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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.

April 2 – Day 165 – Gigantic goalies

After the final game is complete this evening, we will be officially in the final week of the 2016-17 NHL regular season. It is officially crunch time.

This Sunday’s action gets started at 12:30 p.m. with Boston at Chicago (NBC/TVAS). After that, we have staggered starts every hour, on the hour. 3 p.m. marks the puck drop of the New York Islanders at Buffalo (SN), followed an hour later by Nashville at St. Louis. Carolina at Pittsburgh (NHLN) gets underway at 5 p.m., and a trio of games (Colorado at Minnesota, Dallas at Tampa Bay and Washington at Columbus) follows suit 60 minutes later. 7 p.m. marks the puck drop of San Jose at Vancouver (SN), half an hour before Philadelphia at the New York Rangers (NBCSN). More of the West Coast gets involved at 9:30 p.m. with Anaheim at Calgary (SN1), an hour before tonight’s nightcap: Arizona at Los Angeles.

Short list:

  • Boston at Chicago: For those that love Original Six battles, this is, if my count is correct, the second-to-last one of the year.
  • Nashville at St. Louis: The difference between third in the Central Division and the second wild card is nonexistent.
  • San Jose at Vancouver: A 10-year veteran of the Canucks, Jannik Hansen now makes his home in San Jose.
  • Philadelphia at New York: The Flyers are still hanging around in the playoff hunt, but they’ll need to beat another rival to stay alive.

Call me biased, but there’s no way we’re not heading to Scottrade Center for this important Central Division matchup.

 

8-3-2. That’s the 40-27-11 Predators‘ record since March 7. Though it’s not the best run in that stretch of time, it’s still been more than enough to all but punch Nashville‘s third-straight ticket into the playoffs. Currently occupying the second wild card, it has a 10-point advantage on the Kings.

In fact, all the Preds need to do is avoid a regulation loss and they will be among the 16 teams playing after next Sunday’s regular season finale.

Of course, Smashville has bigger ideas in mind than simply eliminating Los Angeles. Third place in the Central Division is held by their opponent this afternoon, who leads the Predators with only one-fewer game played.

To surge past the Notes, the Predators will probably employ the same tactic that has been the backbone of their recent winning ways: goaltending.

Wait, I thought Nashville was an offensive team… Well, that’s true. On the season as a whole, the Predators have notched 2.92 tallies-per-game, the ninth-best scoring rate in the NHL. Yet since early March, the Preds have allowed only 28 goals against, which #ties for sixth-fewest in that time.

In short, 31-18-8 Pekka Rinne has been excellent of late. Already among the league’s better goaltenders on a normal day, his .931 save percentage and 1.97 GAA of late are far superior to his season-long averages of .917 and 2.44. In fact, since March 7, he’s posted the eighth and (t)sixth-best marks, respectively, among the 32 goalies with at least seven appearances in that time.

Rinne can’t save everything though. That becomes brutally apparent when a Predator takes a seat in the penalty box. Over the past month, Rinne has saved only 32-of-41 power play shots against (78%), which ties for the 11th-worst power play save percentage in that time span.

But take notice of how many shots he’s faced. 41 is a lot. In fact, it’s tied for 14th-most in the league since early March. Therein lies Smashville‘s penalty kill problem. P.K. Subban leads the team with five shorthanded shot blocks, especially when paired with his two shorthanded takeaways.

But yes, only five blocks on the penalty kill in his last 13 games. And yes, he leads the team with that measly total over this stretch.

The penalty kill needs to be a bigger priority for this team, and it needs to see improvements in a hurry. Over the past month, Nashville is sixth-worst in the NHL when down a man, neutralizing only 74.3% of its infractions.

Special teams seem to be a struggle for David Poile’s club this season, because the power play actually manages to be worse than the penalty kill. The Predators tie with Colorado (remember, being compared to the Avalanche in any way this season is a recipe for disaster) for the second-worst man-advantage in the NHL since March 7, converting only 11.4% of opportunities.

Of that limited success, much of it has been off James Neal‘s stick. He’s scored three of Nashville‘s four power play goals in the past month, an impressive effort given the mire he’s been surrounded by.

Can you pick the best team in the league since March 5? Here’s a hint: they’ll be wearing blue today.

That’s right, it’s the 42-28-7 Blues. Having gone 11-1-2 since then, the Notes tie Carolina with 24 points in that time – on two fewer games.

