Tag Archives: Nino Niederreiter

WHL Draft-Eligible Players to Watch

The Western Hockey League had a banner year in the 2017 NHL Draft. Not only was Nolan Patrick in the conversation to go number one overall from the beginning of the 2016-17 season until draft day (ultimately being taken second overall by the Flyers), but three of the first ten picks came from the league and the league had seven total first round picks.

For comparison, the Ontario Hockey League, which tends to get a lot more publicity because of its geographic location, only had one player taken in the top ten picks and had just five players taken in the first round.  WHL alumnus Kailer Yamamoto, taken with the 22nd pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, has managed to stick with the Edmonton Oilers out of camp though the question remains whether he will stay past the 9-game mark, burning a year off his entry-level contract in the process.

While the Western Hockey League was typically known for a more physical and defensive-minded style of play than the junior leagues back east, as hockey has evolved, so too has the WHL. The league that gave us Cam Neely, Marian Hossa, Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Byfuglien continues to churn out quality defensemen like Seth Jones, Ivan Provorov and Morgan Rielly, but it has also produced players like Tyler Johnson, Nino Niederreiter, and Yamamoto who don’t necessarily fit the WHL’s rough and tumble image.

NHL scouts are working day-in and day-out to find the next player that can be a difference-maker for their franchise, seeing 6-7 games a week. More and more they are also looking at advanced stats to supplement their knowledge base and provide them additional data points, though the data at the junior level isn’t always of a consistently high quality.  By the time the season is over, these scouts will have spent enough time with the players to better understand their personalities off-ice in addition to recognizing a player from a passing glance at his skating stride.

So, what players should you be paying attention to now that the 2017-2018 WHL season is underway? Who are the players making a name for themselves out West that might have their name called by your favorite team next June?  While the WHL isn’t likely to repeat last year’s draft performance, there are still some players to pay attention to as the year progresses.  Defensemen Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs is clearly at the top of this WHL draft class, and is a possible top 10 in the NHL Draft.  Smith is a bit on the small side, but moves the puck well and is always thinking a step ahead of the play.  What sets him apart is his hockey sense.  Smith has come out of the gates strong with 12 points in his first 11 games.

Outside of Smith, there are a few other players who might be first round material. They include Jett Woo of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Riley Sutter of the Everett Silvertips, and Alexander Alexeyev of the Red Deer Rebels. Woo is another defenseman who already is close to the playing weight he’ll need to be to compete at the next level and he’s a sound positional player.  He’s very competitive and plays a physical game.  Like Smith, he’s putting up good numbers to start the season with 9 points including an impressive 4 goals in his first 10 games of the season.  He’s also a right-handed shot, which could help his stock.

Sutter is a big right wing at 6’3” and 205 pounds. The last name, no doubt, looks familiar to you and, yes, he is from that Sutter family.  Specifically, he is the son of Ron Sutter.  What was interesting, in speaking with one scout, was that Riley’s personality and playing style don’t necessarily match the expectations you might have based on his size and family name.  He is a quiet, cerebral player who knows where to be on the ice and by the time the game is over you look down and notice that he’s had one of the best games of any of the players on the ice.  In the early going, he has 11 points in 12 games including a team-leading seven goals.  I’m hoping to get a chance to see Sutter play in person later this month.

Alexeyev is another right-handed defenseman, but he has the size that neither Smith nor Woo have at this point, standing 6’3” tall. He has an incredibly accurate point shot and, like Woo, he’s right handed.  The biggest concern with the talented rearguard is how he comes back from a knee injury that required surgery and cost him half of the 2016-17 season.  Further complicating things, an upper body injury has cost him several games this season, but when he has been healthy, he’s managed 3 assists in 4 games played.  It will be interesting to see if his draft stock slips if injury keeps him off the ice for a substantial period of time.

It is still very early in the junior season and teams and players are still figuring things out. Beyond the four players I mentioned above, there are others who may seemingly come out of nowhere.  Last year’s initial Central Scouting rankings didn’t have Cody Glass going in the first round, let alone the top 10.  As the season progresses, I will be looking to see other players that emerge as NHL talents and to see how Smith, Woo, Sutter and Alexeyev perform.

Minnesota Wild 2017-2018 Season Preview

Minnesota Wild

49-25-8, 106 points (16’-17’), 2nd in the Central Division

Eliminated in the First Round by St. Louis

Key additions: Matt CullenTyler EnnisMarcus Foligno, Kyle Quincey

Key subtractions: Martin Hanzal (signed with Dallas), Darcy Kuemper (signed with LA), Jason Pominville (Traded to Buffalo), Nate Prosser (signed with St. Louis), Marco Scandella (Traded to Buffalo), Alex Tuch (Taken by Vegas)

Offseason Analysis:

The Minnesota Wild had a very tough offseason on paper when it all began. With the expansion draft looming, the Wild knew they were going to lose a big name player if they couldn’t find a deal to send out one of their big name defenseman. They found that deal on June 30th, swapping Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville for then-Sabres Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis’ rights. The Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher had reportedly been chasing Foligno for a while, but former Buffalo General Manger Tim Murray always said Foligno wasn’t up for trade. With the new GM in Buffalo, Fletcher got his target and a nice perk in Ennis.

