Tag Archives: Micheal Ferland

Carolina Hurricanes 2018-19 Forecast Through 20 Games

Before the action gets going Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, let’s take a quick second to give an updated forecast on the Carolina Hurricanes roster through 20 games played in the regular season.

Carolina currently sits 5th in the Metropolitan Division with a 9-8-3 record (21 points) on the season and has been all over the board in the league’s most tumultuous division thus far. The Hurricanes have been as high as 1st place in the Metropolitan and as low as 7th in the division on Nov. 6th (then again on Nov. 10th and 11th).

The Canes stormed out of the gate, then quickly dissipated around Halloween dropping out of the lead– but still maintaining a divisional playoff spot– before the rise of the Columbus Blue Jackets bumped them out of a postseason berth altogether on Nov. 1st.

They flirted with a wild card spot for a few days before the sinking ship began to carry too much water.

Head coach, Rod Brind’Amour has implemented a new style in the Hurricanes organization, featuring an emphasis on more shots on goal than ever before regardless of the actual scoring outcome.

Carolina is infected with the youth bug. Rookie mistakes and inconsistencies are to be made and a rookie coach trying to avoid the inevitable errors is no small task. Nothing is truly overnight and through the first quarter of the regular season, the Hurricanes are finding that out.

There’s some good news, however, as the Metropolitan Division is separated by a mere eight points from the Blue Jackets (1st) to the Pittsburgh Penguins (8th), so fixing the weak-spots in one’s game should lead to some separation from the competition with enough wins stringed together.

But with good news, there’s always some bad news too and that is what’s to be expected.

No really, as in the expected outcomes for the Hurricanes latest forecast– it’s not great.

Here’s the latest updated forecast for Carolina through the first 20 games of the regular season, keeping in mind there are many variable that will change what’s to come due to injury, lineup changes, etc. unknown to the frontiers of Microsoft Excel’s formulas.

As always, my degree is in communication– not math.

If a player meets the forecasted stats, they’ve met expectations. If they do better, they exceed expectations. If they do worse, they either missed a lot of action or didn’t live up to expectations.

There’s nothing to forecast puck luck, but we can point out trends and general indications from the scoresheet each night.

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Carolina Hurricanes Forecast Through 20 Games (62 Games Remaining)

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If anything, it’s promising that Sebastian Aho is on track for 26 goals and 43 assists (69 points) in his third NHL season. Next to Teuvo Teravainen‘s 17-35–52 expected totals, that’s about as far as it goes for excitement.

Only Aho, Jordan Staal and Micheal Ferland are expected to reach the 20-goal plateau for the Hurricanes this season. To make matters worse, Staal should end up with 22 goals and Ferland with 20, meaning Carolina will barely even have three players past the 20-goal mark. Yikes.

Hey at least Victor Rask is back from injury after missing the first 20 games.

On the blue line, three defenders will reach the 30-point plateau in expected points as Dougie Hamilton (12-26–38 expected totals), Justin Faulk (10-27–37 expected totals) and Jaccob Slavin (6-24–30 expected totals) lead the way in scoring from the point.

Considering the rest of the offense isn’t necessarily there, at least the defense is pretty respectable, all things considered.

If the Hurricanes get things going, they can capitalize on overall improvements and likely end up with at least two blue liners pushing 40 points. If they don’t– they might be worse than middle of the road. Again.

In goal, well, it’s the same old, same old.

Scott Darling (2.97 expected goals against average and .899 expected save percentage) has yet to prove he is a capable starting netminder. In fact, his expected totals as things stand right now wouldn’t even be backup goaltender caliber.

Petr Mrazek (2.73 expected GAA, .907 expected SV%) might have something left in the tank for one last chance at redemption and becoming a starter– if his defense can tighten its game up and limit quality shots against.

As for Curtis McElhinney (2.87 expected GAA, .908 expected SV%), well, he’s a decent backup in a limited role, so if Carolina wants to continue with a three-goaltender rotation, McElhinney is certain to improve his overall forecast, though only to respectable backup numbers.

After 20 games into the regular season, the Hurricanes aren’t looking much different from last season. This, of course, after they traded their best scorer in Jeff Skinner to the Buffalo Sabres in the offseason for peanuts (draft picks).

Brind’Amour has improved Carolina’s pace of play, but he can’t do anything about the roster that was dealt to him. That’s where General Manager Don Waddell is going to have to get crafty– and soon, given the perpetual rebuild and playoff drought since 2009.

Marchand’s two goals, Halak’s 42 saves help B’s past Hurricanes, 3-2

Tuesday night at PNC Arena the visiting Boston Bruins defeated a shot-making machine offense in the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-2, thanks to a two-goal effort from Brad Marchand and goaltender, Jaroslav Halak‘s 42 saves.

Halak (4-0-2 in 7 games played with a 1.52 goals against average and .947 save percentage) made 42 saves on 44 shots against for a .955 SV% in the win, while Carolina’s Scott Darling made his 2018-19 season debut after returning from injury and his conditioning stint with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL).

Darling (0-1-0 in 1 GP) turned aside 28 shots out of 31 shots faced for a .903 SV% in 57:39 time on ice in the loss.

Boston improved to 7-3-2 (16 points) on the season, good enough for 2nd place in the Atlantic Division standings (trailing the Toronto Maple Leafs), while the Hurricanes slid to 6-5-1 (13 points) and 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division (behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders).

Torey Krug made his season debut for the Bruins as he was back in the lineup for the first time since his leg injury in the preseason, while Matt Grzelcyk was out of Bruce Cassidy‘s lineup with a lower body injury.

Early in the first period– like, 35 seconds into the opening frame, early– Jordan Staal tripped Bruins defender, John Moore, and gave Boston their first power play of the night. The B’s did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Late in the first period, Jeremy Lauzon tripped Carolina forward, Brock McGinn, and gave the Hurricanes their first power play opportunity of the night at 17:46 of the first period.

It only took eight seconds for the Canes to score on the skater advantage.

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Micheal Ferland (7) notched the power play goal as a scramble for the loose puck ensued as Halak fell back in desperation, yearning to make a glove save while No. 79 in red pocketed the rubber biscuit in the twine.

Sebastian Aho (13) and Valentin Zykov (3) were credited with the assists on the goal that made it 1-0 Carolina at 17:54 of the first period.

Cassidy used his coach’s challenge on the call on the ice (goal) on the grounds for a goaltender interference review as Zykov had brushed behind Halak in the crease prior to Ferland getting a stick on the puck. After review, the call on the ice stood and the Bruins lost their timeout as a result.

With his assist on Ferland’s goal, Aho became the 3rd player in NHL history to record at least one assist in a season-opening streak of 12 games joining Edmonton’s Wayne Gretzky (7-20–27 totals through 12 games in 1982-83) and Boston’s Ken Linseman (2-19–21, 1985-86).

The goal was also Ferland’s 100th career NHL point.

Less than a minute later, Brandon Carlo earned himself a minor infraction for slashing Andrei Svechnikov and was sent to the penalty box at 18:29. Carolina didn’t score as time expired in the first period, so the resulting power play carried over into the second period.

