Tag Archives: Mike Sullivan

Rangers, Vigneault will bounce back

Shortly after their last game of the season on Saturday, the New York Rangers relieved Alain Vigneault of his head coaching duties. In his fifth year with the organization, the Rangers went 34-39-9 (77 points) and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

It was Vigneault’s worst year in the Big Apple. It was a transition year for a team retooling on the fly– trading away Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller and others for centerpieces in Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov (among other assets).

Now it’s time for someone else to take the reins behind the bench of King Henrik’s team.

The clock is ticking in goaltender Henrik Lundqvist‘s quest for his first Stanley Cup. Vigneault was almost the man to do it having brought the Rangers all the way to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final in his first season with New York.

That was the closest Lundqvist has ever been– just three wins away– but the Los Angeles Kings had other plans, given it only took them five games to beat New York for the Los Angeles’s second Stanley Cup championship in three years.

It was the closest the Rangers had come to winning its first Cup since defeating the Vancouver Canucks in 1994.

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The 2014-15 season witnessed a franchise record 113 points in the regular season– good enough to notch the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best record that year. Vigneault’s team knocked out Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games in the First Round in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then New York got behind in the Second Round series with the Washington Capitals, 3-1. Chris Kreider tied Game 5, McDonagh scored the game winner in overtime and the Rangers rallied back in the series to force the first Game 7 at Madison Square Garden since Game 7 in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final against the Canucks.

For the first time in Stanley Cup Playoff history, the Rangers were to battle the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Prince of Wales Trophy in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

Despite a decisive 7-3 victory in Game 6 on the road at Amalie Arena, New York was shutout, 2-0, in Game 7 on home ice.

They wouldn’t get another chance to come that close to the Stanley Cup Final with Vigneault behind the bench.

The 2015-16 Rangers finished third in the Metropolitan Division with 101 points and battled Mike Sullivan‘s Penguins in the First Round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It only took five games for the Rangers to be eliminated in Pittsburgh’s tear through the playoffs to their first Cup since 2009.

In 2016-17, New York regrouped with a 102-point season, but was cursed by the NHL’s current playoff format.

The Rangers were relegated to the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference since three teams finished ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division with at least 108 points or more.

New York had four more points in the regular season than the Ottawa Senators (98 points)– who finished second in the Atlantic Division– and seven more points than the Boston Bruins (95 points, 3rd in the Atlantic) and Toronto Maple Leafs (95 points, second wild card in the Eastern Conference by virtue of having three fewer regulation-plus-overtime wins than Boston).

Vigneault’s team got by Michel Therrien’s Montreal Canadiens in six games of the First Round in what was touted as a rematch of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final.

Then they ran into the streaking Senators who had beaten the Bruins in their own six game series.

Ottawa jumped out to a 2-0 series lead with home ice advantage– despite having the worse of the two teams’s regular season records, but the Rangers seemed unfazed having won Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden 4-1 and 4-1, respectively.

Kyle Turris ended Game 5 almost six-and-a-half minutes into overtime at Canadian Tire Centre and the Rangers found themselves in a 3-2 series hole heading home for Game 6.

Senators captain, Erik Karlsson, had a goal and an assist in Ottawa’s decisive 4-2 victory on road ice and New York hit the golf course after just two rounds of the 2017 postseason.

Time kept ticking. Lundqvist got older.

Management grew more frustrated with the lack of a direction.

Dead last in the Metropolitan Division after all 82 games this season and under .500 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, Vigneault’s dismissal comes as no surprise.

It’s what is expected of any organization that expects to finish first, but fails in a rather large fashion.

Even more so with the league getting younger, skaters getting faster and teams placing more of an emphasis on a constant attack, a constant barrage of offense.

Lias Andersson, Pavel Buchnevich, Spooner, Namestnikov and crew have already showcased a new face of the game in “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, while Vigneault’s systems might have been the only thing slowing them down in the waning days of the season.

It was time to shake things up and head in that new face of the game’s direction.

For the first time since the 1967-68 season only one coach was fired in-season (thanks to Mother Nature having played a part in extending the season by a day due to Boston’s rescheduled matchup from January with the Florida Panthers).

Unfortunately for Vigneault, he was that coach.

New York will be just fine.

They’re stockpiled with prospects and have already integrated youth, skill and speed into their lineup.

Now general manager Jeff Gorton will look to patch the blue line and give Lundqvist a high-caliber backup goaltender to ease the workload of the grueling regular season schedule.

It might not be the quickest turnaround, but it shouldn’t turn out to become an annual groan-fest watching the Blueshirts next season.

For Vigneault, there will be other opportunities.

He led Vancouver to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in the midst of President’s Trophy seasons. He led New York back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in a generation. He’ll be studying hard, but he’s still in demand.

Somewhere there’s a team looking for his veteran coaching presence– like Buffalo– or a team that just missed the cut this season, but is on the brinks of a breakout year that very well might end up with their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1970– like St. Louis.

But alas, this is all merely speculation.

More coaches will be fired for their team’s shortcomings (of their own fault or otherwise) this offseason upon diligent review in front office’s league-wide.

Rangers fans may be glad and it should be a mutual feeling of respect and good luck. They had a good run that lasted a while, but ultimately came up empty handed. Times have changed, players moved on and the game evolved.

Somewhere, Vigneault is that missing piece a franchise is looking for and it won’t just be a team finally getting over that mountain, but a head coach too.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #100– DTFR100 Celebration

In a first, everyone (except for Jordan) appears on the Down the Frozen River Podcast to predict how the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs will go before the 2017-18 NHL regular season even ends, technically speaking. The 100th episode anniversary is informally observed.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Numbers Game: Last Week To Make It Count

Ladies and gentlemen, the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin this month. It’s officially April. Start saving your money for either 1) playoff tickets or 2) tee times– there is no in-between.

Each month has brought a new twist to the latest forecasted standings here on Down the Frozen River and in the spirit of finishing off the season, here’s one final look at how things should pan out with one week remaining in the 2017-18 regular season.

