Tag Archives: Montréal Canadiens

2018 Offseason Preview: Montréal Canadiens

Day 1 of our offseason preview series reaches a close with the third lottery-winning team, the Montréal Canadiens.

After finishing the season with a 29-40-13 record good enough for fourth-worst in the NHL, there’s little doubting the league’s most-storied franchise is in a bit of a funk right now. The offense was anemic (averaging a third-worst 2.52 goals per game), the defensive zone was equally as bad (allowing a seventh-worst 3.15 goals against per game) and the defense did little to make G Carey Price‘s life any easier (Montréal allowed a 12th-worst 32.3 shots against per game).

What can General Manager Marc Bergevin do to fix this mess?

2018 NHL Entry Draft

I’m of the firm belief that, barring select and rare circumstances, teams of any sport should always draft the best player available. Should Bergevin – as well as Buffalo and Carolina with their own selections – prescribe to that theory, I’d bank on Czech W Filip Zadina continuing to study his French after a season with QMJHL side Halifax.

Having played only one season with the Mooseheads, the 18-year-old was far and away the brightest rookie in his league. In 57 regular season games, Zadina posted wildly impressive 44-38-82 totals for 1.44 points per game, the fifth-best mark of any player in that league that played at least 51 games.

The tough predicament with Zadina is figuring out if he’ll join the Canadiens and begin his rookie season immediately, or if he’ll return to Halifax to develop another year in juniors. He certainly has the talent on his own, but the answer to that question has a better chance of being discovered after taking a look at how Montréal tackles free agency.

Pending free agents

The Habs have five forwards with NHL contracts that expired at the culmination of the regular season, but only RW Ales Hemsky is of the unrestricted variety. LW Daniel Carr, F Phillip Danault, F Jacob de la Rose and F Logan Shaw are all RFAs.

Turning 35-years-old before the 2018-19 season gets underway, there’s a chance Hemsky’s playing days could be behind him. In the last two seasons, he’s appeared in only 22 NHL games and hasn’t registered a point since his goal against the Devils on March 26, 2017. If anything, I’d expect the Oilers to offer him a one-day deal so he could retire with the team that drafted him 13th-overall in 2001.

Without a doubt, Carr and Danault should be seeing some of the Canadiens’ available $12 million slid their way, as the club’s struggles were far from a result of their play.

In the contract year of a $1.825 million, two-year deal, Danault posted decent 8-17-25 totals in 52 appearances (made only better in light of Montréal’s overall poor offense) for .48 points per game. At 25-years-old, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sign another two-year deal – this one worth at least $1.5 million per year.

In a similar strain, I’d also be just fine with seeing Carr sign for $1 million, even if it was only a one or two-year contract. Carr only played in 38 games this season, but he posted 6-10-16 totals to average .42 points per game. Carr may never develop into a top-six player, but most teams will gladly take that kind of production from a third-liner.

Back on the blue line, there’s exactly zero pending NHL free agents. That’s not exactly a good thing for Montréal considering its miserable defensive performance this season, so I would expect at least one of the Habs’ D-men to be on the move.

Even though he’ll turn 33-years-old this August, D Shea Weber is still the Canadiens’ best defenseman, but his attractiveness on the trade front is severely hampered by the eight remaining years on his $110 million contract (yes, your math is correct: Nashville signed Weber until he is 41-years-old).

Instead, D Jeff Petry might fetch a very nice return from a team lacking defense but wants to win now. He has three years remaining on his $5.5 million AAV contract and would likely fetch a similar, if not higher, price the Habs paid for him three years ago (a second and fourth-round pick).

Similar to the defensemen, Montréal has little to worry about in the goaltending department. This season is the first of Price’s eight-year, $84 million contract extension, and G Antti Niemi still has one year left on his sub-$1 million deal. Especially in light of Niemi posting a .929 save percentage in 19 appearances with the Canadiens last season, I doubt much will be changing here.

The only way this situation might be altered is if a team wants to trade for Niemi, but my guess is that sort of transaction is better suited for the trade deadline given his lackluster performances over the last few seasons.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 23

Skater of the Week: Alex Pietrangelo

How about the defenseman getting some love, huh?

In all honesty, this wasn’t even a case of picking him out for having a stellar week ‘as a defenseman’, he lead the entire league in scoring last week full-stop.

The 6-foot-3 210 pound King City, Ont. native racked up three goals and six assists in four games this past week, including a goal and two helpers on the power play. He also averaged nearly 26 minutes of ice time per game in that stretch, remaining a key cog on the St. Louis blueline with his all-around strong play.

Starting the week with a pair of assists against Anaheim on Monday, he had a forgettable outing against Colorado on Thursday with no points and a -3 rating. But after that he closed the week with a pair of stellar games, recording two goals (one on the power play) and an assist against the Rangers on Saturday, then followed up the next day with a four-point outing against Chicago, where he’d tally a goal and three assists, with two of the helpers coming on the man-advantage.

Just one point shy of tying his career-high of 51 points after just 68 games played, and having already bested his previous goal-scoring mark (he’s now at 15, having posted a prior-best 14 last season), the 28 year-old looks set to be one of the NHL’s best defenders over the next few years. His Blues team may be in a bit of a reset right now after an up-and-down campaign, but with Pietrangelo as one of their key pieces moving forward, it’s easy to think they’ll be right back at the top of the league in very short order. Plus, it’s still not at all impossible for them to sneak into the playoffs if they can finish the season strong.

Tendy of the Week: Curtis McElhinney

I tell ya, that McElhinney, he’s a pretty good backup, ain’t he?

There were more than a few terrific stretches by goaltenders this week, but I’m giving the nod to the guy you’d never expect to have a week like this. Plus, he’s a professional athlete that drives a, like, 15-year-old Volvo. He’s just the best.

C-Mac made only two starts this week, but tallied three wins (because reasons), and posted a .955 save percentage and 1.57 GAA for the week. He started the week being brought in in relief of an injured Frederik Andersen on Wednesday night against Dallas (more on that game in a minute), playing just over 30 minutes and surrendering two goals on 15 shots. Not a great stat night, but he collected the W, anyway. Then, with Andersen out the rest of the week, McElhinney got the call the next night against Buffalo, turning aside 38-of-40, and again on Saturday against Montreal where he’d blank the Habs with a 33-save shutout.

