Tag Archives: Miller

Game of the week: October 29-November 4

As the calendar flips from October to November, the NHL’s powers are beginning to flex their muscles while the league’s less-talented members are already counting the days until April 6.

Some of that can be seen in the games already played this week (take a look at what a good Devils team suffered in its trip to Tampa), while there’s more than a few games coming up in the remaining four days that will help us better predict some teams’ playoff potentials.

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 29-November 4
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 29
7 p.m. Calgary Toronto 3-1
10 p.m. Minnesota Vancouver 2-5
Tuesday, October 30
7 p.m. Calgary Buffalo 2-1 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3
7 p.m. Boston Carolina 3-2
7 p.m. Detroit Columbus 5-3
7:30 p.m. Dallas Montréal 4-1
7:30 p.m. New Jersey Tampa Bay 3-8
8 p.m. Vegas Nashville 1-4
9 p.m. Minnesota Edmonton 4-3
10 p.m. Ottawa Arizona 1-5
10 p.m. Philadelphia Anaheim 3-2
10:30 p.m. New York Rangers San Jose Sharks 4-3 (SO)
Wednesday, October 31
10 p.m. Chicago Vancouver 2-4
Thursday, November 1
2 p.m. Winnipeg Florida NBCSN
7 p.m. Dallas Toronto
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins New York Islanders SN360
7:30 p.m. Washington Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Ottawa RDS2
7:30 p.m. New Jersey Detroit
7:30 p.m. Nashville Tampa Bay
8 p.m. Vegas St. Louis
9 p.m. Colorado Calgary SN1
9 p.m. Chicago Edmonton
10 p.m. New York Rangers Anaheim Ducks
10:30 p.m. Philadelphia Los Angeles
10:30 p.m. Columbus San Jose
Friday, November 2
2 p.m. Florida Winnipeg NHLN
10 p.m. Colorado Vancouver NHLN
10 p.m. Carolina Arizona
saturday, November 3
2 p.m. Ottawa Buffalo RDS
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Montréal CITY, SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Edmonton Detroit SN
7 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Islanders
7 p.m. Toronto Pittsburgh CBC, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Dallas Washington
8 p.m. Minnesota St. Louis
8 p.m. Boston Nashville
10 p.m. Carolina Vegas
10 p.m. Chicago Blackhawks Calgary Flames CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
10:30 p.m. Columbus Los Angeles
10:30 p.m. Philadelphia San Jose
SunDay, November 4
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Ottawa NHLN, SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Buffalo Sabres New York Rangers
9 p.m. Columbus Anaheim

As usual, there’s more than a few tilts that caught my attention on this week’s slate. I’m always a big fan of rivalries (New York at Pittsburgh, Chicago at Vancouver, Pittsburgh at New York, Buffalo at Ottawa and Ottawa at Buffalo) and players returning to their former home arenas (W Tom Kuhnhackl and F Joakim Nordstrom made their first trips back to Pittsburgh and Carolina, respectively, on Tuesday, while D Roman Polak is heading back to Toronto tonight), but we also get the added benefits of this year’s NHL Global Series between Florida and Winnipeg in Finland as well as an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal rematch between New Jersey and Tampa Bay.

However, with all of that being said, there’s another huge matchup happening this Thursday that rivals last week’s Toronto-Winnipeg showdown.

The reigning regular season conference champions are going at it tonight, so grab your popcorn and settle in to enjoy a great game!

Wait, what? This showdown isn’t on national T.V. in either Canada or the States, but a game between two one-win NFL teams is?

This is lunacy.

I’m not saying to stream this tilt by any means necessary, but I’m not saying not to stream this tilt by any means necessary.

Regardless of the legality of your decision, it’s a choice you certainly won’t regret as both the Preds and Bolts are off to hot starts this season, surely inspired at least somewhat by dreams left unfulfilled during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both were their respective conferences’ No. 1 seeds this spring, but they both got knocked off on home ice in a winner-take-all Game 7 (the Predators fell to Winnipeg in the Second Round, while Tampa lost to Washington in the Eastern Conference Final).

At least Smashville got the Presidents’ Trophy, right? Not to mention its prestigious “Regular Season Western Conference Champions” banner.

Sorry, that’s the last time I’ll point out the Predators’ unprecedented award that should probably be penalized for excessive celebration.

Hopefully.

Just as they did last season, the 9-3-0 Predators currently sit atop the Central Division, the Western Conference and the NHL with the best record of all 31 teams.

The major reason for the Preds’ success is undoubtedly their goaltending tandem of 3-1-0 Pekka Rinne and 6-2-0 Juuse Saros. Even though they do have the luxury of playing behind the league’s 11th-best defense in terms of shots against per game (W Viktor Arvidsson‘s 12 takeaways, D Ryan Ellis‘ two blocks per game and F Zac Rinaldo‘s 2.3 hits per game have been major factors in Nashville’s 29.92 shots against per game), both have been integral in keeping the Predators’ goals allowed per game at 2.42 – the (t)third-best mark in the league. Both boast save percentages better than .915 and GAAs at or below 2.5, not to mention a shutout apiece.

After being activated from Injured Reserve yesterday (G Troy Grosenick made room on the roster by heading back to Milwaukee), it seems likely that Rinne will be the starter this evening. In his first five starts this season before going down with an undisclosed ailment, the Finn posted a .929 save percentage and 2.1 GAA – both of which are top-six among the 36 netminders with at least five starts to their credit.

Regardless of who’s in net, don’t focus too much on that or you’ll miss Nashville’s outstanding offense that ranks second-best in the conference and (t)sixth-best in the league by averaging 3.5 goals per game. In particular, no Predator has been as dominant as F Filip Forsberg, who’s 10-4-14 totals leave no doubt as to who’s the best scorer in Tennessee.

Forsberg’s 10 goals are (t)third-most in the NHL, trailing league-leaders F Patrick Kane (CHI) and RW David Pastrnak (BOS) by only one marker. After scoring a hat trick against Edmonton on Saturday (he scored all of Nashville’s goals in a 5-3 loss), the Swede was totally kept off the scoreboard Tuesday against Vegas, so he’ll be extra motivated to notch another tally tonight.

The team the Predators are leading for the Presidents’ Trophy are none other than the 8-2-1 Lightning, last season’s preseason darlings that have been ignored – rather unwisely, I might add – by the media in favor of division-rival Toronto so far this year.

The Leafs might be getting all the attention, but it’s business as usual in central Florida as the Bolts are leading the Eastern Conference just like last campaign. Tampa still boasts a dominant offense, not to mention a stellar goaltender and overpowering special teams.

Led from the second line by F Brayden Point and his 7-7-14 totals – not to mention RW Nikita Kucherov and F Yanni Gourde‘s respective 5-7-12 and 4-8-12 efforts – Tampa’s attack is among the most feared in the league, scoring 3.64 goals per game to rank third-best.