Entering the dressing room for the first intermission, Carolina held onto a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard and a 12-8 advantage in shots on goal. The Hurricanes also led in blocked shots (3-2), takeaways (4-2), giveaways (3-2) and hits (16-10), while the Bruins led in face-off win percentage (55-46).

Carolina went 1/2 on the power play in the first period and Boston was 0/1 after 20 minutes.

The second period started out much to the tune of a more controlled Bruins effort as Brad Marchand moved in all alone on Darling, only to lose the puck while switching to his backhand as the Hurricanes netminder dove to make a last-ditch effort poke check.

Jaccob Slavin received a slashing minor for his obstruction of Marchand’s ability to get a shot off and Boston went back on the power play 1:01 into the second period.

Moments later it was Marchand himself cutting a rut to the sin bin for slashing Hurricanes blue liner, Dougie Hamilton, in one of those retaliation “chop the stick out of the other guy’s hands” plays at 4:55.

Carolina did not score on the power play.

Just past the halfway mark of the second period, Hurricanes captain, Justin Williams caught Krug up high with a stick to the face and was subsequently penalized for high-sticking at 10:36.

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The Bruins scored on the ensuing power play, tying the game, 1-1, thanks to David Pastrnak (11) and his third time’s a charm effort on a one-timer blast from about the goal line, beating Darling short side.

Krug (1) and Patrice Bergeron (10) were tabbed with the assists on Pastrnak’s power play goal at 12:22 of the middle frame.

Moore later sent the puck over the glass and received an automatic delay of game minor infraction, yielding a skater advantage to Carolina at 17:20.

While on a face-off in the attacking zone on the ensuing power play, Jordan Staal won the draw back to the left point where Hamilton (2) blasted a one-timer past Halak, high, blocker-side to give the Hurricanes a power play goal and the lead, 2-1 at 18:33.

Staal (3) had the only assist on Hamilton’s goal against the team that drafted him 9th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft prior to sending him to the Calgary Flames hours before the 2015 NHL Draft in exchange for a 2015 1st round pick (Zach Senyshyn, 15th overall) and two 2015 2nd round picks (Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, 45th overall and Lauzon, 52nd overall).

The Flames, of course, traded Hamilton to Carolina this offseason, along with Adam Fox and Ferland in exchange for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin.

Lucas Wallmark tripped Danton Heinen late in the second period and the Bruins went back on the skater advantage at 19:07.

After Bergeron stripped Warren Foegele of the puck on a break-in, No. 37 in black-and-gold sent a pass up-ice to his linemate wearing No. 63 awaiting entry in the attacking zone at the blue line.

From there, Marchand (3) broke in with speed and fired a wrist shot past Darling’s glove hand to tied the game, 2-2, on the power play as the Hurricanes were caught during a bungled line change.

Carolina’s bench was guilty of too many men on the ice and Boston went from ending one power play to beginning a new one at 19:42 of the middle frame.

Bergeron (11) had the only assist on Marchand’s power play goal and Ferland served the bench minor for the Hurricanes as play resumed.

Through two periods of play the score was tied, 2-2, and the Hurricanes were outshooting the Bruins, 36-22. Boston held onto an advantage in blocked shots (8-7), while the Canes led in takeaways (8-6), hits (19-18) and face-off win% (56-44). Both teams had nine giveaways aside after 40 minutes of play and Carolina was 2/4 on the power play, while the B’s were 2/5.

Boston was the only team to score a goal in the third period as Marchand (4) picked up his second of the night on a wraparound goal, having freed himself with speed from Williams behind the net at 5:23 of the final frame.

Darling overcommitted to the right side of the crease as Marchand maintained possession, wrapped around the goalframe and gave the Bruins their first lead of the night, 3-2, at 5:23 of the third period.

Bergeron (12) once again had the only assist on Marchand’s goal.

After a stoppage in play with 2:19 remaining in regulation, Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour used his timeout to hone the focus of his players on the ice on getting the game-tying goal with the extra attacker as a result of pulling his goaltender.

Carolina’s plans didn’t come to fruition and almost backfired when Pastrnak sent the puck wide of the open 4-by-6 frame with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game.

At the final horn, Boston defeated Carolina, 3-2, on the scoreboard, despite trailing, 44-31, in shots on goal. The Hurricanes led in every other category, including blocked shots (17-12), giveaways (15-12), hits (28-23) and face-off win% (56-44) after the 60-minute effort.

The B’s finished 2/5 on the power play, while the Canes went 2/4.

The Bruins head to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee for a Saturday night matchup with the Predators before returning home on Monday, Nov. 5th against the Dallas Stars.

Among other stats…

Pastrnak led Boston with nine shots on goal. Marchand was the next closest with five. Carlo led his teammates in hits with six and Zdeno Chara recorded a team-high three blocked shots.

Williams and Trevor van Riemsdyk led Carolina with six shots on goal. Brett Pesce had four blocked shots for the Hurricanes, while Justin Faulk and Slavin each had three.

Jordan Martinook had a team-high five hits for Carolina in the loss.

Carolina Hurricanes 2018-19 Season Projections

It’s October whateverth, I know, and the regular season is already underway, but transferring data into a new system and (in some cases) building new rosters entirely can take its time in the midst of catching every game on TV, living life, etc.

So without further ado let’s pretend the 5-3-1 (11 points)– 1st place in the Metropolitan Division– Carolina Hurricanes didn’t actually start the season yet and let’s turn back the clocks to before puck drop on the regular season.

Back then, Andrei Svechnikov had yet to play an NHL game as an 18-year-old rookie. The 2nd overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft’s forecasted stats couldn’t be calculated until he stepped foot on the ice. Though his 2-2–4 totals in his first nine games have him forecasted for 18 goals and 18 assists (36 points) over his first 82 games, we’ll pretend we don’t actually know what we know now.

Anyway, the fact of the matter remains the same–  prior to the start of any regular season, these forecasted stats are merely educated expectations. A player who performs better than their expected outcome exceeded expectations (makes sense). A player who doesn’t live up to the numbers was either injured, a healthy scratch or on a chronic cold streak (or whatever).

Last season’s Carolina Hurricanes finished 6th in the Metropolitan Division with a 36-35-11 record and 83 points on the season. Bill Peters was fired as head coach and former Hurricanes superstar Rod Brind’Amour was hired behind the bench. Don Waddell took over as General Manager in the offseason, going from interim to full-time as owner Tom Dundon embraced a new direction to go along with his new reign.

The annual doldrums in Raleigh, North Carolina might be over sooner rather than later with a stockpile of youth in Sebastian Aho, Warren Foegele, Svechnikov and others, in addition to the quietly shutdown defensive pairings that include Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and newcomers Dougie Hamilton, as well as Calvin de Haan.

Carolina holds the longest playoff drought in the league currently, dating back to their 2009 Eastern Conference Finals appearance against the Pittsburgh Penguins– just three years removed from their 2006 Stanley Cup championship. The Hurricanes haven’t been part of any postseason activity in the 2010s.

Not that this season can necessarily change that, but the end of the drought is soon and the oasis of playoff hockey draws near.

