Tag Archives: Mika Zibanejad

Pastrnak scores hat trick in Boston’s, 6-3, win over Rangers

David Pastrnak had a five-point night (three goals, two assists) as he led the Boston Bruins to a, 6-3, victory over the New York Rangers on Wednesday at TD Garden.

Brad Marchand had three assists in the effort and Jake DeBrusk, Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy also had goals for Boston in the win.

Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (21-10-4 record, 2.33 goals against average, .923 save percentage in 38 games played), made 20 saves on 23 shots faced for an .870 SV% in the winning effort, while New York’s Henrik Lundqvist (18-21-10, 3.05 GAA, .907 SV% in 50 GP) stopped 26 out of 32 shots faced for an .813 SV% in the loss.

The B’s improved to 47-21-9 (103 points) on the season and remain in command of 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, while the Rangers fell to 29-34-17 (71 points) and stuck in 7th place in the Metropolitan Division.

Marcus Johansson (lung contusion) returned to the second line right wing after missing the last ten games and Torey Krug (concussion) returned to action alongside Brandon Carlo on the second defensive pair after missing the last six games.

Meanwhile, Kevan Miller (upper body) and Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) were ruled out of the action on Wednesday by Bruce Cassidy, but likely to return to full contact practice on Friday.

Cassidy also provided an update on John Moore (upper body) and indicated the defender would be out “week-to-week”, joining Sean Kuraly (fractured right hand) on the longer prognosis for a return to the lineup.

With Johansson and Krug back in the lineup, Karson Kuhlman was the only healthy scratch (and later reassigned to Providence (AHL) during the second intermission).

Connor Clifton shifted down to the third defensive pairing with Steven Kampfer in place of the injured Moore.

The Rangers had slight miscalculation with the number of skaters allowed on the ice at one time while their goaltender was still in the crease.

As a result, Pavel Buchnevich served New York’s bench minor for too many on the ice at 2:29 of the first period.

Boston went on the power play for the first time Wednesday evening and the first time with Krug back in the lineup on the power play unit.

It only took the B’s 19 seconds on the ensuing power play to convert on the scoreboard.

Marchand received a give-and-go from Bergeron and threw the puck over to Pastrnak (34) for the one-timer from one knee and Pastrnak’s first goal of the evening at 2:48 of the first period.

Boston led, 1-0, thanks to Pastrnak’s power play goal, with the assists credited to Marchand (61) and Bergeron (45).

Late in the opening frame, Zdeno Chara sent the puck over the glass and was automatically charged with a delay of game minor infraction at 14:51.

Boston’s penalty killing unit almost killed off Chara’s minor, but was bitten late in New York’s first power play of the night as Mika Zibanejad (29) tied the game, 1-1.

Ryan Strome (14) and Buchnevich (16) tallied the assists on Zibanejad’s first goal of the night at 16:29.

After one period of play, the Bruins and Rangers were tied, 1-1, on the scoreboard, while Boston led in shots on goal (13-10) and blocked shots (5-4).

New York led in takeaways (3-1), giveaways (4-3), hits (12-8) and face-off win percentage (74-26) heading into the dressing room for the first intermission.

Both teams were 1/1 on the power play entering the second period.

Jimmy Vesey tripped Pastrnak to kick things off in the middle frame at 1:46 of the second period. The Bruins did not convert on the resulting power play.

Almost midway through the second period, after Cassidy adjusted his lines, David Krejci worked a backhand pass over to Pastrnak (35) for the one-timer in the low slot and the B’s took the lead once again, 2-1, at 9:15.

Krejci (47) and Krug (43) notched the assists on Pastrnak’s second goal of the night as Pastrnak tied his career-high in goals.

With an assist on the goal, Krug amassed his 284th career point (all with Boston), which is the most by an American-born player in Bruins franchise history.

Moments later, Pastrnak hooked Kevin Shattenkirk at 13:12 and McAvoy followed suit hooking Shattenkirk almost a minute after Pastrnak was released from the penalty box at 15:58.

The Rangers did not capitalize on either power play opportunity.

Late in the period, Lias Andersson delivered a back-check to Bergeron along the boards in the corner of the B’s attacking zone where Bergeron’s career nearly came to an end on Oct. 27, 2007 thanks to then Philadelphia Flyers defender, Randy Jones, delivering a hit from behind that left Bergeron with a broken nose and a major concussion.

History aside, Andersson left his feet as he backed into Bergeron’s face with an elbow and Bergeron did not take exception to the incident.

The Bruins veteran and alternate captain immediately began to rough up Andersson as the two tangled to the ice, leaving Andersson with two roughing penalties and Bergeron with one minor for roughing– yielding a power play for Boston at 18:29.

Though the skater advantage would carryover into third period, Boston did not score on the resulting power play while Andersson was in the box.

After 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 22-16, in shots on goal.

Boston also held the advantage in blocked shots (8-5), while the Rangers maintained the lead in takeaways (5-4), giveaways (9-6), hits (19-16) and face-off win% (57-43).

Each club was 1/3 on the power play entering the third period.

DeBrusk (24) made it a two-goal game for the Bruins at 3:19 of the third period with his one-timer goal on a no-look pass from Pastrnak through the low slot while Lundqvist was behind the play.

Pastrnak (40) and Krejci (48) tabbed the assists on DeBrusk’s goal.

Almost two minutes later, Strome (16) answered back in a hurry.

While Boston’s defense was outnumbered in the slot, Strome banked a shot off of Halak’s pad and through the five-hole to make it a one-goal game once again.

Brett Howden (14) and Brady Skjei (17) had the assists as New York trailed, 3-2, at 5:43 of the third period.

Midway through the final frame of regulation, Strome was penalized for holding at 12:38.

Less than a minute into the power play, Pastrnak (36) completed his 4th career regular season hat trick (and 3rd this season) as he blasted a shot past Lundqvist on the short side over his blocker.

Krug (44) and Marchand (62) had the assists as hats fell upon the ice at TD Garden at 12:52.

