Tag Archives: Neuvirth

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 19

Skater of the Week: Nico Hischier

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

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

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

Tendy of the Week: Antti Raanta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

February 13 – Day 125 – Battle of the Turnpikes

That adventure to Asia yesterday was excellent, but there’s more hockey to be watched today.

At 7:10 a.m. Eastern time this morning, the Team USA women took on the OAR in Group A play. Needing a regulation victory to keep pace with the Canadians, the Americans shutout OAR 5-0.

Meanwhile, the NHL is still going strong in North America. Today’s action begins at 7 p.m. with six games (Calgary at Boston [TVAS], Tampa Bay at Buffalo, Columbus at the New York Islanders, New Jersey at Philadelphia, Ottawa at Pittsburgh [RDS] and Los Angeles at Carolina), followed half an hour later by Anaheim at Detroit. Next up is a pair of tilts (St. Louis at Nashville and the New York Rangers at Minnesota) at 8 p.m., trailed by Washington at Winnipeg 30 minutes later. The final wave of games starts at 10 p.m. when Chicago visits Vegas, with tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at San Jose – dropping the puck only half an hour after. All times Eastern.

Back in South Korea, Group B of the women’s tournament will complete play this evening when Sweden takes on Switzerland at 10:10 p.m., followed by the unified Koreans vs. Japan at 2:40 a.m. Wednesday morning. All times Eastern.

Here’s just a few of the games that are drawing my eye:

  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Battle of the Turnpikes is even more important when these teams are battling for playoff positioning!
  • Ottawa at Pittsburgh: It’s a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals from a season ago!
  • Anaheim at Detroit: Back when the Red Wings were in the Western Conference, this was quite the nasty rivalry.
  • St. Louis at Nashville: Another playoff rematch, this one from the Western Semifinals.
  • Sweden vs. Switzerland: Which team will win Group B of the women’s Olympic tournament? This game will determine just that.
  • Korea vs. Japan: The unified hosts are still looking for their first win. Is this the night?

Of all of those, there’s two games that stand out the most. Let’s make the trip to Broad Street to a big battle in the Metropolitan Division.

 

Starting with the visiting 27-20-8 Devils, who are currently the top wild card in the Eastern Conference, we find a team that has had a rough go of things lately. In its past four games, New Jersey has failed to register even one point in the standings, losing the tilts by a combined 19-9 score.

The biggest difference between these Devils and the club that exploded into the playoff picture at the beginning of the season is the fact that 17-11-6 G Cory Schneider is occupying a seat in the press box instead of the Jersey crease.

While he’s been out with a groin injury, that’s also meant the Devils haven’t had his .913 season save percentage and 2.79 GAA at their disposal, and that’s been a major problem. While 10-7-2 G Keith Kinkaid has been impressive in his sporadic time this season, assuming starting duties in Schneider’s stead since he went down has not been a success. Kinkaid has started three of Jersey’s four games, posting a measly .863 save percentage and 5.29 GAA for an 0-3-0 record in that time.

However, Kinkaid doesn’t have to shoulder all of the blame, as his defense has not been doing him many favors. Even with F Blake Coleman (3.3 hits per game since February 6), D Andy Greene (2.5 blocks per game in his last four showings) and C Pavel Zacha‘s (team-leading three takeaways over this run) trying their hardest, New Jersey has allowed a 12th-worst 33.5 shots against per game in its last four, well above their its season average of 31.6.

Between Kinkaid and his defense, New Jersey has allowed an average of 4.75 goals per game since February 6, the second-worst effort in the league in that time.

Making matters even worse, the Devils’ offense has also struggled mightily of late, scoring a second-worst 2.25 goals per game since February 6.

What had made Jersey’s attack so successful earlier in the season was, among other things, the involvement of blueliner Will Butcher (2-28-30 season totals) on the offensive end. Whether it’s him paying more attention to the defensive end with Schneider out or simply an unfortunate scoring slump, Butcher has only provided one assist over the past four games – well off his pace of registering .55 points per game.

But he’s not the only one in a slump. Only four Devils have registered more than one point in their last four games, led by F Taylor Hall (3-3-6 since February 6, 21-36-57 overall) and W Kyle Palmieri (3-1-4 since February 6, 13-11-24 overall) averaging at least a point per game from the first line. Butcher can only earn assists when his forwards find the back of the net, so that puts the pressure on Hall, LW Miles Wood (15-9-24 totals) and Palmieri to complete plays.

Meanwhile, the 28-19-9 Flyers are among the hottest teams in the league right now having posted a four-game winning streak and five-game point streak, and they’ve ridden that energy into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Over this point streak, the most impressive facets of Philadelphia’s success has easily been 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 7-7-2 G Michal Neuvirth.

Elliott has started three of Philly’s last five games, earning a 2-0-0 record with a .916 save percentage and 2.21 GAA. The reason he doesn’t have the same number of results as starts is because he suffered a lower-body injury February 10 during the shootout in Arizona.

Enter Neuvirth, who became the first goaltender in NHL history to win a shootout after entering midway (per Craig Morgan of NHL.com) and has since assumed starting responsibilities while Elliott has been on the mend. Unlike Kinkaid, who’s been thrust into a similar situation, Neuvirth has performed phenomenally in his three appearances, posting an incredible .978 save percentage for an unbelievable .72 GAA, improving his season marks to a .917 save percentage and 2.5 GAA.

As a result of Neuvirth’s – who’ll be in net tonight – amazing performance, the Flyers have allowed an average of only 2.2 goals against per game since February 3, the (t)third-best effort in the NHL in that time.

Though the season series between these clubs began only a month ago, this is their fourth and final (barring a playoff matchup) meeting of the year. The Flyers took the opening two tilts, winning January 13 in New Jersey 5-3 (C Sean Couturier took First Star honors with a two-goal, three point night) and January 20 in Philly 3-1 (D Shayne Gostisbehere was the First Star). However, a 4-3 home victory by the Devils on February 1 (C Nico Hischier provided the game-winning goal with 1:27 remaining in regulation) has set them up with an opportunity to tie the series with a regulation win tonight.

Considering the Flyers are one of, if not the hottest team in the league, it’s hard to pick against them. Jersey’s offense will need to come alive for the Devils to even have a chance at earning a point tonight.


The Team Canada women dominated Finland in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 4-1 at Kwandong Hockey Centre.

The Canadians needed only 35 seconds to take a 1-0 lead. Meghan Agosta (Melodie Daoust) took credit for that tally, her first of the tournament. Canada found its winner 16:36 later, as Marie-Philip Poulin intercepted an errant Finnish pass and proceeded to tuck a backhanded shot underneath the crossbar. The play happened so quickly that the officials actually revoked the tally after their initial look, but video review proved that the captain had successfully beaten G Noora Raty.

Two goals were scored in the second period, and once again they both belonged to the team in black sweaters. Daoust (Laura Fortino and Agosta) registered the first at the 8:19 mark of the frame, followed 10:07 later by Jillian Saulnier’s (Rebecca Johnston) first Olympic goal.