It’s at this point in every forecast where I’d like to remind everyone my degree is in communication– not math– therefore all mistakes are strictly Microsoft Excels fault and for sure not an error of my own. Well, that, and there’s sometimes a little gut-feeling mixed in for players who’ve only played in less than ten games and therefore are projected to score, like, 100 goals or something.

My area of expertise resides in the written, spoken and nonverbal language of communicating– not numbers.

Forecasted stats are to be looked at as an utopian perspective– as though everything were to fall into line and nothing bad could ever happen. Some players will pan out and others will fall flat. These are only suggested (expected) outcomes for a sport that’s highly unpredictable due to its collective nature and sheer puck luck.

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Carolina Hurricanes Forecast Through 0 Games (82 Games Remaining)

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The good news for Carolina heading into 2018-19 is the realistic expectations are low. There’s only three players that are expected to crack the 50-point plateau, but that doesn’t mean any meteoric rise can’t creep up on any member of the Hurricanes and propel this roster into the postseason for the first time in– by the time April rolls around– a decade.

Brind’Amour is behind the bench now and having no prior NHL experience as a head coach, there’s nothing to point to and say “they’re destined to fail”. The Canes might come out of this with one of the best rookie coaches this season if they make the playofs and given all the expectations of the other rookie coaches around the league.

Washington’s Todd Reirden is behind the defending-Cup champions (so there’s high expectations with room only to fail), David Quinn is coaching a rebuilding New York Rangers bunch (so anything goes), Jim Montgomery is in charge of the borderline Dallas Stars (things could go either way) and Brind’Amour, well, he can only go up what with the roster he was given.

As always, we’ll get into goalies and rookies after the first quarter of the season passes, however, he’s a quick look at the expected top-points scorers for the Hurricanes this season.

Valentin Zykov has shown potential before and if Brind’Amour can finally be the one to light a fire under his playing style, perhaps Zykov just might amass 24-35–59 totals and be like William Karlsson was for the Vegas Golden Knights last season– except this time around, Zykov isn’t a new face in town for a new team.

Aho (27-31–58 expected totals) should easily reach, if not exceed, expectations for Carolina as he enters the world of first line minutes in the post-Jeff Skinner on the Hurricanes era.

We’ll neglect the holes in the Skinner trade where Waddell should’ve gotten more, but at least Aho is a positive in the “next man up” category of “players who should live up to being rushed into the spotlight, since there’s nobody else to turn to and have already been part of the organization prior to a rather one-sided trade”.

“Mr. Game 7” himself (Justin Williams) is bound for one last “breakout” year with 22-33–55 expected totals on a rejuvenated Hurricanes roster.

Meanwhile, Micheal Ferland, Warren Foegele and Jordan Staal make themselves as prime candidates for dark horse work horses in Carolina.

On defense, Dougie Hamilton (44 expected points) supersedes Justin Faulk (39 expected points) as Carolina’s top blue liner after being acquired in the Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm trade for Hamilton, Ferland and Adam Fox. In addition, Slavin and Pesce continue to fill-out one of the best kept secrets in NHL defense as pieces of the most underrated top-six blue liners with de Haan now part of the fold.

In goal, well, Brind’Amour has a lot of decisions to make on an almost nightly basis. Neither Scott Darling nor Petr Mrazek look to have goals against averages or save percentages in the starting goaltender range.

In fact, both are in the sub-par backup goaltender range– closer to 3.00 than 2.00– so as long as the Hurricane’s defense limits shots against and lessens the workload, then perhaps the season’s collapse won’t be because of bad goaltending.

Time will tell.

Until then, feel free to look around at how the Golden Knights and Boston Bruins should do this season.

Calgary Flames 2018-19 Season Preview

Calgary Flames

37-35-10, 84 points, 5th in the Pacific Division

Additions: F Austin Czarnik, D Noah Hanifin, F Elias Lindholm, RW James Neal, RW Anthony Peluso, C Alan Quine, C Derek Ryan, LW Kerby Rychel

Subtractions: RW Troy Brouwer, LW Micheal Ferland, LW Tanner Glass, D Cody Goloubef, D Dougie Hamilton, C Rod Pelley, C Matt Stajan, RW Chris Stewart, RW Kris Versteeg

Re-signed: G Jon Gillies, RW Garnet Hathaway, C Mark Jankowski, LW Morgan Klimchuk, D Brett Kulak, G David Rittich

Offseason Analysis: Armed with one of the most potent top line/top defense pairing combos in the league, and with newly-acquired Mike Smith in net, hopes were high for the Flames to make some noise coming into the ’17-’18 campaign. Unfortunately, the noises they made were somewhat akin to a fish flopping around on the deck of a boat.

In a season that the term ‘streaky’ could possibly be defined by, Calgary often swung from appearing unbeatable to looking as if they had no idea what they were doing (and anywhere in between) on a game-by-game, week-by-week, and month-by-month basis. Managing to hang around in the wild card conversation through February, they’d finish the year with a dismal 6-13-1 record in their last 20 games, missing the playoffs for the seventh time in nine years.

Head coach Glen Gulutzan (along with assistants Dave Cameron and Paul Gerrard) was promptly sacked at season’s end and replaced with the newly-resigned Hurricanes coach Bill Peters. It wouldn’t be the only Carolina-linked theme of the offseason, either.

Faced with a draft stock that featured no picks until the 4th round, GM Brad Treliving had to use the phone at his table rather than his scouting staff to try and make an immediate impact on his team on draft weekend in Dallas. In one of the bigger trades in recent memory, Calgary dealt blue-chip defender Dougie Hamilton, hard-nosed winger Michael Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox to Carolina in exchange for young d-man Noah Hanifin and versatile scoring forward Elias Lindholm.

Now, I was one of few to take a stand in defending this trade as equal (most found it to be heavily in Carolina’s favor on face value). While I admittedly know little about Fox (I’m told he projects as possibly a decent complimentary player at the NHL level), everyone else in this trade is a fairly proven commodity. Hamilton is admittedly probably the better all-around defenseman, but Hanifin might be a better fit for Calgary, as his game is traditionally a bit more reliable. With Ferland’s departure, they do lose some grit and complimentary goal scoring, but they still have no shortage of snarl, and it’s doubtful his 21-goal, 41-point campaign last year will ever be bettered. Lindholm, while not a natural goal scorer, is a skilled playmaker and has already twice surpassed Ferland’s career-best numbers, while being three years his junior. His ability to play the right side if needed also bolsters a thin depth chart at the position.

Treliving would make another splash soon after the draft, snagging sniper James Neal on the opening day of free agency, and signing him to a five-year, $5.75 million contract. The contract is probably a bit long for a 31-year-old already showing signs of losing foot speed, and Neal’s production has dipped a bit in recent years, but he’s still a near-lock for 25 goals and 45-50 points. Plus, playing alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau never hurt anybody.