The offseason wasn’t going to get easier, however, as RFA’s Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter all needed new contracts – and that was before they added RFA Foligno into the mix.

Fletcher still had work to do.

Fletcher began with Niederreiter, signing him to a five-year, $5.25 AAV contract on July 31st. A day later he got his second guy on the books, as Granlund agreed to a 3-year, $5.75 AAV on August 1st, three days before his arbitration hearing.

Fletcher’s next two moves took some time and consideration, giving Fletcher and his staff time to talk veteran center Matt Cullen into signing a one-year deal. This may been one of the most underrated signings of the offseason but could do wonders in this lineup.

Fletcher was able to get his new RFA Foligno signed on September 14th. Foligno signed a four year long deal worth $2.875 AAV. This was a good deal for both parties, as Marcus brings the tough guy role and can also pick up some decent points. This left the Wild with just their captain needing a contract and, just a few days ago on September 18th, Koivu signed a two-year deal worth $5.5 AAV.

This is my least favorite contract they signed, mostly because Koivu, their captain and leader, deserves more job security than just two years. The cap situation is different because there are a lot players making really decent money in Minnesota instead of stays with monster contracts.

Other names that got contracts worth mentioning include Cal O’Reilly, who got a two-year deal, and Kyle Quincey and Niklas Svedberg, who both received one-year deals. All three could be great depth guys if injuries occur.

Offseason Grade: B

Overall, the Wild did a great job of keeping their key players. They didn’t go out and overspend and they made smart moves considering their situation. The only big losses came in Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella and Martin Hanzal. Hanzal was acquired at the deadline and chose free agency, so no major loss. The big question will come if they can fill the void of Scandella in a top-4 role. The Wild will more than likely still be a playoff team and will look to make a bigger impact in the playoffs.

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

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round– April 22

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.

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St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild – Game 5

By: Connor Keith

Thanks to an unlikely scorer, the Blues beat Minnesota 4-3 in overtime at the Xcel Energy Center to earn a spot in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Nashville Predators.

Of all the sources for an overtime winner, most would not have selected former first-rounder-turned-First Star of the Game Magnus Paajarvi. Following his 80-game rookie season, Paajarvi has not played more than 55 contests in any of his six other NHL seasons. This year, the third liner made only 32 appearances, notching a lowly eight goals in the process.

But the postseason doesn’t care about experience; it cares only about goals – and Paajarvi notched the first postseason marker of his career Saturday. The play started with Vladimir Sobotka fighting with Martin Hanzal for possession along the far boards after Devan Dubnyk had tried to clear from behind his net. The comeback kid eventually came away with the puck and drove to Dubnyk’s crease through the face-off circle. His attack drew Jared Spurgeon off Paajarvi, leaving the left wing wide open in the slot. Sobotka took notice and centered a pass for the Czech, who top-shelfed his wrist shot over Dubnyk’s stick shoulder for the series victory. Jori Lehtera also provided an assist on the play.

Speaking of first playoff goals, that’s sort of how the game started. Waiting until 7:16 into the last game of the first round, Vladimir Tarasenko (Jaden Schwartz) finally scored his first postseason goal since his two-tally performance against the Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Finals a year ago.

It was a St. Louis explosion to start the game, as Alex Steen (Colton Parayko) followed up Tarasenko’s wrister with one of his own only 3:15 later, putting Minnesota in an early 2-0 hole that loomed especially large since the Notes have not lost this postseason when scoring first.

The Notes’ final regulation tally was struck 7:23 into the third period, courtesy of Paul Stastny (Schwartz and Jori Lehtera) who was playing his first game since March 21.

Ryan Suter (Jared Spurgeon) did find the back of the net on a power play slap shot with 89 seconds remaining in the opening frame (Scottie Upshall is the guilty party for the Blues with his boneheaded cross-check), meaning Stastny’s tally set the score at 3-1 with 12:37 remaining in regulation. It proved to be a very important marker.

Just like the match was dominated early by the Blues, regulation ended at Minnesota’s discretion. First it was Third Star Mikko Koivu (Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund) pulling the State of Hockey back within a tally on a wrister with 9:22 remaining in regulation, thanks in large part to a man-advantage caused by Jay Bouwmeester’s hold on Granlund.

Though St. Louis was completely focused on its defensive efforts – the Blues fired only five shots in the third period – Second Star Jason Zucker (Erik Haula and Jonas Brodin) was still able to level the game with Minnesota’s lone five-on-five goal of the contest. Brodin advanced the puck through his defensive zone before connecting with Haula at the near point with a blue line-to-blue line pass. Haula one-touched a dish to Zucker, who completed the advance on Allen’s net through the near face-off circle. Firing from the slot, he squeezed his shot between the netminders’ skate and the far post to level the game at three-all and force the second overtime contest of the series.

Speaking of Allen, he was at the center of attention for much of the contest – though not always for his 34 saves. The first of two major events in his crease occurred with 5:36 remaining in the first frame when Granlund earned two minutes in the box for a goaltender interference penalty that looked to be a little bit more. Simply driving on Allen’s crease and making contact with the goaltender doesn’t sound like anything egregious, but that ignores the fact that the goalie is pulled to the ice by Granlund’s stick across his neck.