Finland finally got on the scoreboard at the 7:17 mark of the third period with a tally from Riikka Valila (Susanna Tapani and Michelle Karvinen), but the comeback effort was too little, too late to make any real impact on this game.

G Shannon Szabados earned the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (.957 save percentage), leaving the loss to Raty, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).

With Canada wearing its colored uniforms, it was officially the road team in this morning’s tilt. That means the roadies in the DtFR Game of the Day series have pulled within 23 points of the 68-41-16 hosts.

January 31 – Day 112 – High Flyer-ing offense

There may only be three games on the schedule today, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a quality matchup.

The action starts at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time when the New York Islanders visit Toronto (SN/TVAS), and it is followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: San Jose at Detroit and Philadelphia at Washington (NBCSN).

As I discussed with @nlanciani53 in a recent podcast, it’s time to see just how good this Flyers team actually is, as they face a good test in a rivalry game with the Caps this evening. Let’s take a look into this matchup, shall we?

 

Since December 29, there have been few teams in the Eastern Conference as successful as the Flyers. They’ve posted a 9-3-0 record to surge into the second wildcard, with impressive wins coming against the Lightning in Tampa Bay, St. Louis, the Devils in New Jersey, Toronto, the Devils again and the Capitals in Washington (more on that below).

In other words, Philadelphia hasn’t been picking up wins against scrubs.

All credit for this success is due to the Flyers’ offense, which is scoring the puck at an unbelievable pace (3.33 goals per game, the fourth-best average in the league since December 29) and maintaining possession to limit 5-6-1 G Michal Neuvirth‘s – tonight’s starter with 19-11-7 G Brian Elliott on injured reserve –  workload to an average of only 27.83 shots per game (the lowest mark in the NHL during this run).

As for who’s been behind this attack, all signs point towards C Sean Couturier. Philly’s top center has posted 9-7-16 totals in his last 12 games played to improve his season marks to 26-23-49. In fact, his 26 markers are so impressive, they rank (t)fifth-best in the league.

F Claude Giroux and W Jakub Voracek have also been stellar during this run of success, as they’ve respectively posted 1-13-14 and 1-11-12 totals to join with Couturier in averaging at least a point per game since December 29. Of course, their success is no surprise considering they both rank among the league’s top-three in assists and top-10 in points.

Meanwhile, 29-15-5 Washington has been busy all season proving the doubters wrong, as all the team has done after a tough offseason is lead the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.

However, the Caps did not have the best of runs leading into the All-Star Break. Though they earned points in four of their five games, they posted only a record of 2-1-2 in their last five games.

The biggest reason for this lull in an overall very successful season seems to be the play of 25-9-2 G Braden Holtby. Starting three of those five games, he led the Capitals to only one victory with a .91 save percentage.

Fortunately for him, his defensive corps played a big part in helping him post a 2.66 GAA in those tilts, which is exactly in line with his season mark. Behind the stellar efforts of D Dmitry Orlov (team-leading 1.4 blocks per game and five takeaways since January 12) and D Brooks Orpik (three hits per game over this run), the Capitals have limited his workload to only 30.8 shots against per game during this five-game stretch, the 13th-best effort in the NHL in that time.

Tonight’s tilt is Game 3 of four between the Caps and Flyers this regular season. Though Philly trails in the standings, it has had its way in this series so far, as it has won both the previous two games. They first met on October 14 at Wells Fargo Center, where the Flyers exploded to an 8-2 victory (Voracek took First Star honors with three assists). More recently, Philadelphia traveled to the capital on January 21 to post a 2-1 victory, courtesy of a F Travis Konecny overtime game-winner.

The Flyers have certainly been the more dominant team leading into the All-Star Break. Add in the fact that they haven’t lost to the Caps yet this year, and I have a hard time picking against Philly’s offense.


With three goals in the span of 53 seconds in the third period, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Calgary Flames 4-2 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

This was an odd game in that the number of goals scored in each frame matched the period’s number, and that scoring in each frame was limited to only one team.

Make sense?

Allow me to explain: in the first period, only one goal was scored. Since W Reilly Smith‘s (First Star of the Game F Jon Marchessault and Third Star C William Karlsson) power play tip-in put the Golden Knights up 1-0 with 3:57 remaining in the frame, that meant Vegas was the only team to score in that frame.

Off to Period 2, which featured two markers. Both of those goals belonged to the Flames, as Second Star F Sam Bennett (RW Troy Brouwer) leveled the game 6:02 into the frame with a wrist shot. Calgary then earned its first – and only – lead of the game 12:41 later, courtesy of a LW Matthew Tkachuk (D Dougie Hamilton and F Michael Frolik) wrap-around shot. The 2-1 score held into the second intermission.

Things were looking very good for the Flames in the third period. They still had their one-goal lead with under two minutes remaining in regulation. Worst case scenario, this game went to overtime… right?

Unfortunately for them, the game’s pattern caught up to Calgary in a big way, starting with F Erik Haula‘s unassisted wrist shot with 1:46 remaining on the clock to tie the game at 2-2. The game-winning goal was struck only 10 seconds later, courtesy of Marchessault (Karlsson and Smith).

C Mikael Backlund thought he had this play all wrapped up along the boards in front of his own bench. Karlsson had the puck, but he was coming in to disrupt the play and potentially set his club up for a breakaway opportunity. However, just before he could engage, Karlsson backhanded a pass to Marchessault to set him up for a breakaway opportunity of his own. After getting around D Mark Giordano, Marchessault took advantage of his one-on-one opportunity against G Mike Smith to rip a wrister from the slot top-shelf over the netminder’s glove.

Now trailing by a goal instead of leading by that margin, Flames Head Coach Glen Gulutzan was forced to pull M. Smith with 59 ticks remaining in the game. He was off the ice for only six seconds before W David Perron (F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and D Shea Theodore) capitalized on the gaping cage to set the 4-2 final score with a wrister.

G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the come-from-behind victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the loss to M. Smith, who saved 31-of-34 (.912).

Road teams are staging quite the comeback in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’ve won six of the last seven games. This streak has pulled them within 17 points of the 60-37-15 home teams.

March 23 – Day 155 – Stars upon thars

Thursday is upon us again, which means a lot of hockey action to watch. The festivities begin at 7 p.m. with two games (Tampa Bay at Boston [TVAS] and Columbus at Washington), followed half an hour later by four more (New Jersey at Toronto, Carolina at Montréal [RDS], Pittsburgh at Ottawa [NHLN/RDS2] and Arizona at Florida). A trio of contests drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Vancouver at St. Louis, Calgary at Nashville and Philadelphia at Minnesota) to precede Dallas at Chicago at 8:30 p.m. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of Edmonton at Colorado, 90 minutes before the start of tonight’s nightcap: Winnipeg at Los AngelesAll times eastern.

Is there any question of which game we’re watching tonight? When two of the top-three teams in the league square off and the Metropolitan Division lead is on the line, it’s must-see TV!

