…
  • New York at Pittsburgh: …and this one are the important ones on today’s schedule. You’re free to decide which should take precedence.
  • Toronto at Washington: Not only is this the much anticipated outdoor game being played at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., but it’s also a rematch of an Eastern Conference first round matchup from a season ago.

I suppose we can get into the spirit of things and see how the outdoor game goes. After all, it’s expected to be the evening’s most competitive match.

 

Let’s get the most important thing out of the way first:

  • Capitals fans: Your organization is honoring the days of the mid-to-late ’90s when it was having an identity crisis. Instead of donning the customary red we’ve come to know Washington for, the Caps have elected to bust out blue threads this evening. Who cares that Toronto usually wears blue and red and white are also American colors ? This game is at the Naval Academy and – gosh darn it! – the hosts from the nation’s capital are going to wear navy blue!
  • Maple Leafs fans: Yes, we know your team is usually the blue one. Not tonight. Treat it like a game in Tampa – your team is the one clad in white. Blue is bad. White is winners.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can jump into the hockey.

39-20-7 Toronto ended February with a bang, as the Leafs are currently riding a six-game point streak and have posted a 9-1-2 record in their past 12 games.

The reason the the Maple Leafs’ recent winning ways is easily their offense, which has managed a fifth-best 3.67 goals per game since February 5. Mitch Marner has been nothing short of incredible over this run, as he’s posted 8-9-17 totals in 12 games to improve his season marks to 17-36-53. Joining him in averaging at least a point per game during this run is Nazem Kadri (6-7-13 in 12 games) and Auston Matthews (5-5-10 in nine games), who’s currently on injured reserve.

Kadri has managed to make himself right at home filling in for Matthews on the top line, and he’s become best friends with Marner. They’ve combined on nine scoring plays since early February, six of which were at even-strength. Mix in some Patrick Marleau (20-14-34 totals in 66 games) magic, and the Leafs employ one heck of a top line.

Defensively, the only person worth talking about for the Leafs is G Frederik Andersen, because his defense has been abysmal for the last month by allowing 37.08 shots per game – the second-most in the NHL since February 5.

Even with that onslaught, 32-16-5 Andersen has been phenomenal. Having started 10 of the Leafs’ last 12 games, he’s posted a .924 save percentage and 2.87 GAA to earn 15 points in the standings. On the season, he now has a .922 save percentage and 2.67 GAA.

Meanwhile, the 36-21-7 Capitals have struggled to find much consistency lately, alternating wins and losses to post a 4-4-0 record over their last eight games.

As might be indicated by such a mark in recent games, Washington has been little better than average since February 15. With 6-4-10 totals in the past eight games, Alex Ovechkin has been the only consistent presence on the offensive end, and the Caps’ resulting 2.75 goals per game in that time is only (t)15th-best in the league.

That puts pressure on the defensive end to perform well, but that’s only partially happened. The defensive skaters have played decently lately, as Brooks Orpik (2.8 blocks per game since February 15) and Tom Wilson (3.1 hits per game over this run) have led the way to limit the opposition to 32.25 shots against per game over the Caps’ past eight games, the (t)13th-best mark in the NHL in that time.

However, neither 28-14-4 G Braden Holtby nor 8-7-3 G Philipp Grubauer have held up their end of the bargain, as they’ve allowed 3.25 goals per game since February 15. In fact, Holtby – tonight’s starter – has actually been outplayed by his understudy, as his .832 save percentage and 5.77 GAA have been eclipsed by Grubauer’s .949 save percentage and 1.61 GAA.

Considering Grubauer can take credit for all four of the Caps’ most recent wins, I wouldn’t be surprised if Holtby – a former Vezina winner, mind you – is on a short leash this evening.

We’re getting to the part of the season when we can bust out the words “rubber match,” and this tilt definitely qualifies. In the first two games between Toronto and Washington, the Maple Leafs took an impressive 2-0 victory at Capital One Arena way back on October 17 (Andersen took First Star honors with his 30-save shutout), followed by the Caps besting the Leafs 4-2 on November 25 at Air Canada Centre (Ovechkin registered a hat trick to lead Washington’s attack) to level the season series at 1-1-0.

It would seem both of these teams are all but ensured playoff spots given how they’ve played this season, so they’re more interested in improving seeding tonight.

Washington currently leads the Metropolitan Division by one point over Philadelphia, which has two tilts this weekend to result in the Capitals having a game in hand by Monday morning. A win is obviously important in a division where the top six clubs are separated by only 10 points, but the Caps won’t be too disappointed if they end the weekend in second place in the division.

Meanwhile, Toronto is in a full-fledged war against Boston for the all-important second position in the Atlantic Division, as the team with home ice in their likely first round series will surely have the better chance of advancing to the Eastern Semifinals. The Leafs currently trail the Bruins by one point, but the fact that Boston has four games in hand on Toronto puts a major dent in Head Coach Mike Babcock’s plans.

If Washington is going to continue its run of alternating wins and losses, it’s probably not a good thing it beat the Senators in its last showing on Tuesday. Pair that with Toronto’s stellar offense and the road team winning the first two meetings between these clubs, and I’m leaning towards the Maple Leafs earning two points tonight.


Yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day was a grind-it-out, defensive affair. Those are just the types of games the Carolina Hurricanes excel at, as they beat the New Jersey Devils 3-1 at PNC Arena.

With the exception of Carolina’s second period (13 shots on goal) and New Jersey’s third (12 SOG), neither offense was able to apply much pressure on its opposing goaltenders in terms of volume considering the remaining shot totals for either team in the remaining periods were all under 10. In particular, the Hurricanes’ defense played marvelously in the first period to limit the Devils to only six shots on goal.

