Tag Archives: Neal

October 24 – Day 21 – It’s Showtime in Las Vegas

It’s been a few days since we’ve had a busy schedule, but Tuesday fixes that by bringing us almost a dozen contests.

As it usually does, tonight’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with four puck-drops (Arizona at the New York Islanders, Anaheim at Philadelphia, Edmonton at Pittsburgh [SN1/TVAS] and Tampa Bay at Carolina), with another set of three games (Detroit at Buffalo [NBCSN], Florida at Montréal [RDS/TSN2] and Los Angeles at Ottawa [RDSI]) waiting half an hour before getting underway. 8 p.m. brings with the start of two more games (Calgary at Nashville and Vancouver at Minnesota), trailed by Dallas at Colorado at 9 p.m. and Chicago at Vegas an hour after that to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

It’s hard to believe, but W Thomas Vanek hasn’t been back to Xcel Energy Center since being bought out following the 2015-’16 season. Though it might be fun to see him take on his former team, I’m actually more interested in tonight’s activities in the desert.

 

 

 

 

 

These two teams that are both second place in their respective divisions have become DtFR Game of the Day series favorites, as they’ve been featured a total of six times before tonight. So, when the Blackhawks make their first-ever trip to Sin City, what else are we supposed to do besides focus on their matchup?

Things have changed quite a lot for the 6-1-0 Golden Knights since the last time we featured them when they opened T-Mobile Arena to a 5-2 victory. For starters, they’ve actually lost a game (darn those Red Wings and their sneaky offense), but more importantly, it was that contest that cost them their starting goaltender.

G Marc-Andre Fleury was off to an impressive start with his new team, managing a .925 save percentage and 2.48 GAA through four games played. But in that Detroit game, he suffered a concussion that has sent him to injured reserve with no timetable for his return.

That’s pretty disappointing for an expansion team that’s proving everybody wrong. But, the story unfortunately takes another turn for the worse.

In the Golden Knights’ last game played on Saturday against the Blues, G Malcolm Subban – who himself was also off to a solid start to the season, managing a .936 save percentage and 2.06 GAA after being waived by Boston at the start of the year – suffered a lower-body injury that has also landed him on injured reserve for the next four weeks.

To put it lightly, things could be going a lot better in the Knights’ crease. Who is next up for a franchise that didn’t have a single player four months ago?

I’d put my money on G Oscar Dansk, who I expect will be making his first-ever NHL start tonight. He was the one who completed the Blues game for Subban. His career had a rough start, as the first shot he faced was a D Alex Pietrangelo game-tying slap shot, but he quickly rebounded to save the remaining 10 shots he faced in that game to win it in overtime.

But here’s the problem for Dansk: the Blues’ offense is nowhere near as successful as Chicago’s. Though the Hawks fire only a 10th-fewest 30.7 shots per game, they’re pretty accurate with those attempts, scoring a seventh-best 3.56 goals per game.

At the forefront of that attack is none other than Showtime himself, F Patrick Kane. Though he hasn’t scored the most goals on Chicago’s roster (that honor belongs to W Brandon Saad, who’s managed six in nine games played), his 4-7-11 totals are certainly best on the team.

And to think Kane, W Ryan Hartman and C Nick Schmaltz only play on the Hawks’ second line. There’s a whole ‘nother line of scoring studs Dansk has to worry about. With the likes of C Jonathan Toews and his 3-5-8 totals leading that charge, Dansk may just fall asleep in his crease at the completion of this game out of sheer exhaustion.

Assuming Dansk can hold his own, we’d be remiss not to at least discuss the play of G Corey Crawford. He’s been nothing short of exceptional, as his .945 save percentage and 1.86 GAA are both best in the league among netminders with at least four starts. If W James Neal (6-2-8 totals), W Reilly Smith (2-5-7) and co. can manage to get past him, they’ll deserve every bit of praise heaped on them.

Goaltending and clutch scoring have been the main reasons the Golden Knights have found success so far this season. Though it’s no fault of 23-year-old Dansk, he’s no Subban – much less Fleury. Upsets happen all over this league, but I think the Blackhawks will be very disappointed if they don’t depart Fabulous Las Vegas with two points in hand.


Scoring a goal per period was the plan for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they executed it to a T to beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 at the Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first period’s goal was struck 5:46 into the game from the unlikeliest of sources. Scoring his first of the season, W Matt Martin (D Roman Polak and First Star of the Game F Mitch Marner) buried a slap shot on G Jonathan Quick to give Toronto a lead it would not yield.

A power play wrist shot from C Tyler Bozak (LW James van Riemsdyk and Marner) with 5:16 remaining in the second period doubled the Leafs’ advantage to 2-0, but F Adrian Kempe (F Trevor Lewis and D Drew Doughty) pulled the Kings back within a goal 58 seconds later with a wrister of his own.

At the 2:54 mark of the final period, F Patrick Marleau (D Morgan Rielly and C Nazem Kadri) found what proved to be the Maple Leafs’ winning goal. Unable to corral a centering pass from Marleau in front of Quick’s crease, Kadri collected the loose puck in the far corner and sent it to Rielly at the point. From there, the blue liner one-timed a snapper well above the crossbar, but Marleau was there to deflect the offering past Quick’s right shoulder and into the net.

Third Star F Trevor Lewis found the back of Second Star G Frederik Andersen‘s net with 7:41 remaining in regulation with a backhanded shot, but Los Angeles could not find a leveling goal in the remaining time.

Andersen earned the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (.947 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 30-of-33 (.909).

Toronto’s home win snaps a four-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have an 11-6-4 record that is four points better than the roadies.

October 6 – Day Three – Welcome to the league

Man, a week goes by fast when there’s hockey involved. All of a sudden it’s Friday!

