Tag Archives: Nikita Kucherov

Game of the week: January 14-20

It’s the final week before the All-Star Break that features all 31 teams in action!

Let’s take a look at the schedule:

NHL SCHEDULE: January 14-20
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, January 14
7 p.m. Colorado Toronto 6-3
7 p.m. Chicago New Jersey 5-8
7 p.m. Minnesota Philadelphia 4-7
7 p.m. St. Louis Washington 4-1
7:30 p.m. Montréal Canadiens Boston Bruins 3-2 (OT)
9 p.m. Buffalo Edmonton 2-7
Tuesday, January 15
7 p.m. St. Louis Blues New York Islanders 1-2 (OT)
7 p.m. Carolina Hurricanes New York Rangers 2-6
7 p.m. New Jersey Columbus 1-4
7:30 p.m. Florida Montréal 1-5
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Detroit 1-3
8 p.m. Washington Nashville 2-7
8 p.m. Los Angeles Minnesota 2-3 (SO)
8 p.m. Vegas Winnipeg 1-4
8:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Dallas 2-0
10 p.m. Pittsburgh San Jose 2-5
Wednesday, January 16
7 p.m. Colorado Ottawa 2-5
7:30 p.m. Boston Philadelphia 3-4
9:30 p.m. Buffalo Calgary 4-3 (OT)
10 p.m. Edmonton Vancouver 3-2 (SO)
10 p.m. San Jose Arizona 3-6
Thursday, January 17
7 p.m. St. Louis Boston 2-5
7 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Islanders 1-4
7 p.m. Chicago Blackhawks New York Rangers 3-4
7:30 p.m. Toronto Tampa Bay 4-2
8 p.m. Winnipeg Nashville 5-1
8 p.m. Anaheim Minnesota 3-0
8:30 p.m. Los Angeles Dallas 2-1
Friday, January 18
7 p.m. Toronto Florida 1-3
7 p.m. Montréal Columbus 4-1
7:30 p.m. New York Islanders Washington Capitals 2-0
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Carolina 4-1
9 p.m. Detroit Calgary 4-6
9 p.m. Pittsburgh Arizona 3-2 (OT)
10 p.m. Buffalo Vancouver 3-4
Saturday, January 19
1 p.m. Anaheim New Jersey SN
3 p.m. Los Angeles Colorado  
7 p.m. Ottawa St. Louis CITY
7 p.m. Winnipeg Dallas SN360
7 p.m. New York Rangers Boston Bruins NHLN
7 p.m. Philadelphia Montréal CBC, ESPN+, TVAS
7 p.m. San Jose Tampa Bay  
8 p.m. Florida Nashville  
9 p.m. Columbus Minnesota  
10 p.m. Pittsburgh Vegas ESPN+
10 p.m. Calgary Flames Edmonton Oilers CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, January 20
12:30 p.m. Washington Chicago NBC, TVAS
3 p.m. Anaheim Ducks New York Islanders SN1
4 p.m. Detroit Vancouver ESPN+
7 p.m. Arizona Toronto NHLN, SN
9:30 p.m. Carolina Edmonton SN1, SN360

If rivalries are your jam, you’ve loved this week’s schedule since there’s at least one rivalry being played every day except Sunday. Monday saw the Habs make a trip to the Hub, followed the next day by the Ducks in Detroit (once a rivalry, always a rivalry). The Bruins were back at it Wednesday in the City of Brotherly Love, while another Original Six tilt took place Thursday with the Blackhawks visiting the Broadway Blueshirts. Speaking of New York, the Islanders headed to D.C. yesterday to take on the Caps, while two sets of arch-rivals square off this evening: the frequently-featured Rangers and Bruins wage war at 7 p.m., followed by the Battle of Alberta at 10.

If playoff rematches are more your speed, you preferred Winnipeg’s schedule. The Jets hosted Vegas Tuesday, followed two days later by a trip to Nashville.

Finally, there’s more than a few major homecomings happening this week, the biggest of which is 10-year veteran D Adam McQuaid‘s first game in Boston wearing a crest other than the Spoked B when the Rangers come to town tonight.

Also making returns were W Magnus Paajarvi (now a Senator, he called St. Louis home for five seasons), David Quinn (the Rangers hired him from Boston University where he’d been the head coach for five seasons) and Barry Trotz (after winning the Stanley Cup in his fourth year at Washington’s helm, Trotz signed with the Islanders this offseason).

While many of these tilts are exciting, the game that really sticks out to me involves two of the top teams in their respective conferences that were Stanley Cup favorites entering the campaign.

If not for Wednesday’s 6-3 loss in Glendale to the Coyotes, the 28-14-7 Sharks would be considered the hottest team in the NHL. They entered that tilt riding a seven game winning streak and have posted a dominant 9-2-2 mark in their last 13 outings.

There’s no doubt that Tampa Bay (tonight’s opponent) and division-rival Calgary boast two of the NHL’s best offenses. However, San Jose’s 3.57 goals per game for the entire 2018-19 season ranks third best in the league, and that attack only looks stronger when we focus on this 13 game run. Since December 22, the Sharks have averaged a whopping 4.31 goals per game, which ties the Flames for tops in the league.

Spearheading that onslaught of offense is none other than D Erik Karlsson, the man supposedly suffering a down season. His personal goal count may not be as high as he’d like (he’s registered only three through 47 outings this season), but struggles are otherwise few and far between nowadays considering he’s posted 1-18-19 totals in his past 11 games.

Of course, Karlsson isn’t San Jose’s only blue liner that likes to get involved in the offensive zone. D Brent Burns – a favorite for the Norris Trophy at the midway point of the season – is only a point behind Karlsson since December 22, posting 5-13-18 marks.

The defensemen are joined by LW Evander Kane (6-10-16 totals since December 22) and F Tomas Hertl (9-5-14) in averaging over a point per game during the Sharks’ outstanding winning run.

I’m of the opinion that the primary responsibility of a team’s defensive efforts is to limit opposing shots on goal, so – in a way – this dominant offense that maintains extended possessions is also performing marvelously well for 22-8-4 G Martin Jones. The Sharks have allowed only 28.31 shots against per game since December 22, the fourth-best mark in the NHL in that stretch.

As for actual defensive efforts, it’s hard not to have been impressed by Burns (team-leading 19 takeaways) and Kane (2.9 hits per game) during this run.

Of course, no matter how well the Sharks have been playing lately, there’s few that would argue that tonight’s hosts, the 36-10-2 Tampa Bay Lightning, are the best team the National Hockey League has to offer. The Bolts have a seven-point advantage in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy, and they haven’t lost back-to-back games since November 10 and 13.

The reason that’s an important note is due to Tampa Bay’s 4-2 home loss at the hands of the Maple Leafs Thursday night, dropping their record since November 15 to 24-5-1.

During that dominant run, the Bolts have boasted the league’s top offense, averaging a whopping 4.23 goals per game – many of which have involved Art Ross-leader RW Nikita Kucherov. In Tampa’s last 30 games, Kucherov has notched dominant 15-43-58 totals – five points better than the NHL’s second-best player in that time.

