Tag Archives: Niklas Hjalmarsson

2017 NHL Entry Draft Round 1 Recap

Friday night marked Day 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and a record (welcome again Vegas Golden Knights) 31 players were selected in the 1st Round. In case you missed any of the action, here’s how it all broke down.

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NHL Entry Draft photos via NHL

2017 NHL Entry Draft– Round 1

  1. New Jersey Devils–> C Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)
  2. Philadelphia Flyers–> C Nolan Patrick, Brandon (OHL)
  3. Dallas Stars–> D Miro Heiskanen, HIFK, (Finland)
  4. Colorado Avalanche–> D Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)
  5. Vancouver Canucks–> C Elias Pettersson, Timra (SWE-2)
  6. Vegas Golden Knights–> C Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)
  7. New York Rangers (from Arizona)–> C Lias Andersson, HV71 (Sweden)
  8. Buffalo Sabres–> C Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (HS-MN)
  9. Detroit Red Wings–> C Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)
  10. Florida Panthers–> RW Owen Tippett, Mississauga (OHL)
  11. Los Angeles Kings–> C Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor (OHL)
  12. Carolina Hurricanes–> C Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Republic)
  13. Vegas Golden Knights (from Winnipeg)–> C Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound (OHL)
  14. Tampa Bay Lightning–> D Callan Foote, Kelowna (WHL)
  15. Vegas Golden Knights (from N.Y. Islanders)–> D Erik Brannstrom, HV71 (Sweden)
  16. Calgary Flames–> D Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL)
  17. Toronto Maple Leafs–> D Timothy Liljegren, Rogle BK (Sweden)
  18. Boston Bruins–> D Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Finland)
  19. San Jose Sharks–> C Josh Norris, USA U-18 (USHL)
  20. St. Louis Blues–> C Robert Thomas, London (OHL)
  21. New York Rangers–> C Filip Chytil, Zlin (Czech Republic)
  22. Edmonton Oilers–> RW Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane (WHL)
  23. Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota)–> D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
  24. Winnipeg Jets (from Columbus via Vegas)–> LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (Sweden)
  25. Montreal Canadiens–> C Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCHC)
  26. Dallas Stars (from Chicago)–> G Jake Oettinger, Boston University (Hockey-East)
  27. Philadelphia Flyers (from Washington via St. Louis)–> C Morgan Frost, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
  28. Ottawa Senators–> C Shane Bowers, Waterloo (USHL)
  29. Chicago Blackhawks (from Dallas via Anaheim)–> D Henri Jokiharju, Portland (WHL)
  30. Nashville Predators–> RW Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)
  31. St. Louis Blues (from Pittsburgh)–> C/LW Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)

Trades Made on Day 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft

  • The Arizona Coyotes traded D Connor Murphy and F Laurent Dauhpin to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for D Niklas Hjalmarsson.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired F Artemi PanarinF Tyler Motte and a 2017 6th round pick (170th overall) from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for F Brandon SaadG Anton Forsberg and a 2018 5th round pick.
  • The Arizona Coyotes traded D Anthony DeAngelo and a 2017 1st round pick (7th overall) to the New York Rangers for F Derek Stepan and G Antti Raanta.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired F Jordan Schroeder from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for F Dante Salituro.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks traded a 2017 1st round pick (26th overall) to the Dallas Stars for a 2017 1st round pick (29th overall) and a 2017 3rd round pick (70th overall).
  • The St. Louis Blues acquired F Brayden Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for F Jori Lehtera, a 2017 1st round pick (27th overall), and a conditional 2018 1st round pick.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins traded F Oskar Sundqvist and a 2017 1st round pick (31st overall) to the St. Louis Blues and acquired F Ryan Reaves and a 2017 2nd round pick (51st overall) in return.

2017 NHL Expansion Draft: Protected Lists

30 of the NHL’s 31 teams submitted their protected lists on Saturday by 5 p.m. ET. The protected lists were made public at 10:30 a.m. ET (originally scheduled for 10 a.m.) on Sunday. Additionally, the available lists of players to choose from were released.

The Vegas Golden Knights will now spend the next few days constructing their roster, with the full reveal set for Wednesday night during the NHL Awards Ceremony at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

To recap, here’s all of the protected players:

Anaheim Ducks

Forwards: Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Antoine Vermette

Defensemen: Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm

Goaltender: John Gibson

Arizona Coyotes

Forwards: Nick Cousins, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook, Tobias Rieder

Defensemen: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Connor Murphy, Luke Schenn

Goaltender: Chad Johnson

Boston Bruins

Forwards: David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Riley Nash, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller

Goaltender: Tuukka Rask

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards: Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Evander Kane, Johan Larsson, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo

Defensemen: Nathan Beaulieu, Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen

Goaltender: Robin Lehner

Calgary Flames

Forwards: Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferlund, Michael Frolik, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar, Sean Monahan

Defensemen: T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton

Goaltender: Mike Smith

Carolina Hurricanes

Forwards: Phillip Di Giuseppe, Elias Lindholm, Brock McGinn, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen

Defensemen: Trevor Carrick, Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy

Goaltender: Scott Darling

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards: Artem Anisimov, Ryan Hartman, Marian Hossa, Tomas Jurco, Patrick Kane, Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews

Defensemen: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook

Goaltender: Corey Crawford

Colorado Avalanche

Forwards: Sven Andrighetto, Blake Comeau, Matt Duchene, Rocco Grimaldi, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Nieto

Defensemen: Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Nikita Zadorov

Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov

Columbus Blue Jackets

Forwards: Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad, Alexander Wennberg

Defensemen: Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard

Goaltender: Sergei Bobrovsky

Dallas Stars

Forwards: Jamie Benn, Radek Faksa, Valeri Nichushkin, Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza

Defensemen: Stephen Johns, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell

Goaltender: Ben Bishop

Detroit Red Wings

Forwards: Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Henrik Zetterberg

Defensemen: Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Nick Jensen

Goaltender: Jimmy Howard

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards: Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu, Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Defensemen: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera

Goaltender: Cam Talbot

Florida Panthers

Forwards: Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck

Defensemen: Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk, Keith Yandle

Goaltender: James Reimer

Los Angeles Kings

Forwards: Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli

Defensemen: Drew Doughty, Derek Forbort, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin

Goaltender: Jonathan Quick

Minnesota Wild

Forwards: Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Jason Zucker

Defensemen: Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter

Goaltender: Devan Dubnyk

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards: Paul Byron, Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, Andrew Shaw

Defensemen: Jordie Benn, Jeff Petry, Shea Weber

Goaltender: Carey Price

Nashville Predators

Forwards: Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Johansen

Defensemen: Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban

Goaltender: Pekka Rinne

New Jersey Devils

Forwards: Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac

Defensemen: Andy Greene, John Moore, Mirco Mueller, Damon Severson

Goaltender: Cory Schneider

New York Islanders

Forwards: Andrew Ladd, Anders Lee, John Tavares

Defensemen: Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock

Goaltender: Thomas Greiss

New York Rangers

Forwards: Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello

Defensemen: Nick Holden, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal

Goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist

Ottawa Senators

Forwards: Derick Brassard, Ryan Dzingel, Mike Hoffman, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris

Defensemen: Cody Ceci, Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf

Goaltender: Craig Anderson

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards: Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Claude Giroux, Scott Laughton, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek

Defensemen: Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning

Goaltender: Anthony Stolarz

Pittsburgh Penguins

Forwards: Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin

Defensemen: Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz

Goaltender: Matt Murray

San Jose Sharks

Forwards: Ryan Carpenter, Logan Couture, Jannik Hansen, Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Chris Tierney

Defensemen: Justin Braun, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Goaltender: Martin Jones

St. Louis Blues

Forwards: Patrik Berglund, Ryan Reaves, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko

Defensemen: Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson, Alex Pietrangelo

Goaltender: Jake Allen

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards: Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos

Defensemen: Braydon Coburn, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman

Goaltender: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards: Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Josh Leivo, Matt Martin, James van Riemsdyk

Defensemen: Connor Carrick, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly

Goaltender: Frederik Andersen

Vancouver Canucks

Forwards: Sven Baertschi, Loui Eriksson, Markus Granlund, Bo Horvat, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter

Defensemen: Alexander Edler, Erik Gudbranson, Christopher Tanev

Goaltender: Jacob Markstrom

Washington Capitals

Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson

Defensemen: John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov

Goaltender: Braden Holtby

Winnipeg Jets

Forwards: Joel Armia, Andrew Copp, Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler

Defensemen: Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba

Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck

March 29 – Day 161 – Bird is the word

Though there’s only four games on today’s schedule, there’s at least two that should provide some captivating play.

The action starts a little later this evening as Chicago at Pittsburgh (NBCSN/TVAS) doesn’t drop the puck until 8 p.m., followed an hour later by Los Angeles at Calgary (SN). 10 p.m. marks the beginning of Washington at Colorado, preceding tonight’s nightcap – St. Louis at Arizona (SN360) – by half an hour. All times eastern.

Since the Kings‘ playoff chances took a significant hit last night with their loss in Edmonton, let’s catch the action in the Steel City.

 

Quick, tell me the best team in the NHL since the beginning of February. Calgary? Nope. Pittsburgh? Nada. Washington? Guess again.

You’ve probably figured it out, but the correct answer is the best team in the Western Conference, the 48-21-7 Blackhawks. In the past two months, Chicago has earned an impressive 18-4-2 record on the back of its elite offense.

On the season as a whole, the Hawks rank seventh-best in goals-per-game, but February and March have been an absolute clinic. Led by Patrick Kane‘s 33 points (the fourth-most in the league over that stretch), Chicago has buried 84 goals in that time, trailing only Nashville for most in the NHL.

Kane has been absolutely magnificent of late. 19 of his 34 goals on the season have been struck since the beginning of February, and both totals are tops in the Windy City. But the main reason Chicago is playing so well is they’ve stayed extremely healthy. Only 25 different skaters have donned a Blackhawks sweater in their past 24 games, an extremely impressive total that perfectly explains the club’s synergy.

That compatibility is most evidenced when the Hawks take to the power play. Though they actually rank 14th-worst on the season as a whole, Chicago has converted 22.4% of its man-advantages in the past month – the 10th-best effort in that time.

Captain Jonathan Toews gets to take a lot of credit for that success. Though he’s only registered one power play point in his past six games, Toews has nine on his resume since February to lead the club. Most of those have been assists to the other star of the first power play unit: Kane. He’s buried five power play goals in the past two months to headline the team and tie for fourth-most in the NHL.

If there’s one spot the Hawks are still trying to improve, it has to be their penalty kill. Stopping only 77.4% of opponents’ power plays all season, they rank fifth-worst in the league. The issue is not 30-16-3 Corey Crawford, but the defense playing in front of him. Crawford has faced the 12th-most power play shots against in the league (among netminders with 30 or more appearances) due to Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook being the only two players with more than 22 shorthanded shot blocks.

Though two games ended in a shootout, the last three games have been tough for the 46-18-11 Penguins, the third-best team in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference.

The reason for Pittsburgh‘s struggles is not on the ice, but off it. Nine players were listed on the Penguins‘ most recent injury report, though Jake Guentzel (concussion), Ron Hainsey (upper body) and Conor Sheary (lower body) skated yesterday. If any are cleared before tonight’s game, I’d bet on Sheary since Guentzel and Hainsey wore non-contact sweaters.

Usually one of the elite squads in the game, the holes in the lineup has most effected Pittsburgh‘s offense. Usually averaging a league-high 3.4 goals-per-game, the Pens have scored only six goals in their past three games, which ironically ties with Chicago for fifth-fewest since Thursday.

If able, Sheary will be a welcome addition to the lineup to rejuvenate the offense. He’s averaged .91 points-per-game this season, which is the third-best average in Pittsburgh. Of course, he’s no Evgeni Malkin, another member of the club spending more time in the training room than he’d like. His 33 goals are second-most on the team (and 10th-most in the league) behind Sidney Crosby‘s 42, as is his 1.16 points-per-game average (good for the ninth-most points in the NHL).

One thing that hasn’t suffered is the power play. Scoring on a third of its attempts, Pittsburgh is tied for sixth-best in the league since March 23 – well above its 22.4% success rate on the season. What’s most impressive about this effort is that the power play scoring has come from five different players, and none of them were drafted first overall.

Instead, the special team that has taken a step back is the one that was already poor to begin with. The Pens‘ penalty kill has blocked only one power play shot (courtesy of Tom Kuhnhackl) en route to only a 75% kill rate, which ties for eighth-worst in the league in the last week.

When the Penguins visited the United Center four weeks ago, they seemed to forget about one major detail: Kane.

Not Kahn, Captain Kirk; Kane. Notching his second hat trick in three games, the right wing teamed with Scott Darling and his 36-save effort to lead Chicago to a 4-1 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Chicago‘s Crawford (30 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) and Kane (82 points [tied for second-most in the league] on 34 goals and 48 assists [both tied for sixth-most in the NHL]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (42 goals [leads the league] for 82 points [tied for second-most in the NHL]), Matthew Murray (.923 save percentage [seventh-best in the league]), Justin Schultz (+27 [eighth-best in the NHL]) and Sheary (+26 [tied for ninth-best in the league]).

No matter how busy Chris Stewart – the Penguins‘ head athletic trainer –  is, Vegas still favors Pittsburgh to win with a -125 line. Unfortunately, I don’t feel quite so optimistic for the home team. Chicago has been on an absolute tear over the past 56 days and doesn’t look like its stopping now.

Hockey Birthday

  • Brad McCrimmon (1959-2011) – Selected 15th-overall by the Bruins in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman spent most of his 18 seasons in Philadelphia. The late 80s were an incredible year for this Saskatchewanian, as he not only made his lone All-Star Game appearance in ’88, but also hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Flames a year later.
  • Maxim Lapierre (1985-) – Though currently playing in Switzerland, this center has 10 seasons of NHL experience. Due to being selected 61st-overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the local Canadiens, most of his playing time came in Montréal. A consistent enforcer, he spent 130 minutes in the penalty box in 2011-’12 as a Canuck.

Three of Boston‘s four lines found the back of the net to lead the Bruins to a 4-1 victory over the Predators in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Patrice Bergeron (Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand) got the scoring started early with a wrist shot 2:28 into the game to give the Bruins an early lead. With 6:08 remaining in the first period, Second Star of the Game David Krejci (David Pastrnak and Drew Stafford) doubled that lead with a wrister of his own, the score that proved to be the game-winner.