Speaking of, we have three games on the schedule tonight in anticipation of a 15-game Saturday. The action starts at 7 p.m. with the New York Islanders visiting Columbus, followed half an hour by Florida at Tampa Bay for Game 1 of the Governor’s Cup. Finally, Vegas heads to Dallas (NHLN/SN360/TVAS) to close out the night at 8:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s only one chance for a franchise to play its first NHL game, so is there any doubt which game we’re featuring tonight?

 

 

 

 

 

Now that it is officially game day for the Golden Knights, allow us at Down the Frozen River to welcome Vegas to the NHL!

Officially, the process of bringing the NHL’s 31st team to Las Vegas began in late 2014 when Commissioner Gary Bettman allowed Bill Foley to test the season ticket market, though the league has had a presence in the city since the early 90s (not counting the bookies).

Over 13,000 season tickets and 18 months later, the Golden Knights were approved for business and preparing to start winning hockey games.

Unfortunately, history is not on their side in this contest. The last expansion franchises to win their opening games were Tampa Bay (7-3 against Chicago) and Ottawa (5-3 against Montréal) in the 1992-’93 season. Since then, expansion teams have gone a dreadful 0-6-1 in their first-ever regular season games, getting outscored 25-11 in the process.

Ouch. Maybe the Golden Knights can do better.

For them to buck the trend, they’ll need exemplary play from stars like G Marc-Andre Fleury, F Jon Marchessault and W Reilly Smith. Considering Vegas’ lack of an effective blue line and the prowess of the Stars’ forwards (more on them in a minute), Fleury’s job description is simple even though it’s not simply filled.

And it’s with that in mind that puts even more pressure on the Knights’ forwards. Given that Dallas doesn’t necessarily play the best defense in the league, Marchessault, and Smith will hopefully be able to find some chemistry on the top line with C Vadim Shipachyov to keep Vegas competitive.

In addition to playing their first game, the Knights are also bringing with them some the Stars’ old friends. In particular, C Cody Eakin spent the last five seasons in Dallas before being selected by Vegas in the expansion draft. During his tenure in the Lone Star State he registered solid 61-85-146 totals, but last season’s 3-9-12 performance was a drastic decline that forced General Manager Jim Nill to leave him exposed.

Speaking of Nill, now that Eakin is on the Golden Knights’ second line, he had the opportunity to make some much needed changes to the Stars’ roster. After finishing 15 points behind the eighth-seeded Predators last season, Nill was able to improve his team by adding the likes of G Ben Bishop, C Martin Hanzal, D Marc Methot and RW Alexander Radulov.

Pair that group of players, who should provide at least a 10-point improvement in the standings compared to last year’s team, with Dallas’ mainstays of LW Jamie Benn and F Tyler Seguin and you find a club that should have something to say about the Blackhawks winning the Central Division for a second-straight season.

Considering the poor history of expansion teams in their first regular season showing and the fact that RW David Clarkson, F Mikhail Grabovski, W James Neal and D Clayton Stoner are all on injured reserve, I’m not expecting much from the Golden Knights this evening. Instead, I’m going to be enthralled by what could be the best top-line in hockey (Benn-Seguin-Radulov) backed by the first number one goaltender Dallas has seen in years.


Of all the teams to make it a priority to defend their new home, I suppose I should have pegged Detroit, who beat Minnesota 4-2 at Little Caesars Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

After a scoreless first period, the Red Wings scored two goals in 23 seconds – both courtesy of their second power play unit. First Star of the Game W Anthony Mantha (RW Martin Frk and Third Star D Mike Green) claimed the honor of scoring the first goal in arena history by burying a five-on-three wrist shot with 5:20 remaining. Under normal power play conditions, that lead doubled 23 seconds later when F Dylan Larkin (Green and Mantha) tipped a loose puck past G Devan Dubnyk.

Not to be outdone, the Wild had a scoring blitz of their own, starting with C Joel Eriksson Ek‘s (W Chris Stewart and LW Marcus Foligno) wrister two minutes into the third period, followed by Stewart’s (F Tyler Ennis and D Kyle Quincey) wrister only 48 seconds later to level the game at two-all.

The tie lasted 4:19 before F Henrik Zetterberg (Green and F Tomas Tatar) found the game-winning snap shot on his stick. From between the face-off circles, he collected a Green pass deflected off W Jason Zucker‘s skate and fired it five-hole on Dubnyk to set the score at 3-2.

Frk (Mantha and Green) secured the win by burying a slap shot with 9:21 remaining in the contest, setting the 4-2 final score.

Second Star Jimmy Howard earned the victory after saving 37-of-39 shots faced for a .949 save percentage, leaving the loss to Dubnyk, who saved 27-of-31 (.871 save percentage).

After three games, road teams have a slight one-point advantage in the DtFR Game of the Day series with a 2-1-0 record.

Nashville Predators 2017-’18 Season Preview

Nashville Predators

41-29-12, 94 points, fourth in the Central Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Finals by Pittsburgh

Additions: C Nick Bonino, D Alexei Emelin, LW Scott Hartnell

Subtractions: D Matt Carle (retired), F Vernon Fiddler (retired), C Mike Fisher (retired), D Brad Hunt (signed with VGK), LW Mike Liambas (signed with ANH), G Marek Mazanec (signed with Slovan), W James Neal (drafted by VGK), F Colin Wilson (traded to COL)

Offseason Analysis: Let’s get this out of the way: yes, the Predators can make a second-straight Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

Oh, you’re expecting something more in-depth?

Usually this is where we talk signings and other roster moves, but I think the biggest focal point for Nashville has been a constant member of its squad since 2008, a player that’s been among the top-nine at his position (measured by save percentage and GAA) since starting regularly.

In 2012-’13, G Pekka Rinne posted a solid .91 save percentage for a 2.43 GAA, but followed up that performance a season later with .902 and 2.77 numbers. 2014-’15 was a return to form for the Finn, earning himself .923 and 2.18 marks, but ’15-’16 was another lapse in play (.908, 2.48).