 

Two points is all that separates these clubs from one another at the top of the Metropolitan Division. That differential is made only tighter by Pittsburgh sitting right between them in second place.

Of course, that could all change after tonight’s games. Columbus, Pittsburgh or Washington could finish tonight leading the division/conference/league.

47-17-8 Washington‘s path is simplest: don’t lose in regulation. As long as the Capitals earn at least a point tonight, they’ll retain their lead – no matter how Pittsburgh does in Ottawa.

Of course, the Capitals have every intention of improving their two-game winning streak into three, and they’ll do that on the back of their incredible defense and goaltending that has allowed only 156 goals – the fewest in the entire league.

For 37-11-6 Braden Holtby, it’s unfortunate that goaltenders like Sergei Bobrovsky and Devan Dubnyk are having such spectacular seasons, as last year’s Vezina Trophy winner is actually having an even better campaign this year than last. He has a .925 season save percentage and 2.05 GAA, the fifth and second-best marks, respectively, in the league among the 40 netminders with at least 28 appearances.

But what truly sets Washington apart this year is not simply the fact that it not only has Holtby at its disposal, but also one of the elite defensive units in the game. Led by Karl Alzner and his 151 shot blocks (the 10th-most in the NHL), the Capitals have allowed only 27.8 shots-per-game to reach Holtby’s crease, the fourth-lowest total in the league.

Pair those two facets together, and that ice is pretty solid. Although I would argue the Capitals still under-perform in this aspect, they still play one of the better penalty kills in the league. Tied for seventh-best in the league, Washington has successfully snuffed out 83.8% of opposing power plays.

In my opinion, this is where Holtby’s Vezina-pitch falls flat. He only has a .847 save percentage against the power play, the sixth-worst effort in the league.

Fortunately for Washington, Alzner and the defense are prepared to pick up the slack. With 36 shorthanded blocks, Alzner leads a pack of eight skaters (note: I’m being intentional about using the word skater; four of these skaters are forwards) that have notched more than 10 blocks on the penalty kill.

Just like Edmonton last night, the Capitals are more than capable of reclaiming any goals they allowed while on the penalty kill with their own elite power play. Washington successfully converts 22% of man-advantages, which is the sixth-best mark in the NHL. Nicklas Backstrom is far-and-away the lead man on special teams, as his 30 power play points lead not only the Capitals, but the entire league. Of course, he also has one of the best offensive weapons in the game at his disposal in Alex Ovechkin, who has 13 man-advantage goals to his credit to lead the team.

While they’ll need some help from the Senators, the 47-19-6 Blue Jackets are also eligible for the league’s top spot for the night. Should the Penguins fall, Columbus can take over the top spot in the league with a victory in regulation tonight by virtue of winning the third tiebreaker – the season series.

After tonight’s game, both Columbus and Washington will have played 73 games. Should the Jackets win in regulation, they’ll both also be tied with 46 regulation+overtime wins.

The Blue Jackets already lead the season series with Washington 2-1-0, but they’d be much more comfortable with this tiebreaker with another win tonight. That would clinch their series advantage over the Capitals with three points, as these clubs will meet up only once more this season.

It will be a battle of defense tonight, as the Jackets have also found most of their wins by limiting opposing scoring chances. Columbus has allowed only 168 goals against, which ties for second-fewest in the NHL.

Leading that charge is 39-13-4 Bobrovsky, the proud owner of the most wins in the league so far this season. He’s earned every single one of them, as his .931 save percentage and 2.04 GAA are both best in the league among the 40 netminders with at least 28 appearances.

What makes Bobrovsky so impressive is the fact that he’s doing better than Holtby, but with a far inferior defense. Though led by Jack Johnson‘s 112 shot blocks, the Jackets have allowed 30.1 shots against per game, only the 12th-lowest average in the league.

That effort shines through in the penalty kill. Though Bobrovsky has faced the fifth-most shots from teams on the power play, he’s saved 88.7% of them, which ties for the 13th-best power play save percentage in the NHL. That has led the Jackets to killing 82.6% of their penalties, the 10th-best rate in the NHL.

Columbus‘ power play is also extremely talented – though not as much as Washington‘s. Successful on 21.4% of attempts – the eighth-best mark in the league – the Blue Jackets have been led by none other than Alexander Wennberg and his 22 power play points. Though it’s been two weeks since his last contribution on the special teams, he’s still a point of emphasis for Barry Trotz’ club.

Another member of the special team that the Caps will keep an eye on is Nick Foligno, as the left wing has registered 11 power play goals this season to lead his club.

Earlier we discussed the fact that the Jackets have had the upper-hand on the Caps this year. It didn’t look that way the last time they met though, as Washington hosted the Blue Jackets to a five-goal shutout victory on January 5.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include ColumbusCam Atkinson (33 goals [tied for fifth-most in the league]), Bobrovsky (2.04 GAA on a .931 save percentage for 39 wins [all best in the NHL], including six shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and David Savard (+27 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (56 assists [second-most in the league] on 78 points [fifth-most in the NHL]), Holtby (eight shutouts among [most in the league] 37 wins [tied for second-most in the NHL] on a 2.05 GAA [second-best in the league] and a .925 save percentage [fifth-best in the NHL]), Dmitry Orlov (+29 [sixth-best in the league]), Brooks Orpik (+32 [tied for second-best in the NHL]) and T.J. Oshie (+27 [tied for eighth-best in the league]).

For those that love a low-scoring affair, this is the game for you. Since there’s so much on the line tonight, I expect a very competitive, intense game that will end in a Washington victory. Whether it ends in regulation, overtime or a shootout, I will not venture a guess.

Hockey Birthday

  • Don Marshall (1932-) – This left wing hoisted the Stanley Cup five years in a row during his 10-year career in Montréal. In all, he appeared in 19 NHL seasons and played in seven All-Star Games.
  • Bengt-Ake Gustafsson (1958-) – A fourth-round pick by Washington in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, this Swedish right wing played 629 games over nine years for the Capitals. He never finished a season with fewer than 40 points, and twice notched 75.
  • Alex Selivanov (1971-) – Philadelphia may have selected this right wing in the sixth round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, but he never wore a Flyers sweater. Instead, he spent most of his seven-year career in Tampa Bay. He scored one postseason overtime goal during his playing days to beat – you guessed it – the Flyers.
  • Patrick Bordeleau (1986-) – It’s been a tough career for this scrappy left wing. Although selected by Minnesota in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, he didn’t start his NHL career until 2012 with Colorado. After recovering from an off-season back surgery, he played less than a minute in his first game in the 2014-’15 season before fracturing his kneecap. That was his last game in the league – since then, he’s been playing in Wales.
  • Michal Neuvirth (1988-) – Since being selected 34th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by Washington, this Czech goaltender has played with four clubs over nine seasons of play. This year marks his second with Philadelphia, where he’s earned a 28-18-5 record.