Allen was unharmed by the play, making the event with 6:13 remaining in the second period far scarier. Eric Staal started at his own blue line and possessed the puck all the way to the crease. He initially fired a shot from between the face-off circles that Allen saved, but did not contain. Though surrounded by Carl Gunnarsson and Parayko, Staal looked like he was going to be the first to the loose puck to fire a second shot.

Allen threw his right leg out to defend the far post in preparation, but the shot never came: Parayko managed to snag the puck just before Staal could try to score again. However, that didn’t stop Staal’s momentum, which carried him into Allen’s leg. Staal lost his balance and stumbled head-first into the boards, lying motionless on the ice while clutching his head through for almost two minutes before being helped off the ice. He was later released from the hospital Saturday night.

Conference semifinal action is slated to begin on April 28, but a date and time for Game 1 between the Predators and Blues at Scottrade Center has yet to be determined.

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Montréal Canadiens at New York Rangers – Game 6

By: Connor Keith

With its 3-1 victory at Madison Square Garden Saturday, New York has eliminated the Canadiens from the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs and will advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

What makes it that much sweeter for the Rangers is the fact that it is their second-straight come-from-behind victory to clinch the series’ fifth and sixth games. It looked like the Habs were well on their way in the first period, as they led the Blueshirts in shots 11-6 and on the scoreboard thanks to Alexei Emelin’s (Third Star of the Game Alexander Radulov and Artturi Lehkonen) snap shot that found the back of Second Star Henrik Lundqvist’s net only 6:19 into the contest.

Alain Vigneault must have some serious speeches during the first intermission, as his club quickly pounced on Montréal when it returned to the ice. Aided by Jordie Benn holding Pavel Buchnevich 90 seconds into the frame, First Star Mats Zuccarello (Mika Zibanejad and Ryan McDonagh) leveled the contest at one-all at the 2:26 mark of the period.

But that’s not all Zuccarello had up his sleeve. With 6:29 remaining in the second period, he managed to find the game-winner on his stick. The secondary assist belonged to J.T. Miller, who collected the puck behind Carey Price’s net after it was dumped there in an effort to maintain possession in the offensive zone. After winning the puck from Brandon Davidson, he passed to Kevin Hayes at the far face-off circle. Hayes seemed to know exactly where Zuccarello was without looking, as his pass to the scorer was right to him at the near corner of the crease. Price had already committed to saving a shot from a wide open Hayes, so the entire cage was open for Zuccarello to bury an easy snapper.

Losing is a tough pill to swallow for the Canadiens, but New York played excellently in the second and third frames. Montréal could not manage more than nine shots in either period (thanks in large part to Nick Holden’s five shot blocks), and Lundqvist was more than able to save them all.

If the Canadiens are going to blame anyone for their Quarterfinals exit, it has to be their captain. Max Pacioretty could not find the back of the net on any of his 28 shots over the course of the six-game series, and managed only a lone assist in Game 1. Though he did try to inspire his club by scrapping with Jimmy Vesey early in the game, he would have done far better by getting the Canadiens on the scoreboard, especially since one of his teammates is the notorious troublemaker Steve Ott. In the words of South Park, “when your leading goal scorer – who tied for the eighth-most goals in the NHL’s regular season – doesn’t find the back of the net in a playoff series, you’re going to have a bad time.”

Now that they’ve defeated Montréal, the Rangers await the victors of the Bruins-Senators series. Ottawa currently leads three games to two, but Game 6 will be played in Boston at the TD Garden Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time. Americans can view that contest on NBC, while Canadians will be serviced by both SN and TVAS.

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Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks – Game 6

For the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers are moving on to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, fresh off a 3-1 victory in San Jose on Saturday night. Yes, the Oilers defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games to meet up with that other California team in the playoffs, the Anaheim Ducks.

Of note, Edmonton defeated San Jose and Anaheim en route to their 2006 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Oilers goaltender, Cam Talbot, made 27 saves on 28 shots faced for a .964 save percentage in the win, while Sharks goalie, Martin Jones stopped 18 of the 20 shots he faced for a .900 SV% in the loss.

Leon Draisaitl (1) kicked off scoring for Edmonton just 54 seconds into the 2nd period, really quieting down the San Jose crowd after a pretty evenly matched 1st period. Adam Larsson (1) and Oscar Klefbom (1) had the assists on Draisaitl’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal.

After Chris Tierney failed to connect on a pass to Paul Martin in the San Jose offensive zone, Anton Slepyshev (1) scored the game winning goal on a breakaway 56 seconds after Draisaitl scored to make it a 2-0 game for the Oilers. Slepyshev’s goal was unassisted.

At 12:12 of the 3rd period, Mr. Shark himself, Patrick Marleau (3) made it a one-goal game with plenty of time left for the Sharks to tie the game. Logan Couture (1) and Joonas Donskoi (2) were credited with the assists that made it a 2-1 game.

With the goaltender pulled and a last ditch effort in full force for San Jose, Connor McDavid (2) picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone before flip dumping it towards the vacated net and falling to his knees. At 19:59 of the 3rd period, McDavid pocketed the empty net goal and sealed the series for Edmonton. Andrej Sekera (2) had the only assist on the goal.