The visiting Preds finally got on the scoreboard with 8:44 remaining in regulation when Craig Smith (Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis) tipped the puck into Tuukka Rask‘s net, but Third Star Noel Acciari (Riley Nash) neutralized that tally 4:31 later with the first goal of his NHL career. David Backes (Dominic Moore) took advantage of an empty net in the waning moments of the contest to set the final 4-1 score.

Rask earned the victory after saving 24-of-25 shots faced (96%), leaving Pekka Rinne with the loss, who saved 27-of-30 (90%).

Boston‘s home victory was a big one in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as road and home teams in the series have both earned an equal 187 points. Visitors do have the most wins though at 82-58-23, compared to the hosts’ 81-57-25.

March 12 – Day 144 – Wild-Hawks: not a biker gang

Every Sunday is Sunday Funday during hockey season.

I’m going to consider that my application for the NHL’s marketing department. Feel free to tweet me (@connorzkeith) to set up an interview. That’s what professionals do, right? Tweet people important things?

Anyways, while they’re composing their tweet, let’s watch some hockey. There’s lots to watch today, starting with the Minnesota at Chicago (NBC/TVAS) matinee at 12:30 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time marks the beginning of two contests (Montréal at Edmonton [RDS/SN] and the New York Rangers at Detroit [NBCSN]), followed two-and-a-half hours later by Washington at Anaheim (NHLN). Finally, Dallas at San Jose drops the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the day’s action. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Minnesota at Chicago: A rivalry game between the top-two teams in the Western Conference? Yes, please.
  • New York at Detroit: Original Six? Check. Return of Brendan Smith to Motown? Check.

It’s been hard to ignore a game between the Blackhawks and Wild all season, so we can’t stop today. Off to the United Center!

 

This is the fourth time these teams have met this season, and the fourth time the matchup has been featured as the DtFR Game of the Day.

In other words, I’m really committed to this rivalry.

But I should be! Today’s game features two of the top-five teams in the league and, should Chicago win, could leave the Wild with only a one-point lead in the Central Division with under 16 games remaining in the regular season.

As they’ve been for a majority of the season, the 43-17-6 Wild enter tonight’s game as the best team in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. The reason for that success? Their incredible offense, which has managed 218 goals – the second-most in the NHL.

Speaking of topping the charts, Mikael Granlund has been doing just that within Minnesota‘s offense on his team-leading 62 points. In only the fifth year of his NHL career, he continues to raise the bar regarding his abilities and contributions, as he sets a new career-high in all scoring statistics each year. Another of those stats is his 22 goals, another way he paces Minnesota. Four Wild skaters have 20 or more tallies, an incredible total.

While I would argue Minnesota is better when facing a full-strength defense compared to a short-handed opponent, that’s not to say its power play is poor. Led by – you guessed it – Granlund and his 18 extra-man points, the Wild have successfully converted 21.2% of their power plays – the eighth-best rate in the league. Granlund transitions into more of a passing role in Bruce Boudreau‘s offensive special team, instead opting to set up Nino Niederreiter, who has the club-lead in power play goals with eight.

Oh, and the penalty kill? Minnesota is pretty good at that, too. Thanks in large part to Jared Spurgeon‘s squad-leading 18 shorthanded shot blocks, the Wild have properly defended 83.7% of their undermanned situations, the seventh-best rate in the NHL.

Playing host this evening are the 42-20-5 Blackhawks, the second-best team in both the Central and the West. In a surprising turn of events, the facet of Chicago‘s game that I’ve been most impressed with has been their goaltending. While the offense is still as imposing as ever, the Hawks have allowed only 168 goals so far this year – the sixth-fewest in the NHL.

Of course, that effort always starts with the goaltender, and the Blackhawks have a good one in 26-15-3 Corey Crawford. He’s earned a .918 season save percentage for a 2.55 GAA, the 12th and (t)18th-best marks, respectively, among the 46 goalies with at least 22 appearances.

If the netminder is good and the offense is good, why does he have 15 regulation losses? You’ll notice defense is left out of that list, mostly because the Hawks‘ blueline has been… forgettable this year. Even though Niklas Hjalmarsson has an impressive 157 shot blocks to lead the team (he’s also tied for fourth-most in the league), his defense still allows 31.1 shots-against-per-game, the 10th-worst rate in the league.

But since the trade deadline, things are slowly improving in the Windy City. The Hawks‘ big add on the last day of February was Johnny Oduya. While not influencing shots the way he did two or three years ago, he does add experience along the blueline that has dropped to eighth-fewest shots-against since his arrival.

No matter how good the goaltender is, a bad defense usually yields a poor penalty kill. That’s the biggest pitfall for the Hawks this year, as they’ve neutralized only 77.6% of their shorthanded situations, the fourth-worst rate in the league. Just like he does the rest of the time, Hjalmarsson is the primary defenseman in this situation with his team-leading 34 shorthanded shot blocks. He’s not the problem.

Instead, he and Brent Seabrook are the only two blueliners with at least 15 shorthanded blocks to their credit this season, a lousy, too-small group. If this club has any intentions of winning four-straight even-numbered year Stanley Cups, more defensemen will need to get involved in the penalty kill.

If previous meetings are any indication, Chicago should win tonight’s game, albeit narrowly. Against the Wild this season, the Hawks have gone 2-1-0, including a 5-3 victory in the Xcel Energy Center in their most previous meeting on February 21.

Some players to keep an eye on this afternoon include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.931 save percentage [second-best in the league] for a 2.13 GAA [fourth-best in the NHL]) and Patrick Kane (71 points [tied for third-most in the league] with 42 assists [seventh-most in the NHL]) & Minnesota‘s Devan Dubnyk (36 wins on a .932 save percentage [both best in the league] and a 2.03 GAA [second-best in the NHL], including five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]), Granlund (+28 [eighth-best in the NHL]), Mikko Koivu (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the league]), Spurgeon (+33 [tied for second-best in the NHL]), Ryan Suter (+35 [best in the league]) and Jason Zucker (+33 [tied for second-best in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked Chicago a -130 favorite to win this afternoon’s contest. While I am concerned about the Hawks‘ penalty kill against the Wild‘s solid power play, I’ll stick with the experts. This should be a fantastic game, but I’ll give the home team the advantage.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bronco Horvath (1930-) – A two-time All Star, this center spent most of his nine-season NHL career in Boston. His best campaign was easily his 1959-’60 effort when he buried 39 goals for 80 points.
  • Douglas Murray (1980-) – San Jose selected this defenseman in the eighth round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent almost his entire nine-year career in the league. In 2007-’08 he managed a +20 with 10 points, but he was never able to replicate that defensive prowess over the remainder of his playing days.

After spotting the Panthers two first period goals, Tampa Bay notched three unanswered goals to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 3-2.

Florida didn’t score its first tally until 3:28 remained in the opening frame. The Ageless Wonder Jaromir Jagr (Aleksander Barkov and Jon Marchessault) takes credit for his 14th of the season with a wrist shot to beat Second Star of the Game Andrei Vasilevskiy. Mark Pysyk (Reilly Smith and Barkov) provided the Panthers‘ second tally only 2:41 later, setting the score at 2-0 going into the first intermission.

Jon Cooper must have had some choice words for the Lightning during the break, because the team that emerged from the dressing room was not the one that entered it. 3:43 after retaking the ice, Nikita Kucherov (Victor Hedman and Jonathan Drouin) buried a power play slap shot to pull the Bolts back within a goal of the Panthers. Third Star Yanni Gourde completed the comeback with 9:49 remaining in the period with an unassisted shorthanded goal, the first tally of his young career.