The 34-year-old career-journeyman goaltender now has a scarcely-believable 10-4-1 record this year with a 2.09 GAA and .935 save percentage. His style could be described as ‘Dominik Hasek, without the grace’, and there’s no real reason to suspect this season is any more than an anomaly in the career of a .908/2.87 goaltender, particularly one in his mid-30s, but you can’t help but root for a guy like McElhinney.

Game of the Week: Dallas Stars 5 @ Toronto Maple Leafs 6 (SO), Wednesday March 14th, 2018

Hmm, a Stars-Leafs game ended in a shootout with 11 total goals. Who could have seen that coming?

68 shots, 59 hits, a James van Riemsdyk hat trick, and a comeback home team victory, what’s not to love?

Seriously, you’re still here? Why are you not watching the highlights and/or Steve Dangle’s LFR on the game? Get outta here! GO!

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

As a member of a fanbase that once had a literal fan rally in support of essentially tactical-nuking our team’s front office, I’m fully behind the #MelnykOut movement.

William Karlsson can’t stop scoring. Part of me believes this is yet another example of my team’s eternal curse of misusing a player and then trading him away to watch him become a star (read: Jakub Voracek), but the other part of me sees a .23 shooting percentage and can’t wait to watch everyone scream about how overpaid he is in a couple years when he’s putting up 15-25-40 seasons after the Knights sign him to a 100-year, eleventy-bazillion dollar contract.

The NHL GM meetings are underway in Florida, so expect very little in the way of productive changes to rules, and expect very much in the way of surprisingly tan general managers.

@jdettro and I touched the Stanley Cup last weekend, so don’t be surprised if it rusts now.

Happy 70th birthday to Bobby Orr. I have nothing clever for this, just a birthday message.

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.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 19

Skater of the Week: Nico Hischier

Boy, what a devil of a week for this kid, huh? HUH? (not even crickets chirp for this pun)

In four games, the 19-year-old centerman put up four goals (one in each game) and three assists for seven points, and is currently riding a five-game point streak overall. A +8 through the first three games was marred slightly by a -2 in the final game of the week, but any coach would gladly take a +6 week for any of his players. Perhaps the best stat in all of this, though, is Hischier’s shooting percentage throughout the four-game goal streak. In those four games, Hischier has only fired seven total shots at the net, leaving him with a ridiculous .57 shooting percentage.

With 39 points in 59 games, the league’s most recent first-overall pick is having himself a very solid year. With his Devils entrenched in the knock-down, drag-out dogfight that is the Metropolitan playoff race, he’ll need to continue his strong play to help New Jersey go from the basement to the playoffs.

Tendy of the Week: Antti Raanta

The Arizona Coyotes have won four consecutive games. This is not a drill.

For the first time since January of 2016, the ‘Yotes have strung together four straight, and Raanta is arguably the entire reason for it. In three starts and one relief appearance throughout the week, Raanta managed to string together a 3-0-0 record with a .976 save percentage and 0.91 GAA. The Finnish netminder started the week stopping 37-of-38 against Chicago, before stopping all 12 shots he faced against San Jose, turned aside 34-of-36 attempts by Montreal, and capped the week with a 40-save blanking of Edmonton.

Obviously Arizona is in no position to even entertain the idea of a playoff run, but they can at least have some confidence in the performance of Raanta this year. He currently holds a .924 save percentage and 2.45 GAA on the season, and is two wins under .500 on a very bad team.

Game of the Week: New Jersey Devils 5 @ Philadelphia Flyers 4 (SO), Tuesday February 13th, 2018

Who would have guessed that two bitter rivals fighting for position in the division standings would produce a fun game?

71 shots and 51 hits in a game that saw no major penalties looks a lot like a playoff stat line. Just good, hard hockey.

Things would get rolling shortly into the opening frame, as Claude Giroux fed a speeding Travis Konecny with a beautiful backhand stretch pass, allowing Konecny to steam past Will Butcher across the New Jersey blueline before firing a beautiful wrister past the blocker of Keith Kinkaid and putting the Flyers up 1-0 just 1:54 into the game.

The rest of the first and first few minutes of the second would pass scoreless, due in part to solid netminding, and arguably moreso to a symphony of goalposts. But 4:06 into the second the Devils finally knotted the scored, as Taylor Hall streaked down the left wing side and found just enough daylight between Michal Neuvirth and the post to squeak in the 1-1 tally. Hall would get absolutely buried by Radko Gudas just as the puck was finding its way into the net, but the hit was clean and Hall shoo’d away the tweetie birds in short order and looked none the worse for wear. Just 43 seconds later the Flyers would reestablish their lead as Michael Raffl took an indirect pass off the end boards from Andrew MacDonald and fed a turnaround pass to Scott Laughton in the slot, who managed to get just enough of it to get it past the pad of Kinkaid and across the goal line. Then about six minutes later a Radko Gudas point shot would redirect off of a New Jersey stick past Kinkaid to put the Flyers up 3-1, before John Moore would answer at the 13:17 mark with a bomb from the point that blurred past the glove of Neuvirth and drew the Devils back within one. Just under three minutes later it would be Philly captain Claude Giroux firing home a power-play goal from the left circle, but just 10 seconds later Nico Hischier would again cut the lead to one heading into the third.

Neuvirth and co. held the fort for nearly the entire third period, but a jam play in front would create a loose puck for a circling Taylor Hall who would pounce and send the game to overtime. The extra frame saw a pair of dazzling glove stops (Neuvirth on Hall just seconds in, and Kinkaid on a Voracek redirect with just over a minute remaining), but no more pucks would find twine until Drew Stafford continued his shootout mastery in the second round of the skills competition, and a Kinkaid stop on Voracek would end the game and give the Devils the victory.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Four ‘Blackhawks fans’ (I use the term loosely, as no one I’ve ever encountered that roots for the Hawks deserves to be lumped in with these lowlifes) were booted from the arena and later issued a permanent ban by the organization for shouting racial taunts at Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly as he was serving a penalty. Personally, I think they should have been invited into the penalty box with DSP as part of their punishment, but that’s just my opinion.

Speaking of the Blackhawks and Capitals, the two teams made a deal that sees defenseman Michal Kempny head to D.C., while a third round pick finds its way back to the Windy City, likely to be turned into a superstar player because Stan Bowman is a wizard.

Also on the trade front are rumors of Petr Mrazek being dealt to Philadelphia, who are currently relying upon third-stringer Alex Lyon after injuries to Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. As someone who owned Mrazek on their fantasy team at one point this season, I feel I am qualified to ask the Flyers why in the name of all that is holy they would want to do such a thing.