Joining Kucherov in averaging over a point per game since November 15 are F Brayden Point (21-23-44 totals) and C Steven Stamkos (18-21-39).

Another player worth mentioning is surely 19-6-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy, tonight’s likely starter considering this is Tampa’s last game until January 30’s tilt against Pittsburgh. In his past 14 starts, Vasilevskiy has managed an outstanding .922 save percentage and 2.65 GAA, a slight decline from his season marks of .925 and 2.48 due to the defense in front of him allowing 32.73 shots against per game since November 15, the seventh-worst mark in the NHL in that time.

There’s no doubt these offenses are capable of taking a game over, but both of them playing in the same game will certainly be either club’s greatest challenge they’ve faced in a while.

In my opinion, this game boils down to the opposing goaltenders. If that is the case, the Lightning have a clear advantage, as Jones’ .903 season save percentage and corresponding 2.72 GAA pale in comparison to Vasilevskiy’s.

As a result, I think the Bolts can come away from tonight’s tilt with a two or three-goal victory to further cement themselves as the league’s best club.

DTFR Podcast #141- The Midseasonies

Nick and Connor talk the latest trades, Torts drama (and latest record), Casey DeSmith’s extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as a tribute to the careers of Rick Nash and Josh Gorges who both announced their retirement this week.

Additionally, what’s up with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues this season and why can’t they just pick a side? Plus, it’s time to hand out awards for being slightly more than halfway through the 2018-19 regular season. #FlamingNotToFlamingHot

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #139- They Ran Out Of Beer!

A bunch of minor trades were made in the last week, the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game rosters were released, as well as the 2019-20 outdoor game schedule. Nick and Connor also discuss the legacy that was the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Quarterfinal upsets.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

*Editor’s Note: Of course, after recording this week’s episode, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed G Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks.

Game of the week: December 10-16

With the holiday season and the league’s December 19 roster freeze on the horizon, the NHL schedule rages on with 51 fixtures scheduled for this week.

NHL SCHEDULE: December 10-16
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 10
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins New York Islanders 2-1 (SO)
7:30 p.m. Los Angeles Detroit 1-3
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Tampa Bay Lightning 3-6
10:30 p.m. New Jersey San Jose 2-5
Tuesday, December 11
7 p.m. Arizona Boston 3-4
7 p.m. Los Angeles Buffalo 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Toronto Carolina 4-1
7 p.m. Vancouver Columbus 3-2
7:30 p.m. Detroit Washington 2-6
8 p.m. Florida St. Louis 3-4
8 p.m. Ottawa Nashville 1-3
8 p.m. Montréal Minnesota 1-7
8 p.m. Chicago Winnipeg 3-6
9 p.m. Edmonton Colorado 6-4
Wednesday, December 12
7 p.m. Vegas Golden Knights New York Islanders 3-2
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Chicago 3-6
8:30 p.m. Philadelphia Calgary 5-6 (OT)
10 p.m. Dallas Anaheim 3-6
Thursday, December 13
7 p.m. Arizona Buffalo  
7 p.m. Los Angeles Columbus  
7:30 p.m. Carolina Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Toronto Tampa Bay TVAS
8 p.m. Vancouver Nashville  
8 p.m. Florida Minnesota  
8 p.m. Edmonton Winnipeg  
10:30 p.m. Dallas San Jose SN1
Friday, December 14
7 p.m. Vegas New Jersey  
7 p.m. Arizona Coyotes New York Rangers  
7 p.m. Boston Pittsburgh TVAS
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Detroit RDS
7:30 p.m. Washington Carolina  
8 p.m. Colorado St. Louis  
8:30 p.m. Winnipeg Chicago  
9 p.m. Philadelphia Edmonton  
Saturday, December 15
1:30 p.m. Calgary Minnesota  
7 p.m. Ottawa Montréal SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Toronto Florida CBC, CITY, SN1
7 p.m. Detroit Red Wings New York Islanders  
7 p.m. Los Angeles Pittsburgh NHLN
7 p.m. Buffalo Washington  
7 p.m. Anaheim Columbus  
8 p.m. New Jersey Nashville  
9 p.m. Dallas Colorado  
10 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers Vancouver Canucks CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, December 16
12:30 p.m. Vegas Golden Knights New York Rangers NHLN, SN
1 p.m. Arizona Carolina  
3 p.m. Calgary St. Louis  
5 p.m. Buffalo Boston NHLN
7 p.m. San Jose Chicago  
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Winnipeg SN, TVAS
10 p.m. Edmonton Vancouver  

In terms of rivalries, playoff rematches and player returns, this is a quiet week in the NHL. Only four rivalries will be contested – highlighted by the Penguins visiting the Islanders on Monday and Edmonton at Winnipeg tonight.

Speaking of the Islanders, they’re heading back to Nassau Coliseum for two of their three games this week. The previously mentioned tilt against fellow Metropolitan Division side Pittsburgh will take place in the old barn, as will Saturday’s matchup against Detroit.

Finally, the weekly homecoming list is headlined by D Mike Reilly making his first trip back to St. Paul on Tuesday since being traded to Montréal on February 26.

Considering Reilly is a third-pair defenseman, that might be a liberal use of the word “headlined.”

Instead, I’m immensely more interested in tonight’s game from Florida that features the top two teams from the Atlantic Division.

Ontario’s (wait, you’re telling me there’s another team in the same province?) beloved Maple Leafs enter tonight’s game with a 21-9-1 record good enough for second place in the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference and the entire NHL.

News flash for those that have been living under a rock for the last six months: yeah, the Leafs are legit.

The Maple Leafs boast a solid 6-1-1 record in their past eight showings, including impressive victories over the Bruins and Sharks – not to mention a thrilling overtime win in Buffalo on December 4.

With the defense blatantly struggling during this run (Toronto has allowed 36.38 shots against per game since November 24, the second-worst mark in the NHL behind Ottawa’s 37.22 in that time), the offense has taken full command of Head Coach Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs’ game plan.

On the season, Toronto averages 3.65 goals per game – the third-highest mark in the league. Most teams would be happy maintaining that success, but the Leafs have found an even higher gear of late, averaging 4.38 goals per game in their last eight showings.

Leading that charge has been exactly who you’d expect: C Auston Matthews. While his 6-5-11 totals since November 24 technically trail F Mitch Marner’s 13 assists (Marner, of course, ranks second in the league with 35 assists and is tied with Tampa’s F Brayden Point for sixth in points with 41 apiece), it must be remembered that Matthews has only played six games in that time as compared to his teammate’s eight.

Joining Marner and Matthews in averaging a point per game or better during this eight-game run are W Andreas Johnsson (5-5-10 totals) and D Jake Gardiner (1-7-8). And, don’t forget about C John Tavares, whose 19 goals are tied for ninth-most in the NHL with Colorado’s LW Gabriel Landeskog.

A final note in regards to Toronto’s attack is in regards to its deadly power play. For the season, the Leafs rank seventh best in the league with a 25.9 percent success rate. However, goals have been coming far more often since November 24, as they have lit the lamp on six of their last 18 man-advantage situations for a 33.3 percent power play that ties Tampa Bay for second-best in the NHL in that time.

