Tag Archives: Nieminen

February 16 – Day 128 – Scandinavian showdown

Happy Friday! Settle in and catch up on some puck this weekend.

Like we’ve been doing all week, the day’s action begins at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time in South Korea with Group C play of the men’s Olympic tournament. The Finns are squaring off against Norway and group-leading Sweden is taking on the Germans.

Back on our side of the Pacific Ocean, four games have been scheduled for our viewing pleasure, all starting half an hour after the game before them. We start with Philadelphia at Columbus (TVAS) at 7 p.m., trailed by and the New York Islanders at Carolina half an hour later. Colorado at Winnipeg follows suit at 8 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – St. Louis at Dallas (NHLN) – finds an early 8:30 p.m. start. All times Eastern.

Back at the Olympics, we have two games scheduled for 10:10 p.m. One involves the Canadian men taking on the Czech Republic, but the most important of that time slot is the OAR vs. Switzerland in the women’s quarterfinals. Similarly, two final games are slated for 2:40 a.m. Saturday morning, one involving Finland vs. Sweden in the other women’s quarterfinal and South Korea vs. Switzerland in men’s group play. All times Eastern.

What a tough selection. There’s at least two big NHL games today (I’d argue that all four are important, but I’ll let you be the judge), while I expect the Scandinavian women’s quarterfinal to be a closely contested match.

Since no teams are getting eliminated from contention today in the NHL, I think we have to hone in on the Olympic playoff game. Off to PyeongChang!

 

If only DtFR got airline miles for the Game of the Day series… I could have a really nice vacation this summer. Time to take the European tennis tour I’ve always dreamed of!

Between these two teams, Sweden easily looked the better of the two in the group stage. Damkronorna‘s (the Lady Crowns) offense ranked (t)second-best at the Olympics by averaging 3.67 goals per game, while their defense allowed an average of only one goal against in their three showings – the (t)third-best effort in PyeongChang.

Offensively, the Lady Crowns are led by the indomitable F Pernilla Winberg, who has posted wildly impressive 2-1-3 totals in her first three showings. However, she’s not the only one averaging a point per game, as D Elin Lundberg (1-2-3), F Fanny Rask (1-2-3) and F Erika Grahm (0-3-3) are all matching her in that effort. In total, 16 of Sweden’s 20 skaters have found their way onto the scorecard, an impressive total given only three games have been played.

The Lady Crowns have also been an imposing presence in their own zone. Though the Swedish defense did allow 32.33 shots against-per-game in the group stage (third-worst among the six teams to advance to the knockout round), they’ve had the distinct luxury of G Sara Grahn dominating her crease to keep opposing offenses at bay.

With the exception of leaving the ice for 62 seconds against Switzerland to make way for a sixth skater, Grahn has been involved in every second of Sweden’s three opening games – and with good reason. Posting one shutout and allowing only one even-strength goal, she’s posted an impressive .969 save percentage and 1.01 GAA.

Meanwhile, Finland enters this game as the third place team from Group A play having earned a 1-0-0-2 record (1-2-0 if you want to put it in NHL format).

Statistically, Naisleijonat looks to be the second-worst team of the six that qualified for the knockout round. Their 2.33 goals per game, 2.67 goals against per game and 33 shots allowed per game are all superior to only the OAR, the very team they beat on the last day of group play.

Offensively, the Finns are led by a trio of skaters averaging a point per game. Of those, F Michelle  Karvinen and F Riikka Valila have been most impressive with their 2-1-3 totals, but F Petra Nieminen has also been solid with her 1-2-3 effort.

As for the defensive end, the Lady Lions’ leader in net is none other than G Noora Raty, who started all three of Finland’s group stage games. Though she’s allowed seven total goals in her three appearances, it’s been largely because her defense has been trying to bolster their applications for Swiss passports (it’s a long-winded Swiss cheese joke) by allowing so many shots. Given the pressure, Raty has actually performed fairly well, posting a solid .929 save percentage and 2.39 GAA.