Similar to Nashville‘s surge over the past month, this streak is a direct result of improved play in the crease by Jake Allen. He’s gone 30-19-5 all season, but 8-1-2 of that has come in the past 29 days.

Among goalies with at least four appearances in the past month, Allen is second only to Sergei Bobrovsky in his play. In the month of March, Allen posted an excellent .953 save percentage and 1.35 GAA, making him almost impenetrable to opposing offenses.

What definitely sets him apart from Rinne is the Blues‘ success on the penalty kill. While the Predators are prone to giving up power play goals, St. Louis has successfully neutralized 86.5% of their infractions in the past month, the fifth-best rate in the NHL.

St. Louis‘ power play has also been having a run of success this month. Led by Alex Pietrangelo and his five power play points, the Notes have converted 21.2% of their power plays since March 5, the 10th-best mark in the league.

As you’d might guess, Vladimir Tarasenko has potted a couple of those tallies, but what makes the Blues truly dangerous is the fact that six different players have scored a power play goal in the past month. Unpredictability is a dangerous weapon, and St. Louis has employed it well.

As far as the season series is concerned, this game is meaningless since the Predators have already won three of the previous four meetings. The last time they met was December 30, and it was Nashville‘s most dominant victory in the series. Jusse Saros led the way by saving all 25 shots he faced for a 4-0 shutout at Scottrade Center, the site of today’s matchup.

Some players to keep an eye on during today’s game include Nashville‘s Ryan Johansen (47 assists [ninth-most in the league]) and Rinne (31 wins [10th-most in the NHL]) & St. Louis‘ Allen (four shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the league]) or Carter Hutton (2.34 GAA [10th-best in the NHL]) and Tarasenko (36 goals [fifth-most in the league]).

According to the odds-makers in the desert, St. Louis is a -135 favorite to win this afternoon. I have to agree. Where the Blues will truly dominate today is in special teams situations. The Predators‘ best shot at pulling off the upset is keeping both penalty boxes empty.


It needed overtime, but Edmonton was able to hold home ice and best the Ducks 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to improve into first place in the Pacific Division.

The first period nearly escaped scoreless, but First Star of the Game Connor McDavid (Patrick Maroon and Adam Larsson) had other plans. He buried a wrist shot with 49 seconds remaining in the frame to give the Oilers a 1-0 going into the first intermission.

That didn’t seem to sit well with Ryan Getzlaf (Jakob Silfverberg and Cam Fowler) over the break, as he took advantage of Matt Hendricks being sent to the sin bin by scoring a power play slap shot 3:27 into the second period. That tied the game at one-all, the same score that read going into the second intermission.

8:53 into the final frame, Patrick Eaves (Antoine Vermette and Silfverberg) provided Anaheim its first lead of the night. It was the result of another power play, this time a slashing penalty by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. But what goes around, comes around. With 1:58 remaining in regulation, Third Star Milan Lucic (Leon Draisaitl and McDavid) scored a power play tally of his own to level the game at two-all and force overtime.

Three-on-three play didn’t last long before Draisaitl (McDavid) ended it. After only 1:26 of overtime play, the third-year pro buried a wrister to win the game for Edmonton.

Cam Talbot took the victory after saving 16-of-18 shots faced (88.9%), leaving the overtime loss to Second Star John Gibson, who saved 34-of-37 (91.9%).

The 84-58-25 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a three-game winning streak. That’s important as the series comes to a close, as it gives them a three-point advantage on the roadies.

January 17 – Day 94 – Making up like a country song

Welcome to Tuesday hockey, one of the seven best days for the sport in the week. There’s nine games on the schedule this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (Dallas at the New York Rangers [SN/SN1/TVAS] and Carolina at Columbus) and Buffalo at Toronto half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of another pair of contests (Ottawa at St. Louis [RDS] and New Jersey at Minnesota), and another pair get underway an hour later (Chicago at Colorado [NBCSN] and Florida at Calgary). The final pair of games – Nashville at Vancouver and Tampa Bay at Anaheim (SN/SN1) – drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Buffalo at Toronto: It’s the Battle of the QEW this evening, one of the Sabres‘ fiercest rivalries.
  • Nashville at Vancouver: For the last three seasons, Yannick Weber played for the Canucks, but he returns tonight wearing a white sweater.

Since I highly underestimated Cody McLeod‘s debut for Nashville, I feel I owe the Predators a feature. Looks like Weber 2.0 is our lucky guy.