The Flames would nab a few other pieces in free agency, in particular bolstering their center depth with adds like Tyler Graovac, Alan Quine, and Austin Czarnik. Perhaps their biggest under-the-radar move was acquiring another former Hurricane in Derek Ryan. The 31-year-old journeyman center finally found an NHL home in Carolina the past few years, blossoming into a solid 3C capable of consistent ~35 point production in addition to reliable PK work and a sublime faceoff record. With the departure of Matt Stajan, the Flames took advantage of Peters’ prior experience with Ryan to fill the hole. They also added some depth on the wings in Kerby Rychel (via trade) and Anthony Peluso, along with notable re-signings Garnet Hathaway, Morgan Klimchuk, and Mark Jankowski.

The prospect pool is a bit thin, but Morgan Klimchuk stands out as a threat to potentially grab himself a roster spot with a strong camp.

I have the forward corps looking something similar to this:
Gaudreau – Monahan – Neal
Tkachuk – Backlund – Lindholm
Bennett – Ryan – Frolik
Jankowski – Quine – Hathaway
Extra forwards Curtis Lazar and Austin Czarnik

On defense, things have shaken up a bit with the breakup of one of the league’s best pairings. Fleet-footed T.J. Brodie looks poised to grab the No. 2 defense slot next to captain Mark Giordano, though his sometimes-risky style of play could be of concern for top pair minutes.

Outside of the Hanifin/Hamilton deal, the Flames changed little about their defense corps in the offseason. Brett Kulak being awarded a one-year deal in arbitration was probably the biggest news. Longtime SHL stalwart Marcus Hogstrom was signed to a one-year, two-way deal to add some depth, and towering Viktor Svedberg, who saw some time with the Blackhawks last year, is heading to training camp on a PTO.

The defensive prospect pool is much deeper and more intriguing than the forwards. Juuso Valimaki is a highly touted prospect and Calgary’s ’17 1st round pick, but has yet to play North American pro hockey, so it’s likely he’ll spend the year in Stockton getting adjusted. Josh Healey brings a solid defensive game, but struggled to find the offensive touch he had at Ohio State in his first pro season last year. Oliver Kylington is a smart, if slightly undersized two-way defender that has shown well so far in the AHL. My personal pick to sneak his way onto the opening night roster, though, is Rasmus Andersson. He’s had no trouble adapting his offensive game to the pro level (nine goals and 39 points in Stockton last year) and his 215-pound frame bodes well for holding up to the rigors of the NHL. His right handed shot and offensive abilities bode well as a potential Hamilton replacement should the Flames find themselves in need of some extra defensive scoring.

The defense looks a little something like this:
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Kulak – Stone
Extra defender either Dalton Prout or the aforementioned Andersson

In net the depth chart looks to remain the same as last year after the re-signing of backup David Rittich to a one-year deal. Calgary will likely just hope for steadier play from Mike Smith (really from the entire team in general) to improve their fortunes as they continue to groom all-world prospect Jon Gillies for the eventual No. 1 job. Smith will turn 37 this year and is in the last year of his contract, so expect another year in the AHL for Gillies before taking the reigns in ’19-’20.

Offseason Grade: C-

They made a coaching change. They fired the coach of their 21st-place team and hired the coach of the 20th place team. C-

They got Noah Hanifin. They probably gave up a bit too much to get him. C-

They signed James Neal. They signed him for too long. C-

They didn’t lose most of their expiring contracts. They were all pretty average players. C-

Carolina Hurricanes 2018-2019 Season Preview

Carolina Hurricanes

36-35-11, 83 points, sixth in the Metropolitan Division

Additions: HC Rod Brind’Amour, D Calvin de Haan, W Micheal Ferland, D Michael Fora, D Adam Fox, D Dougie Hamilton, F Jordan Martinook, G Petr Mrazek, F Cliff Pu, D Dan Renouf, RW Andrei Svechnikov

Subtractions: D Jake Chelios (signed by Detroit), D Klas Dahlbeck (signed by CSKA Moscow), D Noah Hanifin (traded to Calgary), C Marcus Kruger (traded to Arizona), F Elias Lindholm (traded to Calgary), F Andrew Miller (signed by HC Fribourg-Gotteron), F Joakim Nordstrom (signed by Boston), HC Bill Peters (resigned, hired by Calgary), C Derek Ryan (signed by Calgary), F Jeff Skinner (traded to Buffalo), G Jeremy Smith (signed by Bridgeport), G Cam Ward (signed by Chicago)

Offseason Analysis: I had the pleasure of composing Carolina’s season preview last summer, and let me tell you: I was super excited. I was convinced this team was finally going to cause some real trouble in the Metropolitan Division on the back of its excellent defense and formidable offense.

Instead we got the same Hurricanes we’ve grown accustomed to over these past few years: a team that, while it was among the better sides to miss out on the postseason, extended its playoff drought to nine-straight seasons.

After a busy offseason for the Canes, it’s safe to say that expectations for the club this season are nowhere near as high. Five forwards that played at least 41 games last season are not returning to Raleigh, not to mention defensive stalwart Hanifin and Ward – a goaltender that, while aging, is still capable of stealing a few games – taking their respective talents to Calgary and Chicago.

If any part of Carolina’s game won’t suffer from these roster moves, it’ll likely be the defense, as the Canes lost a great defenseman and replaced him with one just as good. de Haan played only 33 games last season for the Isles, but his 2016-17 campaign was excellent. He posted 5-20-25 totals in 82 games played with a +15 rating on a team that allowed 238 goals against – the eighth-most in the league that season – due in large part to his 190 shot blocks and 139 hits. Having turned only 27-years-old in May, I have no reason to believe de Haan can’t rediscover that physical form and continue to be an imposing force on the blue line.

Instead, it will be the Hurricanes’ offense that will take a more noticeable step backwards, specifically in the top-six. Assuming that Brind’Amour plays Svechnikov in that position (I think it’s a very safe guess), as well as probable fellow rookies Martin Necas and Valentin Zykov, it will be up to Ferland, Teravainen and Aho (who himself is only entering his third NHL season) to spearhead the scoring lines (You’ll notice I left F Jordan Staal out of that group. That’s because he’s never had any business playing first line center).

It’s not to say this group doesn’t have the potential to be lethal in a few seasons (I’d argue Aho and Svechnikov have a chance to become one on the best lines in the NHL someday), but I just don’t see everything coming together to make this campaign anything more than a learning experience.

To make matters worse, even if the offense can manage to be just average (scoring around 95 goals for the entire season, or over a goal per game), it won’t get very much support from the goaltending department. G Scott Darling posted a horrendous .888 save percentage in 43 appearances last season for a 3.18 GAA, and Mrazek wasn’t all that much better with his .902 save percentage and 3.03 GAA in 39 regular season appearances between Detroit and Philadelphia.

Both netminders will certainly be looking for bounce back years (especially Mrazek, who is in another contract season), but my faith in them has dwindled to the point that I won’t believe they’ve improved until I see it. If my doubts are proven, there’s real potential that rookie G Alex Nedeljkovic, the Canes’ second-round pick in 2014, could see some considerable playing time in the NHL instead of with Carolina’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte.