The game-winner waited a long time to present itself, but First Star Ondrej Palat (Andrej Sustr) forced it to present itself with 2:23 remaining in regulation. He sneaked his tip-in past James Reimer to earn the victory.

Vasilevskiy saved 32-of-34 shots faced (94.1%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Reimer, who saved 31-of-34 (91.2%).

The third win in four days by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day has pulled series hosts  within a point of the 73-51-22 visitors.

March 1 – Day 133 – Birds of prey

There’s only two games on Wednesday’s schedule, but don’t let that distract from the quality of at least one of the matchups. The action starts at 7 p.m. with Carolina at Tampa Bay, followed an hour later by Pittsburgh at Chicago (NBCSN/SN/TVAS).

Although the Lightning are fighting valiantly to break into the playoff discussion, there’s no way we’re passing up the opportunity to witness a potential Stanley Cup Finals preview.

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The Penguins make their yearly trip to the United Center with a 38-15-8 record, the third-best mark in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. As you’d expect from a club that has one of the all-time best players at the helm, offense is the name of the game for the Pens, as they’ve accounted for 211 goals this year – the most in the NHL.

That player hinted at above is, of course, Captain Sidney Crosby. He’s scored 34 goals for 67 points, both the best marks on the squad. On pace for 93 points by season’s end, it’ll be his best campaign since 2013-’14 when he broke the 100-point mark for the fifth time of his career.

With an offense like that, it’s hard to struggle on the power play. Considered, is a 21.6% conversion rate – ninth-best in the league – struggling? Regardless of the answer (I’d argue yes, but I’m also a little biased), Phil Kessel has been an absolute machine when his club has the man-advantage. He’s registered 26 points on the power play this season, which ties for the best mark in the league. Most of those have been helpers though, as he’s preferred to set up Crosby, who has a team-high 11 extra-man goals.

Playing host this evening are the 39-18-5 Blackhawks, the second-best team in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. As you’d expect from a club that has won its last four games and has such a position in the conference table, Chicago plays very well on both ends of the ice, yet it’s their offense that has been powering this team this season, as they’ve accounted for 185 goals in 62 games – the seventh-best rate in the league.

It’s nowhere near last year’s Hart, Lindsay and Ross-winning 106- point performance, but Patrick Kane is still the man making the Blackhawks machine run. He leads the club with 65 points and 24 goals.

What is probably the biggest surprise for a team of this caliber is how much Chicago has struggled on the penalty kill. Successfully neutralizing only 76.4% of opposing power plays, the Blackhawks rank third-worst in the NHL. The injured Niklas Hjalmarsson has tried his hardest to resolve this issue with his 34 shorthanded shot blocks, but he’s the only member of the club to have more than 25 to his credit.

Only one other team currently qualifying for the playoffs – the Montréal Canadiens – can claim one of the bottom-10 penalty kills in the league. They’ve already made an effort to resolve that issue by trading for Johnny Oduya, who’s 22 shorthanded blocks on the season already rank second-most for the Hawks without him even playing a game in a red sweater.

Both clubs have a lot to gain from a victory tonight. If the visiting Penguins come away with victory (heck, even if they only force the game beyond regulation), they’ll improve to second-place in the Metropolitan Division – though they don’t really clear Columbus, as the Jackets will trail by only two points and have a game in hand. Pittsburgh also has the most to lose from a regulation loss for that exact same reason, as well as the Rangers trailing them by only two points.

Less pressure is on the Hawks as far as losing is concerned, but winning provides a valuable prize. Since the Wild, who lead Chicago by five points, are inactive tonight, the Blackhawks would pull within three points of the Western Conference lead.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.929 save percentage [tied for second-best in the NHL] for a 2.18 GAA [tied for fourth-best in the league]) and Kane (41 assists [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] for 65 points [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (34 goals [most in the NHL] for 67 points [second-most in the league]), Evgeni Malkin (62 points [eighth-most in the NHL]), Matthew Murray (.926 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the league] for a 2.29 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL]) and Justin Schultz (+30 [tied for fifth-best in the league]).

Chicago is absolutely rolling right now. In their last 10 games, they’ve only lost one contest. One. Of course, the Penguins are a more than worthy adversary, but I don’t see the Blackhawks getting pushed around too much at the United Center.

Hockey Birthday

  • Max Bentley (1920-1984) – The most successful of the three Bentley brothers, this Hall-of-Fame center played a dozen seasons in the NHL – most of which in Toronto. In his six campaigns with the Maple Leafs, he hoisted the Stanley Cup three times. The four-time All-Star also won the 1943 Lady Byng and 1946 Hart Memorial Trophies.
  • Allan Stanley (1926-2013) – This defenseman also had a knack for hoisting the Cup, as he did it four times over his 21-season career – all with Toronto, his longest tenured club. Named to the Hall of Fame in 1981, he played in seven All-Star games.
  • Ron Francis (1963-) – Greatness must have been created on this date, as this Hall of Fame center was also born on March 1. Selected by Hartford fourth-overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, Francis played almost his entire 23-year career with the Whalers/Hurricanes franchise. Two of the years he was absent from the organization were spent in Pittsburgh, where he won back-to-back Stanley Cups. The four-time All-Star won the Byng Trophy three times, as well as the 1995 Frank Selke and the 2002 King Clancy Memorial Trophies.
  • Brad Winchester (1981-) – Known most for his St. Louis days, this left wing was selected 35th-overall by Edmonton in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. He officially retired from the NHL in 2015, three years after his final appearance in the league.
  • Alex Steen (1984-) – Picked 24th-overall by Toronto in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, this center is playing his ninth season in St. Louis this year. He’s scored 520 points during his career, 209 of which are goals.

Washington took the Rangers to the woodshed in yesterday’s DtFR Game of they Day, as they won 4-1 at the Madison Square Garden.

New York‘s lone tally was struck only 5:08 into the game, belonging to Brady Skjei (Adam Clendening and J.T. Miller) on a tip-in. The Blueshirts‘ 1-0 lead held into the first intermission.

The Capitals finally got on the board at the 27:28 mark of regulation with a snap shot from First Star of the Game Marcus Johansson (Dmitry Orlov and Second Star Evgeny Kuznetsov), followed 8:58 later by Brett Connolly‘s (Third Star Matt Niskanen and Lars Eller) wrist shot that proved to be the game-winner. No other scores were struck in the second period, leaving the score at 2-1 going into the second intermission.

Johansson (Kuznetsov and Niskanen) and Nicklas Backstrom (Johansson and John Carlson) provided the two insurance goals in the final frame to put the final nails in New York‘s coffin.

Braden Holtby earned the victory by saving 29-of-30 shots faced (96.7%), leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 34-of-38 (89.5%).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day have earned points in each and every one of the past 12 games to earn a 70-43-22 record – a dozen points better than hosts in the series.

February 21 – Day 125 – Central showdown

If you’re the type to like weekdays busy with hockey action, today is your day. Nine contests will have been played by the end of the day, and as usual they get started at 7 p.m. (Pittsburgh at Carolina [TVAS], Montréal at the New York Rangers [RDS] and Ottawa at New Jersey [RDS2]). Three more matchups (the New York Islanders at Detroit, Edmonton at Tampa Bay and Winnipeg at Toronto) drop the puck at 7:30 p.m., followed by a pair (Chicago at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Calgary at Nashville [SN1]) at the top of the hour. Finally, Los Angeles at Colorado, tonight’s nightcap, drop the puck at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Montréal at New York: There’s nothing better than an Original Six matchup that also serves as a potential playoff preview.
  • Chicago at Minnesota: Although this rivalry doesn’t have the age of an Original Six, that doesn’t take away from the general dislike of one another.

