Tag Archives: Matthews

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.

December 6 – Day 63 – This one might get ugly

Another Wednesday, another day to sell any random matchup as a rivalry when it almost certainly isn’t worthy of such designation.

Such is life in the world of sports broadcasting, I suppose.

Today’s slate of action features four games, starting with Calgary at Toronto (SN/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m. and Chicago at Washington (NBCSN) at 8 p.m. In a similar setup, Philadelphia at Edmonton (SN1) is scheduled to drop the puck at 9:30 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Ottawa at Anaheim (RDS) – following suit half an hour later. All times Eastern.

Though C Nate Thompson is making his first return to The Pond after calling it home for three seasons, I’m much more attracted to the contest involving the other team from Ontario.

 

 

 

 

 

No, it’s no rivalry like the one between Chicago and Washington (I mean, they are obviously warring over who wears red better), but this could be a good game nonetheless.

If nothing else, it should be the most entertaining, as the 17-10-1 Maple Leafs are always capable of putting on a good show with their third-ranked offense that averages 3.5 goals-per-game.

It’s no surprise who spearheads the Leafs’ attack, as all C Auston Matthews has done this season is improve on his Calder Trophy-winning 40-29-69 effort from a year ago. Having already earned team-leading 13-13-26 marks through 24 games played this year, he’s on pace for an incredible 84 points this season.

For those wondering, F Patrick Kane followed up his Calder-winning season with 25-45-70 totals in 80 games played. If you that think Kane is a solid player (hint: that should be all of us), Matthews has a chance to make Showtime simply an opening act.

While Matthews’ increased goal production certainly merits praise (his goals-per-game is up to .54 this season from last year’s .49), I’m actually most impressed with how he’s settled into his role as a top-line center. I often got the impression from Matthews that he felt he was the only one on Toronto’s roster capable of scoring goals (which, assuming he’d been watching the Leafs while he was in Switzerland, wasn’t exactly a misguided conclusion), which has made apparent by his four-goal NHL debut.

In a real test for Matthews, Head Coach Mike Babcock took the training wheels off Saturday by moving F William Nylander – himself a tremendous talent with 5-15-20 totals – to the third line to fill in for C Tyler Bozak while he was sick. As a result, Matthews and linemates RW Connor Brown (8-5-13) and F Zach Hyman (5-9-14) did not find the scorecard in Toronto’s 2-1 loss in Vancouver.

Word on the street is Bozak will be ready to go this evening, but I wouldn’t put it past Babcock to continue to play with his lines while the Leafs are in no danger of falling out of playoff position.

Tonight’s game might be a tough one for the 14-12-1 Flames, because even though they’re currently only one point outside of the Western Conference playoffs, they’ve made a bad habit of allowing 3.25 goals-per-game, the eighth-most in the NHL.

Considering last campaign’s starter G Brian Elliott has managed only a .908 save percentage this season in Philadelphia, I suppose Flames General Manager Brad Treliving did make an upgrade by trading for 12-9-1 G Mike Smith. Unfortunately, Smith’s .916 season save percentage and 2.79 GAA, which rank seventh- and fifth-worst, respectively, among goalies with at least 20 starts, has not been enough to keep the Flames in the playoff position they earned last year.

Of course, goaltending is a tough job when you’re being pelted with 31.71 shots-per-start like Smith has. Overall, the Flames defense has allowed the 10th-most shots to reach their goaltender, averaging 32.37 per game.

To put it simply, this team is not committed to playing defensive hockey. Not only are their 354 blocks the fewest in the Western Conference and third-fewest in the league, but they’ve also thrown the fewest blocks at 437, 27 less than Carolina’s second-worst effort. It is fortunate that C Mikael Backlund has managed a league-leading 34 takeaways, or things might be even worse for Calgary.

Oh wait, it can get worse. Backlund was sick yesterday and missed practice. Unless D Mark Giordano can assume his ultimate form and block more than his already team-leading 2.2 shots-per-game, this game has a really good chance of getting ugly for the Flames.


The New Jersey Devils are now the top team in the Metropolitan Division after beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Jersey never trailed in this game, due in large part to C Travis Zajac‘s (RW Stefan Noesen and F Marcus Johansson) first goal of the season, a backhanded shot 4:24 into the contest. The first period was also when the Blue Jackets got on the board, courtesy of a F Nick Foligno (RW Oliver Bjorkstrand and D Seth Jones) wrist shot with 6:14 remaining in the frame.

After that, this game belonged to the Devils, starting with Third Star of the Game F Taylor Hall‘s (Second Star C Nico Hischier and W Jesper Bratt) game-winning tip-in 4:47 into the second period. He was the benefactor of his own hard work, as it was Hall that won the scrum in his own defensive zone to get the puck to Hischier, who was off to the races after corralling the play. Once the rookie reached the right face-off dot, he pulled up and drew an additional defender before centering a pass to Hall, who tapped a one-timer past G Sergei Bobrovsky‘s blocker.

Noesen (LW Miles Wood and Hischier) also made sure to end the period with a bang, burying a wrister with 46 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

Bratt (Hall) tacked on the final insurance goal with 8:54 remaining in regulation with a tip-in.

First Star Cory Schneider earned the victory after saving 41-of-42 shots faced (.976 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 32-of-36 (.889).

December’s pattern of giving in the DtFR Game of the Day series continues, as hosts and visitors continue to exchange victories every other day. With last night being the road teams’ turn, they’ve now pulled back within 14 points of the home sides.