With his third goal of the game, Pastrnak established a new career-high in goals with 36 goals in 61 games played this season (he had 35 goals in 82 games last season).

Moments later, New York was called for too many men for the second time of the night at 15:03.

Vinni Lettieri served the bench minor for the Rangers, which quickly became a 5-on-3 power play for Boston after Brendan Smith high-sticked Charlie Coyle at 15:34.

While on the two-skater advantage, Bergeron (32) redirected a shot from Pastrnak past Lundqvist to give the Bruins a three-goal lead at 16:23.

Pastrnak (41) and Marchand (63) collected the assists on Bergeron’s power play goal and the Bruins led, 5-2, as Pastrnak picked up his 5th point of the night.

The 22-year-old winger joined Barry Pederson (3x), Jason Allison (2x) and Bobby Orr (2x) as the only Bruins players with multiple five-point games in their careers (regular season or playoffs) before the age of 23.

McAvoy (7) followed Bergeron’s goal with one of his own on a twine-seeking missile at 17:12 to give Boston a four-goal lead, 6-2.

Chara (9) and Coyle (21) had the assists on McAvoy’s power play goal as the Bruins notched three goals on four shots in the span of their two-skater advantage.

About a minute later, Andersson found himself tangled up again with a Bruins veteran– this time, David Backes— as the two players each received roughing minors.

Backes earned an additional roughing penalty that was served by Johansson at 18:10 as the Rangers went on the power play for the last time on Wednesday.

While on the skater advantage, New York generated a rebound off Halak and Zibanejad (30) buried the puck in the net with Halak in desperation to cut the lead to a deficit of three goals at 19:56.

Vladislav Namestnikov (18) and Tony DeAngelo (25) notched the assists as the Rangers trailed, 6-3.

At the final horn, Boston had beaten New York, 6-3, and finished the night leading in shots on goal (32-23) and hits (27-24).

The Rangers finished Wednesday night’s action leading in giveaways (12-10) and face-off win% (52-48), while both teams had nine blocked shots apiece.

New York went 2/4 on the power play and the Bruins went 4/6 on the skater advantage.

The Bruins host the Florida Panthers on Saturday before traveling to Detroit on Sunday to close out the month of March.

Boston finishes the season swinging through Columbus on April 2nd, making a stop in Minnesota on April 4th and wrapping up the regular season on April 6th at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Halak, Bruins let another one slip away, 4-3, in shootout

The New York Rangers took home the, 4-3, shootout victory on Wednesday night against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden after allowing three unanswered goals in the second period.

New York mounted a comeback in the third period to tie the game, 3-3, then after an entertaining, high-action, three-on-three overtime period was not enough, the Rangers put it away in seven rounds of a shootout.

Alexandar Georgiev (7-9-0 record, 3.24 goals against average, .897 save percentage in 18 games played) made 27 saves on 30 shots faced for a .900 SV% in the shootout win as the Rangers improved to 9-1-0 in their last 10 regular season battles with Boston.

Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (13-9-4, 2.50 GAA, .918 SV% in 28 GP) recorded 36 saves on 39 shots against for a .923 SV% in the shootout loss and fell to 18-8-1 in his career against the Rangers.

Boston fell to 19-2-1 when leading after two periods this season and is now 2-0-1 so far in February.

The B’s fell to 29-17-8 (66 points) on the season, but improved to 3rd place in the Atlantic Division standings, while the Rangers improved to 23-22-8 (54 points), but remain in 7th place in the Metropolitan Division.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, juggled his lines– reinserting Danton Heinen on the fourth line in place of David Backes, but later jumbling every forward line except for the Sean KuralyNoel AcciariChris Wagner trio.

By the end of the night, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Heinen made up the first line with Peter Cehlarik, David Krejci and David Pastrnak filling out the top-six forwards.

Joakim Nordstrom, Trent Frederic and Jake DeBrusk were relegated to fourth line duties with Nordstrom coming up strong in breaking up some crucial plays in overtime.

Cassidy kept his same defensive pairings from Tuesday, with John Moore, Backes and Steven Kampfer serving as the B’s healthy scratches on Wednesday.

Given it was the second night of back-to-back games, Halak got the start in goal over Tuukka Rask, who picked up the, 3-1, win against the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

Bergeron tripped up Rangers forward, Mika Zibanejad at 1:11 of the first period and handed New York their first power play opportunity of the night early in the action.

The Rangers did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage and followed up with a penalty of their own– Marc Staal for cross-checking Kuraly– at 13:39.

Boston did not succeed in their first skater advantage opportunity of the night.

Moments later, Zibanejad (22) let go of a snipe-shot from the point that had eyes and beat Halak to give New York the lead, 1-0.

Mats Zuccarello (21) recorded the only assist on Zibanejad’s goal at 17:45.

Will less than a minute remaining in the opening frame, Kuraly bumped into Boo Nieves while both players weren’t looking at each other and drew the ire of Jimmy Vesey at 19:08.

Vesey was dealt a cross-checking minor against Wagner, while Kuraly received a roughing minor against Nieves. Both penalties were handed out with 51 seconds remaining until the first intermission and would yield 4-on-4 action into the second period.

After one period of play, the Rangers led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 12-9.

Boston maintained the advantage in blocked shots (5-4) and takeaways (6-3), while New York led in giveaways (5-4), hits (15-10) and face-off win percentage (55-46).

Both clubs were 0/1 on the power play entering the 2nd period.

Kevan Miller cross-checked Vladislav Namestnikov at 2:16 of the second period, but the Rangers didn’t convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Cassidy restructured his lines almost midway through the middle frame and it provided instant results.

On a face-off in the offensive zone, Marchand worked the puck back to Matt Grzelcyk for the shot towards the goal that was tipped by Heinen (7) for his first goal in his first game back since being a healthy scratch for the last few games.

Grzelcyk (13) and Marchand (41) tallied the assists on Heinen’s goal at 10:37 of the second period and the game was tied, 1-1.