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After playing the first five seasons of his professional career with the Canadiens, Weber made like a pioneer of old and headed west for brighter futures. He landed in Vancouver before the 2013-14 season.

His first season with the Canucks was not one that turned league heads, but it was important for him personally. He had a goal of proving to Montréal that he was worthy of being kept, and he made that known by notching a then career-high of six goals.

He followed that up in 2014-15 with his most impressive campaign to date, lighting the lamp 11 times and notching a career-best 21 points.

With last season being a significant step back for the defenseman, Weber once again found himself looking for a new club. He found his way to Nashville, where he’s playing on the third blueline pairing and notching a season +8, easily the best mark of his career.

Yannick and his Predators come into tonight’s game with a 20-16-7 record, the fourth-best mark in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference thanks to winning their last three games. On the outside looking in, the main concern for the Preds has been their offense that has scored only 118 goals, the 13th-fewest in the league.

Ryan Johansen has been the biggest weapon in Nashville, as he has a team-leading 30 points. That being said, it’s been James Neal that has been the most dangerous to goaltenders with his club-leading 14 goals.

Nashville‘s offensive struggles aren’t for a lack of effort. They’ve averaged 31 shots-per-game, the seventh-most in the NHL. Unfortunately Roman Josi, the man who accounts for nearly three shots per night, has a miserable 4% shot percentage – easily the worst mark of his successful career. If and when he finds his rhythm again, the Preds will surely be able to make some noise as they try to qualify for the postseason.

Playing host this evening are the 20-19-6 Canucks, the sixth-best team in the Pacific Division and 10th in the Western Conference, and it’s almost funny that the Canucks‘ last three games have ended as overtime losses.

Just like the Predators, Vancouver has struggled to score the puck this season, accounting for only 107 goals in 45 games – the sixth-worst scoring rate in the league.

Bo Horvat has tried his hardest to keep the Canucks alive in the playoff race, as both his 30 points and 13 goals lead the club. Unfortunately, that goal total only ties for 50th against the rest of the NHL, which is probably most telling of Vancouver‘s situation.

Much of the reason for the Canucks‘ struggles is due to their miserable power play. Successful on only 13.4% of attempts, they rank fourth-worst in the league. Both Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin lead the team with a whopping nine power play points. D. Sedin has been the most dangerous with the man-advantage, as he also tops the club with five man-advantage goals.

The struggles continue on the penalty kill, where the Canucks‘ 79.8% success rate is ninth-worst in the NHL. Even though he’s only played 31 games, Alexander Edler has been the leading shot blocker when down a man, with 18 shorthanded blocks to his credit.

For those like me who are already keeping tabs on the playoff races, this is certainly an important game – if only for a night. The biggest impact occurs if Nashville earns a victory. In that case, they for sure move into eighth place in the Western Conference and surpass Los Angeles for the second wildcard. But, if the Panthers win in regulation in Calgary, the Predators take control of seventh in the conference and the top wildcard.

Although the Canucks can’t move into playoff position tonight, they can certainly continue their climb up the standings. A regulation win moves them past Nashville into ninth place and into a tie with Los Angeles, but the Canucks lose the games played tiebreaker to remain on the outside looking in.

These clubs have only met once so far this season, and it was only a week ago in Nashville. Although the Predators did pull away with a 2-1 victory, they needed to overtime to do it.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Nashville‘s Matt Irwin (+15 and 83 hits [both lead the team]) and Johansen (23 assists among 30 points [both lead the team]) & Vancouver‘s Horvat (13 goals among 30 points [both lead the team]) and Nikita Tryamkin (84 hits [leads the team]).

Home ice does not always result in favoritism by Vegas, as Vancouver is the projected underdog a +110. Given the nice run the Predators are on right now, I have to side with the oddsmakers.

Hockey Birthday

  • Busher Jackson (1911-1966) – Although he may not have been a role model off the ice, he was certainly one of the better players of his day. The Hall of Famer played 15 seasons in the NHL, most of which in Toronto where he hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1932. By the time his career was through, he had scored 241 goals.
  • Jacques Plante (1929-1986) – The man of hockey legend, this goaltender had difficulty keeping control of all the hardware he earned over his career. Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978, he was an eight-time All Star, seven-time Vezina winner (record for the trophy), six-time Stanley Cup winner (all with Montréal) and the 1962 Hart Trophy winner.
  • Sylvain Turgeon (1965-) – Hartford selected this left wing second-overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, and he quickly produced. He scored 72 points his rookie season, the second-best campaign of his career. He played most of his dozen seasons with the Whalers and played in one All Star game.
  • Jeremy Roenick (1970-) – Everyone’s favorite center-turned-analyst was drafted eighth-overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, where he played most of his career. By the time his 20-season career was through, the nine-time All Star had scored 1216 points.
  • Aaron Ward (1973-) – Although drafted fifth-overall by Winnipeg in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, he never suited up for the Jets. Instead, this defenseman played most of his 15 seasons in Detroit where he won one of his two Stanley Cups.

