The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Everyone, this is your ghost writer speaking. Connor is preoccupied this week, so I’m taking over to tell you about this humdinger of a matchup for this week’s DTFR Game of the Week.
And also to apologize for not having a cool looking table recapping every night of this week’s action leading up to Sunday’s main attraction in the Western Conference as the Minnesota Wild (36-33-9 record, 81 points, 6th in the Central Division) pay a visit to the Arizona Coyotes (37-33-8, 82 points, 4th in the Pacific Division).
Gila River Arena will be in the spotlight as the Top-2 teams outside of the Western Conference wild card race go head-to-head with the chance to help one of the teams currently in control of a wild card position clinch a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If Arizona loses in any form on Sunday against the Wild, the Dallas Stars will punch their ticket to the 2019 postseason leaving one final spot remaining in the Western Conference.
Though the Winnipeg Jets (94 points in 78 games played) lead the Nashville Predators (94 points in 79 GP) and St. Louis Blues (92 points in 78 GP) in the Central Division and the Calgary Flames (103 points in 78 GP) lead the San Jose Sharks (97 points in 78 GP) and Vegas Golden Knights (91 points in 79 GP) in the Pacific Division, the First Round matchups across the board in the Western Conference are still to be determined.
The Central Division is a tight race with the current three divisional playoff position holders battling down the wire for the regular season divisional title.
The Pacific Division can be clinched by the Flames on Sunday if they defeat the Sharks in any fashion.
For Minnesota, a win on Sunday would leapfrog the Wild over the Coyotes in the wild card race and put them two points behind the Colorado Avalanche (85 points in 78 GP) for the last playoff berth in the West.
For Arizona, a win on Sunday would provide the Coyotes with a little cushion over the Wild and leave Arizona trailing the Avalanche by one point in the wild card race.
The Coyotes lost to Colorado in their most recent game, 3-2, in overtime on Friday. The Wild defeated the Golden Knights, 3-2, on Friday.
Both teams enter Sunday knowing they control their own destiny in the immediate future as the Avalanche are off until Monday night’s battle in St. Louis.
Colorado doesn’t have an easy road ahead, however, despite their 6-0-1 record in their last seven outings– the Avs have four games remaining in six nights, including one in St. Louis on Monday and a home game against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday prior to hosting the Jets on Thursday and closing out the regular season in San Jose next Saturday.
Minnesota (3-6-1 in their last 10 games) enters Sunday on the heels of a, 3-2, win over Vegas on Friday after posting a 2-6-1 record in their previous nine games.
Arizona (3-4-3 in their last 10 games) has lost six out their last seven games and went 1-3-3 in that span, but has a 9-1-1 record in their last 11 home games.
The Wild and Coyotes are tied in the season series, 1-1-0, through two meetings at Xcel Energy Center prior to Sunday. Minnesota picked up a, 2-1, win on Oct. 16th against Arizona before losing, 4-3, on Nov. 27th to the Coyotes.
Minnesota is 13-3-3 in their last 19 games against the Coyotes and enters the Grand Canyon State to face a familiar foe.
Darcy Kuemper (25-19-8 record, 2.39 goals against average, .922 save percentage in 52 GP) was originally drafted by the Wild 161st overall in the 2009 NHL Draft and will make his 20th consecutive start for the Coyotes in the crease.
Kuemper stopped 26 out of 28 shots faced in Arizona’s, 2-1, loss to Minnesota on Oct. 16th and is 14-6-3 in his last 23 starts.
Since Jan. 6th, he has a 20-8-5 record with a 2.14 GAA and .929 SV% while the Coyotes have been battling injuries.
Nick Schmaltz signed a seven-year extension with the club on Saturday and remains out with a lower body injury, while Antti Raanta (lower body– out for the season) and Kyle Capobiano (lower body) will also be unavailable for Rick Tocchet‘s lineup on Sunday.
Arizona’s hard charging offense has scored nine goals in their last seven games and is led by Clayton Keller (14-32–46 totals) this season. Defenseman, Oliver Ekman-Larsson (14-29–43 totals) is the only other Coyote with more than 40 points and has seven goals and eight assists since Feb. 21st– tied for the 2nd most by a defender in the league during that span.
Tampa Bay Lightning blue liner, Victor Hedman, has 17 points to Ekman-Larsson’s 15 points in that span.
Coyotes third liner, Alex Galchenyuk, leads his club in goals with 17 this season.
Across the ice, Devan Dubnyk (30-27-6, 2.57 GAA, .912 SV% in 65 GP) is expected to get the start for the Wild as Ryan Donato has seven points (two goals, five assists) in his past seven games for Minnesota.
Boudreau perhaps put it best following Friday night’s win in Las Vegas for Sunday’s preview against Arizona– “I think whoever loses is probably for sure out.”
It’s hard not to agree with that sentiment given both teams will have three games remaining on the schedule after Sunday wraps up and the loser will have an almost insurmountable deficit in the wild card standings.
That said, look for the red-hot on home ice Coyotes to keep Minnesota down in what’s sure to be a wild matchup as the two teams tempt fate.
Tune into the matchup on ESPN+ at 5 p.m. ET.
As we inch ever closer to Decision Day, every game takes on even more importance. Whether clubs are battling for seeding or their playoff lives, there’s been much excitement to be had this week.
Speaking of, here’s the NHL’s slate of games for this week:
|NHL SCHEDULE: March 18-24|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, March 18|
|7:30 p.m.||Arizona||Tampa Bay||1-4|
|8:30 p.m.||Vancouver||Chicago||3-2 (OT)|
|10:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||Los Angeles||3-2|
|10:30 p.m.||Vegas||San Jose||7-3|
|Tuesday, March 19|
|7 p.m.||Boston Bruins||New York Islanders||5-0|
|7 p.m.||Detroit Red Wings||New York Rangers||3-2|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Carolina||2-3 (SO)|
|7:30 p.m.||Washington||New Jersey||4-1|
|8 p.m.||Edmonton||St. Louis||2-7|
|Wednesday, March 20|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Washington||5-4 (OT)|
|Thursday, March 21|
|7 p.m.||Boston||New Jersey||5-1|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Carolina||6-3|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Montréal Canadiens||0-4|
|8 p.m.||Detroit||St. Louis||2-5|
|8 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Nashville||2-1 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||San Jose||Los Angeles||2-4|
|Friday, March 22|
|10 p.m.||San Jose||Anaheim||3-4 (OT)|
|Saturday, March 23|
|1 p.m.||Arizona||New Jersey|
|1 p.m.||New York Islanders||Philadelphia Flyers||NHLN|
|3 p.m.||Chicago||Colorado||ESPN+, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Nashville||Winnipeg||ESPN+, SN360|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Toronto Maple Leafs||CBC, NHLN, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Buffalo||Montréal||CITY, TVAS|
|8 p.m.||Tampa Bay||St. Louis|
|10 p.m.||Calgary Flames||Vancouver Canucks||CBC, CITY, ESPN+, SN, SN1, SN360|
|10:30 p.m.||Anaheim||Los Angeles|
|Sunday, March 24|
|12:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Washington||NBC, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Arizona Coyotes||New York Islanders||SN|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||Carolina||ESPN+, RDS, SN|
There’s no shortage of fun tilts taking place this week, even if we look beyond the standings.