Upon winning the game, the Edmonton Oilers advanced to the Second Round to take on the Anaheim Ducks, while the San Jose Sharks and their fans were sent home to find something else to do until October rolls around again.

Both Western Conference matchups in the Second Round have now been set and await the announcement for when the next round begins, upon conclusion of the Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins series and Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs series.

Anaheim has home ice in the next round against Edmonton, having won the regular season Pacific Division title.

March 14 – Day 146 – Potential Stanley Cup Finals preview? We’ll have to see…

Nine games are being contested in the NHL tonight, and there’s more than a few good ones. Like it almost always does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with three contests (Winnipeg at New Jersey, Minnesota at Washington and the New York Islanders at Carolina), followed by another trio (Chicago at Montréal [NBCSN/RDS], Tampa Bay at Ottawa [RDS2] and Toronto at Florida [TVAS]) half an hour later. The Western Conference starts getting involved at 9 p.m. with Dallas at Edmonton, followed 90 minutes later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Arizona at Los Angeles and Buffalo at San JoseAll times eastern.

Since the Blackhawks make only one trip to the Bell Centre per year, it’s always an exciting Original Six game. That being said, the match I’m most attracted to features the class of each conference squaring off at the Verizon Center.

 

There’s not many hockey fans that would complain about a Stanley Cup between these clubs. They’ve been at the top of their respective conferences for almost the entirety of the year, and both feature the full package. They have explosive offenses, and are backed goaltenders that, by the time the 2017 NHL Awards Show is over, have both won Vezina Trophies (Yes, I’m giving Devan Dubnyk this year’s Vezina. Show me a more worthy candidate.).

The fourth-best team in hockey, the 43-18-6 Wild currently have a narrow one-point (but with a game-in-hand) lead over Chicago for first place in both the Central and the Western Conference. As said before, Dubnyk has been absolutely exceptional this year, but Minnesota‘s offense has grown into one of the most dominant in the game.

Two hundred twenty goals in 67 games sounds impressive on its own, but who would’ve guessed the Wild would host an offense that trails only Pittsburgh for league superiority? That attack is spearheaded by first-line right wing Mikael Granlund, who has a career-high 63 points to his credit. In fact, he’s so good his .94 points-per-game scoring rate is 15th-best in the entire NHL.

You have to keep layering the accolades on Granlund when you focus on Minnesota‘s goal-scoring, as he leads the club with 23 tallies – another career high. He’s closely trailed by Eric Staal, Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter, who have 22, 21 and 20, respectively. To put things simply, Minnesota‘s top-two lines are deadly.

As you’d expect, that attack doesn’t stop when the Wild earn a man-advantage. When an opponent commits a penalty, Minnesota converts 21.1% of their power plays into goals, the eighth-best rate in the league.

Guess who leads that effort.

Yup, it’s Granlund, as he has 18 power play points on his resume this year. Yet he doesn’t have the clubhouse lead in man-advantage goal-scoring – that responsibility belongs to Niederreiter, who has eight power play goals even though he hasn’t scored one since February 12.

If the power play is good, the penalty kill is great, as the Wild‘s 84% success rate ties for sixth-best in the league (more on that later). Although I usually give credit to the leading shorthanded shot blocker in this situation (fine… way to go Jared Spurgeon with your 18 blocks), it’s better to acknowledge Dubnyk’s play. Even though he’s faced 203 shots when down a man (14th-most in the NHL), his .897 save percentage in that situation is sixth-best in the league.

One of the few teams better than the Wild are the 44-17-7 Capitals, but they shouldn’t take that to heart – nobody’s better than Washington (just ask Al Capone about the IRS)! The Verizon Center must be the second home of the Department of Defense, as Washington has allowed only 147 goals all season – the best total in the league.

34-11-5 Braden Holtby is an absolute machine. Winner of last year’s Vezina Trophy, he’d be a shoe-in for this year’s season’s award if not for the stellar play of Dubnyk as his .926 season save percentage and 2.03 GAA are fifth-best and tops in the league, respectively, among the 41 netminders with at least 26 appearances.

Part of the reason Holtby’s found such success is due to a solid blueline playing in front of him. Led by Karl Alzner and his 142 shot blocks (tied for 10th-most in the NHL), the Caps‘ defense has allowed only 27.7 shots-per-game to reach his crease, which is the fourth-best rate in the league.

Remember how Minnesota was tied for the sixth-best penalty kill in the league? That other team is the Washington Capitals, who have also rejected 84% of the power plays they’ve faced. The defense leads the way in that effort – especially Alzner, who has 35 shorthanded shot blocks, which ties for fourth-most in the league.

