Tag Archives: Minnesota

2018 Offseason Preview: Minnesota Wild

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Minnesota Wild and their outlook for the summer.

Just like they have for previous five seasons, the Wild’s 2017-18 campaign saw them advance to the playoffs for the sixth-straight year. And, just like they have for the previous two postseasons, the Wild’s 2018 playoffs ended in the first round (in fact, Minnesota has won only one playoff game apiece for the past two seasons) for a third-straight year.

Whether you’d call it idling, treading water or stalling, the point remains the same: the Wild aren’t getting better, and any time a team isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse.

Is this a problem that can be resolved this offseason? Or will newly appointed General Manager Paul Fenton be able to duplicate his Nashville success in St. Paul?

2018 NHL Entry Draft

With the 24th-overall pick in this year’s deep draft, the Wild are still in the running for landing an excellent prospect. Personally, I’m leaning towards Minnesota snagging D Alexander Alexeyev (Red Deer Rebels), C Benoit-Olivier Groulx (Halifax Mooseheads), D Jared McIsaac (Halifax Mooseheads) or C Jay O’Brien (Thayer Academy), pending each player’s availability.

Of the 18-year-old defensemen, Alexeyev is the more offensive-minded of the two as his .82 points per game this season is superior to McIsaac’s .72 points per game, but both would make an already dangerous Wild blue line even more lethal.

Determining the better of the two centers is a taller task, as O’Brien is still playing with his high school team (posting 43-37-80 totals in 30 games played) while Groulx has been facing tougher competition in the QMJHL (posting 28-27-55 totals in 68 games played). However, clocking in at 6-foot, 174 pounds at only 18-years-old, O’Brien just might be worth the risk to propel Minnesota forward.

Pending free agents

With both G Devan Dubnyk and G Alex Stalock under contract for at least one more season, the only way there’s something changing here is if Fenton makes a trade – and I doubt he does it.

The Wild have three pending RFA defensemen to make decisions on, the most important of which is soon-to-be 24-year-old D Mathew Dumba. The seventh-overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Dumba’s 23:49 time on ice per game is third on his club at his position, while his .61 points per game is second among Wild defensemen with at least two games played.

Minnesota has just under $7.5 million in projected cap space for this upcoming season, but more than $2.55 million of that is going to be heading Dumba’s way (that’s the price at which he signed his last two-year contract).

Without even signing D Ryan Murphy or D Nick Seeler, the Wild would have eight NHL defenseman contracts on their books. Odds are very good that at least one Minnesota defenesman will be shipped off in some sort of trade this offseason, and that number could climb all the way to three.

How am I so confident in that prediction? The Wild also have five free agent forwards to ponder, including primary target W Jason Zucker – a pending RFA. The 59th-overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft posted decent 33-31-64 totals in 82 games played (.78 points per game) from his spot on the first line, scoring the second-most tallies on the team for a career-high.

This Wild team without Zucker would be helpless, so I have a hard time believing Fenton will allow him to wear a different sweater next season if he’s committed to winning now. As such, Zucker will likely improve on his $2 million contract, even if it’s only a one-year deal to get him to his 27th birthday – the graduation into unrestricted free agency.

And just like that, we’ve spent almost $6 million of the $7.5 million available on Dumba and Zucker. As such, Minnesota is likely going to be forced into some uncomfortable trades that could likely damage the team and potentially put its six-year playoff run at risk.

One thing to keep in mind is that, as unsigned restricted free agents, Dumba and Zucker may not be necessarily off the trading table. Both (especially Dumba) will be valuable haggling pieces if the Wild decide to do a retool, but they’ll need to make sure to get the right pieces in return to avoid wasting anymore of Dubnyk’s prime.

Whiteout Whitewashing: Jets take the series with Game 5 shutout victory

 

For the first time since the birth of the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise 19 years ago, the team will see the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the city of Winnipeg, a 31-year wait has ended with thunderous applause.

For Minnesota, however, an arduous struggle has ended in back-to-back blankings at the hands of a Jets squad that far outclassed them. The Wild fought as best they could, but with the absence of Ryan Suter on defense, and the loss of Zach Parise after Game 3, the tools for them to compete with a stacked Winnipeg roster just weren’t there. Pile on some notably lackluster performances from key players like Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, and Charlie Coyle (all held scoreless in the series) and there was really no hope to overcome the juggernaut Jets.

The Wild knew to have any shot at surviving Game 5 they’d need to play the perfect road game and try to keep the Jets from building momentum and getting the raucous crowd involved. This strategy lasted all of 31 seconds.

A strong opening shift was capped off when Jacob Trouba received a cross-ice pass from Mark Scheifele at the top of the right circle, took a few strides towards the net and ripped a wrist shot past Devan Dubnyk to ignite Bell MTS Place in the first minute.

A Winnipeg penalty shortly after the goal threatened to kill the energy, but strong work on the PK kept the tide in the Jets’ favor, and shortly after the conclusion of the penalty Trouba (who had himself a game) nearly scored on an odd-man rush, before nearly tipping home a follow-up shot right after. Dubnyk was trying desperately to keep his team alive and settle things down.

Unfortunately for the Minnesota netminder, his efforts were for nothing, as on the following faceoff Dustin Byfuglien let go a wrist shot from the right point that Bryan Little redirected beautifully past an unsuspecting Dubnyk for the 2-0 lead, still just 5:42 into the game.

Still the Jets kept coming, and the Wild had no answer. A Brandon Tanev shot nearly went in off the skate of Dubnyk after bouncing off of the end boards. Then Niederreiter tried to create a scoring opportunity by dancing around one Winnipeg defender only to get blown up by Big Buff as he attempted to let the shot go. Then Tanev, apparently upset at his previous failure, stripped a fumbling Jonas Brodin of the puck at his defensive blueline and fired a quick turnaround wrister through Dubnyk before he had time to react, Winnipeg taking a 3-0 lead with 8:50 to play. Tanev’s first career playoff goal.

Just 49 seconds later things went from calamity to catastrophe when an initial attempt from Andrew Copp rebounded out high to a locked and loaded Byfuglien, who proceeded to unload a bomb that redirected off of Joel Armia (his first playoff goal, just to stick with the theme) and into the net.

It was now 4-0 with 8:01 to play in the first period, and a mercy pulling was in order. Bruce Boudreau sent Alex Stalock in to relieve Dubnyk of his nightmare, and he returned to the bench to a standing reception from his teammates. Captain Mikko Koivu walked down to the end of the bench after Dubnyk sat down, seemingly to say “We’re sorry, this is on us.” to his visibly emotional goaltender.

Winnipeg fans, however, did not share in Koivu’s sympathies, as a chant of “We Want Dubnyk” rang out not long after the resumption of play. Apparently even after a long, cold winter, Winnipeg still has plenty of salt to go around.

The period ended with the Jets outshooting Minnesota 13-7, but the play was even more lopsided than that would indicate.

Early in the second Minnesota got their proverbial “This one just isn’t going to go your way” sign from the hockey gods, as a Mikael Granlund rush drew Connor Hellebuyck out of his net, giving Granlund an open cage to tuck a wraparound into, only to see the puck sail across the crease along the goal line and bounce off of multiple Winnipeg skates just inches from paydirt, only to be cleared away.

Minnesota did finally gain some offensive traction to their credit, though the second notable opportunity was a Niederreiter rush that was met with a shot block and subsequent leveling hit by Trouba. Ironically even though they controlled a lot of the play early in the second, the Wild would not record a shot for nearly eight minutes of play.

The game’s only real notable save came from the left pad of Stalock who denied a seemingly sure-thing one-timer right on the doorstep at the bottom of the left circle from Scheifele just past the game’s halfway mark.

A Wild power play around the 11:00 mark brought some more offensive traction to the visitors, who had a few quality chances on the power play followed up by a Niederreiter breakaway all turned aside. Jason Zucker found iron on a later power play, but Hellebucyk simply couldn’t be solved.

The Jets put a stamp on the game just 32 seconds into the third with a beautiful high-low-high passing sequence from Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny, and Scheifele capped off by a beautiful one-time rip from #55 into the net from the low slot.

Sensing victory was now firmly in hand, the Winnipeg Whiteout crowd started to take over the third period. Multiple renditions of Bananarama’s ‘Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye’ were belted out in perfect harmony at numerous points in the frame, starting with the initial performance just after the puck had dropped following the 5-0 goal.