Only two days ago against New Jersey in an 8-3 victory, Point notched an outstanding five-point game, but if recent performances are any indication, he likely won’t find the scorecard tonight: his last five games saw him score 5, 0, 1, 0 and 3 points respectively.

Defensively, there’s not much to talk about with the Lightning since D Victor Hedman is still on Injured Reserve. The Bolts’ blue line has suffered during his absence, allowing a 12th-worst 32.36 shots against per game for the season.

However, who needs a defense when you have 6-1-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy playing for your team? Vasilevskiy has already been confirmed to be starting this game and will look to improve upon his .935 save percentage and 1.98 GAA that both already rank top-five among the 36 goalies with at least five starts to their names.

If this game boils down to special teams, there’s no way the Lightning aren’t coming away with two points. Tampa Bay leads Nashville in both statistics, including owning the league’s top-rated penalty kill (93.2 percent) that will be more than enough to counteract anything the Preds’ fourth-worst power play (13.3 percent) can muster.

Similarly, Tampa Bay’s power play will be a Halloween hangover to the Predators tonight, as a 29.3 success rate is good enough to rank sixth-best in the NHL – especially when it gets to go to work against the 10th-worst penalty kill (75 percent).

If Nashville’s penalty kill is going to have any success, it should probably try to keep F J.T. Miller under wraps as much as possible. Of his 3-7-10 totals on the year, 3-2-5 have occurred with the man-advantage. If those numbers don’t communicate just how potent he’s been, Miller’s .571 power play face-off winning percentage and .429 power play shooting percentage should do the trick.

An interesting note surrounding this game is its location. While it would be assumed that the Lightning would have the advantage considering they are at home, their 5-1-0 record at Amalie Arena is challenged by the Predators’ outstanding 5-0-0 road mark. With that in mind, there is no doubt Smashville is going to throw everything it has at tonight’s host.

There’s no doubt that this is going to be a showdown of the ages, just as should be expected from the top two teams in the league. But which one wins?

That’s the tough question.

I’m going to go out on a limb and take the Predators tonight. I think their offense is more than good enough to take advantage of the Lightning’s weakened defense corps. That being said, Vasilevskiy is going to be a difficult wall to break (as should Rinne be for the Bolts), so I’m predicting only a 2-1 victory for the visitors.

Game of the week: October 15-21

It’s time for another DtFR Game of the Week!

First and foremost, let’s take a look at all the games I neglected earlier this week:

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 15-21
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 15
7:30 p.m. Los Angeles Toronto 1-4
7:30 p.m. Detroit Montréal 3-7
7:30 p.m. Dallas Ottawa 1-4
8 p.m. Minnesota Nashville 2-4
Tuesday, October 16
7 p.m. Dallas New Jersey 0-3
7 p.m. Colorado New York Rangers 2-3 (SO)
7 p.m. Florida Philadelphia 5-6 (SO)
7 p.m. Vancouver Pittsburgh 3-2 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Carolina Tampa Bay 2-4
8 p.m. Arizona Minnesota 1-2
8 p.m. Edmonton Winnipeg 5-4 (OT)
10 p.m. Buffalo Vegas 1-4
Wednesday, October 17
7 p.m. St. Louis Montréal 2-3
7 p.m. New York Rangers Washington 3-4 (OT)
9:30 p.m. Boston Calgary 2-5
10 p.m. New York Islanders Anaheim 1-4
Thursday, October 18
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Toronto 3-0
7 p.m. Colorado New Jersey 5-3
7 p.m. Philadelphia Columbus 3-6
7:30 p.m. Detroit Tampa Bay 1-3
8 p.m. Vancouver Winnipeg 1-4
8:30 p.m. Arizona Chicago 4-1
9 p.m. Boston Edmonton 2-3 (OT)
10:30 p.m. New York Islanders Los Angeles 7-2
10:30 p.m. Buffalo San Jose 1-5
Friday, October 19
7 p.m. Florida Washington 6-5 (SO)
8 p.m. Minnesota Dallas 3-1
9 p.m. Nashville Calgary 5-3
saturday, October 20
1 p.m. New Jersey Philadelphia 2-5
1 p.m. Colorado Carolina 3-1
3:30 p.m. Buffalo Los Angeles 5-1
4 p.m. Arizona Winnipeg 3-5
7 p.m. St. Louis Toronto 4-1
7 p.m. Montréal Ottawa 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Detroit Florida 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Chicago Columbus 4-1
8 p.m. Tampa Bay Minnesota 4-5 (OT)
10 p.m. Boston Vancouver 1-2 (OT)
10 p.m. Anaheim Vegas 1-3
10 p.m. Nashville Edmonton 3-0
10:30 p.m. New York Islanders San Jose 1-4
SunDay, October 21
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Chicago NHLN, TVAS
7 p.m. Calgary New York Rangers SN1
8 p.m. Buffalo Anaheim

This schedule was a little bit fuller than last week’s offerings, as there’s a solid 44 games I had to choose from as compared to last week’s 42.

While there were certainly some worthy candidates in terms of rivalries (Detroit at Montréal, Edmonton at Winnipeg, New York at Washington, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Montréal at Ottawa all took place this week) and player returns (D Marc Methot made his first trip back to Ottawa since being selected during the Vegas expansion draft and later traded to the Stars, four former Blackhawks – five if you include RW Marian Hossa – returned to the Madhouse on Madison as members of the Coyotes and C Tyler Bozak wore white in Toronto for the first time in his career playing for St. Louis), one game sticks out above all the rest even though I’m more concerned about what will be hanging above the ice than what will be taking place on it.

 

Without a doubt, the Ducks are having one of the better and more unexpected starts to the season. Meanwhile, the Sabres are trying their hardest to keep pace with the rest of the white-hot Atlantic Division that enters the day with five teams in playoff position (an extremely important accolade in October, to be sure).

But what really drew me to tonight’s tilt is the pregame festivities involving LW Paul Kariya, as his No. 9 is going to be retired and sent where it belongs – hanging above the Honda Center ice opposite RW Teemu Selanne‘s No. 8.

The fourth-overall pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Kariya joined the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim just in time for the 1994-95 season (well, if it had started on time, that is), signing a three-year deal on August 31, 1994.

Though the Mighty Ducks struggled before Selanne was brought on board via trade during the 1995-96 season, that’s not to say Kariya – who just celebrated his 44th birthday on Tuesday – was playing poorly. He posted 18-21-39 totals his 47-game debut season, earning a spot on the All-Rookie Team and finishing third in Calder voting behind Quebec’s C Peter Forsberg and Washington’s G Jim Carey.

Oh yeah, speaking of that 1995-96 campaign, Kariya’s second season ended with him boasting career-best numbers in goals (50, three of which were overtime game-winners – an Anaheim single-season record) and points (108) after a full 82-game schedule. That dominant performance earned him his first of three First All-Star Team accolades, his first of back-to-back Lady Byng Trophies and his first of seven appearances at the All-Star Game.