Editor’s note: Pete’s crystal ball was on point Monday night. Mrazek was shipped to Philadelphia in return for two draft picks: a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 and a conditional third-round pick in 2019. Detroit retained half of the goaltender’s salary. Read our recap here.

Nick Foligno is out for what looks to be a couple of weeks, and I’m not crying, you’re crying.

The Olympic men’s hockey tournament has been even weirder than we could have predicted, but after an early hiccup it looks like the Artists Formerly Known as Russia are set to steamroll everything in their path just as it appeared they should on paper.

Barry Trotz became just the fifth coach in league history to coach 1,500 games. Don’t let his ‘angry Russian mob boss’ looks fool you, Trotz is one of the nicest humans I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, and I’d like to extend a sincere congratulations to him.

Dion Phaneuf and Marian Gaborik changed places, in a move that would have been landscape-shifting in the NHL in about 2008. Phaneuf did score in his first game as a King, because the hockey gods are just having all sorts of fun at Ottawa’s expense this year.

 

It’s looking more and more likely (depending on who you ask, anyway) that we could see Erik Karlsson dealt at the deadline. I’m not sure what sort of return that would yield, but considering some believe Jack Johnson is worth a first round pick, I’d have to assume that the Sens would legally own the first-born child of the other involved GM.

January 17 – Day 102 – It’s time for that rivalry

Only two games are on the schedule today, but they both have serious potential to be stellar television.

The action begins at 7:30 when Montréal pays a visit to Boston (NBCSN/RDS/SN), and it will be followed by Pittsburgh at Anaheim (NBCSN/SN/SN360) at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, Washington and Winnipeg.

Though the Ducks and Penguins are separated by only two points in the table, there’s no way we can miss what’s going down in Beantown.

 

Of these two bitter rivals, the 24-10-8 Bruins are easily having the better season. They currently occupy second place in the Atlantic Division and third place in the Eastern Conference.

While Boston has been in playoff position for a while now (approximately a month), it has surged past the Maple Leafs in the last three weeks by earning points in 13 consecutive games with a 9-0-4 record.

It could be argued that Boston has been the best team in the NHL since December 16, as the Bruins have posted an incredible wicked 3.92 goals per game over their last 13.

No Bruin has been hotter during this run than LW Brad Marchand, which is the same it’s been all season. He’s posted 6-9-15 totals over his last 15 games to pad his team-leading 18-23-41 stats. However, he’s not alone in averaging at least a point-per-game lately. F David Backes (6-7-13), C Patrice Bergeron (9-4-13) and F Danton Heinen (4-10-14) are all matching the feat, even though Backes and Heinen are on the third line. Of note, Bergeron is still getting work done in the defensive end with his (t)eighth-best +19 on the season, but his consistent offensive production never hurts.

But that offense isn’t just showing up on the TD Garden scoreboard  for the Bruins. With the offense possessing the puck so well, opposing defenses are having a hard time of earning their own strikers an opportunity to play with the puck. As a result, the Bruins have allowed an eighth-fewest 29.77 shots against per game since December 16, a mark that tops the Atlantic Division. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have D Zdeno Chara ([t]fourth-best +21 in the league) managing the defensive zone with his team-leading 74 blocks on the season.

Of course, that still means 15-8-4 G Tuukka Rask has had some work to do, but he’s been up to the task every night he takes to the crease. Though he had his struggles early in the season – to the point of temporarily losing his starting job to backup 9-2-4 G Anton Khudobin – Rask has joined his team in playing spectacularly over the past month. In his last nine starts, he’s posted a solid .93 save percentage and 1.95 GAA, pulling his season marks up to a .919 save percentage and (t)third-best in the league 2.26 GAA.

It’s a tall task the 18-30-6 Habs face – and that’d be true even if they were among the league’s elite this season. However, that is not the case for Montréal this campaign, as it currently sits third from the bottom in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference as a whole.

While the season as a whole may be a bit of doom and gloom for The City of Saints, 2018 has not been all bad. In fact, the Canadiens have earned points in all four of their previous games, and it’s all been on the back of their incredible goaltender.

It usually goes without saying that 13-14-4 G Carey Price is one of the best netminders – if not players overall – in this league. This little run the Habs are on has absolutely proved it, as the defense has allowed an eighth-worst 34.25 shots against per game since January 4. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, but Price has posted a .92 save percentage and 2.63 GAA under those trying circumstances, both of which are better than the .908 and 2.95 he’s posted on the season.

With Price playing in top form like he is right now, he offers his offense – which has managed a (t)12th-best 3.25 goals per game during this run – the opportunity to succeed even though they aren’t among the league’s best forwards. LW Max Pacioretty has been the Habs’ best striker of late, as he’s riding a four-game goal streak. With him, F Alex Galchenyuk (2-2-4) and D Jeff Petry (0-4-4) all averaging a point-per-game, Montréal’s offense could be a tougher out tonight than the Bruins might expect.

These squads have squared off only once this season so far, and that game took place this last Saturday. Though they needed a shootout goal from Marchand, the Bruins were able to win Round 1 with a 4-3 victory.

With the Bruins’ having already won in Bell Centre not even a week ago and owning home ice this evening, it’s hard to pick against them to beat the Habs tonight. Of course, this rivalry almost always produces tight, competitive affairs, so anything can truly happen tonight.


The Nashville Predators avoided getting swept by the Vegas Golden Knights in their season series, as they defended Bridgestone Arena to a 1-0 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Without a doubt, the brightest star in this contest was First Star of the Game G Juuse Saros, who saved all 43 shots he faced for his third shutout victory of the season and fourth of his career.

G Marc-Andre Fleury also some deserves credit for allowing only one goal against (more on that in a moment) on 27 shots faced (.963 save percentage), but it’s his defense that really deserves the most praise. Led by D Brayden McNabb‘s four hits and three blocks, the Knights limited Nashville to a lowly 27 shots on goal (it averages 30.4 per game for the season), including two frames the Preds were held to single-digit successful shot attempts.

Fleury may have been the only goaltender to blink, but it took him a long time to do it. At exactly the 48 minute mark of the game (eight minutes into the third period), Third Star D P.K. Subban fired a slap shot that – thanks to McNabb – never reached Fleury.

However, it’s that shot block that came to be the Golden Knights’ downfall. Since Fleury wasn’t the one to block the puck, he didn’t know where it went. It was his second or two of confusion that allowed Second Star W Kevin Fiala (Subban and F Colton Sissons) to tuck a wrist shot under the bar into a gaping cage for the game-winner.