November 30 – Day 57 – Ain’t no Haulaback girl

Nothing is better than Thursday night in the NHL! Grab your favorite brew and head to the rink to watch your favorite crew!

That may have been forced, but I don’t really care.

Anyways, the NHL has lined up seven games for our viewing pleasure this evening, starting with Los Angeles at Washington at 7 p.m. and Montréal at Detroit (RDS/TSN2) half an hour later. Two more contests (Vancouver at Nashville and Vegas at Minnesota) drop the puck at 8 p.m., while Dallas at Chicago gets underway 30 minutes after. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Arizona at Calgary [SN360] and Toronto at Edmonton [TVAS]) see the green light at 9 p.m. to close out the night’s – and the month’s – action. All times Eastern.

Like I usually do, let’s highlight a couple of the games that might strike your fancy:

  • Montréal at Detroit: Did someone say Original Six?
  • Vegas at Minnesota: It’ll be a trip down memory lane tonight for F Erik Haula, as he’s returning to the Xcel Energy Center for the first time since being picked by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft.

The Stars-Blackhawks game also merits considerable attention since they’re tied for fourth place in the Central Division, but it’s not being considered for Game of the Day status due to Chicago being featured nine times already this season – as recently as two days ago.

As such, let’s make the trip to St. Paul and see if the Wild can do anything to slow down the best offense in the Western Conference.

 

 

 

 

 

Before we get started, I know what you’re thinking: no, I’m not all that interested in the game between the Maple Leafs and Oilers. I get that C Auston Matthews and C Connor McDavid are squaring off, but I don’t have it in me to make my loyal readers watch the Oil’s horrendous defense. That game will probably end with some ridiculous 7-3 score or something like that.

Instead, let’s focus in on Minnesota’s defense that is only a little bit better!

Ok, more on that in a minute. First, let’s recap the first four years of Haula’s NHL career.

The Finn was a seventh-round selection from the USHL’s Omaha Lancers by the Wild in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, but he didn’t start his NHL rookie season until the 2013-’14 campaign after a year with the Lancers, three seasons at the University of Minnesota and 37 games in the AHL.

Of Haula’s four campaigns with the Wild, his latter two were easily the most successful of his Minnesotan tenure. During the 2015-’16 season, he posted a career-high in points with 14-20-34 totals, and followed that up last campaign with a 15-11-26 effort – the most goals he’s scored in a season since his junior year of college.

Playing between RW Nino Niederreiter and RW Jason Pominville, Haula completed the Wild’s solid third line in what proved to be his final season with the club. Unfortunately, the good work that trio did was not enough to keep Haula on the squad, as General Manager Chuck Fletcher arranged a deal with Vegas GM George McPhee to ensure Haula would be selected during the expansion draft.

While his selection may have been choreographed to ensure Minnesota retained all the pieces it wanted, selecting Haula has only come up spades for the 15-7-1 Golden Knights. Haula has been promoted from lowly third-liner to Vegas’ top center and acclimated very well to his new role, averaging a career-high .68 points-per-game on the season with his 7-6-13 totals.

Of course, it’s hard to struggle with a linemate like W James Neal (12-7-19 totals), especially when they have the luxury of W Reilly Smith (6-13-19), C William Karlsson (13-9-22) and F Jon Marchessault (8-13-21) playing behind them as a brilliant second line. As such, the Pacific Division-leading Knights sport a nasty 3.52 goals-per-game average that trails only the Islanders and Lightning for best in the NHL.

Given the unenviable task of trying to slow down Vegas’ attack is 11-10-3 Minnesota, the worst team in the Central Division and third-worst in the Western Conference.

Hinted at before, the Wild’s biggest struggle this season has been keeping the opposition off the scoreboard. They allow 3.04 goals against-per-game, the (t)11th-worst effort in the NHL. Since I’m struggling to determine if responsibility for this issue falls on G Devan Dubnyk or his defense, I’m led to believe both share in the blame.

Let’s start with Dubnyk, who’s struggling to replicate last season’s .923 season save percentage and 2.25 GAA that earned him the fifth-most votes towards the Vezina Trophy. So far this year, he’s managed a .911 season save percentage and 2.85 GAA, which are 17th- and 14th-worst, respectively, among the 34 goaltenders with at least 10 starts (read: Dubnyk’s been average).

Unfortunately, he’s not getting all that much help from his d-corps. Even with LW Marcus Foligno‘s three hits-per-game, C Mikko Koivu‘s team-leading 18 takeaways and D Jared Spurgeon‘s 2.2 blocks-per-game, Minnesota is allowing a 12th-worst 32.2 shots against-per-game.

It is probably very telling that D Jonas Brodin, the team’s leader in individual goal-differential with a +8, is the only blueliner with a +/- better than +1. Meanwhile, defensemen like Spurgeon and Ryan Suter that have at least 14 points to their name have been neglecting their defensive duties, as neither have positive goal-differentials even though they’re among the Wild’s top-six point earners.

Unless Dubynk stands on his head – which is something he hasn’t done since his 30-for-30 performance against Philadelphia over two weeks ago – it’s hard to believe that the Wild will have much luck slowing down the Golden Knights’ offense.


With two goals in the span of 2:20, the Montréal Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators 2-1 at the Bell Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Senators had a hot start to this game, as Second Star of the Game RW Mark Stone scored an unassisted shorthanded backhanded shot only 4:36 into the contest to quiet the loudest arena in the NHL.