That brings us to last year’s performance to earn Nashville’s first-ever Campbell Cup. 31-19-9 Rinne posted impressive .918 save percentage and 2.42 GAA efforts, the (t)seventh- and (t)ninth-best performances, respectively, among netminders with 50+ starts.

What’s alarming about this not-very-well-hidden pattern is we’re coming upon an even-numbered playoff year. Last season was undoubtedly a good performance, so is this recurrence a forecast for this campaign or can Rinne buck the trend?

The answer to that question lies in Nashville’s defense, and what a corps it has in Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and co. Not only is this defense more than capable of providing an offensive presence (Nashville tied San Jose with 181 points from defensemen last season, tops in the league), but they were also adept at limiting Rinne’s workload. He faced an average of 30.1 shots-per-game, tying for 13th-fewest in the NHL.

No discussion about Nashville’s defense is complete without acknowledging Ryan Ellis’ offseason knee surgery that has him sidelined until January. He plays a vital role on this defense, having posted 16-22-38 totals and a +17 rating last season to go with his team-leading 137 blocks and 37 takeaways (second-most among Predators defensemen).

Providing only .19 points-per-game during his six seasons in Montréal, Emelin is no replacement for Ellis’ scoring contributions, but he’ll hold his own blocking shots having rejected 127 last season. Besides, Emelin likes to make his presence known in other ways than scoring – specifically by providing a nasty physical defensive force.

Considering he’s in a place nicknamed “Smashville,” he’ll fit in beautifully.

Offensively, Nashville signed two-time Stanley Cup champion Bonino from Pittsburgh (Like I always say: “If you can’t beat ‘em, sign their players.”) and Hartnell to replace Fisher and Neal, respectively.

This is Hartnell’s second stint in Nashville after being its first-round pick in the 2000 draft and wearing gold through the 2006-’07 season. Posting only .47 points-per-game last season, 2016-’17 was a down year for the 16-year veteran, so his one-year deal is relatively low-risk, high-reward for a club with over $6 million in cap space – especially considering youngsters Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala exist.

Instead, I’m intrigued by Bonino’s four-year deal to be Nashville’s second line center. It seems to make sense statistically to play Bones (.46 points-per-game for his career) at the position instead of Calle Jarnkrok (.35 points-per-game), but Bonino found his success on the Pens’ third line.

The difference between playing on the second and third lines is far superior to that between the first and second. So really, the question is if Bones is top-six material.

Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in his way, Bonino never had consistent opportunities to play on a second line and showcase his ability. I think he’s best suited for the third line, but maybe he has a few tricks up his sleeve.

Offseason Grade: C+

Like students allowed to retake a test, this grade has the potential to improve after seeing the Preds’ final product. I will be the first to admit I’m wrong about Bonino’s second line abilities, but I want to see evidence that he is capable of playing the position. Beyond that, Nashville had very little it needed to improve. As long as they can successfully adjust to playing without Ellis – and then readjust when he returns – the sky should be the limit for this Predators squad.

Preds’ counterattack levels Cup Finals

2017 Stanley Cup Finals – Game 4

 

After losing the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, Nashville has done exactly what it needed to do by beating the Penguins 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena in Game 4 to level the series at two games apiece.

Entering Monday’s match, the Predators had averaged 32.3 shots-on-goal per game in the Finals, a lofty number compared to the Pens’ 22.3 average.

Even though it didn’t quite reach that number Monday, three offerings proved extremely important for Nashville in the 15th minute of the first period. The first was an Austin Watson wrist shot fired on Matthew Murray‘s net from beyond the far face-off circle with 5:11 remaining in the frame. The netminder was able to make the stop, but he couldn’t contain the rebound.

That’s where Calle Jarnkrok (Craig Smith and Watson) comes into play only two seconds later. He and Smith both crashed Murray’s crease to collect the rebound. Smith was the first to the loose puck and bat the puck out of the air over the goalie’s left leg. Murray deflected that offering too, but he couldn’t stop the third: a Jarnkrok wrister from the near corner of the crease to give the Preds a 1-0 lead.

Mike Sullivan elected to challenge the play for goaltender interference, but Toronto correctly ruled that Smith’s follow-through, though it made obvious contact with Murray, did not occur before  before the puck had entered the net.

Beyond that marker, offense – specifically offensive possession – was at a premium in Game 4. Don’t let a 4-1 final score fool you, as both clubs managed only 26 and 24 shots, respectively, due in large part to the strong defensive efforts by both squads.

Pittsburgh preferred to keep Murray’s workload to a minimum by blocking shots before they reached his crease. In total, the Penguins blocked 18 Nashville attempts, including an impressive four rejections by Brian Dumoulin.

Meanwhile, the Predators played with a bit more finesse in front of First Star of the Game Pekka Rinne, preferring to force and capitalize on turnovers. Not only did Matt Irwin lead that charge with two of the Preds’ eight takeaways, Nashville was a bigger beneficiary of the Penguins’ sloppy handling. Pittsburgh gave the puck away 16 times, including a miserable four by Ron Hainsey.

Regardless of how either team decided to play, this type of game makes a club’s ability to counter-strike paramount to its success.

The first of those breakaway tallies was struck only 66 seconds after Jarnkrok had finished celebrating his second goal of the playoffs, courtesy of Sidney Crosby (Dumoulin).

Given the events late in Game 3 and their interactions over the first 15:57 of play, P.K. Subban was definitely under Crosby’s skin early in the contest. Anytime they came in close contact, Crosby made sure to give the defenseman an extra shove.

But being under Crosby’s skin does not mean he cannot score. After Dumoulin laced a blue line-to-blue line pass to him at the top of his offensive zone, Pittsburgh’s captain took advantage of his one-on-one matchup with Rinne to patiently wait until the netminder committed to a forehand deke. Crosby then pulled the puck across to his backhand side to bounce the puck off the far post and then off the netminder’s left skate to level the game.

The score read 1-1 for the remainder of the opening frame, but the counterattack theme continued in the second period. This time, both goaltenders were up to the task… at least at first glance.