Just 72 seconds later, Pastrnak (31) redirected a pass from Krejci behind Georgiev to give the Bruins their first lead of the night, 2-1, at 11:49 of the middle frame.

Krejci (31) and Miller (5) were tabbed with the primary and secondary assists, respectively.

Less than 30 seconds later, Bergeron took his second trip to the penalty box– this time for slashing Zuccarello– at 12:12.

Shortly after New York’s power play expired, Tony DeAngelo was guilty of tripping Bergeron at 14:22, resulting in a power play for Boston.

Less than a minute into the skater advantage, Bergeron (19) tipped a shot from Torey Krug past the right leg of the Rangers goaltender as Georgiev attempted to make a butterfly save.

Krug (31) and Marchand (42) had the assists on Bergeron’s power play goal at 15:11 of the second period and the B’s led, 3-1.

Late in the period, Brandon Carlo and Zuccarello got tangled up with each other and received matching roughing minors at 16:34.

Entering the dressing room after 40 minutes of action, Boston led, 3-1, on the scoreboard, but trailed New York, 22-20, in shots on goal. The Bruins did, however, lead in second period shots on goal alone– with a slight advantage– 11-10.

The Bruins led in blocked shots (7-6), while the Rangers led in just about everything else, including takeaways (10-9), giveaways (12-6) and hits (30-16) entering the final frame of regulation.

Both teams went 50-50 in face-off win% after two periods and the Rangers were 0/3 on the power play entering the third period. Boston was 1/2 on the skater advantage.

Kevin Hayes (12) made it a one-goal game at 9:24 of the third period.

Pavel Buchnevich received a pass up the middle and threw a shot on goal that Vesey chased down the rebound for in order to send the puck to Hayes for the goal.

Vesey (14) and Buchnevich (8) had the assists and the Rangers trailed, 3-2.

Charlie McAvoy took a horrendous boarding penalty at 12:05 of the third period. It was horrendous, because it ultimately proved costly.

Filip Chytil (10) pocketed a rebound that Halak failed to control after Buchnevich fired the initial shot.

Buchnevich (9) and DeAngelo (10) had the assists on Chytil’s power play goal for New York at 12:42 and the Rangers tied the game, 3-3.

Through 60 minutes of regulation, both teams were still tied, 3-3, on the scoreboard, despite the Rangers leading in shots on goal (33-29), blocked shots (10-9), giveaways (20-11) and hits (41-25).

Boston, in the meantime, escaped regulation with the lead in takeaways (13-11) and face-off win% (53-47).

The Rangers finished the night 1/4 on the power play, while the Bruins went 1/2 as no penalties were called in the five-minute, three-on-three overtime period.

Cassidy started Pastrnak, Krejci and Krug in overtime for the Bruins as both teams got off to a frantic pace, leading to chance after chance and save after save.

Eventually, both teams attempted their fair share of trick shots and odd banks off of pads, sticks and whatever they could find to try to will the puck into the twine.

But, Georgiev and Halak stood tall, leading to a shootout after five minutes of overtime was not enough.

As an aside, the Rangers had six shots on goal in overtime, compared to Boston’s one shot on net (officially).

New York finished the night leading in shots on goal (39-30), blocked shots (12-10), giveaways (21-11) and hits (42-26), while the Bruins led in face-off win% (55-45).

In the shootout, David Quinn elected to have his home team Rangers shoot first on Halak, but Zuccarello was denied by the outer post.

Cassidy sent out Cehlarik as his first shooter, but Georgiev made the save.

Kevin Shattenkirk was denied by Halak, as Pastrnak failed to muster a shot off his stick in the second round of the shootout.

Zibanejad deked and roofed the puck to give New York the, 1-0, advantage in the third round of the shootout, but was matched by Marchand’s nifty dangle-turned-five hole squib-shot to even it, 1-1, after three rounds.

Hayes was turned aside by Halak and McAvoy had the puck poke checked away by the Rangers netminder in the fourth round.

Chytil rang the post and DeBrusk’s shot was saved by Georgiev in the fifth round.

Vesey nailed the crossbar and Heinen was stopped in the sixth round.

Finally, DeAngelo mustered enough stick work on the puck to get Halak to commit to a sprawling position, as DeAngelo then elevated the puck for what became the game-winning shootout goal in the seventh round after Krejci fired his shot wide.

New York improved to 6-2 in shootouts on the season, while Boston fell to 1-2 past overtime this season.

The Rangers had won, 4-3, officially on the scoreboard after the shootout and stole the extra point past regulation.

Call it Adam McQuaid‘s revenge or whatever, but Wednesday night’s game was the 54th game of the regular season for Boston.

The Bruins venture back home for a three-game homestand at TD Garden starting Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET with a matchup against the Los Angeles Kings.

Boston will honor Bergeron prior to puck drop for participating in his 1,000th career regular season NHL game on Tuesday.

Sunday afternoon, the B’s take on the Colorado Avalanche, then wrap things up at home with a tilt against the Chicago Blackhawks next Tuesday.

Cassidy’s crew swings through the three teams in California, the Vegas Golden Knights and St. Louis Blues on a roadtrip from Feb. 15th through the 23rd.

DTFR Podcast #144- (The Other) Auston City Limits

Auston Matthews signed an extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs. What does this mean for the Leafs? Alex Stalock, Jordan Martinook and Pheonix Copley all signed extensions with their clubs, as Tuukka Rask became the winningest goaltender in Boston Bruins history, Alex Ovechkin became the highest scoring Russian-born NHL player and Paul Maurice reached 1,500 games behind the bench as a head coach.

The DTFR Duo also reviewed all 31 NHL teams as buyers and/or sellers at the 2019 trade deadline.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Lundqvist passes Sawchuk in Rangers, 3-2, win over Bruins

Mika Zibanejad scored two goals (including the game-winner) and Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves in the New York Rangers, 3-2, victory over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Saturday night.

Zibanejad became the second player in Rangers history to score the game-winning goal in three consecutive games, joining Rod Gilbert as the only players to do so in franchise history (Gilbert did so in 1966).