Tonight’s game against Toronto is the finale of a four-game home stand for the 24-7-1 Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL’s top team. Not only are the Bolts attempting to win all four of those games at their barn, but they’re also trying to continue their current seven-game winning streak that started on November 29 against the Sabres.

Notable victories during this winning streak came against the aforementioned Sabres, Bruins and Avalanche.

Just like the Leafs, the key to Tampa Bay’s domination is its overpowering offense. During this winning streak, the Bolts have scored an average of 5.14(!) goals per game, far and away the best in the league in that time and a massive improvement on the league-leading four goals per game they’ve averaged for the entire season.

Every skater that has taken to the ice during this winning streak has at least two points to his credit, but only four have averaged at least a point per game. C Steven Stamkos (8-4-12 totals since November 29) leads that group, joined by RW Nikita Kucherov (3-9-12), Point (3-6-9) and D Victor Hedman (0-7-7).

Of course, it’s not as if its any surprise which players are leading the charge for the Lightning. Point’s 21 goals on the season are tied for second-most in the league, while Kucherov’s 33 assists and 45 points are both third-most in the NHL.

An added benefit of the Bolts’ commanding offense is its impact on the defensive end of the ice. While D Dan Girardi (1.7 blocks per game since November 29), Kucherov (six takeaways in his last seven showings) and F Cedric Paquette (3.9 hits per game during this winning streak) should certainly be commended for their defensive efforts – especially in light of 9-3-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy’s foot injury that had kept him out of the crease since November 10 – the fact that they are leading the team in their statistics with average numbers shows just how much the Lightning are dominating possession. During this winning run, Tampa Bay has allowed only 27.29 shots against per game, the sixth-lowest mark in the league in that time.

With Vasilevskiy returning to the ice tonight, it goes without saying that he’d likely appreciate that trend continuing while he gets back into the swing of play.

So who wins this clash of offensive titans?

For me, this game boils down to the goaltenders. How well Vasilevskiy performs in his first action in a month will be a major factor. Before going down with injury, he was managing a solid .927 save percentage and 2.29 GAA. While he does have the benefit of playing behind a solid team, the Leafs are good enough on the attack that they will still be able to test him significantly throughout this game.

Meanwhile, 17-8-0 G Frederik Andersen will not have the benefit of any solid defense playing in front of him this evening, but that has not been a problem yet this year. Despite facing an average of 33.12 shots against per appearance (compared to Vasilevskiy’s 31.69), Andersen has still posted a .928 save percentage and 2.44 GAA to earn the second-most wins in the NHL.

With that in mind, I’m leaning towards the Leafs taking this one in a wildly back-and-forth barn-burner of a game. I think Vasilevskiy will show just enough rust that Toronto can escape Tampa Bay with a 4-3 victory.

Numbers Game: 2018-19 League Forecast Entering December

We’re just over a week into December, I know, but let’s all hop in the time machine and take a retroactive look at how the rest of the season should pan out based on how the league standings were through November 30, 2018.

Things have started to cool in places around the league (like Carolina), while other clubs (like Buffalo) have heated up to become serious playoff contenders– so let’s take a look at how everything should shake out between now and the first couple of weeks of April.

There’s no guarantees with any forecast, but general indications start to get a little clearer once the season’s hit the quarter-mark and American Thanksgiving has come and gone.

Realistically, if your team is anywhere between 1st and 5th in your division, you’re in for the ride of your life still from now through the end of the regular season. If you’re 6th, 7th or 8th, well, it’s never too early to start thinking about the Draft lottery (plus the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship’s coming up at the end of the month, so that’s exciting too) or about how many games it would take to go on an incredibly hot streak and jump back into the playoff picture.

Nothing’s impossible.

Without further ado, it’s time to glance around the league and breakdown some of the unforeseen circumstances that are yet to come.

Projected Standings After Two Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Tampa Bay Lightning, 108 points (26 GP so far)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 104 points (25 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 101 points (26 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Buffalo Sabres, 91 points (27 GP so far)
  5. Montreal Canadiens, 91 points (25 GP so far)
  6. Detroit Red Wings, 85 points (25 GP so far)
  7. Florida Panthers, 84 points (24 GP so far)
  8. Ottawa Senators, 83 points (26 GP so far)

The Tampa Bay Lightning rightfully lay claim to the crown as the leader of the Atlantic Division at regular season’s end. It doesn’t matter that Steven Stamkos has yet to record a point in six career Game 7s. The Lightning have Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point on a line of their own. They don’t even need Stamkos.

Just kidding, they still do, because that other No. 91 signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason and just think how explosive a playoff matchup of Tampa and Toronto could be in the Battle of John Tavares Signed Where Leafs Fans Wanted Steven Stamkos To Sign Just A Couple Of Offseasons Ago, But Didn’t Because He Stayed With The Lightning.

You know it’s going to happen.

Actually, in the latest forecast entering December, the Boston Bruins slide out of the top spot, because injuries continue to plague their season. However, if they can recover to full health, there’s a good chance they might usurp the Maple Leafs and finish 2nd in the division, unlike what current standings dictate.

But regaining full health is a major stipulation and part of the reason why– while Toronto is 3rd in this forecast– there’s a good chance the Bruins might (probably will) slip further as January’s forecast nears.

This is about the time where it’s important to note the overarching focus on this forecast should be on where each team is positioned and how close in points they are to those above and below before placing any concrete emphasis on how things play out from now through the first week of April 2019.

The Buffalo Sabres make the biggest gain in the Atlantic Division, jumping up four spots in the division standings from the basement to 4th place and a playoff berth (albeit a wild card spot).

The Sabres 10-game winning streak– combined with the additions of Rasmus Dahlin and Jeff Skinner in the offseason– proved to be a season-defining stretch of games as Buffalo returns to Stanley Cup Playoff action for the first time since 2011 (despite the current 0-3-2 run in their last five games).

On the outside looking in, the Montreal Canadiens slipped a spot and might be a pretender– especially if Carey Price (11-8-4 record, 2.92 goals against average, .902 save percentage in 23 games played) continues to struggle. To his credit, his GAA is under three now, so there’s that.

The Detroit Red Wings gained some traction with the ongoing lack of focus in Ottawa Senators video reviews and the Florida Panthers injuries.

Metropolitan Division

  1. p-Washington Capitals, 108 points (25 GP so far)
  2. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 99 points (25 GP so far)
  3. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 98 points (24 GP so far)
  4. wc2-New York Rangers, 92 points (26 GP so far)
  5. New York Islanders, 90 points (24 GP so far)
  6. Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points (25 GP so far)
  7. Philadelphia Flyers, 86 points (24 GP so far)
  8. New Jersey Devils, 81 points (24 GP so far)

The Washington Capitals remain in control of the Metropolitan Division with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins in tow.

Of course, Columbus and Pittsburgh are worth keeping a close eye on as the Blue Jackets have been all over the place near the top and the Penguins have yet to be in playoff position since– actually, pretty much never so far this season.