Ottawa’s lead lasted until the 2:56 mark of the second period. That’s when First Star F Jonathan Drouin scored his fifth goal of the season, a penalty shot that pinged off G Mike Condon‘s right goalpost. 2:18 later, F Phillip Danault (F Andrew Shaw and LW Max Pacioretty) set the 2-1 final score with a wrist shot.

This goal was a result of some lightning-fast puck movement. Pacioretty and Shaw were busy behind Condon’s net, scrapping with C Derick Brassard and D Cody Ceci for possession. The moment Shaw had the opportunity, he forced the puck back above the goal line to Danault, who was screaming towards Condon’s right goalpost. Before the goalkeeper could get turned the right way, Danault sent his one-timer into the back of the net.

Though I was unable to watch the game, I’m led to believe that Third Star D Karl Alzner played a major role in keeping the Sens off the scoreboard after Stone’s first period tally. In 21 minutes of ice time, he threw three hits, blocked four shots and tacked on an additional takeaway to help the Habs earn two points.

G Carey Price earned the victory (his third-straight since returning from injury) after saving 27-of-28 shots faced (.964 save percentage), leaving the loss to Condon, who saved 29-of-31 (.935).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are on quite the roll, as they’ve won the last five games. Tonight’s victory improves their record to 32-19-6, 15 points better than the roadies’ effort.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 5

Player of the Week: Nikita Kucherov

Tampa is kind of making these choices too easy every week.

The hottest team in the league continued to roll, and the hottest line in the league followed suit. Linemates Vladislav Namestnikov (4 goals, 1 assist) and Steven Stamkos (1 goal, 5 assists) were certainly no slouches, but Kucherov’s 2 goals and 7 points in 3 games were easily the most impressive output of the week, especially considering both goals and 6 of those points were in the first 2 games of the week.

Kucherov is even being talked about as having a shot at 50 goals in 50 games. While it’s certainly still quite a ways away, it will definitely be interesting to see if he can reach the fabled mark.

Team of the Week: Toronto Maple Leafs

Fans of Steve Dangle’s LFR series will know that this was a week chock full of victory puppies.

After a very shaky stretch that saw the Leafs nearly fall all the way back to a .500 record after a scorching start, things looked increasingly bleak as they learned they’d be without superstar Auston Matthews heading into this week’s 4-game schedule. But the loss of #34 seemed to light a spark under his teammates’ collective tails.

Toronto opened the week hosting the Golden Knights and whoever they could find willing to throw on some goalie pads (we love ya, Max) and the two squads treated us to an extremely fun night that ended in a 4-3 Leafs victory on the strength of a silky shootout goal from Mitch Marner. They would follow that effort up with a 4-2 victory over Minnesota, heading into a back-to-back home-and-home with arch rival Boston.

Now, the Bruins are more Providence than Boston right now as they deal with a slew of injuries, particularly in the forward group, but credit them for putting up one heck of a fight at the ACC on Friday night as they came just 60 seconds from victory before James van Hockey (who notably had 4 points in the 2 games against the Bruins) tied the game and sent it to overtime. In overtime, Patrick Marleau touched the ice, so the team he played for won the game. (If you’re not familiar with Marleau’s ridiculous GWG stats, go have a look. Legitimately about 1/5th of his career goals have won a game.)

Saturday night the Leafs would wrap up a Matthews-less week 4-0 after a 4-1 victory over the Bruins in Boston, with backup goalie Curtis McElhinney shining in net. The Leafs now get 4 days of rest, riding a boatload of momentum, and likely will see the return of Matthews the next time they hit the ice. Maybe hope your team doesn’t play them anytime soon.

Game of the Week: Los Angeles Kings 4 @ Anaheim Ducks 3 (OT), Tuesday November 7th

The NHL likes to think of Wednesday as rivalry night, but boy were they a day late this week.

What was easily the most entertaining game of the year to this point (in this humble writer’s opinion) saw some fantastic stat lines. 7 goals, 79 shots, 54 hits, 51 penalty minutes, and 12 power plays should tell you what sort of game you missed if you didn’t happen to catch this barn-burner.

To put the insanity of this game into simple terms, Jared Boll opened the scoring. Yeah, that Jared Boll! Isn’t that spectacular?! Like, okay, Brandon Montour did 99% of the work and just had his wrap-around attempt bounce onto Boll’s stick so he could hack it into an open net, but who really cares? Somebody get that man a cookie.

Sami Vatanen would send the Ducks up 2-0 later in the 1st just as their power play opportunity expired, and for most of the 1st period the Ducks looked like they had the game by the throat. If not for some simply spectacular goaltending (see also: strategical flailing) by Jonathan Quick, this game could have gotten out of hand early. But after watching their goaltender perform miracles for most of the opening frame, the Kings decided maybe they should help him or something, so Anze Kopitar figured he’d go ahead and score a goal with just over 3 minutes remaining to send the teams to the locker rooms with Anaheim leading 2-1.

The second period saw less offense and more punches in the face. Jonathan Quick attempted to help Derek Forbort ruin Corey Perry‘s day, but the referees felt that someone with a full cage getting into fisticuffs with someone who isn’t wearing a full cage isn’t decidedly fair, so Andy Andreoff (great name, btw) had to go to the penalty box and feel Quick’s shame for him. Jared Boll would later fight Andreoff, I would assume feeling that Andy should earn his own time in the penalty box and not just bum it off of others. Oh, also Rickard Rakell and Adrian Kempe scored goals, so that was kinda neat.