First up was Rinne, who saved a breakaway wrister fired from the crease by Chris Kunitz at the 3:29 mark. That attempt was followed only 16 seconds later by Murray batting Third Star Frederick Gaudreau‘s wrap-around offering back towards center ice just before it crossed the goal line.

Or so it seemed.

None in the building noticed it, but someone in Toronto did. From approximately 770 miles away, the NHL stopped play almost a full minute later to force a review of Murray’s seemingly miracle save. Video showed that the puck did barely completely cross the red goal line before Murray sent it the other way, meaning the Predators earned a 2-1 lead. Ryan Ellis and Harry Zolnierczyk provided the assists on Gaudreau’s tie-breaking – and what proved to be game-winning – tally.

Yet another Predators breakaway opportunity formed with seven minutes remaining before the second intermission. It started in Nashville’s defensive zone along the far boards when Roman Josi forced the puck towards the blue line. Though Ian Cole tried to separate James Neal from the puck, the former Penguin forced his way past the defenseman to advance it into the neutral zone to Second Star Mike Fisher. Fisher’s adversary was Evgeni Malkin, who knocked the Predators’ captain to the ice – but not before he batted a puck towards Viktor Arvidsson. Arvidsson beat Justin Schultz to the pass, and in doing so set up a one-on-one matchup with Murray. Arvidsson took the opportunity to line up a wrister towards the far post to beat the goalie’s suspect glove.

Trailing by two goals in the final period, the Penguins managed the best offense they could muster in attempts of tying the game. Even then, their 10 shots were not enough to get past Rinne. To further tilt the tables in its favor, Pittsburgh pulled Murray with 3:31 remaining before the final horn. The Pens were rewarded for that decision only eight seconds later when Filip Forsberg (Mattias Ekholm and Subban) scored a wrister from his defensive face-off circle to set the 4-1 final score.

The Stanley Cup Finals, now a best-of-three series, will recommence following a 90-minute flight from the Music City to the City of Bridges. Game 5 is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at PPG Paints Arena and may be viewed on NBC in the United States and CBC, SN or TVAS in Canada.

Preds’ power play perplexes Pens

2017 Stanley Cup Final – Game 3

 

After returning home to the friendlier environment of Bridgestone Arena, Nashville dominated the Penguins Saturday night with a 5-1 victory to pull within a game of leveling the Stanley Cup Finals.

One of the biggest story lines coming into Game 3 was which goaltender Peter Laviolette would play: usual starter Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros, who played the remaining 16:32 of Game 2. It should have been no surprise that Rinne maintained his position between the pipes, just as it was no surprise that the Penguins tried to test him early.

Though Pittsburgh fired only a half-dozen first period shots at Rinne, none were better than Jake Guentzel‘s (Ian Cole and Sidney Crosby) wrist shot 2:46 into the contest. The lone goal of the first period, he took advantage of Rinne being unable to contain the rebound off Cole’s slap shot from the near point and squeezed his five-hole attempt underneath the netminder for an early Pens lead.

With his 13th tally since April 12, Guenztel has surpassed Jeremy Roenick for second-most playoff markers by a rookie is only a goal short of tying Dino Ciccarelli‘s record for most all-time.

It was only Rinne’s second shot faced of the night and gave an early impression that he was still fighting the same demons he was in the Steel City. As it would turn out, he was more than deserving of his First Star of the Game honor.

Following the rough start to the evening, Rinne would save 26-straight Penguins shots to close the remaining 57:14 of play with an overall .964 save percentage.

But after allowing a goal early in the game, it does not matter how well a goalie performs if his offense cannot find the back of the opposition’s net.

Then again, who needs an offense when Nashville has such a productive defense?

With Justin Schultz in the penalty box for holding Harry Zolnierczyk at the 4:13 mark of the second period, Second Star Roman Josi (Calle Jarnkrok and Mattias Ekholm) fired a slap shot from the far face-off circle with 22 seconds remaining in the man advantage to level the game with the first of the game – but certainly not the last – to beat Matthew Murray‘s glove.

That power play goal, paired with the rejuvenated support from Nashville’s “Seventh Man,” proved to be exactly the spark the Preds needed. Only 42 seconds after Josi’s game-tying marker, Third Star Frederick Gaudreau (Austin Watson and Josi) found what proved to be the game-winner: a breakaway wrister that turned a defending Cole into a screen against his own netminder to beat him – once again – glove side.

The second period couldn’t end quickly enough for Pittsburgh, but it couldn’t get to the dressing room before getting officially reacquainted with an old friend. With 23 seconds remaining before the second intermission, former Penguin James Neal (Viktor Arvidsson and Josi) completed the Predators’ fantastic frame by banking an insurance wrister off the back of Murray’s glove and into the net.

Just as the night’s scoring began for the Predators, it would also find its conclusion on the power play. This time, Crosby (for boarding Ryan Ellis), Filip Forsberg (for cross checking Evgeni Malkin) and Malkin (for cross checking Forsberg) were all in their respective penalty boxes to set up a five-on-four opportunity for Nashville. Ekholm (Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons) waited only 27 seconds before ripping a slap shot top shelf over Murray’s stick shoulder.

Though Ekholm’s marker would prove to be the last yielded by Murray, the damage was more than done. He saved only 23-of-26 shots faced (.848 save percentage) for five goals allowed, but his most striking statistic is his performance against the power play.

Even though Murray faced only two shots while short a skater, both offerings found their way past him. The fact that the Penguins penalty kill allowed only two shots on three Predators power plays proves that it is Murray that needs to improve on this aspect of his game before Game 4.

Not all of Murray’s goals allowed were directly his fault though. The goaltender was able to stop the Preds’ first breakaway opportunity in the third period – an offering by Gaudreau 2:27 into the period – but he couldn’t save the second. After Chris Kunitz bounced the puck off Phil Kessel‘s skate to give it to Craig Smith at center ice, it was all the wing could do but attack Murray’s unreliable glove side with a wrister from between the face-off circles to set the score at 4-1 with 15:06 remaining.