I guess he never heard of the sophomore slump.

Named the Mighty Ducks’ third captain in franchise history during the offseason (a title he held for a franchise-record eight years), Kariya barely missed a second-straight season hitting the 100-point plateau in 1996-97 as a result of missing 13 games with an upper-body injury and unrelated concussion, but a 44-55-99 performance in 69 games played qualifies as the best season of his career on a points-per-game standpoint. The 1.43 points per game he managed narrowly beats out his 1.41 in 1997-98 – another season hampered by concussion, as well as a contract dispute that lasted into December, limiting him to only 22 games played. Additionally, his +36 for the 1996-97 campaign is still an Anaheim single-season record.

Of course, the most important mark about the 1996-97 season for Kariya is not only his dazzling performance, but also the fact that Anaheim qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Mighty Ducks fought past the Phoenix Coyotes in seven games before getting swept by the eventual champion Red Wings in the second round of their postseason debut. Kariya posted 7-6-13 marks in those 11 games, including the overtime game-winning goal in Game 6 against Phoenix that forced Game 7.

To be certain, the most productive years of Kariya’s career were his first seven campaigns. In all, he played 442 regular season games for the Mighty Ducks from 1995-2001, managing 243-288-531 totals to average 1.2 points per game – not to mention his 8-9-17 marks in 14 career playoff games to that point.

However, that’s not to say the captain still wasn’t a guiding hand on his team. Kariya managed 57-81-138 totals in his final two seasons with the Mighty Ducks, and he led Anaheim all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002-03 where his squad lost a hard-fought, seven-game series to the New Jersey Devils.

That Game 7 proved to be Kariya’s last with Anaheim, as he and Selanne both headed for the supposedly greener pastures of Denver (the Avs, of course, fell in the second round in Kariya and Selanne’s only season with the club) for the 2003-04 season. Kariya played five more seasons after that – two with Nashville and three with St. Louis – before retiring during the 2011 offseason as a result of the six concussions he sustained over the course of his 16-year, 15-season professional career.

Having been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last summer, there are few awards left to be bestowed upon Karyia (provided he doesn’t get involved in coaching or management). However, this one will surely elicit quite the response from one of the greatest to have ever worn the eggplant and jade.

Of course, once the ceremony is complete, there’s still a hockey game to be played. Both of tonight’s squads were in action last night, with Buffalo besting Los Angeles 5-1 at Staples Center and Anaheim falling in Vegas 3-1.

The 4-4-0 Sabres entered today’s action in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, but only one point behind Ottawa for fifth place in the Atlantic Division and the second wild card.

Gotta love early season standings.

Perhaps the brightest spot for Buffalo so far this season has been the outstanding play of 2-0-0 G Linus Ullmark, who has allowed only one goal in his two starts and boasts a .982 save percentage and .5 GAA that is best in the league among netminders with at least 33 minutes played.

While his emergence as a potential star is an encouraging sign for a franchise that has missed the playoffs for seven-straight seasons, the fact that he was the goalie in net for Buffalo yesterday up the road in Tinseltown has all signs pointing towards 2-4-0 G Carter Hutton manning the posts this evening.

Whether he’s being compared to Ullmark or his performance last season, Hutton is already drawing the ire of Upstate New Yorkers. Having signed a three-year, $2.75 million AAV contract this summer after posting a dominating .931 save percentage and 2.09 GAA with the St. Louis Blues last season, Hutton has managed only a .906 save percentage and 3.27 GAA so far this year.

Considering his offense has averaged only 2.25 goals per game thus far into the season (the fifth-worst mark in the NHL despite F Jeff Skinner‘s hat trick yesterday), Hutton is going to need to improve in a hurry if the Sabres want to stay in playoff contention much longer.

That being said, it should be acknowledged that Buffalo hasn’t exactly played incredible defense in front of Hutton. The Sabres’ 32.63 shots against-per-game is 12th-worst in the league, and that number climbs to 33.67 when Hutton is in net.

Considering former defenseman Phil Housley is the team’s head coach and the fact that the organization took D Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick, surely that number has to improve sooner or later? Right?

Consider me a doubter of Housley’s until it does.

One final note I have about the Sabres is in regard to their special teams. It was only a few seasons ago that Buffalo’s power play – led by C Jack Eichel – was among the most dangerous in the league. However, that has not been the case this season, as the Sabres’ 13.3 percent success rate with the man-advantage has been eighth-worst in the league through the first few weeks of the season. The penalty kill has also struggled, as Buffalo’s 69.2 kill percentage is third-worst in the NHL.

The Sabres have a lot of problems to figure out, but the best way to fix the special teams while they’re still on the road just might be to avoid the penalty box all together.

Did you hear that, RW Kyle Okposo? Stay out of trouble!

As for tonight’s hosts, the 5-2-1 Ducks have yet to see too many troubles so far this season, as they’re leading the division despite many fans and pundits pegging San Jose and Vegas as the Pacific’s powerhouses.

But how are they doing it?

Just like Buffalo, Anaheim’s best player to start the season has been none other than its goaltender, 4-2-1 G John Gibson. The 2016 Jennings Trophy winner (o.k., he shared it with G Frederik Andersen, now of the Toronto Maple Leafs) has been dynamite right out of the gates this season, as he has a solid .949 save percentage and 1.91 GAA to show for his first seven starts of the season.

However, to continue the comparisons to Buffalo, Gibson was also in net last night against the Golden Knights, so it looks like it could be none other than 1-0-0 G Ryan Miller, the winner of the 2010 Vezina Trophy, manning the crease this evening against his former club.

Though he is clearly the backup in Anaheim, Miller is in no way any easier to score upon than Gibson. With two appearances so far this year, Miller has a .946 save percentage and 1.51 GAA – all this despite a Ducks defense that allows an average of 37 shots against per game, the worst in the NHL.

Despite the backups being the logical starters tonight, this game has all the makings of a goaltending duel considering the struggles of both offenses and defenses. If that is the case, I’ll certainly take the Ducks to successfully honor Kariya and earn two points tonight. Miller is undoubtedly better than Hutton this year, and he has the benefit of special teams that will easily dominate the Sabres.

Carolina Hurricanes 2018-2019 Season Preview

Carolina Hurricanes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason Grade: D

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

2018 Offseason Preview: Anaheim Ducks

The theme of aquatic birds continues in DtFR’s offseason preview series, as it’s time to tackle the Anaheim Ducks’ priorities regarding their pending free agents.

Featuring a playoff roster with an average age of 28.5-years-old, logic would indicate the Ducks are in their prime. However, even though they’ve qualified for the postseason for six-straight seasons, they’ve failed to advance beyond the first round in half of those appearances – including a four-game sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks this April.