For instance, Vancouver and Chicago squared off on Monday to rekindle their former hatred from the last decade, followed the next day by an Original Six tilt between the Red Wings and Rangers.
Wednesday saw another edition of the Battle of the QEW, while the Wings were back at it in St. Louis on Thursday. Speaking of Thursday, the Battle of California also took place that night to springboard the Sharks into their Friday tilt against the Ducks.
Today’s rivalry action once again features the Rangers in an Original Six bout, this time squaring off against Toronto. Once that game is through, the Freeway Face-Off will be played for the second-to-last time this season, while Philadelphia and Washington’s derby will wait until tomorrow afternoon.
As for playoff rematches of almost a year ago, we saw San Jose get whipped by Vegas once again on Monday, Tampa Bay barely escaped Washington with an overtime victory on Wednesday, Vegas beat the Jets on Thursday and the aforementioned Sharks-Ducks game last night. One more rematch is on the schedule this weekend, as the Predators and Jets will square off tonight in a game that could determine the fate of the Central Division.
As for player returns, there weren’t many that qualified in any way as significant. As a matter of fact, D John Moore‘s return to New Jersey, his former home of three seasons, is the week’s biggest homecoming.
Now, as fun as it would have been to do a big write-up on Moore’s time with the Devils, I thought this weekend’s home-and-home series featuring two Central Division clubs fighting to qualify for the playoffs was a bit more important.
Coming into the weekend with a 32-31-10 record, the Chicago Blackhawks currently occupy seventh place in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference, but they’re still very much in the playoff race since they trail the Minnesota Wild by only five points and have two games in hand.
Of course, this is not news to the Hawks, as they were on quite a tear before dropping their last two games. Chicago was on a five-game winning streak before losing 3-2 in overtime at home to the Canucks on Monday, and that six-game point streak was snapped Thursday with a 3-1 home loss to the Flyers.
Just like the good ol’ days, one of the Hawks’ most potent weapons during this surge has undoubtedly been their impressive offense. Chicago has averaged 3.29 goals per game since March 7, the fourth-best mark in the Western Conference and seventh-best in the league.
As would be expected, F Patrick Kane has been one of the most important players during this effort, as he’s posted solid 1-6-7 marks in his last seven outings to average a point-per-game. However, he’s been clearly outplayed by second-liner W Brendan Perlini (the Blackhawks’ return alongside C Dylan Strome for trading C Nick Schmaltz to Arizona in November) and his outstanding 6-2-8 effort in that time.
Perhaps it is simply coincidence, but Perlini has not registered a point in his last two games – the same two games Chicago has most recently lost. Whether he buys into the correlation or not, Head Coach Jeremy Colliton certainly won’t complain if Perlini can get back to work this weekend.
Another facet of Chicago’s play that has been absolutely incredible lately has been its goaltending. Despite playing behind a defense that has yielded 35.43 shots per game since March 7 (the fourth-worst in the league in that time), the Blackhawks have allowed only 2.29 goals in that same time frame – the seventh-best in the NHL.
12-16-3 G Corey Crawford has been absolutely fantastic in his last seven starts. He’s posted a .945 save percentage and 1.79 GAA during this run by the Hawks despite playing behind their shoddy defense, and he will be the one that deserves the most praise should Chicago extend its season beyond 82 games.
Just like the Blackhawks, the 33-29-12 Colorado Avalanche are still on the outside of the playoff bubble and looking in, but they can see their path to the postseason even easier than their brethren from the Windy City.
Colorado enters the weekend trailing eighth-place Minnesota by only one point – an incredibly manageable deficit considering the Avs hold a game-in-hand on the Wild.
However, it is that game-in-hand that makes this weekend’s series against Chicago so important for the Avalanche. Since Minnesota is only playing one tilt this weekend, Sunday’s game will spend that game-in-hand.
Coming into Saturday’s tilt, the Avalanche boast a three-game winning streak, including road victories against current playoff teams in Minnesota and Dallas.
The backbone of this three-game run has undoubtedly been 14-9-3 G Philipp Grubauer as, despite playing behind a defense that has allowed an average of 34.67 shots against per game since March 17, he and the Avs have yielded only two goals in their past three games.
Despite boasting only a .911 save percentage and 2.77 GAA for the season, Grubauer has managed an unbelievable .981 save percentage and 0.67 GAA in his last three outings. Of course, New Jersey, Minnesota and Dallas do not boast the offenses that Chicago do, so he will need to be totally on his game either today or tomorrow when he gets his nod.
The German has faced Chicago only twice in his entire career, earning a 0-1-0 record in those outings. Against the Blackhawks, he owns a career .923 save percentage and 2.27 GAA. His last outing against the franchise was on December 21 of this season, and the Avs played to a 2-1 home loss.
So, who wins this weekend’s series?
Though they’re riding a two-game losing skid, I like the Blackhawks in this home-and-home. Though Grubauer has been incredible lately, the fact that Crawford has such a strong offense playing in front of him is certainly in his favor. Additionally, offense will be even more important when the backups earn the nod, which should make the ice tilt Chicago’s way even more.
Four unanswered goals in the second period– including two goals from Brad Marchand (2-1–3 totals), a goal from David Pastrnak (1-2–3 totals) and three assists from David Krejci (0-3–3 totals)– led to a, 4-3, comeback victory for the Boston Bruins over the Arizona Coyotes at TD Garden Tuesday night.
The last time the Boston lost to Arizona, the Coyotes were still known as the Phoenix Coyotes. In fact, the Bruins have now won 14 games in-a-row against Arizona in the regular season– dating back to October 9, 2010.
That game back in 2010 was played in… Prague, Czech Republic, of course. In fact, it was the first game of the 2010-11 season for Boston, which led to the franchise’s 2011 Stanley Cup championship that season.
Among other longest active-win streaks, the Washington Capitals have beaten the Bruins in their last 13 regular season matchups and the Tampa Bay Lightning have done the same to the Detroit Red Wings.
Tuukka Rask (8-6-2 record, 2.53 goals against average, .916 save percentage in 16 games played) made 30 saves on 33 shots against for a .909 SV% in the win for the B’s.
