Tag Archives: McQuaid

November 8 – Day 36 – It’s a whole new month

It’s Wednesday, so you know what that means: it’s supposedly rivalry night in the NHL.

At least that’s what I’ve been told by Doc Emrick…

The action finds its start at 7:30 p.m. this evening with Minnesota at Toronto (SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Boston at the New York Rangers (NBCSN). After that game finishes, fans should keep their televisions tuned to NBCSN to catch this evening’s nightcap -Tampa Bay at San Jose – at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Last Wednesday’s rivalry was New Jersey at Vancouver… I know, what a heated matchup. This week, we get a real rivalry of the Original Six variety that features one team riding a four-game winning streak.

 

What a difference turning a page in the calendar can be! After opening the season a miserable 1-5-2, the Blueshirts have now rattled off four straight victories to crawl into a tie for sixth in the Metropolitan Division and 10th in the Eastern Conference.

Whether the 7-7-2 Rangers were spending too much time planning their Halloween costumes or being respectful of the Yankees playoff run, we’ll never know. Either way, New Yorkers are happy to have winning ways at Madison Square Garden once again (yes, we’ll include the 6-4 Knicks, who are riding a three-game winning streak of their own, until proved otherwise).

Since Halloween, only Winnipeg’s 3-0-1 run comes close to rivaling the Rangers’ four-game winning streak, and there’s some interesting similarities between both clubs’ surges: a spike in offensive productivity has been integral to the teams’ performances. That’s especially true in New York’s case, as 6-4-2 G Henrik Lundqvist and co. have allowed an average of three goals-per-game over this stretch.

Usually that’s not the best strategy to win hockey games, but it’s working out right now for the Rangers because of the spectacular play of C Mika Zibanejad and D Kevin Shattenkirk.

Even though Zibanejad’s seven points are the most on the team during this run, Shattenkirk has arguably been the most impressive with his 3-3-6 totals since the last day of October. Playing a style that makes him seem to be a fourth forward instead of one half of the Rangers’ second defensive pairing can prove difficult to adjust to (just ask the Capitals), but it seems New York is starting to find its groove with the offseason’s most-desired piece.

One of the best ways to find momentum is to have success on special teams. The Rangers have been doing just that during this stretch, as their 40 percent conversion rate since Halloween is (t)fourth-best in the league. It’s on the man-advantage that Zibanejad has put in most his work, as his five power play points over this stretch are most on the squad. His favorite person to connect on the with on the man-advantage of late has been F Chris Kreider, who has scored two of the Blueshirts’ six extra-man tallies.

That effort doesn’t stop at the power play. New York has also been perfect on the penalty kill in its last four games, stopping all eight of the man-advantages that has come its way. Considering Lundqvist has faced only nine shots during that stretch, all credit for this success must belong to D Ryan McDonagh and the rest of the defensive corps.

If the Rangers are truly going to make a living out of dominating special teams, they’ll face a serious test tonight against a 6-4-3 Bruins club that absolutely dominates in uneven situations.

The superior of Boston’s special teams is its penalty kill, which ranks third-best in the NHL for the month-old season with an 87.2 percent kill rate. This success has been a combined effort of exemplary play by 3-4-2 G Tuukka Rask, who’s managed a .935 save percentage against the power play that ranks second-best among goaltenders with at least six starts, and a defense that has limited his work to only 46 shots in that situation.

If Rask doesn’t hug D Zdeno Chara every day, or at least shake his hand and offer a Finnish thanks, he’s doing something wrong. Chara averages 1.4 blocks-per-game and has only stepped up his game to an even higher level in that department with D Adam McQuaid‘s broken leg. Every little thing Chara does helps keep pucks away from Rask and reduce his workload, and that’s a very important thing for a netminder that has started over 60 games for the past three seasons.

Boston is also home to one of the top-five power plays in the league. Led by RW David Pastrnak and his 3-3-6 power play effort, the Bruins have converted a wildly impressive 25.5 percent of their extra-man opportunities. If the Rangers can keep the Bruins’ power play from finding the back of their net, they deserve to win. Otherwise, it may be wise to keep Shattenkirk and his team-leading 22 penalty minutes under control.

Neither team played yesterday, so this should be an entertaining matchup between two fresh clubs. Since I don’t feel the Bruins’ even-strength offense offers anything Lundqvist hasn’t seen before, I’m leaning towards the Rangers earning two points tonight.


The Vancouver Canucks repaid the Calgary Flames for winning at Rogers Arena last month, as they won yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at the Scotiabank Saddledome 5-3.

Like every good rivalry game, this contest had its share of penalties – seven, to be exact, totaling 14 penalty minutes. As a result, five of the eight goals struck last night came as a result of special teams play.

The Flames were able to kill off D Dougie Hamilton‘s cross-check against W Thomas Vanek at the midway point of the first period, but they weren’t so fortunate after F Michael Frolik tripped LW Daniel Sedin with 6:21 remaining in the frame. With only a second remaining before Frolik could return to action, F Sam Gagner (Sedin and Vanek) scored a power play wrist shot to give Vancouver the lead.

However, that lead wouldn’t last into the first intermission, and it was all because F Brandon Sutter was caught holding D T.J. Brodie. With 11 seconds remaining before the break, Hamilton (C Mikael Backlund and LW Matthew Tkachuk) made amends for his prior infraction to level the game for Calgary.

Power play goal #3 was a result of Sedin hi-sticking Hamilton with 8:32 remaining on the second period clock. He sat in the box for only 23 seconds, as Second Star of the Game LW Johnny Gaudreau (Brodie and C Sean Monahan) posted his bail with a wrister to give the Flames their first lead of the night.

Apparently all this power play mumbo jumbo is not what Vanek (D Michael Del Zotto and D Alex Biega) had in mind for the evening, as he registered the first five-on-five goal of the game with 4:51 remaining in the second period to level the score at 2-2, and W Micheal Ferland followed suit 2:18 later to reclaim the lead for Calgary.

The next penalty that proved important was Biega’s trip against D Mark Giordano with 1:56 remaining before the second intermission, but it was not the Flames that capitalized. Instead, RW Derek Dorsett (Sutter and D Ben Hutton) scored a shorthanded deflection to level the game 100 seconds before reporting to the dressing room for intermission.

After two back-and-forth frames, the Canucks decided to take command of the game with a swift two-goal blitz before five minutes ticked off the third period clock. They were helped in that effort by D Michael Stone, who was caught holding Vanek at the 3:49 mark. 23 seconds later, Vancouver registered its game-winning goal.

The fourth power play tally of the night belongs to First Star C Bo Horvat (RW Brock Boeser and Hutton), though he was more beneficiary than anything. Hutton and Boeser did most of the work, as it was them that brought the puck into the offensive zone following a Flames clear. Boeser slung a wrist shot from the right face-off circle towards the far post that G Mike Smith blocked rather easily. The operative word here is obviously blocked, as Horvat was waiting in the crease to collect Smith’s rebound and slide a backhanded shot behind him.

Though Horvat gets credit for the game-winner, it was probably C Henrik Sedin‘s (D. Sedin and RW Jake Virtanen) five-on-five goal only 38 seconds later that really took the wind out of the Flames’ sails. Try as they might, they could neither force the Canucks to commit a penalty nor break through Third Star G Jacob Markstrom at even strength.

Speaking of Markstrom, he saved 29-of-32 shots faced (.906 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Smith, who saved 16-of-21 (.762).

Being the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day seems to be the desirable thing of late, as visitors are riding a two-game winning streak and have won six of the past eight tilts. This solid run has pulled the roadies within two points of the 18-14-4 hosts.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 12

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer – unless noted otherwise –  is Connor Keith.

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 1

On nights like these, it doesn’t matter who the goal comes from. All that matters is that it goes in the net. That was the case for the Rangers, who bested the Habs 2-0 at the Bell Centre to take an early lead in their playoff series.

After collecting a face-off Tomas Plekanec had originally won for Montréal, Second Star of the Game Tanner Glass sneaked an unassisted backhanded shot over Third Star Carey Price‘s glove shoulder at the 9:50 mark of the first period for what proved to be the netminder’s only goal allowed on the night. Michael Grabner (Jesper Fast) provided the lone insurance tally on an empty net with 70 seconds remaining in regulation.

We knew coming into this series it was a matchup between two incredible goaltenders in 31-20-4 First Star Henrik Lundqvist and 37-20-5 Price, and they didn’t disappoint, combining for 59 saves. Lundqvist saved all 30 he faced for the 10th postseason shutout of his career.