That put a premium on precision scoring, and that was on full display when Third Star of the Game C Derek Ryan (F Victor Rask and D Noah Hanifin) scored the game’s opening goal with 8:10 remaining in the second period. Officially marked as a deflection scored by the center, he actually banked his shot off D Damon Severson‘s left skate to beat G Keith Kinkaid.

Another skilled scorer struck late in the second frame to tie the game at 1-1. With Ryan in the penalty box for holding him 27 seconds before and a measly 33 ticks on the clock separating him from the second intermission, F Taylor Hall (D Sami Vatanen and W Kyle Palmieri) scored a power play tip-in to extend his point streak to 24 appearances.

First Star F Teuvo Teravainen (D Brett Pesce and F Elias Lindholm) takes credit for the game-winning goal at the 9:37 mark of the final frame. Those guilty of blinking at the wrong time – like I was when watching this game live – likely missed this goal.

The play started when Lindholm slid a pass to Pesce at the center of the blue line from the right face-off circle. The defenseman one-timed a killer slap shot just wide of Kinkaid’s net that would have set up a juicy rebound off the boards, but that bounce proved unnecessary as the Finn was waiting in the corner of the slot to redirect the shot through the crease and into the goal, setting the score at 2-1.

With Jersey trailing by one and Kinkaid pulled for the extra attacker, RW Justin Williams (F Jordan Staal) scored an empty netter 22 seconds before the end of regulation to seal the Canes’ 29th victory of the season.

Second Star G Cam Ward earned the victory after saving 25-of-26 shots faced (.962 save percentage), leaving the loss to Kinkaid, who saved 27-of-29 (.931).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are rolling once again. After allowing road teams to go on a four-game streak of earning at least a point, the 77-47-19 hosts have won three in a row to take a commanding 24-point advantage in the series.

February 26 – Day 138 – And the dust settles

Today’s the day, hockey fans: the NHL trade deadline is finally upon us. As of 3 p.m. Eastern, every roster will effectively look how it will for the end of the regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Once all the dust settles, there’s five games to be played tonight, with fans potentially seeing their new additions for the first time. The action begins at 7 p.m. with Washington at Columbus (SN), followed half an hour later by two more (Philadelphia at Montréal [NBCSN/RDS/TSN2] and Toronto at Tampa Bay [TVAS]). Next up is Vancouver at Colorado at 9 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at Los Angeles (SN) – waiting until 10:30 to drop the puck. All times Eastern.

I must admit: I composed this article following the completion of yesterday’s games. Because of that, the featured matchup cannot take into account any of today’s deadline deals.

That being said, there’s only one clear choice for the title of today’s most important game.

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re a regular listener to the DtFR Podcast, you know how much I rail on the lack of quality in the Atlantic Division (though not quite as often as the miserable Pacific). While I still stand by that claim when looking at the division as a whole, the Atlantic is also home to the best top-three of any division in the NHL.

Let’s start with the visiting 39-20-5 Maple Leafs, who have been the league’s hottest team in the past month. Since January 24, Toronto has earned a dominant 13-2-0 record by pairing a standout offense with the exemplary play of 32-16-4 G Frederik Andersen.

Sometimes, all it takes is one person to propel a team to greatness. There’s a few of those types of players on Toronto’s roster, but the one that deserves the most credit for the Maple Leafs’ recent run is Andersen. He’s played lights out since January 24, posting a solid .928 save percentage and 2.58 GAA.

Those may not be the best numbers in the league in that time, but it’s the fact that he’s been able to play so well and lead his team to allowing only a second-best 2.33 goals against per game over the past month in spite of his defense’s poor effort that makes him so important. Few netminders would be able to keep up behind a team that has allowed a second-worst 35.4 shots against per game over their past 15 showings.

Of course, there’s more to this Toronto roster than Andersen. Since January 24, the Leafs’ attack has been dominated by current first-liners F Mitch Marner (10-9-19 over this run) and C Nazem Kadri (9-10-19 totals in his past 15 games), as well as second-liner F William Nylander (5-10-15) and C Auston Matthews (7-7-14 in his last 14 games) – who landed on injured reserve yesterday with a shoulder injury that will keep him off the ice for at least seven days.

All four are averaging at least a point per game over the past month, and the top line especially looks like it could take on any defense in the league right now and find much success.

Whether or not 42-17-3 Tampa Bay’s defense will pose much of a problem tonight is certainly up for discussion, but there’s no doubting the Lightning’s offense, which has propelled them to a 4-1-0 record in their past five showings.

For those that haven’t heard: RW Nikita Kucherov is really, really good at his job. In his past five games, he’s posted disgusting 3-7-10 totals to average two points per game and elevate his point streak to nine games. Joining him in averaging a lowly point per game since February 15 are F Brayden Point (5-1-6), D Victor Hedman (1-5-6) and C Steven Stamkos (3-2-5).

Though Kucherov and Point have been playing together on the second line lately, Kucherov’s favorite dance partner over the last 11 days has been Hedman. In addition to the Russian providing the primary assist on Hedman’s goal in Ottawa on Thursday, the defenseman has contributed to another five of Kucherov’s last 10 scoring plays.

Digging even deeper into those six plays, Hedman and Kucherov have completed plays directly to each other (in other words, they both provided assists on another player’s goal or one provided the primary assist on the other’s tally) in five of the six scores. If Toronto’s defense can take away those passing lanes, it can effectively shut down Tampa’s attack.