Now that all those numbers are out of the way, we almost need to entirely throw them out the window.

Wait, what?

We need to remember something about the characters of the two very different groups from which these teams came. Sverige – that’s Swedish for “Sweden” – had the luxury of playing against the Japanese and Koreans in Group B, two teams that did not challenge Damkronorna whatsoever but allowed them to inflate their numbers. That was made very apparent when Sweden and Switzerland squared off, as the Swiss were able to pull off a tight 2-1 victory with only 8:32 remaining in regulation, due largely to the fact that Grahm’s tripping penalty cost Sweden the game-winning power play goal.

Meanwhile, as one of the top-four ranked teams in the world, Naisleijonat was thrust into the unenviable position of being in Group A with Teams USA and Canada. Against those powerhouses, the Lady Lions struggled mightily, scoring one goal apiece against either side. However, Suomi – you guessed it, it’s “Finland” in Finnish – showcased why it had earned its world rank by dominating the Olympic Athletes from Russia to a 5-1 victory, leading many, or at least me, to think that they are a far better side than the North Americans allowed them to seem.

Long story short, I think it’s safe to say that the Finns and Swedes are a better, more competitive matchup than they’ve seen for most of the tournament. While their statistics from the group stage might highlight either team’s particular strengths and weakness, I don’t think we should expect either team to have such a distinctly pronounced advantage over the other.

Finland’s very real chance at beating Sweden is made no more apparent than the last three results between them, as it’s the Lady Lions that swept the Lady Crowns at the 2017 Four Nations Cup. In the group stage of that tournament, the Finns beat the Swedes 3-1, followed by a 2-1 overtime victory in the third-place game. Going back even further, Finland posted a dominant 4-0 victory over Sweden in the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship quarterfinals.

Keeping in mind these recent results, I think I have to lean towards Finland taking this game. However, I’m not 100 percent confident in that pick, as Sweden, even though it lost, had a solid showing against Switzerland and is more than capable of holding its own against its Scandinavian neighbor.

Whichever team wins this game will lock itself into a matchup with the United States of America in the semifinals. Additionally, qualifying for the semifinals ensures a team the shot at a medal, whether it be the Olympic Finals or the Bronze Medal Game.


With a three-point performance by First Star of the Game C Nico Hischier, the New Jersey Devils beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 at Prudential Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Two goals were struck in the first period, but fans that left their seats to get a jump on first intermission concessions wouldn’t have known it. With 2:40 remaining in the frame, F Jeff Skinner (C Victor Rask and RW Justin Williams) broke the scoreless tie with a wrist shot, but Jersey drew even only 2:21 later with a snap shot from Third Star D Damon Severson (Hischier).

It took far less time to find the first marker of the second period, and it was in this frame that the game-winning goal was struck. Second Star RW Stefan Noesen (C Travis Zajac and LW Miles Wood) broke the draw at the 6:48 mark, but just like in the first period, the game was tied once again soon after. Only 55 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Noesen, D Brett Pesce (D Jaccob Slavin and Williams) scored his third goal of the season to pull the Canes back even.

The game-winning goal belonged to W Kyle Palmieri (Hischier and D John Moore), a wrister struck with 2:32 remaining in the second period. It was one of those second chance goals, as Hischier somehow lost control of an attempted wrap-around shot in G Scott Darling‘s crease. However, with Darling already committed to saving that attempt, it left Palmieri with the opportunity to beat Darling five-hole.

The Devils continued to apply pressure in the third period, scoring two goals in the ninth minute to set the 5-2 final score. Hischier (F Taylor Hall and G Keith Kinkaid) and Noesen (Severson) provided the insurance tallies.

Kinkaid earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (.931 save percentage), leaving the loss to Darling, who stopped 17-of-22 (.773).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are reestablishing their dominance lately, as they’ve earned points in three-consecutive games. As such, they’ve improved their record to 70-41-17, giving them a 26-point advantage over the roadies.