When Hellebucyk made a great stop on Matt Cullen off of a Marcus Foligno rebound, the crowd responded with the wave, then some more Bananarama.

Blake Wheeler nearly made it 6-0 on a beautiful backhand tip of a Scheifele centering pass, but the hockey gods had decided enough was enough, so it found the crossbar and vacated the goal crease without further incident.

‘We Want Nashville!’ is now the chant. Bold, Winnipeg. Bold.

Later in the period a fan took a deflected puck to the face, only to be tossed a towel by Matt Hendricks (making his series debut) and signal to everyone in attendance that they were still very much alive, drawing a rousing round of applause.

The standing ovation started with 2:30 to play, and was only interrupted by an obligatory singalong to ‘Sweet Caroline’ at 2:10. The final minute of play was basically just one long explosion of noise as the city erupted into a party that I assume will still be occurring when the sun rises. On Monday.

In the end, Connor Hellebucyk posted his second-consecutive shutout to seal the series, and the Parise-less Wild fail to score a single goal. It’s hard for Minnesota to argue that injuries were the only reason they couldn’t climb this mountain, as Winnipeg faced games without Tyler Myers, Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey among others, and played the entire series without Toby Enstrom. It just speaks to their incredible depth that even when missing key contributors they could still trounce Minnesota with relative ease.

Now with a long rest ahead of them to get healthy before a likely (at least as of this writing) Second Round matchup for the ages with Nashville, the Jets have a little time to celebrate before looking towards what lay ahead.

Special shoutout to 20-year veteran and three-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Cullen, who may have just played the final game of a fantastic career.

Snowed Under: Wild fall 2-0 to Jets, face 3-1 series defecit

 

In the midst of a Minnesota snowstorm, the hometown crowd watched their hopes all but buried as the Wild were simply unable to overcome their laundry list of injuries and a suffocating Winnipeg defense.

Already without Ryan Suter, the Wild took another hammering blow late in Game 3 when Zach Parise got sandwiched by Mark Scheifele and Ben Chiarot and suffered a fractured sternum (side note: ouch) that rules him out of the rest of the playoffs. Parise’s spot in the lineup would be filled by Tyler Ennis, seeing his first NHL playoff action since 2011 when the diminutive forward was a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

Winnipeg was not without their own injury problems, losing Tyler Myers after an awkward collision with Marcus Foligno in Game 3. Though not as key an element to his team as Parise is to the Wild, Myers still eats a lot of quality minutes on the Winnipeg blueline. Young Tucker Poolman would taste his first ever playoff action as he filled in for the towering Myers.

The game started much the same as it ended…and middle-d…you know what I mean.

Tight checking, excellent stick position, and a near-complete lack of offensive chances were a theme in this one. Not to say that there wasn’t action, as from the opening puck drop the two teams continued the series’ main theme: That is, both teams spent every shift actively trying to kill each other. Arguably 2018’s roughest series so far, it isn’t even so much the quantity of hits we’ve seen in this one, but moreso that every hit we do see is thrown with seemingly as much force as it can possibly be delivered with. No great wonder why so many players are nursing injuries.

Other than a brief flurry by Winnipeg that Devan Dubnyk answered with three or four quality stops about 8:30 into the frame, the opening 10 minutes had little to speak of in terms of scoring opportunities.

Finally it was Minnesota who started to find some traction, first coming from an unlikely source in their fourth line of Foligno – Joel Eriksson EkDaniel Winnik, who deployed an effective dump and chase strategy, sending two forecheckers in hard and fast to get the Winnipeg defense in deep, then working the puck free to a second wave usually of the third forward and a pinching defenseman. All Minnesota lines adopted the strategy for a solid few minutes in the late first, and all had decent chances, including Nino Niederreiter feeding Eric Staal right in the goal mouth, only to have an excellent backhand chance waffled away by Connor Hellebuyck. Shortly after, Minnesota’s sustained pressure forced the Jets into a penalty, and on the resulting power play Josh Morrissey got away with an egregious cross-check to the face/neck of Staal, who lay on the ice for a few seconds before slowly making his was to the bench all while play continued around him. The Minnesota crowd was…less than pleased.

To continue their displeasure, shortly after the penalty concluded, it would be Morrissey starting a breakout to Scheifele, who played a give-and-go with Kyle Connor beautifully, taking Connor’s drop pass in the low slot and ripping a snapshot through traffic and over Dubnyk with just 28 seconds left to play, sending the Minnesota crowd into a symphony of boos so loud I think P.K. Subban actually might have heard them.

Minnesota ended the period leading 10-7 in shots, but down on the board. Shot blocking was a major theme of the first period, and the game, really. It also contributed to the growing list of banged up players, as both Mathew Dumba and Dustin Byfuglien left the ice at different points in the first because of shot blocks.

The second started with a bang, as on the opening shift the Wild jumped on a turnover by Jacob Trouba and flew up the ice on a three-on-one lead by Mikael Granlund. #64 in green showed Hellebucyk shot all the way, but with just inches to spare sent a pass across the crease to Dumba who looked to have a sure goal, before the glove of Hellebucyk robbed him blind. A few minutes later Jonas Brodin sprung Niederreiter on a breakaway with an unbelievable stretch pass (that frankly I have no idea how Nino even managed to corral on his stick) but just before he could get the shot off a desperate Morrissey poked the puck off of his stick and clear of danger.

Dubnyk would see little action of serious consequence in the middle frame, a few whacks at a centered puck in the blue paint by Adam Lowry the only real threat of the second 20 minutes. The Wild did, however, lose Granlund for a few minutes in the middle of the frame, but he would return to finish the game. Also of note was Dumba taking a run at Byfuglien, which worked out about as well as you’d expect.

Late in the period Brodin nearly played hero himself, absolutely dancing a Winnipeg defender at the blueline and walking in to label a wrist shot for the high blocker side of Hellebucyk, but the newly-elected Vezina candidate had the answer, as was the case all night.

By the end of the second the Wild lead 20-19 on the shot clock, but struggled to find room to construct any serious chances.

The Jets took the attack to Minnesota for stretches of the third, attempting to prevent them from even having the chance to tie the game. An early chance by Joe Morrow found a goal post, and later Scheifele found one of his own, which created some chaos around the Wild goal that Dubnyk had to tidy up. Laine then got a breakaway opportunity in the dying minutes of the third that was harassed just enough by Spurgeon to allow Dubnyk to poke the puck away before any harm could come.

It took Minnesota until just under two minutes remaining to gain enough solid puck possession to get Dubnyk off, but the extra attacker still couldn’t help them solve the labyrinth that was Winnipeg’s defensive scheme, and Scheifele buried the 2-0 dagger with 10 seconds remaining to seal Minnesota’s fate.

Outshot 30-28, the Jets took the first road victory of the series, giving them the chance to win the first playoff series in franchise history in front of what will surely be a raucous Winnipeg Whiteout crowd on Friday night (DTFR coverage brought to you again by yours truly).

How Minnesota finds a way to extend this series is beyond me. The injuries to key players just seem to be too much for them to overcome. They’ll need nothing short of a miracle to make it back to Xcel Energy Center for Game 6.

True North Stronger: Jets edge Wild to open series; win first-ever playoff game

 

For those expecting this to be a one-sided series, Game 1 would like to have a word with you.

On the opening night of the 2018 NHL Playoffs (also known as the most wonderful time of the year) the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets treated us to exactly what we expect from playoff hockey: a hard-hitting, fast-paced, raucous affair with something for everyone.

In the end, it would be Winnipeg firing the opening salvo in the series, treating the thundering crowd at Bell MTS Place to the first playoff victory in franchise history. What a victory it was.

The city of Winnipeg hosted its first playoff series Game 1 since 1985 (insert joke about how many current players weren’t even alive) and they did not disappoint. The legendary Winnipeg Whiteout was as incredible a sight as ever, there may have been more people filling the downtown streets around the arena than there were in the arena (it’s a small venue joke and also a legitimate observation), and the Jets took the ice to an earth-shaking ovation. Pregame festivities were actually slightly delayed by a crowd that simply refused to cease their chant of ‘Go Jets Go!”

For Minnesota, the uphill battle was obvious. On the wrong end of some heavy betting odds, missing top defenseman Ryan Suter (28+ minutes of ice time suddenly unaccounted for), and likely unable to hear themselves think, the Wild’s gameplan was to hopefully control the pace and take the crowd out of it.

That did not go well in the early minutes.