Meanwhile, Lundqvist (15-12-7 record, 3.01 goals against average, .908 save percentage in 35 games played this season) turned aside 27 out of 29 shots faced for a .931 SV% in the win and surpassed Terry Sawchuk for 5th in the NHL’s all-time wins list by a goaltender with his 446th career victory.

Tuukka Rask (14-8-3, 2.43 GAA, .919 SV% in 26 GP) made six saves on seven shots against (.857 SV%) before exiting the game with a concussion after a wicked collision with New York forward, Filip Chytil, as Chytil crashed the net on his game-tying goal in the first period.

Charlie McAvoy bumped into the Rangers forward, sending him into Rask with a “Bobby Orr effect” manner as Chytil tried to hurdle out of the way and instead crashed into Rask’s head with the full-force of his body, knocking off Rask’s mask and leaving the Boston netminder stunned until he was helped off the ice.

Jaroslav Halak (13-9-2, 2.47 GAA, .919 SV% in 26 GP) replaced Rask at 18:32 of the first period and made 11 saves on 13 shots faced for an .846 SV% in the loss for the Bruins.

Boston is now 27-17-5 (59 points) this season and still 3rd in the Atlantic Division, while the Rangers improved to 21-20-7 (49 points) on the season– good enough to remain in 6th place in the Metropolitan Division, but tied in points with the Carolina Hurricanes for 5th (Carolina has one game in-hand).

Bruce Cassidy inserted Noel Acciari back into the lineup, centering the third line with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner as his wings, while also re-inserting Matt Grzelcyk on the third defensive pairing and sitting John Moore.

David Backes was downgraded to the fourth line with Danton Heinen at left win and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson as the center.

Ryan Donato and Moore joined Steven Kampfer as the only healthy scratches. Joakim Nordstrom remained out of the lineup due to his non-displaced fibula fracture.

Heinen (6) put the Bruins up, 1-0, at 17:28 in the first period.

For the second consecutive game at home, Boston blew a 1-0 lead as Chytil (9) scored at 18:32 and Zibanejad (16) tallied his first goal of the night at 5:22 of the second period.

Trailing, 2-1, into the third period, Brad Marchand (19) one-timed a redirection past Lundqvist to tie the game, 2-2, but the Rangers fought back and went ahead by a goal almost midway through the final frame of regulation for the final nail on the coffin on an otherwise disastrous night for the B’s with Rask diagnosed with a concussion.

Zibanejad (17) tallied his second goal of the game while the Rangers were on the power play at 9:05 of the third period on a shot that wobbled past Halak as the Bruins goaltender was being screened by his own defender and a New York forward.

Adam McQuaid was welcomed back to Boston for his first visit as a Ranger with a tribute video in the first period after McQuaid was traded to New York this fall after playing for the Bruins from 2009-18– winning the Stanley Cup in 2011.

He also was the third man in on a fight with Wagner in the third period, though the official penalties read as two minutes for roughing for Wagner and two, two-minute roughing minors for McQuaid, yielding a Boston power play.

The Rangers finished the night with the, 3-2, win, despite being outshot by the Bruins, 29-20.

The B’s also led in giveaways (14-12) and face-off win percentage (64-36), while New York led in blocked shots (12-3) and hits (24-20). The Rangers went 1/3 on the night on the power play and Boston went 0/5 with the extra skater advantage.

With the loss, the Bruins are now 17-5-3 when scoring first this season as they enter their bye week and All-Star break. David Pastrnak is the only representative from Boston traveling to participate in the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend festivities in San Jose.

Boston returns to action on January 29th with a home game against the Winnipeg Jets before closing out the month January hosting the Philadelphia Flyers on the 31st.

DTFR Podcast #125- 2018-19 Metropolitan Division Season Preview

Injuries, Stealth, Miles Wood, Brian Gionta’s retirement, Gritty, Ottawa, Shea Theodore and our 2018-19 Metropolitan Division Season Preview. Bring on the regular season already.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals Logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Jersey Devils Logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a buyers market.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not every player is washed up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 26 – Day 53 – Broadway vs. Hollywood North

After two consecutive days loaded with action, the NHL is forced to pump the brakes this afternoon with only three games on the schedule.

You’ll notice I specifically said “this afternoon.” That’s because all three games are slated as matinees. Nashville at Carolina gets the action started at 1 p.m., followed an hour later by Vancouver at the New York Rangers (SN). Finally, today’s nightcap – which should be done in time for dinner – gets underway at 5 p.m. and features Edmonton at Boston (NHLN/SN/TVAS). All times Eastern.

Since I’m so fascinated by the Canucks, I’ve made the executive decision to head back to the Big Apple for the third time this month.

 

Though this game features two teams currently on the outside of the playoff picture, don’t dismiss it as an uninteresting event.

For starters, the 12-9-2 Rangers are fun to watch for the simple reason that they know what they’re doing with the puck on their stick. Even taking its slow start into account, New York has scored 3.22 goals-per-game this season to rank (t)seventh-best in the NHL.

Currently riding a three-game winning streak, New York’s primary star of late has been F Chris Kreider, who has managed 3-1-4 totals since November 19 to lead the team in that time span. Two of those goals, including one only 52 seconds into the tilt, were scored against G Scott Darling and the Hurricanes in Wednesday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Of course, no matter how well Kreider plays from here on out, the man who really makes the Blueshirts’ offense flow is none other than his center, Mika Zibanejad. The Swede has put up solid 11-11-22 totals so far this season in his 23 games played, which translates into him being directly responsible for 2.5 of the Rangers’ 26 points in the standings according to hockey-reference.

That being said, Zibanejad will have to be at the top of his game this afternoon if the Rangers want to keep up their winning ways, because the 11-9-3 Canucks have been solid on their defensive end. So far this season, Vancouver has allowed only 2.74 goals against-per-game, the eighth-best effort in the NHL.