Oh yeah, and then there’s also the notorious Washington offense, which has been solid since, I don’t know… 2005, when Alex Ovechkin entered the league. That offense especially comes to mind when the Capitals earn the power play, as their 21.3% success rate is the seventh-best mark in the NHL. Although Ovechkin would love you to think it him and his team-high 12 man-advantage goals, Nicklas Backstrom is actually the mastermind behind the Caps‘ power play with his 26 extra-man points.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (.931 save percentage [tied for best in the NHL] and a 2.07 GAA for 36 wins [both second-best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+28 [eighth-best in the league]), Mikko Koivu (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+32 [third-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+34 [best in the NHL]) and Zucker (+33 [second-best in the league]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (47 assists [third-most in the NHL] for 68 points [ninth-most in the league]), Holtby (eight shutouts [most in the NHL] and a 2.03 GAA [best in the league] and .926 save percentage [fifth-best in the NHL] for 34 wins [third-most in the league]), Dmitry Orlov (+27 [ninth-best in the NHL]) and Brooks Orpik (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the league]).

Even though they’re losers of their past four games, Vegas favors Washington to win tonight’s game with a -145 line. I’m absolutely appalled the spread is that large, even though I do think the Capitals manage to pull out the win tonight with home ice.

The special teams units of both teams are solid, and the goaltenders are even better. Everything is going to boil down to each team’s defensive play, and I’m certain the Caps are better in that department. Washington wins a close one.

Hockey Birthday

  • Vaclav Nedomansky (1944-) – This right wing spent only six seasons in the NHL, and most of that time was with the Red Wings. After four years in the WHA, his best season was in 1978-’79 when he buried 38 goals for 73 points.
  • Patrick Traverse (1974-) – Drafted 50th-overall by Ottawa in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman appeared in seven seasons between 1995 and 2006. Spending most of his time with the club that drafted him, he finished his career with an overall +2 rating.

The Blues notched a huge 3-1 victory against Los Angeles in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to expand their lead over the ninth-place Kings to five points in the race for the second Western wild card.

Things really started heating up with 6:23 remaining in the second period when Third Star of the Game David Perron (Alexander Steen) scored a wrist shot to break the scoreless draw. The Kings fired an incredible 21 shots-on-goal in the frame, but First Star Jake Allen saved them all to preserve St. Louis‘ one-goal lead going into the second intermission.

Only 70 seconds after returning to the ice for the final period, Magnus Paajarvi (Patrik Berglund and Alex Pietrangelo) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal with a power play wrister. Los Angeles finally got on the board when Dustin Brown (Drew Doughty and Tyler Toffoli) scored a wrister with 2:55 remaining in regulation to pull within a score, but Steen (Pietrangelo) scored on an empty net with seven seconds remaining in the game to seal the Notes‘ victory.

Allen saved all but one of the 39 shots (97.4%) he faced to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Jonathan Quick, who saved 23-of-25 (92%).

Not only is St. Louis‘ victory important in the NHL standings, but it also strongly impacts the DtFR Game of the Day series as well. Thanks to the Blues, the 74-52-22 road teams now have a one-point lead over homers in the series.

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 7 – Day 139 – Yeo, what’s up?

First and foremost, my extreme thanks to @kephartc and @nlanciani53 for covering my post while I was traveling. Their efforts were much appreciated, and I hope that they enjoyed making this column their own.

But now, whether you like it or now, it’s back under control.

That’s obviously me, laughing maniacally.

Anyways, the action starts when it usually does  – at 7 p.m. – with New Jersey at Columbus, followed half an hour later by a trio of games (Philadelphia at Buffalo [NBCSN], Detroit at Toronto [TVAS] and the New York Rangers at Florida). St. Louis at Minnesota is the only contest to drop the puck at 8 p.m., but two (Carolina at Colorado and the New York Islanders at Edmonton) get underway an hour after. The final two matchups of the day – Montréal at Vancouver (RDS) and Nashville at Anaheim (SN1) – get the green light at 10 p.m. to close out tonight’s action.

Short list:

  • New Jersey at Columbus: After six seasons with the Blue Jackets‘ organization, Dalton Prout makes his first appearance in Columbus against the club that drafted him.
  • Detroit at Toronto: Oh, you know, it’s just one of the better all-time rivalries of the NHL.
  • New York at Florida: Brandon Pirri is another player who has connections with the team his current club is facing tonight.
  • St. Louis at Minnesota: A little sooner than planned, Mike Yeo is coaching his first contest at Xcel Energy Center since being released last season.
  • Nashville at Anaheim: It’s a rematch between last year’s Western Conference Quarter-finalists.

Since the Blues-Wild game also serves as an early preview of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, let’s head up to the Twin Cities.

 

 

 

 

Yeo joined the Wild organization before the 2010-’11 season when he took command of the Houston Aeros, Minnesota‘s former AHL farm team. That in itself was a homecoming, as Yeo had spent five seasons as a player for the Aeros. While captain, he led the team to the 1999 Turner Cup.

Only one year into his tenure with the Aeros as head coach, the club improved immensely. He took over a team that finished last in its division, and turned it into conference finalist – an impressive feat.

When the Wild were looking for a coach the following season, they didn’t have to look far. Yeo earned his promotion to the NHL 366 days after being signed to Houston, and he ended up leading Minnesota for more than four seasons.

The turnaround wasn’t quite as instantaneous as it was in Houston. His first season finished in fourth-place in the Northwest Division, outside of playoff contention. Yeo’s magic started kicking in during the 2012-’13 season when his club took second in the Northwest.