Offensively for the Penguins, it should be very concerning to Mike Sullivan that his primary striking corps of Crosby, Kessel and Malkin managed only three shots on goal among them (all by Kessel). Though the story of Guentzel is exciting, it is these men that are expected to spearhead their club – not the rookie. If the Penguins cannot get this issue resolved, they could find the same fate awaiting them in Game 4.

If the Penguins did anything well, it was block shots. Though the Predators led the shots-on-goal statistic 33-28, that differential could have been much higher if not for Pittsburgh’s impressive 20 rejections. In particular, Olli Maatta stood out from the rest by leading his club with three blocks – a total matched in Game 3 only by Nashville’s Ellis.

Bridgestone Arena will come alive once again this Monday – country singers, catfish and all –  at 8 p.m. Eastern time. For those that don’t have tickets, you’re encouraged to tune your television to NBC if you reside in the United States or CBC, SN or TVAS in Canada.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 14

 

Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks – Game 2

With a 5-3 victory at the Honda Center Sunday, Anaheim leveled its Western Finals series against the Predators at 1-1.

Three goals is all the Predators needed to beat Anaheim in Game 1. In Game 2, both clubs had already reached that mark by the 30:41 mark.

First it was the Predators with a two-goal surge. Ryan Johansen (Third Star of the Game Viktor Arvidsson and Roman Josi) was the first to score, burying a wrist shot 4:18 into the contest. James Neal (Johansen and Mattias Ekholm) followed that up 4:14 later with a backhanded power play shot to set the score at 2-0.

Next up was an Anaheim attack, though it was split in half by the first intermission. Second Star Sami Vatanen (Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler) got the Ducks on the board with one minute remaining in the first period, followed by Jakob Silfverberg (Rickard Rakell and Cam Fowler) only 39 seconds into the middle frame.

Vatanen’s marker was a special one not only because it leveled the game at two-all and was his first postseason goal since last year’s series with the Preds, but also because it was the Ducks’ first power play goal in their last 22 attempts.

The Predators once again took the lead 7:59 into the second period thanks to a Filip Forsberg (Arvidsson) wrap-around offering, but First Star Ondrej Kase (Shea Theodore and Josh Manson) leveled the game at three-all only 2:42 later.

Neither John Gibson (.909 save percentage) nor Pekka Rinne (.846 save percentage) would yield a goal in the third period, which proved to be a major problem for Nashville considering Nick Ritchie‘s (Getzlaf and Brandon Montour) tally with 2:53 remaining in the second period.

The play started when Montour passed from the near point of his defensive zone to Getzlaf at center ice. The captain one-touched his bank pass off the near boards to the eventual goalscorer, who took possession in the face-off circle to Rinne’s right. Ritchie ripped an impressive snap shot over the goaltender’s stick shoulder for what proved to be the youngster’s second game-winning playoff goal of his career.

Through Rinne was pulled for the extra attacker with 2:08 remaining in regulation, the Predators still couldn’t manage a goal to level the game. Antoine Vermette (Getzlaf and Fowler) made sure to make Rinne pay for vacating his post by burying a wrister with 44 seconds remaining to ensure the Ducks’ victory.

After a four hour flight to Nashville (yet six hours according to a clock due to time zones), Game 3 in the now best-of-five will be played Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at Bridgestone Arena. Though American viewers are limited to NBCSN, Canada is being serviced by CBC, SN and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 12

 

Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks – Game 1

With their 3-2 overtime victory over Anaheim at the Honda Center, the Predators have stolen home-ice advantage and a one-game lead in the Western Finals.

The biggest difference in this game seemed to be energy and rest. The Predators eliminated St. Louis on May 7 while the Ducks just finished their series against Edmonton on Wednesday, meaning Nashville had three more free days before resuming play.

That extra energy showed itself in a multitude of ways, but it was most noticeable in the shots on goal category. Led by Ryan Ellis‘ seven attempts that made their way to Second Star of the Game John Gibson, Nashville led the Ducks  in shots by a whopping 46-29 differential.

It took 5:15 of action before the Ducks could register even their first shot on Third Star Pekka Rinne, but it’s all they needed to take a 1-0 lead. Jakob Silfverberg was the one to register the goal, using the defending Roman Josi as a screen to bury a potent upper-90 snap shot from the near face-off circle.

But that lead didn’t last all that long, as the Predators’ efforts finally bore fruit with 7:26 remaining in the first period via a Filip Forsberg (Matt Irwin and Ryan Johansen) redirection through both Antoine Vermette and Gibson’s legs to level the game at one-all.

In terms of of the Predators’ shooting effort, it was a similar start to the second period as they managed five shots before the Ducks reached Rinne once. Fortunately for Nashville, its second tally came quicker than its first, as Austin Watson (Johansen and Mattias Ekholm) scored a slap shot only 2:42 into the middle frame for the first playoff goal of his career.

The rest of the second period was a test of special teams, specifically an Anaheim power play that can’t find results no matter how well it performs.  Only 34 seconds separated Colin Wilson exiting the penalty box after hooking Rickard Rakell and Ellis earning a seat for roughing Andrew Cogliano. Between the two man-advantages, the Ducks managed only one shot that reached Rinne (courtesy of Ryan Kesler), but the postseason’s best goaltender was more than up to the task and stopped the attempt with ease.

Randy Carlyle apparently had enough of his club being dominated offensively in the first two periods, so the Ducks turned the tables in the third. Anaheim fired five shots at Rinne in the opening 7:21 of the third frame, the last of which was a Hampus Lindholm (Nate Thompson) snapper to level the game at two-all.

Anaheim won 56% of face-offs against the Predators all game, and that came into play on Lindholm’s goal. Thompson beat Calle Jarnkrok at the dot to Rinne’s right to maintain possession in his offensive zone. He shoved the puck back towards the far point to the waiting blueliner, who was more than able to bang home his marker over the netminder’s stick shoulder.