A dominating 20-shot second period is just what the doctor ordered for Anaheim, as it bested the visiting Oilers 4-3 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The scoreboard operator got to work early last night, as Leon Draisaitl (Patrick Maroon and Connor McDavid) earned Edmonton a one-goal lead with a slap shot 5:58 into the game. That advantage didn’t lost long though, as Patrick Eaves‘ (Third Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf and First Star Hampus Lindholm) snap shot leveled the game 1:48 later. That didn’t seem to sit well with McDavid (Draisaitl and Kris Russell), so he returned the lead to the Oil at the 8:49 mark, and they would’ve held onto it if not for Lindhom’s (Second Star Rickard Rakell and Getzlaf) tip-in with 31 seconds remaining before intermission.

Anaheim took it’s first lead of the evening 93 seconds after returning from the break. Josh Manson (Lindholm) provided the tally, his fourth of the year. It proved to be a lead the Ducks would not yield, thanks to Rakell’s (Getzlaf) wrist shot with 8:37 remaining in the second frame. That set the score at 4-2, which held almost the remainder of the game.

The reason Rakell’s goal is the winner and not Manson’s is due to Mark Letestu‘s (McDavid and Maroon) power play snapper with seven seconds remaining in regulation. Unfortunately for the Oilers, it was too little, too late.

Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 29-of-32 shots faced (90.625%), leaving the loss to Cam Talbot, who saved 14-of-18 (77.8%). Following Rakell’s eventual-winning goal, Talbot was pulled for Laurent Brossoit, who saved all 16 shots he faced for no decision.

Forget the fact that Anaheim now occupies second place in the Pacific Division, the real news here is that home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now trail the 79-56-22 visitors by only a point thanks to the Ducks‘ win.

November 25 – Day 44 – Broadway vs Broad Street

Get out of your turkey coma or home from your Black Friday shopping, because we have tons of hockey to keep an eye on today! The action gets started early at 1 p.m. with the New York Rangers at Philadelphia (NBC), followed three hours later by a trio of contests (Chicago at Anaheim [NHLN/SN], the New York Islanders at San Jose and Pittsburgh at Minnesota). 5 p.m. marks the puck drop of Buffalo at Washington, trailed an hour later by Winnipeg at Nashville (TVAS). 7:30 is the starting time for three matchups (Calgary at Boston, Columbus at Tampa Bay and Detroit at New Jersey), followed an hour later by Vancouver at Dallas. Finally, tonight’s nightcap, Edmonton at Arizona, drops the puck at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

There’s only one rivalry today, so lets head to Philly!

New York Rangers LogoPhiladelphia Flyers Logo

 

All NBC has done for the last week plus is promote this game, so it’d better be good. I think it will be, as these are the top-two offenses in the NHL, combining for 149 total scores.

The 14-6-1 Rangers are the best team in the Atlantic Division. As hinted at before, the offense has led the way with 82 goals to their credit, tops in the league.

Who better to headline the red, white and blue than two Americans? Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller pair to co-lead the forwards, both with 18 points to their credit. Most of those points have been assists, so Michael Grabner has picked up the slack by scoring the puck a dozen times, best in the Big Apple.

Whether that success as sparked the power play or vice versa, the Rangers are seventh-best playing against a short-handed team. They’re successful on 22.2% of their attempts and were led by Mika Zibanejad and his five power play points before the center broke his leg Sunday. That leaves Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Brandon Pirri and Derek Stepan to lead the charge with four power play points apiece, with Nash and Pirri scoring three man-advantage goals apiece.

Winning ways lends itself to more winning ways. New York‘s penalty kill is also pretty envious, successfully defending 86.2% of their infractions to rank sixth-best in the NHL.

Hosting them this afternoon are the 9-9-3 Philadelphia Flyers. Even though the offense has been good, Philly has been held back by their lackluster goaltending that has allowed 70 goals already this year, the second-most in the league.

The Flyers‘ netminder is 5-7-0 Steve Mason, who has a .893 save percentage and 3.04 GAA to his credit – the fifth and 13th-worst, respectively, marks among the 44 goaltenders with seven or more appearances to their credit.

Unfortunately for Mason, he must take credit for his numbers, because the defense playing in front of him has been fairly good. Led by Radko Gudas‘ 44 blocks, Philly‘s blueline has allowed only 27.7 shots against per game, the sixth-fewest in the league.

Making matters worse, Michal Neuvirth injured his groin severely enough on November 11 to send him to the injured reserve list. Backup Anthony Stolarz has yet to see NHL ice in his young career, but does have a 36-33-11 record over his three AHL seasons. While I don’t expect him to see time today, he will need to be called on soon to give Mason rest.

As would be expected, Philadelphia‘s penalty kill has suffered the same fate as at even-strength. Successful on only 80.3% of their kill attempts, Philly ranks eighth-worst in the NHL when down a man.

Instead, they’ve put all their special teams efforts into the power play. Led by Claude Giroux‘ 10 power play points, the Flyers score on 25.7% of their man-advantages to rank second-best in the league. Don’t let Giroux’ efforts distract you from Wayne Simmonds though, as he’s scored five of the Flyers‘ 19 power play goals.

The rivalry between these clubs is almost as long as the Flyers‘ existence. Philadelphia is, of course, the first expansion team to hoist the Stanley Cup, but history was actually made the series before they earned the hardware. A “Second Six” club had never beat an Original Six franchise until Philly bested the Blueshirts in the semifinals of the 1974 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Whether that makes Boston‘s defeat in the Finals more or less painful is still up for discussion.

All-time, this series is knotted at 151-151-37, but Philadelphia has the playoff series advantage, winning six of 11 postseason meetings. That being said, the Rangers won the most recent playoff meeting in the 2014 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals with a 2-1 Game 7 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this afternoon include New York‘s Dan Girardi (+12 [tied for fourth-best in the league]), Grabner (+19 [best in the NHL] on 12 goals [tied for second-most in the league]), Hayes (+15 [third-best in the NHL]), Captain Ryan McDonagh (+12 [tied for fourth-best in the league]) and, on the off-chance he plays, Antti Raanta (.934 save percentage [tied for ninth-best in the NHL]) & Philadelphia‘s Simmonds (10 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]).

Even though they’re on the road, Vegas favors the Rangers in today’s contest. I’m comfortable with that pick. Since both teams have potent offenses, it boils down to a goalie dual: Henrik Lundqvist vs Mason. I’ll take the Swede any day.

Hockey Birthday

  •  Eddie Shore (1902-1985-) – A defenseman that spent all but 10 of his 550 NHL games with Boston, he hoisted the Stanley Cup twice. Visitors to the TD Garden can see his No. 2 hung in the rafters.
  • Gilbert Delorme (1962-) – The 18th-overall selection in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal, this defenseman played 541 games over his nine-year career with five different clubs.
  • Magnus Arvedson (1971-) – This left wing played seven NHL seasons, most of which with Ottawa. He had a phenomenal sophomore season, notching 47 points.
  • John-Michael Liles (1980-) – Another defenseman, he was traded to Boston at last season’s deadline from Carolina. That being said, most of his NHL days have been spent in Colorado.