A major reason for the Canucks’ success has been the quietly strong goaltending tandem of starter 6-8-2 Jacob Markstrom and 5-1-1 Anders Nilsson. Behind a defense that allows 31 shots against-per-game (11th-fewest in the league), they’ve both amassed save percentages over .91 and GAAs under 2.65.

While those numbers aren’t impressive in and of themselves, what I appreciate about the pair is there isn’t a notable difference in the quality of play between them. The Canucks’ defense knows exactly what it will get from either netminder and doesn’t have to do too much to change their game.

The real question today is who will get the start. While I feel pretty confident Markstrom will get the nod, it should be noted that he has a 1-4-0 record in his past five appearances, allowing 16 goals in the process. Meanwhile, Nilsson has not lost a game in regulation since October 19, earning a 4-0-1 record since then.

The longer Nilsson can perform at this level, you have to wonder about his position on Vancouver’s depth chart. Though this is his fifth season in the NHL, he has yet to earn a starting role for any of the five clubs he’s played for. Maybe, just maybe, Head Coach Travis Green has it in him to make the switch today.

If Nilsson does earn the start this afternoon, I’m fully confident that the Canucks can pull off the road victory. Otherwise, New York’s offense might be a little too much for even the incredible RW Brock Boeser to keep up with.


On the back of First Star of the Game RW Phil Kessel‘s four-point night, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though the opening 10 minutes of the first period was a scoreless affair, Pittsburgh took command of the back half of the frame by scoring three unanswered goals. The first, struck with 5:24 remaining before the first intermission, belonged to W Bryan Rust (Third Star G Tristan Jarry), which he earned by burying a shorthanded wrist shot. 3:27 later, Kessel (Second Star C Sidney Crosby and RW Patric Hornqvist) doubled the Penguins’ lead to 2-0 with a power play wrister.

Before the Bolts could escape to their dressing room, Crosby (Kessel and D Justin Schultz) provided what proved to be the Pens’ game-winning goal, and if you blinked at the wrong time, you probably missed it. The play was simple enough: with both F Cedric Paquette and D Anton Stralman in the penalty box for unassociated charges, Kessel fired a wrister towards G Peter Budaj‘s right goal post. In all honesty, his shot wasn’t all that spectacular on its own, as the netminder was more than prepared to make the necessary blocker save. However, Crosby had different intentions: before Budaj could get his pad on the puck, he elevated it over his leg and into the back of the net, setting the score at 3-0 with 34 seconds remaining before intermission.

Pittsburgh’s scoring onslaught continued into the second period when Kessel (C Riley Sheahan) scored a wrister at the 2:22 mark to give the Penguins a 4-0 advantage, but W Ondrej Palat (D Mikhail Sergachev and F Yanni Gourde) pulled the Lightning back within a goal only 4:30 later with a power play tip-in.

The 4-1 score held until the 4:41 mark of the third period, as that’s when Crosby (Kessel and Schultz) scored his second marker of the game, a power play wrister. F Cory Conacher (F Alex Killorn and C Tyler Johnson) buried a wrister with 6:06 remaining in regulation, but it was too little, too late for Tampa to mount anything that looked like a true comeback.

Jarry saved 33-of-35 shots faced (.943 save percentage) to earn his first-ever NHL victory in four tries, while Budaj was forced to take the loss after saving only 29-of-34 (.853).

The Penguins’ home victory snaps a two-game winning streak by visitors in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Hosts now own a 28-19-6 record that is nine points better than the roadies’.

November 22 – Day 50 – Decision day, beta version

The big day is finally here! If stats are right – and, I mean, they usually are – the way the standings read after tonight’s action should include 78 percent of this April’s postseason participants.

Making this evening even more exciting, today is the second day of the 2017-’18 season that features the maximum 15 games. Of course, that means one team has to be left off the schedule, which is why members of the Blues are already consuming their turkey dinners.

As for teams on the clock tonight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with nine of those games (Minnesota at Buffalo, Edmonton at Detroit, Toronto at Florida, Boston at New Jersey, Philadelphia at the New York Islanders, Vancouver at Pittsburgh, Ottawa at Washington [TVAS], the New York Rangers at Carolina and Calgary at Columbus [SN360]) and Chicago at Tampa Bay (NBCSN) half an hour later. Montréal at Nashville (RDS/SN1) drops the puck at 8 p.m., while a pair of contests (Dallas at Colorado and San Jose at Arizona) wait until 9 p.m. before getting underway. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – Vegas at Anaheim and Winnipeg at Los Angeles – close out what I consider the first quarter of the season at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

One of the games I had circled on my calendar today was Minnesota at Buffalo due to the returns of F Tyler Ennis and LW Marcus Foligno to the Queen City after being traded this June. Combined, they played 14 seasons in Buffalo.

But, considering how important tonight’s action could be when the regular season comes to a close, I don’t have it in me to make the trip to Upstate New York. Instead, I’m far more interested in a game featuring two teams that started slow, but now are only a point outside of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

 

This matchup at PNC Arena is always a special one to me, because it was my first – and still only – NHL hockey game.

But I’m not featuring it simply for personal nostalgic reasons. As mentioned before, these teams are fighting for their playoff lives after rebounding from very slow starts to the season.

After beginning their campaign with a 2-6-2 record, the 10-9-2 Rangers have exploded in the month of November (and Halloween) to win seven of their last nine games.

The biggest impetus for this resurgence has been the Rangers’ offense making the decision to dominate games. Not only does possessing the puck give New York a better chance of scoring – which it does with ease, by the way, managing 32 goals since Halloween to rank (t)fifth-best in that time – but it also alleviates the pressure on the defense and 9-6-2 G Henrik Lundqvist, whose .91 save percentage since the start of last season is noticeably lower than his career .92 effort.

Leading that offensive charge in the Big Apple is none other than C Mika Zibanejad, whose 10 points in the last nine games top the clubhouse leader board. With seven of those points being assists, Zibanejad’s chemistry with Pavel Buchnevich is almost palpable, as the sophomore winger has warmly embraced his role as the first line’s goalscorer.