That began the treacherous trend against the Blackhawks. Starting with the 2013 playoffs, Yeo’s Wild faced Chicago three-straight seasons, and three-straight times they were eliminated.

The 2015-’16 campaign proved to by Yeo’s last in the Twin Cities. The Wild were under-performing at  23-22-10, so Chuck Fletcher decided to hire John Torchetti for the remainder of the season.

This offseason, Yeo was hired by the Blues as an assistant coach and head-man-in-waiting behind Ken Hitchcock, but – in a similar situation as Yeo a season ago – the club has not been as successful as management would like. Doug Armstrong hit the fast-forward button on his organization and promoted Yeo to head coach. Results have… varied… but the Notes are currently qualifying for the playoffs.

*Author’s note: Since I’m still on the road, I could not record final stats from Monday night and, more importantly, rankings. Consider any rankings unofficial.*

Even though they’ve lost their last four games, the Blues enter tonight’s game with a 31-26-5 record, good enough for fourth in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference. St. Louis is certainly an offensive-minded team, but their 175 goals in 64 games is tied for only 15th-most in the league.

Vladimir Tarasenko is easily the best forward on this team – who would’ve guessed? He has a team-leading 56 points to his credit, but the more frightening number is his 28 goals. That total ties for 10th-most in the NHL.

The best way to beat the Blues is to not let them earn a power play, as they’re proud owners of the fifth-best effort in the league. Kevin Shattenkirk has been at the head of that attack with his 20 extra-man goals, and his seven power play goal-total is tied with Tarasenko for most on the team.

The Notes certainly don’t get beat on special teams, as they’ve also been very successful when short a man. Thanks in large part to Alex Pietrangelo‘s 29 shorthanded shot blocks, the Notes have stopped 84% of opposing power plays – the eighth-best mark in the league.

Bruce Boudreau has turned Yeo’s work into a hockey powerhouse, as the 41-15-6 Wild are the best team in the Central and the Western conference. Minnesota is incredible on both ends of the ice, but the offense has been the stronger of the two facets of their game of later. Accounting for 209 goals in 63 games, the Wild score the second-most goals-per-game in the NHL.

Mikael Granlund gets to take a lot of credit for that success, as his 59 points are tops in Minnesota. 21 of those have been goals, which is also the best mark on the team.

It’s splitting hairs to say that the Wild’s power play is worse than St. Louis‘, as Minnesota is tied for sixth-best with their 22.1% success rate. As you’d expect, Granlund has been at the forefront of that effort with his 18 power play points, but it’s been Nino Niederreiter burying most of the goals – his eight extra-man tallies top the team.

Similarly, Minnesota‘s penalty kill is also barely better than the Blues‘. Successful 84.3% of the time, the Wild are seventh-best in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon has had a heavy hand in this effort with his 17 shorthanded blocks – the most on the team.

Minnesota has had the upper-hand in this series so far this season. The last time they squared off, the Wild expanded their record against the Blues to 2-1-1 with a 5-1 victory on January 26.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Minnesota‘s Devan Dubnyk (35 wins on a .933 save percentage [both best in the league] and a 2.01 GAA [second-best in the NHL], including five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league]), Granlund (+28 [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]), Mikko Koivu (+28 [tied for sixth-best in the league]), Spurgeon (+34 [second-best in the NHL]), Ryan Suter (+35 [best in the league]) and Jason Zucker (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]) & St. Louis‘ Pietrangelo (127 blocks [most on the team]), Ryan Reaves (168 hits [most on the team]), Shattenkirk (31 assists [most on the team]) and Tarasenko (28 goals for 56 points [both most on the team])

It’s hard to pick against the best in the West when they have home ice. I like the Wild to win by at least two goals tonight.

Hockey Birthday

  • Mike Eagles (1963-) – Selected by Quebec in the sixth round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, this forward played 16 seasons in the NHL – most of which with the Capitals. Though he scored nearly 200 points over his career, he was more known as an enforcer: he collected 928 minutes in the penalty box.
  • Terry Carkner (1966-) – The Rangers picked this defenseman 14th-overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career with the rival Flyers. He fit the character of Philadelphia to a t, earning nearly 1600 penalty minutes.
  • Eric Godard (1980-) – It’s the birthday of enforcers. This right wing spent most of his eight-year NHL career with the Penguins – specifically Pittsburgh‘s penalty box. He served a total of 833 minutes in the sin bin.
  • Niclas Bergfors (1987-) – Last playing in the NHL in the 2011-’12 season, New Jersey selected this Swedish right wing 23rd-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry draft. He has 83 points to his credit, but he currently plays Djurgarden Hockey in the Swedish Hockey League.

March 5- Day 137- Sharks live in the Wild, not pools

For the second day in a row, somebody else has had to take the Game of the Day duties, since Connor Keith is out of town. Here goes nothing.

Sundays are perfect for sitting and watching hockey all day and if you don’t have anything to do from mid-afternoon through the rest of the night, then today’s schedule is just for you.

Sunday’s action begins in Calgary, Alberta as the New York Islanders pay their annual visit to the Calgary Flames at 4 p.m. Buffalo at Pittsburgh (NHLN/ROOT/MSG-B) kicks off at 5 p.m. As things get underway at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, newly acquired defenseman Kyle Quincey and the Columbus Blue Jackets face off against now former Blue Jacket defenseman Dalton Prout and the New Jersey Devils in New Jersey.