The Lightning and Maple Leafs were scheduled for a four-game regular season series this year, and both games to take place at Air Canada Centre are already behind us. The Bolts made their first trip to Toronto on January 2, beating the Leafs 2-0 (36-12-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy earned First Star honors for his 29-save shutout). Game 2 took place on February 12, but this one favored the hosts as Toronto earned a tight 4-3 victory (LW James van Riemsdyk scored the game-winner).

While tonight’s result won’t impact the standings in terms of playoff matchups, Toronto especially can benefit from a win tonight. The Leafs currently hold on to second place in the division by only one point while the third-place Bruins have a whopping five games in hand. Any lead the Leafs can generate is important, because they’re well behind the eight ball in keeping Boston behind them at season’s end.

Of course, Tampa Bay is also more than interested in two points – especially considering the Golden Knights are also in action tonight. The Lightning have only a one-point advantage on Vegas for the Presidents’ Trophy, a lead which is even slimmer when taking into account the Knights’ game in hand.

Tampa Bay has the luxury of playing at home this evening, but I’m of the opinion that it won’t matter. Two of the three most important phases of Toronto’s game has been firing on all cylinders for the past month and show no sign of slowing down. Even without Matthews, I think the Leafs can earn two points tonight.


With an overtime goal from Second Star of the Game D Trevor Daley, the Detroit Red Wings beat the New York Rangers 3-2 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first period almost ended in a scoreless draw, but F Andreas Athanasiou (D Nick Jensen and F Dylan Larkin) didn’t seem to interested in that when he buried his wrist shot with seven seconds remaining on the clock.

Detroit’s advantage read 2-0 4:31 into the second period when F Darren Helm scored an unassisted wrister, but that advantage lasted only 3:20 before F J.T. Miller (Third Star F Ryan Spooner and D Anthony DeAngelo) pulled the Rangers back within a one-goal deficit with a slap shot.

The tale of two halves was completed with 8:44 remaining in regulation when RW Jesper Fast (F Kevin Hayes and Spooner) scored a wrister to tie the game at 2-2. Surprisingly, even though the Blueshirts fired a whopping 19 shots on goal in the third period, they could not break the tie, sending this game into overtime.

Considering they had powered all the way back from 2-0 down to tie the game, common sense would say New York had all the energy coming into the five minute three-on-three overtime period. However, both defenses rose to the occasion to allow only one combined shot on goal. Unfortunately for the Blueshirts, that shot belonged to Daley (C Frans Nielsen and F Tomas Tatar), who redirected Nielsen’s initial shot between G Henrik Lundqvist‘s legs with six seconds separating the game from the dreaded shootout.

First Star G Jimmy Howard earned the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (.947 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Lundqvist, who saved 31-of-34 (.912).

That’s the second-straight win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the 73-46-19 hosts now have only a 19-point lead over the visitors in the series.

February 7 – Day 119 – Caterpillars are Leaf Predators

Congratulations! You made it half-way through the work week. You deserve to celebrate, and there’s no better way to do it than by kicking your feet up and watching some hockey.

The evening’s festivities get a little bit later start than usual, as Nashville at Toronto (SN/TVAS) is waiting until 7:30 p.m. for its opening puck drop as compared to the usual 7 p.m. However, that means there’s only a half-hour wait for NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry, as Boston at the New York Rangers will get started at 8 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap will see the green light at 10:30 p.m., featuring Edmonton at Los Angeles. All times Eastern.

Ironically, I circled…

  • Boston at New York: The Bruins are playing their second Original Six game in as many days. Tonight’s opponent: the hapless Rangers.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: Over two separate stints, F Mike Cammalleri has played six seasons with the Kings. Tonight marks his first return to Staples Center since being traded to the Oilers.

…earlier in the year, but the game I’m most drawn to tonight has to be the Predators vs. the Maple Leafs. Looks like we’re headed to Ontario for the second time in three days!

 

There’s no ignoring the Atlantic Division’s third-best team lately, as the 31-19-5 Maple Leafs are sporting an offense that can’t be stopped and pairing it with some exemplary play in net.

Since January 24, Toronto has posed a 5-1-0 record, and the offense has been a major reason for that. Averaging four goals per game, the Leafs are tied with Edmonton for the second-best attack in the league in that time.

Of course, what else should be expected of a group of forwards that features the talents of F William Nylander, C Nazem Kadri and C Auston Matthews? Nylander and Kadri in particular have been exceptional of late, as both have posted team-leading 3-5-8 totals over this run to improve their respective season marks to 12-29-41 and 17-16-33. However, it’s never wise to forget about Matthews, as he’s also posted 4-3-7 totals since January 24 to average more than a point-per-game over his past six appearances.

In addition to their stellar contributions, D Jake Gardiner is also doing more than his fair share from the blue line. In his past six games, he’s provided the Leafs’ attack with eight assists – all but one of which were at even-strength. In Monday’s game against the Ducks, he provided the lone assist on both of Nylander’s goals – one of which proved to be the game-winner.

After being forced from Monday’s game after suffering a collision with W Corey Perry, 25-15-4 G Frederik Andersen will be in net this evening. There was concern Andersen would be forced to miss time after the hit, but he seems ready to go.

Of course, if I’m a Predators forwards, I don’t necessarily know if I’d rather square off against Andersen or 6-4-0 G Curtis McElhinney, as both have been absolutely incredible of late – even behind a defense that has allowed a seventh-worst 33.83 shots against per game since January 24. In that time, both goalies have posted save percentages above .93 and GAAs under 2.3 – not to mention one shutout apiece.