One of the biggest concerns about this Anaheim club is it plays an old-fashioned, grind-it-out style that simply doesn’t mesh well against the increasingly quicker and technically-sound opponents.

In simpler terms, the Ducks need to get younger and faster.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

One of the easiest ways to get younger is with a solid draft class, and Anaheim will have that opportunity with the 23rd-overall selection.

If one of the mock drafts I’ve compiled (all of which are available at Elite Prospects) are correct, I’d bet on General Manager Bob Murray selecting D Alexander Alexeyev (Red Deer Rebels), C Ryan McLeod (Mississauga Steelheads), D Rasmus Sandin (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) or D Bode Wilde (USNTDP) with his first round selection.

If there’s one thing the Ducks’ scouts know, it’s definitely defense. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are all solid blueliners 26-years-old or younger that will service this organization for years to come, and I’d only expect Alexeyev, Sandin or Wilde to join the group if they’re deemed truly worthy.

That’s what makes McLeod such an attractive option. Even though the 18-year-old is all but ensured at least one more season with the Steelheads, Anaheim’s deep defense gives it the opportunity to invest in restocking its attack.

McLeod had a breakout season in 2017-18, registering 26-44-70 totals in 68 games played (1.03 points per game), followed by 2-3-5 marks in his six postseason appearances. If he can take command of the club following the potential departure of brother F Michael McLeod (12th-overall pick by New Jersey in 2016) and lead Mississauga on a deep playoff run, Anaheim could happen into a stellar young forward.

Pending free agents

Let’s tackle Anaheim’s easiest position first: goaltending. G John Gibson and G Ryan Miller are both under contract for one more season, so the Ducks will likely make no moves in this department. The most important note here is making sure Murray reserves money on the back burner for Gibson next summer (he’ll be an RFA, for those that care about those sorts of things). He currently has a touch over $9 million in cap space this season and a whopping $23 million to play with in 2019-20.

Along the blue line, D Kevin Bieksa (UFA), D Brandon Montour (RFA) and D Andy Welinski (RFA) are all looking for jobs, but I’d argue that only Montour is truly worth a big-time contract.

Montour’s 20:28 time on ice per game was fourth on the team, and the same can be said for his .4 points per game. At 24-years-old, he’ll be worth every penny of any contract he receives to play an imposing presence as a top-four defenseman.

Having just turned 37-years-old Saturday following a 0-8-8, -13 season in 59 games played, it’s hard to see a way Bieksa returns to Anaheim for a fourth season. That makes signing Welinski –  the Ducks’ third-round pick in 2011 – to a low-cost, two-way contract all the easier to swallow.

Instead, the toughest decisions for Anaheim will be made in the forwards room. RW J.T. Brown, W Jason Chimera, C Derek Grant, W Ondrej Kase, F Chris Kelly, LW Nick Ritchie and F Antoine Vermette are all looking for contracts this summer, with all but Kase and Ritchie being of the UFA variety.

Regardless of type, Kase is by far the most important free agent on Anaheim’s plate this summer. He reached the 20-goal plateau in his second season in the NHL, and he needed only 66 games to do it. He may not compare to RW Teemu Selanne (I mean, the Finnish Flash did score 76 goals in his rookie season compared to Kase’s five), but I believe he’s fully ready to climb into a top-six position with F Rickard Rakell to lead this Ducks team when F Ryan Kesler and C Ryan Getzlaf depart.

In a similar fashion, fellow 22-year-old Ritchie should also receive a fresh deal to keep him in Orange County. While not quite the scorer Kase is (he managed only 10-17-27 totals in 76 games played this season), Ritchie is an excellent third-liner that still has more than enough time to develop into a real weapon from his position. Get him a bridge deal for a cap hit under $1.25 million and move on.

Anaheim’s most important UFA is Grant, a player that provided 12-12-24 totals in 66 appearances this season from his position on the fourth line. Coming off a one-year, $650 thousand deal, he’ll likely sign for cheap to give the Ducks four solid centers.

The rest of the UFAs (Brown – 27, Chimera – 39, Kelly – 37, Vermette – 35) either don’t fit with the “get younger” plan or simply aren’t worth the money (looking at you, Brown). Anaheim can either promote a forward from its organization (I like pending RFA F Kalle Kossila) or acquire another from outside to fill its 13th forward position.

Fleury off to third-straight Stanley Cup Final

 

The Campbell Bowl is the possession of the Vegas Golden Knights after they beat the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 at Bell MTS Place in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

Winnipeg did all it could to win this game and prolong its postseason: the Jets matched Vegas in shots on goal (32 apiece), earned four power plays to the Knights’ two and G Connor Hellebuyck saved 30-for-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage).

However, G Marc-Andre Fleury was none too interested in starting a summer without the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2015. Fleury saved 31-of-32 shots faced (.969 save percentage). He refused to yield to even one of the Jets’ power plays, making miraculous save after miraculous save.

Pair Fleury’s performance with First Star of the Game RW Alex Tuch‘s (F Ryan Carpenter) wrist shot only 5:11 into the game, and the Jets were facing an uphill battle that was made even more steep by the fact that Third Star D Josh Morrissey‘s giveaway was what directly led to the tally.

Morrissey didn’t successfully corral Hellebuyck’s pass along the boards, leading to Carpenter knocking the puck off his stick to Tuch in the high slot, which he proceeded to squeeze between the netminder’s right arm and the post.

The only flaw in Fleury’s game struck 12:03 later when Morrissey (F Bryan Little) made amends for his giveaway to score off a face-off. Won by Little at the dot to Fleury’s right, Morrissey ended up with the puck above the face-off circles and one-timed a white-hot slap shot over the goalie’s glove.

The resulting 1-1 tie held for almost 20 minutes – 16:07, to be exact – before Second Star RW Ryan Reaves (D Luca Sbisa and F Tomas Nosek) potted what proved to be the series-clinching goal.

Though this goal can’t be blamed on Hellebuyck, that’s not to say that Reaves was truly intending to score on this play. Sbisa fired an elevated initial wrister from the point that likely would have been either blocked by a Jet or saved by Hellebuyck, but Reaves intercepted that attempt and deflected it just under the bar over the goalie’s right shoulder.

If Reaves were only a foot or two closer to the crease, his shot surely would have flown over the crossbar, but the trade acquisition was in the right place at the right time to secure his and his club’s first-ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

In the third period, the Golden Knights clamped down on the talented Jets offense to limit them to only eight shots on goal. D Colin Miller converted one takeaway, while eight different Knights either blocked a Winnipeg third period shot or threw a body check.

Winnipeg also was its own worst enemy by aiming five third period shots to the wrong side of the iron. In particular, RW Patrik Laine was responsible for sending two of those shots wide or over the net.

The Golden Knights await the victor of the Eastern Conference Finals, which the Tampa Bay Lightning currently lead 3-2. Should the Bolts hold on to clinch the Prince of Wales Trophy, Vegas will travel to Florida for Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. However, if the Washington Capitals can win two-straight games, they will travel to Vegas for the first games of the series.