Offseason Grade: D

Especially after winning the draft lottery to pick second, I was surprised the rumors coming out of Raleigh were that the Canes were intending to gut their roster. Now that we’re only a couple weeks away from training camp, I find myself surprised that Carolina didn’t move more NHL pieces to fully invest in the future (perhaps those moves are being held for the trade deadline?). For not fully committing to either plan (keep the team together or blow it apart), General Manager Don Waddell does not get a passing grade from me.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #112- Draft, Tavares and Museums

The Original Trio splices together some thoughts on the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees, Dan Bylsma, the 2018 Draft, recent trades and John Tavares. Go check out your local museums while you’re at it. It’s the offseason, surely you have nothing going on.

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2018 Offseason Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

Only a few more teams’ offseason previews remain before the 2018 NHL Entry Draft gets started this Friday. First up today is the Pittsburgh Penguins!

The chance to become the NHL’s first official dynasty since the 1983-90 Edmonton Oilers is still available to C Sidney Crosby‘s Penguins, but falling in the second round of the playoffs to the eventual champion Washington Capitals has forced them into a situation that requires another title in 2019.

Among others, the major flaw in this Penguins club during the postseason was clearly a disappearance of the depth scoring that became so expected during their previous two Stanley Cup runs, as well as a defense that – while playing well overall (their 26.6 shots against per game in the playoffs was best of all 16 teams) – had a habit of allowing its few mistakes to become major problems.

Was this just a result of a tired squad, or is General Manager Jim Rutherford going to have to make some major adjustments?

2018 NHL Entry Draft

For any Pittsburgh fans planning on addressing these issues in the draft, you’re in for some bad news: the Penguins’ first round pick belongs to Ottawa as a result of the trade that yielded C Derick Brassard.

Slated to turn 31-years-old this September, Brassard certainly does not provide the Penguins the scoring youth they would have received in the draft (speaking of, I’d expect Ottawa to select C Benoit-Olivier Groulx [Halifax Mooseheads], RW Martin Kaut [HC Dynamo Pardubice], F Isac Lundeström [Luleå HF] or RW Serron Noel [Oshawa Generals] with Pittsburgh’s pick). However, there’s a reason Columbus selected him sixth-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Under contract for one more year, Brassard is still capable of providing the depth scoring Pittsburgh needs, as he’s notched at least .64 points per game in three of his last four seasons. After a summer off the ice to fully recover from his groin injury, I have no doubt Brassard will make Rutherford’s trade look like an excellent idea.

Pending free agents

With almost $4.8 million to play with, Pittsburgh needs to sign or trade for a minimum of three players just to reach the minimum 20-man roster required by the NHL. That’s not very much wiggle room, especially since that would leave the Pens without a 13th forward and a seventh defenseman.

To put it simply, Rutherford is going to need to put in some serious work if he wants to get his club back to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in four years.

With nine forwards on the current roster, it’s a no-brainer that a minimum of three rosters are going to be added into the mix. If the Penguins elect to change things up in their bottom-six, they’re certainly going to have that option, as W Tom Kuhnhackl, F Carter Rowney, W Bryan Rust, C Riley Sheahan and F Dominik Simon are all pending free agents, with all but Rowney being of the restricted variety.

Of the five, Rust is clearly the most talented offensively, as his 13-25-38 totals in 69 games played are the most of the group. Making him more impressive, Rust bounced all over the Pens’ lineup this season, proving that his numbers weren’t just a result of playing with Crosby or F Evgeni Malkin.

With unrestricted free agency only one year away, odds are very slim of seeing Rust settle for much of a team-friendly deal given his two championship rings. If I were a gambling man, I’d put my chips on Rutherford shipping Rust’s rights to a team that has cap space and needs a proven winner (perhaps F Ryan Dzingel or W Micheal Ferland would be available if Pittsburgh could find an acceptable package).

Sheahan is another player that I wouldn’t be surprised to be wearing a different sweater next season. Though he is still excellent at the face-off dot (he won 54.2 percent of draws this season), it’s hard to justify his 11-21-32 totals (.4 points per game) at the $2.075 million price tag he was awarded in 2016 by Detroit. Unless Sheahan – who will be eligible to test unrestricted free agency following his next contract’s completion – is willing to take a pay cut, he might meet the same fate as Rust.

Of their free agents I’d actually expect the Penguins to resign, Simon looks to be the best bet. Turning 24-years-old in August, the Czech posted 4-8-12 totals in 33 NHL appearances this season, spending time on the first and third lines. Considering how good Crosby has made young players look in the past (ex: F Jake Guentzel, W Conor Sheary and Rust), there’s a strong chance Rutherford gives Simon a slight raise to a three-year, $1 million AAV contract to keep him in town.

A resigning of Simon also makes Kuhnhackl expendable if the two parties cannot come to terms on a team-friendly deal. The German provided only 2-6-8 totals in 69 games played from his fourth-line role at a $625 thousand price tag. If he tries to leverage his two championships for a raise, Rutherford will likely go no higher than $1 million per season.

Lastly, if Rutherford resigns Rowney for a cent more than the league minimum ($700 thousand starting this season), he loses his job. It’s that plain and simple in my book. The Penguins simply don’t have the cap space to keep a player who’s averaged only .17 points per game for his career.

His only saving grace in staying with the team is the Pens not wanting to risk having too few players. He’s a known commodity, which makes him a better asset on the fourth line than a player from outside the organization.

One thing to keep in mind regarding the signing of any of these free agents is the fact that Guentzel will be looking for a contract this time next year. Given his 23 goals and 42 points in 37 Stanley Cup playoff games, the Nebraskan will fetch a pretty penny that Rutherford will need to plan for if he sees Guentzel as a longtime member of the organization.

With Pittsburgh set in net (G Matt Murray and G Casey DeSmith have respective two and one seasons remaining on their contracts), the only contract to focus on defensively is RFA D Jamie Oleksiak. Oleksiak’s 17:24 time on ice per game was seventh among Penguins defensemen, while his .3 points per game clocked in at fourth-best.

For the past three offseasons, Oleksiak has signed one-year deals of increasing value, the most recent of which was worth almost $965 thousand.

Figuring out if Oleksiak gets a new contract is a difficult task, as Pittsburgh could certainly save money by promoting from within. Since 2015, the Penguins have drafted eight defensemen – including three in the first three rounds – but none of those players have even been signed by the club.

If promotion is in fact the route Pittsburgh elects to take, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s best option, D Andrey Pedan, is no longer on the table due to his decision to take his talents to Russia. Similarly, both D Frank Corrado and D Kevin Czuczman are in the same position as Oleksiak, as their identical one-year, $650 thousand contracts expired following the Charlotte Checkers’ three-game sweep against the Pens.

If Rutherford can pull off the signings listed above, he’ll have approximately $2 million to play with to keep Oleksiak around and/or acquire additional skaters.

January 24 – Day 109 – Heading in opposite directions

Gearing up for a full slate of 15 games tomorrow, the NHL scheduler applied the brakes today.

Only two games are on the schedule this evening, with the first – Toronto at Chicago (NBCSN/SN/TVAS) – dropping the puck at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Next up is Los Angeles at Calgary (SN360), which gets underway two hours later.

While it would certainly be fun to feature an Original Six rivalry for the first time in a week, the Pacific Division has an important contest taking place this evening. Off to the Saddledome with us!