The Kings absolutely mugged the Ducks in the 3rd, racking up 17 shots on John Gibson to just 6 mustered against them, but only Dustin Brown managed to get one past the Anaheim netminder, so off to bonus hockey we would go, knotted at 3. It would take nearly 4 minutes of 4-on-4 madness to decide the game, but finally Nick Shore would complete the Kings’ comeback and end a terrific night of hockey and shenanigans.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Jarome Iginla is still unsigned (podcast listeners will appreciate that), but he says he’s not ready to retire. I think he should play on a line with Jagr in Calgary, and we can nickname the line the Geri-hat-tricks or something like that.

Roberto Luongo picked up career win number 455 this week, passing Curtis Joseph for 4th all-time in that category. I’m pretty sure nobody above him is better at self-deprecating Twitter humor, though, so really he’s probably the greatest of all time.

Brian Boyle scored his first goal since returning to the Devils lineup, and his celebration was pretty much the most sincere display of happiness that doesn’t include a dog that you’ll ever see.

The Hockey Hall of Fame inductee class of Danielle Goyette, Clare Drake, Jeremy Jacobs, Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi, Teemu Selanne, and Paul Kariya was one for the ages, and if you need a solid laugh, check out the back-and-forth between longtime friends Selanne and Kariya, some of the finest chirping you will ever find.

October 30 – Day 27 – I Left My Heart in San Francisco

How do we do this Monday thing during the summer without hockey to watch after work? Maybe that’s why so many people take summer vacations.

I suppose that’s a question we’ll solve another day. In the meantime, there’s a total of eight contests on the schedule today, starting with three (Vegas at the New York Islanders, Arizona at Philadelphia and Boston at Columbus [SN]) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time and two more (Montréal at Ottawa [RDS/TSN2] and Tampa Bay at Florida) half an hour later. In a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference, Los Angeles visits St. Louis at 8 p.m., followed by Dallas at Vancouver two hours later and tonight’s nightcap – Toronto at San Jose – at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

What a slate of games! Beyond the note associated with the Kings-Blues game, there’s also two rivalry games to be played tonight that should produce some thrilling action.

All that being said, there’s one occurrence that simply cannot be missed this evening: the return of F Patrick Marleau to San Jose.

 

 

 

 

 

Time to take the WABAC Machine to Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Penn. on June 21, 1997, the location and date of that year’s NHL Entry Draft.

It was here that Marleau’s 19-season tenure with the Sharks began, as the Seattle Thunderbird was selected second-overall by former General Manager Dean Lombardi. It proved to be an excellent match, as Marleau owns many of the Sharks’ franchise records, including games played (1493), goals (508), even-strength goals (331), power play goals (160), short-handed goals (17), game-winning goals (98) and points (1082), among others.

Talk about a career.

Though Marleau’s 2005-’06 season was his best as measured by his career-high 86 points, it’d be hard to argue that his 2009-’10 effort, at 30-years-old, wasn’t his most impressive. It was that season that he scored 44 goals – better than a goal every-other game – in the regular season followed by eight more in the playoffs to lead the Sharks to their second-ever appearance in the Western Conference Finals, where they were swept by Chicago.

Along with other playoff shortcomings, that is the main blemish on Marleau’s impressive career: he’s never hoisted any NHL hardware besides the Campbell Bowl in 2016. His best accolades from the league are his three All-Star Game appearances.

When General Manager Doug Wilson elected not to resign the forward, who turned 38-years-old this September, Marleau made sure to choose a team that could resolve that issue for him, leading him to Toronto.

Though currently third in a stacked Atlantic Division, they sky is the limit for the 7-4-0 Maple Leafs this season, due in large part to their unbelievable offense.

Yes, Atlantic-rival Tampa Bay may prove to be a more complete team in the long run, but it’s hard to beat a team that boasts a league-best 4.09 goals per game.

Of course, what should we expect from an attack headed by C Auston Matthews? The reigning Calder Trophy winner, who posted 40-29-69 totals in his rookie season, is suffering no sophomore slump this year as he’s already scored eight goals for 15 points (both [t]fourth-most in the league).

For those wondering who was selected with the first-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, they need to look no further than the 5-5-0 Sharks’ top-line center. That’s right: Joe Thornton. After being traded from Boston in late November, 2005, the top-two picks of the 1997 draft played on the same team for the next 12 years.

Though it hasn’t exactly been the best of starts for the Sharks this season, they certainly have postseason aspirations of their own, hoping to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third-consecutive campaign.

Even though San Jose still touts offensive weapons of the likes of F Logan Couture and Thornton, the Sharks are at their best when playing a defensive game. Having allowed an average of only 29.8 shots-per-game to reach G Martin Jones (fifth-fewest in the NHL), the Sharks allow only 2.6 goals against-per-game, the seventh-best mark in the league.

That defense is co-led by two of the best defensemen in the NHL: Justin Braun and Brent Burns. Burns’ reputation is certainly cemented in his offensive contributions, but he’s also been very busy along his own blue line by blocking 2.1 shots-per-game and registering nine takeaways already this season (the most of any defenseman). Braun has also been very effective on San Jose’s second D-pair, but with his own style. He prefers to play a very physical game and has registered 3.2 blocks-per-game to go with his 21 blocks in 10 games played.

Marleau should receive an extremely favorable response from devoted Sharks fans before they lend their support to their teal-clad club. Since this game features strength-on-strength, I like the Sharks to win this game due to their offense being better than Toronto’s defense.


The Winnipeg Jets showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 7-1 at Bell MTS Place.