In 41 games last season, Buchnevich scored eight goals – a decent enough total for a rookie drafted in the third round. Only 21 games into this campaign, he’s raised his game another level to already match that total, and I’d argue it’s a safe assumption to say he’ll find more than a few more. I could be over-hyping Buchnevich, but I think he has the potential to compete with the likes of Aaron Judge and Kristaps Porzingis for the title of best scorer in town.

Of course, he’ll also need to compete with a member of his own team, at least for the time being. Though W Michael Grabner is only a lowly third-liner, he’s actually been the most potent depth weapon the Blueshirts have at their disposal, as his six goals since Halloween lead the team over that stretch.

There’s just something about playing in New York City that brings out the best in Grabner, because joining the Rangers last year lit a flame that had been dormant since his days with the Islanders. While playing for the blue-and-orange, the Austrian averaged .3 goals-per-game over the course of his five seasons. That attracted the attention of Toronto, who traded for him but received only 18 points out of the transaction in the 2015-’16 season.

Since returning to The Big City, Grabner has gotten right back to his scoring ways much to the Rangers’ delight. He’s scored .37 goals-per-game in a Rangers sweater, giving him decent 9-2-11 totals given his spot on the depth chart.

If any team is capable of slowing down New York, I’d bet on the 9-6-4 Hurricanes, whose 2.68 goals against-per-game is the third-lowest in the Eastern Conference and seventh-best in the entire NHL.

No team in the East plays defense like Carolina. Led by the impressive efforts of F Jeff Skinner (team-best 18 takeaways), D Jaccob Slavin (club-leading 2.5 blocks-per-game) and F Jordan Staal (team-high 2.2 hits-per-game), the Canes allow only 29.2 shots to reach 6-4-4 G Scott Darling, which is important considering the 29-year-old’s .909 season save percentage is nowhere near the .924 he posted last year in Chicago.

Of course, the source of this season’s momentum was the offense’s performance at the end of last season. While averaging 2.95 goals-per-game is not exactly dominant (it’s the [t]15th-worst effort in the league, after all), it seems like the Canes are starting to find momentum a month into the season. Led by F Teuvo Teravainen‘s 5-7-12 effort since November 7, Carolina has managed 25 goals –  the fourth-most in the NHL in that time.

Another weapon the Rangers need to keep an eye on is the wing opposite Teravainen on the top line: Sebastian Aho. After starting the season on a 14-game goalless skid, he’s finally found his touch to score a goal in each of his last four games. With Staal having a scoring renaissance à la his last season in Pittsburgh in 2011-’12 (you know, basically his only good year when he managed 25-25-50 totals), this line has – at least at the moment – few peers (shh, stop talking Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosNikita Kucherov).

When the Hurricanes’ offense is gelling like this, they’re tough to stop – hence the 5-1-1 record over their past seven games. Should they continue that momentum and keep playing the sout defense they have all year, the Canes should be a lock to win tonight’s game and potentially pull into seventh place in the Eastern Conference.


Scoring continues to be a problem for the Montréal Canadiens, as they lost 3-1 to the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

While it’s good to find success on the power play, it must be partially embarrassing to the Habs to know their only goal in this game was struck as the result of a man-advantage. With RW Brett Ritchie serving time in the penalty box for hi-sticking D Joseph Morrow, RW Brendan Gallagher (LW Charles Hudon and Morrow) broke the scoreless draw with 7:56 remaining in the second period.

After that, this game almost entirely belonged to the Stars. That was made no more apparent than in the final 100 seconds before the second intermission when Dallas scored two quick goals to take the lead. The first belonged to First Star F Devin Shore (D John Klingberg and D Esa Lindell) courtesy of a wrist shot struck with 1:38 remaining in the period, followed only 59 seconds later by a wrister from Third Star F Jason Spezza (F Tyler Seguin and Shore) that proved to be the game-winner.

Just like Spezza has been taught his whole life, good things happen when you hang out near the net. Just before Seguin ripped his snap shot from between the left face-off circle and the goal line, Spezza moved from screening G Charlie Lindgren to moving to the top of the crease, pushing Morrow out of position in the process. Though the netminder was able to block Seguin’s shot with his left shoulder, the loose puck was prime for the taking for a relatively uncovered Spezza. Even though Morrow tried to knock him down before he could take possession, Spezza had just enough time to tap the puck to the far post before Lindgren’s left skate sealed the gap.

Both defenses really clamped down in the third period, as a total of only 14 shots were fired between the two teams. As a result, Montréal was unable to find a goal to level the game and Head Coach Claude Julien was forced to pull Lindgren for an extra attacker. With 27 seconds remaining in regulation, Seguin (RW Alexander Radulov) took advantage of the gaping cage to score an insurance empty netter and set the 3-1 final score.

Second Star Ben Bishop earned the victory after saving 29-of-30 shots faced (.967 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lindgren, who saved 26-of-28 (.929 save percentage).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a five-game point streak thanks to Dallas’ victory last night. The win sets the hosts’ record at 27-17-6, which is 11 points better than that of the roadies.

November 17 – Day 45 – It’s the Rick Nash/Torts game

Hopefully you’re not interested in going to a hockey game this evening if you live on the West Coast, because there’s not a single game happening in the NHL west of the Wabash River.

Now that you’re done looking up where the Wabash River is, I regret to inform you tonight’s limited geography in the NHL is largely due to only two games being on schedule. The first is set to start at 7 p.m. and will feature the New York Rangers at Columbus (NHLN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Buffalo at Detroit (SN360) acting as our early nightcap. All times Eastern.

The limited selection of contests also makes it difficult on me to choose today’s DtFR Game of the Day, because I try not to feature teams multiple times in the same week. That being said, the action in Ohio is going to be far more interesting, so it looks like we’ll watch the Rangers for the third time in the past 10 days.

 

I’m the author, so I get to make the rules: We’ve done enough talking about the 9-8-2 Rangers of late, so let’s dig into the 11-7-1 Blue Jackets, a team that hasn’t been featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series since October 25.