 

 

 

 

 

You know that feeling when you’re driving down the road and you see your friend driving the other way?

That’s kind of what’s going on between these squads within the Pacific Division. For much of the season – as recently as January 4 – the 25-18-5 Kings were competing with Vegas for the division lead, but they’ve suffered a 1-7-0 stretch since then that has sent them to 10th-place in the Western Conference.

A team that drops from second in the division to outside the playoff picture in the span of less than 20 days surely has more than one issue. I’d argue they have two big ones: an anemic offense accented by a regression at the goaltending position.

There’s no other way to say it: Los Angeles’ offense has been terrible lately. Since January 4, the Kings have averaged only 2.13 goals per game – a mark that is better than only the efforts of division-rival Edmonton (two goals per game) and Columbus (1.5 goals per game) in that time.

As might be expected, more than a few Kings have seen a regression in their scoring since this skid began. However, the likes of C Anze Kopitar (19-31-50 totals) and D Jake Muzzin (4-23-27) are still maintaining their high level of play, as they both average a point-per-game since January 4.

Even still, their efforts are not enough to make up for the rest of the squad’s slump. In particular, Los Angeles is missing the usually solid play of W Dustin Brown (15-19-34 totals) and F Tyler Toffoli (18-12-30), two players among the top-five in point production for the Kings on the season that have managed only respective 0-3-3 and 1-0-1 totals in their last eight games played.

While pointing fingers at Head Coach John Stevens‘ offense is certainly a warranted charge, I do need to acknowledge that Los Angeles’ offense was never the class of the league. On the season, the Kings have scored an average of only 2.81 goals per game, the 13th-worst mark in the NHL.

But that bad-turned-worse regression only half the problem. 20-17-2 G Jonathan Quick has also been miserable in his last seven starts. After starting the season with Vezina-like numbers, he’s posted only an .876 save percentage and 3.65 GAA to drop his season marks to a .921 and 2.44.

Making his performance even more frustrating is that his defense is doing everything in its control to make his life easier. Led by Brown’s 3.1 hits per game, Kopitar’s six takeaways and D Alec Martinez‘ 3.3 blocks per game during this run, he’s faced an average of only 29.5 shots per game during this skid – the fifth-fewest in the league in that time.

Pair a flailing offense and a goaltender in a rut and you get a league-worst -12 goal differential since January 4. There’s a lot that needs to improve for this Kings team to get back into playoff position, much less beat the Flames tonight.

One thing that might see an immediate change this evening could take place in the crease. Quick was in net for 24:21 of yesterday’s 6-2 loss in Vancouver, but he was pulled after allowing his fifth goal on 19 shots faced (.737 save percentage). With 5-1-3 G Darcy Kuemper posting a .938 save percentage in his 35:39 of play, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets the nod in this very important game today.

Meanwhile, 25-16-6 Calgary has taken advantage of the Kings’ struggles to surge into a top-three spot in the division after spending most of the season fading in and out of the second wildcard spot. They’ve been impressive since December 31, as that’s when the Flames started their current 7-0-2 run.

In a twist of cruel irony, the biggest reason for the Flames’ increased production rests on one man in particular: 20-13-5 G Mike Smith. Smith has been almost unbeatable since December 31, posting a .945 save percentage and 1.84 GAA to improve his season marks to .926 and 2.41 and lead his club to a 6-0-2 record while he’s been in net (4-1-1 G David Rittich earned the final victory on January 12 at Florida).

Smith’s performance has been of the utmost importance for the Flames, because his defense certainly doesn’t do him any favors having allowed a third-worst 35.11 shots against-per-game since December 31.

Of course, to continue the inverted allusion to the Kings, Calgary has also had the luxury of one of the better offenses in the league during this nine-game run. Scoring 3.22 goals per game since New Year’s Eve, the Flames have wielded the ninth-strongest attack in the NHL.

Many players are performing exceptionally well, but four stick out above the rest. You likely guessed LW Johnny Gaudreau first, and with good reason: his 40 assists on the season are (t)fifth-best in the league, and his 55 points (t)sixth-best. The reigning Lady Byng-winner is continuing his career year by posting solid 2-12-14 totals since New Year’s Eve, but he’s not the only one averaging at least a point per game during this run: LW Matthew Tkachuk (6-4-10), C Sean Monahan (4-6-10) and W Micheal Ferland (4-5-9) join him in that feat, making both of Calgary’s top two lines a very imposing force for even the best defenses.

Tonight is Game 3 in a four-game regular season series between the Flames and Kings, and it’s a matchup Los Angeles is not excited about revisiting. Calgary has won both previous meetings this year, posting a 4-3 overtime victory at Staples Center (Monahan provided the game-winner) on October 11 and defending home ice on January 4 with a 4-3 regulation win (Ferland took First Star honors with a 1-1-2 night).

Since all the Kings need is a win tonight to get back into playoff position, maybe that will be enough motivation for them to rediscover their groove on the offensive end. However, I just don’t see it happening considering the Flames’ stellar play of late. Calgary should come away with two more points tonight.


Though Bridgestone Arena boasts an impressive home-ice advantage for the Nashville Predators, the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to emerge with a 4-3 overtime victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

If any Preds fans made the mistake of going to the restroom or buying concessions during the first period, there’s a chance they missed all four goals that were struck in the frame. W Chris Kunitz scored the opening goal of the contest with an unassisted wrist shot 6:24 into the period, but Nashville had the game all tied up only 1:04 later courtesy of a power play (F Cedric Paquette was in the box for hooking C Kyle Turris) slap shot from Second Star of the Game D Ryan Ellis (D Roman Josi and C Colton Sissons). The Predators then took their first lead of the night at the 9:11 mark thanks to W Viktor Arvidsson‘s (LW Pontus Aberg and D Matt Irwin) wrister, but the score was once again tied only 1:37 later on a F Vladislav Namestnikov (C Steven Stamkos and Kunitz) wrister.

In all, it took only 4:24 for all four tallies to be struck, yet the first period ended just as it began – with both teams tied.

Scoring substantially subsided in the remaining 40 minutes, as only two goals were struck – one in each period. The second period’s goal belonged to D P.K. Subban (D Mattias Ekholm and F Ryan Johansen), a power play clapper struck with only 50 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

The Bolts tempted fate by waiting until the waning minutes of regulation to find their game-tying goal, but Stamkos (D Slater Koekkoek and Kunitz) scored a clapper with 2:12 remaining on the clock to force three-on-three overtime.

Overtime is scheduled for five minutes, but First Star F Yanni Gourde (Namestnikov) didn’t want to wait that long. Only 105 seconds into extra time, he took advantage of Namestnikov’s deke-turned-pass across the crease to bury a wrister into Third Star G Juuse Saros‘ gaping cage.

G Louis Domingue earned the victory after saving 30-of-33 shots faced (.909 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Saros, who saved 27-of-31 (.871).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are rolling this week. The visitors’ four-game winning streak has pulled them within 18 points of the 59-36-14 hosts.