Trailing the Wild by seven points, the Blackhawks seem to be only improving as we get closer to the playoffs. Let’s see how they square up against the best in the West so far this season.

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Chicago makes their second trip of the month to the Xcel Energy Center with a 36-18-5 record, the second-best mark in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. While the Blackhawks have certainly been strong on both ends of the ice, they’ve been most impressive on the defensive end, as they’ve allowed only 150 goals against – the eighth-lowest total in the NHL.

As he has since 2010, 22-13-3 Corey Crawford has been charged with manning Chicago‘s crease, and one again he’s done a good job of it. Crawford has posted a season .917 save percentage and 2.56 GAA, the (t)15th and 21st-best efforts, respectively, among the 47 netminders with at least 19 appearances.

His play has been necessary, as the Hawks‘ defense hasn’t exactly been spectacular this year. Allowing 30.9 shots against per game, Chicago ties for 10th-worst in those regards, even with Niklas Hjalmarsson‘s impressive 151 shot blocks. Hjalmarsson has been quite the standout this season, as those blocks are not only the highest total in the Windy City, but it also ties for most in the NHL with Ottawa‘s Erik Karlsson.

The Blackhawks‘ otherwise shoddy defense catches up with them on the penalty kill, where their 77.1% success rate ties for fourth-worst in the league. Hjalmarsson continues to be a stud when his club is down a man, as his 34 shorthanded blocks nearly double the total of second-place Brent Seabrook‘s, but they are the only two players with more than a dozen penalty kill blocks to their credit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Stan Bowman makes a move for another blueliner before the fast-approaching trade deadline.

Playing host this evening are the 39-13-6 Wild, the second-best team in the NHL and best in the West. Winners of their past two games, Minnesota seems dead-set on eclipsing the 48-26-8 mark set by the 2006-07 team, and all signs are pointing towards them doing just that. Of course, they’ll also have intentions of getting past the Western Quarterfinals where that team fell, but that’s a bridge they’ll cross when they get to it.

In the meantime, Minnesota will continue to play the stellar defensive hockey that has gotten it to this point. Spearheading that effort is 32-10-3 Devan Dubnyk. That impressive record is no mistake, as his .934 save percentage and 1.97 GAA are both tops in the league.

Dubnyk’s play is made only more impressive by the fact that he has a below average defense playing in front of him. Even with Jared Spurgeon‘s team-leading 106 shot blocks, the Wild still allow 30.9 shots-against-per-game, which ties for 10th-worst in the NHL.

Say what you want about Minnesota‘s defense, but it certainly knows when to clamp down. Thanks in part to Spurgeon’s team-leading 15 shorthanded blocks, the Wild play the 10th-best penalty kill in the game, successful on 82.9% of opportunities.

To make matters worse for the opposition, the power play is absolutely exceptional. The best in the West, Minnesota ranks fourth in the league with a 21.9% success rate with the extra man. That effort is headed by Mikael Granlund and his 15 power play points, but the real skater Crawford needs to keep an eye on is Nino Niederreiter, as he’s scored eight times with the man-advantage.

Thanks to forcing overtime the last time these two teams met on February 8, the Wild have a one-point edge over Chicago in the season series between these clubs. When Minnesota visited the United Center on January 15, they won 3-2.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.928 save percentage [second-best in the NHL] for a 2.19 GAA [fourth-best in the league]), Patrick Kane (40 assists [fourth-most in the NHL] on 60 points [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Duncan Keith (36 assists [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (1.97 GAA on a .934 save percentage for 32 wins [all best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+31 [tied for sixth-best in the league] with 36 assists [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), Mikko Koivu (+32 [tied for fourth-best in the league]), Spurgeon (+33 [third-best in the NHL]), Ryan Suter (+35 [best in the league]) and Jason Zucker (+34 [second-best in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked the Wild a -130 favorite to win tonight, and that’s a hard number to argue with. Minnesota has some fantastic special teams and the best goalie in the game to go with home ice, so I expect them to take care of business this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Brian Rolston (1973-) – Selected 11th-overall by New Jersey in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, this center played most of his 17 seasons with the Devils. After hoisting the 1995 Stanley Cup in his rookie campaign, his only other major honor was being selected for the 1999 All-Star team.
  • Ryan Smyth (1976-) – This left wing was picked sixth-overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton, and he played 15 of his 19 seasons with the Oilers. His greatest campaign was his 2006-’07 effort when he notched 36 goals and 68 points between the Oil and Islanders.
  • James Wisniewski (1984-) – This defenseman has made at least one appearance in the last 11 seasons after being selected by Chicago in the fifth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and has spent most of career with the Blue Jackets.
  • Mattias Tedenby (1990-) – The 24th-overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing played his entire NHL career for the same Devils organization that drafted him. He appeared in 120 games for Jersey, and scored 10 goals.

Vincent Trocheck, ladies and gentleman! With five seconds remaining in regulation, the First Star of the Game fired a slap shot past Third Star Jake Allen to clinch a 2-1 victory for the Panthers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day!

In addition to scoring the last goal of the night, Florida also took credit for the first. With 9:20 remaining in the first frame, Jon Marchessault (Nick Bjugstad) scored a wrist shot to give the Panthers a lead they held through both intermissions.

The Blues finally leveled the game at the 2:54 mark of the third period on a Kyle Brodziak (Scottie Upshall and Ryan Reaves) wrister, and it looked like it was going to be enough to earn a point and get to three-on-three overtime, but Trocheck (Mark Pysyk and Reilly Smith) was not interested. His slap shot found the back of the net to send the Predators back to Sunrise in style.

Second Star James Reimer earned the victory after saving 26-of-27 shots faced (96.3%), leaving the loss to Allen, who saved 31-of-33 (93.9%).

As far as the DtFR Game of the Day series is concerned, what is probably the most impressive thing about the Panthers‘ victory is that the 63-43-21 road teams in the series now have a one-point lead on hosts.

February 10 – Day 114 – Should the Blackhawks be scared of Winnipeg?

It’s not often I say this, but today is not a great day for hockey – no matter how hard Hall of Fame coach Bob Johnson tries to convince us otherwise.

There’s only two games on the schedule today, and they’re both snoozers. Both Tampa Bay at Minnesota (NBCSN/TVAS) and Chicago at Winnipeg drop the puck at 8 p.m. eastern this evening.

Of the two, I expect the contest in Manitoba to be the better tonight since it’s a divisional matchup, so off to Canada we go!

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This is the fifth game in 33-17-5 Chicago‘s six-game road trip leading up to their bye week, but that doesn’t seem to be bothering them too much. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak that has propelled them to the second-best mark in the Western Conference. The reason they’ve been so good? Their offense has managed 154 goals in 55 games, which ties for the 10th-best rate in the league.

Remember how Patrick Kane won the Hart Memorial Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award and the Art Ross Trophy last season for absolutely annihilating the NHL with 106 points? He may not be reaching that number again this year, but he’s still leading the pack for the Hawks. His 53 points are the most on the club. However, it’s not him scoring the puck this campaign. Instead, he’s leaving that responsibility to Marian Hossa, who’s 19 tallies are tops in Chicago (sorry Wade Megan, we’re only counting NHL goals).