Meanwhile, Arizona goaltender, Darcy Kuemper (4-6-2, 2.82 GAA, .909 SV% in 12 GP) made 22 saves on 28 shots faced for a .909 SV% in the loss.
Boston improved to 17-10-4 (38 points) on the season– good enough to remain 4th in the Atlantic Division as the 3rd-place Buffalo Sabres defeated the Los Angeles Kings, 4-3, in overtime on Tuesday.
The Coyotes fell to 13-14-2 (28 points) on the season and remain four points ahead of the Kings in 7th place in the Pacific Division.B
Earlier in the day on Tuesday, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy gave an update on Jake DeBrusk, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron.
DeBrusk is considered “day-to-day” and spent Tuesday seeing a specialist, while Chara and Bergeron resumed skating on their own.
Cassidy made no changes to his lineup from Sunday’s win in overtime against the Ottawa Senators for Tuesday night’s matchup with the Coyotes and gave Rask his second start in-a-row.
Joining Bergeron, Chara and DeBrusk on the injured list out of the lineup were Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) and Kevan Miller (throat). Noel Acciari and Jeremy Lauzon were, once again, healthy scratches against Arizona and watched the game from the press box on level nine at TD Garden.
Clayton Keller was charged with the game’s first penalty– a double minor– for high-sticking Bruins defender, Charlie McAvoy, at 2:54 of the first period.
Despite having an extended power play, Boston was not able to convert on the skater advantage and the Coyotes’ league-best penalty kill was able to escape without harm while being shorthanded.
Midway through the period, Matt Grzelcyk hooked Keller in Arizona’s offensive zone, leading to a Coyotes power play at 10:31.
Late on the ensuing skater advantage, Nick Schmaltz (6) ripped a shot off the post on the short side that bounced off of the back of Rask’s leg and into the net to give Arizona the 1-0 lead.
Schmaltz’s power play goal was assisted by Oliver Ekman-Larsson (14) and Keller (13) at 12:22 of the opening frame.
Just 40 seconds later, Nick Cousins (3) fired a shot that deflected off of Boston defender, John Moore, and went past Rask on the short side to give the Coyotes a two-goal lead, 2-0.
Alex Goligoski (9) and Josh Archibald (4) notched the assist’s on Cousins’ goal at 13:02 and players with the first name “Nick” were wild (you see, because both goals in the game up to that point were scored by a player named “Nick something”).
With 3:31 remaining in the first period, Ekman-Larsson got checked by David Backes in the low slot in Boston’s offensive zone. While Ekman-Larsson was falling to the ice, his skate caught Backes in the face and appeared to cause harm as Backes quickly grabbed his face with his glove and sprinted off the ice, presumably to stop bleeding.
Backes went down the tunnel for repairs and returned prior to the start of the second period with what looked like only a minor scab below the nose.
Getting a skate to the face certainly could’ve been much worse and as scary as it looked, thankfully it wasn’t that bad in the long run.
After 20 minutes of play, the Coyotes led, 2-0, on the scoreboard and trailed the Bruins, 12-7, in shots on goal. Arizona held onto the advantage in blocked shots (4-0) and takeaways (6-2) after one period, while Boston led in giveaways (7-2), hits (12-7) and face-off win percentage (61-39).
Entering the first intermission, Arizona was 1/1 on the power play, while Boston was 0/2.
Almost midway through the second period, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson rushed into the offensive zone and sent a pass through the low slot to Danton Heinen (4) whereby Heinen kicked the puck from his skate to his stick before firing a shot past Kuemper.
Heinen’s goal put the B’s on the board and cut the Coyotes lead in half, 2-1, as Forsbacka Karlsson (1) and Ryan Donato (2) were credited with the assists at 8:40 of the second period.
Keeping up with Arizona’s fashion of quick goals, David Pastrnak (21) tabbed the tying goal 33 seconds after Heinen scored to make it, 2-2.
Brad Marchand worked the puck to Pastrnak while the young Bruins winger was flying towards the crease in order to redirect the puck a la Mark Recchi back in his prime past Kuemper just as No. 88 stopped before the blue paint in time.
Marchand (22) and David Krejci (20) picked up the primary and secondary assists on Pastrnak’s goal at 9:13 of the second period.
It wouldn’t take long before Boston scored again, as Marchand (9) gave the Bruins their first lead of the night, 3-2, at 11:31.
Krejci sent the puck to Pastrnak as Pastrnak faked a one-timer and instead sent a slap pass to No. 63 in black-and-gold for the redirection into the twine.
Pastrnak (16) and Krejci (21) had the assists on the B’s third goal in 2:51.
Moments later, Marchand (10) added his second goal of the night– and Boston’s fourth unanswered goal– at 13:30 of the second period as Pastrnak’s initial curl and drag turned pass to Krejci left Kuemper scrambling in the crease.
While Kuemper was out of position, Krejci’s initial pass to Marchand didn’t connect, though the veteran Bruins left winger remained in the slot for the second chance and batted the loose puck past the Arizona netminder on a backhand to make it, 4-2, Boston.
Krejci (22) had his third assist of the game and Pastrnak (17) picked up his third point (and second assist) of the game as the Bruins began to pull away from the Coyotes.
Late in the second period, after Moore mishandled the puck along the wall behind his own net and Rask tried to get a glove on the loose puck, Michael Bunting (1) tapped in the free standing rubber biscuit to pull Arizona to within one-goal.
Bunting’s goal was his first career National Hockey League goal in what was also his NHL debut at 15:00 of the second period and made it, 4-3.
He had 6-12–18 totals in 20 games with the Tucson Roadrunners (AHL) prior to his NHL debut on Tuesday night and ended a run of four unanswered goals by the Bruins with his goal.
Through two periods of play, Boston led, 4-3.
Arizona led in shots on goal (24-21) after outshooting the B’s (17-9) in the second period alone. The Coyotes also led in takeaways (9-3) after 40 minutes of play.
Meanwhile, the B’s led in giveaways (14-6), hits (21-19) and face-off win% (60-40) entering the second intermission. Both teams recorded seven blocked shots apiece and the Coyotes were still 1/1 on the power play, while Boston was 0/2.
Almost midway through the third period, Arizona blue liner, Jakob Chychrun was charged with a holding infraction against Bruins forward, Joakim Nordstrom at 8:50 of the third.
Boston did not convert on the ensuing power play and would finish the night 0/3 on the skater advantage as a result.
Late in the third period, Moore tripped up Jordan Oesterle and sent the Coyotes on their second power play of the game, but Arizona couldn’t muster a goal on the ensuing skater advantage at 14:11.
Arizona finished the night .500 on the power play (1/2) as a result.
With 1:36 remaining in regulation, the Coyotes used their only timeout during a stoppage in play to draw up a strategy to force overtime.