January 20 – Day 105 – Break out your synthesizer music

Every team’s bye has come and gone, so let’s get back to playing some hockey!

There’s four matinees on the schedule today: one pair (Dallas at Buffalo and New Jersey at Philadelphia) drop the puck at 1 p.m., and the other two (the New York Rangers at Colorado and Winnipeg at Calgary [CBC/NHLN/SN]) will follow suit two hours later. The next three tilts (Boston at Montréal [NHLN/SN/TVAS], Toronto at Ottawa [CBC/CITY/TVAS2] and Carolina at Detroit) drop the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed by three more (Pittsburgh at San Jose, Arizona at St. Louis and Florida at Nashville) an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the beginning of the New York Islanders at Chicago, while Tampa Bay at Minnesota waits until the top of the hour to get underway. Finally, Vancouver visits Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

It’s so nice having the whole gang back together again. With so many games, I’m back to having at least four rivalry games that stand out above the rest.

  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Battle of the Turnpikes is never a dull affair, and tensions will only be heightened by the Flyers’ current hot streak.
  • Winnipeg at Calgary: Back in the 1980s, this was one of the best rivalries in the Western Conference. Perhaps more sparks will fly today.
  • Boston at Montréal: For the third time in basically one week, these historic rivals will tangle. This could get nasty.
  • Toronto at Ottawa: The Battle of Ontario rages on between Canada’s capital and its biggest city.

Somehow, the Jets have not been featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series since the holiday break. Let’s resolve that by seeing how they handle a red-hot Calgary club.

 

The streaky 25-16-4 Flames have jumped in and out of playoff position all season, and this seven-game winning streak they were riding before their five-day bye has propelled them all the way into third place in the Pacific Division.

Calgary has been dominant on both ends of the ice during this run. Since New Year’s Eve, the Flames have employed the league’s third-best offense – averaging 3.86 goals per game – and the (t)fourth-best defense – averaging only two goals against per game.

On the defensive end, the answer is simple: 20-13-3 G Mike Smith. The (t)eighth-most winningest goaltender of the season started all but one of the Flames’ past seven games, posting an impressive .941 save percentage and 1.99 GAA. Those numbers are already good in comparison to his season marks of .924 (the [t]eighth-best mark in the league) and 2.46, but what makes his effort in his last six starts really stand out is the fact that his defense is allowing a fifth-worst 35.43 shots against per game during this winning streak. Without Smith playing at the top of his game, this Flames team is a totally different – and far uglier – product.

However, it’s not just Smith that is performing above expectations. With the offense managing only 2.87 goals per game for the entire season, Calgary is producing a full goal better thanks to the positive energy of its goaltender.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, but the Flames’ leader during this surge has been none other than LW Johnny Gaudreau. The very player that has 39 assists ([t]third-most in the league) and 54 points ([t]fourth-most in the league) to his credit has continued his play-making ways to post 2-11-13 totals during this seven-game winning streak, averaging almost two points per game.

Gaudreau makes everyone around him better, which makes sense why linemates W Micheal Ferland (19-10-29 totals) and C Sean Monahan (21-21-42) have both posted four goals since New Year’s Eve. However, the scorer that really takes the cake during this run is sophomore LW Matthew Tkachuk (13-18-31). The 20-year-old has already matched his goal total from his rookie season, and that’s due in large part to his team-leading five tallies in the last seven games.

As Calgary is proving, when both the top lines are firing on all cylinders, this club is a very tough out. After all, the Flames just handled the Lightning in Tampa Bay on January 11, winning 5-1.

Of course, one of the toughest outs all season has been 26-13-7 Winnipeg, the second-best team in the Central Division. Today marks the Jets’ first game after their six-day bye week, and they’ll be looking to get back to their winning ways.

Though Winnipeg was technically riding a two-game losing skid going into the bye, the Jets are actually 6-2-1 in their last nine games. A major reason for that success is Winnipeg’s offense, which has averaged 3.56 goals per game since December 27.

Just like Gaudreau has led his team both during its winning streak and the overall season, the same can be said for F Blake Wheeler. The captain has posted impressive 5-7-12 totals in the last five games to improve his season marks to 14-39-53, the (t)third-most assists and (t)seventh-most points in the NHL.

Making Wheeler’s performance even more impressive, he’s been able to maintain his performance even while C Mark Scheifele (15-23-38 totals) has been on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Of course, what should we expect when the captain has linemates like RW Patrik Laine (20-17-37), who’s filling in for Wheeler as the top-line right wing while he slides into Scheifele’s vacated center position, and LW Kyle Connor (15-13-28)? Both Connor and Laine have provided eight points over the last nine games, and Wheeler has provided six primary assists since December 27.

On the defensive end, no name is greater in Manitoba than G Connor Hellebuyck. He’s posted a 23-6-6 record this season (the third-most wins in the league) that includes three shutouts – the (t)fourth-mots in the NHL. He’s started all but one of the past nine games, posting a .93 save percentage and 2.24 GAA in the process to raise his season numbers to .922 and 2.4 (the ninth-best GAA in the league).

Calgary and Winnipeg have tangled only once before this season, and it was at the Saddledome – the site of today’s matchup – way back on October 7. The Flames performed perfectly to defend home ice, as D T.J. Brodie registered a 2-2-4 night to lead Calgary to a 6-3 victory after it had trailed 3-1 through the first period.

With both teams coming into this game well-rested, it’s hard to tell which will have the upper hand. Since the Flames have home ice, I’m leaning towards Calgary taking this one, but I truly believe its anyone’s guess.


Thanks to First Star of the Game D Aaron Ekblad‘s overtime game-winner, the Florida Panthers beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 at BB&T Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

W Jamie McGinn (F Nick Bjugstad) opened the scoring for the Panthers, burying a backhanded shot only 3:15 into the contest. That 1-0 advantage lasted 11:07 before W David Perron (D Brad Hunt and F Erik Haula) leveled the game with a snap shot, but Second Star C Aleksander Barkov (F Vincent Trocheck) would return the lead to Florida with 4:05 remaining in the frame on a shorthanded backhander.

Vegas would once again tie the game, but C William Karlsson (D Shea Theodore and W Reilly Smith) would not score his tip-in until the 6:54 mark of the second period. That tally proved to be the lone marker of the middle frame, meaning the score read 2-2 through the second intermission.

Staying true to the pattern, the Panthers were next up to tickle the twine. W Evgeni Dadonov (Barkov and D Keith Yandle) was the guilty party, burying a wrist shot 3:35 into the third period. Third Star W James Neal (Haula) waited until 2:09 remained in regulation to score his wrister and level the game at three-all. As neither the Golden Knights nor Panthers could level the game in the remaining time, their final tilt of the regular season advanced into three-on-three overtime.

As stated before, Ekblad (Barkov and F Jonathan Huberdeau) provided the game-winner (his first winner of the season), but it’s arguably more notable that he needed only 40 seconds to score it. The Panthers dominated the overtime frame to out-shoot Vegas 2-0, and that was no more noticeable than when Ekblad fought off D Nate Schmidt in his own defensive zone to eventually set up Huberdeau for a breakaway opportunity. The forward raced into the offensive zone, passing around Smith to Barkov. Barkov’s backhander couldn’t beat G Malcolm Subban, but the puck flew into the air and eventually ended up in the high slot – perfectly centered for Ekblad. The defenseman one-timed a slap shot over Subban’s glove, earning the bonus point for the Panthers.