Columbus is quietly camping out in third place in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division, trailing both New Jersey and Pittsburgh by only two points.

As you’d expect from a team that features the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, the Jackets play one of the best defenses in the league as measured by goals against-per-game. They’re seventh best in the statistic, to be precise, allowing only 2.63 goals against each time they lace up their skates.

A major part of that is the exemplary play of 10-4-1 G Sergei Bobrovsky. So far in 15 starts, he’s managed a .928 save percentage and 2.16 GAA that is pedestrian by his 2016-’17 standards (.931 and 2.06), but is still good enough to rank him in the top-six in his position among those with at least seven starts.

His GAA in particular is exceptionally outstanding, as it is the second-best among that group of 33 netminders. Of course, that statistic measures not only how well Bobrovsky performs, but also the success of the defense in front of him. That’s where D Jack Johnson and co. come into play, as their efforts have led Columbus to ranking (t)ninth-best in the league in shots against-per-game, allowing only 30.9 each night.

At first it seemed bizarre that Johnson’s 1.9 blocks-per-game was enough to lead the team. After all, D Alec Martinez leads the Los Angeles Kings – another club that doesn’t allow many goals – in that statistic with a whopping 3.5 blocks-per-game (1.2 more than second-best D Derek Forbort) that actually tops the league.

And it’s then that I realized this is the culture Head Coach John Tortorella has built over the course of his first two seasons in Columbus. Johnson’s effort by itself may not be all that impressive, but it’s the fact that he’s not alone in blocking shots that makes this Blue Jackets team successful.

As an entire squad, Columbus has blocked 280 shots to tie for eighth-most in the NHL as Johnson and fellow defensemen Seth Jones, Ryan Murray and David Savard all manage at least 1.6 blocks-per-game. Pairing that effort with the incredible ability of Bobrovsky, it’s impressive that eight teams have been able to outscore the Jackets.

Of course, the offense going up against the Jackets tonight is a good one. Even though they lost their last outing, the Rangers still takes credit for the seventh-best offense in the league, managing 3.28 goals-per-game.

C Mika Zibanejad takes a lot of credit for what New York has been able to achieve on the offensive end, as he leads the team with a point-per-game on 9-10-19 totals, but he’s also gotten a lot of help from new addition D Kevin Shattenkirk and his 5-12-17 campaign.

Of particular note for both players is that they’re playing the Blue Jackets this evening. So far this season, Zibanejad has had two three-point games, and the most recent was November 6’s contest against Columbus. Similarly, Shattenkirk’s last goal was scored in that game against Bobrovsky, so there’s no doubt he’d like to beat the netminder once again.

While their performances this season have been strong, it’s the Blueshirts’ versatility in the offensive zone that has made them so dangerous. A total of eight players, including two defensemen, have earned 10 or more points already this season.

New York also has a special way of capitalizing on opportunities, made evident by its third-best 24.6 power play conversion percentage. Considering the Jackets play only an average penalty kill, stopping 81.3 percent to tie the Rangers for 13th-best, they’d be wise to keep RW Josh Anderson and his 11 penalty minutes under control.

Since this game features a strong New York offense against an equally competitive Columbus defense, this game may very well come down to the activity in 8-5-2 G Henrik Lundqvist‘s zone. Even though the Blueshirts have a miserable 2-4-0 record away from Madison Square Garden, I think their clear edge in special teams will be enough for them to pull off the upset this evening at Nationwide Arena.


Led by First Star of the Game G Roberto Luongo‘s 35-save shutout, the Florida Panthers beat the San Jose Sharks 2-0 at the SAP Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

This game was a very competitive, grind-it-out affair, as the Panthers were able to pull out the win even though they managed to fire only 28 shots on G Martin Jones‘ net.

The first of those to sneak past him was a wrap-around goal from Second Star F Colton Sceviour (F Connor Brickley and F Vincent Trocheck), buried exactly 60 seconds into the second period. After escaping a scrum with F Joe Pavelski and D Joakim Ryan along the rear boards, Sceviour skated behind Jones from his left to right. No defenders moved to cover Sceviour when he reached the goalpost, so he took the opportunity to slide the puck past Jones’ right skate and into the back of the net.

Third Star C Nick Bjugstad (W Jamie McGinn and RW Radim Vrbata) tacked on the highly-desired insurance goal with 7:37 remaining in regulation to set the 2-0 final score.

That shutout was Luongo’s first of the season and the 79th of his career in the regular season or playoffs. Meanwhile, Jones took the loss after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (.929 save percentage).

Florida’s road victory snaps a three-game winning streak by the 23-17-5 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors now trail the hosts by only four points.

November 15 – Day 43 – Heading in opposite directions

We’re halfway through the month of November and only a week away from American Thanksgiving, an important benchmark in the NHL for separating the men from the boys in terms of probable playoff teams. Though it wouldn’t seem it with over four months of play remaining, this is a pivotal week.

Calgary makes its yearly visit to Detroit (SN/TVAS) to get this stretch started at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Chicago (NBCSN). Finally, this evening’s nightcap of Boston at Anaheim (SN360) will drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

All three games should be very competitive, as they are being contested by opponents separated by only two points or less in the league table. That being said, there’s going to be no game more exciting than the one between Original Six clubs taking place in the Windy City.

 

I apparently really like these Central vs. Metropolitan matchups, because this is the fourth game we’ve featured between these two divisions in the last five days.

9-7-2 New York’s wild ride through the month of November continues since the last time it was featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Starting with Halloween night against the Golden Knights, the Rangers have yet to drop a point in any of their past six contests, including tilts against Tampa Bay (you know, the best team in the NHL) and Columbus.

In fact, the Blueshirts have played so well they’ve converted their goal-differential, which was once an ugly -10 on October 23, into a positive number for the first time this season. And with that success, the Rangers find themselves in a tie with their crosstown rivals for eighth-place in the Eastern Conference.