Nashville’s victory gives home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series a 56-34-12 record that is exactly 20 points superior to the road teams’ effort.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 14

Skater of the Week: Mathew Barzal

These bye-weeks are making things weird.

Barzal gets the nod for this week’s award having only played one game during that span. But what a game it was.

Helping his Islanders to a 7-2 rout of the rival Rangers, young Barzal tallied his second five-point game of his breakout rookie campaign with two goals and three helpers. Perhaps more amazing is the fact that all five points were scored at even-strength, no power play help needed. This also landed Barzal a perfect +5 rating for the night, to go along with a .5 shooting percentage and even tallying the official game-winning goal (probably not worth much in a rout, but it pads the stats all the same).

With 44 points in 44 games to this point in the season, Barzal continues to make a very strong case for a Calder Trophy nod come season’s end.

Tendy of the Week: Mike Smith

Posting a perfect 3-0-0 record this week on the strength of just four goals allowed in those contests to rack up a .963 save percentage and a GAA just a smidge over 1.30, Smith has his Calgary Flames scorching. (Pun entirely intended)

Smith started the week stopping 33-of-35 shots faced in an overtime victory against the Wild, before nullifying 33-of-34 against the league-leading Lightning and 38-of-39 against Carolina to extend his winning streak to six games.

Calgary went out and got Smith to fill the one glaring weakness they felt they had, and if he can keep this level of play up, they could be deadly.

Game of the Week: Boston Bruins 4 vs Montreal Canadiens 3 (SO), Saturday January 13th, 2018

The 739th all-time meeting between the Original Six arch-rivals had a little something extra to offer, as it was the first meeting of the two squads since Claude Julien‘s firing from Boston and hiring by Montreal late last season. A little bit of extra hype that this tilt ended up living up to.

In total this one saw seven goals, 62 shots, 77 hits, and two power play goals on five opportunities.

Max Pacioretty would get things rolling just 3:22 into the game, collecting the rebound from a deflected Victor Mete point shot and stuffing it just inside the near post behind Tuukka Rask to give the Habs the early advantage. Most of the first period would then pass by with little affair until Brad Marchand would streak in on the back door and receive a gorgeous Patrice Bergeron centering feed from the far board and bury it top shelf to even the score at the 17:40 mark on the power play, and the two teams would carry the 1-1 score into the first intermission.

The second period would see things really open up, starting with a Jake DeBrusk breakaway tally just 2:55 into the frame. Charlie McAvoy caught the Montreal defense standing still and fed a gorgeous tape-to-tape pass to a streaking DeBrusk who made no mistake en route to his 10th goal of the year. Just 2:50 later, though, Nic Deslauriers would pounce on a Zdeno Chara turnover at center ice and streak past the stumbling Boston captain into the high slot, where he would unleash a laser of a wrist shot past the blocker of Tuukka Rask to draw his Habs back even. Then just 3:06 later Montreal would retake the lead on the power play, as Alex Galchenyuk would receive a cross-ice pass from Jonathan Drouin, take a couple strides towards the net, and absolutely smoke a wrist shot over the shoulder of Tuukka Rask into the top of the net to put his team up 3-2. The Bruins controlled a lot of the play throughout the rest of the 2nd, but were met with some solid Carey Price saves at every opportunity until at the 17:42 mark David Krejci was able to corral a bouncing puck in the slot and wire it past a surprised Price and even the game at three heading into the second intermission.

 

The third period would see both teams register the most shots of any period (12 for Boston, 10 for Montreal), but strong play by both goaltenders (and a few clutch saves by the goalpost to the right of Rask) kept things knotted at three to end regulation and send the proceedings to three-on-three overtime. Montreal looked to have it won in the waning seconds when a Jakub Jerabek shot found it’s way up and over Rask, but a diving Torey Krug managed to bat the puck out of the blue paint before Pacioretty or Plekanec could get a stick on it.

So off to the shootout we went. Both Paul Byron and Jake DeBrusk would score in the first frame, but after that the two goaltenders shut things down for the remaining two shooters a side to force shootout overtime, where Rask would shut the door on Galchenyuk to allow Brad Marchand to streak in and bury the game-winner right through the five hole of Carey Price and directly into the hearts of the Montreal faithful.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

I saved the Phillip Danault story from the Boston/Montreal game for this section, because it definitely deserves to be highlighted. Danault is reported to be doing alright and was released from the hospital Sunday after an overnight evaluation. The Habs forward took a Zdeno Chara slapshot off the side of the head in Saturday night’s contest, and was eventually stretchered off of the ice. A truly sombering scene in a very exciting contest, Chara was one of the first to Danault’s aid and appeared to apologize to him as he was loaded up and carried off the ice. Between this and the Girardi/Frk incident last week, I’m thinking maybe people should stop trying to block the hardest shots in the game with their faces.

Speaking of near-disasters, Milan Lucic came millimeters from life-threatening danger himself when he tangled with Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek and, upon the two falling to the ice, had his neck cut by Nosek’s skate. The picture of the stitch job is pretty unnerving, and according to Lucic the cut was mere millimeters too shallow to open up his jugular vein.

One of the NHL’s most impressive streaks is coming to an end. After 830 consecutive games, Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano will be forced to miss the next two contests after being suspended for a very-not legal hit on Kings forward Adrian Kempe. A very heated contest led to a lot of physicality, and the play was certainly very out of character for Cogliano, who sacrifices a streak that could have broken the NHL record next season had it continued.

The Vegas Golden Knights have formed their first rivalry, but not exactly the sort you’d expect. The United States Army has filed a copyright challenge to the franchise on the grounds that they already possessed the rights to the name ‘Golden Knights’ for its West Point parachute jump team. The franchise’s response? A spectacularly sarcastic tweet, obviously.

Jack Johnson has requested a trade out of Columbus. A pending UFA, it is generally believed that Johnson wants to be traded to a team where he will have a chance at seeing more playing time in an effort to raise his stock on the market, after seeing his minutes plummet in recent weeks. While many CBJ fans (myself included) hold ‘JMFJ’ in high regards as a person, trading the defender had become a very common topic in Columbus long before the player’s request, as his production has dipped significantly, highlighting his defensive shortcomings and bringing about the argument for his replacement by younger options within the CBJ system.

Tampa has lost star defender Victor Hedman for 3-6 weeks with a lower body injury. I’m pretty sure if they lost every game in that time they would still be like 4th in the league, but still, it’s a bummer.