Winnipeg came out flying. After buzzing offensively for the first couple minutes, they turned their focus to their other greatest weapon: Physicality. First it was a booming open ice hit on Daniel Winnik by Ben Chiarot. On the very next shift, Brandon Tanev stapled Eric Staal to the boards at one end, then linemate Adam Lowry crushed Jared Spurgeon (in his first game back from injury) at the opposite end.

Lowry was a standout in this game. He and Tanev combined for multiple quality scoring chances, and he played most of the game with the apparent mindset that if it was wearing white, it needed to die. He did leave the ice with about 50 seconds left in the first period, but returned for the second and played the rest of the game without issue. If Minnesota wants to change their fortunes (and potentially save the lives of some of their players) going forward, they’ll need to find a way to neutralize #17.

Potentially as a result of Lowry’s play, the first tv timeout was extended due to some maintenance on a pane of glass in the Minnesota end. After play resumed it was all Winnipeg for the rest of the period. If not for stellar play by Devan Dubnyk (including a spectacular robbery of Andrew Copp after he picked up a deflected point shot at the side of the net) and a great effort by Minnesota to keep most of the chances to the outside, the score could have been out of hand within the first 20 minutes.

My personal highlight of the first was Dubnyk snagging a left wing shot in his glove, before delivering a beautiful Booker T-esque spinebuster to a net-crashing Mathieu Perreault. Not much came of it, but it looked awesome and Dubnyk talking to the referee and very visibly laughing was terrific.

The shot clock read 13-4, but the scoreboard said 0-0 after 20 minutes.

Things picked up slightly in the second, as just 20 seconds in it would be Eric Staal taking the game’s first penalty (a trip on Mark Scheifele). The power play was mostly uneventful, but did include a shorthanded bid by Joel Eriksson Ek that was first negated by Patrik Laine, before ‘J.E.E.’ was absolutely obliterated by a backchecking Dustin Byfuglien.

After the power play it was Hellebucyk’s turn to save his team’s skin, as a terrible giveaway by Jacob Trouba behind his own net gave the Wild essentially a stationary 2-on-0, that luckily the Winnipeg goaltender was able to negate with a blocker save. Eriksson Ek would get another breakaway opportunity, this time avoiding being murdered by Big Buff, but would not find paydirt. The puck then went the other way and saw Kyle Connor unleash a beautiful toe-drag wrist shot from the high slot only to have Dubnyk windmill his hopes and dreams.

Just when it was starting to really look like we would see another scoreless period, Winnipeg would repeat a play they had tried on their previous power play to no avail and find success, with Mark Scheifele taking a sneaky centering feed from Blake Wheeler and ripping a one-timer past Dubnyk to finally break through with 2:23 to play.

Ironically, the Wild would outshoot the Jets in the 2nd, but find themselves trailing 1-0. But Winnipeg found itself down by one in its own right, having lost Mathieu Perreault to an upper body injury, after the diminutive centerman seemed to be the focus of some physical play throughout the period. After taking a huge open ice hit from Mikko Koivu, a tie-up and subsequent body slam from Nick Seeler seemed to be the final blow to end Perreault’s night.

After two periods of goaltenders stealing the show and solid defensive work, the doors got blown wide open in the third.

It started off the opening draw, with Winnipeg executing a perfect set play to spring Connor on a breakaway only to be denied by Dubnyk. The Wild quickly turned the tables, however, as less than two minutes into the frame it would be rookie Jordan Greenway tallying his first ever playoff point in his first ever playoff game by feeding three-time Cup winner and oldest man in the playoffs Matt Cullen for a beautiful one-timer over the shoulder of Hellebucyk to tie the game at one.

A two-minute track meet ensued, before a bad pinch by Dustin Byfuglien allowed Mikko Koivu (who got blown up by Lowry just as he chipped the breakout pass ahead) to feed Mikael Granlund to lead a 2-on-1 with Zach Parise. Granlund showed shot all the way, before feeding a pass to Parise’s stick at the last possible instant for a back-door tap-in to complete the two-goal swing and give Minnesota the lead just over two minutes after tying the game.

The once-booming Winnipeg crowd fell silent. Briefly.

Then Paul Stastny left a drop pass for Patrik Laine just inside the blueline and the 19-year-old phenom ripped a shot from the top of the circle that Dubnyk simply couldn’t catch up to. 2-2, just like that, less than a minute after the second Wild goal.

On the very next shift it looked like Winnipeg was going to take the lead right back, as Joel Armia took the puck on a cross-ice feed and got robbed blind by Dubnyk. The puck squeaked behind the Minnesota goaltender, but his teammates piled on to make sure it couldn’t find the promised land, and a big scrum followed.

The Jets would fire 15 consecutive shots on net after the second Minnesota goal, dominating most of the third period. Then with just over seven minutes left in the game, Joe Morrow would net his first ever playoff goal (and first career game-winner of any kind) with a blast from the point that deflected off of a Minnesota stick and fooled Dubnyk.

Hellebucyk and his teammates would fend off the Minnesota attack for the final minutes, including stops on a beautiful rush by Koivu, and a combined effort from Mathew Dumba and Jason Zucker to hold the fort and secure the 3-2 victory.

Minnesota has nothing to hang its head about, however. It gave a fired-up, heavily-favored Winnipeg team all it could handle, and Dubnyk showed the kind of form that can steal some games. Throw in the abundant physicality, and we’ve got ourselves a very entertaining under-the-radar series to watch.

Speaking of which, Game 2 will come to you Friday at 7:30pm Eastern on USA Network, SN and TVAS2. If you happen to miss it, though, do not fret. Our very own @kephartc will have a recap for you.

April 4 – Day 175 – Which team will Wild Wing pull for?

There’s not much happening in the world of hockey tonight, as there’s only three games on the schedule in anticipation of an important busy weekend.

First up is Ottawa at Buffalo (SN1/SN360/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by Chicago at St. Louis (NBCSN). Finally, Minnesota visits Anaheim (SN1/SN360) at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

In terms of percentages, there’s rivalries galore tonight. That will play an especially important role in Missouri, as there’s nothing more the Blackhawks want to do than spoil St. Louis’ playoff push.

However, the tilt that deserves the most attention this evening is taking place on the West Coast between two teams that, though they may not be rivals, are hoping to meet in the Western Conference Finals.

 

You’re hard pressed to find a hotter team in the Pacific Division than 41-25-13 Anaheim, currently the Western Conference’s first wild card. The Ducks have posted a 7-1-1 record over their past nine games to keep pace with the Kings in the race for third place in the Pacific.

As would be expected by a team with such an impressive record over the last three weeks, there’s been little Anaheim has done wrong during this run. With five skaters having scored at least six points in their last nine games, the Ducks’ offense is averaging an impressive 3.22 goals per game since March 14 to rank 12th-best in the NHL in that time.

However, the Ducks’ attack has paled in comparison to their effort on the defensive end. Led by D Francois Beauchemin (1.6 blocks per game since March 14), C Ryan Getzlaf (13 takeaways in his last eight games) and D Josh Manson (3.6 hits per game during this run), Anaheim has allowed only 30.22 shots against per game since March 14, the eighth-lowest mark in the NHL in that span.

A major note concerning Anaheim’s defense this evening is the absence of D Cam Fowler, who took a strong hit from W Blake Comeau along the boards in Sunday’s game against Colorado. He’d been averaging two blocks per game during the Ducks’ impressive streak and will leave a sizable hole for whoever fills his spot on the blue line.

That being said, it’s not like 31-18-7 G John Gibson has needed all that much help to find success. Having posted a .926 save percentage and 2.43 GAA for the entire season, his defense playing so well in front of him lately has helped him manage an even better .936 save percentage and 1.9 GAA in his last nine starts.

Between Gibson and his defense, Anaheim has allowed only 2.11 goals against per game since March 14, the third-best mark in the NHL over the past three weeks.

Unfortunately, Gibson was another victim of the Avalanche on Sunday, and his upper-body injury is going to make him unavailable for at least tonight’s game. That puts 9-6-6 G Ryan Miller, who completed the 4-3 overtime victory against the Avs, in the spotlight for the undetermined future. Miller has managed a .925 save percentage and 2.51 GAA for the season.

Based on those marks being comparable to Gibson’s and the defense the Ducks have been playing lately, I’d assume it will be business as usual on The Pond this evening provided Fowler’s replacement can perform half as well as he usually does.

Another team playing some spectacular hockey of late are the 44-25-10 Wild, the Central Division’s third place club. Minnesota has posted a 5-1-3 record over its past nine showings, including wins over Vegas and Nashville.