Of note, Andersen has an 8-4-0 all-time record (regular and postseason) against Nashville and is currently riding a two-game winning streak against the club.

If the Leafs are bringing the offense, 32-12-7 Nashville is certainly capable of providing the defense. Since January 4, the second-best team in the Central Division has earned a 9-1-2 record by holding its opponents to a measly two goals per game, the second-best effort in the league in that time.

Let’s start with the defensive skaters, who’ve been playing absolutely out of their minds for the past month. Led by C Nick Bonino and W Kevin Fiala (both averaging a takeaway-per-game since January 4), D Ryan Ellis and D Roman Josi (both with two blocks per game in their past 12 showings) and D Alexei Emelin (2.8 hits-per-game over this stretch), Nashville has limited its opponents to a fourth-fewest 29.17 shots against per game.

There’s lots to like about the Preds’ defense, but what is most impressive to me is that it’s a total team effort that is leading to their success. Five players are leading three statistical categories, and many of their teammates are right behind them in production. Everybody buying into Head Coach Peter Laviolette‘s system is what makes this team great and a heavy favorite to qualify for at least the Western Finals.

Of course, it’s not like 27-8-3 G Pekka Rinne usually needs all that much help to keep the scoreboard clean anyways. After all, he has a solid .926 save percentage and 2.32 GAA on the season.

As can be expected with the defense in front of him playing so well lately, Rinne has been even better over his last eight starts. Since January 4, the Finn has posted a .932 save percentage and 1.85 GAA, both of which rank in the top-four in the league in that time.

Making this Predators team an even more daunting foe, the offense has provided the (t)eighth-best attack in the league over its past dozen games. With D P.K. Subban at the helm, averaging a point per game over this run with 4-8-12 marks to improve his season totals to 13-28-41, the Predators are scoring an average of 3.08 goals per game.

So, the important question is which team is going to come out on top of this high-flying matchup?

Nashville has been playing better, longer. As such, I’m leaning towards the Predators earning two points tonight at Air Canada Centre, even if they need overtime or the shootout to get the job done.


Though the Vegas Golden Knights staged an impressive third period comeback in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at PPG Paints Arena, they couldn’t get past the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won 5-4.

Even though Vegas would end up a goal short, it actually had a one-goal advantage going into the first intermission. C William Karlsson (F Jon Marchessault and W Reilly Smith) registered the lone marker of the frame, a power play snap shot 2:09 into the game.

6:34 into the second period, the Knights doubled their lead to 2-0 courtesy of a W James Neal (D Nate Schmidt and W David Perron) backhanded shot. However, the Knights couldn’t hold the Penguins’ offense at bay forever, and RW Ryan Reaves (C Riley Sheahan) finally broke through 4:34 after Neal’s tally to pull Pittsburgh back within a goal. The list of unpredictable goalscorers continued with 2:36 remaining in the period when D Ian Cole (W Bryan Rust and Second Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby) buried a snapper to level the game at 2-2, but he was followed by the more conventional striker F Jake Guentzel (Crosby and D Brian Dumoulin) only 1:16 later, who scored a slap shot to give the Pens their first lead of the game.

Pittsburgh came out firing in the third period, and with good reason considering Vegas’ eventual comeback. First Star F Evgeni Malkin (RW Phil Kessel) buried what was then an insurance goal 3:09 into the frame, and he was followed by a Kessel (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) brace that proved to be the game-winner.

Kessel may get credit for the goal, but his scoring opportunity was a direct result of some stellar puck moving by the Penguins’ offense. Hagelin carried the puck across the blue line into the offensive zone before passing to Kessel along the left boards. Since Hagelin continued driving towards Third Star G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s crease, Kessel proceeded to dump the puck behind the goal into the trapezoid for his fellow winger. Hagelin spotted a wide-open Malkin in the right face-off circle and set him up for a clean shot on Fleury’s cage, but the red-hot Russian instead elected to draw two defenders towards him before sneaking a pass behind C Cody Eakin to Kessel. Since Fleury had set up to save a shot from Malkin, he left the left side of his goal wide open, leaving an easy target for Kessel’s snapper to set the score at 5-2.

However, the action didn’t end there. Only 18 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Kessel, a F Ryan Carpenter (RW Alex Tuch and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) wrist shot pulled the Knights back within a 5-3 deficit. The comeback became even more real when Marchessault (Smith) scored a wrister with 7:59 remaining in regulation to pull Vegas back within a goal, but G Matthew Murray refused to concede a fifth goal to ensure a Pens victory.

Murray earned the victory after saving 21-of-25 shots faced (.84 save percentage), leaving the loss to Fleury, who saved 33-of-38 (.868).

For the second straight night in the DtFR Game of the Day series, the home team allowed four goals but still earned the victory. As such, the hosts in the series have improved their record to 66-38-15, a whopping 27 points better than the visitors’.

January 22 – Day 107 – Bernier bridges

With the All-Star Break on the horizon, the NHL is loading up on games all week. This Monday, we have a half-dozen contests to choose from.

As it usually does, the action starts at 7 p.m. with two tilts (Colorado at Toronto [TVAS] and Detroit at New Jersey [SN]), followed an hour later by Ottawa at Minnesota (RDS). Tampa Bay at Chicago (NBCSN) gets underway at 8:30 p.m., while tonight’s co-nightcaps – Buffalo at Calgary and the New York Islanders at Arizona – wait until 9 p.m. before closing out the evening. All times Eastern.