Seconds later, with 1:15 left on the clock, Kuemper vacated his crease for an extra attacker, but Arizona could not put the puck past Rask as neither team scored in the third period.
At the final horn, Boston secured the win, 4-3, despite Arizona leading in shots on goal, 33-26, after 60 minutes of play.
The Bruins led in just about every other category, however, holding the advantage in blocked shots (15-9), giveaways (20-9), hits (29-24) and face-off win% (59-41).
Despite scoring the game’s first goal, Arizona fell to 11-4-1 when scoring first this season.
On the plus-side for the Coyotes, their eight power play goals against is still the fewest in the NHL, having shutout the Bruins on all three special teams opportunities.
For Boston, Rask improved to 43-18-9 in the month of December in his career, while Krejci’s three-point night came in his 800th career NHL game.
The Bruins travel to PPG Paints Arena for a Friday night matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, then return home for a Sunday evening (5 p.m. ET puck drop) square dance with the Buffalo Sabres.
Boston hits the road for another back-to-back game in Montreal against the Canadiens next Monday (Dec. 17th) before returning for a two-game homestand starting next Thursday (Dec. 20th) against the Anaheim Ducks and concluding next Saturday (Dec. 22nd) against the Nashville Predators.
The Board of Governors meeting gets underway next week involving the Seattle expansion vote, Bill Peters took a puck to the jaw and Rick Middleton and Vic Hadfield are having their numbers retired this week.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes made another trade with each other, Karl Alzner is being Wade Redden’ed, Ron Hextall got ousted as the Philadelphia Flyers GM, the Buffalo Sabres win streak reached double digits and the Winnipeg Jets brought back their Heritage Jerseys.
Nick and Connor also encourage all of Long Island to go to the New York Islanders game at NYCB Live (it’s the Nassau Coliseum) this week and quickly plan a hopeful trip to see Sporting KC play in Atlanta.
There’s only two games on the schedule today, but for once I’m not complaining about either failing to live up to NBC’s promotion of “Wednesday Night Rivalry.”
The action starts in Toronto when Ottawa pays the Maple Leafs a visit at 7:30 p.m. (SN/TVAS) and Minnesota at Chicago (NBCSN) cleans up the evening’s festivities half an hour later. All times Eastern.
Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis and Vegas.
Is there any question of which game we’re featuring tonight? The winner of the Wild-Blackhawks game will be the eighth seed in the Western Conference! It’s off to the Windy City with us!
Tonight’s tilt is Game 4 in a five-game series between these clubs. Chicago owns a 2-1-0 record against the Wild so far this season, and another win tonight would clinch the season series – an important note considering it is the second tiebreaker at the end of the season and both of these clubs are currently competing for the last wild card.
Obviously, the 23-17-4 Wild, who currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference due to losing a games-played tiebreaker with both Chicago and Calgary, will have high hopes of leveling the series this evening. But do they have much of a chance of pulling it off?
I’m worried for them the answer is no. Minnesota has lost five of its last six road games (including one at United Center less than a month ago), including an active skid of four-straight. That run since December 17 makes the Wild the fourth-worst road team in the league, and it’s all because their defense simply doesn’t travel well.
Given, it’s not like Minnesota’s defense is all that spectacular in and of itself. The Wild allow 2.91 goals against per game for the season as a whole, the 14th-worst mark in the league.
However, in their six road games since December 17, the Wild have allowed a league-worst 25 goals against, or a second-worst 4.17 per game (the Wild would like to take this opportunity to thank the Islanders for allowing 16 goals in only three road games).
A major problem is Minnesota, even with LW Marcus Foligno throwing three hits per game, D Jared Spurgeon blocking 2.67 shots per game and W Jason Zucker averaging a takeaway-per-game, has allowed an average of 35 shots in each contest away from Xcel Energy Center since mid-December, a mark that is sixth-worst in the NHL in that time.
While Foligno’s, Spurgeon’s and Zucker’s efforts are impressive on their own, it seems to me to be a lack of commitment by the rest of the team on the defensive end – especially in terms of physicality. Foligno has not been afraid to rough up the opposition along the boards, but Matt Dumba has averaged the second-most hits-per-game during this section of games with only 1.67 to his credit. While physicality is only one aspect of playing defense, it seems to be lacking from Head Coach Bruce Boudreau‘s squad.
The icing… err, frosting, since icing is a penalty… on the cake though is the fact that the Wild’s defense has allowed all these shots of late against 7-8-2 G Alex Stalock. Most of this run came while 15-9-2 G Devan Dubnyk was recovering from his lower-body injury. Given how much he was getting peppered while filling in, I’d say Stalock did pretty well in his five most recent road starts. He posted a .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA.
Dubnyk will be in goal tonight in only his second road game since returning to action. His first was that drubbing at the hands of the Avalanche where, due in large part to posing a .813 save percentage and 7.61 GAA, he lost his cool and tried to smash F Alexander Kerfoot‘s face into the ice. Perhaps the former Masterton Trophy-winner can keep his cool tonight, because his team desperately needs him to cover up for its defensive inefficiencies.
If last night’s 8-2 performance in Ottawa is any indication, it seems the 21-15-6 Blackhawks are starting to figure things out. Having won four of their past six games and earned a point in one of those losses, Chicago has surged into the second wild card and has pulled within three points of first wild card Dallas.
Since December 29, no offense has scored more goals than Chicago. The Hawks have managed an impressive 28 goals in six games, which averages into a second-best 4.67 per game behind Boston’s unbelievable 5.5 (for those that care, three of the top-five teams in goals-per-game since December 29 are in the Central Division).
While the usual suspects of C Jonathan Toews and F Patrick Kane have been impressive over this run, posting respective 5-4-9 and 3-6-9 totals, the Blackhawk that truly takes the cake is sophomore C Nick Schmaltz, who’s currently riding a four-game goal streak. He’s done it all for the Hawks lately, posting 5-5-10 totals to elevate his season marks to 12-19-31. Having already surpassed last year’s numbers, Schmaltz is poised to join the ranks of recent dominant Chicago forwards. How does one club get W Alex DeBrincat, Kane, LW Artemi Panarin (well, last season), Schmaltz and Toews all on the same team?
Just like Minnesota saved its top goaltender for the Hawks, 2-1-1 G Jeff Glass will probably be in net tonight for Chicago after 3-5-3 G Anton Forsberg played yesterday against the Sens. Playing his rookie season at 32-years-old, Glass has posted a .908 save percentage and 3.51 GAA in his first four NHL starts.
The United Center hasn’t been the imposing threat to road teams as it was only a year or two ago, but with an 11-6-2 record at home this season, I think the Blackhawks can find a way to pull this one out.