Ottawa has been featured three times in the DtFR Game of the Day series, and with a 3-1 victory over the visiting Bruins, they improve their series record to 3-0-0.

With 11 seconds remaining in the first period, David Pastrnak (Matt Beleskey and Brad Marchand) capitalized on a power play opportunity with a backhander to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.

The Senators pulled even with 6:37 remaining in the second period with a First Star of the Game Mark Stone (Mike Hoffman and Dion Phaneuf) wrister. It was the lone goal of the middle frame, setting up an exciting third period.

Only 6:28 after returning to the ice, Ottawa notched their winning goal with a Chris Wideman wrister, and an insurance goal 3:48 later from Second Star Kyle Turris (Bobby Ryan) sealed the Sens‘ victory.

Third Star Craig Anderson notches another victory after saving 19-of-20 shots faced (95%), leaving Tuukka Rask with the loss, saving 23-of-26 (88.5%).

Ottawa‘s home victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 25-14-7, favoring the hosts by nine points over the roadies.

November 11 – Day 30 – Flyers bring the air to Air Canada Centre

For the first time in a while, we have a busy Friday schedule – something I think we can all enjoy. Per usual, the action gets started at 7 p.m. (New Jersey at Buffalo and Philadelphia at Toronto [TVAS]) with Los Angeles at Ottawa (RDS) trailing half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Washington at Chicago and tonight’s co-nightcaps, Winnipeg at Colorado and Dallas at Edmonton, get underway at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Lauri Korpikoski might be making his first return to Edmonton, the city he represented a season ago, but I’m more interested in the FlyersLeafs game.

Philadelphia Flyers LogoUnknown

 

6-6-2 Philly enters the contest on a two-game win-less skid, most recently falling 3-2 in a shootout to Detroit. The Flyers are a strong offensive team, but almost out of necessity as they’ve given up the second-most tallies in the league.

The fault lies nowhere along the blue line. The Flyers‘ defense allows only 27.5 shots to make it to the cage per game, led by Radko Gudas‘ 22-block efforts.

No, the goals against rest solely on the goaltending. Be it Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth (they’ve both started seven games apiece) in net, they’ve combined for a measly .875 save percentage and 3.39 GAA.

As expected, the goaltending struggles have extended into the penalty kill. Only 79.1% of opposing extra-man opportunities have been nullified by the Flyers, which ranks ninth-worst.

To put things bluntly, it is these two players holding this squad back. Many fans thought Neuvirth, who turned 28 in March, could continue to improve and potentially take over the starting job, but it appears last season was simply a break from his usual performance. It will be interesting to see if they try to work the trade market to bolster the back-end of a strong skating team.

The best way to accent how good Philadelphia has been on offense is their power play. They’ve been successful on 28.3% of attempts, the second-best rate in the league. Claude Giroux has led the way on the extra-man opportunities, notching nine points with six assists. Completing the plays has been Wayne Simmonds, who has buried four power play goals.

Hosting them this evening are the 5-5-3 Toronto Maple Leafs. They’re another team that has struggled to keep the opposition from burying the puck at will.

Frederik Andersen has a 5-3-3 record, which is almost impressive given the fact that he has a season .897 save percentage and 3.41 GAA. What gives him a little bit of a pass in comparison to Mason and Neuvirth is that Toronto does not have anywhere near the defense playing in front of him.

The defense allows 33.3 shots against per game, and only Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev and more than 20 blocks, with 28 and 22 respectively. Based on what Andersen was able to achieve last season in Anaheim with a good defense, Toronto would be wise to make a concerted effort to build up their blue line as they try to climb the table in the future.

Surprisingly, the Maple Leafs are capable of shoring up the defense when they want to, but apparently for only two minutes at a time. Their penalty kill ranks ninth-best in the NHL, an impressive stat given their play at even-strength.

One facet of the Maple Leafs offense that has worked particularly well has been their power play. Led by William Nylander‘s seven power play points on three goals, Toronto has been successful on 22.9% of their extra-man opportunities to rank seventh-best.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Philadelphia‘s Giroux (11 assists [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) and Jakub Voracek (15 points [tied for eighth-most in the league]) & Toronto‘s Nylander (eight assists, half of which were on the power play, and three power play goals for 12 points [all lead the team]).

Vegas has picked the Leafs to win with a -103 line, but I think Philly walks away with the victory in this one. Since neither team can keep the puck out of their own net, the Flyers offense should be able to best Nylander and Auston Matthews‘ efforts.

Hockey Birthday

  • Harry Lumley (1926-1998) – Apple Cheeks (seriously, that was his nickname!) played 803 games over his 16 seasons. Most of his time was spent in Detroit‘s net, where he earned a 163-105-56 record and won the 1950 Stanley Cup.

Just as I expected, Dallas took advantage of a Calgary team that has struggled to keep points off the board to earn a 4-2 victory in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

Korpikoski (Radek Faksa) struck the first goal for the Stars on a snap shot with 7:29 remaining in the first period. That lead doubled 3:04 later when First Star of the Game Jamie Benn (John Klingberg and Faksa) buried a backhand. It was the final goal of the first period, so Dallas took a two-goal shutout lead into the dressing room for first intermission.

Calgary returned with a vengeance in the second frame, scoring both their goals within 3:31 of returning to the ice. Second Star Johnny Gaudreau (Third Star Brett Kulak and Sean Monahan) takes credit for both goals, the first struck 1:33 into the period. 1:58 later, he (Kulak and Michael Frolik) tied the game at two-all with a tip-in goal, the final tally of the second period.

Benn’s (Tyler Seguin and Antoine Roussel) power play wrister 7:20 into the final period proved to be the game-winning goal. Dallas‘ lone insurance goal was an empty-netter courtesy of Roussel (Justin Dowling) with 54 seconds remaining in regulation.

Kari Lehtonen earns the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (93.5%), leaving the loss to Brian Elliott, who saved 18-of-21 (85.7%).

Dallas‘ victory is only the second by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series in the last six days. It pulls the roadies within seven points of the home squads, but the homers still have a 18-11-3 record.

October 24 – Day 13 – Something something Canadian aviation

There’s only two games on the schedule this evening. The first involves Philadelphia visiting Montréal at 7:30 p.m. (RDS), with Calgary at Chicago dropping the puck an hour later (NHLN/SN/TVAS). All times eastern.

Seeing as Philly has much higher expectations for this season than the Flames, we’ll head up to the Bell Centre to catch them take on the Habs.

Philadelphia Flyers LogoUnknown-1

 

This game was supposed to be made a little bit more fun by the return of Dale Weise, but he is serving one-third of his suspension for his illegal check to Korbinian Holzer‘s head this evening. We’ll just hold that story until November 5.

…Or will we?

The season hasn’t treated the 2-2-1 Flyers very nicely so far. Before beating the Hurricanes 6-3 on Saturday, the Flyers were riding a 0-2-1 skid, being outscored 14-9 in that stretch.