I’d highlighted two of tonight’s games before the season started…

  • Colorado at Toronto: With 13-9-2 G Semyon Varlamov still on injured reserve, 13-7-1 G Jonathan Bernier is lined up for his first start in Toronto since April 4, 2016 when he was a member of the Maple Leafs.
  • Buffalo at Calgary: 1-8-3 G Chad Johnson is also returning to his former home stadium, but he’s more likely to draw the start tomorrow in Edmonton.

Adding in Bernier’s return to The Queen City, there’s no doubt that the Avs’ lone visit of the season to Air Canada Centre (barring a Stanley Cup Finals meeting) will be the best matchup of the day!

 

Amateur drafting is hard, and that’s made especially known when netminders are taken as early as Bernier. Since 2000, only 10 goalies have gone in the top 11 picks, and only two of those (Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price) are regular starters.

Enter Bernier, the 11th-overall pick by Los Angeles in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and current starter – by default – for the Avs.

To say Bernier was a bust for the Kings is slightly unfair. After all, he didn’t start his first NHL game until the 2007-’08 season, the same year G Jonathan Quick made his NHL debut. A year later, Quick had already assumed starting duties for the Kings while Bernier was still spending his time as Manchester’s starter in the AHL.

Benier would eventually ascend to the role of Quick’s backup, but the American would further cement his position as Los Angeles’ starter with his Stanley Cup victory in 2012. Though Bernier’s name is also inscribed alongside the rest of those Kings, he must have known his time with the club was running out.

Following the 2012-’13 season, Bernier was traded to Toronto in exchange for RW Matt Frattin, G Ben Scrivens and a second-round pick in the 2015 draft that eventually ended up back in the hands of the Leafs after being involved in another trade between the Kings and Blue Jackets.

Draft season is fun that way.

Bernier brought with him a .912 save percentage and 2.36 GAA in 62 career NHL games and was thrown into a competition with G James Reimer for Toronto’s starting job for the 2013-’14 season. Bernier certainly won the gig, as he earned 49 starts (17 more than Reimer) and posted a superior .922 save percentage and 2.7 GAA. He ended up starting 55 games during the the following campaign, but watched his numbers drop to .912 and 2.87.

Of course, the 2013-’14, 2014-’15 and 2015-’16 Maple Leafs are never going to go down in history as the best teams Toronto has put on the ice (I mean, they got C Auston Matthews for a reason). Bernier was effectively the Leafs’ lone line of defense, and I would argue that he performed fairly well given the circumstances. In all, he posted a .915 save percentage and 2.81 GAA during his three seasons in Toronto even though he faced an average of 33.12 shots per start.

However, Bernier once again became expendable when the Leafs traded for G Frederik Andersen‘s rights. Andersen had enjoyed a .914 save percentage and 2.38 GAA in his lone season as the Ducks’ starter, but he was relegated to the backup role when G John Gibson assumed the starting position in 2015-’16.

In an odd twist of fate, Bernier was traded to Anaheim to fill Andersen’s vacated backup spot 18 days after the Maple Leafs traded for the former Duck. He started 33 games on the final year of his two-year, $8.3 million contract, earning a 21-7-4 record on a .915 save percentage and 2.5 GAA.

After not being offered another contract by Anaheim this offseason – not to mention G Ryan Miller signing with the squad – Bernier signed a one-year, $2.75 million deal with the Avalanche to backup Varlamov.

To put things bluntly, Bernier had been performing terribly in his limited time this season. Before the calendar turned to 2018, Bernier had posted a miserable .898 save percentage and 3.12 GAA in 14 starts for a 6-7-1 record.

But then Varlamov got injured in Colorado’s first game of the new year – a scary matchup against the mighty Winnipeg Jets. He strained his groin to land himself on injured reserve, where he’s likely to remain until February.

Considering how Bernier had performed all season, it seemed Colorado’s then-flailing season was likely headed even further down the tubes. Instead, the backup led the Avs to a victory over those Jets. And then shutout the Blue Jackets. And then he beat the Wild, Stars, Ducks, Sharks and Rangers too.

Instead of leading Colorado towards a top-five draft pick, he’s actually sparked a nine-game winning streak to propel the 26-16-3 Avs into the second wild card. During the eight games he’s responsible for, he’s managed an incredible .958 save percentage and 1.47 GAA.

Huh. Maybe he was worth the 11th-overall pick after all.

And just in case anyone would like to argue that F Nathan MacKinnon, who’s posted 8-11-19 totals during this run, has been the biggest reason for the Avs’ nine-game winning streak, I’d like to direct them to Colorado’s defense.

To call the Avalanche’s defensive corps Swiss cheese would be an insult to Roger Federer’s (who’s killing it at the Australian Open right now, by the way) home land. The Avs’ blue line has allowed a whopping 34.89 shots against-per-game during this run, the fifth-worst average in the NHL since December 29.

It’s that statistic that makes Bernier’s performance even more special. Nothing has been easy for him during this month-long hot streak, but he’s risen to the challenge exactly 300 times, allowing only 14 goals on 314 shots against.

Short of the Jets, Bernier may face his toughest task yet of his newfound starting role, as the 26-17-5 Maple Leafs – who sit in third place in the Atlantic Division – definitely know how to score the puck.

Or, at least they usually do. On the season, the Leafs have averaged a seventh-best 3.1 goals per game. That effort has been led by Matthews, who tops the Toronto charts in goals (20) and points (35).

However, that offense has dried up since January 4. Even though Toronto has posted a 3-1-3 record over its last seven tilts, it has averaged only 2.29 goals per game – the (t)fifth-worst mark in the league since then. Matthews is still posting goals (he’s scored three in his last seven games), but the rest of the squad simply cannot find the back of the net.