Plus there’s the whole “second-half of the season surge” we’re still waiting to see from Mike Sullivan’s bunch. That’ll almost assure Pittsburgh of a playoff berth, if not in a divisional spot, at least.

The New York Rangers gained two spots since entering November, which means the rebuild’s over!

Just kidding.

Look how close the Rangers, New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes are forecasted to be in points. Even the Philadelphia Flyers have a chance– mathematically speaking, of course.

The battle for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference is going to come down to one of the teams in the Big Apple and Carolina, especially since the rest of the division lacks clarity.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils are in the dumps. Taylor Hall isn’t a flash in the pan, but the rest of the Devils are, it appears.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. z-Nashville Predators, 104 points (26 GP so far)
  2. x-Minnesota Wild, 98 points (25 GP so far)
  3. x-Winnipeg Jets, 97 points (24 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 93 points (26 GP so far)
  5. wc2-Dallas Stars, 90 points (26 GP so far)
  6. St. Louis Blues, 88 points (24 GP so far)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 87 points (26 GP so far)

Both the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild remain in the 1-2 spots in the latest forecast. Despite the current hot streak from the Calgary Flames, the Predators are going to be the best team in the conference by the end of the regular season.

The Winnipeg Jets are starting to become like the Penguins under Sullivan’s reign in that Paul Maurice is bound to lead his team to a second-half of the season surge into a divisional spot (or higher).

Of course, there’s always a wild card– both in the literal wild card berth and dark horse standpoint– and that’s the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avs have a great chance at jumping up into a divisional spot, since they’ve gained three positions from the previous forecast entering November to the current forecast entering December. The fact of the matter is the Avalanche are a playoff contender– like last season– but with the added improvement of having built on last season’s experience.

Then there’s the Dallas Stars, who might find themselves landing in a wild card position by circumstance (have you even seen the Pacific Division?) and by luck in Jim Montgomery’s first season behind the bench.

Towards the cellar of the Central Division, the St. Louis Blues are bad, but not as bad as they are currently, which isn’t great news if you’re trying to lose for Jack Hughes.

But if you’re a Blues fan who hates rivals more than losing, there’s a positive takeaway– the Chicago Blackhawks are destined to finished last in the Central. They’re bad. Very bad.

Pacific Division

  1. y-San Jose Sharks, 97 points (26 GP so far)
  2. x-Anaheim Ducks, 97 points (28 GP so far)
  3. x-Calgary Flames, 93 points (26 GP so far)
  4. Vegas Golden Knights, 85 points (27 GP so far)
  5. Edmonton Oilers, 82 points (25 GP so far)
  6. Los Angeles Kings, 79 points (26 GP so far)
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 78 points (24 GP so far)
  8. Vancouver Canucks, 78 points (28 GP so far)

The San Jose Sharks’ grasp on the Pacific Division is loosening as the Anaheim Ducks are heating up as one of the hottest teams out west– and that’s not including the one with fire in their name.

San Jose should– should— hit their stride at some point and have everything click into place, but if they don’t the Ducks are hot on their tail. How close? Close enough to show there’s no difference in their forecast total points in the standings by the end of the regular season.

The Sharks could be first or they could be second. Perhaps the Calgary Flames have something to say about that.

It’s anybody’s game in the Pacific Division playoff berths, but one thing’s for sure, there’s not going to be a wild card team coming out of the Pacific.

For the Vegas Golden Knights, that means they’re really going to have to soar and never let their foot off the gas. Vegas only survived so much without Nate Schmidt in the lineup on their blue line– they can’t afford any more major bumps in the road.

The Edmonton Oilers have Ken Hitchcock behind the bench and while they might appear to be gaining ground, they’re sure to be just outside of the playoff window looking in like how Hitchcock’s Stars were last season. Just wait for the implosion.

In the bottom three, the Los Angeles Kings might not be as terrible as they have been if 1) Marco Sturm gets named head coach and Willie Desjardins’ interim basis comes to a close and 2) the Kings light a fire under their grizzled veterans and revive whatever’s left of them this season.

The Arizona Coyotes are on par with how Arizona’s been the last few seasons. Not great, but not terrible and sometimes downtrodden due to injury.

The hype surrounding the Vancouver Canucks in October and early November was just that– hype. No amount of Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser can compensate for the holes on the blue line and lack of goaltending. It’s almost as if Canucks General Manager Jim Benning has been living a Groundhog Day career from year-to-year with Vancouver.

Their offense is good, their defense is suspect and their goaltending isn’t starter quality.

Game of the week: December 3-9

It’s time once again for DtFR’s weekly featured matchup! Let’s take a gander at the NHL’s offerings for this edition, shall we?

NHL SCHEDULE: December 3-9
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 3
7 p.m. Tampa Bay New Jersey 5-1
8 p.m. Buffalo Nashville 1-2
8:30 p.m. Edmonton Dallas 1-4
Tuesday, December 4
7 p.m. Boston Florida 0-5
7 p.m. Winnipeg Jets New York Islanders 3-1
7 p.m. Colorado Pittsburgh 3-6
7 p.m. Calgary Columbus 9-6
7:30 p.m. Toronto Buffalo 4-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Montréal 2-5
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Detroit 6-5 (SO)
10 p.m. Minnesota Vancouver 3-2
10 p.m. Washington Vegas 3-5
10:30 p.m. Arizona Los Angeles 2-1
Wednesday, December 5
8 p.m. Edmonton St. Louis 3-2 (SO)
10:30 p.m. Chicago Anaheim 2-4
10:30 p.m. Carolina San Jose 1-5
Thursday, December 6
7 p.m. Detroit Toronto 5-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Colorado Florida 5-2
7 p.m. Columbus Philadelphia 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Pittsburgh Penguins 2-6
7:30 p.m. Montréal Ottawa 5-2
7:30 p.m. Boston Tampa Bay 2-3
9 p.m. Minnesota Calgary 0-2
9 p.m. Washington Arizona 4-2
10 p.m. Nashville Vancouver 3-5
10 p.m. Chicago Vegas 3-4
10:30 p.m. New Jersey Los Angeles 6-3
Friday, December 7
8 p.m. San Jose Dallas 2-3
8 p.m. St. Louis Winnipeg 1-0
9 p.m. Minnesota Edmonton 2-7
10 p.m. Carolina Anaheim 4-1
Saturday, December 8
1 p.m. Philadelphia Buffalo 6-2
4 p.m. Vegas Los Angeles 1-5
7 p.m. Toronto Boston 3-6
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Ottawa 1-2 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Detroit Red Wings 3-2
7 p.m. Colorado Tampa Bay 1-7
7 p.m. New York Rangers Florida Panthers 5-4 (SO)
7 p.m. Washington Columbus 4-0
8 p.m. San Jose Arizona 5-3
10 p.m. Nashville Calgary 2-5
Sunday, December 9
3 p.m. Vancouver St. Louis
3 p.m. Philadelphia Winnipeg TVAS
5 p.m. Boston Ottawa RDS2
6 p.m. Montréal Canadiens Chicago Blackhawks NHLN, RDS, SN, SN1
8 p.m. New Jersey Anaheim
9 p.m. Dallas Vegas
9 p.m. Calgary Edmonton SN, SN1

This week’s rivalries included the Battle of the QEW (Toronto at Buffalo), Ottawa at Montréal, Detroit at Toronto, the Islanders at Pittsburgh, Montréal at Ottawa, Toronto at Boston, Montréal at Chicago and the Battle of Alberta (Calgary at Edmonton).