It’s okay to tell Microsoft Excel you disagree, so by all means, take these numbers for what you want. A holistic viewpoint goes a lot further in the world of analytics and a salary cap. At this point, it’s almost worth more to focus on where your team is expected to fall in the standings than how many points they should amass on the season.

And if you’re embracing the tank, you might as well forget about it. The NHL draft lottery usually shakes things up pretty well anyway.

Anyway, here’s how the standings should shake out for all 31 NHL franchises based on their performances through March 31, 2018. Keep in mind my degree is in communication– not math. These are merely educated “I know how to use Excel to make things happen” guesses.

2017-2018 Projected Standings after Five Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Boston Bruins, 117 points (77 GP so far)
  2. x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 111 points (78 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 104 points (78 GP so far)
  4. Florida Panthers, 89 points (77 GP so far)
  5. Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (79 GP so far)
  6. Ottawa Senators, 73 points (78 GP so far)
  7. Montreal Canadiens, 70 points (78 GP so far)
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 64 points (78 GP so far)

Surging through March despite numerous injuries, the Boston Bruins claw their way not only into first place in the Atlantic Division standings (and Eastern Conference standings as a whole), but they land themselves just their third President’s Trophy in franchise history as the league leaders at the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season.

Despite their late season hiccups, the Tampa Bay Lightning settle for 2nd in the Atlantic Division and gear up for what should be a deeper than the First Round playoff appearance.

The Toronto Maple Leafs make some noise with their second consecutive postseason appearance, but are no match for the long journey to the Cup this season (give it one more postseason, Leafs fans. Next year, it’s totally your year).

Somehow the Ottawa Senators string together a few wins to surpass the Montreal Canadiens. Meanwhile the Florida Panthers stumble just as quietly out of playoff contention as they began the season.

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Washington Capitals, 104 points (78 GP so far)
  2. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 99 points (79 GP so far)
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 98 points (79 GP so far)
  4. wc1-New Jersey Devils, 98 points (78 GP so far)
  5. wc2-Philadelphia Flyers, 97 points (78 GP so far)
  6. Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points (79 GP so far)
  7. New York Rangers, 80 points (79 GP so far)
  8. New York Islanders, 78 points (79 GP so far)

The Washington Capitals always seem to find a way to win their division. Especially in what has been Braden Holtby‘s season from hell (have you checked his goals against average and save percentage this season yet? Because if you’re a Caps fan and you haven’t, maybe you shouldn’t for your own good heading into the playoffs).

In what has equally been as difficult a season for Matt Murray in goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions should have home ice for a First Round matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets that shouldn’t go less than seven games. Best friends in real life, Mike Sullivan and John Tortorella, just might put their friendship to the test for a couple of weeks.

Both of the Eastern Conference wild cards are going to Metropolitan Division teams this season as the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers are welcomed back to the postseason with open arms.

If you’re a Carolina Hurricanes fan, next year seems enticing to break the playoff drought– and it’s only fitting, since 2019 will mark 10 years since Carolina last made the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And if you’re John Tavares, maybe you’re looking elsewhere from the abysmal New York Islanders this offseason. Say for instance, the quickly rebuilding New York Rangers?

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. z-Nashville Predators, 114 points (78 GP so far)
  2. x-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points (78 GP so far)
  3. x-Minnesota Wild, 99 points (78 GP so far)
  4. wc1-St. Louis Blues, 98 points (78 GP so far)
  5. Colorado Avalanche, 94 points (78 GP so far)
  6. Dallas Stars, 89 points (79 GP so far)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 78 points (79 GP so far)

The Nashville Predators edge out the Winnipeg Jets in regulation-plus-overtime wins to lay claim to the Western Conference’s best regular season record and home ice through the Western Conference Final. Both teams are set for what should at least be postseason appearances extending into the Second Round.

Since Winnipeg is likely to knock out the Minnesota Wild in a quick series, let’s skip right over them to talk about the St. Louis Blues for a minute.

They thought it was a great idea to get rid of Paul Stastny at the trade deadline– giving up his dominance on the faceoff dot– and yet, here they are with a final week of the season push for the playoffs.

Of course, it helps that the Colorado Avalanche lost Semyon Varlamov and Erik Johnson to injuries (with the Johnson injury being the bigger blow to Nathan MacKinnon‘s Hart Trophy worthy season and the rest of the Avs).

At least Tyler Seguin reached the 40-goal mark for the Dallas Stars and the Chicago Blackhawks still have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 113 points (79 GP so far)
  2. x-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (79 GP so far)
  3. x-Los Angeles Kings, 95 points (79 GP so far)
  4. wc2-Anaheim Ducks, 95 points (78 GP so far)
  5. Calgary Flames, 85 points (79 GP so far)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 79 points (79 GP so far)
  7. Vancouver Canucks, 75 points (79 GP so far)
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 72 points (79 GP so far)

An expansion franchise almost clinched the Western Conference regular season title. The Vegas Golden Knights are that good and should make an impressive effort into at least the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s pure insanity, but it’s fun to watch.

If you’re a California resident, there’s good news, all three of your teams will be in the postseason (again). Just switch your hats and/or jerseys to whoever’s playing that night and hope for the best (pick San Jose, they seem like a good dark horse).

The Calgary Flames get the honor of “best of the worst teams in the west”, which I’m sure will tie into the Stampede Festival somehow– if not solely because their owner is looking to stampede out of the city and into a new arena elsewhere.

Poor Connor McDavid, it must be demoralizing to have back-to-back 100-point seasons on a team that has only made the playoffs once in his young career.

And you probably shouldn’t write off the Arizona Coyotes entirely, because they very well could make the Vancouver Canucks look worse and jump from 8th to 7th in the division by season’s end.

If you’re so inclined to see how things were expected to pan out this season back in October, you can do so here.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #98- Do Or Donato, There Is No Try

Nick and Connor rambled about the remaining weeks of the regular season, who will finish last in the NHL, if Boston can catch Tampa, Columbus’s hot streak and more. They also previewed and predicted eight of the NHL’s annual awards. Anze Kopitar has 86 points on the season– get it right, Nick.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

March 10- Day 150- Kane you sweep the Caps out of California?