The Leafs have already made their annual trip to Pepsi Center, and they almost came away with two points. However, F J.T. Compher‘s overtime winner gave Colorado the 4-3 victory on December 29, the first in the Avs’ run of nine-straight.

Unless the Leafs can rediscover their offense, it’s hard to believe they have a shot at beating Colorado tonight.


The San Jose Sharks absolutely steamrolled the Anaheim Ducks in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 6-2 at Honda Center.

A good strategy on the offensive end is to score as many goals as the period’s number. That’s exactly what the Sharks did, scoring one goal in the first period, two in the second and three in the finale.

As for the lone tally of the first, it was struck by Marc-Edouard Vlasic (Tomas Hertl and Justin Braun) on a wrist shot with 6:07 remaining in the frame.

The attack continued in the second, as San Jose found its eventual game-winning marker before the Ducks were even on the scoreboard. Kevin Labanc (Joe Thornton and Timo Meier) set the score at 2-0 on a snap shot 3:38 into the period, followed 10:18 later by Third Star of the Game Mikkel Boedker‘s (Vlasic and Chris Tierney) deciding power play snapper.

Brandon Montour was only four seconds away from completing his sentence for slashing Labanc, but Boedker decided to post his bail early. Taking advantage of Meier’s screening G John Gibson, Boedker scored his 100th NHL goal by sending his snapper from the right face-off circle past the netminder’s blocker to the far post.

Rickard Rakell (Ryan Getzlaf and Adam Henrique) provided Anaheim a spark of life with 27 seconds remaining in the second period. With both Joel Ward (for tripping Montour) and Joe Pavelski (for slashing Cam Fowler) in the penalty box, he scored a wrister to pull the Ducks back within a 3-1 deficit.

The comeback gained real life 1:47 into the third period when Getzlaf (Second Star Ondrej Kase and Rakell) buried a wrister to pull Anaheim back within a tally, but that hope was dashed only 60 seconds later when Thornton (Brent Burns and Logan Couture) scored a slap shot to return a two-goal advantage to San Jose. Boedker (Melker Karlsson) and Karlsson (Boedker and Tierney) both tacked on insurance goals in the remaining time to set the 6-2 final score.

First Star G Aaron Dell earned his second victory in as many days by saving 33-of-35 shots faced (.943 save percentage), leaving the loss to Gibson, who saved 17-of-22 (.773). With 7:52 remaining in the game, Gibson was lifted in favor of G Ryan Miller, who saved three-of-four (.75) for no-decision.

Road teams have earned points in four-consecutive contests in the DtFR Game of the Day series. However, the 59-35-13 hosts still have a dominating 21-point lead in our featured games.

January 18 – Day 103 – The House that Lindros Built

As usual, Thursday is the best day of the work week for hockey, as we have 10 games on the schedule.

As it usually does, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. this evening with four tilts (Washington at New Jersey, Boston at the New York Islanders [SN360], Toronto at Philadelphia [TVAS] and Dallas at Columbus), trailed half an hour later by another trio (Buffalo at the New York Rangers [NBCSN], St. Louis at Ottawa [RDS] and Vegas at Tampa Bay). Arizona at Nashville is the next fixture up at 8 p.m., followed an hour later by San Jose at Colorado and tonight’s nightcap – Pittsburgh at Los Angeles (NBCSN/SN360) – at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Even with eight teams on the bye, there’s still more than a few games on the schedule today that deserve attention. However, all pale to today’s action at… Wells Fargo Center?

 

G Bernie Parent‘s number 1. D Mark Howe‘s 2. D Barry Ashbee, LW Bill Barber and C Bobby Clarke‘s numbers – 4, 7 and 16, respectively – have all been honored too.

And tonight, the Flyers add C Eric Lindros‘ number 88 to the list of retired numbers now hanging in their arena’s rafters.

Only the best get away with controlling their fate before even signing their first contract, so Lindros was building his resume before even taking to the NHL ice. He was drafted by the Québec Nordiques in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, but insisted that he would never play for the Northmen.

Once Nordiques’ owner Marcel Aubut finally got the message after Lindros continued to play for the Oshawa Generals in the OHL and joined Team Canada for the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in France, the centerman was sent to Philadelphia in exchange for four players, the rights to C Peter Forsberg, a first-round pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft and $15 million.

Adding a bit of levity to the situation, G Ron Hextall – the Flyers’ current general manager – was one of the players traded to Québec for Lindros… #awkward.

Anyways, Lindros was an incredible rookie, posting 41-34-75 totals in 61 games played to finish fourth in 1993 Calder Trophy voting behind RW Teemu Selanne, C Joe Juneau and G Felix Potvin. Lindros also placed ninth in Hart Trophy voting – an award he eventually won in 1995 alongside the Pearson Trophy following a 29-41-70 46-game season.

In terms of total production, Lindros reached his ultimate form during the 1995-’96. In 73 games played, The Big E scored 47 goals en route to 155 points – both career highs. It was Year 3 of four of Lindros averaging 1.5 points per game.

Unfortunately, the closest Lindros came to getting back to that production was in 1998-’99 when he posted 1.31 points per game over 71 contests. Beyond the first five seasons of his career, Lindros’ career was an almost constant downhill slide due to the multiple serious injuries he sustained. Among other injuries, four concussions, a collapsed lung and a torn ligament in his wrist led to Lindros retiring following the 2007 season.