We featured this game on the chance Penguins G Casey DeSmith would earn the first start of his NHL career. Though it was instead G Matthew Murray that started his second game in as many days, DeSmith did eventually earn his first NHL appearance after Murray allowed four goals on nine shots against (.556 save percentage).

Murray didn’t even last an entire period of play, as all four of his goals against were struck in 18:07 of action. First up was C Andrew Copp (F Shawn Matthias and D Toby Enstrom), who buried his first goal of the season only 1:20 into the game.

Assisted by Second Star of the Game C Mark Scheifele and LW Kyle Connor, RW Blake Wheeler buried what proved to be the game-winning goal with 6:02 remaining in the period.

Though the play started in Winnipeg’s defensive zone, it didn’t stay there long thanks to an untimely turnover by D Zach Trotman. Connor was quick to take possession of the loose puck and passed to Scheifele through the neutral zone to set up a two-on-one attack for the Jets. Once D Ian Cole committed to preventing a shot from Scheifele, the center passed to Wheeler in slot, who buried a low wrist shot through Murray’s five-hole.

Wheeler (Matthias and Scheifele) continued applying the pressure 3:46 later, setting the score at 3-0, followed by RW Joel Armia (F Matt Hendricks) burying a wrister with 113 seconds remaining in the first period to chase Murray.

Not to leave DeSmith out from being scored on in the first period, Wheeler (Connor) scored a backhanded shot only 11 seconds after the netminder’s NHL debut to complete his first-frame hat trick. As you might expect, he took home First Star honors for his effort.

Though F Evgeni Malkin (RW Phil Kessel and D Kris Letang) was able to score a power play deflection with 2:58 remaining in the second period, it did little to brighten the Penguins’ spirits – especially since Scheifele (Wheeler and D Dustin Byfuglien) and LW Brendan Lemieux (D Tyler Myers and Armia) were able to score a goal apiece in the third frame to set the 7-1 final score.

Third Star G Connor Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (.969 save percentage), leaving Murray the loss.

Winnipeg’s win was its first in the DtFR Game of the Day series this season and helped the 15-8-4 home teams reclaim an eight-point advantage over the roadies.

October 23 – Day 20 – There will be goals

Another Monday, another start to the work week. It’s the same for hockey players, which is good for us; there’s nothing better than sitting back and taking in a game after a day’s work.

For those planning on doing just that this evening, you’ll have to games to choose from – both dropping the puck at 7 p.m. Eastern time. It’s two West vs. East matchups, as Los Angeles makes its annual trip to Toronto (TVAS) and San Jose takes on the New York Rangers (NHLN/SN).

With the Rangers and Sharks both off to slow starts this season, we have to turn our attention to the Air Canada Centre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When two of the current top-five teams in the league square off, it’s must-watch TV.

If it’s possible to be hotter than a 6-0-1 record indicates, the Kings have discovered how as they’re riding a four-game winning streak coming into tonight’s game.

Los Angeles has a long history of being a defensively-minded club, and this year is no different. Allowing an average of only two goals against-per-game, LA might as well be playing with the Great Wall of China in front of its net.

That wall has a name though, and it’s G Jonathan Quick. Having already earned a 5-0-1 record, Quick has returned to the elite status every fan at the Staples Center was hoping for following his lower body injury, as he’s rocking an impressive .938 save percentage and 1.99 GAA, numbers that pale only in comparison to Chicago’s G Corey Crawford (.945, 1.86).

To continue my analogy (because why not?), the wall alone was not expected to be the nation’s lone defender. Similarly, the Kings don’t rely only on Quick, as their defense is also 13th-best in the NHL in the shots-against category, allowing only an average of 31.4 per game. Two defensemen that deserve a lot of the credit are Derek Forbort and Alec Martinez, as both have blocked 16 shots this season, and C Anze Kopitar leads the team with eight takeaways. Martinez’ effort has been particularly exemplary, as he’s amassed his shot blocks in only four games played.

I need to admit something to you: I may have lied when I said this season has been no different in regards to the Kings’ defensive gusto. That part is true, but Los Angeles has also been one of the best offenses in the game, averaging 3.86 goals-per-game to rank third-best in the NHL.

The top line – especially W Dustin Brown and Kopitar – has been nearly unstoppable in the Kings’ first seven games played. Brown and Kopitar have posted almost identical numbers en route to their 11-point efforts, as the captain has managed 6-5-11 totals while Brown has produced a 5-6-11 contribution.

If the Maple Leafs want to win this game, their defense had better make a point of shutting those two down and instead take their chances with the bottom-nine.

Playing decent defense shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Toronto, which allows a 14th-fewest 32 shots against-per-game. Blocking 3.4 shots-per-game, D Nikita Zaitsev has been a mastermind at keeping pucks off G Frederik Andersen (he averages 3.4 blocks-per-game to lead the team), which has proven necessary given Andersen’s inconsistent play.

5-2-0 Andersen has started all but one game for Toronto this season, and for good reason – he’s definitely better than G Curtis McElhinney. Then again, that’s not exactly all that hard to do, as McElhinney allowed three goals Wednesday to a Detroit team that looks to be trending in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, Andersen has managed only an .892 save percentage and 3.41 GAA, marking him the second-worst goaltender in the league with at least five starts to his credit.

Maybe that explains Toronto’s (t)eighth-worst 3.5 goals against-per-game, huh?

As you might guess with Toronto’s goaltending situation, there’s a lot of pressure on the offense to keep the Leafs competitive. Fortunately for them, they drafted that C Auston Matthews guy last year, who’s absolutely perfect for the job. Just like we all expected, the sophomore from Arizona has been among the best scorers in the league to start the season, as he’s already registered 7-5-12 totals in eight games.