Both the Golden Knights and Predators are certainly capable of lighting up a scoreboard, yet they combined for only three goals in their losses to Minnesota. That’s been a normal occurrence for the Wild during this run, as they’ve allowed only 1.89 goals against per game since March 16, the (t)best mark in the league in that time.

Minnesota’s incredible defense has been a major reason for that success, as it has allowed only 28.33 shots against per game during this run – the third-lowest average in the NHL since March 16. Whether it’s been D Jonas Brodin (two blocks per game since March 16), LW Marcus Foligno (2.6 hits per game during this run) or W Jason Zucker (eight takeaways in his past nine games), the Wild excel at making life extremely difficult on opposing attacks.

Just like Anaheim, Minnesota will also be missing a vital part of its defense for the extended future. D Ryan Suter is out indefinitely with a fractured fibula suffered in Dallas Saturday night. D Carson Soucy made his NHL debut filling in for Suter in the Wild’s first game without him (a 3-0 win over the Oilers), firing three shots and throwing two hits in 15:26 of play on the third pair.

Part of the reason the Wild aren’t in terrible shape without Suter is because they have 34-15-7 G Devan Dubnyk manning the pipes. Though this campaign has been far from the 2015 Masterton-winner’s best – he has a .918 save percentage and 2.52 GAA on the season – Dubnyk has been exemplary when it matters most. In his last seven starts, Dubnyk has managed a .939 save percentage and 1.68 GAA, and he’ll be called upon tonight to stop a hungry Anaheim attack.

With the Wild making the trip into Los Angeles tomorrow night, there were questions whether Dubnyk or 10-10-3 G Alex Stalock, would be in net this evening. According to Michael Russo of The Athletic yesterday at 6 p.m. Eastern, Dubnyk has been confirmed as tonight’s starter.

Not only have the Wild already clinched a spot in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they need only one point in their remaining three games (or one St. Louis loss of any variety in its last three games) to be locked into third place in the Central Division.

That 5-7-2 record was a long time ago, wasn’t it Minnesota?

If only the future were so certain for the Ducks. Currently the Western Conference’s first wild card, there’s still a chance Anaheim could miss the postseason altogether.

Of course, two points tonight can make the Ducks’ footing a little more certain, as they would jump Los Angeles for third place in the Pacific Division with only two games to play for both clubs.

Both of the first two meetings between these sides were so close, they required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner.

Game 1 took place on December 8 at The Pond, where the Wild claimed a 3-2 overtime victory (D Mathew Dumba scored the game-winner). However, Minnesota couldn’t successfully defend home ice when the Ducks came to St. Paul on February 17, as Anaheim stole a 3-2 shootout win (LW Nick Ritchie claimed First Star honors for ending the 11-round shootout).

The fact that the Ducks have an offense that is playing slightly better lately paired with home ice advantage leads me to thinking Anaheim should earn two points tonight. However, as well as Minnesota’s defense has been performing, it just might be able to force overtime to lock in its playoff position.


Led by First Star of the Game G Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s 33-save shutout, the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Boston Bruins 4-0 at Amalie Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Between Tampa’s defense holding the Bruins to only eight shots on goal and G Tuukka Rask saving all 17 shots the Bolts managed to send his way, this game had the looks of a tight affair after the first period ended scoreless.

That all changed in the second period, as Tampa registered three of its four goals in the span of 9:26, starting with F Brayden Point‘s (RW Nikita Kucherov and Second Star D Braydon Coburn) game-winning wrist shot at the 5:01 mark.

Kucherov deserves a lot of credit for setting up this goal, as the way he skated circles around LW Brad Marchand and C Patrice Bergeron to get the puck into the offensive zone would probably be a suitable audition for hockey’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters. Once Kucherov reached the left face-off circle, he flung a pass across the zone to Point, who proceeded to rip his wrister from above the right face-off circle. Though it was a long distance, Point’s dart to the far post sneaked under Rask’s right arm and into the back of the net.

But the Lightning were far from done with that tally. D Victor Hedman (Coburn and Third Star RW Ryan Callahan) doubled Tampa Bay’s advantage 5:58 later with a slap shot, followed by LW Chris Kunitz‘ (Callahan and D Dan Girardi) wrister setting the score at 3-0 with 5:33 remaining in the frame.

Even though the Bruins out-shot the Bolts 12-3 in the third period, F J.T. Miller was the only player to score in the final frame. He buried his unassisted snap shot 2:34 into the period to set the 4-0 final score.

While Vasilevskiy was busy earning his eighth shutout of the season, Rask saved 32-of-36 shots faced in the loss (.889 save percentage).

With Tampa’s victory at Amalie Arena, the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a 100-54-21 record that is 48 points better than the roadies’.

March 19 – Day 159 – There’s a LA Lakers joke here somewhere…

After a busy weekend, only five games are on today’s NHL schedule.

The evening starts with two tilts (Columbus at Boston [SN/TVAS] and Nashville at Buffalo) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Florida at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Los Angeles at Minnesota (NBCSN), while Calgary at Arizona – tonight’s nightcap – waits a full two hours before closing out the night. All times Eastern.

Originally, the Kings-Wild game was marked in my list of potential games for the simple fact that D Christian Folin is returning to Xcel Energy Center for the first time since departing Minnesota. While that’s not exactly a story worth covering (sorry Folin, but you’ve spent the last two games in the press box), the matchup should still prove to be the most competitive – and important – of the night. To the Land of 10,000 Lakes!

 

March has not been the month of consistency for 39-27-6 Los Angeles, as it has alternated between winning and losing on a game-by-game basis. While that is a good thing in the sense that they haven’t strung two losses back-to-back since February 22 and 24, the Kings have also failed to follow a win with another victory since February 27 and March 1.

As such, the Kings have only a 4-3-1 record to show for this calendar month, but that is certainly not the fault of any in the defensive end. Led by W Dustin Brown (five takeaways since March 1) and LW Kyle Clifford (3.4 hits per game over this stretch), Los Angeles has allowed only 29.88 shots against per game to reach 28-26-2 G Jonathan Quick since March 1, the 10th-lowest mark in the NHL in that time.

Of course, a goaltender like Quick that is faced with so few shots per game is almost always capable of making the required saves. The story has been no different lately, as he’s posted an impressive .923 save percentage and 2.27 GAA over his past seven starts, improving his season marks to a .922 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.

Even with the Kings traveling to Winnipeg for a tilt tomorrow night against the Jets, Quick will be in net this evening.

Instead, inconsistency has showed its ugly face within the Kings’ offensive ranks this month. That seems hard to believe considering C Anze Kopitar and D Drew Doughty are both averaging at least a point per game this month with respective 10 and eight points, but it’s how they reached those point totals where we start to get a clearer picture.

It’s a regular occurrence for an offensive defenseman to register far more assists than goals, so it’s no surprise Doughty has 1-7-8 marks over his past eight showings. Similarly, Doughty plays an excellent center role by being a play maker, as evidenced by his 2-8-10 performance this month.

However, it’s the fact that neither of these leaders are finding the back of the net themselves that seems to be the issue. Similarly, the Kings’ two hottest goalscorers – F Jeff Carter and LW Tanner Pearson – can only boast four goals apiece since March 1, but they play together on the second line instead of with Kopitar.

Therefore, it seems that Los Angeles’ top line is in a bit of a rut lately. With F Tobias Rieder and Brown currently listed as Kopitar’s wings, they need to get their act together to solidify the Kings’ playoff run.

In terms of record, 41-24-7 Minnesota has been experiencing a month of March very similar to the Kings, as the Wild can only boast a 5-4-0 record since turning the calendar’s page.

However, the Wild have reached their March record in a very different way than the Kings, as they have already posted a three-game winning streak this month and could match that mark with a victory tonight.

Defense has been a major part of that success, as Minnesota has done well to limit its opponents to only 28 shots against per game since March 1, the third-lowest mark in the entire NHL. D Jonas Brodin (1.9 blocks per game since March 1), D Mathew Dumba (two hits per game over this run) and W Jason Zucker (six takeaways in his last nine games) have all played major roles in that squelching defensive presence.

However, to have a record so close to .500 over this nine-game run, there’s also been more than a few Minnesotan losses this month. Those belong to 31-14-5 G Devan Dubnyk, who has not exactly been spectacular in his last seven starts. Even though he’s earned four victories this month, he’s also posted an .899 save percentage and 2.93 GAA – well below his season marks of a .916 save percentage and 2.61 GAA.