New York truly took command of this game after the first intermission, limiting the Canadiens to only 15 shots over the remaining 40 minutes. Even when the Habs were able to control the posession, the Blueshirts would not let them get a shot on Lundqvist’s net, managing 24 blocks – led by Dan Girardi‘s four.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – Game 1

By: Nick Lanciani

After going 0-3-1 against the Ottawa Senators in the regular season, the Boston Bruins opened up their edition of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2-1 victory on road ice.

Fresh off of his two-game suspension for the last two games of the regular season, Brad Marchand scored the game winning goal with 2:33 to go in the 3rd period– capping an almost two-minute long shift.

Ottawa Senators goaltender, Craig Anderson, played a stellar game despite the loss. Anderson made 23 saves on 25 shots faced for a .920 save percentage.

Both teams swapped tremendous chances in the first 20 minutes, but neither Boston’s David Pastrnak, nor Ottawa’s Derick Brassard could score on back-to-back breakaway chances. After an eventful 1st period which nearly witnessed Bruins forward– and Ottawa native– Ryan Spooner pocket one in the twine with about four seconds to go, the score remained tied at 0-0.

The Sens kicked off the series’s goal scoring in the 2nd period with a goal from Bobby Ryan (1) at 10:28. Ryan crashed the net and followed up on one of his own chances, firing the puck short side by Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask. Erik Karlsson (1) notched the only assist on the goal.

For the first time since May 10, 2014 an NHL team was held without a shot in a single period in a Stanley Cup playoff game, as Boston did not record a shot on goal in the 2nd period. The Anaheim Ducks, by the way, were the last team to do so in their matchup with the Los Angeles Kings. The Ducks wound up winning the game 2-0, however.

After going without a goal in his last 15 games of the regular season, Frank Vatrano (1) found the back of the net with 15:05 to go in the 3rd period in his first career Stanley Cup Playoff game. Riley Nash (1) and Adam McQuaid (1) were credited with the assists on the goal.

Vatrano became the 6th Bruin since 1999 to score in his playoff debut and Boston tied the game, 1-1.

Late in the 3rd period, Marchand (1) put the Bruins ahead for the first time in the game with the game-winning goal off of a blocked shot by Dion Phaneuf. Patrice Bergeron (1) and Pastrnak (1) collected the assists on Marchand’s 17th career NHL playoff goal.

Boston’s Rask made 26 saves on 27 shots against for a .936 save percentage in the win. The Bruins lead the series 1-0 with Game 2 scheduled for Saturday at Canadian Tire Centre and can be viewed on NBC/TVAS/SN at 3 p.m. ET.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 1

When Matthew Murray went down in warmups, things were looking grim for the Penguins, at least for their playoff opener. Instead, First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury saved all but one shot faced to lead Pittsburgh to a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena.

Just like Pierre McGuire said during the broadcast, sometimes the best trade a club can make is the very one they don’t. Trade rumors swirled about the Penguins’ former first-overall pick all season, but he turned in a 31-save performance and a Game 1 victory for First Star honors.

Jeff Zatkoff, anyone? Maybe Fleury has too much playoff experience to be the Pens’ new “Mr. Game 1,” but the story is beginning to sound eerily similar to last year’s Cup run.

Offensively, the Pens showed one period of greatness after a sluggish opening frame. The Jackets held them to only three shots on the opening 20 minutes – including none in the last 14:49 – due in large part to their 23 first period hits .

The Penguins came out on fire after the intermission, notching all three of their tallies. Only 1:15 after returning from the dressing room, Bryan Rust (Second Star Phil Kessel and Third Star Evgeni Malkin) broke the ice with a snap shot. Kessel’s assist was especially impressive, as he used his skate to pass to the right wing.

Rust’s tally was followed only 2:30 later by Kessel’s (Justin Schultz and Malkin) eventual game-winner. Kessel’s tally was a strong power play wrist shot from the near face-off dot over Sergei Bobrovsky‘s glove shoulder.

Nick Bonino (Patric Hornqvist and Olli Maatta) provided Pittsburgh’s final tally with 3:35 remaining in the frame.

Columbus finally got on the board with 7:19 remaining in regulation courtesy of Matt Calvert (Josh Anderson), but the Jackets couldn’t convert any more of their 32 shots on goal into markers.

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Minnesota Wild – Game 1

Overtime game-winners in the playoffs can come from the most unlikely of sources. In Game 1, it was First Star of the Game Joel Edmundson that gave St. Louis the 2-1 overtime victory over the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.

No matter how hard Minnesota’s offense tried, it could not get past Second Star Jake Allen. The Blues’ goaltender saved 43 straight shots faced for an unblemished effort.

That is, until only 23 seconds remained in regulation. Zach Parise (Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund) scored a wrist shot to match Vladimir Sobotka‘s (Alex Steen) snap shot at the 6:21 mark of the second period to force the first overtime period of the 2017 postseason.

Similar to the Notes’ long playoff run a year ago, the Wild found its success when it made its presence known. Led by Jared Spurgeon and Chris Stewart‘s four checks apiece, Minnesota threw an impressive 28 hits in regulation to St. Louis’ 13, which led to 11 takeaways.

In all, Allen saved 51 shots faced before Edmundson (Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz) scored the game-winning wrister. It wasn’t the prettiest play the Blues have ever run, but they aren’t complaining. Tarasenko was crashing Third Star Devan Dubnyk‘s crease, but lost control of the puck before he could manage a shot. Fortunately for him and his club, the loose puck found the defenseman’s stick and he easily scored on Dubnyk’s stick side.

 

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 1

The Sharks arguably entered the playoffs in their worst slump of the season, but those losing ways just might be behind them. San Jose beat Edmonton 3-2 in overtime at Rogers Place to take an early one-game lead in their first round series.

San Jose’s worst fears were realized in the first period, as Edmonton’s offense made it known that it has no trouble picking Martin Jones apart when he’s off his game. Both Oscar Klefbom (Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic) and Lucic (Mark Letestu and Connor McDavid) scored in the opening frame to give the Oil an early 2-0 lead.

Playoff experience is one of the most valuable things a club can have. Whether it was the Oilers’ offense not having much of it or the Sharks’ defense being able to match the hosts’ efforts (Edmonton managed only nine shots on goal after the first period), San Jose was able to fight its way back into this contest by constricting Edmonton’s attack. As a result, Joel Ward (Joonas Donskoi and Marc-Edouard Vlasic) took advantage of Drake Caggiula‘s hooking penalty late in the opening period to score a power play wrist shot 1:43 into the second.

Paul Martin (Tomas Hertl) completed the comeback 5:22 into the final frame. He buried the rebound off Second Star of the Game Cam Talbot‘s left pad after Hertl’s inial shot to tie the game at two-all and force the second extra-time game of the night.

It only took 3:22 of extra time, but that playoff experience was truly apparent in that time. San Jose fired six shots to the Oilers’ two, and the final one, a snap shot by First Star Melker Karlsson (Joe Pavelski and Valsic), was able to get past Talbot for a Sharks victory.

March 25 – Day 157 – Seeing circles

A dozen games are on the schedule today, so let’s hop right in with our list!

A pair of games (Vancouver at Minnesota and Philadelphia at Columbus [NHLN/SN1]) get the action underway at 2 p.m., followed by seven (Calgary at St. Louis [CITY], Toronto at Buffalo [CBC], Ottawa at Montréal [SN/TVAS], Chicago at Florida [NHLN], Carolina at New Jersey, Boston at the New York Islanders and Arizona at Washington) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. San Jose at Nashville drops the puck an hour later, followed by Colorado at Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. Finally, the New York Rangers at Los Angeles – tonight’s nightcap – drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close out the day’s action. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Buffalo: Only two more editions of the Battle of the QEW go down this season, and one is tonight.
  • Ottawa at Montréal: Speaking of rivalries, this one is kind of important since it could determine who raises an Atlantic Division banner.
  • Chicago at Florida: For five seasons, Brian Campbell was a member of the Panthers‘ blueline. This offseason, he decided to return to the Windy City.
  • Boston at New York: These clubs are currently tied for the second wildcard, but they won’t be after tonight.
  • San Jose at Nashville: Remember last year’s Western Semifinals? The Predators would probably like to exact some revenge tonight.

Since both the Canadiens and Senators are all but locks to for this year’s postseason, let’s head back to Brooklyn with the Islanders for their wildly important matchup with Boston.

 

The 38-30-6 Bruins have been in the playoff picture – or right outside it – for almost the entire season. A mistimed four-game losing skid (then again, when does a four-game losing skid ever come at an appropriate time?) has felled them to the second of those two categories.