Game 6 of the Eastern Finals from Capital One Arena will take place Monday, May 21 at 8 p.m. Eastern. Fans interested in seeing who the Knights will square off against should tune their televisions to CBC, NBCSN, SN1 or TVAS.

Vasilevskiy makes ECF a best-of-three series

 

By winning Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2 at Capital One Arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning have reclaimed home-ice advantage from the Washington Capitals by leveling the series at two victories apiece.

With Washington out-shooting the visiting Lightning 38-20, no Bolt deserves more credit for the victory than First Star of the Game G Andrei Vasilevskiy. After allowing the first goal of the game to D Dmitry Orlov (F T.J. Oshie and D Matt Niskanen) only 4:28 into the contest, Vasilevskiy proceeded to post a 36-for-38 effort (.947 save percentage) despite facing no fewer than nine shots against per frame. In particular, Vasilevskiy stood extremely tall when taking on Washington’s four power plays, as he saved all nine shots faced while his club was shorthanded.

Meanwhile, G Braden Holtby only wishes his play looked anywhere near as good as Vasilevskiy’s. His 16-for-19 performance (.842 save percentage) was borderline disastrous, especially given the incredible help his offense was providing him.

Wait, offense?

Yes, it was not the Capitals’ defense, but their offense that truly kept Holtby’s workload light. Not only did they more than double Tampa’s shots on goal in both the first and second periods (15-7 and 14-6, respectively), but the Caps also held extended possessions in their offensive zone. Pair that with Oshie’s two takeaways and W Devante Smith-Pelly‘s six hits, and you find a team that made life so easy on its goaltender that he just might have grown complacent.

That’s not to say the goals he allowed were soft. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Take for example Second Star F Brayden Point‘s (F Yanni Gourde and F Tyler Johnson) tic-tac-goal only 1:10 after Orlov’s that tied the game at one-all. Holtby was forced to shade towards his left post when he saw Gourde – who scored 25 goals this season, the fourth-most among all rookies – all by himself inside the near face-off circle, but some deft passing across the slot to Point was all the second line needed to take advantage of a sloppy pass by D Michal Kempny.

Similarly, it’s hard to blame Holtby for his second goal allowed in the first period, registered only 2:54 after Point’s. This time, he was tasked with keeping Tampa’s lethal power play off the scoreboard thanks to C Lars Eller‘s holding penalty against RW Nikita Kucherov 1:05 before.

A power play that had scored at least once in eight previous contests is obviously in a groove, and that groove continued at the 8:32 mark of the game when C Steven Stamkos (Point and F J.T. Miller) set the score at 2-1 with a one-timer from the slot.

For those keeping track at home, the Lightning now sport a 30.8 percent power play conversion rate that is tops among the four teams still competing for the Stanley Cup, trailing only Boston – their opponent in the previous round – for the mark of best power play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though the score never changed, the remaining 11:28 of the first period was far from uneventful. However, the previously mentioned shots on goal were not the only activity as even the missed shots drew many a Capitals fan to his or her feet. In particular, W Alex Ovechkin had more than his fair share of salivating shots on net – both in this frame as well as the entire game – but many of those whizzed past the wrong side of the post and harmlessly crashed into the endboards.

Just when it seemed like Vasilevskiy was going to be unbreakable for the remainder of the tilt, Third Star F Evgeny Kuznetsov (Ovechkin and RW Tom Wilson) sprung hope anew in Washington with his wrist shot 5:18 into the second period.

With the exception of Kuznetsov’s path taking him along the left boards instead of between the face-off circles, this goal was eerily reminiscent of the marker that eliminated Pittsburgh from the playoffs for the first time since April 2015. A long pass from Ovechkin sprung his countryman for a breakaway opportunity against the goaltender (who, by happenstance, is also a fellow Russian), who he beat five-hole.

Thanks to some incredible defense played by both clubs (RW Ryan Callahan matched Smith-Pelly’s six hits and D Ryan McDonagh blocked a game-high four shots), that 2-2 tie lasted 26:39 before Tampa third-liner F Alex Killorn (W Ondrej Palat and D Mikhail Sergachev) provided the game-winning goal.

Struck six seconds after Eller was released from the penalty box (his second foul of the night, this time for hooking the eventual goalscorer), Killorn showed some impressive puck-handling skills inside the crease to convert a forehanded shot that would likely be stopped by Holtby’s left leg into a backhand that sneaked between the netminder’s wickets.

With 2:09 remaining in regulation, Head Coach Barry Trotz was forced to pull his goaltender for the second consecutive game. Tampa Bay was unable to convert on the empty net in Game 3, but rookie C Anthony Cirelli bested that effort with 62 seconds remaining to cement the Bolts’ series-evening victory.

Now that they’ve given up the home-ice advantage they worked so desperately to win in Florida, the Capitals must now find a way to win at least one more game at Amalie Arena. A good first step towards doing that – especially for Eller – will be to avoid the penalty box, as the Caps’ 73.7 percent successful penalty kill is the worst remaining in the playoffs.

Saturday is the day for the Eastern Conference Finals’ all-important Game 5. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Eastern (right after the Preakness Stakes) and may be viewed on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

Caps’ attack too much for Bolts; win Game 1 4-2

 

After a 4-2 victory at Amalie Arena over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1, home ice in the Eastern Conference Finals now belongs to the Washington Capitals.

Between the actual 2-0 score and the fact that the Caps led 9-2 in shots on goal, we get a rather accurate impression of how the first 20 minutes went down.

The Caps almost exclusively dominated possession from the opening draw to the first TV timeout. They might have managed only two shots on goal in that time (which still exceeded Tampa’s zero), but the fact that they kept the puck in their offensive zone did a lot to wear out the Bolts’ defensemen early.

That pressure paid off in spades at the 7:28 mark when Washington drew first blood in the Eastern Finals. D Michal Kempny (Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov and D John Carlson) did the dirty work with a wrist shot from the blue line, his first-ever North American postseason marker.

Of course, the best weapon against possession is a stellar counterattack. RW Nikita Kucherov and the Lightning though they had done just that with seven seconds remaining before the first intermission, but it was ruled Tampa Bay had too many men on the ice, negating the goal and awarding a power play to Washington.

Entering the game with the best power play in the postseason (converting 30.9 percent of man-advantages into goals), the Caps completed their stellar command of the first frame by burying a man-advantage tally with only six seconds remaining in the frame.

Who else to score that power play goal than First Star W Alex Ovechkin (Kuznetsov and F T.J. Oshie)? Almost unexpectedly, Ovechkin departed from his usual spot in the left face-off circle and scored his patented one-touch slap shot from the blue line on a set play from Oshie’s face-off victory.