Am I the only one who thinks these Olympic Games are actually gonna be pretty fun? As rosters get released, obviously the star power we’re used to isn’t there, but convince me that these lesser-known guys, most of them being players who probably never even dreamed they’d get this chance, aren’t going to play their absolute hearts out every single second of every single game. I think it’s gonna be great.

On a final note, we learned this week via Doc Emrick that Pierre McGuire has undergone successful surgery to remove a cancer-infected prostate. He is recovering and is hopeful to rejoin the broadcast team in time for the Olympics. Now I, like many, can admit to yelling at Pierre to stop yapping on about whatever ridiculous stat or story he knows about some third-line player on a team I don’t like, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that cancer should take a Chara slapshot to the mush and a few skates to its main artery. So get well, Pierre, Eddy-O and everyone else that has to fight this miserable disease.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Weeks 12 & 13

With New Years and the GLI preventing me from posting last week (and being out of town this weekend pushing this yet another day back) I’ll be combining the past two weeks of action, because I make the rules here and you all just have to deal with it. So there.

Skater of the Week(s): Mikko Rantanen

Though the big Finn was overshadowed slightly by teammate Nathan MacKinnon by two points over this stretch, Rantanen’s 10 points in six games are still nothing to scoff at. An even split of five goals (one on the power play) and five assists (also one power play tally) to go with a ridiculous +9 rating over the six games put the 21-year old at 41 points in 41 games and dug him out of a -8 +/- hole to put him at a +1 on the season.

If Rantanen can continue producing at a point-a-game rate to go along with the incredible numbers MacKinnon is putting up, he may well lead the Avs (and my fantasy team) right into the playoffs.

Tendy of the Week(s): Tuukka Rask

(Special mentions to Jimmy Howard, Connor Hellebuyck, Jonathan Bernier and Ben Bishop, who all posted one more win than Rask over this span and all had terrific numbers of their own, as well.)

The Bruins are scorching hot right now and Rask is a huge part of that. The man with two Us and two Ks truly was too good over these past two weeks, posting wins in all three of his starts with a scarcely believable .974 save percentage and 0.67 GAA to his credit, along with a shutout (duh) for good measure.

Boston is never going to run down Tampa for the division’s top spot without some sort of extinction-level event befalling the Lightning, but with three games in hand over third place Toronto and the Grand Canyon between them and fourth place, the Bs look to be fairly comfortable in their push towards the playoffs. If Rask carries this play into the postseason, everyone should be scared.

Game of the Week(s): Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…………

Okay, so, admittedly I did not watch a lot of hockey over the past 14 or so days. I can tell you that Michigan vs Michigan State in the consolation game of the GLI was a lot of fun, and the Winter Classic looked like it was a barnburner. Also the Jackets and Panthers went eight rounds into the shootout Sunday night, a game that I was originally supposed to attend (you’re welcome, friend who I gave the tickets to), and all five goals scored were gross.

But if I’m being honest, I simply haven’t watched enough to make a solid pick this time around. So, tell you what, the game of the week is whatever you want it to be! Yeah, how about that? That’s me giving back to you, the reader.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

David Savard was fined $5,000 for Paul Bunyon-ing Vincent Trocheck, a move that Cap’n Cornelius would probably deem the most solid defensive play he’s seen out of Savard all season.

Dan Girardi blocked a Martin Frk shot with his head, which is definitely not recommended, but luckily had all concussion tests come back negative and is only listed as day-to-day. In Girardi’s defense, at least half of the time Frk lets a shot go, even he doesn’t know exactly where it’s going (a point Red Wings’ color analyst Mickey Redmond made himself after the play occurred). For those unfamiliar with Frk, I can tell you that he almost certainly has one of the hardest shots you will ever witness. Living in northwest Ohio, I’ve had multiple opportunities to watch him in action over the past few years when he spent time with Toledo of the ECHL, and even his wrist shot hits the boards with a sound unlike anything you’ll hear from 99 percent of other players. Maybe work on keeping them down, Marty.

Patrice Bergeron had himself a four-goal game, which I assume was just to remind all of us that he’s still the best hockey player that no one ever remembers exists.

Glen Gulutzan had a meltdown for the ages at Flames practice, highlighted by heaving his stick into the stratosphere. No one has seen the stick land yet, and I assume it has simply joined Jose Bautista’s bat on its eternal journey through the cosmos.

Speaking of the Flames, the team is reportedly looking to release Jaromir Jagr, in a move that would likely put them on a level of heel heat that would rival Vince McMahon post-Montreal Screwjob (Bonus points to any reader that actually understands that reference).

Nazem Kadri fought Joe Thornton (bad idea) and apparently thought ripping some of Jumbo’s beard out would cause Joe to lose some of his strength (decent theory, story of Samson and whatnot). It did not cause him to lose his strength, though, so a bad day for Kadri there.

The Oilers nabbed goaltender Al Montoya from the Habs in exchange for a conditional 4th round pick, in a move that could be titled “Two dumpster fires exchange things in attempt to convince livid fanbases that improvements are being made.”

December 22 – Day 79 – Do you “C” what I “C”

It’s the second-to-last Friday of 2017, so don’t miss your chance to take in some hockey this evening!

For those taking me up on that offer (which should be all of you), the action starts at 7 p.m. with Philadelphia at Buffalo (SN), followed half an hour later by Minnesota at Florida. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Montréal at Calgary [RDS/TSN2] and Washington at Arizona) find an early start at 9 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Sometimes hockey fans get spoiled by a given day’s schedule, and some days… are like this. However, there’s a clear choice for which contest should attract most of our attention this evening.

 

After climbing from the bottom of the Eastern Conference into third place in the Atlantic Division, the 15-15-4 Canadiens have cooled off of late. Even though they’ve posted a decent 6-3-1 record over their last 10 games, they’ve ceded their playoff spot to the red-hot Bruins and have settled back into mediocrity.

Though the defensive end still leaves much to be desired, my biggest complaint with the Habs for most of the season has been their offense that has managed only 2.74 goals per game, the (t)sixth-fewest in the NHL.

That being said, Montréal currently has a wonderful story on its hands in undrafted third-year NHLer W Daniel Carr. With only eight NHL games to his credit this season, the Union College product has already earned 3-6-9 totals on the Canadiens’ fourth line to climb to 13th place in Montréal’s season point-earners leader board.