In a similar strain, there were also more than a few rematches of playoff fixtures from last spring. Tampa Bay continued its beat down of New Jersey on Monday, while Vegas exacted some revenge against Washington on Tuesday. The Bolts then headed home to host Boston on Wednesday, winning 3-2. Vegas is heading to Los Angeles this afternoon looking for its fifth-straight victory against the Kings, followed by tonight’s tilt between the Capitals and Blue Jackets.

Finally, in the “player returns” department, only two really stuck out among this week’s tilts. Now a member of the Avalanche, D Ian Cole made his first trip back to Pittsburgh Tuesday to take on the club he was a member of for the past four seasons. Then, Wednesday night, C Kyle Brodziak made his first return to St. Louis as a member of a visiting team, having spent three seasons with the Blues.

Of all those, the one I’m most interested in is the Battle of Alberta, so pack your coat and start heading to the City of Champions!

Don’t everyone look all at once (it’ll make the team self-conscious), but with last night’s 5-2 win over Nashville, the 19-9-2 Calgary Flames have claimed a one-point lead for first place in the Western Conference.

Not the Pacific Division, mind you. The Flames have been running that show for about a month now. We’re talking about the entire conference.

I guess Head Coach Bill Peters knows a bit more than we give him credit for around here.

A major reason Calgary is in the position it’s in right now is due to the impressive 9-1-1 record it’s riding right now – a stretch that started with a 4-2 victory over the Oilers on November 17.

A solid argument could be made that no team in the NHL has been better than the Flames in the past three weeks, as they are among the top-three in the league in goals per game, goals against per game and shots against per game.

Starting with the offense (a stat in which Calgary ranks sixth on the entire season, averaging 3.47 goals per game), the Flames have been the class of the conference since November 17, as their 4.45 goals per game in their past 11 outings tops the West and ranks second in the NHL, trailing only Tampa Bay’s 4.58 goals per game.

Leading the charge with 6-14-20 totals in those 11 games is exactly who you expected: LW Johnny Gaudreau. Only RW Nikita Kucherov (5-18-23) has registered more points in the past 22 days than Johnny HockeyTM , but he’s also had the benefit of one extra game played.

But don’t think Gaudreau has been doing it all on his own. C Sean Monahan (9-7-16), F Elias Lindholm (7-8-15), LW Matthew Tkachuk (4-8-12), suspended D Mark Giordano (1-10-11 in 10 games played) and even fourth-liner C Alan Quine (he scored a goal in his season debut last night) are all averaging a point per game or better over this run.

Defense has been a major strength of Calgary’s all season long (the Flames’ 28 shots against per game for the entire campaign ranks third-best in the NHL), and the same can be said for the Flames’ last 11 games. Led by D Rasmus Andersson and D Travis Hamonic (both averaging 1.5 blocks per game since November 17), RW Garnet Hathaway (2.6 hits per game in the past 22 days) and Monahan (his 16 takeaways in the past 11 games lead the club), the Flames have allowed only 27.18 shots against per game since November 17- the third-lowest mark in both the Western Conference and NHL in that time.

While Peters might say he appreciates that solid defensive play, no one is happier for the Flames’ success than 11-7-1 G Mike Smith. And even though the blue line is making his job easy, Smith is putting together one of the best runs of his season so far – especially in light of his season stats.

On the campaign as a whole, Smith boasts a lowly .894 save percentage and 2.88 GAA – both stats considerably worse than backup 8-2-1 G David Rittich’s .919 and 2.39, to the point that there were more than a few calling for the Czech to assume starting duties.

However, Smith’s past six appearances have been reminiscent of his incredible 2011-12 season with the Coyotes (he posted a .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA and led the team to the Western Final), as he’s won six-straight games with a dominant .936 save percentage and 1.59 GAA in those showings.

Having been in net for last night’s home win over Nashville, Smith will likely ride the pine this evening with Rittich getting the start.

Though the 15-12-2 Edmonton Oilers currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, they only trail the second wild card Vegas Golden Knights by a point (with two games in hand, no less), so it is possible for tonight’s hosts to force themselves into the playoff picture with as little as an overtime or shootout loss.

Wait, I thought the Oilers were back to being bad again. I’m so confused.

Sometimes a change of voice from behind the bench is exactly what a team needs to get in shape, because the Oilers have been playing some solid hockey since hiring Head Coach Ken Hitchcock on November 20. Before Hitchcock arrived in Northern Alberta, the Oil boasted a record of 9-10-1, but they’ve gone on a solid 6-2-1 record since then to position themselves right on the playoffs’ doorstep.

Considering Hitchcock’s history, it wasn’t unexpected that his first goal upon taking over Edmonton was teaching his club how to play defense. Instead, the bigger surprise is that the team – one rarely known for its defensive play for its entire history – actually responded and is finding success.

Under Hitchcock, the Oilers have allowed only 29.11 shots against per game, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since November 20. Injured F Drake Caggiula (averaging 4.3 hits per game during this run), D Oscar Klefbom (averaging 2.6 blocks per game in the last 20 days) and C Connor McDavid (his 12 takeaways in his last eight appearances pace the team) have all been integral in leading this strategic shift, and the results are clearly showing in the standings.

Both G Mikko Koskinen and G Cam Talbot have shown considerable improvement playing behind this revamped defense, but Koskinen seems to have gained Hitchcock’s favor as the Oilers’ starting goaltender – at least for the time being. Though he has managed a decent .925 save percentage and 2.23 GAA for the entire season, Koskinen has posted a solid .934 save percentage and 1.82 GAA in his last six starts and will get the nod tonight.

For those wondering, Talbot’s .895 save percentage and 3.12 GAA for the season have been steadily improving under Hitch as well, as he’s managed a .925 save percentage and 2.29 GAA in his last three starts.

So, it’s time for that priceless question: who wins tonight?

With both defenses playing as well as they are right now, my immediate reaction is to pick the team with the superior offense. As that is not the style Hitchcock is having the Oilers play, that leads me to lean towards Calgary earning two points despite playing yesterday and having to travel last night/this morning.

However, with so much for Edmonton to play for and the fact that this is one of the better rivalries in the league, the only thing we can truly predict is unpredictability!

Lightning strike B’s, 3-2, in Tampa

Anthony Cirelli’s shorthanded goal in the third period was enough to hold off a potential comeback from the Boston Bruins Thursday night as the Tampa Bay Lightning went on to win, 3-2, at Amalie Arena.