February 12 – Day 124 – Welcome to South Korea

Since I did this last Monday, I suppose I’ll do it again today: including today, there’s only 15 days until the NHL Trade Deadline. Be on your toes, because things are going to start happening before you know it.

As we’ve been doing since the Olympics began, we started today’s action at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time in PyeongChang when fifth-ranked Sweden took on the host unified Korean women’s team. The visiting Swedes showed no mercy, as they dominated Korea to an 8-0 victory. That will set up a Group B-determining game between Sweden and Switzerland tomorrow.

Back home in the NHL, there’s three games on the schedule, starting with Tampa Bay at Toronto (NHLN/TVAS) at 7 p.m. Eastern time. Tonight’s co-nightcaps – Florida at Edmonton and Chicago at Arizona – drop the puck two hours later to close out the evening.

Lastly, we’ll include the first of two games going down in Group A of the women’s Olympic tournament before the sun comes up on North America’s east coast. Second-ranked Canada is taking on third-ranked Finland at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time.

Here’s the list of games that are drawing my attention:

  • Sweden vs. Korea: It’s the Koreans’ second chance to defend home ice. Can they do it?
  • Chicago at Arizona: W Anthony Duclair was part of the Coyotes’ future… until he was traded to the Blackhawks last month.
  • Canada vs. Finland: Another regulation win by the Canadians would earn them a bye into the semifinals of the knockout round.

You’ll notice I didn’t include the Atlantic Division game between the Bolts and Leafs. Considering we’ve featured those teams a combined three times in the past eight days, I think we can let some of the other teams have a turn.

Did I sound like your kindergarten teacher there?

Anyways, of our remaining tilts, there’s only one is worthy of Game of the Day honors. Grab your coffee – and tune your TV to NBCSN if you’re in the United States – because we’re staying up late!

 

Oh boy, the first time the DtFR Game of the Day series has featured something outside the NHL!

After only one game played apiece by the teams in Group A, Team Canada comes into tonight’s fixture in first place. Though they’re tied with Team USA in the points category, Canada’s +5 goal-differential is three tallies superior to the effort of the Americans.

As the numbers currently stand right now (again, there’s only been six games played at the Olympics so far), Canada is employing the tournament’s second best offense by scoring five goals in one game (Switzerland is leading the way in offensive production by averaging 5.5 goals per game).

Leading that charge is none other than F Rebecca Johnston, who scored two of Canada’s goals – including the game-winner at the 1:55 mark of the second period – and provided an assist on a third against the Olympic Athletes from Russia.

F Marie-Philip Poulin (the Sidney Crosby of women’s hockey according to the CBC in 2010) was also very successful in that opening bout, as the captain provided three assists. Of those assists, two were for Canadian sniper F Melodie Daoust, who matched Johnston’s goal-scoring effort by burying two of her three shots.

Though she only has assists to her name right now, don’t think that Poulin isn’t willing to make her own plays. After all, she scored the gold medal-winning goal in both the 2010 Vancouver and the 2014 Sochi Games – not to mention the game-tying goal in Sochi as well.

Of note, the Canadian’s power play seems fully capable of taking advantage of any uneven scenarios. They managed to score on two of their seven power plays for a 28.6 percent success rate, the second-best at the Olympics.

Defensively, the Canadians are no slouches either, as they held the OAR to only 18 shots on goal – all of which were saved by G Ann-Renee Desbiens.

Meanwhile, third place Finland had its hands full against the United States in their first showing at these Olympic Games. Though the Finns scored the first goal of the game with six ticks left on the first period clock, the Americans stormed back to take a 3-1 victory.

F Venla Hovi scored that goal with assists from F Petra Nieminen and F Linda Valimaki, and that top line – not to mention the other three – will need to perform even better for a chance to beat Canada.