Of course, this is not the first position Boston has lost in the last month. For a long while, the Bruins actually had command of third place in the Atlantic Division, but they ceded that too to a Maple Leafs team that has won seven of its last 10 games.

The main reason for this fall from grace? I’d argue sub-par play in net by 33-20-4 Tuukka Rask. He’s been in net for all four of these contests, and the Bruins have allowed an average of five goals against. In fact, his .842 save percentage and 4.53 GAA from March 16 through last night’s action is the fifth and second-worst efforts in the NHL, respectively, in that time span.

“But Rask is a great goaltender!” said Bruins fans.

And I agree; yes, he is great. He’s also no spring chicken anymore. Rask just celebrated his 30th birthday not too long ago, which makes him older than the average goaltender throughout the 2000s (per Quant Hockey), whether by mean (28.81) or median (28.3).

Whether you’re in the camp of believing Bruce Cassidy needs to play 5-5-1 Anton Khudobin more often or Don Sweeney needs to provide a better backup than a nearly 31-year-old Russian is inconsequential to the fact that Rask needs more breaks. With 59 starts, Rask has played the third-most games in a NHL crease this season, and the other two goalies with more starts are younger than him (though not by much in Cam Talbot‘s case).

Making the exhausted netminder’s demise even more troublesome is that the defense playing in front of him is one of the better – and improving – corps in the league. Over this sour stretch, they’ve allowed only 117 shots to reach his net (29.25 per game), which is barely worse than their 25.6 average allowed per game for the entire season that ranks second-best in the league.

He doesn’t wear the Bruins‘ “C” for nothing. Captain Zdeno Chara has been at the forefront of that effort with his team-leading 124 shot blocks, followed closely behind by Adam McQuaid‘s 122. Center Patrice Bergeron has also been very impressive on the defensive front, as his 59 takeaways are second-most on the club. Brad Marchand has one more for the squad lead, but he also tops (Or would it be bottoms?) the team in the opposite statistic with his 74 turnovers.

When looking at the season as a whole, Boston usually finds more than enough success on the penalty kill, as their 84.5% kill rate is sixth-best in the league. Of course, this rough patch hasn’t been so kind. The Bruins have allowed seven power play goals against (you guessed it, most in the league in this time-span) for a measly 63.1% kill rate.

One thing that has gone Boston‘s way over the past 10 days has been their power play. Co-led by Torey Krug and Ryan Spooner‘s three man-advantage points, as well as David Krejci and David Pastrnak‘s two man-advantage goals, the Bruins have scored on 35.7% of their opponents’ penalties – the best mark in the league in that span. That’s not exactly a surprise though. Boston has been successful on 21.2% of their power plays all year, the eighth-best rate in the league.

First it was the Leafs taking advantage of the Bruins‘ fall from grace. Now it’s the 35-26-12 Islanders, a team riding a two-game winning streak.

This success is a far cry from where New York was before Doug Weight took command of the ship. Former head coach Jack Capuano had only managed a 17-17-8 record – the worst mark in the Eastern Conference. But since then, the Isles have gone on an 18-9-4 run to climb back into the eighth place in the East. In fact, that’s the fifth-best record in the league since Capuano’s firing, better even than teams like Columbus and Nashville.

The main reason for that improvement is New York‘s potent offense. The Islanders have buried 96 goals under Weight, which ties for the fourth-highest total in the league since January 17. Behind that effort is none other than John Tavares, who’s registered 32 of his 64 points on the campaign. Anders Lee also came alive, as he’s registered 13 goals to lead the team during the Weight-era.

Ready to be even more impressed by the Islanders‘ resurgent offense? They do it almost exclusively at even-strength. In fact, New York‘s power play is borderline atrocious, as they only convert 15.8% of their opportunities – the fifth-worst rate in the league.

If recent history is any indicator, it looks like the Bruins are on their way to their fifth-straight loss, as they have yet to beat New York this year in their previous two meetings. The last time these clubs ran into each other was January 16 in Boston. Between Nikolai Kulemin‘s two-goal night (one-sixth of his season total!) and Thomas Greiss‘ 32-save shutout, the Islanders walked out of the TD Garden with a 4-0 victory.

Ironically, that was Capuano’s last game as head coach of the Isles. My, how the story has come full circle.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [third-most in the NHL] for 80 points [fourth-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & New York‘s Josh Bailey (38 assists [leads the team]) and Cal Clutterbuck (199 hits [leads the team]).

Though they might be a little tired from their shootout victory in Pittsburgh last night, I’m inclined to pick the Islanders right now. Something tells me that only one day off is not enough for Rask, and everything seems to be going New York‘s way right now.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ken Wregget (1964-) – Toronto selected this goaltender 45th-overall in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career with the Penguins. By the time his career was through, he’d earned a 225-248-53 record and hoisted the 1992 Stanley Cup.
  • Ladislav Benysek (1975-) – This defensemen was selected in the 11th round by Edmonton in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his four-year career in the league with Minnesota. Over 161 games in the NHL, he accumulated only 15 points for a -28 rating.

With their 4-3 shootout victory against Pittsburgh in the DtFR Game of the Day, the Islanders have improved to the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

With six goals in regulation, you’d figure there’d be two a period, right? Not last night. Instead, five were struck in the second frame, and another in the third.

The scoring started 1:54 after beginning the second period when Third Star of the Game Cameron Gaunce (Matt Cullen and Phil Kessel) buried a slap shot for the second goal of his career. 2:54 later, Second Star Brock Nelson (Joshua Ho-Sang and Alan Quine) tied the game at one-all, the score that held until Lee (Bailey and First Star Tavares) scored a wrist shot to give New York the lead 4:30 later. Now it was Pittsburgh‘s turn to pull even, and Sidney Crosby (Chad Ruhwedel and Conor Sheary) was up to the task with 6:19 remaining in the frame. With five seconds remaining before the second intermission, Casey Cizikas (Tavares) found the back of the net to send the Isles to the dressing room with a 3-2 lead.

After all that action, the final goal of regulation wasn’t struck until 6:10 remained in regulation. Cullen (Gaunce and Kessel) scored his wrister to tie the game at three-all, the score that held through the remainder of regulation and the five minute three-on-three overtime period.

Looks like this one will have to be decided in the shootout. The Pens elected to go second…

  1. …meaning Anthony Beauvillier was up first. He scored on Marc-Andre Fleury, giving New York an early shootout lead.
  2. Kessel had the chance to tie the shootout, but Jaroslav Halak was up to the task and made the save.
  3. Weight called Tavares’ number next as if he knew the captain would score him another goal. With a 2-0 shootout lead, the Pens were in a miss-and-lose situation.
  4. Speaking of captains, that’s exactly who took Pittsburgh‘s next shootout attempt. Crosby had better luck than Kessel and scored his shot to keep the Penguins alive.
  5. Andrew Ladd took what proved to be the Islanders‘ final shootout attempt, but was unable to beat Fleury to win the game.
  6. Instead, Halak provided the victory by saving Nick Bonino‘s shot.

Halak saved 37-of-40 shots faced (92.5%) for the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Fleury after he stopped 43-of-46 (93.5%).

It was the second-straight DtFR Game of the Day to be decided by shootout, but the fact that this one was decided by the 80-56-23 visitors gives them a one-point advantage over the road teams in the series.

March 21 – Day 153 – So much Atlantic, so little time

Monday is over, so that means one of the busier days in the week is today. In total, 11 games will be played tonight, starting with four (Ottawa at Boston [RDS2], Pittsburgh at Buffalo, the New York Rangers at New Jersey and Calgary at Washington) at 7 p.m. and three more (Detroit at Montréal [RDS], Arizona at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Carolina at Florida) half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Philadelphia at Winnipeg, with a pair of contests (San Jose at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Vancouver at Chicago) waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. St. Louis at Colorado acts as tonight’s nightcap, starting at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Ottawa at Boston: Chris Kelly spent six seasons with the Bruins, but returned to Ottawa for this season.
  • New York at New Jersey: The Battle of the Hudson River rages on tonight in Newark.
  • Detroit at Montréal: For those that love Original Six rivalries, here’s your game of the night.
  • Vancouver at Chicago: Remember when this was a heated rivalry? Pepperidge Farm remembers.

As someone who is not a fan of any teams in the Atlantic Division, I can understand why regular readers might be annoyed by tonight’s featured matchup. But we must simply focus on the Senators‘ first visit of the season to Boston, as it will act as a playoff preview  and have huge implications on determining home ice when they meet.

 

 

 

 

 

This is actually Kelly’s second stint with the Senators, as he was selected by the club in the third round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. His first tenure lasted 463 games over seven seasons between 2003-2011, and he registered 188 points.