Following their game-tying tally, the Ducks tried their hardest to lose the game by firing not one, but two pucks over the glass within 33 seconds of each other. Though Nashville earned 87 seconds of five-on-three play, it could not find its game-winning goal in regulation.

Instead, the Predators waited until the 9:24 mark of overtime before First Star James Neal (P.K. Subban and Ekholm) ripped his winning snapper into Gibson’s net. It doesn’t quite qualify for a tic-tac-goal play, but it was an absolutely brilliant assist by Subban to set up the marker.

Ekholm began the sequence by driving on Gibson’s crease in attempts of forcing the puck across the goal line, but the netminder was up to the challenge and somehow forced the puck into the far corner. The defenseman got back to his skates, chased down the puck and reset the play at the near point to Subban. The former Hab looked like he had all intentions of firing a slap shot back into the scrum, but decided instead to find a wide-open Neal in the near face-off circle. In the same swipe, Neal took possession and fired his shot over a splayed Gibson to end the game.

It’s only fitting that between these clubs’ primary colors both black and blue are represented. Hockey has never been classified as a gentleman’s game, and neither Anaheim nor Nashville are wasting any effort on chivalry. Not only were 55 total hits thrown between them, but tempers were also flaring even before the first intermission.

In particular, Johansen was certainly frustrated after Ryan Getzlaf fired a slap shot right at the Predator’s right hand covering his groin. A player would certainly be within his rights for being aggravated after taking a puck in that area, but it looks as if Getzlaf intentionally took aim at Johansen’s crotch, making the action all the more egregious. The physicality between these sides will be something to behold as this series advances.

This series will resume Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. American viewers can catch the action on NBCSN, while SN and TVAS will broadcast the game in Canada.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 5

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues – Game 5

Pekka Rinne stood tall, but not tall enough to prevent the Predators from falling 2-1 to St. Louis at the Scottrade Center in their Western Conference Semifinals matchup.

Instead, it was the Blues’ defense that played exceptionally well to earn the victory. Every single blueliner blocked two Predators shots, but the defensive corps was paced by Carl Gunnarsson‘s three. Add in the forwards’ rejections, and 25 total shots were blocked before reaching First Star of the Game Jake Allen, who saved all 22 shots faced except James Neal‘s (P.K. Subban and Roman Josi) five-on-three power play wrist shot with 6:10 remaining in the second period.

Speaking of Nashville’s special teams, they played incredibly. Not only did they convert the only extra-man opportunity of the combined eight in the contest, but the penalty kill also stood especially strong. In total, the Preds were shorthanded for 7:51, including 1:50 of five-on-three action late in the first period, but did not yield a tally.

But the Notes’ postseason success has not been due to their power play. Even though they played the eighth-best man-advantage during the regular season, they’ve managed an anemic 6.9% conversion rate in their 10 playoff games, the worst in the league since the end of the regular season.

Instead, it’s been grind-it-out goals like Second Star Dmitrij Jaskin‘s (Alex Pietrangelo and Vladimir Sobotka) wrister. Making his first appearance of the 2017 postseason, he took advantage of the rebound of Pietrangelo’s shot from the far point off Rinne’s right pad to beat the goaltender to the near post at the 5:43 mark of the second period.

With Jaskin and Neal both finding the back of the net in the middle frame, the score read 1-1 throughout the second intermission. That score remained for only 25 seconds in the third before Third Star Jaden Schwartz (Colton Parayko) buried St. Louis’ game-winner. Parayko intercepted an attempted clear by Josi at the far point and eventually fired a wrister on Rinne’s net. The netminder was more than able to make the save, but he couldn’t contain the rebound. Schwartz saw an opportunity, and he capitalized by lifting a wrister over Rinne’s right pad for his fourth goal of the postseason.

The Blues wanted a Game 6, and a Game 6 they’ll have. It’s scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast on NBC in the USA or SN and TVAS in Canada.

 

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 5

With its 4-3 double-overtime victory over the Oilers at the Honda Center Friday, Anaheim has pulled within one game of the Western Conference Finals.

After Leon Draisaitl (Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson), Connor McDavid (Mark Letestu and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) and Drake Caggiula (McDavid and Kris Russell) all scored in the second period to set the score at 3-0, the Oilers were feeling confident going into the second intermission.

That confidence only grew the longer that score was displayed on the scoreboard. Cam Talbot played brilliantly for the opening 56:44 of play, saving all 40 shots the Ducks threw at him.

But as it turns out, all the Ducks needed was another attacker.

John Gibson left his net for the first time with 3:34 remaining in regulation. 18 seconds later, Second Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf (Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler) scored a slap shot from the far point to set the score at 3-1.

Gibson reclaimed his net for the face-off at center ice, but departed with 2:59 remaining before the final horn. Exactly 18 seconds later once again, Cam Fowler (Silfverberg and First Star Corey Perry) struck his first goal of the 2017 playoffs to pull Anaheim within a tally.

Of course, the first two goals wouldn’t matter without a third. Once again Randy Carlyle sent Gibson into his crease for the center ice face-off, but the netminder deserted his post with 72 seconds remaining in play.

Though they didn’t score after only 18 seconds with the extra man this time, all that matters to the Ducks is that they scored. It was a wild play that was almost overturned by replay. With 21 seconds remaining in regulation, Fowler fired a wrist shot from the far point that Talbot was able to deflect. However, he was unable to contain the rebound, which Perry tried to collect and force into the net.

Darnell Nurse shoved him to the ice before he could fire, leaving the puck exposed on the near side of the crease. Third Star Rickard Rakell found the loose biscuit with 17 seconds remaining to miraculously squeeze a backhanded shot between Patrick Maroon‘s legs, under Nurse’s stick, past Kesler’s stick and through Talbot’s five-hole.

To put it simply, Rakell wouldn’t be able to pull off the shot twice in a row.