Louis Domingue (12-4-0, 3.07 goals against average, .903 save percentage in 14 games played) made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .943 SV% in the win for the Bolts, while Tuukka Rask (6-6-2, 2.62 GAA, .914 SV% in 14 GP) stopped 27 out of 30 shots faced for a .900 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins have now lost four out of their last five games and have fallen to 14-10-4 (32 points) on the season– sliding to 5th place in the Atlantic Division and the 2nd wild card in the Eastern Conference as a result of the Montreal Canadiens’ win over the Ottawa Senators Thursday night.

Tampa improved to 22-7-1 (45 points) on the season and remained 1st in the Atlantic with the win.

Earlier in the day on Thursday, Charlie McAvoy was activated from the injured reserve and set to partake in pregame warmups. Kevan Miller was placed on the injured reserve having sustained a throat injury on Nov. 26th in Toronto.

The Bruins claimed Gemel Smith off waivers from the Dallas Stars on Thursday. Smith, 24, had two goals and one assist (three points) in 14 games for Dallas this season.

As a result of their roster moves, Connor Clifton was assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) after appearing in nine games for Boston– including his NHL debut– this season.

Boston also announced five of their prospects that will be attending preliminary World Junior camps for their respective countries next week, including D Daniel Bukac and F Jakob Lauko for Czech Republic, G Kyle Keyser for Team USA, F Pavel Shen for Russia and F Jack Studnicka for Team Canada.

The 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship is being held in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia and begins later this month with round robin group play.

Bruce Cassidy shook up the lines with McAvoy returning from an upper body injury (concussion) after missing the last 20 games. The 20-year-old defender was paired with John Moore on the bottom defensive pair with Matt Grzelcyk playing alongside Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug partnered with Steven Kampfer (back in the lineup since being a healthy scratch for the last two games).

Jeremy Lauzon joined Smith and Chris Wagner as Boston’s healthy scratches, while Zdeno Chara (lower body, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (upper body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) and Miller (throat) remain out of the lineup.

Among the forwards, Cassidy left the first line of Brad Marchand, Colby Cave and David Pastrnak intact, while placing Joakim Nordstrom to the left of David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk on the second line.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson was back in the lineup– centering the third line with Ryan Donato to his left and Noel Acciari to his right– and Danton Heinen was demoted to the fourth line with Sean Kuraly and David Backes with Wagner scratched.

Pastrnak (20) recorded the game’s first goal at 2:04 of the first period on a rebound given up by Domingue after Cave initially recorded a shot on goal. Pastrnak collected the puck with Domingue out of position and buried the loose puck in the twine to reach the 20-goal plateau for the third consecutive season.

Cave (2) had the only assist on the goal and the Bruins led, 1-0.

Only Jaromir Jagr needed fewer than 28 games to reach 20 goals in a season among all Czech born NHLers in history.

Unknown-3

After surviving an early onslaught from the B’s, the Lightning tied the game late in the opening frame with Brayden Point (21) firing a wicked wrist shot past Rask on a backhand pass from Nikita Kucherov.

McAvoy mishandled the puck, leaving Tyler Johnson in position to swipe at the rubber biscuit a couple of times before flinging a pass to Kucherov for the backhand drop pass to Point for the tying goal, 1-1.

Kucherov (31) and Johnson (9) had the assists on Point’s goal at 14:59.

Point now has 12 goals and seven assists (19 points) in his last 12 games.

Moments later, McAvoy was charged with the first penalty of the game for hooking Point at 18:50 while the Lightning forward was in the attacking zone. Tampa did not convert on the ensuing power play that would carry over into the second period.

Entering the first intermission, the game was tied, 1-1, and the Bolts were outshooting the Bruins, 15-11. Tampa also led in takeaways (5-3), while Boston led in blocked shots (10-4) and face-off win percentage (56-44). Both teams had two giveaways each and 12 hits aside.

The Lightning were 0/1 on the power play after one period.

Victor Hedman tripped up Donato almost midway through the second period and sent the Bruins on their first power play of the night– 7:04 into the middle frame.

Boston did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Neither team was able to break the tie as things went on in the second period and by the second intermission, the Bruins were outshooting the Lightning, 23-21. Boston led Tampa in shots, 12-6, in the second period alone.

The Bolts led in giveaways (9-4) and in hits (25-18) after two periods and the B’s maintained an advantage in blocked shots (11-10), takeaways (10-8) and face-off win% (52-48).

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play entering the third period.

Early in the final frame of regulation, Mathieu Joseph (9) picked up the puck on an unforced turnover, waltzed past Carlo and tucked the puck underneath Rask to give the Lightning their first lead of the night, 2-1.

Alex Killorn (10) and Dan Girardi (6) had the primary and secondary assists on Joseph’s goal at 2:40 of the third period.

About a minute later, Domingue sent the puck over the glass and was charged with a delay of game minor at 3:49.

While on the penalty kill, Steven Stamkos broke up a play by Backes as the grizzled Bruins veteran tried to work the puck back to Marchand, which led to Anthony Cirelli (5) scooping up the loose puck and skating right by Pastrnak and Marchand as the Boston forwards helplessly trailed behind.

Cirelli avoided a poke check from Rask with just enough of a deke to slip the biscuit past the Bruins netminder and into the goal at 4:03 of the third period. Cirelli’s short handed tally was unassisted and gave Tampa a two-goal lead, 3-1.

With a little under two minutes remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker.

Unknown-7

Krejci (3) fired a slap shot from the point at 18:15 (assisted by Pastrnak (12) and Backes (3)– the three David’s united!) and scored his first goal in 19 games to pull the Bruins within one, but it wasn’t enough.

As the final horn sounded, the Bruins suffered their third straight loss as the Lightning won their fifth game in-a-row. Tampa struck down Boston, 3-2, on the scoreboard, despite being outshot, 35-30.

The Bolts finished the game with the advantage in giveaways (10-6) and hits (33-22), while the Bruins led in face-off win% (56-44). Both teams had 16 blocked shots each and the Lightning were 0/1 on the power play, while the B’s were 0/2.

Tampa improved to 6-2-0 when tied after one period and Boston fell to 3-3-3 when tied after 20 minutes.

Boston travels home to host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday before traveling to Ottawa to face the Senators on Sunday. The Bruins then host the Arizona Coyotes next Tuesday before a two-day break and a one-game road trip to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins next Friday.

Game of the week: October 29-November 4

As the calendar flips from October to November, the NHL’s powers are beginning to flex their muscles while the league’s less-talented members are already counting the days until April 6.

Some of that can be seen in the games already played this week (take a look at what a good Devils team suffered in its trip to Tampa), while there’s more than a few games coming up in the remaining four days that will help us better predict some teams’ playoff potentials.