Saturdays are a great day in the National Hockey League. Then again, Saturdays in March are pretty great in general even though we’re all going to be watching the sport on ice instead of flipping channels with that sport that started with a peach basket (ATLANTA HAD TWO NHL TEAMS!) and that Canadian guy (HOCKEY, EH!!) in Springfield, Massachusetts (AHL HOCKEY!!!).

Please ignore college basketball for one day, okay? Thanks guys.

So yeah, Saturdays are pretty great. Especially when you wake up and the heat is still running– thank you very much, power company.

While our usual DTFR Game of the Day writer, @connorzkeith, is day-to-day and recovering from minor upper body surgery, I’d like to extend a special “thank you” to @jdettro for filling in yesterday.

Thanks to the second nor’easter in about a week, I was unable to fulfill my scheduled duty of doing Connor’s job for a day as was originally planned. Luckily, the power is back on and I’m here to be the Daily Matchup boss for the day.

In the meantime, looks like New England’s going to get ravaged again by another nor’easter on Monday/Tuesday– so if this experience isn’t for you, don’t worry, my power will probably be knocked out again in a couple days.

Anyway, on with the show.

There’s a boatload of games (11, in fact) on the docket today and only one can be our DTFR Game of the Day, but if you’re trying to catch them all…

The puck drops first in the Hub of Hockey at 1 p.m. between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins nationally on NHL Network (NBCS Chicago and NESN in their respective local markets)– with the Vegas Golden Knights paying a visit to the Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning (RDS) and Winnipeg Jets at the Philadelphia Flyers all facing off at the same time.

Two hours later, the Arizona Coyotes visit the Colorado Avalanche at 3 p.m. An hour after that, the St. Louis Blues try to climb back into the playoff picture against the Los Angeles Kings on NHL Network at 4 p.m. Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks square off at four in the afternoon as well.

If you’re content with watching NHL Network all day and sitting through the thousands of J.G Wentworth commercials, then you can treat yourself to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 p.m. on NHL Network in the United States (CBC, Sportsnet & TVAS in Canada). If that’s not your thing, perhaps the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers are more of your cup of tea, because they’re also getting underway at seven o’clock.

The New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators face-off an hour later (8 p.m.) at Bridgestone Arena and the Minnesota Wild wrap up the night in Edmonton against the Oilers at 10 p.m. on CBC and Sportsnet in Canada. All times Eastern.

Here’s a few important ones circled on my calendar:

  • Chicago at Boston: Tommy Wingels will be in the lineup for the first of this home-and-home series weekend matchup against his former team. Also, Boston’s without David Backes, Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy, so there’s that.
  • Montreal at Tampa: If you like good Atlantic Division matchups, this is usually one of them, even if the Canadiens are in a rebuild.
  • Winnipeg at Philadelphia: The Jets are scary good and the Flyers are physically scary, what’s not to love in the City of Brotherly Love?
  • Arizona at Colorado: You would’ve laughed at me if I mentioned this last season, but the Coyotes are ruining their draft lottery chances by winning a lot lately and the Avalanche might be a wild card team this year, so…
  • Washington at San Jose: Both of these teams have 81 points on the season and are 2nd in their respective divisions (Capitals in the Metropolitan, Sharks in the Pacific). Fight it out!
  • Pittsburgh at Toronto: This could be a playoff matchup if the Leafs make it that far. In any case, it’s a Battle of Mikes behind the bench– Mike Sullivan and Mike Babcock.

Plenty of great match-ups to chose from, but only one can be our Game of the Day, after all. As such, let’s turn our attention to SAP Center, shall we?

Washington Capitals Logo                             Unknown

Saturday afternoon is a great time to tune into the Washington Capitals at San Jose Sharks. Other than the whole “2nd place theme” going on, the Capitals are riding into San Jose on a two-game losing streak (a 4-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday and a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday).

Washington is being outscored by the entire State of California (so far), 7-1. Braden Holtby‘s had no brakes going down the tracks all season and it doesn’t appear his defense is doing anything to help.

After allowing three goals in a little over 25 minutes against the Ducks, Holtby was pulled. Philipp Grubauer then only faced eight shots on goal, turning all of them aside.

An empty net goal was enough to seal their fate at Honda Center, however.

Head coach, Barry Trotz, gave Grubauer a nod of confidence in giving him the start against the re-surging Kings, but the night did not go as planned for the team with the league’s leader in goals– Alex Ovechkin with 40 goals thus far– being held off the scoresheet in both SoCal games.

Grubauer allowed two goals before the Capitals gave up yet another empty netter in the closing minutes at Staples Center.

For all intents and purposes, Ovechkin is two-goals shy of 600 career NHL goals.

If he’s able to get at least two pucks past a San Jose goaltender on Saturday, he’ll become just the 20th player in NHL history to score 600 goals.

Looking to recapture the momentum of their 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium last week, Washington could use two points in regulation against the on-again-off-again Sharks.

San Jose, in the meantime, enters Saturday night 2-1-0 in the month of March, outscoring opponents 11-6. A 7-2 victory at home against the Chicago Blackhawks yielded itself to an embarrassing 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Shark Tank.

Thankfully a 2-0 win on Thursday night lifted the spirits of Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Martin Jones and crew against St. Louis.

Trade deadline acquisition, Evander Kane, has fit in pretty well with the Northern California based franchise, amassing 1-4–5 totals in four games since trading in his Buffalo Sabres gear for a new teal-colored sweater.

In fact, Kane has fit in so well, he’s rejuvenated the Pavelski line with Joonas Donskoi on the other wing.

Jones will likely see his seventh straight start, but that’s no worry for the plus-14 goal differential Sharks now that Burns has begun to find his rhythm alongside… Joakim Ryan!?!

The 24-year-old rookie defenseman has three goals and nine assists (12 points) in 58 games played and is a plus-10 this season.