As indicated by that statistic, defense and goaltending have been the issue on Broad St. – something Flyers fans have become all too familiar with. Steve Mason has taken the decision in four of Philly‘s five games for a 1-2-1 record. He has a .882 save percentage for a 3.35 GAA, both numbers well below the league average. Although he’s seen limited time, Michal Neuvirth has statistically been worse, posting a .854 save percentage for a 4.24 GAA in 85 minutes played.

Offensively, the Flyers are led by Jakub Voracek, who has scored two goals and notched five assists for seven points. Matt Read leads the club in goals, with five to his credit.

Montréal has yet to not earn a point having gone 4-0-1 so far this season, including their current three-game win streak. Most recently, the Canadiens went into the TD Garden to beat the Bruins 4-2 on Saturday. That success has propelled this squad that many wanted dissected a season ago to the top of the Eastern Conference early on.

Defense has been the name of the game for the Canadiens so far this year. Overall the Habs have a +11 goal-differential, but their eight goals-allowed is seven below the league average. Al Montoya started the first three games, saving .962 percent of the shots he faced for a 1.3 GAA. Carey Price has since returned to post a perfect 2-0-0 record, saving .92 percent for a 2.02 GAA.

Offensively, Montréal has turned to Alex Galchenyuk (1G/4A), Brendan Gallagher (3G/2A), Max Pacioretty (1G/4A) and Shea Weber (1G/4A), all of whom have five points. Gallagher and Torrey Mitchell have both scored three goals to lead the squad in that department.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Montréal‘s Nathan Beaulieu (+7 [tied for fifth-best in the NHL]), Montoya (1.3 GAA on a .962 save percentage [both second-best in the NHL] for two wins [tied for eighth-most in the league], including one shutout [one-of-five this season]) or Price (2.01 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL]) and Weber (+8 [tied for third-best in the league]) & Philadelphia‘s Claude Giroux (six assists [tied for the NHL-lead]), Read (five goals [tied for second-most in the league]), Wayne Simmonds (four goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Voracek (five assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]).

Montréal has a -160 advantage over the Flyers this evening. Given Philly‘s goaltending situation and the fact that this game is in the Bell Centre, that might be a conservative mark. Expect the Habs to earn two points this evening.

Hockey Birthday:

  • Jamal Mayers (1974-) – Over 65% of Mayers’ 915 career NHL games were played with St. Louis. A right wing by trade, he scored 90 goals en route to a 219 point career and currently acts as an analyst for NHL Network.
  • Jonas Gustavsson (1984-) – This is the eighth NHL season of the goalie’s career and his first with Edmonton. One of his best accolades is the silver medal he won at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi with Team Sweden.

In case you didn’t watch the Heritage Classic yesterday, Edmonton scored three goals in 7:52 to beat the Jets 3-0 at Investors Group Field in our Game of the Day.

The first of those goals, thus the game-winner, was struck 36 seconds before the midway point of the game. Third Star of the Game Mark Letestu fired a unassisted short-handed snap shot past Connor Hellebuyck to open the scoring. 1:46 later, Darnell Nurse (Connor McDavid and Second Star Zack Kassian) doubled that lead with a snapper of his own. With 2:44 remaining in the second period, Kassian (Benoit Pouliot and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) scored the second insurance goal for the Oilers to set the score at the 3-0 final.

First Star Cam Talbot saved all 32 shots he faced en route to the shutout victory. Hellebuyck takes the loss, saving 29-of-32 (90.6%).

Edmonton‘s win is the second-straight for a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the home sides still have a four-point advantage with a 9-5-1 record.

April 10 – Day 178 – …but those snow days happened

T.J. Oshie may not have scored in his first return to St. Louis, but he did get a point en route to the Washington Capitals winning 5-1.

St. Louis‘ lone goal was struck only 1:15 into the game by Vladimir Tarasenko (his 40th tally of the season), assisted by Alex Pietrangelo and Paul Stastny, but the good vibes associated with the quick start began to fade 2:49 later when First Star of the Game Alex Ovechkin began his hat trick on a wrister, assisted by John Carlson (his 31st helper of the season) and Third Star Nicklas Backstrom.  Ovechkin lit the lamp again for the game winner at the 6:49 mark on another wrister, again assisted by Backstrom (his 49th helper of the season).  The 2-1 score held to the end of the period.

Carlson’s second point of the night was a goal at the 5:21 mark, a backhander assisted by Tom Wilson (his 16th helper of the season) and Brook Orpik.  Jason Chimera got on the board 56 seconds after the midway point of the game with a tip-in, assisted by Evgeny Kuznetsov (his 57th helper of the season) and Dmitry Orlov.  The Caps‘ 4-1 lead held into the second intermission.

Ovi completed the hat trick with a slap shot with 9:25 remaining in the game (his league leading 50th tally of the season), assisted by Backstrom and Oshie.

Second Star Braden Holtby earns the win after saving 19 of the 20 shots he faced (95%), while Brian Elliott takes the loss after saving 22 of 26 (84.6%).  He was replaced after the second intermission by Anders Nilsson, who saved nine of 10 (90%).

Washington‘s win is the second straight for the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, setting the season record at 82-47-19, with the home teams leading the roadies by 38 points.

There’s only two games on the docket this evening, and both of them were supposed to be played earlier in the year.  Philadelphia visits the New York Islanders at 7 p.m. eastern and can be viewed on NBCSN, SN and SN360.  Half an hour after that puck drop, Anaheim at Washington gets its start, and can be watched on NHLN, SN and SN360.

I know, there can’t be two different games on the same channels.  Sorry Canada, I don’t have an answer, but if I had to guess, it’s regional.  You’re on your own in figuring this one out.

All four of these teams have already punched their tickets to the playoffs starting this week, but two of them still have some positioning to finalize.  With a win, the Islanders move ahead of the Rangers for third spot for a first round meeting with Pittsburgh, while anything less than two points leaves them in their current matchup with Florida.  Similarly, a win of any variety gives Anaheim the Pacific Division title and a date with Nashville, while anything less leaves them in their matchup with in-state rival San Jose.

I’m more attracted to the PhiladelphiaNew York game, mostly because I think New York has more to gain, or potentially lose, depending on the outcome of this game.

Philadelphia Flyers LogoNew York Islanders Logo

 

Tonight’s game will be Philadelphia‘s ninth in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which stands at 6-2-0.  When they were last featured, Philly won 2-1 on a shootout over the visiting Capitals on March 30.  New York has been featured 10 times before tonight, and own a 3-6-1 record in such games.  Last time, they won 5-2 over the visiting Lightning on Monday.

Usually, I go into a big statistical breakdown, but frankly, I don’t think that’s what this game boils down to.

To put that in perspective, the Flyers have absolutely nothing to play for, maybe except for confidence going into the playoffs.  Haha, right, like they need any.  They just fought themselves into a playoff position that many had written them out of contention for a month or two ago.  In fact, I think they’ll use this as an opportunity to rest guys that have been playing their tails off during this span.

They already know they’ll be meeting Washington later this week, so they’ll want to prepare as much as possible for the pressure the Capitals bring at literally every section of the ice.