Of course, almost every Finnish national team of either sex has had some of the best goaltending in the world at its disposal, and that looks to be the same for this year’s women’s side. Although she ended up with the loss, G Noora Raty performed solidly against the Americans, saving 39-of-41 for a .951 save percentage. With eight different Canadians finding the scorecard in their opening match, Raty will be front and center this evening.

The last time Canada and Finland squared off was November 10, 2017 in the Four Nations Cup in Wesley Chapel, Fla. Canada dominated that game to a 4-0 victory. Both Meghan Agosta (0-2-2) and Poulin (1-1-2) registered two points apiece, and G Genevieve Lacasse posted the eight-save shutout. Raty saved 24-of-28 (.857 save percentage) in the loss.

Considering the Canadians are riding a two-game winning streak against Finland, it’s hard to imagine the Naiseleijonat pulling off the upset. Canada’s defense limiting the Lady Lions to only eight shots in their last meeting is very telling, and I predict a similar showing tonight.


Having trailed 2-0 in the third period, the San Jose Sharks came back to beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 after a shootout at Honda Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first of Anaheim’s goals was struck only 2:39 into the game. With his 15th marker of the season, Second Star of the Game RW Ondrej Kase (C Adam Henrique and LW Nick Ritchie) took credit with a snap shot.

The Ducks’ final goal of the match wasn’t registered until the 6:28 mark of the third period, scored by a D Cam Fowler (Kase and Ritchie) wrist shot. San Jose’s comeback began 4:28 later courtesy of a F Logan Couture (F Tomas Hertl and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic) slap shot, but it didn’t level the game at 2-2 until only 54 seconds remained in regulation. With G Martin Jones pulled for the extra attacker, First Star W Timo Meier (Couture and D Brent Burns) buried a tip-in to force what proved to be a scoreless three-on-three overtime.

That forced yet another shootout in the series between these two teams this season, their third in four meetings. As hosts, the Ducks had the option of shooting first or second…

  1. Head Coach Randy Carlyle elected to shoot first, sending Henrique to center ice. His clapper was saved by Jones.
  2. F Joe Pavelski had the opportunity to earn an early shootout lead, and he did just that by sneaking his shot past Third Star G John Gibson.
  3. Having scored a team-leading 22 goals on the season, F Rickard Rakell seemed like a logical choice to keep Anaheim alive in the shootout. Unfortunately, his attempt found iron instead of the net, giving the Sharks a make-to-win situation.
  4. Who else to take such an opportunity than Couture? He added to his two-point night by winning the game with the final shootout goal.

Jones earned the victory after saving 25-of-27 shots faced (.926 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Gibson, who saved 33-of-35 (.949).

The Sharks’ victory means road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day have earned at least a point in four of the last five games. As such, the roadies have pulled within 25 points of the 68-40-16 hosts.

April 6 – Day 169 – Pacific pandemonium

Buckle up for a wild Thursday.

There’s a dozen games on tap this evening, starting with four (Ottawa at Boston [NBCSN/RDS], Pittsburgh at New Jersey [SN360], the New York Islanders at Carolina and Winnipeg at Columbus) at 7 p.m. and another two (Tampa Bay at Toronto [TVAS] and St. Louis at Florida) half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Nashville at Dallas, with Minnesota at Colorado waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. A pair of contests (Vancouver at Arizona and Chicago at Anaheim [NBCSN]) see their start at 10 p.m., with our co-nightcaps – Calgary at Los Angeles (SN360) and Edmonton at San Jose – dropping the puck half an hour later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Ottawa at Boston: These clubs are tied at 94 points apiece for second and third place in the Atlantic Division.
  • Tampa Bay at Toronto: Tampa‘s postseason dreams are still alive, but they’ll be dashed with a loss this evening.
  • Chicago at Anaheim: Chicago has already clinched home ice throughout the Western Conference playoffs, but the Ducks still have some work to do within the Pacific Division.
  • Edmonton at San Jose: Speaking of the Pacific, these squads are tied at 97 points apiece for second and third place.