Veterans Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun are carrying their weight on the second defensive pair. Each of them are plus-7’s so far. Meanwhile Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo (try saying that ten times fast) solidfy the bottom pairing on the blue line.

Whereas the Capitals added Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek to their defensive zone leading up to the deadline, San Jose went after more of a spark.

It’s kind of hard to imagine where Joe Thornton will return to the lineup the way San Jose has been playing as of late. Then again, maybe that’s not a bad thing for someone who’s 38-years-old and still looking for his first Stanley Cup.

As long as the top-six forwards (Kane, Pavelski, Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture and Mikkel Boedker) don’t disappear when it counts, the Sharks should be poised to be a nice dark horse as long as they reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs down the stretch.

Despite being cash-strapped and weaker on defense, the Washington Capitals are putting together a solid season. Trotz’s team is offensively driven. It might just be enough to finally match the Pittsburgh Penguins style of constant offense in the Second Round of the postseason– but I’d hate to get ahead of ourselves.

Washington’s led the Metropolitan Division and they’re looking to regain the division lead with a win in any fashion on Saturday and a Penguins loss in regulation to Toronto later that evening.

In any case, whoever ends up in the Stanley Cup Final will have to go through a rigorous Western Conference team.

For San Jose, it could be three long rounds. For the Capitals, it might be any of the California teams they’ve played this week and, well, they’ve got some work to do.

Regardless, the Sharks want to stay hot and remain competitive– firmly in the grasp of a Pacific Division playoff spot instead of a wild card manifestation. Look for San Jose to take a bite out of Washington’s goaltending with their recent scoring prowess and 3-1-0 record through four games of their six game home stand.


The Dallas Stars took yesterday’s DTFR Game of the Day against the Anaheim Ducks by a score of 2-1 at American Airlines Center.

Ryan Getzlaf (10) kicked off the game’s scoring, giving Anaheim a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission. Corey Perry (27) and Rickard Rakell (29) notched the assists on Getzlaf’s goal at 17:16 of the 1st period.

Devin Shore (9) tied the game, 1-1, at 8:50 of the 3rd period on a power play goal. Tyler Seguin (27) and Jamie Benn (37) recorded the assists on Shore’s goal.

Benn (23) scored the game winning goal on another Stars power play at 14:50. Dallas blueliner, John Klingberg (50) reached the 50-assist plateau and Seguin (28) picked up his 2nd point of the night on Benn’s game-winner with a little more than five minutes remaining in regulation.

Dallas netminder, Kari Lehtonen, picked up the win with 26 saves on 27 shots against for a .963 save percentage. Ducks goaltender, Ryan Miller, allowed two goals on 37 shots for a .946 SV% in the loss.

The Stars were 2/2 on the power play, while Anaheim failed to convert on three man-advantages. Dallas travels to Pittsburgh for a Sunday night matchup at PPG Paints Arena on NBCSN (7:30 p.m. ET).

Anaheim is off until Monday night on home ice at Honda Center against the St. Louis Blues (10 p.m. ET).

March 5 – Day 145 – Tastes like chicken

It’s another fun-filled Monday in the NHL, as five games are on tonight’s schedule.

The action finds its start at 7 p.m. with Calgary at Pittsburgh (SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Toronto at Buffalo (NBCSN). Next up is Ottawa at Dallas (RDS) at 8:30 p.m., with Arizona at Edmonton waiting 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Finally, the New York Islanders visit Vancouver at 10 p.m. as tonight’s nightcap. All times Eastern.

I’d marked the Battle of the QEW on my calendar before the season started, but the Sabres have been just too disappointing this season to merit our honing in on that game.

Instead, let’s see what the Flames have to offer against the two-time defending champions.

 

After enjoying the thrills of an eight-game point streak and six-game winning streak, the last four tilts have not been a pleasurable experience for the 37-25-4 Penguins. Since February 24, Pittsburgh has earned a lowly 1-3-0 record, with that lone victory being a 3-2 overtime win over the defensively-inept Islanders on Saturday.

For those wondering, the problem has not been the Penguins’ offense. In fact, even through three loss, Pittsburgh’s offense is still managing 3.5 goals per game since February 24, the (t)11th-best attack in the NHL in that time. F Evgeni Malkin (2-4-6 totals in his last four games) and RW Phil Kessel (1-4-5 in that same time) have both been brilliant to average more than a point per game in spite of the team’s struggles, and their efforts are made only more impressive by the fact that they rarely share time on the same line except on the power play.

Instead, the issues have clearly been in net, which makes sense considering 23-13-2 G Matt Murray sustained a concussion (yes, Pens fans: another one) after taking a puck to the head in practice on February 26.

Assuming Murray will be unable to play today, a flip of a coin might be the best way to figure out if 3-4-0 G Casey DeSmith or 11-5-2 G Tristan Jarry is going to earn the nod tonight considering they’ve effectively alternated during this run (if that trend continues, expect DeSmith tonight since Jarry was in net for the overtime win on Saturday).

Statistically speaking, neither has given Head Coach Mike Sullivan a compelling reason to start either lately, as DeSmith has posted an .86 save percentage and 5.65 GAA in his last two starts while Jarry has only an .855 save percentage and 4.5 GAA to his credit in his last three appearances. Comparing them for the entire season, both have posted identical .913 save percentages, but Jarry’s 2.68 GAA is slightly better than DeSmith’s 2.73.

Fortunately for the Pens, 32-25-9 Calgary does not come to the Steel City in their top form – largely facing the same troubles currently harassing the Penguins: an injury to its starting goaltender.

23-16-6 G Mike Smith has been on injured reserve with a strained groin since February 11, which has forced 2-2-0 G Jon Gillies and 6-5-3 G David Rittich into the spotlight. Given the circumstances, they’ve performed moderately well, as Gillies has managed a .906 save percentage and 2.61 GAA in his two most recent starts, while Rittich posted an .879 save percentage and 4.13 GAA last Wednesday in Colorado.