Of these two teams, Minnesota’s playoff chances are all but clinched as it has a five-point advantage on ninth-place Dallas – not to mention a game in hand (technically, tonight’s game is the Wild’s game in hand over the Stars, but it will be returned to them after Dallas plays Washington tomorrow). Additionally, there’s little forward mobility in the Central Division, as Minnesota trails Winnipeg by seven points.

Instead, the Wild are most concerned with holding on to third place in the division to ensure they play the Jets in the first round of the playoffs instead of Vegas. Currently, Minnesota has a three-point advantage on Colorado in the first wild card. With the Avs getting the opportunity to take on the lowly Blackhawks tomorrow night, the Wild need to hold serve with a victory tonight to maintain their slim advantage.

Of course, playoff seeding is the least of the Kings’ worries as they’re currently tied with Dallas at 84 points. Los Angeles needs any points it can get its hands on, but a win tonight would propel it past Anaheim for third place in the Pacific Division, as both sides would have 86 points and the Kings would win the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker.

Tonight’s game is the second of three this regular season between Los Angeles and Minnesota. The first took place December 15 at Staples Center, where the Kings effectively imposed their will to post a convincing 5-2 victory. W Marian Gaborik – now an Ottawa Senator after being traded on Valentine’s Day for D Dion Phaneuf and C Nate Thompson – led the way that night with two third period goals.

If the Kings continue their run of alternating results, they should be in line for a victory tonight considering they fell 3-0 against New Jersey on Saturday. Even facing Minnesota’s impressive defense, I think the Kings can get it done today since Quick playing that much better than Dubnyk lately.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 at Honda Center to propel themselves into third place in the Pacific Division.

Though the Devils twice pulled back within a goal of tying the game, the final result never seemed to be in doubt. Anaheim’s defense squelched almost every attempted attack by New Jersey, as its 36 shots on goals are well more than the Devils’ 17.

Of course, that defense got quite the boost by being spotted a two-goal advantage before even seven minutes had run off the clock. Second Star of the Game C Ryan Getzlaf opened the game’s scoring only 1:14 after the opening puck drop with an unassisted snap shot, and he was followed 5:23 later by W Jakob Silfverberg (D Josh Manson and Third Star D Hampus Lindholm) scoring a tip-in to set the score at 2-0.

Even though they opened the second period with 1:25 of five-on-three play, the Devils’ first comeback attempt didn’t see any real life until 9:29 remained in the second period. With W Corey Perry in the penalty box serving a too many men on the ice penalty, W Kyle Palmieri (C Travis Zajac and F Taylor Hall) buried a slap shot to pull New Jersey back within a 2-1 deficit.

Comebacks are difficult to pull off when Anaheim scores its game-winning goal before Jersey even manages its second. That’s exactly what happened when D Brandon Montour (Getzlaf and First Star F Rickard Rakell) scored a power play clapper 7:55 into the third period.

Montour and co. needed only 26 seconds of D John Moore sitting in the penalty box for cross checking Silfverberg to make the Devils pay. After receiving a pass along the left boards from Cam Fowler at the point, Rakell, moved the puck below the goal line to Getzlaf hanging out just outside the trapezoid. Before New Jersey could get its defense in the right position, Getzlaf centered a perfect pass to Montour at the top-right corner of the slot, who proceeded to rip his clapper past G Keith Kinkaid‘s glove.

Though LW Patrick Maroon (D Sami Vatanen and RW Stefan Noesen) was able to pull the Devils back within a goal with a tip-in against his former team with 9:55 remaining in regulation, a Rakell (Fowler and D Marcus Pettersson) wrist shot only 46 seconds later completed the game’s scoring.

G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 15-of-17 shots faced (.882 save percentage), leaving the loss to Kinkaid, who saved 32-of-36 (.889).

Anaheim’s regulation home victory snaps an eight-game point streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the series’ hosts now have an 88-52-19 record that is 34 points better than the roadies.

March 13 – Day 153 – The Central teams without Ss

Only seven games are on this Tuesday’s schedule, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the lower volume means lower quality.

We find our start at 7 p.m. with Boston at Carolina (SN1), followed half an hour later by a pair of tilts (Dallas at Montréal [RDS/TNS2] and Ottawa at Tampa Bay [RDS2]). Next up is Winnipeg at Nashville (TVAS) at 8 p.m., while Colorado at Minnesota (NBCSN) waits 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Edmonton at Calgary (SN/SN1) gets underway at 9 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Arizona – completes the evening’s festivities with their 10 p.m. tilt. All times Eastern.

When the schedule was released last summer, there was a few games that stuck out to me on today’s slate.

  • Dallas at Montréal: RW Alexander Radulov returned to the NHL last season for the third time of his career, but he spent only one campaign with the Habs before commuting to the Lone Star State.
  • Edmonton at Calgary: The Flames need points in the worst way to stay in playoff discussion, but two points are never easily earned in this rivalry.
  • Los Angeles at Arizona: F Tobias Rieder spent the first four seasons of his NHL career with the Coyotes, but that tenure ended at this trade deadline when he was shipped to the Kings.

However, those games pale in comparison to the bouts taking place in the Central Division tomorrow. Since Nashville and Winnipeg are all but locked into the postseason, let’s see what the Avs and Wild can do.

 

The 36-24-8 Avalanche are on a nice little run lately, as they’ve posted an impressive 5-1-4 record over their last 10 showings. A major reason for that success is an imposing offense that has averaged 3.6 goals since February 20, the sixth-best mark in the NHL in that time span.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but F Nathan MacKinnon has been an absolute animal this season.

Okay, I’ve decided that even though you have heard this fact, I’m still going to talk about him.

Let’s just start with his season as a whole. MacKinnon has posted 32-49-81 totals this season, far and away the best numbers of his five-year career having eclipsed his 24-39-63 rookie marks that earned him the 2014 Calder Trophy a while ago. What really sticks out to me here are the 81 points he’s already registered this campaign, even with 14 games separating the Avalanche from the end of the regular season. What that means is, unless he somehow gets held scoreless through his next 14 showings, he’s all but ensured averaging a point per game for the entire 82-game season.

But wait, there’s more! MacKinnon’s marks get even better when we remember that he missed eight games with injury, meaning he’s earned his 81 points in only 60 games played. For those not so mathematically inclined, that means MacKinnon has averaged 1.35 points per game this season, the best mark in that statistic in the league. He’s also managed a cool .53 goals per game this season (well better than his previous career-best .29 in 2013-’14 and 2015-’16), which should be worrisome to Minnesota this evening considering he hasn’t potted his own score in a week.

More recently, the 22-year-old from Halifax, Nova Scotia has still been the class of the NHL. Since February 20, no player has posted numbers like MacKinnon’s, as his 8-12-20 points (that’s right, he’s averaging two points per game in his last 10 showings!) in that time are even better than division-rival RW Patrik Laine‘s 14-4-18 in as many games played.

I haven’t made my Hart Trophy pick yet, but MacKinnon is certainly going earn his fair share of votes this April.

Of course, an even bigger problem when facing Colorado is that the team is a little bit more than MacKinnon. RW Mikko Rantanen (5-11-16 totals since February 20) and D Tyson Barrie (5-10-15 in his last 10 games) have also been headline worthy lately by averaging at least 1.5 points per game during this run.

Meanwhile, things have also seemed to be going 39-23-7 Minnesota’s way in recent days, as it has managed a 3-1-0 record in its last four tilts.

Just like tonight’s rival, offense has been a major part of the Wild’s winning ways lately, as they’ve averaged an imposing four goals per game over their last four showings, the (t)third-best mark in the league since March 4.

Though there are four players averaging a point per game over this four-game run, none stand out quite like C Eric Staal, who has 37-31-68 totals on the season. The Thunder Bay, Ontario native has rediscovered his scoring touch at a ripe 33-years-old, scoring the most goals in one season since his 38-tally effort with the Hurricanes in 2007-’08.

Just to make sure you caught that, that was 10 years ago. 10.

Staal is on track for 44 goals this season, which would be one short of his career mark set in 2005-’06, his sophomore campaign. His last four games have more than kept him in line for that mark, as he’s averaging a frightening goal per game since March 4.

Joining Staal in averaging a point per game during this four-game run are third-liner F Charlie Coyle (2-2-4 totals) and top defensive pair Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter (both with 0-4-4 marks). Suter in particular has played a major role in Staal’s recent success, as three of his assists – two of which were the primary apples – have resulted in goals for the Canadian.