Though the Carolina Hurricanes gave them all they had, First Star of the Game F Tyler Johnson and the Tampa Bay Lightning was able to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 5-4 at Amalie Arena.
Johnson was an unstoppable force throughout the entire game, as he registered a goal in each frame. However, before he struck his tally for the first period, three others found the net. First was LW Brock McGinn (RW Justin Williams and D Jaccob Slavin), who gave Carolina the advantage 3:23 into play with a power play wrist shot. Tampa pulled the game back even 6:39 later courtesy of a wrister from D Victor Hedman (RW Nikita Kucherov and C Steven Stamkos). The exchange of goals continued with 7:50 remaining in the period when W Sebastian Aho bagged an unassisted wrister, but Johnson (D Anton Stralman and Second Star F Brayden Point) set the score at 2-2 on a tip-in 4:16 later.
In terms of playing time, Johnson didn’t have to wait too long to find his second goal of the night. Only 1:58 into the second period, he (Third Star D Jake Dotchin and Point) gave Tampa its first lead of the night with a backhanded shot. However, Carolina continued to show its resilience when D Justin Faulk (F Teuvo Teravainen and F Jordan Staal) scored a power play wrister 8:38 later, leveling the game at three-all.
The 3-3 tie held for a considerable time, even though both clubs combined to fire 26 shots in the second period. However, the draw was finally broken when Dotchin (Point and W Ondrej Palat) tickled the twine with a snap shot. 5:27 later, the Bolts went up what proved to be an insurmountable two goals when Johnson (Hedman) completed the hat trick with a wrister.
Johnson’s final goal was simply a pure spectacle of his superior speed to that of D Noah Hanifin. Hedman dumped the puck towards center ice from his defensive zone to enact a line change, but Johnson decided to race Hanifin to ensure there was no chance for icing. Once he realized he could take possession, Johnson squeezed past the defenseman, upending him in the process, to set up a one-on-one battle with G Cam Ward. The netminder fended off the first backhander from within his crease, but he couldn’t stop an immediate second try by Johnson: a wrister over his left blocker.
That’s not to say the Canes gave up on the remaining five minutes of regulation. In fact, the exact opposite is true, as F Elias Lindholm (Faulk and Teravainen) pulled Carolina back within a one-goal deficit with 1:18 remaining in the frame, but even with six attackers the Hurricanes couldn’t find a leveling marker.
G Andrei Vasilevskiy saved 28-of-32 shots faced (.875 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Ward, who saved 29-of-34 (.853).
It’s no surprise, but the 52-29-12 home teams are absolutely dominating the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts’ record in the series is 26 points better the roadies’, the same advantage Tampa Bay has on the Oilers for the Presidents’ Trophy.
It’s Sunday Funday in the NHL, as there’s four games on today’s schedule.
The action starts at 6 p.m. in Manitoba when St. Louis visits Winnipeg, followed an hour later by Minnesota at Chicago. Tonight’s co-nightcaps (Calgary at Vancouver [SN] and Florida at Vegas) find an early start this evening, as their opening puck drops are slated for 8 p.m. All times Eastern.
Believe it or not, I can come up with a reason to watch each and every one of tonight’s contests:
- St. Louis at Winnipeg: Not only is this an important Central Division showdown, but it’s also Chris Thorburn‘s first return to Winnipeg – his home for the past six years – since joining the Blues.
- Minnesota at Chicago: This rivalry has provided some thrillers in the past, and I expect more of the same tonight between these playoff hopefuls.
- Calgary at Vancouver: With both teams trailing the Sharks in the standings, this rivalry is even bigger than usual.
- Florida at Vegas: Connor Brickley was a Golden Knight for 10 days this offseason, so I suppose this counts as an awkward homecoming, but this game is more about Head Coach Gerard Gallant, Jon Marchessault and Reilly Smith showing the Panthers how silly they were for letting them leave.
Since we featured the Blues and Jets yesterday, that matchup that is calling my name today is taking place at the United Center. Off to the Windy City!
As the standings currently stand, the 16-11-5 Blackhawks currently occupy eighth place in the Western Conference and the second wild card position. Though they’ve struggled the last few times we’ve featured them in the DtFR Game of the Day series, it seems they’re finally figuring things out, as they’re currently riding a four-game winning streak.
The biggest reason for this recent success has been the dominating play of 15-7-2 Corey Crawford. Having been in net for all four games, he’s managed an impressive .952 save percentage and 1.45 GAA since December 8, both efforts among the top five of the 27 goaltenders with at least three starts in that time span.
If not for Crawford, the Hawks might not have been on this hot streak considering his defense has allowed him to face 125 shots over the last four games. Averaging out to 31.25 per game, its the fifth-highest total any netminder has faced since December 8.
Crawford’s considerable work load certainly isn’t the fault of John Hayden, Nick Schmaltz or Brent Seabrook. During this streak, they’ve respectively thrown a team-leading 14 hits, managed five takeaways and blocked nine shots. While those efforts have been impressive, it obviously hasn’t inspired their teammates all that much.
For a team to move into playoff position, another has to fall out of the picture. That team was 17-12-3 Minnesota, a team who just had a four-game winning streak of their own snapped yesterday by the Oilers.
Just like Chicago, the Wild have been finding most of their success of late with some incredible goaltending. Unfortunately, 12-8-2 starter Devan Dubnyk suffered a lower body injury on December 12, so it’ll be interesting to see how 9-5-4 Alex Stalock performs in his stead.
If his play since December 12 has been any indicator, it seems the Wild should be just fine. Since replacing Dubnyk in Tuesday’s game against the Flames, he’s posted a .946 save percentage that includes a shutout against the Maple Leafs’ potent offense.
Even with how well he’s played so far, I have concerns that he’ll start regressing to the mean due to the average-at-best defense playing in front of him. The Wild have allowed an average of 31.84 shots against per game this season, and most of that was before Jared Spurgeon and his team-leading 2.21 blocks-per-game went down with a groin injury.
This is the third of five meetings this season between these two clubs. The last time they met was November 4 at the Xcel Energy Center, and they played to a 2-0 Hawks victory. Given Minnesota’s defense, I have to lean towards the Blackhawks duplicating that success and earning two points this evening.
Earning his first shutout of the season, First Star of the Game Carter Hutton led the St. Louis Blues to a 2-0 victory against the Winnipeg Jets at Scottrade Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Meanwhile, Steve Mason also posted a solid effort by saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage) – including all 18 at even strength – but two power play offerings were able to sneak past him.
The first, which proved to be the game-winner, was buried 9:16 into the contest courtesy of Second Star Vladimir Tarasenko (Alex Steen and Colton Parayko). With Andrew Copp in the penalty box for tripping Brayden Schenn, Steen slung a wrist shot at Mason from the right face-off dot that was deflected towards the opposite dot. Unfortunately for the netminder, Tarasenko was waiting to collect the rebound, and he elevated his wrister over the diving Mason to give the Notes a 1-0 lead.