Washington picked up right where it left off 2:40 into the second period. Third Star F Jay Beagle (W Brett Connolly and D Dmitry Orlov) beat G Andrei Vasilevskiy five-hole from the slot, receiving an unintentional assist from D Braydon Coburn after Connolly’s centering pass bounced off his skate.

4:02 later, the score read 4-0 when C Lars Eller (Oshie and Ovechkin) converted a Kucherov roughing penalty into yet another power play goal – Washington’s final tally of the game.

What started as a 2-0 shot differential early in the first period became a 25-10 domination by the second intermission. It could be argued that LW Jakub Vrana‘s game-high five shots on goal is a major part of that, but I would instead point to Oshie’s two takeaways over the course of the game, as well as both Kucherov and FJ.T. Miller yielding two giveaways by the end of regulation.

Additionally, Washington was also excellent at blocking shots, as it managed 19 before retreating to its hotel that evening. Co-led by Carlson and D Matt Niskanen‘s three blocks apiece, the Caps’ blue line was a major reason for Tampa’s struggle to establish anything close to an offensive presence in the opening 40 minutes.

However, all that turned on its head in the third period when Head Coach Jon Cooper elected to bench Vasilevskiy, who saved 21-of-25 shots faced for a .84 save percentage, in favor of G Louis Domingue.

While Vasilevskiy could have certainly been better in this game, he didn’t give up any blatantly soft goals (looking at you, G Pekka Rinne). Instead, his benching was intended to be a message for his team, and the Lightning certainly responded just as Cooper wished.

It took 43:45 of play and RW Alex Chiasson sitting in the penalty box for slashing F Alex Killorn, but Tampa Bay finally got on the scoreboard when C Steven Stamkos (Kucherov and D Victor Hedman) did his best Ovechkin impression and scored a clapper from the left face-off circle, pulling the score to 4-1.

That was certainly more than enough to get the positive energy surging in the arena. Tampa out-shot the Capitals 11-7 in the third period, proving just how much of the game was  played in its attacking zone.

Keeping hope alive, another goal trickled by with 6:57 remaining in regulation when W Ondrej Palat (F Tyler Johnson and D Anton Stralman) beat G Braden Holtby short side with a wrister from the slot.

However, hope ran short in that remaining time due in large part to the solid effort of Holtby. Though it wasn’t his best game of the season, Holtby posed an imposing challenge even after the Bolts pulled Domingue for the extra attacker. In all, he saved his last four shots faced in the game, posting an 19-for-21 (.905 save percentage) overall performance.

If the Lightning learned one thing from this game, it is that they cannot continue committing penalties like they have been in these playoffs. Washington’s power play, which converted 50 percent tonight, is just too potent for the Bolts to continue serving the 14:41 penalty minutes per game that they’ve managed through the first two rounds.

Tampa’s first opportunity to resolve that issue is in Game 2, which is right back at Amalie Arena and scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern this Sunday. Fans unable to make it to Western Florida can catch the live broadcasts on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Both power plays roll, Vegas wins 4-3

 

 

 

 

 

Having suffered their first-ever playoff loss Saturday, the Vegas Golden Knights rebounded in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs’ Second Round to beat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 in overtime at SAP Center to reclaim a one-game advantage in their series.

Play was back-and-forth across all 200 feet of the rink in the opening 10 minutes, but San Jose certainly had the upper hand in terms of shots on goal. The Sharks’ nine scoring attempts easily eclipsed Vegas’ four, but First Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury was more than up to the task of keeping that attack at bay.

Soon after, action turned decidedly in the Sharks’ favor as the Golden Knights struggled to get the puck into their attacking third. Starting at the 9:24 mark, the Knights went 5:54 without firing a shot on G Martin Jones in the second half of the first frame, due in large part to some stellar play by San Jose in the neutral zone. The only reason that skid came to an end is due to W Mikkel Boedker sending the puck over the glass, taking a delay of game penalty and giving Vegas a power play.

Further proving San Jose’s defensive abilities, it yielded only one shot against on that man-advantage.

However, no matter how well San Jose controlled play in the first period (the Sharks’ final shot differential for the frame read 16-10), the game remained scoreless at the first intermission. As such, the frame belonged to Fleury, who saved all 16 of those shots as a part of his 39-for-42 save performance (.929 save percentage).

That tie finally came undone at the 6:59 mark of the second period when W Timo Meier (C Chris Tierney and Boedker) scored a power play wrist shot. Taking advantage of W William Carrier committing a tripping penalty against Boedker 1:31 earlier, the Sharks completed some excellent one-time passes to set Meier up for a tic-tac-goal from the right face-off circle.

Meier’s was the first of three-consecutive power play goals scored in the third period, but unfortunately for the teal-clad fans, the next two belonged to the visiting Knights.

D Colin Miller (W James Neal and W David Perron) tied the game only 2:41 after Meier’s goal with a power play wrister, taking advantaged of D Brenden Dillon‘s holding penalty against Perron at the 7:56 mark.

Known for his scoring ability, Neal drew a lot of attention once he ended up with possession along the goal line to Jones’ left. With Sharks swarming towards him, he crossed a centering pass to Miller across the crease, who then returned a wrister towards the far post to give Vegas its first lead of the night.

With the Knights’ second power play unit striking gold for the club’s first goal, it was first unit that got its time to shine when Third Star F Tomas Hertl was caught roughing Neal with 7:13 remaining in the second period. F Jon Marchessault (RW Alex Tuch and W Reilly Smith) buried a wrister only 22 seconds after Hertl took his seat in isolation to give Vegas a 2-1 advantage.

The Golden Knights had one more trick up their sleeves in the third period, but this one they managed to pull off under even-strength conditions. Smith (Second Star C William Karlsson and Marchessault) set the score at 3-1 only 1:17 after Marchessault’s marker with a slick backhanded shot on Karlsson’s centering pass, his first marker of this postseason.

However, these Sharks were far from ready to turn their attention to Game 4 just yet. Though they officially failed to capitalize on D Jonathon Merrill‘s crosscheck against D Dylan DeMelo at the 5:45 mark of the third period, LW Evander Kane‘s (D Brent Burns and DeMelo) wrister 2:04 later was completed before the defenseman could rejoin play. Kane fired his shot from the right face-off dot, beating Fleury over his glove.

Vegas Head Coach Gerard Gallant challenged for goaltender interference against F Logan Couture, but it was ruled that the screening forward was outside the crease and enough time had passed since any previous contact that Fleury was able to recollect himself to prepare for the save on Kane’s wrister.

It also didn’t help that much of the previous contact was due to Fleury crosschecking Couture in the back when he had been in the crease, but those facts are neither here nor there since Fleury came out on the winning side of things.

As for forcing overtime, San Jose did that with 1:57 remaining in regulation when Hertl (D Justin Braun and RW Kevin Labanc) somehow sneaked a wrister past basically every skater on the ice and used them as screens against Fleury. After D Deryk Engelland blocked Braun’s shot from just above the crease, Fleury had no idea where the puck went until it ended up behind him.