With both netminders having fewer than 15 NHL starts under their belts, it makes sense that the skaters are doing all they can to lighten the workload for their patchwork goaltending tandem that has been put in a tough spot. Their defensive work has certainly paid off in these last few games, as D Travis Hamonic (1.7 blocks per game since February 27) and RW Garnet Hathaway (2.3 hits per game in the last three games) have led the way to allowing an average of only 29 shots against per game since February 27, the sixth-fewest in the league.

However, that attention to detail in the defensive end has come at a major cost to Calgary’s attack. In their past three games, the Flames have scored only three goals, or one per game – the fewest in the league since February 27 and an average that requires a shutout effort from those inexperienced goaltenders. Currently riding a four-game pointless skid due to focusing on defense while playing on the opposite wing, W Johnny Gaudreau‘s scoring touch is desperately needed for this Flames team.

Calgary has already hosted its half of the annual home-and-home series between these inter-conference foes. The score read 1-1 at the end of regulation, but overtime lasted only 2:19 before D Mark Giordano scored the overtime game-winner for the Flames to earn them the bonus point.

It goes without saying that both teams can benefit from earning two points this evening. Should the Pens add another win to their record, they’d advance into second place in the Metropolitan Division – one point ahead of Philadelphia (Philly will have a game in hand) and one point behind Washington (the Caps will have two games in hand).

It seems all but certain that Pittsburgh will be in the Stanley Cup playoffs this April, but the same cannot be said of the Flames, who currently trail second wild card Los Angeles by four points. With Colorado and St. Louis both ahead of Calgary in the standings, it will be a heated race between those four teams for the West’s eighth seed, meaning the Flames can’t afford to drop many points in their remaining 16 fixtures if they want to play more than 82 games this season.

In games like this one, its going to boil down to which goaltender can make the most saves, as I’m fully confident in both offenses when they put the pedal to the medal. If that proves to be the case, this game favors the Penguins heavily, as it will be tough for either Gillies or Rittich to completely shutdown Pittsburgh’s mighty attack.


The Florida Panthers’ winning ways continued in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 at BB&T Center.

It took only 2:41 of action for the Panthers to find their first goal, and it was largely due to D Radko Gudas‘ interference penalty against W Jamie McGinn. With the Flyer in the penalty box, Second Star of the Game C Aleksander Barkov (D Keith Yandle and First Star G Roberto Luongo) scored a power play backhanded shot to set the score at 1-0. 12:08 later, Third Star W Evgeni Dadonov (F Nick Bjugstad and D Aaron Ekblad) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal.

The play started in Florida’s defensive zone with Ekblad and F Travis Konecny scrapping for possession in the corner to Luongo’s left. While they were preoccupied with roughing each other up, Bjugstad sneaked into the play to take control of the puck and sling it towards center ice for Dadonov, who had read the play perfectly to set up a one-on-one situation with G Petr Mrazek. Once he was inside the left face-off circle, Dadonov used a snap shot to beat the goaltender glove side.

Only one tally was registered in the second period, and it belonged to Florida to set the score at 3-0. With 1:54 remaining before the second intermission, Dadonov (Barkov and D Alexander Petrovic) scored his second goal of the game with a snapper.

F Jonathan Huberdeau (McGinn and D Mark Pysyk) provided the Panthers their final goal of the game with a backhander at the 2:47 mark of the third period. Though Konecny (D Brandon Manning and F Claude Giroux) was able to help Philadelphia escape being shutout by scoring a wrist shot with 3:21 remaining in regulation, his marker did little to influence the final result of this afternoon tilt.

Luongo earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).

Not only are the Panthers rolling, but so too are the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Yesterday’s victory was the fifth-straight by the 79-47-19 hosts, who now own a dominant 28-point lead over the roadies.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #95- Call The Ex-Sturm-inator

Nick and Connor recap the 2018 trade deadline, 2018 Winter Games and 2018 overall even though it’s only March. Marco Sturm is worthy of an NHL coaching job, but will anyone take the risk? Hint: They should. Also, more thoughts on the Erik Karlsson saga.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Numbers Game: March to the Playoffs

First of all, it’s March, which means it’s officially the best month of the year, but not for any of the reasons you’re thinking. College basketball can stay on the back burner– especially when there’s playoff hockey to look forward to next month when, oh yeah, that NCAA championship game actually occurs.

Save your “March is the worst month of the year” takes for the next person in line, thanks.

Anyway, at this point in the season it’s worth noting that the trade deadline has come and passed. While acquisitions like Rick Nash for the Boston Bruins, Derick Brassard for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tomas Tatar for the Vegas Golden Knights and Paul Stastny for the Winnipeg Jets will certainly impact their teams, the following projected standings are merely an educated guess at how things should pan out.

There are simply too many variables that Microsoft Excel cannot account for, namely injuries, roster changes and well, whether or not a player woke up on the right side of the bed that day.

To that end, some projected points totals had a little Gut Feeling 2.0 added to them. In other words, the Toronto Maple Leafs are not going to end up with 130 or 131 points like a couple of models showed– there’s simply not enough games remaining for them to almost match an NHL record.

Therefore, more realistic measures have been added for some teams to account for “reality”.

Some teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, for instance, had a little win-percentage on the season taken into account for their 19 remaining games on the season– and then reflected in the total number of points they should earn.

As with all stats and analytics, try not to get too bogged down on one or another. A holistic viewpoint goes much further than trying to survive on heart and grit alone.

Especially in today’s NHL, where speed and skill are more present than ever before.

With that, here’s a glance at how the standings should shake out for all 31 NHL clubs based on their performances through February 28, 2018.

As always, my degree is in communication, not math. In other words, throw everything mentioned above out the window, strap yourself in and good luck surviving the adrenaline rush that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Oh, your team’s not going to make it, you say?

My condolences, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes fans. Next year is totally your year.

Maybe.

2017-2018 Projected Standings after Five Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Tampa Bay Lightning, 106 points (64 GP so far)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 105 points (61 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points (66 GP so far)
  4. Montreal Canadiens, 78 points (63 GP so far)
  5. Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (63 GP so far)
  6. Florida Panthers, 75 points (60 GP so far)
  7. Buffalo Sabres, 68 points (64 GP so far)
  8. Ottawa Senators, 65 points (62 GP so far)

The Atlantic Division was already determined in December. Nothing should surprise anyone, except for how close it should be coming down the wire for first place in the division.