The real game tonight is being played between the ears of Jack Capuano, and you’d figure he went to bed last night already knowing how this game will end.  He has a couple things to determine going into this game, including health and positioning.

Health is a big concern for New York right now, and Capuano has already said that this is the No. 1 priority.  Eight men are currently listed on the injury report, including G Jean-Francois Berube, RW Cal Clutterbuck (best shooting percentage and a top five goal scorer in Brooklyn), C Mikhail Grabovski, G Jaroslav Halak (18-13-4, .919 save percentage and 2.3 GAA), D Travis Hamonic (top-three shot blocker), LW Anders Lee (a top-five goal scorer, including top power play totals, and assister for the Isles), LW Matt Martin (leads team in hits) and D Brian Strait.

That being said, this line item, although listed second, may come first in his game plan this evening: New York‘s position in the standings, specifically their first and possible second round matchup.  As it stands right now, the Isles will be making the trip to Florida for a first round matchup with the Atlantic Champion Panthers, with the potential to face either the Lightning or Red Wings in the Conference Semifinals.  Should they win tonight, they swap spots with their in-town rivals and head instead to Pittsburgh, with the potential to meet either Philadelphia or Washington in the Semis.

Frankly, one of those situations sounds way better to me, and that’s their current fate of going to Florida.  Yes, the Panthers play an interesting, unpredictable and beautiful game, but I’d rather play them right now than the Penguins, who had an eight game winning streak before losing to Philly yesterday without Sidney Crosby (you know, the guy that scores the goals).  Looking even further ahead, anything is better than playing Washington, and I think New York would have a good chance of beating either Detroit or Tampa, regardless of who they meet.

But Connor, are you implying that the Isles would toss a game?

Uh, yeah.  Seriously, did you not see the beat-down the Caps put on the Blues last night, the fourth best defense in the league?  I’m staying away from them as long as possible, maybe somebody else will do the dirty work of beating them, or at least wearing 50 goal scorer Ovi out.  On top of that, you get to rest players with that game plan, which is a great spot to be in.  Heck, if New York is really committed to losing, they could just not dress a goalie and go 60 minutes with an empty net.  You know the league office would absolutely love that one, but I’d bet there’d be a few Islanders fans in the arena cheering the choice.

Philadelphia leads the season series 2-1-1, as well as won the last meeting 4-1 on March 21.  If I had to pick the better team, I would certainly lean towards New York, but as I’ve already stated, I don’t know if both teams will be fully exerting themselves.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game, should they play, include New York‘s Thomas Greiss (.926 save percentage [tied for second best in the league]) and John Tavares (33 goals [10th most in the league]) & Philadelphia‘s Michal Neuvirth (.925 save percentage [fourth best in the league] and 2.28 GAA [ninth best in the league]).

I have no idea how this one will end.  As I’ve hinted, I think this might be the weirdest game of chess played this season, but we shall see.  Under normal circumstances I would have the Isles winning, but I think, if New York is wise, that the game will end in Philadelphia‘s favor.

March 24 – Day 161 – All the wildcards

The New York Rangers made easy work of Boston in yesterday’s Game of the Day, beating them 5-2.

Two unanswered power play goals in the first period set the tone for the Rangers.  The first found the back of the net at the 8:37 mark, scored on a Mats Zuccarello wrister, assisted by Third Star of the Game Keith Yandle and First Star Derek Stepan.  3:02 later, Stepan scored his own goal after assists from Yandle (his 37th helper of the season) and Second Star Henrik Lundqvist.  The Blueshirts‘ two goal shutout lead held into the intermission.

5:26 after resuming play, Derick Brassard scored the eventual game-winner (his 26th tally of the season), assisted by Kevin Klein and Jesper Fast.  Boston finally scored 26 seconds before the midway point of both the period and the game courtesy of a Lee Stempniak wrister, assisted by Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron (his 34th helper of the season).  The 3-1 Rangers lead held into the second intermission.

New York took control of the scoring again 6:32 after returning to the ice, as J.T. Miller’s wrister crossed the goal line after assists from Stepan and Zuccarello (his 32nd helper of the season).  Frank Vatrano scored 5:34 later for the Bruins on a snap shot, assisted by Loui Eriksson (his 28th helper of the season) and Zdeno Chara.  The final goal of the game was scored with 2:53 remaining, scored by Rick Nash on an empty net.

Lundqvist earns the win after saving 39 of 41 shots faced (95.1%), while Jonas Gustavsson takes the loss, saving 13 of 15 (86.7%).  He replaced Tuukka Rask after the first intermission, as Rask saved only six of eight shots faced (75%).

The third straight home win sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 73-41-17, favoring the home squads by 35 points over the roadies.

Yesterday’s reprieve sets us up for an exciting Thursday schedule.  Three games drop the puck at 7 p.m. eastern (Florida at Boston [TVAS], New Jersey at Pittsburgh and Carolina at Columbus), followed half an hour later by two more (Anaheim at Toronto and Montréal at Detroit [NHLN/RDS]).  Another trio gets started at 8 p.m. eastern (Vancouver at Nashville [SN360], Calgary at Minnesota and Los Angeles at Winnipeg), with Philadelphia at Colorado trailing an hour later.  Dallas at Arizona gets its start at 10 p.m. eastern, and Edmonton at San Jose, this evening’s nightcap, follows 30 minutes later.

Five of the 11 games taking place tonight are division rivalries (Florida at Boston, New Jersey at Pittsburgh, Carolina at Columbus, Montréal at Detroit and Edmonton at San Jose), but only Florida at Boston is between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs.

You might think I’d choose the PanthersBruins game, but since that one doesn’t have immediate impact on the standings, I’m more interested in Philadelphia at Colorado.

Philadelphia Flyers LogoUnknown-1

 

In addition to both appearing in the Game of the Day series six times before tonight’s game, both Philadelphia and Colorado own 4-2-0 records in those games.  Philadelphia was last featured Saturday in their 4-1 home loss to the rival Penguins, and Colorado last played in the series March 1, a 6-3 loss in Minnesota.

The 35-24-13 Philadelphia Flyers currently occupy fifth in the Metropolitan Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference, good enough for the second wildcard spot.  To get into that position, they’ve played the 15th best defense, but it’s been backed by the 10th worst offense.  A more in-depth breakdown of Philly‘s game can be found within Saturday’s article.

The Flyers last played to a 3-2 shootout loss in Columbus on Tuesday.  A win tonight for the Flyers is very important, as the Red Wings are also in action this evening, and playing Montréal to boot – a much weaker opponent than the Avalanche.  An added bonus to winning is pulling within two points of the idle Islanders for the first wildcard spot.

The  38-31-4 Colorado Avalanche are currently sixth in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference, making them the first team left out of the playoff picture.  Offense has led the way, as they rank 14th best in scoring, but 11th worst in defense.

The injured Nathan MacKinnon’s 245 shots have led the Avalanche to firing the puck only 2108 times, but 9.2% have found the back of the net for 198 goals (led by Matt Duchene’s 29 tallies), the 14th most in the league.  They step up the pressure on the power play, as Colorado‘s 19.41% success rate, good for 46 power play goals (led by Jarome Iginla’s dozen extra man tallies), ranks 11th best in the NHL.