If offense is your thing, you missed the game of the season in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. A combined 15 goals were scored in 60:34 of play, with Conor Sheary earning Pittsburgh an 8-7 victory over the Capitals.

With so many goals, it’s going to be much easier just giving the game summary in list form.

*Warning: Be prepared for an obnoxious second period.*

First Period:

  1. 7:06 – Andre Burakovsky (Daniel Winnik) – Caps lead 1-0
  2. 17:09 – Nicklas Backstrom (T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin) – Caps lead 2-0

Second Period:

  1. 1:17 – Justin Williams (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson) – Caps lead 3-0
  2. 6:28 – First Star of the Game Evgeni Malkin (Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz) – Caps lead 3-1
  3. 7:12 – Sheary (Second Star Sidney Crosby and Daley) – Caps lead 3-2
  4. 8:55 – Nick Bonino (Schultz and Phil Kessel) – Tied 3-3
  5. 13:47 – Bryan Rust (Daley and Olli Maatta) – Pens lead 4-3
  6. 14:37 – Malkin (Jake Guentzel and Schultz) – Pens lead 5-3
  7. 15:07 – Brett Connolly (Taylor Chorney and Andre Burakovsky) – Pens lead 5-4
  8. 16:54 – SH – Third Star Lars Eller (Nate Schmidt and Oshie) – Tied 5-5
  9. 17:19 – PP – Malkin (Patric Hornqvist and Crosby) – Pens lead 6-5

Third Period:

  1. 5:55 – Crosby (Sheary and Rust) – Pens lead 7-5
  2. 9:29 – PP – Oshie (Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen) – Pens lead 7-6
  3. 14:38 – Eller (Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen) – Tied 7-7

Overtime

  1. :34 – Sheary (Crosby and Schultz) – Pens win 8-7

Matthew Murray holds on for the victory after saving 21-of-28 shots faced (75%), leaving the overtime loss to Philipp Grubauer, who saved eight-of-11 (72.7%). He came into the game in relief of starter Braden Holtby, who saved 21-of-26 (80.8%) before being pulled following Malkin’s second goal. Holtby obviously earned no-decision.

In addition to ending their own losing skid and Washington‘s winning streak, Pittsburgh also broke the three-game trend of road victories in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The series record now favors the home squads by five points with their 50-32-14 record.

January 3 – Day 80 – Remember Weber

It’s back to normal in the NHL with seven contests going down this evening. The action starts at 7 p.m. with four games (New Jersey at Carolina, Buffalo at the New York Rangers [NBCSN], Toronto at Washington [TVAS] and Edmonton at Columbus), followed half an hour later by Winnipeg at Tampa Bay. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Montréal at Nashville (RDS), with tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at San Jose (NBCSN) – waiting until 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Nashville: Shea Weber played 11 seasons in the Music City, but he was traded this offseason to the Canadiens.
  • Los Angeles at San Jose: Another edition of the Battle for California.

It seems like every time the Kings and Sharks meet up, another big matchup takes place the same night. Tonight is no different.

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Do you remember when you moved for the first time? You’d lived your entire life in the same town around a lot of the same people. Everything was familiar. You could walk to your friend’s house blindfolded.

Welcome to the life of Weber. He was drafted 49th overall by the Predators in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, and by the 2006-’07 he had a full-time locker in Nashville‘s dressing room.

Since then, he was named captain before the 2010-’11 season and made four trips to the All-Star game (well, three trips and one in Bridgestone Arena, the Predators‘ home surface). He earned those accolades by twice leading the Preds in assists, points and blocks (2012-’13 and ’13-’14).

While he only minutely regressed following those impressive seasons, he was traded to Montréal this summer in exchange for P.K. Subban. Assuming an alternate captain role with his new club, he’s continued to be one of the best offensive blueliners in the NHL. His nine goals are most on the team and tied for second-most in the league, and his blocks are tops in the Habs‘ dressing room.