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 29-November 4
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 29
7 p.m. Calgary Toronto 3-1
10 p.m. Minnesota Vancouver 2-5
Tuesday, October 30
7 p.m. Calgary Buffalo 2-1 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3
7 p.m. Boston Carolina 3-2
7 p.m. Detroit Columbus 5-3
7:30 p.m. Dallas Montréal 4-1
7:30 p.m. New Jersey Tampa Bay 3-8
8 p.m. Vegas Nashville 1-4
9 p.m. Minnesota Edmonton 4-3
10 p.m. Ottawa Arizona 1-5
10 p.m. Philadelphia Anaheim 3-2
10:30 p.m. New York Rangers San Jose Sharks 4-3 (SO)
Wednesday, October 31
10 p.m. Chicago Vancouver 2-4
Thursday, November 1
2 p.m. Winnipeg Florida NBCSN
7 p.m. Dallas Toronto
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins New York Islanders SN360
7:30 p.m. Washington Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Ottawa RDS2
7:30 p.m. New Jersey Detroit
7:30 p.m. Nashville Tampa Bay
8 p.m. Vegas St. Louis
9 p.m. Colorado Calgary SN1
9 p.m. Chicago Edmonton
10 p.m. New York Rangers Anaheim Ducks
10:30 p.m. Philadelphia Los Angeles
10:30 p.m. Columbus San Jose
Friday, November 2
2 p.m. Florida Winnipeg NHLN
10 p.m. Colorado Vancouver NHLN
10 p.m. Carolina Arizona
saturday, November 3
2 p.m. Ottawa Buffalo RDS
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Montréal CITY, SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Edmonton Detroit SN
7 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Islanders
7 p.m. Toronto Pittsburgh CBC, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Dallas Washington
8 p.m. Minnesota St. Louis
8 p.m. Boston Nashville
10 p.m. Carolina Vegas
10 p.m. Chicago Blackhawks Calgary Flames CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
10:30 p.m. Columbus Los Angeles
10:30 p.m. Philadelphia San Jose
SunDay, November 4
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Ottawa NHLN, SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Buffalo Sabres New York Rangers
9 p.m. Columbus Anaheim

As usual, there’s more than a few tilts that caught my attention on this week’s slate. I’m always a big fan of rivalries (New York at Pittsburgh, Chicago at Vancouver, Pittsburgh at New York, Buffalo at Ottawa and Ottawa at Buffalo) and players returning to their former home arenas (W Tom Kuhnhackl and F Joakim Nordstrom made their first trips back to Pittsburgh and Carolina, respectively, on Tuesday, while D Roman Polak is heading back to Toronto tonight), but we also get the added benefits of this year’s NHL Global Series between Florida and Winnipeg in Finland as well as an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal rematch between New Jersey and Tampa Bay.

However, with all of that being said, there’s another huge matchup happening this Thursday that rivals last week’s Toronto-Winnipeg showdown.

The reigning regular season conference champions are going at it tonight, so grab your popcorn and settle in to enjoy a great game!

Wait, what? This showdown isn’t on national T.V. in either Canada or the States, but a game between two one-win NFL teams is?

This is lunacy.

I’m not saying to stream this tilt by any means necessary, but I’m not saying not to stream this tilt by any means necessary.

Regardless of the legality of your decision, it’s a choice you certainly won’t regret as both the Preds and Bolts are off to hot starts this season, surely inspired at least somewhat by dreams left unfulfilled during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both were their respective conferences’ No. 1 seeds this spring, but they both got knocked off on home ice in a winner-take-all Game 7 (the Predators fell to Winnipeg in the Second Round, while Tampa lost to Washington in the Eastern Conference Final).

At least Smashville got the Presidents’ Trophy, right? Not to mention its prestigious “Regular Season Western Conference Champions” banner.

Sorry, that’s the last time I’ll point out the Predators’ unprecedented award that should probably be penalized for excessive celebration.

Hopefully.

Just as they did last season, the 9-3-0 Predators currently sit atop the Central Division, the Western Conference and the NHL with the best record of all 31 teams.

The major reason for the Preds’ success is undoubtedly their goaltending tandem of 3-1-0 Pekka Rinne and 6-2-0 Juuse Saros. Even though they do have the luxury of playing behind the league’s 11th-best defense in terms of shots against per game (W Viktor Arvidsson‘s 12 takeaways, D Ryan Ellis‘ two blocks per game and F Zac Rinaldo‘s 2.3 hits per game have been major factors in Nashville’s 29.92 shots against per game), both have been integral in keeping the Predators’ goals allowed per game at 2.42 – the (t)third-best mark in the league. Both boast save percentages better than .915 and GAAs at or below 2.5, not to mention a shutout apiece.

After being activated from Injured Reserve yesterday (G Troy Grosenick made room on the roster by heading back to Milwaukee), it seems likely that Rinne will be the starter this evening. In his first five starts this season before going down with an undisclosed ailment, the Finn posted a .929 save percentage and 2.1 GAA – both of which are top-six among the 36 netminders with at least five starts to their credit.

Regardless of who’s in net, don’t focus too much on that or you’ll miss Nashville’s outstanding offense that ranks second-best in the conference and (t)sixth-best in the league by averaging 3.5 goals per game. In particular, no Predator has been as dominant as F Filip Forsberg, who’s 10-4-14 totals leave no doubt as to who’s the best scorer in Tennessee.

Forsberg’s 10 goals are (t)third-most in the NHL, trailing league-leaders F Patrick Kane (CHI) and RW David Pastrnak (BOS) by only one marker. After scoring a hat trick against Edmonton on Saturday (he scored all of Nashville’s goals in a 5-3 loss), the Swede was totally kept off the scoreboard Tuesday against Vegas, so he’ll be extra motivated to notch another tally tonight.

The team the Predators are leading for the Presidents’ Trophy are none other than the 8-2-1 Lightning, last season’s preseason darlings that have been ignored – rather unwisely, I might add – by the media in favor of division-rival Toronto so far this year.

The Leafs might be getting all the attention, but it’s business as usual in central Florida as the Bolts are leading the Eastern Conference just like last campaign. Tampa still boasts a dominant offense, not to mention a stellar goaltender and overpowering special teams.

Led from the second line by F Brayden Point and his 7-7-14 totals – not to mention RW Nikita Kucherov and F Yanni Gourde‘s respective 5-7-12 and 4-8-12 efforts – Tampa’s attack is among the most feared in the league, scoring 3.64 goals per game to rank third-best.

Only two days ago against New Jersey in an 8-3 victory, Point notched an outstanding five-point game, but if recent performances are any indication, he likely won’t find the scorecard tonight: his last five games saw him score 5, 0, 1, 0 and 3 points respectively.

Defensively, there’s not much to talk about with the Lightning since D Victor Hedman is still on Injured Reserve. The Bolts’ blue line has suffered during his absence, allowing a 12th-worst 32.36 shots against per game for the season.

However, who needs a defense when you have 6-1-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy playing for your team? Vasilevskiy has already been confirmed to be starting this game and will look to improve upon his .935 save percentage and 1.98 GAA that both already rank top-five among the 36 goalies with at least five starts to their names.

If this game boils down to special teams, there’s no way the Lightning aren’t coming away with two points. Tampa Bay leads Nashville in both statistics, including owning the league’s top-rated penalty kill (93.2 percent) that will be more than enough to counteract anything the Preds’ fourth-worst power play (13.3 percent) can muster.

Similarly, Tampa Bay’s power play will be a Halloween hangover to the Predators tonight, as a 29.3 success rate is good enough to rank sixth-best in the NHL – especially when it gets to go to work against the 10th-worst penalty kill (75 percent).