Of that list, the two tie-breaking games certainly stand out among the rest. It’s a tough choice between them, and I don’t think there’s really a wrong answer.

But…

Since Montréal has already clinched the Atlantic and both the Oilers and Sharks can still win their division, we have to turn our attention to The Tank for this episode Pacific Pandemonium!

 

No, not pandamonium. Pandemonium.

Though, come to think of it, that is a good representation of what is going on out West.

The top three teams in the Pacific are all over each other, and each still has a chance to advance into first place in the group. In fact, this panda .gif is so accurate, it even shows the fourth-place Flames leaving the tussle, as they’re already locked into one of the wild cards.

To continue with our panda metaphor, the bear at the bottom of the pile is certainly the 45-28-7 Sharks. Though tied with Edmonton on points, they’ve played one more game to put them in third place. Should they fall tonight, whether it be in regulation or extra-time, they will be unable to claim the top seed in the division.

The reason they’ve fallen from grace is their 1-8-0 record over the second half of March. As pointed out the last time we featured San Jose, it led the Pacific by five points at the beginning of the month. Now, the Sharks are simply fighting for home ice in the first round.

That article went on bemoaning the Sharks and their play of late. Somebody in San Jose‘s front office must have read it, because things have certainly changed since the beginning of April.

San Jose enters tonight’s game on a two-game winning streak (their first since March 12-14), and it’s all because 35-22-6 Martin Jones rediscovered his game. Over the second half of March, Jones posted an atrocious .862 save percentage and 3.85 GAA. Simply put, you’re not going to win many games that way.

Jones’ goaltending coach is Johan Hedberg, himself a former NHL goaltender.  Undoubtedly, Hedberg probably also went through tough patches like Jones did. Whatever he said or did with Jones has obviously worked, as the Sharks have their number one goalie back.

Jones hasn’t been just good in these last two games, he’s been great. He’s posted an incredible .969 save percentage and averaged only one goal-allowed, both numbers that are near the top of the league to start the month.

One of the best tests of a goalie is his performance against the power play, especially when the penalty kill in front of him manages only an average 80.9% kill rate on the campaign. Of all the goaltenders to have faced at least eight power play shots in the past four days, Jones is one of only six to have saved all of them.

There is still one remnant from the losing skid, though it’s no surprise given the Sharks‘ season success rate of only 16.7% on the power play that ties for sixth-worst in the NHL. San Jose has converted neither of its extra-man opportunities this month even though both Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski – the Sharks‘ best players on the man-advantage – have not missed any time.

With a game-in-hand on the Pacific-leading Ducks, 44-26-9 Edmonton still has its sights set on hoisting its first Division Champion banner since 1992. They can make a strong step in that direction with a win tonight.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Oilers did just that (win, that is), as they’ve earned a 9-2-0 record in their past 11 games – the third-best record in the league in that time.

The only thing better than Edmonton‘s record is its propensity for scoring the puck. 44 Oilers goals have been struck since March 14, the most in the league since then. I probably don’t need to tell you who’s behind most of those tallies, but would I be doing my job if I didn’t?

Simply put, Connor McDavid is really, really good at hockey. He’s registered 20 points in his past 11 games to pace the league since mid-March. What is truly impressive about McDavid’s late-season surge is that he’s calling his number more often. He’s only notched 29 goals on the season, a surprisingly low total since he’s effectively locked up his first Art Ross Trophy. But lately? He’s buried six of those tallies in the last 11 contests, a run that is matched by line-mate Patrick Maroon to co-lead the squad.

The Oil‘s offensive dominance continues on the power play, where it has converted an impressive 28.9% to rank sixth-best in the league since mid-March. McDavid is joined on this attack by Leon Draisaitl and Milan Lucic, as they’ve all notched five man-advantage points in the past 24 days. Lucic has been especially impressive during this run, as four of his points have been goals, which ties for the second-highest total in the NHL in that time.