An added perk of Minnesota’s success on the offensive end has been its puck possession. Since March 4, the Wild’s opposing offenses have managed only 30 shots per game, the (t)ninth-best mark in the NHL in that time. Spurgeon (2.3 blocks per game over his last four games) and W Jason Zucker (averaging a takeaway per game over this run) in particular have played major roles in that defensive success.

Facing only 30 shots per outing has certainly made 30-13-5 G Devan Dubnyk look pretty good as well. Having started all of Minnesota’s last four games, Dubnyk has posted a .933 save percentage and 2.01 GAA to improve his season marks to a .917 save percentage and 2.6 GAA.

However, all this success comes with a slight asterisk. The Wild’s last four games have been played against the Red Wings (4-1 victory), Hurricanes (6-2 victory), Canucks (5-2 victory) and Edmonton (4-1 loss) – all teams on the outside of the playoff picture, of which only Carolina still has a real shot at qualifying (though the Canes’ odds are dropping like rocks in a pond). In fact, the last time Minnesota played a good team, it was against the Avalanche.

As we’ll tackle in a moment, that was not a pleasurable experience for the Wild.

With seven points currently separating the Wild from the second-place Jets, there’s little climbing Minnesota can do in the Central Division. Instead, its focus is staving off the Stars and Avalanche from its third place spot. A home win in regulation tonight would obviously be an important step towards that goal, as Dallas – which trails the Wild by only three points – is also in action tonight.

For those that like chaos in the standings (consider me a member of that party), Colorado is the team for you this evening. Not even a full year removed from one of the worst seasons in recent history, the Avs are currently holding onto a second wild card spot over the Ducks, also with 80 points, with two games in hand. With Anaheim inactive tonight, one of those games in hand is being played tonight, meaning Colorado cannot afford to leave St. Paul without at least a point for its effort.

Of course, the Avalanche would prefer to not play Nashville in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and they could jump into the first wildcard spot with a win tonight should Dallas fall in Montréal, as both clubs would be tied at 82 points with Colorado having a game in hand.

Through the first three meetings between these teams in their four-game season series, it’s been all Colorado, as the Avs have earned a 2-0-1 record against the Wild to clinch the series victory. Minnesota won the first meeting on November 24 3-2 with the help of the shootout (9-10-2 G Alex Stalock earned First Star honors for allowing no goals after the first period), but Colorado responded by posting 7-2 (MacKinnon and Rantanen both posted 1-2-3 totals) and 7-1 (MacKinnon led the way with a dominating 2-3-5 performance) victories on January 6 and March 2, respectively.

It goes without saying that the Avalanche have Minnesota’s number this season, but the comforts of home should play in the Wild’s favor to keep the Avs from hanging seven goals for a third-consecutive matchup. That being said, it’s hard to imagine a game that doesn’t end with Colorado earning two points, as MacKinnon and co. have been finding success regardless of opponent lately.


With two goals in the third period, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

When the Flyers were caught with too many men on the ice at the 4:27 mark, it opened the door for Vegas to find the game’s opening goal. F Erik Haula (W David Perron and D Nate Schmidt) provided the tally, burying a power play wrist shot with only 10 seconds remaining before F Travis Konecny would rejoin play.

Speaking of Konecny, he would be involved in the goal that tied the game at 1-1. Only 1:27 into the second period, Second Star of the Game F Claude Giroux (C Sean Couturier and Konecny) leveled the game with a wrister, the lone marker of the frame.

Another penalty proved to be Philadelphia’s downfall in the third period. When D Travis Sanheim was caught hi-sticking Haula at the 4:30 mark, Third Star C William Karlsson (F Tomas Hyka and D Shea Theodore) needed only 90 seconds with the man-advantage to return a one-goal advantage to the Knights.

However, the referees didn’t only have gold-tinted glasses, as Vegas ended up giving up a power play goal of its own. With D Brayden McNabb in the box for hooking RW Jakub Voracek only 31 seconds after Karlsson’s goal, W Wayne Simmonds (Voracek and D Shayne Gostisbehere) set the score at 2-2 at the 7:06 mark, creating a tie that would last more than 10 minutes.

But instead of that tie holding to the end of regulation, First Star F Ryan Carpenter (C Cody Eakin and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) provided the game-winning goal with 2:40 remaining on the clock. Playing against his former club, Bellemare performed a lot of the dirty work on this goal, as he scrapped along the boards for four seconds with two Flyers before shoving a pass to Eakin in the trapezoid. Eakin one-timed a centering pass past G Petr Mrazek‘s right post to Carpenter, who fired his wrister from the face-off circle over the netminder’s glove shoulder to win the match.

G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the victory after saving 38-of-40 shots faced (.95 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved 26-of-29 (.897). With the victory, Fleury notched the 400th victory of his career, and it was made all the more sweet by coming against his former rivals.

Vegas’ victory while wearing white marks the third-consecutive win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day. As such, the 83-50-19 hosts’ advantage in the series has been trimmed to 29 points.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 22

Skater of the Week: Brad Marchand

Yeah, I know, it hurts me to do it. But eight points in three games is a tough stat line to argue against.

*leans away from microphone looking off to stage right* THAT’LL BE ENOUGH OUT OF YOU, @nlanciani53! WE KNOW HE’S GOOD, WE JUST REALLY HATE HIS FACE!

Anyway, here’s how the ‘Little Ball of Hate’ earned the nod for the week.

Marchand started the week by single-handedly ruining the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, racking up three goals and two assists (one of each on the power play) for a five-point night, and tacked on the game-winner for good measure. Then on Thursday he notched a single goal against Philadelphia, with it also being the game-winning tally. Then he capped the week with a pair of ‘apples’ on Saturday to finish off the week with a 50/50 split of four goals and four assists.

Also he possibly tried to murder Anthony Duclair maybe.

Brad Marchand, folks.

Tendy of the Week: Cam Talbot

The Oilers have suddenly remembered how to hockey. It’s a bit late, but hey, good on ’em.

Talbot has, like basically everyone in Edmonton not wearing #97, had a bit of a forgettable year. Currently carrying a .906 save percentage and 3.03 GAA, but sporting a near-.500 record, Talbot’s stats are basically a microcosm of the year the Oilers are having. In fact, his three-straight wins this week directly followed three-straight losses.

But for now we’re focusing on those three wins, as I’m sure all of Edmonton would like to do. Talbot carries a .949 and 1.61 out of the week with him, stopping 94-of-99 shots faced. He did start the week with three goals against on Monday when Arizona visited Rogers Place, but still managed a .914 save percentage on 35 shots. After that he basically completely shut down both the Islanders on Thursday (one goal on 31 shots) and Wild on Saturday (one goal on 33 shots).

It’s definitely a case of too little too late in Edmonton, but a strong finish to the season could give the team, organization, and fans a much-needed morale boost heading into the offseason.

Besides, regardless of where they finish in the standings, we know they’re winning the draft lottery…

Game of the Week: Florida Panthers 4 @ Tampa Bay Lightning 5 (OT), Tuesday March 6th, 2018

If you like hockey games that have a little bit of everything, go watch the condensed game highlights of this one.

Nine goals on 82 shots, 56 hits (evenly split at 28 per team), a fight, a hat trick, and a beautiful overtime winner in a tilt between two in-state rivals. Definitely a candidate for game of the year.

You’d have never guessed there would be nine goals scored if you just watched the first half of the first period. Both Andrei Vasilevskiy and Roberto Luongo were fully on their game, and both goaltenders made multiple standout saves just in the opening minutes alone. In particular, Vasi’s early denial of Nick Bjugstad on a two-on-one and Luongo’s breakaway glove snag on J.T. Miller stand out.

Also early in the first period we had a scrap between the Lightning’s Braydon Coburn, who is 6’5″ and 223 lbs., and Michael Haley, who is neither of those things. Haley, the NHL’s penalty minutes leader this season, more than held his own in a fairly uneventful scrap, but it certainly got the crowd at Amalie Arena into the game.