After that, Mason kept the Blues off the board until only 2:26 remained in regulation. Third Star Vince Dunn (Tarasenko and Schenn) took advantage of Patrik Laine‘s double minor penalty for hi sticking Robert Bortuzzo to sneak a wrister past the netminder and set the 2-0 final score.
For the first time since December 6-7, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have won consecutive games. That elevates their record to 41-24-9, which is 16 points better than the roadies’ record.
Welcome to another Saturday in the NHL. With everybody else watching the college football conference championships, that leaves more hockey for you and me.
Oh, that’s not how television works?
While I get that figured out, the first Saturday of December brings with it a big bag of presents from the NHL, as there’s a dozen games on today’s schedule. The action starts at 1 p.m. with Boston at Philadelphia (SN), followed by the only other matinee of the day: St. Louis at Minnesota at 6 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time is chock-full of action with six games (Toronto at Vancouver [CBC/CITY], Detroit at Montréal [SN/TVAS], San Jose at Tampa Bay, Buffalo at Pittsburgh [NHLN], Columbus at Washington and Florida at Carolina) slated to drop the puck, with two more (New Jersey at Arizona and Anaheim at Nashville) in tow an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the start of Chicago at Dallas, while tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Calgary – will get underway 60 minutes after. All times Eastern.
What a collection of games! All but two matchups are between teams separated by eight points or less in the standings. As for our Game of the Day, I had a few picked out at the start of season…
- Boston at Philadelphia: Ever since the Flyers beat the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals to become the first expansion team to win a title, these clubs have not gotten along.
- St. Louis at Minnesota: Speaking of playoff rematches, this one was far more recent – as in, last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals, recent.
- Detroit at Montréal: To keep the Stanley Cup theme going, no clubs have hoisted the trophy more than these two Original Six teams.
- Anaheim at Nashville: The Ducks and Predators squared off in a gritty, nasty seven-game series for the right to represent the Western Conference in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
- Chicago at Dallas: F Patrick Sharp‘s two tenures with the Blackhawks was divided by two seasons spent with the Stars. Tonight marks his first trip back to Texas since moving back to the Windy City.
- Edmonton at Calgary: In this rivalry, the teams don’t only represent only themselves, but also a stark feud between two Albertan cities.
Let me say it again for everybody in the back: What. A slate. Of games.
This is a tough pick today, because I don’t like featuring the same teams all the time (*cough* take a hint NBC and NHL *cough*). That being said, the contest that attracts my attention the most is taking place in the Lone Star State.
For those concerned, I’m not drawn to this game simply because of the Sharp story, though I suppose it is one worth noting.
After being a third-round pick by Philadelphia in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Sharp was traded to the Blackhawks during the 2005-’06. He would proceed to play 10 seasons in Chicago, scoring 511 points – including 239 goals – over 679 games en route to three Stanley Cup championships.
As seems to be the case following many championship seasons nowadays, Chicago faced some serious salary cap issues after the 2014-’15 season, which led to Sharp and D Stephen Johns getting shipped to Dallas in exchange for D Trevor Daley and C Ryan Garbutt.
Sharp spent the last two seasons with the Stars, but they only really got one good season out of him. During the 2015-’16 campaign, the forward provided 20-35-55 totals to help get Dallas back to the playoffs for only the second time since the 2007-’08 season when the Stars were Western Conference finalists.
Unfortunately, Sharp’s second season with the club was nowhere near as good as his first. Limited to a measly 48 games, he provided Dallas only 18 points and a -22 rating as the Stars failed to earn a postseason berth. Though I’m not going to argue that Sharp is the reason the Stars struggled last year (*cough* G Kari Lehtonen and G Antti Niemi *cough*), he was not renewed for this season, allowing him to return to his beloved Blackhawks on a one-year contract.
So far, Sharp has been rather uninspiring from Chicago’s third line, as he’s managed only 3-4-7 totals playing alongside young studs F Alex DeBrincat (11-8-19) and F Ryan Hartman (4-9-13). Considering he’ll turn 36-years-old before you hang up your 2018 calendar, his recent bodies of work might force him to consider the dreaded “R” word once this campaign is through.
In the meantime, he’ll try to help his 12-9-4 Hawks get back into the Western Conference playoff picture.
Figuring out why Chicago is on the outside looking in is a difficult task. After all, they back up a ninth-ranked offense (3.16 goals-per-game) with an even better defense (2.68 goals against-per-game) that’s ranked fifth-best in the NHL.
One of my biggest complaints with the Blackhawks is their incredibly unsuccessful power play. Converting only 17.1 percent of their man-advantage opportunities, the Hawks are tied with San Jose for the eighth-worst extra-man attack in the NHL.
This struggle has led Head Coach Joel Quenneville to try some crazy units to resolve his club’s problem. As of Friday’s practice, DeBrincat, D Gustav Forsling, D Duncan Keith, RW Richard Panik and C Jonathan Toews made up Chicago’s top power play team, with F Artem Anisimov, D Cody Franson, F Patrick Kane, W Brandon Saad and F Nick Schmaltz taking second-team duties.
Let’s see, what’s weird about Chicago’s first unit? Oh, maybe that there’s a rookie earning solid power play minutes alongside two defensemen… or maybe that Kane isn’t on the unit…
Like I said, crazy things.
One thing I really like about putting Anisimov, Kane and Schmaltz on the same unit is that it puts Kane in what I’m considering the “joker” position. Take into account that all seven of Anisimov’s power play points are goals (the most on the team), while all five of Schmaltz’ are assists – that makes them a logical pair.
Meanwhile, Showtime has earned a team-leading nine points this season with the man-advantage, but only two of them have been goals. Of course, with 295 career regular season goals to his name, Kane is far from a “pass first” player. Putting Kane with Anisimov and Schmaltz, he’s able to take on the role of goal-scorer or join Schmaltz as another play-maker.
If I’m an opposing goaltender, in this case G Ben Bishop, that versatility is a very scary threat.
Meanwhile, things seem like they’re going 14-10-1 Dallas’ way. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak, including a 4-3 overtime victory over these Blackhawks Thursday night (more on that later).
We came into the season celebrating what the Stars’ offense could be capable of with LW Jamie Benn, RW Alexander Radulov and F Tyler Seguin combining to form an ultimate super-line. Instead, the story of late has been Dallas’ defense, which has allowed only seven goals since November 24, the (t)second-fewest in that time span.
12-7-0 Bishop has been solid over this run – he’s managed a .925 save percentage in these last three games – but I’ve been much more impressed with the defensive corps playing in front of him.