It might seem crazy considering the Tampa Bay Lightning really bolstered their defense with Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline, but Boston and Toronto have as much speed and offense to remain in the hunt for that little “Y” next to their names down the stretch. Plus it helps that the Lightning, Bruins and Maple Leafs aren’t playing each other every night, so that has to factor in their somehow.

Between 4th and 6th in the division it’s anyone’s game. The Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers are all teetering on the edge of either a rebuild or just a few steps away from a re-tool-on-the-fly.

Neither of them are inherently “ideal”, but they can’t do anything else to compete with Tampa, Boston and Toronto.

It’s worth noting that the Buffalo Sabres will barely climb out of the basement of the division this year. And that’s without Jack Eichel (fractured ankle).

Simply put, the Ottawa Senators are beyond bad.

Metropolitan Division

  1. z-Pittsburgh Penguins, 108 points (64 GP so far)
  2. x-Philadelphia Flyers, 99 points (63 GP so far)
  3. x-New Jersey Devils, 97 points (63 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points (63 GP so far)
  5. wc2-Washington Capitals, 94 points (64 GP so far)
  6. New York Islanders, 87 points (64 GP so far)
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 75 points (63 GP so far)
  8. New York Rangers, 72 points (64 GP so far)

After much turbulence leading up to this month in the Metropolitan Division, it seems by the end of the month, we’ll have a clear picture of who’s really a contender, who’s making a Second Round exit and who’s just pretending to be on the ice when they’re actually sending out some pretty high-tech holograms on the ice.

In other words, the Pittsburgh Penguins are suited for a three-peat as long as Matt Murray can stay healthy. Even still, they’re beginning to peak at the right time as they have done every year with Mike Sullivan behind the bench.

But who’s that neighbor of theirs in Pennsylvania? They might have to re-grease some poles in Philadelphia, because the Flyers are surging right now and it should carry them into decent playoff position.

The New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals all remain competitive, but sadly fall victim to First or Second Round exits simply because have you seen the rest of the Eastern Conference? Yeah, I thought so too.

One of these years if the Carolina Hurricanes look to actually spend a little more money they’ll be able to take their money-puck approach back to the postseason for the first time since 2009, but this year is not that year. They didn’t do anything at the deadline and it shows.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. p-Winnipeg Jets, 116 points (63 GP so far)
  2. x-Minnesota Wild, 104 points (63 GP so far)
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 100 points (62 GP so far)
  4. wc2-St. Louis Blues, 92 points (65 GP so far)
  5. Dallas Stars, 92 points (63 GP so far)
  6. Colorado Avalanche, 85 points (63 GP so far)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 70 points (63 GP so far)

Your President’s Trophy winners, ladies and gentlemen, entering March 2018 should be the Winnipeg Jets.

That’s right, the team in Winnipeg, Manitoba with a seating capacity of a little more than 15,000 fans at Bell MTS Place. That one. Winnipeg. The Western Conference’s Carolina Hurricanes. They aren’t big spenders, yet they bought exactly what they needed at the trade deadline in Paul Stastny.

Meanwhile, apparently Eric Staal‘s first hat trick in a little over five years is enough to catapult the Minnesota Wild on a surprising run down the stretch. Though they are currently 3rd in the Central Division, Minnesota is coming alive.

It’s hard to knock the Nashville Predators off of their game– especially while they’re in command of the division– but something just doesn’t go exactly as planned this month for the Preds.

They’ll still beat Minnesota in the First Round and set themselves up for quite a matchup with Winnipeg in the Second Round though. Obviously the winner of that is going to battle the Vegas Golden Knights for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

A warning to the St. Louis Blues– keep up this downward trend and the Dallas Stars will replace you in the wild card.

Whatever upper body injury is plaguing Corey Crawford is only making things worse for the Chicago Blackhawks.

In some models, they should be a lot better than they are right now, but that’s due to their impressive streak of success from 2010-17. Now, in 2018, the wheels fell off and the floor fell out from under them– on top of the Crawford injury.

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 113 points (63 GP so far)
  2. x-Los Angeles Kings, 105 points (64 GP so far)
  3. x-Anaheim Ducks, 100 points (64 GP so far)
  4. wc1-San Jose Sharks, 94 points (64 GP so far)
  5. Calgary Flames, 78 points (65 GP so far)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 78 points (63 GP so far)
  7. Vancouver Canucks, 77 points (64 GP so far)
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 63 points (62 GP so far)

The Vegas Golden Knights, in their inaugural season, come up three points shy of winning the 2017-18 President’s Trophy as the team with the best regular season record. The Vegas Golden Knights.

Despite the push from all of the California clubs, this is Vegas’s division title to lose. Not just in the regular season, but in the playoffs too.

No amount of onslaught from the Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks should be able to stand a seven-game series with Ryan Reaves and the rest of the Golden Knights. Having said that though, it’s a shame the San Jose Sharks will likely pair-up with the Jets, because we’ll never get to know if Vegas could single handedly defeat all three California teams en route to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

That’s assuming a lot, but let’s roll with it.

All season long the Calgary Flames have been a lovable underdog. Unfortunately, their time is cut short. All good things must come to an end and again, if you’re going to do nothing at the deadline as a fringe competitor, you can’t expect to improve.

At least you shouldn’t, otherwise well, you know the definition of insanity (doing the same thing and expecting a different result).

Better luck next year, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes.

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)

February 6 – Day 118 – Episode II: Return of the Flower Power

I may not get to watch hockey on Tuesday nights, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Fortunately for you, there’s a whopping 11 games on the schedule to choose from, so surely one game strikes your fancy.