Edmonton‘s penalty kill has also been excellent of late, as it’s properly defended and neutralized 85.7% of its infractions to tie for the sixth-best mark in the league since mid-March. Andrej Sekera deserves a lot of the credit for that success, as he’s blocked eight shots on the penalty kill in the past 11 games, which ties for second-most in the league.

The Oilers own a one-point lead in the series between these clubs this season, thanks to forcing overtime they first ran into the Sharks on December 23. These clubs last met March 30 in Edmonton, where the Oil bested San Jose 3-2 thanks to Maroon’s two-goal night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (75 points [eighth-most in the league] on 47 assists [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), McDavid (66 assists for 95 points [both lead the league] and a +25 [10th-best in the NHL]) and Cam Talbot (40 wins [third-most in the league], including seven shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL]) & San Jose‘s Burns (74 points [ninth-most in the league]) and Jones (35 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

I’m surprised: Vegas favors the Sharks to win tonight on a -125 line. While Jones’ resurgence have helped to cool my doubts about San Jose going into the playoffs, I still don’t think it’s enough to fend off the Oilers‘ dominant offense.

Hockey Birthday

  • Connie Broden (1932-2013) – This center did the unthinkable by the standards of today’s game: he played only six regular season games in the NHL – all with the Canadiens – and scored only three points, but he hoisted two Stanley Cups. Talk about an effective career!
  • Michel Larocque (1952-1992) – This goaltender was selected sixth-overall by Montréal in the 1972 NHL Amateur Draft, and that’s where he played most of his 11 seasons. Amassing a career 160-89-45 record, he won four Vezina Trophies and the 1979 Stanley Cup.
  • Olaf Kolzig (1970-) – The only South African to play in the NHL to date, this goaltender was the 19th-overall pick by Washington in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. All but one of his 17 seasons were spent with the Capitals, and he won the 2000 Vezina and 2006 King Clancy Memorial Trophies and played in two All-Star Games before retiring.
  • Hal Gill (1975-) – Another player to spend most of his career with the club that drafted him, this defenseman was selected by Boston in the eighth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He hoisted his lone Stanley Cup as a member of the Penguins‘ 2009 squad.
  • Ville Nieminen (1977-) – This NHL journeyman was picked by Colorado 78th-overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. In only seven seasons, he played with seven different clubs, but before being shipped off from the Avalanche, he helped them to the 2001 Stanley Cup.
  • Travis Moen (1982-) – Calgary selected this left wing in the fifth round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, but he never played a game with the Flames. Instead, he spent half of his 12-year career in Montréal. Another Stanley Cup winner, he was a member of the 2007 Ducks.
  • Clarke MacArthur (1985-) – Buffalo selected this left wing 74th-overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s in his fourth season with the Senators. Due to suffering a concussion during training camp, he finally made his season debut Tuesday.

With a two-goal shutout victory over the Rangers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, I present you your 2016-’17 regular season champion, the back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals!

With four prominent skaters healing up in the press box, the Rangers entered this contest over-matched. That being said, they managed to keep the Capitals off the board until only 5:11 remained in the second period. Alex Ovechkin (Second Star of the Game Evgeny Kuznetsov and Third Star Marcus Johansson) took advantage of a Brendan Smith holding penalty to score a deflected power play goal.

That was the only tally Washington managed before the second intermission, meaning the game’s lone insurance goal was struck in the third period. It came off Kuznetsov’s (Johansson and Justin Williams) stick, a wrist shot 5:42 into the frame.

First Star Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving all 24 shots he faced, leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 23-of-25 (92%).

With the final playoff pushes seeing their last breaths, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series are truly taking advantage of their home-ice advantage. They’ve improved their records in the series to 87-59-25 (seven points better than the road teams) by winning six of the last seven games.