In mid-February of the 2010-’11 campaign, the wing was shipped off to Boston for a draft pick that became Shane Prince (currently playing for the Islanders). It proved to be an effective swap for the Bruins, as he provided 13 points, including five goals (tied for sixth-most on the squad) in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs en route to Boston‘s first title in almost 40 years.

He was originally expected to become a free agent in the 2012 offseason, but instead signed a four-year extension to stay in Boston. In all, he registered 101 points over his six seasons with the Bruins, including his career-best 20-goal, 39-point effort in 2011-’12.

Unfortunately, Kelly’s career with the Bruins ended with a tremendous dud. In only his 11th game last season, his season came crashing to an end when he broke his femur. Making matters worse, it was a contract year for the then 35-year-old skater. Not surprisingly, the Bruins were cautious about offering a contract to an aging player coming off rehab, so Kelly entered free agency for the first time of his career.

Kelly and Dorothy Gale from the Wizard of Oz seem to share one main mantra: “There’s no place like home.” Kelly returned to Ottawa this season on a one-year contract, but to limited success. Although he’s played every game this year, he’s managed only 12 points – easily the worst production of his career.

Kelly’s 39-24-8 Senators currently occupy second place in the Atlantic, trailing the division-leading Canadiens by the exact total they lead third-place Boston: four points (Ottawa has a game-in-hand to boot, so keep that in mind as the last couple weeks of the season play out).

The Senators‘ claim to fame this year is goaltending, even though it has not been an easy season in the slightest for 21-9-2 Craig Anderson. It’s an impressive record in its own right, but when the situation regarding his wife’s cancer treatment is added in, it’s arguably among one of the best performances in the NHL this season (hint: I like him to win the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy this year). He’s marked a .928 season save percentage and 2.3 GAA – the fifth and (t)13th-best performances, respectively, among the 54 goalies with at least 16 appearances.

Not to keep heaping the praise on Anderson, but he’s been stellar this year even in light of a below-average defense playing in front of him. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s league-leading 194 shot blocks, the Sens have allowed 30.4 shots-per-game to reach Andreson’s crease, which ties for the 13th-highest rate in the league.

In addition to struggling defensively, the power play has also not been a strong point for the Senators this year. Successful on only 17.6% of its attempts, Ottawa ranks 10th-worst in the league. Although both Mike Hoffman and Karlsson have 23 power play points to their credit, goals have been hard to come by. Hoffman is the biggest contributor in that department, with 12 on the man-advantage to lead the team, but that total doubles the second-best scorer. In essence, the next step for the Sens this offseason is to develop or add another scoring threat to make their power play less predictable.

Losers of their past two games, the 38-28-6 Bruins are trying to both keep pace with the Senators as well as fend off the Maple Leafs (that didn’t go so well for them last night, as you’ll see below).

When Boston has been at its best this season, it’s been when the defense and goaltender are playing lights out. As indicated by his record, that’s been more often than not for 33-17-4 Tuukka Rask. He’s marked a .912 season save percentage and 2.32 GAA, the (t)25th and (t)10th-best efforts, respectively, among the 38 goalies with at least 28 appearances.

A poor save percentage but an excellent GAA? Looks like the mark of a solid defense. That’s exactly what you’ll find wearing the black-and-gold this evening, as Captain Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid have paired to block a total of 238 shots and limit Rask’s workload to only 26.6 shots-per-game, the second-lowest mark in hockey.

As you’d expect, that adds up to a solid penalty kill. Led mostly by Rask and his .894 save percentage when his club is shorthanded (that ties for the seventh-best effort in the NHL), the Bruins have effectively neutralized 85.2% of their opponent’s power plays to rank second-best in the league.

Boston‘s power play is also one that strikes fear into their foes. Led by Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak‘s 21 power play points apiece, the Bruins have registered a goal on 20.7% of their man-advantages to rank 10th-best in the NHL. Pastrnak has been exceptional on the power play with his team-leading nine extra-man tallies.

The Bruins hope that bringing this series to the TD Garden will yield better results, as both their visits to Ottawa have resulted in losses. The Senators last hosted Boston to a 4-2 victory on March 6.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [second-most in the NHL] for 79 points [tied for third-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & Ottawa‘s Anderson (.928 save percentage [third-best in the NHL] for a 2.3 GAA [tied for ninth-best in the league]) or Mike Condon (five shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]) and Karlsson (51 assists [third-most in the league]).

Given the fact that the Bruins just played last night on the road in a tight game, I’m worried about their chances tonight – and that doesn’t even factor in the success the Senators have had against them this year. If Ottawa doesn’t win tonight, I’ll be surprised.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ryan Callahan (1985-) – In his fourth season with the Lightning (although he had surgery on his hip and is not expected to return this year), this right wing was part of the Martin St. Louis trade in 2014 after being selected by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
  • Erik Johnson (1988-) – St. Louis selected this defenseman with the top-overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s spent most of his career with his current club: Colorado. Johnson is another player who’s had a tough go this season, as he broke his fibula in early December and missed at least 2.5 months of action.

Don’t let the 4-2 final score deceive you, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day between Boston and Toronto was played by two fantastic goaltenders.

Although they ended up losing the game, David Backes (Marchand) got the Bruins on the board first with a snap shot 7:26 after the game began. They couldn’t get to the first intermission with the lead though, as Morgan Rielly (Mitch Marner and James van Riemsdyk) scored with 4:55 remaining to tie the game at one-all.

Although not the game-winner, a Second Star of the Game Tyler Bozak (van Riemsdyk and Nikita Zaitsev) power play goal with 1:57 remaining in regulation was the tally that tipped the scales in the favor of the Maple Leafs. Since it was scored so late in the game, it forced Bruce Cassidy to pull Third Star Rask for an extra attacker.  That strategy did not work last night for the Bruins, as William Nylander (Auston Matthews) and Nazem Kadri (Connor Brown and Roman Polak) both scored on the empty net in the span of 22 seconds to set the score at 4-1. Dominic Moore (Noel Acciari) scored a snapper with 10 seconds left in the game, but it was too little, too late to impact the final result – a Toronto victory.

First Star Frederik Andersen saved 33-of-35 shots faced (94.3%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Rask after he saved 26-of-28 (92.9%).

For the fourth game in a row in the DtFR Game of the Day series, the home team has earned at least a point. That streak has pulled homers within a point of the 78-55-22 roadies.

March 20 – Day 152 – Who’s going to win? Boston Orr Toronto?

Another Monday, another week in the greatest hockey league in the world.

There’s five games on the schedule this evening, starting with two (Boston at Toronto [TVAS] and Buffalo at Detroit [NBCSN]) at 7:30 p.m. and another – Arizona at Nashville – half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of San Jose at Dallas, with tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Edmonton – getting under way 30 minutes later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Boston at Toronto: Not only is it an Original Six matchup, but it’s also an integral contest in the fight for third place in the Atlantic.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: Nothing makes a rivalry better than both teams fighting for playoff position.

Hopefully you haven’t had your fill of Atlantic hockey yet, because tonight’s offering at the Air Canada Centre is too big to ignore.

 

 

 

 

 

So, as things stand in the Atlantic after the weekend series between the Canadiens and Senators, Boston trails second-place Ottawa by only four points and both have played 71 games (of course, the inactive Senators are going to end up with a game-in-hand after tonight’s contest).

That’s the good news for the Bruins. The bad news? They lead Toronto by an even slimmer three points – and the Maple Leafs still have a game in hand.

Boston goes to battle this evening with a 38-27-6 record, thanks in large part to its defense and goaltending. The Bruins have played solidly on both ends of the ice, but I’m most impressed by the fact that they’ve allowed only 186 goals, which ties for 11th-fewest in the NHL.

That effort always starts with the goaltender, and 33-17-4 Tuukka Rask has been a darned good one over the past eight years. With his .912 season save percentage and 2.32 GAA, he ranks (t)25th and 10th-best, respectively, among the 38 goalies with at least 28 appearances.

Although that save percentage is in line to be his worst since playing full time with Boston‘s senior team, he’s been bailed out multiple times this year by one of the better defensive units in the league. Led by the 238 evenly-distributed shot blocks by Captain Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid, the Bruins‘ blueline has allowed only 26.6 shots-per-game to reach Rask’s crease, the second-best rate in the entire league.

Pair a good defense with a good goaltender, and – what do you know – you get a great power play. In fact, Boston‘s 85.4% kill rate is second-best in the league. This has been when Rask has truly shined this season, as he’s faced the (t)11th-most power play shots this season, but has saved 89.4% of them. That ties Devan Dubnyk – the probable winner of the 2017 Vezina Trophy – for the seventh-best mark in the NHL.