If Nashville’s penalty kill is going to have any success, it should probably try to keep F J.T. Miller under wraps as much as possible. Of his 3-7-10 totals on the year, 3-2-5 have occurred with the man-advantage. If those numbers don’t communicate just how potent he’s been, Miller’s .571 power play face-off winning percentage and .429 power play shooting percentage should do the trick.

An interesting note surrounding this game is its location. While it would be assumed that the Lightning would have the advantage considering they are at home, their 5-1-0 record at Amalie Arena is challenged by the Predators’ outstanding 5-0-0 road mark. With that in mind, there is no doubt Smashville is going to throw everything it has at tonight’s host.

There’s no doubt that this is going to be a showdown of the ages, just as should be expected from the top two teams in the league. But which one wins?

That’s the tough question.

I’m going to go out on a limb and take the Predators tonight. I think their offense is more than good enough to take advantage of the Lightning’s weakened defense corps. That being said, Vasilevskiy is going to be a difficult wall to break (as should Rinne be for the Bolts), so I’m predicting only a 2-1 victory for the visitors.

DTFR Podcast #130- Boo: A Very Merry Boone Jenner Halloween (Part II: Pierre-Luc DuBOOis)

Injuries are scaring the masses across the league, while old ghosts haunt Colorado (then lose), the Los Angeles Kings’ reign of terror is spooked, Mark Borowiecki is back again, Nick and Connor do their best to talk about the Columbus Blue Jackets and the thing that goes bump in the night? That’s the Tampa Bay Lightning thundering their way to the top. We also reviewed Bohemian Rhapsody before it comes out.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Tampa Bay Lightning 2018-19 Season Preview

Unknown-3

Tampa Bay Lightning

54-23-5, 113 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division

Lost in the Eastern Conference Final to WSH, 4-3

Additions: F Andy Andreoff (acquired from LA), D Cameron Gaunce

Subtractions: F Carter Ashton (signed, KHL), D Mathew Bodie (signed, KHL), G Peter Budaj (traded to LA), F Erik Condra (signed with DAL), F Alex Gallant (signed with VGK), F Chris Kunitz (signed with CHI), F Matthew Peca (signed with MTL), D Andrej Sustr (signed with ANA)

Still Unsigned: D Jamie McBain

Re-signed: F Adam Erne, D Slater Koekkoek, F Kevin Lynch, F Cedric Paquette

Offseason Analysis: The 2017-18 Tampa Bay Lightning had their best season in franchise history. Well, regular season, that is. Jon Cooper led his team from behind the bench to a 54-23-5 record (113 points) and the first seed in the Eastern Conference all the way to the 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals– their former division rival in what was once the Southeast Division.

It was their first postseason meeting since 2011 and the Bolts had home ice advantage in a Game 7. What could possibly go wrong? Washington was never supposed to get past the Second Round, let alone beat the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to landing in the Eastern Conference Final– plus Alex Ovechkin was always criticized for his Game 7 play in his career– and the Lightning had all of their offensive weapons, including Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

But Stamkos had no points in Game 7 against Washington, similar to the last five Game 7s he’s played. In six career Game 7s, Stamkos is pointless. Both literally and figuratively, if you may.

Tampa was shutout on home ice and their 2018 postseason run came to a crashing halt, one win shy of reaching their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.

For a team that’s made the Eastern Conference Final in three of the last four calendar years (2015, 2016 and 2018)– they’ve only gotten better, yet they haven’t had the results they’ve wanted (or expected) by now.

Steve Yzerman walked into the Lightning front office with Stamkos and Victor Hedman already on the roster, he left its day-to-day duties having drafted Kucherov (2011) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012), while signing an undrafted Tyler Johnson and acquiring Ryan Callahan, Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller over the years.

Yzerman’s seamless transition from Tampa’s face of the franchise star in Martin St. Louis to Stamkos, Kucherov and Co. was destined to win a Cup while the former face of the Detroit Red Wings superstar was at the helm of operations.

But Yzerman stepped down as General Manager, leaving the duties of cap management and roster creation to now former assistant GM Julien BriseBois earlier this month.

BriseBois’ transition to power will be peaceful, as Yzerman was sure to lock up core members of the roster in Kucherov and McDonagh to extensions beginning in the 2019-20 season this offseason.

It’d be unfair to grade BriseBois’ offseason maneuvers over the last 16 days at the same weight as the rest of the GMs in the league, but it’s worth noting– neither Yzerman nor BriseBois were able to snag Erik Karlsson in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.

Instead, the biggest prize on the trading block this offseason went to the San Jose Sharks– a team the Lightning can only face in the postseason in the Stanley Cup Final. If they make it that far.

Yzerman chose not to re-sign Chris Kunitz and Andrej Sustr, seeing the former as too old for Tampa’s core and the latter as an expendable asset that was a healthy scratch most nights. He did, however, re-sign glue guy forwards Adam Erne and Cedric Paquette, as well as defender Slater Koekkoek to one-year bridge deals.

Their successful roster is largely intact, despite trading backup goaltender Peter Budaj to the Los Angeles Kinds for forward Andy Andreoff early this summer, but as Cooper seeks to decrease Vasilevskiy’s workload, Budaj’s 3.77 goals against average and .876 save percentage in eight games last season weren’t going to cut it– even with his injuries.

Budaj’s back with the Ontario Reign (AHL) after Jack Campbell beat him out for the backup job behind Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Louis Domingue looks to improve on his 2.89 GAA and .914 SV% in 12 appearances with the Lightning last season, after going winless in seven appearances with the Arizona Coyotes (4.33 GAA, .856 SV%) before being acquired by Tampa.

Budaj’s eight appearances and Domingue’s 12 games in a Bolts uniform left Vasilevskiy to suit up for a career-high 65 games last season. He had a 2.62 GAA and a career-high .920 SV% in what was a Vezina Trophy finalist year with a 44-17-3 record.

While Vasilevskiy is one of the top-starting netminders in the league, 65 games played in the regular season, plus a maximum 28 potential games in the postseason is nearly 100 games of hockey. Multiply that by 60 minutes and, well, you get the point (hopefully).

Cooper has to rely on Domingue and his defense to reduce the minutes Vasilevskiy has to stand on his feet (or head) in order to keep his number one goaltender from getting fatigued.

Goaltending is all about finding that sweet spot– both in the rhythm of the game while making saves and in the ebbs and flows of the season-long schedule (including the possibility of a deep postseason run).

Offseason Grade: C+

So that’s it really.

Tampa didn’t create a mega-defense, because they didn’t get Karlsson. San Jose did.

They didn’t cause a disturbance in the Force with two potential No. 91s that would’ve seen John Tavares assume a new identity on the roster, because the Toronto Maple Leafs signed the biggest free agent on the market.

And that’s okay.

For Tampa, an “average” offseason meant sticking with their guys– the ones that reached the Final in 2015, almost reached it in 2016 and were brought in for the Conference Final run in 2018. Other than nailing down a backup goalie, the Bolts are ready to defend their top of the table standing in the Atlantic Division.