But what might be Matthews’ most important statistic coming into tonight’s game is his shooting percentage. He’s a managed a goal on 31.8 percent of his shots, which is best on the team among those that have fired the puck more than 10 times.

Remember Quick’s godlike .938 save percentage? Goals will not be easily earned, meaning a pure shot like Matthews’ will be necessary to earn victory.

Now’s the time to make a pick, which is very tough given the Maple Leafs’ solid 3-1-0 record at home. That being said, I have full faith in Quick and his offense to invade the Air Canada Centre and earn two points for the Kings.


With a dominant three-goal second period, the Vancouver Canucks beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 at Little Caesars Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

This contest remained scoreless until First Star of the Game LW Sven Baertschi (Third Star C Bo Horvat and RW Brock Boeser) buried a backhanded shot with 5:26 remaining remaining in the first period to give Vancouver a 1-0 lead. The Canucks almost took that advantage into the first intermission if not for a snap shot by W Anthony Mantha (F Gustav Nyquist and D Mike Green), buried with 92 seconds remaining in the frame.

Since Mantha’s marker was the only goal Detroit could muster, W Derek Dorsett‘s (Horvat and D Derrick Pouliot) wrist shot 8:30 into the second period proved to be the Canucks’ game-winning goal.

The play that led to this goal looks to be something Head Coach Travis Green has been running in practice, as the Canucks ran it to perfection. From his own defensive zone, Pouliot banked a blue line-to-blue line pass off the far boards to Horvat to set up Vancouver’s attack. As that was happening, Dorsett started streaking up the ice towards G Jimmy Howard‘s glove side. Almost immediately upon receiving Pouliot’s pass, Horvat sent a centering pass towards Dorsett, which he quickly put on net. Howard made the initial save with his left shoulder, but the puck bounced into the air and eventually rolled down his back into the goal.

That was Dorsett’s fifth goal and sixth point of the year. After starting the season on the fourth line, he’s earned himself a promotion to a top-six position in the Canucks’ lineup and is certainly one of the most exciting stories in Vancouver.

Baertschi (F Alexander Burmistrov) and Second Star RW Jake Virtanen (LW Daniel Sedin) provided Vancouver’s two insurance goals in the remaining time of the second period, and the Canucks limited the Red Wings to only six shots on goal in the third to ensure the victory.

G Jacob Markstrom earned the victory after saving 20-of-21 shots faced (.952 save percentage), leaving the loss to Howard, who saved 33-of-37 (.892).

In the last four games in the DtFR Game of the Day series, all of them have come back as wins for the road teams. With this run of success, visitors in the series have pulled within two points of the 10-6-4 hosts.

October 9 – Day Six – Goals on goals on goals

Happy Columbus Day, if you’re into that sort of thing (yes, Blue Jackets fans, I assumed you would be). Even if you aren’t, I’ll bet you’re into the day off work you potentially have and afternoon hockey.

That’s right, we have three matinees on tap this afternoon, with two (Colorado at Boston [SN1] and St. Louis at the New York Islanders) at 1 p.m. and New Jersey visiting Buffalo two hours later. Chicago at Toronto (NHLN) drops the puck at the usual time of 7 p.m., with Washington at Tampa Bay trailing half an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of Winnipeg at Edmonton, while tonight’s nightcap, Calgary at Anaheim, waits an hour before starting. All times Eastern.

There’s some great games on the slate today, including an old-timey rivalry and a rematch from last year’s playoffs, but something tells me an Original Six matchup featuring the two best offenses to start the season should prove exceptionally exciting.

 

 

 

 

 

I usually try to not repeat teams in the Game of the Day series early in the season, but its hard to avoid this explosive, star-studded matchup.

That doesn’t even mention that this contest features the top clubs from their respective conferences once you go through all the NHL’s tiebreakers.

If you like offense, this is the game for you. Both teams enter tonight’s game having scored 15 goals in two games played. That 7.5 goals-per-game average makes the Capitals’ five scores-per-game rate look pedestrian by comparison.

Let’s start with the visiting Blackhawks.

Their first action came Thursday night against the two-time reigning-champion Penguins. Chicago did not tremble at any of Pittsburgh’s accolades and instead took the Pens to the woodshed for a 10-1 beatdown. Two days later, the Hawks welcomed another strong Metropolitan Division team to town, only to show the Blue Jackets the door after beating them 5-1.

It’s been a mix of established and budding stars heading the charge for the Hawks so far, as 2015-’16 Art Ross Trophy winner F Patrick Kane (2-4-6 totals) and sophomore W Ryan Hartman (1-5-6) both have a half-dozen points to their credit. Of course, we also can’t forget Chicago’s prodigal son W Brandon Saad and his 4-1-5 effort, including his even-strength hat trick to open the season.

Hartman has arguably been the most pleasant surprise so far. The Hilton Head, S.C. native has been living every little boy’s dream having grown up a Hawks fan and playing on Kane’s second line. Last season, he posted 19-12-31 totals for his 76-game rookie campaign, but he looks well on his way to exceeding those numbers.

Hartman is obviously not going to keep up the three points-per-game rate he’s currently sporting, but if he can continue learning and being a consistent weapon for Kane, Windy City natives will begin second-guessing the LW Artemi Panarin trade even less than they already are following Saad’s performance.