Behind the unexpected leadership of D Greg Pateryn – who’s thrown eight hits and blocked seven shots during this run – from the second defensive pair, Dallas’ D- corps has allowed only 94 shots to reach Bishop in the past week, the third-fewest in the NHL.
What makes this game especially fun – you know, beyond the Blackhawks trying to get past Dallas for fourth place in the Central Division – is that it’s a rematch of Thursday’s matchup. In that game, F Mattias Janmark scored two goals – including the game-winner – to earn the Stars a 4-3 overtime victory against the Hawks at the United Center. Something tells me Chicago would like to return the favor of sending the home fans at the American Airlines Center away unhappy.
That being said, I’m leaning towards the Stars taking this contest with their excellent defense.
The Los Angeles Kings showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the St. Louis Blues 4-1 at Scottrade Center.
In fact, the Kings were so on top of their game that they registered their game-winning goal before a full seven minutes had ticked off the clock. First Star of the Game F Tyler Toffoli (C Nick Shore and LW Tanner Pearson) opened the scoring with a wrist shot 1:43 after the opening puck drop, followed 4:29 later by Third Star C Anze Kopitar‘s (F Alex Iafallo and D Jake Muzzin) fourth game-clincher of the year.
The play that led to Kopitar’s goal stretched the entire length of the rink. Muzzin started with the puck in his own defensive zone and fed a quick pass to Kopitar at the red line. Once he established the offensive zone, Kopitar dished to Iafallo along the right boards, who fired a snap shot towards G Carter Hutton. Hutts made the save with his pads, but the rebound bounced right to the Slovenian, who deftly pocketed his wrister in the back of the net.
St. Louis finally got on its shiny new scoreboard with 4:43 remaining in the second period courtesy of a power play deflection from F Patrik Berglund (D Colton Parayko and D Vince Dunn), his first goal of the season. Unfortunately for the Notes, that positive momentum was erased 3:39 later when F Adrian Kempe (D Alec Martinez and D Drew Doughty) set the score at 3-1 going into the second intermission.
Only one goal was struck in the third period, but it was enough to signal defeat to the home fans. Toffoli (Pearson and Muzzin) scored his second goal of the game with a deflection 9:06 before the end of regulation, setting the 4-1 final score.
Second Star G Darcy Kuemper earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hutton, who saved 18-of-21 (.857) before being pulled in favor of G Jake Allen for the third period. Allen saved six-of-seven (857) for no decision.
Los Angeles’ road victory snaps a six-game winning streak by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the visitors still trail the 33-20-6 hosts by 15 points.
It’s been a few days since we’ve had a busy schedule, but Tuesday fixes that by bringing us almost a dozen contests.
As it usually does, tonight’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with four puck-drops (Arizona at the New York Islanders, Anaheim at Philadelphia, Edmonton at Pittsburgh [SN1/TVAS] and Tampa Bay at Carolina), with another set of three games (Detroit at Buffalo [NBCSN], Florida at Montréal [RDS/TSN2] and Los Angeles at Ottawa [RDSI]) waiting half an hour before getting underway. 8 p.m. brings with the start of two more games (Calgary at Nashville and Vancouver at Minnesota), trailed by Dallas at Colorado at 9 p.m. and Chicago at Vegas an hour after that to close out the evening. All times Eastern.
It’s hard to believe, but W Thomas Vanek hasn’t been back to Xcel Energy Center since being bought out following the 2015-’16 season. Though it might be fun to see him take on his former team, I’m actually more interested in tonight’s activities in the desert.
These two teams that are both second place in their respective divisions have become DtFR Game of the Day series favorites, as they’ve been featured a total of six times before tonight. So, when the Blackhawks make their first-ever trip to Sin City, what else are we supposed to do besides focus on their matchup?
Things have changed quite a lot for the 6-1-0 Golden Knights since the last time we featured them when they opened T-Mobile Arena to a 5-2 victory. For starters, they’ve actually lost a game (darn those Red Wings and their sneaky offense), but more importantly, it was that contest that cost them their starting goaltender.
G Marc-Andre Fleury was off to an impressive start with his new team, managing a .925 save percentage and 2.48 GAA through four games played. But in that Detroit game, he suffered a concussion that has sent him to injured reserve with no timetable for his return.
That’s pretty disappointing for an expansion team that’s proving everybody wrong. But, the story unfortunately takes another turn for the worse.
In the Golden Knights’ last game played on Saturday against the Blues, G Malcolm Subban – who himself was also off to a solid start to the season, managing a .936 save percentage and 2.06 GAA after being waived by Boston at the start of the year – suffered a lower-body injury that has also landed him on injured reserve for the next four weeks.
To put it lightly, things could be going a lot better in the Knights’ crease. Who is next up for a franchise that didn’t have a single player four months ago?
I’d put my money on G Oscar Dansk, who I expect will be making his first-ever NHL start tonight. He was the one who completed the Blues game for Subban. His career had a rough start, as the first shot he faced was a D Alex Pietrangelo game-tying slap shot, but he quickly rebounded to save the remaining 10 shots he faced in that game to win it in overtime.
But here’s the problem for Dansk: the Blues’ offense is nowhere near as successful as Chicago’s. Though the Hawks fire only a 10th-fewest 30.7 shots per game, they’re pretty accurate with those attempts, scoring a seventh-best 3.56 goals per game.
At the forefront of that attack is none other than Showtime himself, F Patrick Kane. Though he hasn’t scored the most goals on Chicago’s roster (that honor belongs to W Brandon Saad, who’s managed six in nine games played), his 4-7-11 totals are certainly best on the team.
And to think Kane, W Ryan Hartman and C Nick Schmaltz only play on the Hawks’ second line. There’s a whole ‘nother line of scoring studs Dansk has to worry about. With the likes of C Jonathan Toews and his 3-5-8 totals leading that charge, Dansk may just fall asleep in his crease at the completion of this game out of sheer exhaustion.
Assuming Dansk can hold his own, we’d be remiss not to at least discuss the play of G Corey Crawford. He’s been nothing short of exceptional, as his .945 save percentage and 1.86 GAA are both best in the league among netminders with at least four starts. If W James Neal (6-2-8 totals), W Reilly Smith (2-5-7) and co. can manage to get past him, they’ll deserve every bit of praise heaped on them.
Goaltending and clutch scoring have been the main reasons the Golden Knights have found success so far this season. Though it’s no fault of 23-year-old Dansk, he’s no Subban – much less Fleury. Upsets happen all over this league, but I think the Blackhawks will be very disappointed if they don’t depart Fabulous Las Vegas with two points in hand.