Special-team success continues for the Bruins when they earn the man-advantage. The three-headed attack of Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak (all of whom have 21 power play points) has converted 20.8% of man-advantages into goals, the 10th-best mark in the league. Of those three, Pastrnak has been the most impressive, as he’s buried nine extra-man goals.

Of course, it’s not as if the Leafs are the only teams applying pressure. Toronto is also in a heated race for the second wild card spot, as it leads the Islanders by only a point. To apply even more pressure, this game against the Bruins is Toronto‘s game-in-hand on New York. Since the Isles would win the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker if things came to that, Toronto needs this win in the most desperate way.

The Maple Leafs have their offense to thank for their 32-23-15 record, as they’ve managed to produce 211 goals in 70 games – the sixth-highest rate in hockey.

My, what youth can do for an organization. Last season, Toronto accounted for only 192 goals – the third-fewest in the NHL. Enter Auston Matthews, and everything has changed. The rookie has been unstoppable, and it shows in his team-leading 56 points. Even more impressive? 32 of those points have been goals, another total where he leads the squad.

Where Toronto has been truly unstoppable is the power play. They convert 23.6% of their opportunities into goals – the best in the league. To compare, Anaheim had the best power play in the league last year and converted 23.1%.

Yes, these Leafs are better than last year’s Ducks. For those wondering, the tank is over. The Maple Leafs are back.

While you’d be correct in assuming a rookie is the cause of the success, you’d be wrong to guess it’s Matthews’ doing. He’s been good, but the power play has actually been William Nylander‘s personal project this year. He’s registered a team-leading 23 man-advantage points, even though it’s Nazem Kadri who’s scored the most goals on the power play with 11 to his credit.

Toronto is even good on the penalty kill. It refuses to yield a goal on 83.3% of opposing power plays, the ninth-best mark in the league. Frederik Andersen – another added player for this season –  deserves the credit for much of that success, as he’s faced the second-most power play shots in the league, yet yielded a goal only 10.9% of the time, which ties Mike Condon for the eighth-best mark in the NHL.

If there’s one team the Bruins have dreaded playing this year, I’d venture to guess it’s the Maple Leafs. Three times they’ve gone to battle with Toronto, and three times they’ve fallen in regulation. In total, the Leafs have scored 14 goals against Boston, including six on February 4 the last time these clubs met.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [second-most in the NHL] for 79 points [tied for third-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (four shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and Matthews (32 goals [tied for ninth-most in the league]).

Given the fact that tonight’s game is taking place at the Air Canada Centre and the Leafs‘ success against the Bruins this season, I’m very surprised Vegas has marked this contest at +110. I think Toronto wins its fourth-straight against the Bruins tonight.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bobby Orr (1948-) – There are few that have accomplished as much in their career as this defenseman. Although he played only a dozen seasons (most of those with Boston), this Hall-of-Famer was an eight-time James Norris Memorial Trophy winner, seven-time All Star, three-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner and two-time winner of the Art Ross, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup.
  • Sergei Kostitsyn (1987-) – Montréal selected this left wing in the seventh round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, but he actually played more of his 353 career games in the league with Nashville. Last appearing in the NHL in the 2012-’13 season, he registered 176 points over six seasons.

When these clubs met in Ottawa Saturday, they needed a shootout to determine the winner. In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, Montréal hosted the Senators to a 4-1 victory.

Only 28 seconds into the game, the Canadiens had a one-goal lead thanks to a Second Star of the Game Tomas Plekanec (Andrei Markov and First Star Paul Byron) backhanded shot. Tom Pyatt (Mike Hoffman and Jean-Gabriel Pageau) leveled the game 4:08 later, but Jordie Benn‘s (Nathan Beaulieu and Alexander Radulov) slap shot with 2:15 remaining in the frame proved to be the game-winning goal for the Habs.

Byron (Third Star Brendan Gallagher and Shea Weber) and Beaulieu (Andrew Shaw and Phillip Danault) provided the two insurance goals in the third period.

Carey Price saved 30-of-31 shots faced (96.8%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Craig Anderson, who saved 33-of-37 (89.2%).

Montréal‘s victory is the first by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series since Tuesday, and it pulls hosts within three points of the 78-54-22 series visitors.

March 15 – Day 147 – The Flames are red hot

Only four games are on the schedule tonight, so let’s dive right in. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS), followed 90 minutes later by Boston at Calgary (SN). Detroit visits Colorado at 9:30 p.m. and St. Louis at Anaheim (NBCSN), tonight’s nightcap, drops the puck half an hour later. All times eastern.

If it was certain Mark Streit would be available for tonight’s game, I’d be much more inclined to feature the Battle for the Keystone State. But with the injury he sustained Monday night, I’m much more interested in the Bruins‘ visit to the Saddledome.

 

Winners of its past three contests, Boston enters tonight’s game with a 37-26-6 record good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins may not be dominant on either end of the ice, but they play a solid overall game. Specifically, I’m most impressed with a defensive effort that has yielded only 177 goals against, which ties for the 10th-fewest in the NHL.

Of course, that always starts with the goaltender, and Boston has a good one in 33-16-4 Tuukka Rask. Yet even the best goaltenders need a night off every once in a while, and that’s where 4-5-1 Anton Khudobin comes into play. He’s registered a .895 season save percentage and 2.76 GAA, the 56th and 42nd-best marks, respectively, among the 68 goalies with at least five appearances this year.

While neither stats are worth writing home to Russia about (I mean, we need to factor in the price of postage), he’ll be receiving considerable help from his blueline tonight. Led by Captain Zdeno Chara‘s 116 short blocks (narrowly beating out Adam McQuaid‘s contributions), the Bruins have allowed only 26.5 shots to reach their goalies’ crease, the second-best rate in the NHL.

That play is especially impressive in light of last season’s performance, which forced Bruins goaltenders to shrug off more than 30 shots-per-game. As rookie Brandon Carlo continues to grow, Boston‘s defense could become one of the stingiest in the league.

Speaking of stingy, that’s exactly what the Bruins‘ top-rated penalty kill is. Thanks in large part to McQuaid’s 32 shorthanded shot blocks, the Bruins escape opponents’ power plays unscathed 86.2% of the time.

Boston is also the proud home of a solid power play. While not as successful as their penalty kill, the Bruins do tie for 10th-best in the league with a power play that finds the back of the net 20.5% of the time. That attack is twin-led by first-unit members Torey Krug and David Pastrnak, both of whom have 20 power play points. Pastrnak also shares the extra-man goal-scoring lead, but this time with Brad Marchand. Both of them have buried the puck eight times on the power play.

In a surprising turn of events since December and January, defense has become the name of the game for the 39-26-4 Flames, who currently occupy second place in the Pacific Division and are easily the hottest team in the league (pun intended). Winners of their past 10 games, they’ve allowed only 183 goals against so far this season, the 13th-fewest in the NHL.

For the second season in a row, 21-13-3 Brian Elliott has righted the ship for another playoff-hopeful club. Although his .91 season save percentage isn’t the best on the team (that belongs to Chad Johnson and his .913), his 2.51 GAA is, and those rank (t)33rd and (t)17th-best in the league, respectively, among the 51 goalies with at least 18 appearances.

Those numbers aren’t exactly impressive, but they don’t have to be when Elliott plays behind one of the better defensed in the league. Allowing only 28.7 shots to reach his crease per game, Calgary ranks eighth-best in the NHL. That success is due in large part to Mark Giordano, whose 154 shot blocks not only pace the Flames, but are sixth-most in the NHL.

Thanks to Johnson’s incredible night in net (he saved 35-of-36 – 97.2%!), the Flames were able to stave off the Bruins‘ offense for a 2-1 victory when they made their annual visit to Boston on November 25.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (35 goals [tied for most in the NHL] for 74 points [tied for third-most in the league]) and Calgary‘s Giordano (+17 on 154 blocks [both lead the team]).

Calgary is narrowly favored to win tonight’s game by Vegas with a -105 line. I can certainly see why the oddsmakers are concerned, but I also know the Flames have beaten some solid teams over this winning streak. I like the Bruins to win tonight, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Calgary can keep the magic going again this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Punch Imlach (1918-1987) – It goes without saying, but a coaching career that features four Stanley Cups, including three in a row from 1962-’64, is probably a good one. Imlach did just that with the Maple Leafs, the team he coached for 12 of his 14 seasons. He completed his career in the 1979-’80 season with a 402-337-150 record.
  • Craig Ludwig (1961-) – Montréal selected this defenseman 61st-overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played the first eight years of his career and won his first Stanley Cup. Following a year with the Islanders, he joined the (North) Stars organization in 1991-’92, with whom he played the last eight years of his career  – and won his second Stanley Cup.
  • Darcy Tucker (1975-) – Another Montréal pick, this right wing was selected in the sixth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. Although drafted by the Canadiens, he actually spent most of his 14-year career with Toronto, where he scored 148 of his 215 career goals.
  • James Reimer (1988-) – Speaking of the Maple Leafs, they selected this goaltender 99th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He spent six seasons in Toronto before being traded to the Sharks at the deadline last year. He now plays in Florida, where he’s earned a 12-12-5 record.