Finally first blood would be drawn at the 10:38 mark, when Yanni Gourde would pounce on an off-the-glass rebound at the side of the net before Luongo could locate the puck and put the Lightning on top. Vasilevskiy would make a pair of outstanding stops on consecutive shots from Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov to keep the score 1-0, eventually allowing Miller to take a Gourde centering pass from behind the goal line and roof a backhand over the glove of Luongo to extend the Tampa lead to 2-0 at the 12:51 mark. Although being outshot 15-8, the Lightning would nearly survive the first with their lead unblemished, but with just 1:37 to play it would be Bjugstad firing one from the goal line to Vasilevskiy’s left that ricocheted off the goaltender’s shoulder and into the net behind him, sending the two teams to the locker rooms with the score at 2-1.

The second period would see a much faster start, as once again Yanni Gourde (recording his third point in three Tampa goals) put his entire heart and soul into a turnaround wrist shot from the right circle that beat Luongo high glove and put his Lightning up 3-1 just 1:27 into the second. A good chunk of the second would pass rather uneventfully (sans a great save by Luongo on Nikita Kucherov) before Bjugstand would walk out from the corner with Steven Stamkos all over him, drive to the crease and bang home his own rebound to bring the Panthers within one again at the 13:35 mark. But less than three minutes later the lead would stretch again as Alex Killorn picked up a juicy rebound off of a Stamkos one-timer and send the game to its final intermission with a 4-2 score in favor of the home team.

The two-goal lead would last just 21 seconds into the third period, as Bjugstad would bury his third of the game to cut the deficit in half. After an Andrej Sustr tripping penalty a few minutes later, Vincent Trocheck would finally knot the score with a power play wrister from the right circle, beating Vasilevskiy just between the glove and left pad. 4-4 would remain the score through the end of regulation, despite the best efforts of the Panthers who would total 16 third period shots to Tampa’s 11, though a tipped Sustr point shot finding Luongo’s left goal post was probably the closest call of the rest of the third. But, alas, off to overtime we’d go.

A fairly tame start to OT would give way to serious offensive zone pressure by Tampa right around the midway point of the frame. Anton Stralman nearly ended things with a one-timer fired at a gaping net, but it would hit the outside of the post and be collected in the corner by Tyler Johnson. Johnson would give it back to Stralman, who saw an open Brayden Point (waving every available limb and utensil frantically) waiting just inside the right circle. Point would receive the pass, absolutely dance a charging Evgeny Dadonov out of his skates, then roof a laserbeam over the glove of Luongo to rid Amalie Arena of its roof and send the Bolts faithful home happy.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

The Carolina Hurricanes are accepting job applications for their next General Manager via Twitter. Obviously we here at DTFR are biased, but I think we’d all gladly throw our hats in the ring for our own @capncornelius to get the gig.

Sidney Crosby reached 1,100 career points, which seems like a slightly obscure number to celebrate. But congrats, I guess.

…this was a slow news week…umm, hey @connorzkeith, can you throw in some sort of funny cat photo or something for filler in the edit? Thanks, buddy.

*Editor’s note: Don’t forget Alex Ovechkin‘s 600th career goal and Marc-Andre Fleury‘s 400th career win last night, @vanekatthedisco! Anyways, time to empty the cat folder. Here’s a few of my faves:*

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 21

Skater of the Week: Nathan MacKinnon

MacKinnon was the definition of an unstoppable force this week, and he encountered no immovable objects. With five goals (two on the power play, and two game-winners), six assists (also two on the power play), and 11 points in four games, his breakout campaign continues to the tune of 77 points in 57 games.

After notching a pair of goals and a helper on Monday against Vancouver, he put up 1-and-1 against Calgary on Wednesday, before leading his team’s 7-1 torching of Minnesota on Friday night with two goals and five assists to go with a flawless +5 rating (even more impressive when you consider one of his points was on the power play, meaning he was on the ice for six of the seven goals his team scored), before ending the week with a lone helper against Nashville.

With the Avs fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot, they’ll need their former #1 overall pick to continue his immense play down the home stretch.

Tendy of the Week: Roberto Luongo

Nobody tell the man he’s 38-years-old.

The Panthers are on an absolutely ridiculous run since the beginning of February, having won 11-of-15 games in that stretch, and Luongo (who returned from injury on February 17) has been a huge part of that. He’s lost just one game of the seven he’s played since his return, and this week was a perfect 3-0-0 for the Florida netminder.

Stopping 37-of-39 against Toronto on Tuesday, 29-of-31 against he Devils on Thursday, and capping the week turning aside 39-of-40 Philadelphia attempts on Sunday, Luongo finished the week with a .955 save percentage and 1.63 GAA as his Panthers now miraculously sit just one point outside of the final wild card spot in the east.

Catching the top three in the Atlantic is a nearly impossible task at this point, but if the other wild card teams falter (please not Columbus) and Florida continues this play, they’ll sneak their way into a very unlikely playoff birth.

Game of the Week: Philadelphia Flyers 6 @ Tampa Bay Lightning 7 (SO), Saturday March 3, 2018

I mean, this was one of those hilariously entertaining affairs that you know took years off the coaches’ lives but it was just so much fun that you couldn’t help but love it. I’m not even going to try and recap all the goals (there were 13 of them for god’s sake) but here’s what you need to know:

This was one of those rare cases where both goaltenders leave the game with numbers worthy of the waiver wire, yet somehow are also the stars of the show, as both of them made so many ridiculous saves that I honestly believe this game could have been an 11-10 final score. Two of the league’s most terrifying offenses just shelling each other with every weapon they had. Tampa came back from multi-goal deficits on two occasions, and Philadelphia had to erase a lead in the dying minutes of regulation to make it to overtime. Philly got a power play in overtime and Andrei Vasilevskiy stood on his head to survive the onslaught. Then ‘Mr. Automatic’ Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos burned Petr Mrazek in the skills competition to put away the orange menace and send the Bolts faithful home with big fat smiles on their faces.

Go watch the highlights, seriously.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Boy, Bettman. First no-showing the Olympics, then an epic snoozefest of a Stadium Series game on national television (to the point that apparently some markets turned off the game in favor of local news before it had ended). Really growing the game, aren’t we?

Max Pacioretty is likely to be out for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury, and could potentially be shut down for the remainder of the season. This, of course, would be ironic, considered his entire team has basically been shut down since opening night.

Seattle, answering the “Is it a true hockey market?” question with resounding vigor, sold out their initial 10,000 season ticket allotments in about 12 minutes, and had sold about 25,000 within a few hours.

The bad news continues for the struggling Blues, who have now lost Jay Bouwmeester for the remainder of the season to a hip injury. Starting to look like this could be a very entertaining offseason (read: someone drops a grenade in the front office) in the Gateway City.

You should go watch the Nick Seeler vs Luke Witkowski fight.

Taylor Hall has now scored in like…a million straight games or something, so that’s pretty neat.

David Poile is now the winningest General Manager in NHL history, surpassing Glen Sather at 1,320 wins between his stints with Washington and Nashville. The only GM in Predators history has yet to win the Stanley Cup, but his Nashville squad looks like just about as good a bet as any this year, and a big shiny ring on his finger would likely put Poile in the all-time greats discussion.

Phil Kessel shoved Zdeno Chara in a scrum, and everything that followed was solid comedy.

February 22 – Day 134 – Russian to Czechmate

It’s the best day of the hockey week! A dozen games are on this Thursday’s schedule!

We begin today’s slate in North America with 11 NHL tilts, starting with three (the New York Islanders at Toronto, Minnesota at New Jersey and Columbus at Philadelphia) at 7 p.m. and four more (the New York Rangers at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Tampa Bay at Ottawa [RDS2], Buffalo at Detroit and Washington at Florida [TVAS]) half an hour later. San Jose at Nashville drops the puck at 8 p.m., followed an hour later by a pair of Western Conference matchups (Colorado at Edmonton [SN1] and Calgary at Arizona). Finally, Dallas visits Los Angeles at 10:30 p.m. to close out the league’s action. All times Eastern.

Of course, there’s also the Olympics to keep in mind. The first men’s semifinal between the Czech Republic and the OAR is scheduled for 2:40 a.m. Eastern time Friday morning.

Of those games, I’ll have my eye on three:

  • New York at Montréal: Not only is this an Original Six rivalry, but it’s also a rematch from last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.
  • Calgary at Arizona: G Mike Smith (injured) and D Michael Stone are making their first trips back to Glendale to take on the Coyotes, the team they both spent six seasons with before joining Calgary.
  • Czech Republic vs. the OAR: The top two remaining seeds are going at it for a chance to play for a gold medal!

We’ve featured Olympic action the past six days, and I see no reason to stop that trend now. Let’s see who’s advancing to the gold medal game!