The main issue for the Blackhawks continues to be their penalty kill, which ranks fourth-worst in the league and stops only 76.7% of opposing power plays. One of the few bright spots has been the play of Niklas Hjalmarsson, who has blocked 27 shots when facing the man-advantage.

Playing host this evening are the 25-27-4 Jets, who currently occupy fifth-place in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference, due in part to their two-game losing skid. The biggest struggle in Winnipeg this season is on the defensive end, as the Jets have allowed 175 goals against – the most in the NHL.

17-13-1 Connor Hellebuyck has gotten most of the starts this season, and for good reason: he has the best save percentage and GAA in Winnipeg. Saving .909 percent of pucks for a 2.78 GAA, he stacks up (t)30th and 32nd in the league against the 47 other netminders with at least 17 appearances.

That being said, it’s been 4-4-0 Ondrej Pavelec that Paul Maurice has charged with manning the crease for the past four games, even though his .888 save percentage and 3.55 GAA are the worst marks by Jets goalies. It’ll be interesting to see who Maurice decides to give the nod against Chicago‘s solid offense.

Unfortunately, the troubles don’t stop there for Winnipeg. Even though Dustin Byfuglien has a decent 95 shot blocks to his credit to lead the squad (ties for 33rd-most in the NHL), the Jets allow 30.7 shots to reach Hellebuyck’s crease per game, the (t)12th-worst rate in the league.

Pair a poor defense with poor goaltending, and you get a miserable penalty kill. That’s the situation Winnipeg finds itself in, as it’s 76.6% kill rate in third-worst in the NHL. Fortunately for the Jets, they do have Toby Enstrom managing the defensive special team with his team-leading 22 shorthanded blocks.

The Blackhawks just got the monkey off their back in Minnesota, beating the Wild for the first time in nine games Wednesday. Now they turn their attention to the Jets, an unusual team that seems to genuinely look forward to playing the Hawks. Winnipeg has already won the first four contests between the clubs by a combined score of 14-5. They last met in Chicago on January 26, where the Jets won 5-3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.925 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] for a 2.31 GAA [ninth-best in the league]) should he play, Duncan Keith (34 assists [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and Kane (36 assists [tied for third-most in the league] among 53 points [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) & Winnipeg‘s Mark Scheifele (25 goals among 53 points [both tied for seventh-most in the league]).

This is a tough game to pick. Chicago is the obvious choice given their winning streak and overall superior play, but they are on the tail end of a long road trip. Winnipeg has home ice, and of course has won the last four games against the Hawks in convincing fashion. I wouldn’t bet on this game, but I’ll take the Jets to try to complete the season sweep.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bud Poile (1924-2005) – This right win played for every Original Six team but Montréal, but he spent most of his days in a Toronto sweater. His most memorable season was in 1946-’47, when he won the Stanley Cup. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990 as a Builder.
  • Randy Velischek (1962-) – The 53rd-overall pick in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft by the North Stars, this defenseman played most of his career in New Jersey. His 1984-’85 campaign in Minnesota was probably his best, as he notched 13 points while only allowing six goals.
  • Peter Popovic (1968-) – Selected by Montréal in the fifth-round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played 485 games over eight seasons in the league – most of which with the Canadiens. His 1995-’96 season was his best, marking a +21 with 14 points to his credit.
  • Mike Ribeiro (1980-) – Currently in his third season in Nashville, this center was selected 45th-overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal. He’s most known for his six seasons in Dallas.
  • Jakub Kindl (1987-) – The 19th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Detroit, this defenseman is in his first full season with the Panthers after getting traded from the Red Wings last year.

Three coaching changes: three winning debuts. Bruce Cassidy pushed the right buttons last night in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Boston bested the Sharks 6-3.

Third Star of the Game David Backes (Torey Krug and David Krejci) got things started quickly, burying a slap shot only 52 seconds into the game to give the Bruins an early lead. It only lasted 6:59 though, as ex-Bruin Joe Thornton (Tomas Hertl) scored his wrister to level the game. The next two goals belonged to the home team. First Star Patrice Bergeron (Backes and Brandon Carlo) took his turn first by scoring a tip-in with 4:08 remaining in the period, followed 1:39 later by Second Star David Pastrnak‘s (Bergeron) power play slap shot to set the score at 3-1 going into the first intermission.

Justin Braun (Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau) did his best Backes impression to pull the Sharks within a tally only 1:08 after resuming play, but Boston‘s offense was more than up to the task. With 6:56 remaining in the second period, Tim Schaller (Riley Nash and Dominic Moore) scored the eventual game-winning goal, followed 6:07 later by Pastrnak’s (Bergeron and Brad Marchand) second power play goal of the game, which set the score at 5-2 going into the second intermission.

With 2:37 remaining in the game, Timo Meier (Joel Ward and Hertl) scored a wrister for his third tally of the season, but even that goal didn’t go unanswered. With exactly 30 seconds remaining in the game Marchand (Bergeron and Backes) tacked on one final goal for the Bruins.

Tuukka Rask earns the victory after saving 23-of-26 shots faced (88.5%), while Aaron Dell takes the loss, saving 18-of-20 (90%). He replaced Martin Jones, who’d saved only nine-of-12 (75%), after the first intermission. Jones earned no decision.

Boston‘s win is the second in three days by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series to improve the hosts’ record to 61-37-18, 10 points better than the roadies.

February 8 – Day 112 – Selections are Slim, Vol. II

For your viewing pleasure, here’s tonight’s listings.

  • Chicago Blackhawks at Minnesota Wild – 8 p.m. eastern – NBCSN, SN and TVAS
  • Blindspot – 8 p.m. eastern – NBC
  • Criminal Minds – 9 p.m. eastern – CBS
  • Empire – 9 p.m. eastern – FOX
  • Modern Family – 9 p.m. eastern – ABC
  • Code Black – 10 p.m. eastern – CBS

I’m with Ariel on this one, no matter how funny Phil Dunphy is. That’s why they invented the DVR.

For not having other viewing options, the NHL made sure to set us up with a fantastic brewing rivalry that should yield some exciting hockey.

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This will be Chicago‘s eighth time being featured in the Game of the Day, while Minnesota is making only their sixth appearance. Within the DtFR series, the teams have 4-3-0 and 2-2-1 records, respectively.

Chicago makes their first trip of the season to the Xcel Energy Center riding a two-game winning streak and with a 32-17-5 record, good enough for second place in the Central Division. Although they play very well on both ends of the ice, I’m most impressed by the Blackhawks‘ goaltending, which has allowed only 140 goals in 54 games – the 10th-best rate in the NHL.

Numbers like that have to start with the goalie. Corey Crawford has earned his 20-12-3 record with a season .917 save percentage and 2.58 GAA, the (t)17th and 22nd-best efforts, respectively, among the 47 netminders with at least 18 appearances.

Crawford doesn’t seem incredible on paper, but presenting goaltending numbers without shots faced doesn’t tell the whole story. Measured by shots against-per-game, the Blackhawks have the ninth-worst defense in the game, allowing 31.1 shots to reach Crawford’s crease every night. Niklas Hjalmarsson has tried his hardest to keep pucks off his netminder with his team-leading (and tied for fourth-most in the league) 132 shot blocks, but he’s the only skater with more than 85 to his credit. I expect Stan Bowman to be actively looking for a top-four, and maybe top-two, defenseman before the March 1 trade deadline.