An hour later the Pacific Division leading San Jose Sharks visit the 2nd place in the Central Division Minnesota Wild. At 8 p.m. the Vancouver Canucks face former teammate Ryan Kesler and the Anaheim Ducks in southern California as the St. Louis Blues square off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on NBCSN.

Half an hour later, the evening’s final game kicks off in Glendale, Arizona with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Arizona Coyotes. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Buffalo at Pittsburgh: In a rematch of the 2008 Winter Classic, the Sabres and head coach Dan Bylsma pay a visit to Bylsma’s former club as Buffalo looks to climb from being five points out of a wild card spot in the Atlantic Division.
  • Columbus at New Jersey: Kyle Quincey and Dalton Prout were traded for each other, so which team made the better move? Obviously we’ll find out after whoever wins this game.
  • San Jose at Minnesota: Two division leaders in the Western Conference do battle as the Wild look to compete with the Washington Capitals in this season’s President’s Trophy race. Okay, fine, Minnesota was on top of the Central Division until last night.
  • St. Louis at Colorado: Some professional team from St. Louis is playing some bantam team from Colorado (only kidding). Honestly, I’m just throwing this one on here in case your team’s not playing tonight and you want to watch out of market hockey on NBCSN.

Since I was informed I would be writing today’s Game of the Day matchup preview, the Minnesota Wild were on top of the Central Division as the San Jose Sharks continued to dominate the Pacific Division and everything seemed to be perfectly aligning for my Daily Matchup debut– that is until the Chicago Blackhawks decided to ruin the fun, surpassing the Wild for 1st in the Central Division with their 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators Saturday night.

However! First place is still on the line for both teams in the San Jose Sharks at Minnesota Wild matchup (technically). Minnesota can reclaim the Central Division lead with a win at home and San Jose can do everything to keep the Wild out of first place in the Central while putting more separation between themselves and the Edmonton Oilers for first in the Pacific Division.

Stay with me here.

UnknownThe Sharks enter Xcel Energy Center on a three game winning streak with a 38-18-7 record through 63 games played (good enough for 83 points on the year), as the Wild enter Sunday night coming off of a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets and a 41-15-6 record after 62 games played and 88 points on the season.

Despite losing in the Stanley Cup Final last year, San Jose is still a hot team on a run, similar to how the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to shrug off their 2015 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Blackhawks. The Sharks aren’t in the hunt for the President’s Trophy– but the Wild are, more on that in a second– yet they’re quietly peaking at the right time.

Though quietly might not be the right term.

Winners of four out of their last five games, in which they’ve outscored their opponents 15-6 in that span, San Jose is witnessing quite the team effort in the midst of a Hart Trophy worthy season from defenseman Brent Burns (27-40-67 totals in 63 games). Only Sharks captain Joe Pavelski ranks in the top-50 in scoring in the NHL tied for 21st in the league with 55 points alongside Auston Matthews (TOR), Alex Ovechkin (WSH), Leon Draisaitl (EDM) and Victor Hedman (TB).

Despite trailing off in goals this season, Joe Thornton’s 35 assists contribute to the overall +29 goal differential for the team in teal.

Martin Jones (30-15-6 on the season in 52 GP) has stood tall in goal for the second straight year, notching 30 wins thus far (tied for 5th in the league with Boston’s Tuukka Rask). Jones’s .917 save percentage ranks 17th (tied with Florida’s Roberto Luongo) among active goalies with at least 25 games played this season, as his 2.28 goals against average is good enough to be tied for 9th in the league with Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray (same parameters as before, active goalies with at least 25 games played).

Unknown-2Minnesota enters Sunday with a 41-15-6 record through 62 games played (good enough for 88 points) and is 3-2-0 in their last five games, having outscored their opponents 19-17 during that time.

Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau has led his team within reach of the President’s Trophy as the team with the best record in the league at the end of the regular season, trailing one point behind the Blackhawks with three games in hand and seven points behind the Washington Capitals with two games in hand.

The State of Hockey’s leading scorer, center Mikael Granlund, ranks 12th in the league with 21-38-59 totals in 62 games played. Mikko Koivu (48 points), Nino Niederreiter (46 points) and Eric Staal (46 points) are also in the top-50 scorers in the league among active skaters.

Depth scoring has been a strong suit of an otherwise solely superstar-less driven scoring team as the Wild have racked up a +61 goal differential. Devan Dubnyk (34-12-3 on the season in 49 GP) ranks 1st in the league in save percentage with a .933 and 2nd in GAA with a 2.03 among active goalies with at least 25 games played this season. Dubnyk’s underrated play in net is sure to land him a Vezina Trophy this season.

The Sharks are 18-11-3 on the road, including their most recent 4-1 win in Vancouver against the Canucks on February 25th. Meanwhile, the Wild are 22-8-1 on home ice, including their 5-4 victory in overtime against the Los Angeles Kings on February 27th.

Minnesota topped San Jose in their previous meeting by a score of 5-4 on January 5th. The two teams will do battle once again on March 21st in what could be a season series tiebreaker.