Although the Wild scored two goals in the third period, it wasn’t enough to get past the Capitals in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. Washington defended the Verizon Center to a 4-2 victory.

Although both clubs combined for 29 shots in the first period, this game almost reached the first intermission scoreless. The operative word there is almost, as Nate Schmidt (Second Star of the Game Alex Ovechkin and First Star Nicklas Backstrom) scored only his second goal of the season with a dozen seconds remaining on the clock to give Washington a one-goal lead.

February 19. 11 games ago. That was the last time Ovechkin scored before tonight’s tally. Assisted by John Carlson and Backstrom, he buried a wrist shot with 5:08 remaining in the second period to double the Caps‘ lead and end his scoreless skid. The game-winner belongs to Evgeny Kuznetsov (Backstrom and Carlson) on a power play wrister 2:16 later that set the score at 3-0.

Whatever Bruce Boudreau said in the dressing room during intermission, it seems Matt Dumba (Mikael Granlund) took it to heart, as he buried a backhanded shot 37 seconds after play resumed to get the Wild on the board. Eric Staal (Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter) followed that four minutes later with a power play wrister to pull Minnesota within a goal, but they couldn’t find another tally. Jay Beagle (Dmitry Orlov) made the Wild‘s comeback even more difficult by burying a wrister with 5:41 remaining in the game, setting the 4-2 final score.

Third Star Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (93.75%), leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 36-of-40 (90%).

While losing first place in the division and conference is obviously the bigger issue for the Wild, they are also responsible for allowing the 75-53-21 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series to have a one-point lead over the visitors.

March 8 – Day 140 – I’m spoked

If you want to watch hockey tonight (which we both know you do), it’s going to be pretty easy to find. All three contests (Ottawa at Dallas [RDS/SN360], Pittsburgh at Winnipeg [SN] and Detroit at Boston [NBCSN/TVAS]) – all of which happen to drop the puck at 8 p.m. eastern – are being nationally televised in Canada, and the one that just so happens to be our DtFR Game of the Day can be seen throughout the USA.

 

Who would’ve guessed I would’ve fallen for an Original Six matchup? In my defense, tonight’s offerings are… lacking… At least this rivalry got a boost last season, no matter how slight.

That boost wasn’t necessarily seen on the ice per se, but more so on the league table. For those that don’t remember, the Red Wings qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 25th-straight season – certainly an impressive feat.

Yet that success always has to detract from that of another. Last year, that was the Bruins who suffered an earlier-than-desired offseason. That fact was made more excruciating by the fact that Detroit qualified on a tiebreaker with the Bruins, besting them by a lone regulation+overtime victory.

To say the 34-26-6 Bruins aren’t proud of their nine victories more than Detroit‘s this season might be a bit of an understatement. That improvement has led them to third place in the Atlantic Division, the exact spot the Wings occupied a year ago.

They’ve gotten to that position on the back of their defense and goaltending. Boston is 11th-best in the league on that end of the ice, allowing only 172 tallies against.

30-16-4 Tuukka Rask has benefited greatly from his improved defense, as his season .913 save percentage and 2.28 GAA are (t)23rd and (t)eighth-best in the league among the 40 netminders with at least 26 appearances.

A season ago, Rask faced 30.4 shots-per-night, which tied for the 11th-worst rate in the NHL. This season, that rate is down to an impressive 26.4-per-game, the second-lowest in the league. He may be turning 40-years-old in 10 days, but Captain Zdeno Chara has been at the forefront of that improvement. He’s blocked 110 shots so far this season, the most on the squad. If he maintains his production, Chara is in line for 140 blocks on the season – far-and-away the largest total of his 19-year career.

Because of those combined efforts, the Bruins also have one of the best penalty kills in the game. Refusing to yield a goal on 85.7% of opposing power plays, Boston is second-best in the NHL. Joining Chara at the top of the chart in shorthanded blocks is Adam McQuaid, as they both have 29 to their credit.

My, what can change from one year to the next. It is all but certain that the 25-28-11 Red Wings will not be among the 16 teams fighting for the Stanley Cup following the 2016-’17 regular season, as the losers of their past two games currently occupy dead last in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

The main reason for their predicament is a lackluster offense. Lackluster may be a compliment, as Detroit has managed only 153 goals this season – the fifth-fewest in the NHL.

He’s tried as hard as he can, but Captain Henrik Zetterberg can only do so much. His team-leading 53 points is a respectable total – the average player claims 17.2 this season – but the rest of the roster is mostly barren of scoring threats, especially following the trade of Thomas Vanek to Florida. Probably the other main threat is Tomas Tatar, who’s 15 tallies is the active clubhouse-leader.

Usually, the power play is supposed to be a positive opportunity for an offense. Instead, it’s almost dreaded in Detroit, as the Wings have found success only 12.8% of the time – easily the worst mark in the game. Just like with the basic offense, weapons are hard to come by in Motor City. With the departure of Vanek, Frans Nielsen leads the squad with only 11 power play points and three skaters have buried an active team-high of three extra-man goals.

Tonight’s contest marks the culmination of this season’s series between these two clubs. Since Boston already has a 2-0-1 record against the Wings, all Detroit can hope for is a regulation victory to tie the series a five points apiece for both sides.

They last time they played was January 24 at the TD Garden. Although they needed an overtime winner from David Pastrnak, the Bruins were able to hold on for a 4-3 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Brad Marchand (68 points [fourth-most in the league] on 30 goals [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for third-most in the league] among 30 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL] on a 2.28 GAA [tied for ninth-best in the league]) & Detroit‘s Danny DeKeyser (135 blocks [leads the team]), Luke Glendening (135 hits [leads the team]) and Anthony Mantha (+14 [best on the team]).

In what is probably the biggest spread of the night, the Bruins are a -250 favorite to prove victorious this evening. Everything Detroit struggles at, Boston excels. That’s typically a recipe for disaster for the road team, and I expect this one to go no different. The Bruins should win easily.

Hockey Birthday

  • Larry Murphy (1961-) – This Hall of Fame defenseman was the fourth-overall selection in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. Although the three-time All-Star spent most of his 21-year career with the Capitals and was drafted by Los Angeles, he hoisted the Stanley Cup four times – twice each with Detroit and Pittsburgh.

Mike Yeo’s return to Minnesota was a successful one for his new club, as the Blues beat the Wild 2-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

If not for Mikko Koivu‘s (Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund) wrist shot from the neutral zone with the extra skater and 11 seconds remaining in the game, Second Star of the Game Jake Allen would have earned the shutout and First Star David Perron (Colton Parayko and Alexander Steen) would have taken credit for the game-winning goal on his first period tip-in tally.

Instead, that honor belongs to none other than Third Star Vladimir Tarasenko (Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo). He buried a wrister with 8:57 remaining in regulation to then set the score at 2-0.

Allen saved 32-of-33 shots faced (97%) in the victory, leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 18-of-20 (90%).

If my numbers are correct from when I missed time, St. Louis‘ victory should propel the 72-48-22 road teams to a six-point lead over the hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

February 9 – Day 113 – Back in the saddle again

The NHL is trying to make up for scheduling only one game yesterday with 11 today.

I think I accept it’s apology.

Like it usually does, the action starts tonight at 7 p.m. with six games (San Jose at Boston [SN360/TVAS], Anaheim at Buffalo, Nashville at the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [NBCSN], Detroit at Washington and Vancouver at Columbus), followed half an hour later by three more (St. Louis at Toronto, Dallas at Ottawa [RDS2] and Los Angeles at Florida). Only one more time-slot exists this evening, and it holds two games (Pittsburgh at Colorado and Montréal at Arizona [RDS]) as co-nightcaps at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Whether he deserved it or not, Claude Julien was handed a pink slip Tuesday after 10 years of service to the Bruins organization. Tonight, it will be Bruce Cassidy making his first appearance as head man behind Boston‘s bench, although it’s not his first head coaching job in the NHL.

UnknownUnknown-7

 

419 victories. Four division titles. A Presidents’ Trophy and a Stanley Cup.