All in all, the Blackhawks should provide the strongest test the Maple Leafs have faced so far in this young season.

Meanwhile, depending how you look at it, Toronto’s offense has perhaps been even more dominant as the Leafs have yet to score less than seven goals in a game. They opened the NHL season with a 7-2 demonstration in Winnipeg, followed by a thrilling 8-5 victory at home against the Rangers Saturday.

What has made the Leafs so dangerous in their first two games is that opposing defenses and goaltenders have no idea where the puck is coming from. Though C Nazem Kadri (2-2-4 totals) and C Auston Matthews (1-3-4) co-lead the squad with four points already in their accounts, seven other skaters already have three points this season – including newcomer F Patrick Marleau and his two-goal performance (both at even-strength, I might add) against the Jets.

Of course, Marleau is best known for his 19 seasons in San Jose, but the Sharks lost out on their bid to resign the 38-year-old when he elected to sign a three-year, $6.25 million contract in Toronto. At first glance, it seemed General Manager Lou Lamoriello overpaid for a senior player coming off his third-consecutive season of declining offensive production, but – similar to Chicago’s situation with Hartman – if Marleau can keep posting points from Toronto’s third line, he should prove the shrinking collection of doubters wrong.

Quick sidebar: During the preseason, I wrote about a team that uses its third line for depth scoring instead of the usual checking team. That squad is currently the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to say yet that this Leafs team is destined to hoist some hardware, but a similar character could be forming in Hogtown.

I’m of the opinion that two-time Jennings Trophy-winner G Corey Crawford (.968 save percentage) and Chicago’s defense is far superior to one-time Jennings recipient G Frederik Andersen (.903, 3.5 GAA) and Toronto’s blue line, so the Hawks should be able to escape the Air Canada Centre with two points.


On the back of First Star of the Game G Henrik Lundqvist‘s 62nd regular-season shutout of his career, the New York Rangers were able to best the Montréal Canadiens 2-0 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The game remained a scoreless draw for much of the first period until D Brady Skjei (W Michael Grabner and F J.T. Miller) “buried” what proved to be the game-winner on G Carey Price.

It was a quick play off a face-off in New York’s offensive zone. Miller won the resumption of play, but it was Grabner that swatted the puck towards the near boards to Skjei. The defenseman advanced the puck along the wall to the end line before attempting a centering pass to Grabner at the top of the crease. At first glance, it appeared D Shea Weber had Grabner under wraps, but he instead proved to be the final one to touch the puck, as Skjei’s pass deflected off his right skate and into the net.

After a second period devoid of goals for either team, the Habs brought their strongest offense in the third period when they fired 13 shots at Lundqvist’s net, but they couldn’t find a tying goal. Instead, it was Second Star C Mika Zibanejad (Third Star W Pavel Buchnevich and F Chris Kreider) that found the back of the net, setting the 2-0 final score with a wrist shot.

Lundqvist earned the victory after saving all 34 shots-on-goal he faced, while Price was able to save only 23-of-25 (.92 save percentage) in defeat.

Thanks to the Blueshirts finding their first victory of the season, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now hold a one-point advantage over the roadies with a 3-2-1 record.

Colby’s Corner Top five Players Poised to Breakout

A new season starts today, so it’s time for me to jump in and tell you five players to keep an eye out for as they could have breakout seasons. I didn’t limit myself to just rookies; I was also looking for players who could fill some big shoes or become a standout on their team.

First up,

  1. Oliver Bjorkstrand

This one may surprise a few, but after a strong preseason performance, Bjorkstrand could really step up this season and have a big role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a highly rated prospect, I believe Jacket fans have been waiting for him to show up in a big way.

Bjorkstrand only has 38 games played over the past two seasons, recording 10 goals and 11 assists in that time. I remember watching him play in World Juniors a few years ago and he had the ability to take over a game and control his team’s offensive flow. If he can provide that for the Jackets, this would give them another weapon with a nice scoring touch. Bjorkstrand could be a name that you hear more of this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 10-15 goals with another 10-20 assists.

Next up,

  1. Matthew Tkachuk

I have been a huge fan of Tkachuk for a long time – if you have listened to podcasts you know this. Tkachuk had a solid rookie season, recording 13 goals and 35 assists. If that’s what you get from a 6th Overall pick in his first year, you are not going to complain if you are the Calgary Flames. Tkachuk’s physical game and willingness to get into dirty areas allowed him to find some extra points this past season.

Last season in four playoff games, Tkachuk was held pointless and I think that left a bitter taste in his mouth. If he used that as a motivator in his offseason, than he should come back as an even better player. Not to mention the Flames signed the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal. Jagr can show Tkachuk how to use his big body to his advantage and give him other tips to have a great season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 30-40 assists.

Next up,

  1. Alexander DeBrincat

Rookie Alert: Alex DeBrincat makes my list as a player that could be the next Artemi Panarin in the Chicago Blackhawks organization. DeBrincat has been one of the best junior players over the past few seasons trying to crack the Hawks roster, and has finally done that this season. Yes, he is a rookie – and a small one at that – but he has proven he knows were the net is. DeBrincat has scored over 100 points in three-straight OHL seasons, including his final year with the Erie Otters when he finished with 65 goals and 62 assists for a 127 points.

The argument that it won’t convert over is nonsense as junior players like Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are finding goals in this league. Another reason he is so high on my list is the opportunity he could have to play with some of the best players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. If he can learn from either of them, this kid could become a star in no time.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 35-45 assists.