But all those heroics did was force overtime. In all, 23 shots were recorded between the two clubs – including 14 by Anaheim – but none could find the back of the net in the first overtime period.

The second overtime period didn’t even last half as long as the first, as Perry (Getzlaf and Rakell) buried a wrist shot at the 86:57 mark to give the Ducks a 3-2 advantage in the series.

Though he was probably exhausted, Perry’s goal was a crash-course in patience. After receiving a pass from Getzlaf from the far boards, Perry crossed the slot from far to near waiting for Talbot to commit. Once he did, he was unable to seal his near post as quickly as he would have liked, and Perry took advantage for only his second tally of the 2017 playoffs.

Part of the reason Edmonton struggled so mightily in the late stages of the game was due to their injuries on the blue line. The Ducks came out of the gates flying, throwing hard hits on Matt Benning and Andrej Sekera that forced both from the game for a short while. Though Benning was able to return to action late in the opening frame, Sekera could not retake the ice, leaving the Oil with only five defensemen for most of the game.

The Ducks will have their first opportunity to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals this Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern time at Rogers Place. Viewers in America should tune their sets to NBCSN, while Canadian fans are advised to watch either SN or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 2

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

 

 

 

 

Ottawa Senators at New York Rangers – Game 3

Sparked by First Star of the Game Mats Zuccarello‘s two-point first period, New York beat the Senators 4-1 Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers need to defend home ice twice to level the series at two games apiece, and they completed half that goal with an explosive offense that reminded New Yorkers of the attack at the beginning of the season.

It takes approximately 90 minutes to fly from Canada’s capital to the biggest city in North America. Judging from Zuccarello’s (Third Star Mika Zibanejad and Dan Girardi) snap shot only 5:31 into the game, it was 90 minutes well spent. That marker was followed by Michael Grabner (Zuccarello) taking advantage of Craig Anderson being out of position to bury the eventual game-winning wrap-around goal with 6:36 remaining in the frame.

In all, the Blueshirts fired 15 pucks at Anderson’s net before the first intermission, the greatest total by either team in any period during Game 3.

But a two-goal lead was not enough to lead Alain Vigneault to take his foot off the gas. Rick Nash (Derek Stepan and Jimmy Vesey) expanded New York’s lead to three goals with a wrist shot at the 12:21 mark of the second period, followed by Oscar Lindberg (J.T. Miller and Tanner Glass) finding the back of the net with 103 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

Though Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Bobby Ryan and Cody Ceci) did manage to squeeze in a power play goal on Second Star Henrik Lundqvist before the end of the period, the damage had already been done. New York’s three-goal lead was too much for the Senators to surpass in the remaining 20 minutes.

In baseball, a pitcher that comes in for the final inning to ensure no more runs are scored is called a closer. New York knows a little bit about closing, but it was Lundqvist instead of Mariano Rivera playing that role Tuesday. With the exception of Pageau’s snapper at the end of the second period, King Henrik saved all 22 shots he faced in the final 40 minutes to ensure the Rangers a chance to level the series in Game 4.

Speaking of, Game 4 is scheduled for Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. It will be the lone action of the day and can be viewed on NBCSN in the States and either CBC or TVAS in Canada.

 

St. Louis Blues at Nashville Predators – Game 4

With its 2-1 victory over the Blues at Bridgestone Arena Tuesday, Nashville has pulled within a victory of advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Founded in 1998, this is only Nashville’s ninth appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Though they’ve had three postseason run-ins with the Blackhawks, the Predators have still been searching for a true rival.

If 24 combined penalty minutes, 64 total hits and post-whistle scrums beyond count are any indication, it would seem they’ve finally found the club that makes their fans’ blood boil most, and they just so happen to be only 300 miles away.

There has been nothing friendly about the Blues and Predators’ first postseason meeting. The penalties committed in this game are not simple delay of game infractions. Four roughing penalties were called (including three on the same play) as well as two unsportsmanlike conducts (coinciding) and tripping infractions.

In addition to getting under the opposition’s skin, all the physicality can also have a direct impact on the other team’s offensive proficiency and rhythm. St. Louis allowed only 25 Predators shots to reach Jake Allen (thanks in large part to Magnus Paajarvi and Jaden Schwartz registering four hits apiece), exceeded only by Nashville yielding only 18 in the first 40 minutes. Austin Watson seemed to be involved in every play with his eight hits to lead the Preds, though First Star of the Game Ryan Ellis also performed his defensive duties extremely well by blocking four shots.

Ellis is also proving himself to be a very capable striker when the opportunity arises. Though it lasted 45:09, the defenseman buried a power play wrist shot (Colin Wilson) broke the scoreless draw early in the third period.

That tally didn’t seem to phase the Blues, but Third Star James Neal‘s did. It was an impressive marker he earned after impeding David Perron‘s pass to Carl Gunnarsson at the Notes’ defensive blue line. Neal collected the loose puck in the middle of the offensive zone and took it above the near face-off circle before ripping a quick wrister over Allen’s stick shoulder.

After he buried his eventual game-winning goal with 6:57 remaining in regulation, only then did St. Louis’ offense seem to begin applying extra heat.

But Second Star Pekka Rinne was more than up to the task. If it weren’t for Joel Edmundson‘s (Alex Steen and Jori Lehtera) wicked upper-90 slap shot that pinged into the goal, he would have saved all 33 shots the Blues fired at his net.

Though the series returns to Scottrade Center, the Predators have all the momentum going into their first opportunity to punch their ticket to the conference finals. Game 5 is scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, and will be televised by NBCSN in the USA and CBC and TVAS in Canada.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 28

For the first and second rounds of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues – Game 2

After dropping Game 1, St. Louis desperately needed a victory to salvage home ice at the start of the second round to level the series at 1-1. Thanks to First Star of the Game Vladimir Tarasenko‘s two goals, the Blues did just that by beating Nashville 3-2 Friday night at Scottrade Center.