Even with Francois Beauchemin’s 236 blocks, the Avs have allowed a whopping 2317 shots to reach 26-18-3 Semyon Varlamov and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.8% for 204 goals against, the 11th most in the league.  Although the defense as a whole hasn’t been that strong, Colorado definitely clamps down on the penalty kill, neutralizing 82.1% of their penalties for 41 power play goals against, the ninth best rate in the league.  Further improving on that solid rate, the Avalanche have also scored seven shorthanded goals, two more than the league average.

The Avalanche are currently riding a three game winning streak, with their most recent being Sunday’s 3-2 win in Edmonton.  Just like Philadelphia, Colorado‘s main playoff competition, the Minnesota Wild, is playing this evening against a weaker opponent, the Calgary Flames.  As the Wild have only a one point lead over the Avs, a Colorado win paired with anything less than a Wild win would propel Colorado into the second wildcard.

Colorado has already made their yearly visit to Philadelphia, and they certainly enjoyed their time in the City of Brotherly Love, winning on a four-goal shutout on November 10.

Some players to keep an eye on include Colorado‘s Duchene (56 points, 29 of which are goals, with 21 at even strength [all lead the team]) and Philadelphia‘s Michal Neuvirth (.925 save percentage [fifth best in the league] and 2.28 GAA [10th best in the league]).

Colorado seems to be the better team, both statistically and given their three game winning streak.  Add that in with the fact that they are hosting this evening’s contest, it should be an Avalanche winner.

March 19 – Day 156 – Battle of Pennsylvania

Anaheim heard that the Big Bad Bruins were coming to the Pond and didn’t really seem to be too impressed, beating them with a four-goal shutout.

Within 4:07 of play, Anaheim had a two goal lead.  Jamie McGinn scored the first and eventual game winner at the 2:51 mark, assisted by Corey Perry (his 23rd helper of the season) and Ryan Getzlaf.  1:16 later, Ryan Kesler’s wrister found the back of the net, assisted by Andrew Cogliano and Third Star Jakob Silfverberg.  However, after those two quick scores, neither team was able to find any other opportunities, giving the Ducks the 2-0 lead going into not only the first intermission, but also the second.

It must be a thing about odd-numbered periods for the Ducks, as only 58 seconds into the final frame Hampus Lindholm’s slap shot found the back of the net after an assist from Getzlaf (his 44th helper of the season).  The final goal of the night belongs to Rickard Rakell, as David Perron (his 24th helper of the season) and Lindholm assisted him to his slap shot with 5:32 remaining in regulation to ensure the the Bruins had no hope for a comeback.

First Star Frederik Andersen earns the shutout victory after saving all 38 shots faced, while Jonas Gustavsson takes the loss, saving 22 of 26 (84.6%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 70-40-16, favoring the home sides by 32 points over the roadies.

It’s a busy Saturday in the greatest hockey league in the world, with 11 games being played before the day ends.  The day opens with Pittsburgh visiting Philadelphia at 1 p.m. eastern, followed an hour later by Carolina at Minnesota.  The final matinee occurs at 4 p.m. eastern between the New York Rangers and San Jose.  The usual starting time of 7 p.m.  brings with it four puck drops (Buffalo at Toronto [CBC/City], Montréal at Ottawa [TVAS/SN], Detroit at Florida [NHLN] and New Jersey at Columbus), with the New York Islanders visiting Dallas an hour later.  Two more games drop the puck at 10 p.m. eastern (St. Louis at Vancouver [CBC/SN] and Tampa Bay at Arizona), and Boston at Los Angeles, this evening’s nightcap, goes underway 30 minutes later.

Almost half of today’s games are divisional rivalries (Pittsburgh at Philadelphia, Buffalo at Toronto, Montréal at Ottawa, Detroit at Florida and New Jersey at Columbus), and another set of four are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (New York at San Jose, Detroit at Florida, New York at Dallas and Boston at Los Angeles).

I know we’ve already watched them twice this week, but the Battle of Pennsylvania is beyond the most important game of the day, as it is not only a rivalry, but also another opportunity for the Flyers to get back into the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Penguins LogoPhiladelphia Flyers Logo

 

This will be Pittsburgh‘s 14th appearance in the Game of the Day series, and they own a 5-7-1 record in such games.  Their most recent appearance was Sunday, when the Pens visited Madison Square Garden and won 5-3.  Philly has been featured five times before today’s games, with their most recent being Wednesday’s 3-2 victory in Chicago to set their series record at 4-1-0.

The 38-24-8 Pittsburgh Penguins currently occupy fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference, good enough for the first wildcard spot.  To get to that position, they’ve played the seventh best defense, paired with the 11th best offense.  A more in-depth analysis of their game can be found within Sunday’s post.

Pittsburgh comes into today’s game riding a two game win streak, with their most recent being their 4-2 win over the Hurricanes on Thursday.  A win today paired with an Islanders loss propels the Pens into the third division spot, but a loss could leave them with only one point of wiggle room between them and the second wildcard.

The 34-23-12 Philadelphia Flyers are currently the fifth team in the Metropolitan Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference, making them the first team outside the playoffs.  To get to that position, they’ve played the 13th best defense, but its been paired with the 10th worst offense.

Even with Nick Schultz’ 142 blocks, the Flyers have allowed 2130 shots to reach 17-15-8 Steve Mason and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.9% for 185 goals against, the 13th fewest in the league.  The success has not continued to the penalty kill, as Philly has only neutralized 80.09% of their infractions for 46 power play goals against, the ninth worst rate in the NHL.

Led by Claude Giroux’ 196 shots, Philadelphia has fired the puck a whopping 2115 times, with 8.5% finding the back of the net for 181 goals (led by Wayne Simmonds’ 25 tallies), the 10th fewest in the league.  More effective has been the power play, where the Flyers are successful on 18.72% attempts for 44 extra man goals (led by Simmonds’ 11 power play tallies), the 15th best rate in the league.

Philadelphia is also riding a winning streak, although it is only two games, with their most recent being their 3-2 victory in Chicago on Wednesday.  A win tonight paired with a Detroit loss would propel the Flyers back into the second wildcard position.

These squads have met only once so far this season, with Pittsburgh hosting the Flyers to a 4-3 victory on January 21.

Some players to keep an eye on include Philadelphia‘s Michal Neuvirth (.925 save percentage [fifth best in the league] and 2.28 GAA [10th best in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Sidney Crosby (72 points [fifth in the league] and 31 goals [ninth in the league]), Marc-Andre Fleury (five shutouts [tied for second most in the league] and 30 wins [tied for sixth most in the league]), Chris Kunitz (+28 [fourth in the league]) and Olli Maatta (+24 [tied for seventh in the league]).

It is my opinion that Pittsburgh should win this game.  In addition to already earning a victory against the Flyers, they are simply the better team.