Scoring a goal per period was the plan for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they executed it to a T to beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 at the Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
The first period’s goal was struck 5:46 into the game from the unlikeliest of sources. Scoring his first of the season, W Matt Martin (D Roman Polak and First Star of the Game F Mitch Marner) buried a slap shot on G Jonathan Quick to give Toronto a lead it would not yield.
A power play wrist shot from C Tyler Bozak (LW James van Riemsdyk and Marner) with 5:16 remaining in the second period doubled the Leafs’ advantage to 2-0, but F Adrian Kempe (F Trevor Lewis and D Drew Doughty) pulled the Kings back within a goal 58 seconds later with a wrister of his own.
At the 2:54 mark of the final period, F Patrick Marleau (D Morgan Rielly and C Nazem Kadri) found what proved to be the Maple Leafs’ winning goal. Unable to corral a centering pass from Marleau in front of Quick’s crease, Kadri collected the loose puck in the far corner and sent it to Rielly at the point. From there, the blue liner one-timed a snapper well above the crossbar, but Marleau was there to deflect the offering past Quick’s right shoulder and into the net.
Third Star F Trevor Lewis found the back of Second Star G Frederik Andersen‘s net with 7:41 remaining in regulation with a backhanded shot, but Los Angeles could not find a leveling goal in the remaining time.
Andersen earned the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (.947 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 30-of-33 (.909).
Toronto’s home win snaps a four-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have an 11-6-4 record that is four points better than the roadies.
50-23-9, 109 points, 1st in the Central Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Nashville
Subtractions: D Brian Campbell (retired), G Scott Darling (traded to CAR), F Andrew Desjardins (signed a PTO with NYR), D Dillon Fournier (retired), D Niklas Hjalmarsson (traded to ARI), G Lars Johansson (signed with CSKA Moscow, KHL), F Marcus Kruger (traded to VGK), F Pierre-Cedric Labrie (signed with NSH), D Shawn Lalonde (signed with Kölner Haie, DEL), F Michael Latta (signed with ARI), F Martin Lundberg (signed with Växjö Lakers HC, SHL), F Brandon Mashinter (signed with SJ), F Tyler Motte (traded to CBJ), D Johnny Oduya (signed with OTT), F Artemi Panarin (traded to CBJ), F Dennis Rasmussen (signed with ANA), D Trevor van Riemsdyk (claimed by VGK at the 2017 Expansion Draft)
Still Unsigned: G Mac Carruth, F Kenton Helgesen, D Nolan Valleau
Offseason Analysis: After being swept in the First Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Nashville Predators, the Chicago Blackhawks are turning the page by burning the playbook from the last few seasons. It’s not as much of an overreaction as the Florida Panthers this offseason, but it’s quite a change in the direction of the organization as a whole.
If something feels much different this offseason than in 2010, 2013 and 2015 it’s because the Blackhawks didn’t win the Cup and made moves this offseason similar to when they did.
They traded one of their star forwards. They traded a top-4 defenseman. They traded their backup goaltender. They navigated a tight cap situation. They still have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but they won’t have Marian Hossa this season (Hossa is out for the season due to a skin condition caused by his equipment, if you recall).
Brandon Saad returns to the Blackhawks in the biggest trade this offseason, in which two-time 70-plus point scorer, Artemi Panarin, was sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets. While Saad is a year younger than Panarin, he is no Bread Man– but at least he is under contract through the 2020-2021 season (whereas Panarin is set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2018-2019 season).
Chicago didn’t do themselves any major favors in terms of saving some salary in the immediate future concerning the Saad acquisition, but they did buy themselves at least a few million dollars to spend elsewhere between now and when Panarin’s contract would’ve run out with the Blackhawks in 2019.
Then again, they cost themselves some scoring production between now and then, as Saad only put up 24-29-53 totals in 82 games last season compared to Panarin’s 31-43-74 totals in 82 games played.
Fear not, if you’re a Columbus fan, because hopefully in two years you’ll still be able to afford your number one scorer and highest paid player (although Josh Anderson is still unsigned as of the writing of this post and the Blue Jackets only have about $8 million in cap space– on second thought, yeah, you’ll be fine).
In addition to the expected drop in offensive production from Panarin to Saad, the Blackhawks will miss Hossa’s scoring ability this season (yes, even as a 38-year-old).
Chicago will turn to 21-year-old, Nick Schmaltz, and 23-year-old, Ryan Hartman, to pickup where others have left off on offense and especially because the rest of the roster isn’t getting any younger (ten of their forwards on the roster currently are 25 or older).
On defense, the Blackhawks are in search of a sixth defenseman and their next Trevor van Riemsdyk, given Brian Campbell’s retirement and the fact that van Riemsdyk was a victim of the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft (and subsequent trade to the Carolina Hurricanes).
Newcomer Connor Murphy is their youngest product on the blue line at 24-years-old. Michal Kempny and Michal Rozsival seek to anchor the defense while Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook remain the star attractions of Chicago’s shut-down pairings. Between Kempny, Murphy, Rozsival and the unknown, somebody’s going to have to emerge as the replacement for Niklas Hjalmarsson (traded to Arizona, in exchange for Murphy and forward, Laurent Dauphin) and van Riemsdyk.
In goal, Corey Crawford returns as the starter, while Anton Forsberg and Jean-Francois Berube compete for the backup role. To the untrained scouting expert’s eye, both goalies can be dependable NHL backups, but Forsberg stands out more as a durable solution to the long term backup status goalie if Chicago is looking for one (hint: they are).
Don’t let Forsberg’s 4.10 goals against average and .852 save percentage last season dissuade you. He only made one appearance in net for Columbus and still managed a career best 2.28 GAA and .926 SV% in 51 games played with the Cleveland Monsters (AHL) last season. It doesn’t hurt to give him more playing time in relief of Crawford and especially with Berube as a third option, as Forsberg can really begin to develop in an organization’s system that isn’t clogged with a two-time Vezina Trophy winner (Sergei Bobrovsky) and Joonas Korpisalo.
Should he be called upon, Berube’s 3.42 GAA and .889 SV% in 14 games last season with the New York Islanders aren’t terrible, they’re just not great either. But again, there’s a reason why starting goalies play in more games than backup goalies.
Offseason Grade: C-
The Blackhawks made quite a splash this offseason by trading away Panarin, which isn’t the best look for a team that’s trying to remain a contender for a long time. Then again the salary cap exists and the return of Brandon Saad means Chicago will be able to get by in case the cap remains flat or in the event of a lockout for the duration of Saad’s contract.
One thing’s for sure, the Blackhawks will need some retooling during the Kane and Toews era because all good things must come to an end– and that time looks like it might be now as they navigate the uncertainty of Hossa’s career, a new look on the blue line and a bunch of expendable forwards for the time being while they wait for prospects to develop.