One part of his game he’s vastly improved since joining the Habs has been his +/- effort. Regardless of how much stock you put in the statistic, it’s easy to say a positive number is certainly more desired. During Weber’s most successful scoring seasons, he was sacrificing his play on the defensive end to the point he gave up more goals than he created. Nowadays in Montréal, he’s maintaining his offensive production while still keeping a +16 rating, the second-best mark of his career.

Weber and the Habs come to Athens of the South with a 22-9-6 record, the best mark in the Atlantic Division. They’ve found that success by playing some impressive defense, allowing only 85 goals so far this season – the fifth-best mark in the league.

Manning the crease for most of the season has been 18-5-4 Carey Price, the netminder whose .93 save percentage and 2.07 GAA ranks fourth and seventh-best in the NHL.

It’s a scary combination for opposing offenses when you pair a solid defense with an exemplary goaltender, and that’s the situation the Preds are in this evening. The Habs allow an average of only 29.8 shots-per-game to reach Price’s net, the 12th-lowest average in the league. Weber’s 78 blocks leads the club, but a total of three defensemen have 64 or more shot blocks to their credit.

Playing host this evening are the 16-14-6 Predators, the fifth-best team in the Central Division. Nashville‘s offense has plagued them this season, managing only 101 goals, tying them for 15th-fewest in the NHL.

Ryan Johansen has been involved in 27 of those scores for the clubhouse scoring lead, but James Neal has buried the most goals at 14. Neal’s effort ties him for 20th in the league, but the Predators have struggled to find scoring beyond him, Viktor Arvidsson and Mike Fisher. Those three skaters combine for 34 tallies, over a third of the Preds‘ goals.

If only the Predators had more power play opportunities, as that is when they are most effective. Successful on 20.3% of their man-advantages, Nashville is 10th-best in the league in that situation. Who else to lead that effort than the great facilitator Johansen? His 13 power play points are tops on the club. One of his line-mates with the extra man is Fisher, whose five man-advantage goals leads the Preds.

Some players to keep an eye on include Montréal‘s Price (18 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league] on a .93 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] and a 2.07 GAA [seventh-best in the league], including two shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and Nashville‘s Johansen (27 points, including 20 assists [both lead the team]).

Vegas gives a slight edge – -115, to be exact – to the home team, but I’m not very comfortable with that prediction. The Predators are going to be unable to break through Price, and the Habs are no joke offensively. I expect Montréal to get out of Nashville with two points.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bobby Hull (1939-) – The Golden Jet’s career spanned 23 seasons (most with Chicago), and all he did was win trophies. The Hall of Famer was a 12-time All Star, winning the Ross Trophy thrice, the Hart twice, the 1965 Byng and the 1961 Stanley Cup. His number nine has been retired by both Arizona (the new home of the original Jets) and Chicago.
  • Cory Cross (1971-) – Most players selected in the now-extinct Supplemental Draft never saw an NHL arena. This defenseman wasn’t most players, playing half his dozen seasons in Tampa Bay.
  • Reto Berra (1987-) – Drafted by St. Louis in the fourth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, this goaltender has made 64 appearances over his three-season career, most of which in Colorado.
  • Matt Frattin (1988-) – Another fourth round selection, Toronto selected this right wing from North Dakota in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Although he’s played most his games with the Leafs, he’s currently under contract with Stockton.

A dominant third period performance by First Star of the Game Vladimir Tarsenko gave St. Louis a 4-1 victory in the 2017 Winter Classic, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one goal was scored in the first period, and it was the Blackhawks‘ lone tally. Michal Kempny (Artemi Panarin and Third Star Duncan Keith) takes credit with his slap shot only 62 seconds into the game.

The same goes for the second period, but it was the Blues that earned the goal. Patrik Berglund‘s (Jay Bouwmeester and Alexander Steen) wrister at the 7:45 mark leveled the score at one-all.

St. Louis broke the draw with 7:55 remaining in regulation, courtesy of Tarasenko’s (Robby Fabbri) tip-in goal. Only 1:53 later, Tarasenko (Jori Lehtera and Fabbri) struck again for the Notes‘ first insurance tally. Steen sealed the game with 74 seconds remaining by burying a wrister into Chicago‘s empty net.

Second Star Jake Allen earns the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (95.7%), while Corey Crawford takes the loss, saving 31-of-34 (91.2%).

St. Louis‘ victory at Busch Stadium is the second straight for home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, setting the season record at 46-24-12, 17 points better than the visitors.