Though the fourth-best (okay, tied for fourth-best) goalscorer of the 2016-17 regular season earned the spotlight, it was actually Nashville’s defense that performed the best all night. Spearheaded by Roman Josi‘s four blocks, St. Louis managed only 20 shots all game – led by Tarasenko’s six.

Making that effort even more impressive is the fact that the Predators served a whopping 23 penalty minutes. By comparison, St. Louis served only two and Patrik Berglund‘s interference corresponded with an embellishment penalty by Third Star Ryan Ellis, meaning Nashville did not earn a single man-advantage all game.

In all, the Preds faced five Blues power plays and yielded only one tally: a Tarasenko (Alex Pietrangelo and Alex Steen) wrist shot with 20 seconds remaining before the first intermission.

Most of those penalty minutes belonged to Vernon Fiddler, who was caught practicing questionable form when hitting Colton Parayko with 92 seconds remaining in the first period. The skaters made knee-to-knee contact as Fiddler hit the defenseman behind Jake Allen‘s net. It earned him a game misconduct and a major penalty, giving the Blues a five-minute unlimited power play that led to Tarasenko’s marker to tie the game at one-all.

All the shorthanded situations is also a major reason the Preds only managed 24 shots on goal of their own. It is difficult, even for the postseason’s third-best offense, to get any rhythm going when playing without a full fleet of weapons.

But even when faced with that self-imposed handicap, a defensive effort that impressive will eventually produce chances on the other end of the ice. That was no more apparent than when Ellis intercepted Vladimir Sobotka‘s attempted pass to Berglund at St. Louis’ blue line. Since both squads were advancing towards the Blues’ offensive zone, the defenseman had to steer his shot past only one possible defender to beat Allen’s glove 3:07 into the third period and set the score at 2-1.

James Neal (Colton Sissons and Ellis) accounted for Nashville’s other marker, a deflection scored on Ellis’ initial shot from the far point 7:49 into the game. It was only the Predators’ second shot on goal of the night.

Nashville’s lead lasted only 4:32 until Second Star Jori Lehtera (Berglund and Parayko) leveled the game once again for the Blues, but they had yet to lead in the contest.

Until, that is, Tarasenko (Joel Edmundson and Jaden Schwartz) buried his game-winning wrister with 3:51 remaining in regulation. Schwartz attacked up the far boards, traversing all three zones with the puck in his possession. Once he reached the face-off dot, he passed back towards the blue line to Edmundson, who kick-passed to St. Louis’ favorite right wing. Tarasenko dropped to a knee to get the proper contact on his shot to beat Pekka Rinne‘s right pad.

In a game dominated by defense, it’s only logical that a strong Blues stand at the end of the contest would be the reason they held on for victory. Even more fitting, the biggest play came from one of the biggest stars on the ice. With Rinne pulled for the sixth attacker, Ryan Johansen had a wrist shot cocked and ready to fire from the near face-off circle. But instead of sending a shot flying towards Allen, his stick met Tarasenko’s, who dove to knock the puck away from the center.

The now best-of-five series shifts a little over 300 miles southeast to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. for Games 3 and 4. Speaking of Game 3, puck drop is set for Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast on NBC in the United States of America or SN and TVAS in Canada.

 

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 2

When the best player on the ice is the goaltender, the team attacking him faces an uphill battle. That’s exactly what happened to Anaheim Friday, as it fell 2-1 at the Honda Center to give the Oilers a two-game advantage in their Western Conference semifinal.

No matter what the Ducks threw at him, First Star of the Game Cam Talbot was absolutely electric in the crease. In all, he faced 40 shots in Game 2, and stopped all but one of them for a ..975 save percentage.

The opposite goaltender, John Gibson, played nowhere near Talbot’s level, but he didn’t necessarily need to be that often. He faced only 23 shots, but did let two by (91.3%).

Instead, Anaheim played an incredible defense to counter the Oil’s fantastic netminder, made evident by the few shots Gibson faced. Though Edmonton did give the puck away 13 times, the Ducks caused more than their fair share of turnovers by playing a very physical game. In total, Anaheim threw 32 hits, including five by Second Star Ryan Getzlaf to lead the club.

Whether by a corps of blue liners or goaltender, what resulted was a grind-it-out, tough contest typical of a playoff matchup featuring the top two teams of a division.

Then again, that doesn’t well explain the first goal of the game, as Andrej Sekera buried a quick unassisted slap shot only 65 seconds into the game to give Edmonton an early one-goal lead. Hampus Lindholm was trying to pass to Jakob Silfverberg at the goal line and set up a breakaway opportunity, but his dish was too strong and sneaked to Sekera at the near point. Seeing no better option, the defenseman banged home his first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and only his second career postseason marker (his first was scored way back in 2011 with the Sabres).

The game-winning tally belongs to Patrick Maroon (Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) at the 6:41 mark of the second period, but his play started before he even took to the ice. 1:43 before he scored his tip-in, Korbinian Holzer was caught holding Zack Kassian‘s stick to earn himself a seat in the penalty box.

Similar to the Rangers-Senators game Thursday, hockey has a way of perfectly playing out the “what comes around, goes around” idiom. Only 8:34 after Maroon had scored the insurance goal, Darnell Nurse was sent to the sin bin for hi-sticking Jared Boll. Silfverberg (Third Star Cam Fowler and Ryan Kesler) didn’t wait long to capitalize on that mistake, waiting only 20 seconds before pulling the Ducks back within a goal.

Unfortunately for Anaheim, they could not manage to break through the might Talbot over the remaining 24:26 of regulation. The Ducks now face an intense uphill climb to the Western Finals, as they will need to win three of the next five games – and at least one in Canada – to simply force a deciding Game 7 on The Pond.

Their first chance to get back into the series will be this Sunday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. Puck drop is scheduled for at 7 p.m. Eastern time and the contest may be viewed on NBCSN in the USA and SN or TVAS in Canada.