In terms of shots on goal, overtime was an even affair considering both squads managed three shots on goal apiece. However, it was Vegas’ third and final offering that earned it the victory.

Karlsson (Neal and Marchessault) provided that breakaway snap shot at the 8:17 mark of the overtime period.

A quick stretch pass is all the Golden Knights needed to set up the league’s third-best goalscorer from the regular season. Marchessault’s pass from the right corner found Neal at Vegas’ defensive blue line, and the runner-up in last year’s Stanley Cup Final dumped a pass to the game-winner at the red line before sitting back and watching him do the rest of the work. Karlsson turned on the NOS to set up a one-on-one against Jones, firing his snapper from the top of the right face-off circle to beat the netminder to the far post.

Game 3 was an important match for the Golden Knights, as they’ve now reclaimed home-ice advantage in this playoff series. Jones and the Sharks now face the difficult task once again of needing to win a game at T-Mobile Arena – the very place they lost 7-0 in Game 1.

Puck drop for Game 4 from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. is scheduled for May 2 at 10 p.m. Eastern. The match will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.

Undisciplined Knights take first playoff loss

 

 

 

 

After losing Game 1 7-0, the San Jose Sharks have miraculously stolen home ice away from the Vegas Golden Knights after a Game 2 4-3 double-overtime victory at T-Mobile Arena.

Between its inability to stay out of the penalty box and lack of success at defensive zone face-offs, it’s almost a surprise Vegas was able to extend this game to the 85:13 it lasted.

As for the former note, no Golden Knight takes as much responsibility for his club playing shorthanded as W David Perron. He took a game-high six penalties in minutes, all for unruly infractions like slashing (against D Brenden Dillon with 3:56 remaining in the first period), holding the stick (against D Dylan DeMelo 1:56 into the second period) and roughing (against the aforementioned Dillon with 6:36 remaining in the second period).

Fortunately for Perron, only one of his infractions ended up costing the Knights a power play goal – but it was a big one, considering it started the Sharks’ trend of success off set plays. On the immediate face-off in Vegas’ defensive zone following Perron’s infraction against DeMelo, F Joe Pavelski won the scrum and fed the puck to Third Star of the Game D Brent Burns, who ripped a nasty slap shot from the blue line – with the help of a lucky bounce off F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s skate – past G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s right pad, snapping the netminder’s perfect 144:04 goalless streak.

Burns’ goal set the score at 2-1, canceling out one of Second Star C William Karlsson‘s two markers. The Swede potted his first of the night (D Colin Miller and D Nate Schmidt) on a snap shot with 2:01 remaining in the first period, capitalizing on a missed slap shot-turned-assist by Miller that bounced off the endboards and right into his lap.

Karlsson’s offering was the Knights’ fifth and final shot of the first period, as the Sharks’ defense was doing an excellent job all night keeping the hosts’ attack at bay. In the more than 85 minutes played all night, Vegas managed only 29 shots on G Martin Jones – well below the (t)10th-most 32.8 shots on goal per game it averaged all regular season. Of those, he saved 26 for a .897 save percentage.

In a mirror image of registering his club’s last shot of the first frame, Karlsson also fired the Golden Knights’ first shot on goal of the second period, and he found just as much success. Only 26 seconds into the frame, he set the score at 2-0 with a snapper assisted by W Reilly Smith that probably should not have reached the back of the net. Jones was late sealing off the near post, allowing the puck to barely squeak past his arm to set off the T-Mobile Arena goal horn.

As for how Vegas overcame its shortcomings, one needs look no further than the goaltending crease. Though he is the only player judged by a personal win-loss record, Fleury absolutely stood on his head in this contest just like he has in his last five playoff showings. The man nicknamed “Flower” did not wilt under the Sharks’ pressure, as he saved 43-of-47 shots faced for a .915 save percentage.

That being said, the second period was a tough one for him, as it was in those 20 minutes that he let in all three of his regulation goals against. Not only was Burns’ marker part of that total, but so too was First Star F Logan Couture‘s (F Tomas Hertl) snapper with 8:52 remaining in the period and Burns’ (W Timo Meier and Pavelski) wrap-around 2:59 after.

Just like his first goal of the game, Burns’ second was also the result of another set play from the face-off dot. Pavelski won the draw and shoved the puck to Meier, who quickly dished to San Jose’s favorite defenseman so he could get to work. Burns rumbled up the right boards and into the trapezoid, eventually getting rewarded with a gaping cage when Meier literally crashed into Fleury’s left post. Head Coach Gerard Gallant challenged for goaltender interference, but it was ruled he was shoved by a Golden Knight and was not responsible for any contact he made with the netminder.

For those keeping score at home, Perron was also in the box for this goal against, but Dillon took a corresponding roughing penalty to even play at four-on-four.

Anyways, that left the score at 3-2 going into the second intermission (during which it was revealed the Buffalo Sabres will be drafting first overall and the Carolina Hurricanes won the lottery by jumping up nine spots into the second pick at the NHL Entry Draft), and that’s where it remained at the midway point of the third period.

Having yet to experience a playoff loss, the Vegas crowd was beginning to grow antsy – that is until Schmidt (D Shea Theodore and F Erik Haula) took a page out of Burns’ book and ripped an impressive clapper from the blue line following a resumption of play.

The play was a mirrored-image of Burns’ second tally, as Perron won the draw and shoved the puck to Haula along the boards, who returned the play to Theodore at the point. The defensemen quickly connected after that, allowing Schmidt to line up a perfect clapper past Jones’ blocker to tie the game at three-all.

Some excellent goaltending extended this game into the second overtime period. In total, 16 shots on goal were fired in the frame between the Golden Knights and Sharks, but none found the back of the net thanks to the incredible play of Fleury and Jones.

Well, that’s technically not true.

F Jon Marchessault thought he had scored the game-winning goal with 3:02 remaining in the first overtime period, but it was ruled he interfered with Jones in the blue paint and inhibited his ability to make a play on the shot. That took the score off the board and left the game raging on into the cool desert night.

The contest finally reached its end at the 5:13 mark of the second overtime when Couture (RW Kevin Labanc and Burns) took advantage of D Jonathon Merrill‘s hooking penalty against Meier to bury a power play wrister behind Fleury.

Completing the theme of the night, Couture’s play was the direct result of Hertl’s face-off victory only moments before. After the play was set up with Burns at the point, he dished to Labanc heading towards the right face-off dot. The sophomore would have been well within his rights to attempt a shot through traffic, but he instead elected to sling a pass through the zone to Couture at the opposite dot, who elevated his writer over Fleury’s blocker.

With the exception of another stellar performance by the three-time Stanley Cup champion, Vegas has only itself to blame for this loss. Perron and the Golden Knights will need to put an emphasis on staying out of the penalty box in their upcoming games, especially considering the next two are away from the comforts of home.