As for players who have been with the club all season, F Phillip Danault certainly doesn’t deserve the blame for the Habs’ struggles. His 7-14-21 totals from the second line lead the team, and he’s trailed closely behind by LW Max Pacioretty‘s 8-12-20 effort.

Playing host this evening are the 18-14-3 Flames, another team currently in fourth place in their division after spending time at various points over the past two months on the right side of the playoff bubble.

Of the two teams involved in tonight’s game, Calgary is easily the hotter of the two – and not just because of its nickname and logo. The Flames are riding a two-game winning streak, having beaten the rival Canucks 6-1 Sunday and a good-but-slumping Blues team 2-1 on Wednesday.

Made apparent by both of those scores, the defensive zone has not been the Flames’ biggest problem this season. 14-11-3 G Mike Smith is putting together a decent enough season with a .919 save percentage and 2.55 GAA, and he’ll be in net this evening since Calgary is off until Thursday.

Instead, my concerns with the Flames is the same as the Habs: an anemic offense. Calgary has managed only 2.77 goals per game this season, the ninth-fewest in the NHL.

That number would be much worse without LW Johnny Gaudreau on this team. He’s by far Calgary’s best offensive weapon, and he’s posted team-leading 13-27-40 totals from his spot on Head Coach Glen Gulutzan’s top line. Unfortunately for Gaudreau, there are few besides linemate C Sean Monahan (17-14-31) acting as a supporting cast, which has allowed defenses to have their way with the Flames.

It’s always tough to pick against 10-10-2 G Carey Price, but I feel confident that the Flames can defend the Saddledome and earn two points in tonight’s contest.


Though they needed a shootout, the New Jersey Devils beat the New York Rangers 4-3 at the Prudential Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Even though D John Moore (C Nico Hischier and Third Star of the Game W Kyle Palmieri) opened the scoring in the Devils’ favor, the Rangers took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission thanks to tallies from W Jimmy Vesey (F Paul Carey and C David Desharnais) and D Nick Holden (F Chris Kreider and W Pavel Buchnevich).

With a shorthanded snap shot with 3:36 remaining in the second period, Second Star F Blake Coleman (D Steven Santini) pulled Jersey even with the Blueshirts at two-all.

Only 1:48 into the third period, F Kevin Hayes (D Brendan Smith and W Mats Zuccarello) buried a wrist shot to give New York a 3-2 advantage, but a Kreider elbowing penalty with 9:05 remaining in regulation proved to be the Rangers’ downfall. 59 seconds into the man-advantage, First Star F Brian Boyle (F Taylor Hall and Palmieri) scored a power play backhanded shot to level the game at 3-3, the score that would hold through the remainder of regulation and all five minutes of three-on-three overtime.

It’s been two weeks since the last shootout in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Let’s see how this one pans out…

  1. As the home team, Jersey elected to shoot first. Hall didn’t make good on that decision though, as G Henrik Lundqvist was able to save his backhander.
  2. Zuccarello drew the Rangers’ first shot, but his snapper met the same fate as Hall’s offering: saved by G Cory Schneider.
  3. Palmieri scored the first goal of the shootout for the Devils…
  4. …but C Mika Zibanejad was able to match that effort and set the score at 1-1.
  5. W Drew Stafford had made half the shots he’d attempted in the shootout before last night, but his conversion percentage fell to .4 after Lundqvist made the save on his snapper.
  6. Vesey had the opportunity to win the game, but his wrister was saved by Schneider to force the shootout into overtime.
  7. Boyle did not earn his First Star honor for simply tying the game – he was also the last person to score a goal in the shootout.
  8. D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s wrister was saved by Schneider, earning the bonus point for the Devils.

Schneider earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (.893 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Lundqvist, who saved 45-of-48 (.938).

There’s no stopping the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series nowadays, as they’ve won six of the last seven contests. Last night’s win gave the hosts a 45-25-9 record that is 21 points better than the visitors’.

DtFR Overtime: Where’s the Star Power?

Welcome to DtFR Overtime, where somebody on the most recent podcast offers some deeper thoughts on one of the points of discussion.

Today’s subject: Star power and the absence of it.

We all know the list of current NHL stars: LW Jamie Benn, D Brent Burns, C Sidney Crosby, G Braden Holtby, F Patrick Kane, D Erik Karlsson, G Henrik Lundqvist, C Auston Matthews, C Connor McDavid, W Alex Ovechkin, G Carey Price, G Jonathan Quick, C Steven Stamkos, D P.K. Subban, RW Vladimir Tarasenko, C John Tavares

OK, I think you get the idea.

But how important are these stars really? I mean, of the skaters listed above, they play an average of only 21 minutes – or barely over a third of a game.

While the top NHL teams put a strong value on depth scoring, I would argue that, over the course of a season, it is necessary for Team X’s star to be the best player on the ice for that team to have success.

It sounds basic, right?

It is, but even the clubs that seem to be built to withstand the unfortunately inevitable scoring droughts from its top players are struggling this season.

My first example is the 12-11-5 Chicago Blackhawks, a club that currently sits in 12th place in the Western Conference and is at risk of missing the postsesaon for the first time since the 2007-’08 campaign.

I brought up Kane in the list of stars earlier, but his team-leading 10-17-27 totals are not the reason Chicago finds itself on the outside looking in. Instead, this star-laden team is struggling to find leadership from its captain.

Getting outplayed by rookie F Alex DeBrincat‘s 11-9-20 effort, C Jonathan Toews has only 8-11-19 totals to his credit and is on track for the worst offensive production of his professional career. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Blackhawks have an 11-2-2 record when Toews finds his way onto the scorecard, but a 1-9-3 record when he doesn’t.

That was fun, especially for a fan of a Central Division team that hasn’t worn a lick of red since the 1997-’98 season. Let’s head east and examine another city where it looks like the local club is in an even more dire situation

Welcome to Ottawa, the national capital of Canada.  Expectations were high after forcing a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series with Pittsburgh back in May, but all the 9-11-6 Sens, who currently sit third-to-last in the conference, have done this season is disappoint.

To be fair, Karlsson at least has the excuse of an injury to partially explain his slump. The hard part in figuring out Karlsson’s 1-16-17 effort is that he’s mostly on track from a points-per-game standpoint. Given he missed the Sens’ first five games, his .81 points-per-game is, while not exemplary by his standards, still a solid output.

Unfortunately, this is where points can distract from goals. You probably noticed he only had one tally to his credit, which is where I think his team needs him most.