Those setbacks – in addition to a bad relationship with General Manager Bobby Clarke – led to his rights being traded to the Rangers (Lindros wanted to be traded to Toronto, but Clarke wouldn’t complete the deal. Lindros protested and did not sign a two-way contract for the 2000-’01 season, leaving him on the couch.) before the 2001-’02 season. Lindros would play three seasons with the Rangers, the 2005-’06 campaign with Toronto and 49 games during the 2006-’07 season with Dallas before retiring.

However, that tumultuous end to his career doesn’t blemish what he achieved while playing in Philadelphia, posting one of the best opening five seasons of a career. According to his Wikipedia page, Lindros needed the fourth-fewest games to reach the 300 (210 games) and 400 (277) point plateaus, the fifth-fewest to reach 500 points (352) and the sixth-fewest to reach 600 points (429).

For fans of teams that were regularly downed by the Flyers during Lindros’ tenure, it’s scary to think about that team with an uninjured Big E for more than his eight-year tenure.

It may be hard to believe considering the Flyers are currently in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, but 20-16-8 Philadelphia is actually rolling lately. Before Tuesday’s 5-1 loss in Madison Square Garden, Philly had won four-straight contests.

When the Flyers are winning (like they are right now), the offense is the biggest driver in their success. Even adding in Tuesday’s loss, Philadelphia has managed a second-best 4.4 goals per game since January 4.

Five players are averaging at least a point-per-game to propel this run, but no player has been better over Philly’s last five games than C Sean Couturier. He’s posted incredible 7-2-9 totals since January 4 (25-20-45 overall) to lead the NHL in goals in that time. Of course, someone has to set him up for those goals, and that’s usually been linemate F Claude Giroux (1-7-8 totals during this run, team-leading 14-40-54 overall), who’s provided the primary assist on three of Couturier’s seven most-recent tallies.

Of course, by focusing only on those two, Toronto runs the risk of ignoring RW Jakub Voracek. That would be extremely unwise, as Voracek’s 45 assists on the season (he has 8-45-53 totals overall) are the best in the NHL. In fact, Couturier, Giroux and Voracek all rank in the top 10 of the NHL in at least one statistic, including the Captain’s second-most assists, which explains why Vorcek has been assigned to the second line to promote more offense with F Valtteri Filppula and W Michael Raffl.

While the 25-17-4 Maple Leafs – who are in third place in the Atlantic Division – are also riding a streak of earning points in four of their last five games, it hasn’t been anywhere near as pleasant an experience. With the exception of last Wednesday’s 4-3 regulation loss against the Senators, all four of the remaining games have required extra time, and that pill is made even harder to swallow by Toronto winning only two of those – both in the shootout.

To put it lightly, Toronto is doing the bare minimum right now as far as the standings are concerned. The same could be said for its offense, which has averaged only two goals-per-game over its last five outings – the (t)third-worst mark since January 5.

But this offensive drought has nothing do with effort – in fact, quite the opposite. 16 of the 19 skaters the Maple Leafs have employed since January 5 have at least one point to their credit, and both C Tyler Bozak and F William Nylander have posted 1-3-4 totals.

I would argue the biggest problem is C Auston Matthews is having just a little slump. Though he has scored two goals in his last five games, he’s currently riding a three-game goalless skid. Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but the Leafs also haven’t won a game during that skid.

I think not.

Tonight’s game completes the three-game series between the Flyers and Leafs, and if history is any indicator, this tilt will end with a 4-2 score just like the previous two matchups. Led by Jakub Voracek, the Flyers invaded Toronto on October 28, and then matched that effort on December 12 in a home contest dominated by Giroux.

Considering the positive mojo the Flyers have in their back pockets, the excitement around the Lindros number retirement ceremony and Matthews’ struggles, it’s hard to pick against the hosts this evening.


Habs-turned-Bruins-turned-Habs Head Coach Claude Julien didn’t get the result he wanted in his first return to TD Garden, as the Boston Bruins beat his Montréal Canadiens 4-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though it wasn’t the best of showings by Montréal, it did manage to take an early lead in the contest courtesy of D Jakub Jerabek‘s (W Charles Hudon and F Paul Byron) first career goal. He struck his tip-in 31 seconds into the game. However, that lead would only last 6:19 before RW David Pastrnak (First Star of the Game C Patrice Bergeron and Second Star LW Brad Marchand) leveled the game with a wrist shot.

That 1-1 tie held until the 2:37 mark of the second period. That’s when F Ryan Spooner (C David Krejci and LW Jake DeBrusk) got lucky and banked a centering pass to either DeBrusk or D Matt Grzelcyk through G Carey Price‘s crease off F Jonathan Drouin‘s right skate and into the back of the net. His pass-turned-backhanded shot proved to be the game-winning marker, his third such goal of the season.

Boston tacked on two insurance tallies in the third period, one a power play wrister by Marchand (Bergeron and D Torey Krug) 3:40 into the frame and another a wrister by Krejci (F David Backes) into an empty net with 3:14 remaining in the contest.

Third Star G Tuukka Rask saved 21-of-22 shots faced (.955 save percentage) in the victory, leaving Price – who saved 28-of-31 (.903) – with the loss.

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are starting to resume command of the series. The 57-34-12 hosts have won three of the past four contests and extended their lead over the visitors to 22 points.

January 8 – Day 93 – Selections are slim, Vol. V

If you were planning on coming back from another miserable Monday at work and watching hockey, you’re in luck: there’s a nationally broadcasted game on the schedule. If you were hoping to watch more than one game, you might want to come back tomorrow.

That’s right, there’s only one game on the schedule this evening, and it features Columbus at Toronto (NHLN/TVAS) at 7 p.m. Eastern time.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Vegas.