 

Let’s start with the 3-1-0-0 Czech Republic, which posted a 2-1-0-0 record in Group A against the likes of Canada (3-2 SO), Switzerland (4-1) and South Korea (2-1) to clinch a first round bye into the quarterfinals, where it beat the United States in a 3-2 shootout victory.

Offensively, there are few teams in this Olympic tournament that can rival the Czechs, as their three goals-per-game is (t)third-best among all 12 participating nations and (t)second-best of the four squads remaining.

For those wondering: no, you will not witness any of the Czech Republic’s legendary right wings in this game. Instead of Jaromir Jagr, Martin Prochazka and David Vyborny, you should be looking forward to witnessing F Michal Repik (3-1-4 totals) and F Jan Kovar (2-2-4) continuing their stellar tournaments, as both are averaging a point per game.

29-year-old Repik’s performance is of particular interest, as he’s managed his impressive marks from the Czechs’ fourth line and, more importantly, from both special teams. All three of his goals have been scored in different situations: one at even strength, one on the power play and one on the penalty kill. He’s a dangerous Swiss army knife of a player that should be taken seriously on every shift.

The Czechs have also played decently in their own zone, as they’ve held their opponents to an average of only 25 shots against per game – the (t)fifth-lowest mark of all Olympic teams and third-lowest among the semifinalists.

That’s left G Pavel Francouz to shine, and shine he has. Having been the lone goaltender Head Coach Josef Jandac has employed throughout this tournament, he’s posted a solid .94 save percentage for a 1.41 GAA.

Mix all that defensive work together and you get a Czech Republic team that has allowed only 1.5 goals per game for the entire tournament, the (t)third-best mark in comparison to all 12 teams that have participated in PyeongChang and (t)second-best among the semifinalists.

One final advantage the Czech Republic has in its back pocket is its support in the stands. With the exception of the South Koreans, no team has enjoyed larger crowds than the Czechs, who average 5460.25 fans in attendance at each game – almost 450 more than the Russians, who rank fourth in attendance. With both teams bringing their large fanbases, Gangneung Hockey Centre could very well sell each and every one of its 10,000 seats.

Of course, that’s not a knock on fans of the Olympic Athletes from Russia, who’ve had the pleasure of cheering one of the most dominant teams in South Korea. After dropping their first tilt against Slovakia 3-2, the OAR has earned a 3-0-0-1 overall record, beating Slovenia (8-2) and the United States (4-0) to win Group B, and then Norway (6-1) in the quarterfinals.

Not a bad rebound for Красная Машина – The Red Machine – after pundits were already accusing them of choking as favorites at a second-consecutive Olympic tournament.

The strength in the OAR’s game relies heavily on their dominant offense maintaining almost constant possession of the puck, similar to the style the Boston Bruins have employed in the NHL this season. Not only is this a great way to generate goals – which the OAR does, averaging an Olympic-leading five goals per game – but it also limits opposing opportunities. The 19.25 shots faced per game by G Vasili Koshechkin are the fewest any of the 12 defenses in South Korea have allowed, and he’s been able to post a cool .929 save percentage for a 1.37 GAA as a result.

Pair all that together, and the 1.5 goals against per game the OAR has allowed in their first four games is the (t)third-best mark at the Olympics and (t)second-fewest among the final four.

Anyways, back to the offense. The OAR has more than a few stellar skaters at its disposal, but none have been better than F Nikita Gusev, a Vegas Golden Knights prospect should he choose to join them when his contract expires after next season. During this stint with the Red Machine, he’s posted incredible 1-6-7 totals to average almost two points per game.

But the Czechs shouldn’t focus all their efforts on Gusev, or else one of the other six Russians averaging at least a point per game will fly right by them. F Ilya Kovalchuk, Minnesota Wild prospect F Kirill Kaprizov, F Sergei Mozyakin, D Vyacheslav Voinov, F Sergei Andronov and F Pavel Datsyuk have united to form what may be the strongest Russian team since its days as the USSR.

It’s like they should have been favored to win this tournament or something.

Usually this is where I jump into recent matchups, but I’d instead like to point out how each team handled a common opponent: Team USA. The OAR manhandled the United States in their Group B finale, dominating the game to a 4-0 final score. By comparison, the Czechs required not just overtime, but also a shootout to knock off the Americans 3-2 in the quarterfinals.

There’s certainly much to be said about how the Americans approached either game. The US appeared nervous when playing the OAR, remembering the stories their parents, coaches and just about any other American hockey fan had told them about that fateful day 38 years ago.

There was no second act of the Miracle on Ice for Team USA in this tournament against the OAR, and the Russians made them pay for their inability to string together more than a pass or two.

Comparatively, the rivalry between Team USA and the Czech Republic ranks just above the rivalry between the American and Mexican hockey teams – in other words, its non-existent. Pairing the lack of heightened emotion with G Ryan Zapolski’s excellent play, the Americans rode out the Czechs’ stellar play and countered at just the right times to stave off elimination as long as they could.

Now, this is not supposed to be a summary of Team USA, even if it did seem that way. Instead, I simply pose the question: if the Americans weren’t so riled up to play this game, would they have been as big a thorn in the Russians’ side as they were to the Czechs?

I feel the answer is yes, but the OAR still would not have needed a shootout to knock them off. With that in mind, I feel safe in my prediction that the Olympic Athletes from Russia will be playing for the gold medal after beating the Czech Republic.


With a 3-2 shootout victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the curse has been lifted on the United States’ women’s hockey team as it beat Team Canada to clinch the gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Penalties were the big story in the first period, as Team USA earned a whopping three power plays. The first two opportunities amounted to only a combined two shots on goal, but F Sarah Nurse’s interference infraction with 1:34 remaining in the frame turned into a F Hilary Knight (D Sidney Morin and F Brianna Decker) deflection 68 seconds later to give the American’s a 1-0 advantage going into the first intermission.

It didn’t take long for the Canadians to level the game. Only two minutes into the second period, F Haley Irwin (F Blayre Turnbull) set the score at 1-1 by deflecting a Turnbull pass pass past G Maddie Rooney out of mid-air. 4:55 later, who else to give Team Canada than F Marie-Philip Poulin (F Meghan Agosta and F Melodie Daoust)? With Agosta firing a reverse pass from the goal line, Poulin lifted her snap shot from the left face-off circle to the near post.

That 2-1 Canadian advantage lasted into the second intermission and through the midway point of the final frame. If any doubt was beginning to creep into the Americans’ minds that they couldn’t beat G Shannon Szabados one more time to level the game, it was dashed with 6:21 remaining in regulation when F Monique Lamoureux-Morando (F Kelly Pannek) scored to tie the game and force overtime.

With no goal struck in the 10-minute four-on-four overtime period, the gold medal would be awarded to the team that won the six-round shootout.

  1. F Natalie Spooner was the first Canadian to try to beat Rooney, but the netminder stood tall to keep her off the board.
  2. F Gigi Marvin gave Team USA an early lead in the shootout by beating Szabados.
  3. Facing an early hole, Agosta leveled the shootout score at one-apiece, but Szabados still had to face her second shooter to complete the turnaround.
  4. She did just that by keeping F Hannah Brandt’s attempt out of the back of her net. The shootout score read 1-1 through two rounds.
  5. Having already beaten Rooney in regulation, Poulin was Canada’s third shooter. However, she didn’t find the same success, as the American kept her net clean.
  6. Usually playing defense, Emily Pfalzer was given her opportunity to make an offensive contribution in the third round. Her shot was saved by Szabados, leaving the shootout tied through three rounds.
  7. Canada’s next hope was Daoust, and she made good on her opportunity by beating Rooney.
  8. However, that advantage didn’t last long, as F Amanda Kessel was able to level the shootout at 2-2 in her half of the fourth round.
  9. With the opportunity to force a miss-and-lose situation for the Americans, F Brianne Jenner’s attempt to set the shootout score at 3-2 were nullified by Rooney.
  10. That gave Team USA its first opportunity to win the shootout. Who else to send to center ice than Knight? However, her attempt was saved by Szabados, forcing an extra shootout frame.
  11. The Americans won the coin toss and elected to shoot first. F Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson made good on that decision, employing a triple move against Szabados to force a miss-and-lose on Team Canada.
  12. The Canadians called on Agosta to find the leveling goal, but Rooney was there to clinch the Americans’ second gold medal in women’s ice hockey.

Rooney earned the shootout victory after saving 29-of-31 (.935 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Szabados, who saved an impressive 39-of-41 (.951).