G James Reimer earned the victory after saving 33-of-36 shots faced (.917 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Subban, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).

There’s no stopping the 59-34-12 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series lately. They’ve won four-straight contests to reclaim a 24-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

Weekly Bumblings for Week 8 with Special Guest Host, Cap’n Cornelius

While Peter is out enjoying a trip to see some hockey games in person, I’m filling in with a recap of the past week’s NHL action.

Player of the Week:  Blake Wheeler

Wheeler has been the definition of streaky, of late, but this week was the good side of the coin.  He broke a four-game pointless drought last Monday against Minnesota, getting one goal and two assists.

After being held without a point against Colorado, he put in another three-point performance (all assists) against Vegas.

But he would save his best for Sunday against the Ottawa Senators.  In a game that saw the Jets beat the Senators 5-0, Wheeler had a point on all but one of the goals, putting up one goal and three assists.  He had a beautiful cross ice pass to set up Mark Scheifele on the first goal of the night and the Jets never looked back tallying three of their goals on the power play.

Wheeler has passed Steven Stamkos to take the league lead in assists with 28 and has helped power the Jets to the top of the Western Conference, something few expected as the season began.

 Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings

Just when it looked like the Kings might be fading after a hot start, they went 4-0 this week and moved six points ahead of the second-place Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division, exactly as the media expected before the season began, right?  The Kings won the first three of those games by three goals each.

After one period of play in their Tuesday game in Detroit, the Kings found themselves down 1-0, but Dustin Brown, who has had a heck of a comeback season, evened it up at 1 and Anze Kopitar then put them ahead 2-1 before the second period was over.  LA would add two more in the third on goals from Adrian Kempe and Kopitar’s second of the night.

Next up for the Kings was another road game against the Caps.  Again, the Kings gave up an early lead on a goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Marian Gaborik would even it up, only for Kuznetsov to get a second goal.  Jonny Brodzinski would tie it again and nine seconds later Jussi Jokinen would put the Kings ahead.  After that, it was all Kings.

The Kings continued their road trip Friday with a visit to play the St. Louis Blues, one of the best teams in the league to this point in the season.  This time the Kings got the early lead on a Tyler Toffoli tally. Kopitar would then bang home a rebound to make it 2-0.  Before it was over, Kempe and Toffoli would add goals and the Kings would win 4-1 despite being outshot 40-28 on a stellar performance by backup goaltender, Darcy Kuemper.

The Kings finished their week and their road trip in Chicago on Sunday.  Through two periods the game was scoreless.  Christian Folin finally put the Kings up with just over 10 minutes left in the game.  Then things got a little weird with just over two minutes left in the game.  First, Brown would get an empty net goal.  Then the Hawks would answer on a goal from Jonathan Toews with 1:46 left to end Quick’s shutout bid.  But Kopitar would put the final nail in the coffin with 51.5 seconds left in the game with a final empty net goal.

As long as the Kings continue to get these types of performances from Brown, Kopitar and solid goaltending, they will have a very good chance to lock down the Pacific Division.

Game of the Week: Edmonton Oilers 7 @ Calgary Flames 5, Saturday, December 2, 2017

One of the first NHL games I can remember watching on TV was Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers against Lanny McDonald’s Flames.  This game was a throwback to that era when goalies for some reason spent much of their time standing up and, consequently, watching pucks go past them.  This is the type of game you hope to see with all of the offensive talent on these two teams and the reason you stay up to watch the late game on Hockey Night in Canada if you live in the Eastern Time Zone.

Connor McDavid skated around the Flames zone early and his persistence led to Jesse Puljujarvi cashing in on the rebound. The Oilers then had what looked like their second goal of the night from Patrick Maroon taken off the board as the goal was kicked.  Eric Gryba then set up Puljujarvi for his second of the night on a redirection of Gryba’s point shot.

Mikael Backlund then forced a turnover on the penalty kill that set up Michael Frolik for a short-handed goal to pull the Flames within one goal.  But the Oilers scored again before the first period ended to go up 3-1.  In the second period, Mark Letestu scored on a short-handed breakaway to expand Edmonton’s lead.  Gryba made another shot from the point which was tipped in, this time by Milan Lucic, to go up 5-1.

As the third period started, Mike Smith was replaced in net by David Rittich.  Unfortunately for the Flames, Rittich bungled a handoff behind the net and the Oilers capitalized to go up 6-1.  One might assume this is where the Flames might call it a night.  But Sam Bennett made a tough angle shot to get the score to 6-2.  Next, Micheal Ferland notched a power play goal to bring the Flames within three goals.  Bennett added a second goal on a 2-on-1 where he took the puck top shelf.  Suddenly the score was 6-4 with a lot of time left in the game.  Johnny Gaudreau then made another tough angled shot off a stretch pass, taking advantage of young Oilers netminder, Laurent Brossoit.  The impossible seemed possible with the score 6-5.  But Brossoit would make a key save on Gaudreau on a two-on-one to prevent the tying goal.

With 1:01 left, the Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tried to center a pass, but it bounced into the net off T.J. Brodie’s stick to salt away the win for Edmonton by a final of 7-5.  While the Flames couldn’t quite finish their comeback, it was the sort of game that reminded you why the Battle of Alberta was once such a big deal.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Trade Rumors seem to be starting earlier than normal and we have already seen one blockbuster and several smaller trades.

This past week saw Anaheim and New Jersey make a significant hockey trade if not a true blockbuster.  The Ducks sent right-handed defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional pick to the Devils in exchange for Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a third round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.  The move was a much-needed improvement on the back end for the Devils, who are one of the surprises of the early season.  As for the Ducks, with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler still out, Henrique can help at center and, when they return, he can provide forward depth.

Who is next?

Well, the name that seemed to be coming up repeatedly during the past week was Pittsburgh’s Ian Cole.  The left-handed defenseman was a healthy scratch and several sources had stated that his relationship with Mike Sullivan had been rocky, leading the Pens to consider a trade.  However, their asking price may be higher than what a willing buyer will give them for Cole—Pittsburgh is still seeking an improvement at center for their third line after Riley Sheahan has failed to impress.  Toronto is a destination that has been mentioned with Tyler Bozak falling out of favor and the Leafs wanting to upgrade their defense, but to this point nothing seems imminent.

The Edmonton Oilers have also been frequently mentioned in trade rumors.  While Ryan Nugent-Hopkins name has probably been mentioned the most, more recently the Oilers have been mentioned in connection with smaller trades that might see them shipping out the likes of Pat Maroon.  It is hard to see how Maroon would produce the sort of return that might get the Oilers back into contention in the Western Conference.

Another name that has been brought up repeatedly is Evander Kane.  Buffalo is one of the few teams clearly out of the hunt at this early date, but it seems most likely they will wait until the deadline to move Kane when they might extract the highest possible return for the wing, who will be a free agent this summer.