 

Unfortunately, neither team enters tonight’s game in exceptionally good form. Both 24-16-3 Columbus and 25-16-2 Toronto are the third place team in their respective divisions, but they’ve slid into that position in the past month.

With Tampa Bay playing in the same division, the Leafs – no matter how good they are – didn’t have much of a chance at the top spot in the Atlantic. However, they settled into second place quite nicely… until late December. Approximately two weeks ago during a 2-3-0 run, the Leafs lost home ice in the first round to the Bruins, and they’ve been trying to play catch up ever since.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Division – though it is certainly the stronger group in the Eastern Conference – has been in an almost constant flux all year. As recently as December 14, the Jackets were the class of the Metro, but they too have settled into third place and trail Washington by four points for the division lead.

If tonight is the beginning of the quest for second, both teams face tough opposition.

Let’s start with the visiting Jackets, who enter tonight’s game as winners of two of their last three games. The main reason they’re winners? 20-12-3 G Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bobrovsky would probably be the first to tell you he had a miserable December. In a dozen starts, he allowed 41 goals for a .891 save percentage and a 3.46 GAA. That’s right, the two-time Vezina winner was the worst goaltender in the league in the month of December among the 22 netminders with at least nine starts to their credit.

But it seems Santa delivered a new calendar to the Bobrovsky household, because the Russian looks like he’s back to his old ways since the start of the new year. He’s started all three games the Jackets have played in 2018, posting a .949 save percentage and 1.63 GAA to earn two victories.

However, with him playing to a 3-2 shootout victory yesterday against the Panthers, it seems likely he’ll relinquish his crease this evening at Air Canada Centre. Fresh off a 37-for-40 (.925 save percentage) shootout loss with the Cleveland Monsters, Columbus’ AHL affiliate, on Saturday, 4-4-0 G Joonas Korpisalo very well could draw his first NHL start of 2018. With the senior team, Korpisalo has posted a .904 season save percentage and 3.1 GAA.

Just like the Blue Jackets, Toronto enters this game after winning its last showing on a shootout. In fact, the Maple Leafs have gone so far as to perfectly duplicate Columbus’ 2-1-0 record for 2018.

Ready to continue having the mirror image conversation? The Leafs have won both their last two games because of solid work by 22-12-1 G Frederik Andersen.

Go figure, right?

Over his last three starts, Andersen has posted a .944 save percentage and 1.92 GAA, both of which are the third-best effort in January among goaltenders with at least three starts. This solid start to the calendar year has elevated his season numbers to a .922 save percentage and 2.64 GAA, the eighth- and (t)12th-best efforts, respectively, in the NHL among the 31 netminders with 18 or more starts to their credit.

These squads have already tangled once this season, and that December 20 contest went the way of the Jackets. Behind the two-point game of D Seth Jones and Korpisalo saving 39-of-41 Toronto shots, the Blue Jackets were able to beat the Leafs 4-2 in their lone trip to Ohio of the regular season. They’ll complete the three-game series on Valentine’s Day (that’s 37 days away, guys!).

Pitting Andersen against either a tired Bobrovsky or Korpisalo doesn’t seem like a fair fight, especially when we remember that Toronto has the league’s seventh-best offense at its disposal (obligatory C Auston Matthews shout out here). Even though Korpisalo’s last victory came against the Leafs, I think the boys in blue can come away with the victory tonight.


Though they needed overtime to do it, the Washington Capitals beat the St. Louis Blues 4-3 at Capital One Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Even the opening 20 minutes proved to be an evenly contested first period (Washington led 8-7 in shots on goal), the scoreboard read 1-0 in favor of the Caps going into the first intermission. That’s because W Brett Connolly (Second Star of the Game W Alex Ovechkin and D John Carlson) was able to score a power play tip-in with 6:45 remaining in the frame to break the scoreless tie.

Whatever Head Coach Mike Yeo said to the Blues during that intermission obviously worked, because St. Louis dominated the second period to claim a 2-1 lead. RW Vladimir Tarasenko (F Ivan Barbashev and D Joel Edmundson) leveled the game at one-all only 78 seconds into the period with a snap shot, followed 3:44 later by Third Star F Alex Steen (F Brayden Schenn and D Alex Pietrangelo) potting a power play deflection.

Like the Notes exploded out of the first intermission, Washington did just the same following the second. Ovechkin (Carlson and First Star C Nicklas Backstrom) took advantage of D Jay Bouwmeester‘s tripping penalty against LW Jakub Vrana at the 7:57 mark to level the game at two-all only three seconds later. 2:49 after the goal horn was quieted, C Lars Eller (F T.J. Oshie and D Madison Bowey) recaptured a one-goal advantage for the Caps. However, D Carl Gunnarsson (F Patrik Berglund and F Tage Thompson) wasn’t going to let his club go down without a fight, and he leveled the game once again on a wrist shot with 4:09 remaining in regulation.

With neither squad able to break the 3-3 tie in regulation, the contest shifted into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period. It’s there where Backstrom (Oshie) found the game-winning goal, his first of the season and the 30th (35th if you include the postseason) of his 11-year career.

With only 43 seconds separating the game from the dreaded shootout, Oshie took advantage of a mistimed line change by his former club. He ripped a pass from the right face-off circle in his own defensive zone to a wide-open Backstrom cruising up the right boards. With only G Carter Hutton to beat, he ripped a wrister from the slot high cheese over the netminder’s right shoulder to give Washington its ninth-straight home victory.

G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 31-of-34 shots faced (.912 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Hutton, who saved 29-of-33 (.879).

It’s another win for a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have a 53-29-11 record that is 25 points superior to that of the roadies.