Like most nights, the action starts at 7 p.m. with four puck drops (Anaheim at Buffalo, Vegas at Pittsburgh [SN1/TVAS], Philadelphia at Carolina and Washington at Columbus), followed half an hour later by three more (New Jersey at Ottawa [RDS], Boston at Detroit and Vancouver at Florida). The next two games (Minnesota at St. Louis [NBCSN] and Arizona at Winnipeg) get started at 8 p.m., with Calgary at Chicago waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, San Jose at Colorado closes out the night with their tilt at 9 p.m. All times Eastern.

What a slate of games! There’s potential for the playoff picture to look wildly different Wednesday morning. As for matchups that have caught my eye…

  • Vegas at Pittsburgh: Welcome home Flower. Welcome home.
  • Boston at Detroit: Where are the Original Six fans at?
  • Minnesota at St. Louis: D Nate Prosser played exactly one game this season with the Blues before being placed on waivers. Was there any doubt the Wild would pick him up?

Of course, that list ignores important fixtures like Philly at Carolina, Washington at Columbus, Calgary at Chicago and San Jose at Colorado – all of which should be competitive matchups between teams either currently qualifying for the playoffs or trying to climb the table.

In an effort to appease both lists, I think its clear we have to make the trip to Pittsburgh to take in G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s return.

 

Fleury’s tenure in Pittsburgh began when he was selected with the first-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft from the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

Though he was sent back to Nova Scotia after playing 21 games with the Pens to complete his final year of junior eligibility, Fleury had certainly impressed with his .896 save percentage and 3.64 GAA. He made 46 saves in his NHL debut and posted a shutout in only his sixth professional game.

Pittsburgh knew it had made a good choice in trading RW Mikael Samuelsson to Florida for the pick. I mean, Samuelsson only won one Stanley Cup in his career (ironically, against the Penguins in 2008). Fleury has won three.

It seems like basic math to me.

After joining Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the 2004 Calder Cup playoffs, he remained in the AHL for the entire 2004-’05 season before laying claim to Pittsburgh’s starting position a year later.

2005-’06 wasn’t exactly a stellar year for the Penguins – in fact, quite the opposite. Pittsburgh finished dead last in the Eastern Conference and only a point ahead of St. Louis – the worst team in the league. However, Fleury showed improvement from his first stint in the world’s top hockey league, posting a .898 save percentage and 3.25 GAA.

It didn’t take long for the Pens to assume the form we’ve come to expect. Behind a season .906 save percentage and 2.83 GAA, Fleury – who posted a 40-16-9 record – qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time of his career in 2007. The postseason ended almost as quickly as it began (Ottawa needed only five games to advance to the Eastern Semifinals), but Fleury and the Pens were establishing themselves among the league’s best teams.

That climb up the league table was officially realized during the 2007-’08 season when Fleury, with a career-best .921 save percentage and 2.33 GAA, led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992. Though Detroit was able to win its 11th Stanley Cup in franchise history, Fleury performed marvelously by posting a .933 save percentage and 1.97 GAA in the playoffs – by far the best marks of his postseason career.

Of course, the Penguins were able to exact revenge against the Red Wings only a year later. Perhaps the most memorable play from that June 12, 2009 Game 7 in Detroit occurred with two seconds remaining on the clock. D Nicklas Lidstrom, himself a four-time Stanley Cup champion and winner of the 2002 Conn Smythe Trophy, had the opportunity to beat Fleury near side to tie the game at 2-2 and force a Cup-clinching sudden-death overtime, but Flower flopped in that direction just in time for his 23rd save of the game, securing the Penguins’ third championship and Pittsburgh’s second of the year (the Steelers had won their sixth Super Bowl four months earlier on February 1).

From 2009-’10 to 2014-’15, the Penguins toiled away to limited playoff success considering the talent on their roster. Though some would rightly say Fleury was part of the problem during those seasons, that’s not to say he didn’t have incredible performances. In fact, he managed a whopping 10 shutouts during the 2014-’15 season, a career-high that led the league that season.

I’d argue all those shutouts were a major reason for the resurgence of Flower Power in Pittsburgh in the 2015′-16 season. That year, Fleury matched his current career-high .921 save percentage and set a new career-best 2.29 GAA in the regular season.

The emphasis on regular season is important here, because that’s when Fleury’s tenure in Pittsburgh began to take a turn. Just as we began with Fleury as a rookie netminder, the emergence of rookie G Matthew Murray during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs is a major reason the Sorel, Quebec native now calls the desert home.

With Fleury sidelined with a concussion suffered during the regular season, Murray exploded onto the scene to lead the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In Game 4, Fleury was able to take the ice for the third period with Pittsburgh trailing 4-0. The goalie swap rejuvenated the skaters, inspiring a comeback that fell one goal short of forcing overtime.

Head Coach Mike Sullivan saw this as an opportunity to return the crease to his starter as well as continue the positive energy from Game 4. Instead, Fleury laid an egg in Game 5, allowing three goals in regulation and the game-winner only 53 seconds into overtime.

With the Pens trailing the series 3-2, Sullivan went back to Murray in Game 6. The renewed nod of confidence is all the youngster needed, as he led Pittsburgh past the Lightning in Games 6 and 7 against the Lightning as well as a Stanley Cup Finals victory against the San Jose Sharks.

With Murray starting 47 games in the 2016-’17 to Fleury’s 34, the Flower Power Era in Pittsburgh had effectively come to a close – but not without one last ride.

Just like a Fleury injury opened the door for Murray to earn playoff starts, the youngster suffered a non-contact ailment before Game 1 of the First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Enter Fleury, who needed only five games to knock off the Jackets, including a dominant 49-save performance in the series clincher.

Fleury would continue to be a stellar force in the Eastern Semifinals against the rival Washington Capitals, leading the Pens to a seven-game victory. The most memorable occurrence of the series involving Fleury wasn’t exactly his save against W Alex Ovechkin in Game 7, but his celebration afterwards.

He’s… uh… playing an electric guitar, kids.

However, Fleury’s Penguins career would last only three more games. He was pulled in Game 3 of the Eastern Finals against the Ottawa Senators after allowing four first period goals in 12:52 of action. Murray returned to the crease to lead Pittsburgh to a second-consecutive Stanley Cup Finals after a double-overtime victory in Game 7, as well as another championship following a six-game series against the Nashville Predators.