The club may get to keep the hardware and banners, but Julien was the one to lead them there.

That being said, he’s been under fire for almost this entire season, and part of last year as well. Even though he’s the winningest coach in Bruins history and got the team into the playoffs in all but two seasons (hint: the last two) under his command, it’s that very fact that became his downfall. Even with some great players on his roster, including Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and goaltender Tuukka Rask, the Bruins haven’t tasted the postseason since 2014 and are in danger of making it three years in a row should the standings remain as they currently are.

That’s what prompted Don Sweeney to make the change to Cassidy. The interim head coach is remembered most from his days behind the Capitals‘ bench, a job he held from 2002-’03. He was in command for the entire 2002-’03 campaign and led Washington to second place in the Southeastern Division. That success didn’t continue in the playoffs, as the Caps were eliminated in the Eastern Quarterfinals.

That elimination marked the beginning of the end of Cassidy’s tenure in the capital. Washington started the 2003-’04 season with an 8-16-1 record, which was not good enough for George McPhee and resulted in Cassidy being relieved of his duties.

He began his time with the Bruins‘ organization in 2008 as an assistant coach in Providence, but he was the man in charge by the 2011-’12 season. During his tenure as skipper, the Bruins went a combined 207-128-45, include a Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy-winning (effectively the Presidents’ Trophy, but in the AHL) 50-21-5 record in 2012-’13.

He was rewarded for that success this season with a promotion to assistant coach in Boston (Come to think of it, it seems Sweeney had this whole thing planned out, didn’t he?). A former defenseman, his addition has certainly been noticed on the ice. Last season, Boston allowed 30.4 shots to reach Rask’s crease per game. This season? That number is down to 26.4, an impressive improvement.

Cassidy takes command of a 26-23-6 Bruins team that is riding a two-game losing skid and currently occupies fourth place in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference, missing out on a playoff position by one point technically two points to avoid losing a games-played tiebreaker to Philadelphia.

As stated before, the Bruins have certainly improved on the defensive end. Unfortunately, they didn’t plan for the offensive regression they’re experiencing this year. A season ago, Boston scored 236 goals – the fifth-most in the NHL. Nowadays, they’ve only managed 141 tallies in 55 games, the 10th-worst rate in the league.

That regression can’t be pinned on Marchand, though, as his 55 points are tops on the team. Making that number even more impressive is the fact that he personally takes credit for 23 goals, which is also the best in Beantown.

Fortunately for the Bruins, the penalty kill has been topnotch this year, stopping 86% of opposing power plays – the second-best rate in the league. The sick Zdeno Chara has been a major part of that success with his 27 shorthanded blocks, but is still unknown if he’ll play this evening. If he doesn’t, Adam McQuaid and his 24 penalty kill blocks will be called upon to fill the captain’s role when down a skater.

The Sharks make their annual visit to the TD Garden with a 33-17-4 record, more than good enough for the lead in the Pacific Division even if they have lost their last two games in overtime. The defense leads the way in San Jose, as the Sharks have allowed only 125 goals in 54 games this season, the second-best effort in the NHL.

Have you ever met someone who is really good at their job? Martin Jones is one of those people. His .917 season save percentage and 2.25 GAA are (t)12th and fifth-best in the league, respectively, among the 37 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

Of course, it’s easy to be good when you have a defense like Jones does. Led by Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s 100 shot blocks, San Jose allows only 27.3 shots to reach Jones’ crease per game, the third-best rate in the NHL.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (55 points [fourth-most in the league], including 23 goals [10-most in the NHL]) and Rask (five shutouts [tied for third-most in the league] among 25 wins [tied for sixth-most in the NHL] on a 2.31 GAA [tied for ninth-best in the league]) & San Jose‘s Brent Burns (57 points [third-most in the NHL], including 35 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Jones (27 wins [tied for third-most in the NHL] on a 2.25 GAA [sixth-best in the league]).

Boston has been marked with a -123 favorite by Vegas, and if I were a gambling man I’d bet lots of money on the Sharks spoiling that this evening. Not only are the Sharks exceptional at preventing something the Bruins have had little success doing (scoring), Boston is also not kind to the home team. The Bruins are only 12-13-0 on their home surface. San Jose should exploit that and take this contest easily.

Hockey Birthday

  • Chris Nilan (1958-) – He may have only been a 19th-rounder in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft by Montréal, but this right wing enjoyed a 13-year career. The highlight of his career came in 1986 when he was a member of the Canadiens team that hoisted the Stanley Cup.
  • Andre Burakovsky (1995-) – Selected by Washington with the 23rd-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing is certainly making a name for himself. His 11 tallies tie for seventh-most on the team.

It took overtime, but the Blackhawks don’t mind as they earned their first victory over Minnesota in the last nine tries in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Chicago came to play, and they proved it with a tally with 9:06 remaining in the first period, compliments of Ryan Hartman (Vinnie Hinostroza and Duncan Keith). It was the lone tally of the frame, giving the Hawks a one-goal lead going into the first intermission.

If you like scoring, the second period was easily the most exciting – at least in regulation. Four goals were scored, starting with Nick Schmaltz‘ (First Star of the Game Jonathan Toews and Third Star Richard Panik) only 1:09 after returning to the ice, but Second Star Jared Spurgeon (Eric Staal and Nino Niederreiter) apparently took exception to that and pulled the Wild back within a tally only 37 seconds later. With a wrister, Zach Parise (Charlie Coyle and Jason Pominville) leveled the game at two-all at the 7:15 mark, but a Panik (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Toews) wrister with 2:36 remaining in the frame returned a one-goal lead to the Blackhawks going into the second intermission.

Only one goal was scored in the third period, but it was one that blew the roof off the Xcel Energy Center. With 3:03 remaining in regulation, Erik Haula (Marco Scandella and Niederreiter) buried his wrister to level the game for Minnesota at three-all. Neither club could break the knot in the remaining time, forcing five minutes of three-on-three sudden-death overtime.

There is nothing more damning than committing an overtime penalty. Just ask Ryan Suter, who was caught holding Marian Hossa at the midway point of the frame. Only 39 seconds later, Toews (Patrick Kane and Keith) was able to capitalize on the man-advantage to seal the Hawks‘ victory.

Corey Crawford earns the victory after saving 35-of-38 shots faced (92.1%), forcing Darcy Kuemper to take the overtime loss, saving 28-of-32 (87.5%).

Chicago‘s victory is the fourth in the last five games by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, pulling the visitors within eight points of the 60-37-18 hosts.

January 20 – Day 97 – Blackhawks in Boston

Loverboy is right: everybody is working for the weekend.

No, not the Weeknd – the weekend, and what better way to get it started than with hockey? The action begins tonight at 7 p.m. with three games (Chicago at Boston [NHLN/SN1/TVAS], Detroit at Buffalo and Pittsburgh at Carolina) and Montréal at New Jersey (RDS) half an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the puck drop of Nashville at Edmonton, with tonight’s nightcap – Florida at Vancouver – waiting an hour before getting underway.

There’s been a lot of Original Six matchups this week, and any involving the Blackhawks are special due to rarity. Given that both are currently in playoff position, let’s head up to the City of Notions.

Unknown-2Unknown-7

 

 

 

 

 

The Hawks make their yearly trip to the TD Garden with a 28-14-5 record, good enough for second place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. They’ve found that success by scoring a lot of goals, already notching 130 this season, which ties for 10th most in the league.

They call him Showtime for a reason. Patrick Kane has had his hand on an impressive 47 tallies this season to lead the team. That being said, it’s been second-year Hawk Artem Anisimov that has scored the most goals on the team with 18 to his credit.

That offensive success has been necessary for Chicago to cover for their horrendous penalty kill. The Blackhawks‘ 75.2% kill rate ties for second-worst in the NHL and is the worst among squads currently in playoff position. Niklas Hjalmarsson has tried to do all he can with his 19 shorthanded blocks, but him and Brent Seabrook are the only two skaters with more than nine.

Given the fact that usual-starter Corey Crawford‘s .822 save percentage against the power play is third-worst in the NHL among goalies with at least 15 appearances, it goes without saying that the entire team needs to make a stronger effort to keep shots off his net. If not, Stan Bowman will not be afraid to bring in another blueliner to bolster his squad. Fortunately, Scott Darling has been named the starter for tonight’s game, as his save percentage against the power play is slightly better at .898.

Playing host this evening are the 23-19-6 Bruins, the third-best team in the Atlantic Division. They pose a good matchup against the Blackhawks, as they’ve found much of their success on the defensive end. The Bruins have allowed only 121 goals in 48 games, which ties for the seventh-best rate in the league.