Next up,

  1. Jake Guentzel

Now you can say Jake Guentzel is already a star from his Stanley Cup-winning performance last season. I agree, but I think he can play even better than he was in the playoffs. Guentzel had 13 goals and 8 assists in 25 playoff games last spring. It was a performance so strong that he deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy – only have it ripped from him by Sidney Crosby. We haven’t seen Guentzel in playoff form for a whole season, but this is that season.

Thinking about Guentzel, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin all performing in top form has me believing this team could be looking at a three-peat without question, as they are probably the favorite in the East again. Guentzel’s scoring touch and being on the same page and line as Crosby could see his numbers sky rocket and he could be an even bigger star in Pittsburgh.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Finally,

  1. Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel will look to keep pace with fellow 2015 first-rounder Connor McDavid‘s scoring this year after missing the start of last season with a high ankle sprain. In addition to ruining Jack’s chance to shine for all 82 games, his injury was also a major contributor to the Buffalo Sabres’ slow start that potentially cost them their first postseason appearance since 2011. And the fact that Eichel had to watch his buddies Auston Matthews and McDavid in the playoffs last season was surely his motivator this offseason. Just watching a few preseason games, Jack looks faster and smoother this than he did last year.

Eichel was very open about how he missed out on  a $1 million bonus for his points-per-game percentage last season. Jack had 57 points in 61 games played, but he hovered around one point-per-game for most of the season before finishing the season in a slump to fall short of his goal. After signing an 8-year, $10 million AAV Tuesday and with the potential to assume captaincy of this Sabres team and lead them to the playoffs, I bet Eichel will earn every cent of his bonus this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

New Jersey Devils 2017-’18 Season Preview

New Jersey Devils

28-40-14, 70 points, last in the Eastern Conference

Additions: F Brian Boyle, C Nico Hischier, F Marcus Johansson, W Drew Stafford

Subtractions: W Beau Bennett (signed with STL), F Mike Cammalleri (signed with LAK), W Patrik Elias (retired), F Jacob Josefson (signed with BUF), D Jonathon Merrill (drafted by VGK), W Devante Smith-Pelly (signed with WSH)

Offseason Analysis: Ignoring the lockout-shortened seasons of 1994-’95 and 2012-‘13, last year’s 70-point effort was the Devils’ worst campaign since 1988-’89. That ensuing draft, New Jersey selected future four-time All-Star RW Bill Guerin, who eventually contributed 11 points in the Devils’ 1995 run to the Stanley Cup – including an assist on C Neal Broten’s Cup-clinching goal.

Especially in light of recent draft standouts at the center position (think Jack EichelAuston Matthews, Connor McDavid, etc.), General Manager Ray Shero is hoping last year’s struggles that allowed him to draft Hischier with the first overall pick will yield similar results in the near future as he works to rebuild the club back to the level of success it’s experienced for most of the past three decades.

The speedy Swiss 18-year-old brings 38-48-86 totals from his time with QMJHL side Halifax last year, but he alone won’t be enough to significantly improve the third-worst offense in the league. That’s where former first-rounder Johansson and his career-high 24-34-58 totals from a season ago with the Capitals comes into play. Since both C Jesper Boqvist and W Fabian Zetterlund – the Devils’ second and third selections in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft – are expected to spend at least one more season in their native Sweden, it’ll be up to them to spearhead any attacking improvements for Head Coach John Hynes’ club alongside Taylor Hall (20-33-53) and Kyle Palmieri (26-27-53), last season’s co-leaders in points for the team.

Since the addition of 2017 Hobey Baker Award winner D Will Butcher on August 27, the situation along Jersey’s blue line could be evolving even though the Devils did little more than draft D Reilly Walsh with their second third-round pick, but it remains to be seen if Butcher will join Captain Andy Greene and co. on the senior team or if he’ll be assigned to Binghamton on AHL assignment.

Of note in this situation are the contracts, or lack thereof, of two Devils defensemen of the same mold: 26-year-old John Moore (12-10-22) and 23-year-old Damon Severson (3-28-31). Moore will be an unrestricted free agent following this season, while Severson is currently a restricted free agent. Should the Devils be unable to agree to terms with Severson – which would seem unlikely, given their almost $18 million in cap space – Butcher would be a lock to make Jersey’s 23-man roster, if not earn regular playing time. And in the predictable case Severson remains with the Devils, Butcher would almost certainly be an improvement over D Dalton Prout, who is eligible to be demoted to the AHL without hitting the waiver wire.

The same two goaltenders return from last year, and Cory Schneider – co-winner of the 2011 William M. Jennings Trophy – will be expected to return to his previous form. For his entire NHL career, Schneider has managed a .922 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, but those numbers fell to .908 and 2.82 last season. In large part, that may have been due to his defense allowing 31.4 shots to reach his crease per game (tied for ninth-worst in the NHL), but he cannot expect that to change given the Devils’ inactivity in changing personnel along the blue line. If New Jersey plans to end its rebuild now (*hint* it shouldn’t), it will have to fall on Schneider to shore up the defensive end.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect Devils fans to witness immediate progress noticeable in a final score. Instead, they should be looking for improved fundamentals from all skaters, a rebound season for Schneider and another solid entry draft to shore up the defensive corps. Rasmus Dahlin or Jared McIsaac, anyone?

Offseason Grade: B

Make no doubt about it: the Devils are in full rebuild mode and would be unwise to believe they are retooled enough to emerge from the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season. But, they have made many of the right steps in improving their forward corps with talented youths and could begin making their resurgence in a few years if they stick with #TheProcess.