The 14-10-2 Sharks are facing a similar situation with their star defenseman Burns, who has managed only 1-11-12 totals in 26 games a year after posting 29-47-76 numbers to win the Norris Trophy. As such, San Jose does not have the solid footing in the standings it would like, as the Sharks are holding onto their second wild card position by winning only a games-played tiebreaker.

Now, I’m not going to sit here on my couch and pontificate about how to score a goal in the NHL against the 30-something best goaltenders in the world. I mean, I live in the South and can barely keep my skates underneath me the entire time I’m at the rink. But, I am going to say that Karlsson’s .05 goals-per-game for the season and Burns’ .04 is – you guessed it – the worst performances of their careers.

Last year, Karlsson scored 17 of the Sens’ 212 regular season goals. That may only be eight percent of the total, but Ottawa earned a 12-3-3 record when he personally put a goal on the scoreboard, including a perfect 2-0-0 record in the postseason. Similarly, Burns’ career-high 29 goals earned the Sharks an 18-7-1 record last season, though it might be of bigger note that Edmonton did not allow him to find the back of the net in their six-game first round matchup, the Sharks’ only playoff series of the 2017 postseason.

Now, don’t read this as all doom-and-gloom for these respective squads. All of these teams can get right back into the playoff discussion (yes, even Ottawa thanks to a weak Atlantic Division) or better cement their position in the tournament if their biggest players can simply rediscover their mojo.

Take for example Montréal, where as recently as two weeks ago it looked like the 13-13-3 Canadiens had never seen, much less used hockey sticks before. Then Price came back from his lower-body injury, and the Habs look better than ever.

Of course, things weren’t exactly peachy in Québec before Price took time off. In his 11 appearances before retreating to the press box, Price had managed only an .877 season save percentage and 3.77 GAA to earn a 3-7-1 record, forcing Habs fans and bloggers alike to wonder when exactly this injury occurred.

But since Price’s return on November 25, Price and the Habs have been almost unbeatable, as they’ve won five of their last six games with him in net. The goaltender himself has been extremely successful as well, as he’s posted a .94 save percentage and 1.67 GAA in that time.

But the turnaround hasn’t been simply in the defensive end. Even the offense is gelling now that its true leader is back (Sorry LW Max Pacioretty, but this is Price’s team. You’re captain by technicality), as success breeds success and positive energy. Since Price’s return, Montréal’s offense has managed a whopping 4.5 goals-per-game, highlighted by Saturday’s 10-1 shellacking of the Red Wings. Even taking out that major outlier, the Habs’ 3.4 goals-per-game is much better than the 2.32 goals-per-game they’d managed before Price’s return. This surge has propelled the Canadiens from sixth place in the Atlantic Division into third – a playoff spot.

Since we’re on the topic of Montréal and its stars and I already brought up Pacioretty, we might as well discuss my concerns over this team. Pacioretty is struggling something fierce right now. He’s only managed 8-8-16 totals so far this season, and is on pace for his worst professional season since his first two years with the Habs.

Unfortunately for Canadiens fans, this scoring skid is not limited to just this season. I don’t need to remind them of the magic disappearing act he performed in the playoffs against the Rangers, managing only a lone assist. In fact, since March 14 of last campaign, he’s managed only 10-14-24 totals in games that count (aka everything but the preseason).

While I belittled the letter Pacioretty wears on his sweater, he is still one of the leaders on this team. For the Habs to sustain this recent success, Pacioretty is going to need to snap out of his slump – even if it means he has to become a play-maker before resuming a goalscorer role.

Another team that has had more struggles than it would like is the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions. While they’ve had trouble finding depth scoring and are now facing even bigger goaltending issues than they had before, the 15-11-3 Penguins have held onto a playoff position for most of the year.

Now, the operative word here is ‘most.’ There was a point in late November when the Penguins had fallen outside the playoff picture, and – as you might guess from the other examples – I would pin a lot of the club’s struggles on Crosby.

It is very hard to point at a player that is contributing a point-per-game on the season and say he is not doing enough for his team. After all, isn’t this the same team that supposedly embodies the speed-based future of the sport while also trotting out RW Ryan Reaves onto the ice every game? Why can’t his lousy 1-2-3 totals be the problem?

And yet, it’s hard to ignore that Pittsburgh’s slump aligned almost perfectly with Crosby’s goal-scoring slump. Between October 21 and November 22, Crosby managed only 1-6-7 totals in 15 games, which led the Penguins to earning only a 6-7-2 record in that time.

You might say that 6-7-2 isn’t a terrible run while one of the league’s top players is on the schneid, and I’d agree if that team wasn’t in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. The Penguins also have the luxury of employing RW Phil Kessel and F Evgeni Malkin, who were able to keep the team mostly afloat with their combined 10-18-28 effort.

If that stat does nothing other than stress the importance of Crosby to his team, I don’t know what does. The fact that the Penguins were losing, or at least treading water, while two players created nearly 30 goals in 15 games is unbelievable.

Anyways, Crosby has rediscovered his scoring ways since then, and the Pens are all the better for it. Starting with November 24, the captain has earned 6-6-12 totals that are closer to what fans expect from him. As such, the Penguins have found their way back into the win column, earning a 4-2-0 record in spite of G Matthew Murray missing Pittsburgh’s last three games with a lower-body injury.

Of course, the Penguins are doing a great job of poking a hole in my argument by falling from third in the division back into the second wild card spot while Murray is healing, but I’m still going to hold firm that G Tristan Jarry has earned a 3-1-0 record filling in not because of his solid .926 season save percentage (though that doesn’t hurt), but because Crosby has scored a goal in every game but – you guessed it – Jarry’s one regulation loss.

Confidence – which I am led to believe is the word people are actually looking for when they discuss momentum in sports (I mean, “momentum” is technically mass x velocity, so the momentum of a sports team cannot change without either a plane or a player transaction) – is like hitting in baseball: it’s a contagious thing.

Star players are not star players simply because they can score or stop goals no one else can. Stars are stars because they can make those plays and make the athletes associated with them feel like they too can contribute to the ultimate goal and find wins and success.

Stars are leaders.

And that’s why stars have to perform their best. That’s why they have to have the best numbers on their team. It’s not to belittle the third and fourth liners, but it’s their success that should drive a team to achieve more.

Success breeds success.

In that same train of thought, leaders can’t create success from the rest of their team while they themselves are struggling to find their groove. Stars are stars because they find that motivation to excel within themselves, and then use that flame to light the others’ torches.