But this most recent success is all Vegas General Manager George McPhee needed to convince him who his first goaltender in franchise history was going to be. With Pittsburgh wanting to officially deed the crease to Murray, General Manager Jim Rutherford left Fleury exposed to the Expansion Draft and shipped his second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft to the Golden Knights to ensure Fleury would be selected.

With the exception of a concussion that kept the goaltender off the ice for two months, just about everything has gone 35-13-4 Vegas and Fleury’s way in the Knights’ inaugural season. Should he continue playing like he is, Fleury is in line for the best save percentage of his career (currently a .939) as well as an unbelievable 1.84 GAA – also a potential career-best mark.

Over their past four games, the Golden Knights gave earned a 3-1-0 record. 15-4-2 Fleury has been in net for all three victories and played well, posting a .917 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.

However, I’ve been most impressed with the effort of the defense playing in front of him over this run. Led by the stellar efforts of D Deryk Engelland (three blocks and 1.5 hits per game over this run) and D Nate Schmidt (six takeaways in his last four games), Vegas has allowed only 29.75 shots against per game, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since January 30.

With a win tonight, Vegas – who already leads the Pacific Division and the Western Conference – can claim the top spot in the NHL with 76 points, one more than Tampa Bay in as many games played.

However, the Golden Knights will have to get past 29-22-3 Pittsburgh to do that, and beating the Penguins has been a tough ask of late. Making the matchup even more exciting, it puts Fleury and his defense even more at the center of attention, as the Pens’ offense is absolutely dominating lately.

Since January 23, no offense has been as imposing as Pittsburgh’s. Led by the incredible efforts of F Evgeni Malkin, the Pens are averaging a league-leading 4.4 goals per game in that time, almost half a goal more than Toronto and Washington’s imposing attacks.

In his last five games played, Malkin has been the most frightening goalscorer in the NHL, posting 8-3-11 totals (the most goals and points in the league in that time) to average over two points per game to increase his season totals to 29-31-60. Making the Penguins even more intimidating, RW Phil Kessel (2-7-9), C Sidney Crosby (0-7-7) and W Bryan Rust (3-2-5) all join Malkin in averaging at least a point per game, giving Pittsburgh three explosive lines.

For those wondering, 17-12-1 Murray has been decent of late too. Even though his defense has allowed a terrible 34.8 shots against per game over this run, he’s won both his starts with a .92 save percentage and 3 GAA. He’ll need to be better against a Vegas offense that ranks second-best on the season (3.37 goals per game), but he’s well rested since his last showing was February 2 against the Capitals.

The Penguins made their trip to The Silver State on December 14, but they didn’t receive very warm hospitality. Behind a 24-save performance by First Star Fleury in his first game back from a concussion, the Golden Knights claimed a 2-1 victory.

This is going to be an emotional game for Fleury, Penguins fans and probably a few of the Pens as well. The team that can put the tears behind them fastest will likely come out the winners, which is why I’m leaning towards the Penguins’ offense taking two points this evening.


With a two-goal, three-point night from First Star of the Game F William Nylander, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Anaheim Ducks 7-4 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Air Canada Centre.

There may have been 11 goals struck in this game, but almost all of them were scored in the final two periods. Second Star C Auston Matthews (F Zach Hyman and Nylander) registered the lone tally, burying a wrap-around shot 6:32 into the game.

One intermission is all this contest needed to find the wild side. A whopping six goals were buried in the middle frame, starting with C Ryan Getzlaf‘s (Third Star F Rickard Rakell and W Corey Perry) wrist shot 43 seconds after play resumed to level the game at 1-1. Toronto answered back 5:09 later thanks to Nylander’s (D Jake Gardiner) first goal of the night, but the game was tied once again only 2:31 after the horn stopped blaring due to a Rakell (Getzlaf and Perry) backhanded shot.

With F Leo Komarov in the penalty box for hi-sticking D Kevin Bieksa, Anaheim took its first lead in the game when W Ondrej Kase (Perry and W Jakob Silfverberg) scored a power play wrister with 8:54 remaining in the period, setting the score at 3-2. However, it was a case of “whatever you can do, I can do better” as F Mitch Marner (C Nazem Kadri and LW James van Riemsdyk) took advantage of LW Nick Ritchie serving a slashing penalty against D Roman Polalk by scoring a power play snap shot of his own 4:22 later. Komarov (Gardiner and Kadri) completed the period’s scoring with 2:20 remaining, setting the score at 4-3 in favor of the Leafs with a snapper.

After a wild second period, there was no chance the Ducks were going to allow that score to stand. Rakell (Perry and D Josh Manson) tied the game at 4-4 with a wrister 2:07 into the frame, but that turned out to be Anaheim’s final goal of the night. That set up Nylander’s (Gardiner) second tally of the match to be the game-winner.

A sloppy pass by D Brandon Montour intended for Silfverberg ended up on Gardiner’s stick, and the Leaf knew exactly what to do with the gift. Spotting Nylander tearing towards the offensive zone, the defenseman ripped a perfect blue line-to-blue line pass to set up a one-on-one opportunity for the 21-year-old, which he used to beat G Ryan Miller glove side.

Insurance goals from Matthews (RW Kasperi Kapanen) and Hyman (RW Connor Brown and Matthews) sealed the Leafs’ victory, keeping them within three points of the Bruins in the race for second place in the Atlantic Division.

Though he didn’t start the game, G Curtis McElhinney earned the victory after saving 15-of-16 shots faced (.938 save percentage), leaving the loss to Miller, who saved 33-of-39 (.846). McElhinney replaced G Frederik Andersen with 6:15 remaining in the second period after taking a kick to the head from Perry. He saved 25-of-28 shots faced (.893) for no decision.

Winners of five of the last six games in the DtFR Game of the Day series, the 65-38-15 home teams are absolutely rolling of late. With the Leafs’ victory, the hosts now have a 25-point advantage over the visitors.