With a goaltender like 22-10-4 Tuukka Rask, it’s tough to lose. He’s earned that impressive record on a .919 save percentage and 2.11 GAA, the (t)14th and fourth-best rates, respectively, in the league against the 42 other goalies with 19 or more appearances.

I’ve said it every time we’ve featured Boston, and it’s not going to change tonight: Rask is successful this year because of the incredible defense playing in front of him. He faces only 26.6 shots-per-game, the second-fewest in the league. Zdeno Chara has headed that effort with 84 blocks in 42 games. When combined with Brandon Carlo and Adam McQuaid‘s efforts, a whopping 225 shots have been kept off Rask’s net (4.6875 per game).

It’s not surprising that the second-best defense at even-strength also fields the second-best penalty kill. Led by Chara’s 16 shorthanded blocks (tied for second-most in the NHL), Boston rejects 86.9% of opposing power plays.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Boston‘s Brad Marchand (45 points [tied for sixth-most in the NHL] on 28 assists [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Rask (five shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL] and a 2.11 GAA [fifth-best in the league] for 22 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Chicago‘s Darling (.924 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the league]), Kane (33 assists [second-most in the NHL] among 47 points [fourth-most in the league]) and Duncan Keith (29 assists [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]).

It looks like defense and home ice is the key to victory, as Vegas favors the Bruins at -138. It’s a hard formula to argue with, especially given the fact that Boston‘s offense is no slouch. The Bruins should earn tonight’s victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Lou Fontinato (1932-2016) – This defenseman played almost the entirety of his nine-season NHL career with the Rangers. By the time his career was through, he’d notched 104 points to go with his 1247 career penalty minutes.

Although one game is far too small a sample size to make any concrete claims, it seems that Doug Weight can at least handle his own behind the bench, as his Islanders beat Dallas 3-0 in his coaching debut.

First Star of the Game John Tavares (Third Star Anders Lee) is the man responsible for the winning goal, burying his wrister with 6:29 remaining in the first frame.

The first of the two insurance goals did not get struck until only 3:06 remained in regulation. Once again it was Tavares (Nikolai Kulemin) taking credit for the tally, this time a shorthanded wrister. Calvin de Haan (Second Star Thomas Greiss) completed the game’s scoring on an empty net with only four seconds remaining in the game.

Greiss earns the shutout victory by saving all 23 shots he faced, leaving the loss to Kari Lehtonen, who saved 33-of-35 (94.3%).

Mark New York‘s victory as another win for the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Hosts now have a 52-33-14 record, seven points better than the visitors.

December 7 -Day 56 – If bears could vote…

There’s only four games occurring tonight, but they all look to be good ones. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Minnesota at Toronto (SN), followed half an hour later by Boston at Washington (NBCSN/TVAS). Later, the co-nightcaps drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. (Carolina at Anaheim and Ottawa at San Jose [RDS]). All times eastern.

I know we’ve been in the Eastern Conference for the last four days, but the game I’m most interested in is going down in the Verizon Center. Off to the capital we go!

Unknown-7Washington Capitals Logo

 

Jumping right in, 15-10-1 Boston – currently riding a three-game winning streak – is the third-best team in the Atlantic Division, thanks in most part to a defense and goaltending that has allowed only 57 goals so far this season, the fifth-fewest in the league. That stat is made only more impressive by the fact that the Bruins allowed 228 goals a season ago, the tying for 11th-most.

Much of that improvement can be attributed to the 14-4-1 Tuukka Rask, whose .939 save percentage and 1.68 GAA – which rank fourth and second-best in the league, respectively, among goalies with 10 or more appearances – are vastly better than his efforts a season ago (.915 and 2.56) that rank among the worst campaigns of his 10-season career.

Rask doesn’t get to take all the credit though. Last season, his defense allowed 30.4 shots-per-game to reach his crease, the 13th-most in the league. Nowadays, that number is down to 27.7, the fifth-best. Taking responsibility for that change is rookie Brandon Carlo, who’s 45 blocks is a greater total than even the likes of Captain Zdeno Chara (43), Adam McQuaid (37) and John-Michael Liles (28).

That success has followed the Bruins to the penalty kill, where their 86.4% kill rate is the third-best in the league. Carlo has led that charge as well, with 15 shorthanded blocks on his young NHL resume.

Boston‘s Achilles heel continues to be their power play, which ranks fourth-worst at 13.8%. Two of the Davids (David Krejci and David Pastrnak, to be exact) have five power play points to co-lead the team, but I’d argue Pastrnak has been the most vital with four extra-man goals.

*Seriously, count up how many Davids are on the Bruins‘ roster. Last I checked, there’s three active right now.*

Hosting Boston this evening are the 14-7-3 Capitals, who currently occupy fifth place in the Metropolitan Division. Just like the Bruins, Washington has found most of their success by being a strong defensive team, allowing only 53 goals – the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

Last year’s Vezina Trophy-winning Braden Holtby currently has an 11-6-2 record on a .923 save percentage and 2.14 GAA – the 16th and 10th-best efforts among netminders with 10 or more appearances.

Much of the reason Holtby has been able to maintain his stellar play from a season ago has been due to the impressive defense playing in front of him that has allowed only 28.2 shots-per-game to reach his crease – effectively identical to last season’s Presidents’ Trophy-clinching effort.  Brooks Orpik has led the blueline with 39 blocks, but four total defensemen (Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Orpik) already have more than 30 shot blocks on the year.

Surprisingly, the power play has let Washington down thus far into the season. Even with Nicklas Backstrom‘s nine power play points and Alex Ovechkin‘s four power play goals, the Caps‘ 15.2% success rate is ninth-worst in the NHL. Part of the reason for that decline might be due to T.J. Oshie being sidelined since November 19 with an upper body-injury, one would expect a potent Capitals offense to overcome that setback.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Boston‘s Pastrnak (+15 on 15 goals [both tied for third-most in the league]) and Rask (14 wins [tied for most in the NHL], including three shutouts [tied for second-most in the league], on a 1.68 GAA [second-best in the NHL] and a .939 save percentage [fourth-best in the league]) & Washington‘s Holtby (2.14 GAA [10th-best in the NHL]) and Ovechkin (12 goals [10th-most in the league]).

Vegas thinks Washington is the favorite tonight, marking them with a -145. Since the Capitals are on home ice, I also like Washington to pull out the victory in what should be a good game.

Hockey Birthday

  • Gerry Cheevers (1940-) – How funny we’d feature the Bruins on 12-year Bostonian goaltender Cheevers’ birthday! Up until the 2011 championship, this netminder had been responsible for the Bruins‘ previous two Stanley Cup titles.
  • Garry Unger (1947-) –  A long-time Blue, this center was an seven-time All-Star and notched 804 points over his 16-season career.
  • Peter Laviolette (1964-) – Currently the head coach in Nashville, this skipper’s crowning achievement of his 15-season coaching career is still the Stanley Cup he won in 2006 with Carolina.
  • Georges Laraque (1976-) – The 31st-overall selection in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing spent most of his time with Edmonton, the club that drafted him. Twice he made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, but both times his club failed to hoist the Cup.
  • Milan Michalek (1984) – This left wing was the sixth-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, but he played most of his days in Ottawa.

It’s the games I’m most confident in that are getting the best of me. I assumed the Rangers would have no problem beating the Islanders, but once again a good rivalry game turned the tables as the home Isles bested the Blueshirts 4-2.

The first goal of the night was a special one for the Islanders. Struck 7:03 into the game, Third Star of the Game Scott Mayfield‘s (Cal Clutterbuck and Anders Lee) slap shot was his first goal of the season, and only the second of his 14-game NHL career. Jason Chimera (Brock Nelson) backed that tally up with one of his own with 2:36 remaining in the frame to give the Islanders a two-goal lead going into the first intermission.

The Rangers‘ incredible offense finally got on the board 56 seconds into the second period with a Jimmy Vesey (Rick Nash) wrister, but Andrew Ladd (Shane Prince) notched the eventual game-winner only 1:22 later with a snap shot. The Rangers fought back within a goal at the 8:54 mark via a Marc Staal (J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider) wrister, but it was the last tally they could manage, both in the second period and regulation.

Second Star John Tavares (Josh Bailey and Nick Leddy) scored an insurance goal with 8:47 remaining in the game to seal the Islanders’ victory in the Battle of New York.

First Star Jaroslav Halak earns the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (94.7%), forcing Henrik Lundqvist to take the loss, saving 28-of-32 (87.5%).

The second straight win by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series has improved their record to 31-19-8 and expended their lead over the roadies to six points.