After a quick 90-minute flight from Sin City to San Jose, Game 3’s puck drop is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern on Monday, April 30. Hockey fans that can’t snag one of the 17,562 tickets into The Shark Tank that night should tune their televisions to CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

Preds survive Colorado comeback; win away from Second Round

 

With a 3-2 victory at Pepsi Center, the Nashville Predators have taken a commanding 3-1 advantage in their First Round series against the Colorado Avalanche.

All three periods had a very distinct character in this tilt. Act One featured the Predators team that many were predicting could win the Stanley Cup during the offseason, followed by a second period that saw both clubs’ emotions boil over. Finally, Colorado mounted an exciting comeback in the third frame that fell just short of forcing overtime.

Let’s tackle them in that order, shall we?

Perhaps the most boring of the three periods was the first, but that is more a compliment to the second and third frames than it’s an insult to the opening 20 minutes.

G Jonathan Bernier in particular experienced a very quick introduction to Game 4, as he took a W Viktor Arvidsson slap shot to the mask only 22 seconds into the match. In fact, the clapper was so forceful that it damaged the cage through which Bernier peers, forcing him to swap his mask for his blank head gear worn at practice while Avalanche Head Equipment Manager Mark Miller made the necessary repairs.

However, Miller was far from the center of attention while he was working, as the Avs unwisely ended up with D Patrik Nemeth (closing hand on puck) and F Carl Soderberg (hi-sticking against C Nick Bonino) both occupying the penalty box at the same time whilst he was working, resulting in a 2:41 Predators power play that included 1:19 of five-on-three action.

It seems that Bernier’s blank mask is his good luck charm when it comes to facing such tough tasks, as the scoreless draw that was on the scoreboard when Nemeth entered the sin bin remained when Soderberg was released. However, for fear of wearing out any positive juju the mask may contain, Bernier swapped out masks once again for his usual duds at the next stoppage of play.

If you’re one to buy into any sort of thing like that, then perhaps you’d think Bernier should have stuck with the white headgear considering First Star of the Game F Filip Forsberg (F Ryan Johansen and Third Star D Mattias Ekholm) scored a wrist shot with 4:27 remaining in the first period to score Nashville’s first game-opening goal of the series.

That being said, I highly doubt Bernier’s mask played too much into Forsberg’s strike, as D Duncan Siemens – playing in only his third-career Stanley Cup Playoff game after being one of Colorado’s first-round picks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft – was little more than dead weight in his attempt to slow down his opposition. The forward dragged Siemens along as he drove toward Bernier’s crease before patiently depositing his wrister behind the netminder’s left skate.

Due in large part to the extended power play, the Predators dominated the first period in a far stronger fashion than a 1-0 score hints at. Nashville out-shot the Avs 15-8 – nearly doubling the hosts’ offensive offerings.

Inversely, even though the Predators added two more goals in the second frame, it didn’t seem like either team had much of an upper hand on the other in the middle 20 minutes.

That was due in large part to the Predators taking five penalties to Colorado’s three, including a 24-second five-on-three opportunity that effectively amounted to a 3:36 extended power play for the Avalanche.

Just like the Preds, Colorado was unable to convert neither that two-man advantage nor any other second period power play into a goal, which played right into the hands of Nashville. 47 seconds after F Colton Sissons was released from the penalty box (he was guilty of playing the puck with his hand at the face-off dot), he (Forsberg and Ekholm) scored a wrister at the 7:18 mark of the frame to double the Predators’ advantage to two goals.

Just in case Colorado didn’t learn the error of its ways the first time in losing track of penalized players returning to action, F Craig Smith (F Austin Watson) reiterated the lesson with 8:11 remaining in the third period. Having been released from serving RW Ryan Hartman‘s roughing penalty against W Sven Andrighetto only seven seconds before, Smith collected a loose puck at center ice and proceeded to rip a wrister over Bernier’s glove.

Speaking of Hartman, he kind of went berserk at the 9:41 mark of the frame – hence the reason he roped Smith into the box with him to help serve his penalties. Just seconds before the the events leading up to the infractions, Andrighetto borderline speared Smith near his midsection while both were working their ways towards G Pekka Rinne‘s zone. This sent Hartman well over the edge, as he dropped the gloves at the next stoppage of play and pounced on Andrighetto without waiting for the Swiss to agree to fight.

As a result, Hartman was charged with holding the stick and roughing, while Andrighetto only took a roughing penalty to give Colorado the two-minute power play that featured RW Mikko Rantanen getting severely cut below the eye by F Nathan MacKinnon‘s stick (Rantanen returned to play before the end of the frame) and led to Smith’s goal.

To complete our conversation about unruly penalties, it wasn’t only Andrighetto and Hartman allowing their tempers to get the best of them. Ekholm and Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog were charged with negating penalties with 6:32 remaining in the period (slashing and roughing, respectively), and F Alexander Kerfoot‘s roughing infraction against Rinne held over into the third period.

It’s Kerfoot’s penalty that really made Head Coach Jared Bednar’s reluctant decision to replace Bernier with G Andrew Hammond –  another product of the F Matt Duchene trade, for those keeping track at home – even harder to make. However, it was announced that Bernier suffered a lower-body injury, meaning it was time once again for the Hamburglar to take over the NHL.

If only one period of action is enough evidence (it isn’t), the Avs are no worse off defensively in Game 5 with Hammond than they were with Bernier. After the backup-turned-starter saved 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage) in the first two frames, the former Senator saved all eight shots that came his way in the final period.

Colorado finally got on the scoreboard at the 5:20 mark of the third period when Landeskog (F Tyson Jost and D Tyson Barrie) buried the lone power play goal of the game, a five-on-three wrister with Hartman and Sissons in the penalty box for charging Soderberg and tripping F J.T. Compher, respectively.

The comeback continued with 8:59 remaining in regulation when Kerfoot (W Matthew Nieto and D Nikita Zadorov) pulled the Avs back within a goal on a wrister. Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette challenged for goalie interference against W Blake Comeau – and likely should have won the challenge considering Comeau’s skate made contact with Rinne before the puck even reached him – but the NHL is the NHL and decided to keep the marker on the board.

Regardless, even though the Avs fired a total of 11 shots at Rinne in the third period, he did not yield the game-tying goal. In all, Rinne saved 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage) to earn his first road playoff victory since Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Anaheim on May 20, 2017.

Speaking of road wins, Colorado’s offense cannot afford to fall in another 3-0 hole in Game 5 in Nashville if it wants to extend its postseason any further. After all, the Avs have only won one of the three games in which they scored the first goal.

After a quick plane ride from the Rocky Mountains to the Smokies, Game 5 is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday, April 20 and will take place at Bridgestone Arena. The match can be viewed on NBCSN, SN360 and TVAS.