This may seem elementary, but the best way to improve a goal differential – and by default, win – usually involves burying some goals. Offense has been all the rage at Madison Square Garden lately, as the Rangers have scored a league-high 26 goals since October 31, averaging 4.33 per game.

In the league-wide list of top-10 point earners since Halloween, there is only one defenseman listed: Kevin Shattenkirk. Managing 3-5-8 totals in his past six games, the New Rochelle, N.Y. native and first-year Ranger has been a major driver in this surge. Of note, half his points – both for the season and during this run – have come on the power play (an effort the Rangers rank third-best for the season with a 25.8 percent conversion rate), indicating his impact in all situations.

Not to be overshadowed too much, top-line C Mika Zibanejad has also earned eight points over this stretch, but he’s been earning his pay more as a play-maker than a goalscorer, as he’s buried only one goal in this stretch. His favorite player to assist of late has been sophomore W Pavel Buchnevich, who has scored four goals in six games – an effort eclipsed only by fourth-liner W Michael Grabner.

It’s also been a tale of two months for the 8-8-2 Blackhawks, but they’re not exactly as happy with the change as the Blueshirts. Going back to October 24’s 4-2 loss in Vegas, Chicago is an uninspiring 3-6-0. That includes losses to the Avalanche, Canadiens and Flyers, who among them have a combined 24-24-5 record and a -15 goal-differential.

What should be truly concerning for the Blackhawks is their record in meaningful games since April 1 of last season. They went 0-2-2 to finish out the 2016-’17 regular season campaign, followed by an 0-3-1 performance in the playoffs. Add that in with this year’s record and Chicago has gone 8-13-5 in its last 26 competitive matches.

If this is an April Fools’ Day joke, it should go down in the Guinness World Records as the longest and most convoluted, because this Hawks team should be in much better position than 11th in the Western Conference.

After all, the Hawks boast players such as F Patrick Kane (winner of 2016’s Hart, Lindsay and Ross Trophies), D Duncan Keith (a two-time Norris Trophy winner) and C Jonathan Toews (the 2013 Selke Trophy winner), all of whom have thrice hoisted the Stanley Cup.

What’s most frustrating is that the Hawks aren’t really doing anything wrong statistically. Sure, the offense’s 2.94 goals-per-game for the season could technically be better (it’s only [t]13th-best in the league, after all), but allowing a (t)ninth-fewest 2.72 goals against-per-game should be more than enough to keep Chicago competitive.

Of course, season averages have a way of camouflaging recent momentum – or lack thereof. Since October 24, the Blackhawks have scored only 21 goals, tying Detroit for sixth-fewest in that stretch.

Perhaps the most telling point about this squad during this nine-game stretch is that W Alex DeBrincat, a rookie on the third line, is leading the attack with his 5-2-7 totals (6-5-11 for the season), followed close behind by F Artem Anisimov‘s – a player that’s never scored more than 45 points in a season – 5-1-6 effort. Not Kane; not Toews; heck, not even W Brandon Saad.

DeBrincat and Anisimov.

Head Coach Joel Quenneville will never complain about depth scoring. Depth scoring is one of the top things that separates the best teams in this league from pretenders. But you can’t have depth scorers without stars like Kane and Toews doing their jobs as the primary forwards. Until they rediscover their groove, Chicago will continue to struggle.

It’s with that in mind that I’m forced to favor the Rangers in this contest. Though I’m sure G Corey Crawford – who’s having a Vezina-caliber season so far – will prove a solid test against New York’s red-hot offense, I don’t think the Blackhawks’ offense will be able to break through G Henrik Lundqvist and his defense.


A combined seven goals were struck in the second period of yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, but the Nashville Predators weathered the storm to beat the Washington Capitals 6-3 at Bridgestone Arena.

Though the middle act of this three-ring circus was the wildest, the first period still provided some excitement for the home fans when F Craig Smith (First Star of the Game LW Kevin Fiala and D Anthony Bitetto) scored a tip-in with 8:12 remaining before the first intermission. 5:55 later, Third Star C Nick Bonino (D Roman Josi and F Calle Jarnkrok) doubled the Preds’ advantage to 2-0.

It took only 6:28 of play in the second period for the Caps to level the game. Aided by Jarnkrok earning a seat in the penalty box for hooking him 45 seconds earlier, F T.J. Oshie (D John Carlson and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) scored Washington’s first goal of the night at the 4:29 mark with a power play tip-in. 1:59 later, RW Alex Chiasson (W Brett Connolly and Carlson) tied the game at two-all with a slap shot. That tie lasted exactly 17 seconds before F Filip Forsberg buried an unassisted wrist shot to reclaim a lead for Nashville.

Scoring subsided for almost two-and-a-half minutes before Fiala (Second Star D Mattias Ekholm) decided to get things ramped back up with a tip-in that proved to be the game-winner at the 9:04 mark to set the score at 4-2, but his tally was quickly answered by Oshie’s (F Chandler Stephenson and C Nicklas Backstrom) wrister 17 seconds later to pull Washington back within a 4-3 deficit.

Now that we’ve reached the midway point of the frame, let’s take a second and recap: five goals have already been scored in this second period! There’s still 10 more minutes to play! Meanwhile, the last three teams to face Wild G Devan Dubnyk have not been able to score even one goal against him.

Hockey is a fickle game.

Anyways, only two more goals were struck in the period, and they both belonged to the Preds. W Miikka Salomaki (C Colton Sissons and D Matt Irwin) scored his second goal of the season with 5:54 remaining in the frame, and Ekholm (C Kyle Turris and Sissons) finished the period off with a power play clapper two minutes before the second intermission.

It seems both teams used up all their offense in the second period, because not a single goal was struck in the third period. That left G Pekka Rinne with the victory after saving 26-of-29 shots faced (.897 save percentage) and G Braden Holtby, who saved 19-of-25 (.76), with the loss. Holtby was lifted for G Philipp Grubauer at the start of the third period, and he saved all six shots he faced.

Nashville’s victory is the second-straight by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. With their record now improved to 22-16-5, hosts now own a four-point advantage over the roadies.