That shoddy defense truly yields its ugly head when a Hawk takes a seat in the penalty box. Chicago‘s 76.4% penalty kill rate is third-worst in the league, and the worst among playoff-qualifiers by at least 2.9%. Once again, Hjalmarsson has been the best skater when down a man, but his team-leading 25 shorthanded blocks have done little to inspire the team as no other Blackhawk has more than 18.

Also winners of their last two games, Minnesota enters play tonight with a 35-12-5 record, the best mark in the Western Conference and second-best in the league. Just like Chicago, the Wild play exceptionally well on both ends of the ice, but their biggest strength has been their offense, which has managed 174 tallies in 52 games – the third-best rate in the league.

Mikael Granlund was recently featured in Frank Fanelli’s “Sick Hands Sunday” segment, and for good reason. Thanks in part to a hat trick on Saturday, Granlund leads the club with 48 points to his credit, but it wasn’t enough to propel him past power play linemate Nino Niederreiter for the clubhouse goal scoring title. Niederreiter has lit the lamp 17 times for Minnesota.

Tonight’s contest is only Game Two of the four-game regular season series between these clubs. They met for the first time on January 15 -another matchup that was broadcast nationally in the States. That contest took place in the Windy City, where the Wild were able to earn a 4-3 victory thanks to three-straight unanswered goals to close the game.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Chicago‘s Patrick Kane (35 assists [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] among 52 points [tied for eighth-most in the league]) & Minnesota‘s Mathew Dumba (+24 [tied for ninth-best in the NHL]), Granlund (+30 [tied for fifth-best in the league] on 33 assists [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]), Mikko Koivu (+30 [tied for fifth-best in the league]), Jared Spurgeon (+31 [fourth-most in the NHL]), Ryan Suter (+32 [tied for best in the league]) and Jason Zucker (+32 [tied for best in the NHL]).

Seemingly to add a bit of drama to tonight’s game, Bruce Boudreau has elected to start Darcy Kuemper in net instead of Devan Dubnyk. Because of that, I believe the Hawks will be able to win a barn-burner of a game.

Hockey Birthday:

  • Dino Ciccarelli (1960-) – Ciccarelli played 1232 games over 19 seasons in the NHL, putting in the most time with the Minnesota North Stars (nine seasons and 602 games), his first club. The right wing has the notable distinction of most goals scored (608) by an undrafted player. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.
  • Kirk Muller (1966-) – Muller played 1349 games over 19 seasons, with a majority of that time spent in New Jersey (556 games over seven seasons), the team that drafted him with the second-overall pick in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. Nowadays, Muller wears a suit to games as an associate coach with Montréal, but spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach in St. Louis.

When you score every period, odds are usually good that you’re going to win. That was the case last night for the Rangers, as they beat Anaheim 4-1 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Oscar Lindberg (Pavel Buchnevich and Marc Staal) takes credit for the tally in the first period. He buried his wrister 4:01 after the initial puck drop to give New York a 1-0 lead.

The Blueshirts‘ second goal was struck 1:06 after returning to the ice from the first intermission. Mats Zuccarello (Chris Kreider and Brady Skjei) takes credit with his snap shot. It became the game-winner because Jakob Silfverberg (Andrew Cogliano) was able to pull the Ducks back within a score 5:08 later, setting the score at 2-1 going into the second intermission.

Things started falling apart for Anaheim in the third period, as Second Star Michael Grabner was able to light the lamp twice. One was an honest goal only 3:45 after resuming play (Third Star J.T. Miller and Skjei), but his second (Miller and Kevin Hayes) with 19 seconds remaining was on an empty net, sealing New York‘s victory.

First Star Henrik Lundqvist impressively saved 43-of-44 shots faced (97.7%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to John Gibson, who saved only 16-of-19 (84.2%).

New York‘s victory was the 60th by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That improves the hosts’ record to 60-37-17, nine points better than the visitors.

January 20 – Day 97 – Blackhawks in Boston

Loverboy is right: everybody is working for the weekend.

No, not the Weeknd – the weekend, and what better way to get it started than with hockey? The action begins tonight at 7 p.m. with three games (Chicago at Boston [NHLN/SN1/TVAS], Detroit at Buffalo and Pittsburgh at Carolina) and Montréal at New Jersey (RDS) half an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the puck drop of Nashville at Edmonton, with tonight’s nightcap – Florida at Vancouver – waiting an hour before getting underway.

There’s been a lot of Original Six matchups this week, and any involving the Blackhawks are special due to rarity. Given that both are currently in playoff position, let’s head up to the City of Notions.

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The Hawks make their yearly trip to the TD Garden with a 28-14-5 record, good enough for second place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. They’ve found that success by scoring a lot of goals, already notching 130 this season, which ties for 10th most in the league.

They call him Showtime for a reason. Patrick Kane has had his hand on an impressive 47 tallies this season to lead the team. That being said, it’s been second-year Hawk Artem Anisimov that has scored the most goals on the team with 18 to his credit.

That offensive success has been necessary for Chicago to cover for their horrendous penalty kill. The Blackhawks‘ 75.2% kill rate ties for second-worst in the NHL and is the worst among squads currently in playoff position. Niklas Hjalmarsson has tried to do all he can with his 19 shorthanded blocks, but him and Brent Seabrook are the only two skaters with more than nine.

Given the fact that usual-starter Corey Crawford‘s .822 save percentage against the power play is third-worst in the NHL among goalies with at least 15 appearances, it goes without saying that the entire team needs to make a stronger effort to keep shots off his net. If not, Stan Bowman will not be afraid to bring in another blueliner to bolster his squad. Fortunately, Scott Darling has been named the starter for tonight’s game, as his save percentage against the power play is slightly better at .898.

Playing host this evening are the 23-19-6 Bruins, the third-best team in the Atlantic Division. They pose a good matchup against the Blackhawks, as they’ve found much of their success on the defensive end. The Bruins have allowed only 121 goals in 48 games, which ties for the seventh-best rate in the league.

With a goaltender like 22-10-4 Tuukka Rask, it’s tough to lose. He’s earned that impressive record on a .919 save percentage and 2.11 GAA, the (t)14th and fourth-best rates, respectively, in the league against the 42 other goalies with 19 or more appearances.

I’ve said it every time we’ve featured Boston, and it’s not going to change tonight: Rask is successful this year because of the incredible defense playing in front of him. He faces only 26.6 shots-per-game, the second-fewest in the league. Zdeno Chara has headed that effort with 84 blocks in 42 games. When combined with Brandon Carlo and Adam McQuaid‘s efforts, a whopping 225 shots have been kept off Rask’s net (4.6875 per game).

It’s not surprising that the second-best defense at even-strength also fields the second-best penalty kill. Led by Chara’s 16 shorthanded blocks (tied for second-most in the NHL), Boston rejects 86.9% of opposing power plays.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Boston‘s Brad Marchand (45 points [tied for sixth-most in the NHL] on 28 assists [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Rask (five shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL] and a 2.11 GAA [fifth-best in the league] for 22 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Chicago‘s Darling (.924 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the league]), Kane (33 assists [second-most in the NHL] among 47 points [fourth-most in the league]) and Duncan Keith (29 assists [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]).