You might have noticed the thread that connects all of the players called out in this column: Toews, Karlsson, Burns, Pacioretty and Crosby are all captains. These players have been selected by their coaches and peers based not only on their undoubted skills, but also on their work-ethic and leadership abilities. They were honored with that distinction, so it is time for them to step up and serve the letter and crest on the front of their sweaters and get/keep their squads on track.

These teams are capable of winning; it just takes a little input from a star.

November 29 – Day 56 – A real rivalry

Wanna see a cool trick? I’m going to list the four games on today’s schedule, and I want you to pick which one is actually a rivalry, and which one is being promoted as such by the NHL’s preferred American broadcaster.

Half of tonight’s contests drop the puck at 7:30 p.m. (Tampa Bay at Boston [NBCSN] and Ottawa at Montréal [RDS/SN]), followed by Anaheim at St. Louis at 9 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap is slated to start at 9:30 p.m., featuring Winnipeg at Colorado. All times Eastern.

Salty is probably too strong a word, but I’m definitely not a fan of being sold a rivalry on the simple basis that the Lightning and Bruins both play in the Atlantic Division – especially since the league’s 2013 realignment.

As such, consider yourself a lucky member of my protest being waged on the National Broadcasting Company. Instead of watching their so-called rivalry, we’re just going to watch what we want: a real feud.

 

Oh, you say the Ottawa-Montréal game isn’t being broadcast in the United States? Well, while that does make our protest a little bit more difficult, we must press on for the integrity of the word rivalry!

Unfortunately, this rivalry is not currently as important as many would have expected during the preseason, as both teams currently rank in the bottom-five of the Eastern Conference.

Expectations were especially high for the 8-8-6 Senators after their trip to the Eastern Finals in May, but losing six-straight games (one in overtime) since returning from Stockholm, Sweden has pinned them third-worst in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.

The primary reason for this skid has been a major scoring drought. Starting with November 16’s game against the Penguins, Ottawa has scored only eight goals in six games. As you’d expect, that’s the lowest output of any team in the league in that time.

Since mid-November, I suppose you could say RW Mark Stone (1-3-4 totals) and F Mike Hoffman (2-1-3) have been Ottawa’s biggest offensive stars, but it’d probably be disrespectful to use the same word we’d use to describe Vegas’ F Jon Marchessault, who has scored a league-leading 4-7-11 effort in the same time span it’s taken Hoffman and Stone to earn their combined seven points.

While their efforts aren’t exactly superb, at least they’re trying to get the Sens rolling again. Instead, the biggest problem I can find with the Senators right now is found at the bottom of the list. No, not those players who only have one point to their credit – I’m looking beyond the 13 players who have gotten on the scorecard in the past six games. Listed behind them are D Erik Karlsson and W Bobby Ryan, who have a combined zero points.

For those wondering, the last time Karlsson scored a point or earned a personal goal-differential that was not negative was against the Avalanche in Sweden, the last time Ottawa won. Coincidence? I think not. His performance on both ends of the ice is of the utmost importance to the success of this Senators team, and until the captain gets out of his rut, Ottawa will continue to lose.

Of note for the Sens is 1-0-3 G Mike Condon will be the starting goaltender tonight. This will be his first time in net at the Bell Centre since April 9, 2016 as a member of the Canadiens. In five starts, Condon has a .904 save percentage and averages three goals against per 60 minutes on the season.

Meanwhile, the 10-12-3 Habs are trying to take advantage of a weak Atlantic Division and salvage their slow start to the season.

Similar to Karlsson’s importance to the Sens, there’s no doubting how integral 5-7-1 G Carey Price is to this Montréal team. Since returning from a lower body injury that sent him to the press box for 10 games, he’s managed an incredible .986 save percentage and .5 GAA in two starts.

With Price seemingly back to the form that earned him basically every individual trophy he could earn during the 2014-’15 season, the offense has also rediscovered the art of scoring to register three goals against both the Sabres and Blue Jackets – well above their 2.36 goals-per-game season average that ranks second-worst in the NHL.

The positive momentum is absolutely contagious, as those six goals have been scored by six different players. My biggest concern about the Habs is that their captain, LW Max Pacioretty, is not one of those six skaters, but I doubt Head Coach Claude Julien is complaining as long as his club is winning.

Considering how well Price has been playing, Karlsson will be hard-pressed to end his point skid tonight. If that proves to be the case, I see no reason why Montréal can’t win its third-straight contest.


Though backup G Anton Forsberg tried to do his best G Corey Crawford impression, it wasn’t enough to stop the Nashville Predators from beating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 at Bridgestone Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Preds’ offense made a habit of scoring early, as they scored a goal within the first four minutes of each period. First Star of the Game F Filip Forsberg (W Viktor Arvidsson and F Ryan Johansen) was the first to score for Nashville, as he buried a wrist shot 3:16 into the game to give the Predators an early lead. That lead didn’t last long however, as F Tommy Wingels (F Alex DeBrincat and F Patrick Sharp) banged a wrister past Second Star G Pekka Rinne only 1:54 later to level the game at one-all.

The game remained tied until the 3:48 mark of the second period when Nashville found its second goal on F Austin Watson‘s (D Matt Irwin and D Anthony Bitetto) stick. Watson’s tip-in set the score at 2-1 and gave the Predators a lead they would not yield.

A major reason Nashville was able to hold on to that advantage was Third Star D Roman Josi‘s (C Kyle Turris) insurance-turned-game-winning power play goal scored 2:32 into the third period.

Though winning face-offs isn’t the most important thing in a hockey game, it can certainly be a very important task in certain situations. C Colton Sissons did his job at the right-most neutral zone face-off dot nearest A. Forsberg to get the puck to Turris. The former Senator advanced into the offensive zone along the right boards and attracted all four Chicago defenders before sending a crossing pass to a totally uncovered Josi at the left point. No Hawks had a chance to block the captain’s slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle, including A. Forsberg, who watched the puck sail over his glove and into the back of the net.

F Lance Bouma (F John Hayden and D Jan Rutta) buried a wrister at the 9:38 mark of the final frame, but Chicago could not level the game with the remaining 10:22 of regulation.

Rinne earned the victory after saving 37-of-39 shots faced (.949 save percentage), leaving the loss to A. Forsberg, who saved 28-of-31 (.903).

Currently riding a four-game winning streak, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series now own a 31-19-6 record that is 13 points better than the visitors’.