It looks like defense and home ice is the key to victory, as Vegas favors the Bruins at -138. It’s a hard formula to argue with, especially given the fact that Boston‘s offense is no slouch. The Bruins should earn tonight’s victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Lou Fontinato (1932-2016) – This defenseman played almost the entirety of his nine-season NHL career with the Rangers. By the time his career was through, he’d notched 104 points to go with his 1247 career penalty minutes.

Although one game is far too small a sample size to make any concrete claims, it seems that Doug Weight can at least handle his own behind the bench, as his Islanders beat Dallas 3-0 in his coaching debut.

First Star of the Game John Tavares (Third Star Anders Lee) is the man responsible for the winning goal, burying his wrister with 6:29 remaining in the first frame.

The first of the two insurance goals did not get struck until only 3:06 remained in regulation. Once again it was Tavares (Nikolai Kulemin) taking credit for the tally, this time a shorthanded wrister. Calvin de Haan (Second Star Thomas Greiss) completed the game’s scoring on an empty net with only four seconds remaining in the game.

Greiss earns the shutout victory by saving all 23 shots he faced, leaving the loss to Kari Lehtonen, who saved 33-of-35 (94.3%).

Mark New York‘s victory as another win for the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Hosts now have a 52-33-14 record, seven points better than the visitors.

January 15 – Day 92 – Wild-Hawks rivalry

What better way to close out your weekend than with hockey? The action gets an early start at 1 p.m. with Philadelphia at Washington (NBC/TVAS), with two contests dropping the puck in prime time at 7 p.m. (New Jersey at Vancouver [SN] and Minnesota at Chicago [NBCSN]). Finally, St. Louis at Anaheim (NHLN) gets underway at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at Washington: In addition to being a rivalry, it’s also a rematch from last season’s Eastern Quartefinals.
  • Minnesota at Chicago:  A Wild win tonight would distance Minnesota‘s Central Division and Western Conference lead over their biggest rivals in their first meeting of the year.

Just like yesterday’s rivalry in Ottawa, the matchup in the United Center is just too big to miss. Off to the Windy City we go!

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Way back in the day, the Blackhawks and North Stars had a fantastic rivalry, similar to the Bears and Vikings and the Twins and White Sox. Of course, it died out when the Stars lost the direction from their name and headed to the Lone Star State.

Simply introducing the Wild to the league in 2000 did not completely rekindle the dormant geographical rivalry. That job was completed 13 years later when these clubs met in the Western Quarterfinals. Although the Hawks needed only five games to dispatch the Wild, a playoff meeting paired with Minnesota joining the Central Division that offseason marked the beginnings of today’s rivalry.

For three-straight seasons, these clubs met in the postseason, and the Wild have been eliminated three straight-times. Minnesota does have a big victory over the Hawks though: last season’s Stadium Series matchup at TCF Bank Stadium, where the Wild whipped Chicago 6-1.

What better environment for a statement win? With a win over the Stars last night for their third-straight, Minnesota took control of Central Division and Western Conference by winning the games-played tiebreaker over Chicago. Of course, the Wild would love to create a real point-spread over the Hawks before staking dramatic claims like “Best in the West” or something to that effect.

Minnesota has earned their 27-9-5 record by playing  some phenomenal goaltending that has allowed only 84 goals, the second-fewest in the NHL.

At the midway point of the season, 22-7-3 Devan Dubnyk easily gets my vote (if I had one) for Vezina. His .94 save percentage and 1.77 GAA are both best in the NHL.

Making his effort more impressive is the fact that Minnesota‘s defense is not one of the elite units in the league. Led by Jared Spurgeon‘s 73-block effort, the Wild have allowed 29.5 shots-per-game to reach Dubnyk’s crease, only the 12th-best in the NHL.

Dubnyk’s success has carried into the penalty kill. Thanks to him and Spurgeon’s team-leading 11 shorthanded blocks, Minnesota ranks fifth-best on the penalty kill, refusing to yield a goal on 85.1% of opposing power plays.

Playing host this evening are the 27-13-5 Blackhawks, currently in second place in the Central Division due to losing the games-played tiebreaker to the this tonight’s opponent. They’ve found that success by playing a well-rounded game, but I’ve been most impressed with their goaltending that has allowed only 112 goals over 45 games – the seventh-lowest average in the league.

The man between the pipes more often than not for Chicago has been 16-9-3 Corey Crawford, whose .922 save percentage and 2.47 GAA are (t)12th and 19th-best among the 47 netminders with 14 or more appearances.

While Dubnyk has certainly been better than Crawford this season, Crawford has arguably been more important for his club this season as the Hawks‘ defense allows 31.3 shots-per-game to reach his crease, tied for the eighth-worst rate in the league. Niklas Hjalmarsson is doing all he can to resolve that issue, as his 104 blocks are not only most on the team, but fifth-most in the league.

The biggest issue for Chicago this season has been their miserable penalty kill. Ranked third-worst in the league, the Hawks have stopped only 76.3% of opposing power plays. Once again, Hjalmarsson cannot be lumped into that effort, as his 19 shorthanded blocks are easily the best in the Windy City.

Some players to keep an eye on include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.924 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the NHL]), Patrick Kane (33 assists [second-most in the league] among 45 points [fourth-most in the NHL]), Duncan Keith (29 assists [fourth-most in the league]) and Artemi Panarin (42 points [ninth-most in the NHL]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (1.77 GAA on a .94 save percentage [both best in the league] for 22 wins, including five shutouts [both tied for second-most in the NHL]), Mikael Granlund (+22 [tied for fourth-best in the league]), Mikko Koivu (+22 [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+24 [third-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+27 [best in the NHL]) and Jason Zucker (+25 [second-best in the league]).

This should be a fantastic game. Minnesota comes into this game riding tons of momentum, while Chicago finally has the goal of reclaiming their position in the standings. Given that the Hawks were inactive yesterday and Minnesota had to travel from Texas, I’m leaning towards Chicago, but that’s not to say I’m picking against a very impressive Wild team.

Hockey Birthday

  • Brett Lebda (1982-) – Although undrafted, this defenseman played 397 games over seven seasons in the NHL, most of which with Detroit. He was a member of the Wings‘ 2008 Stanley Cup squad.

You did it Leafs fans. Toronto‘s 4-2 victory over Ottawa in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day has earned them third place in the Atlantic Division. If they hold onto it, they qualify for the playoffs.

Only 6:26 into the game, Second Star of the Game Nazem Kadri (James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak) got things started with a power play wrister to give the Maple Leafs an early lead that lasted until the first intermission.

Toronto got off to an even faster start in the second period as Bozak (Mitch Marner) buried a wrister only 1:07 after returning to the ice. The Senators pulled back within a goal when Dion Phaneuf (Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson) potted a slap shot 8:08 later. With 110 seconds remaining before the second intermission, Third Star Kyle Turris (Bobby Ryan and Ryan Dzingel) leveled the game with a wrister.

Kadri (William Nylander and Matt Hunwick) takes credit for the winning goal only 2:31 after returning from intermission – yet another quick goal. Connor Brown (Auston Matthews) tacked on an insurance goal 5:21 later to secure Toronto‘s victory.

First Star Curtis McElhinney earned his first victory with the Leafs by saving 35-of-37 shots faced (94.6%), leaving the loss to Mike Condon, who saved 23-of-27 (85.2%).

The Leafs‘ victory is the second-straight by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, setting the series record at 49-31-14 in favor of the homers by six points.