Both teams are on a tear on offense in the last couple of weeks, however, Sunday night could be a different story with Dubnyk and Jones in net (so long as they’re the starters). Additionally, the Sharks have a slight edge in defense, having allowed one fewer goal than the Wild this season (147 goals against for SJ, compared to 148 GA for MIN).

I don’t know what the odds in Vegas are saying, but my money’s on San Jose pulling off a win with a slim margin of victory over Minnesota. The Wild beat the Sharks on road ice in January, so it’s only fair that San Jose wins one in Minnesota, right?

Hockey Birthday

Milt Schmidt (1918- January 4, 2017)– The Ultimate Bruin played all of his career (1936-1955) with Boston, coached in Boston (1954-1966) and was even the general manager (1967-1972) for the Bruins, winning two Stanley Cups as a player in 1939 and 1941, as well as two Stanley Cups as a GM in 1970 and 1972 for a total of four Cups in his life in hockey. Schmidt also coached the Washington Capitals in their first couple of seasons in existence (1974-1976), though they missed the playoffs both years.Hockey Birthday

Schmidt helped find Bobby Orr and pulled off the blockbuster trade of Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte and Jack Norris for Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield from the Chicago Black Hawks as a general manager and took three years off from his playing career (in its prime!) from 1942-1945 to serve in World War II for the Royal Canadian Air Force alongside his Kraut Line teammates Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer.

Sadly, the Kitchner, Ontario native passed away in January at 98-years-old as the last member of the inaugural (1936-1937) American Hockey League (AHL) season.

He passed on the reigns of the oldest living former NHL player to John “Chick” Webster, 96, who made his NHL debut in the 1949-1950 season with the New York Rangers, appearing in 14 games and racking up four penalty minutes in his short NHL career.

Other Birthdays

Bill Thoms (1910-1964), Harry Pidhirny (1928-2010), Ken Yackel (1932-1991), Dale Anderson (1932-2015), Pat Hannigan (1936-2007), Bob Richer (1951-), Paul Gardner (1956-), Tim Friday (1961-), Anatoli Semenov (1962-), Bob Halkidis (1966-), Matt DelGuidice (1967-), Shjon Podein (1968-), Bryan Berard (1977-), Paul Martin (1981-), Barret Jackman (1981-), Michel Ouellet (1982-)


Saturday night’s DTFR Game of the Day matchup between the host New York Rangers and visiting Montreal Canadiens witnessed a 4-1 victory for the Habs on road ice as Montreal improved to 6-2-0 in the Claude Julien (Part Deux).

Unknown-1Carey Price made 26 saves on 27 shots faced en route to picking up the win at Madison Square Garden, while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 31 shots against on 35 shots faced in the loss.

Shea Weber opened the scoring for the Canadiens at 12:51 of the first period for his fifteenth goal of the season. Max Pacioretty (26) and Steve Ott (4) picked up assists on Weber’s goal. Montreal went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead in what looked like it would be a goalie battle after all (as Colby wrote about yesterday), as Lundqvist made 10 saves on 11 shots faced and Price turned aside all six shots from the Rangers in the first period.

Despite trailing in shots on goal by five in the first period, New York only trailed in SOG 14-10 in the 2nd period and led in the category 11-10 in the 3rd period.

Artturi Lehkonen (12) scored what would become the game winning goal 8:48 into the 2nd period on a one-timer from one knee on a pass from Phillip Danault (21). Pacioretty (27) picked up the seconday assist.

The Canadiens went up 3-0 nearly ten minutes later in the 2nd period on a goal from Andrew Shaw (10). Shaw’s wraparound goal was assisted by Alex Galchenyuk (21) and Andrei Markov (24).

The lone goal from the Rangers came on a shot from Chris Kreider who notched his 24th goal of the season. Derek Stepan (32) and Mats Zuccarello (33) assisted on Kreider’s goal at 1:44 of the 3rd period. New York cut the lead to two goals, but could not muster enough to do anything further.

New addition to the lineup for Montreal, defenseman Jordie Benn fired home his 3rd goal of the season (and first as a Hab) at 6:58 of the 3rd period. Nathan Beaulieu (21) and Galchenyuk (22) assisted on Benn’s goal.

For more stats on Daily Matchup records, wait for Connor to get back (though I’m having a lot of fun writing this, maybe I’ll steal it from him more often).

 

February 27 – Day 131 – Qui(c)k Trip to Minnesota

This Monday in the NHL is no different than many of the others in that there aren’t too many games on the schedule this evening. The staggered starts begin at 7 p.m. with Montréal at New Jersey (RDS), followed half an hour later by Ottawa at Tampa Bay (RDS2). Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Minnesota (NBCSN/TVAS) – drops the puck at 8 p.m. All times eastern.

Jonathan Quick‘s triumphant return to the ice Saturday has significantly increased Los Angeles‘ chances of making the playoffs, but they face a stiff test against the Wild tonight. What better way to see if they’re up to the task for a magical run?

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Just as I was prepared to count the Kings out of this year’s edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Quick reemerged from injured reserve and proved he is more than capable of resuming the high quality play we know he’s capable of. He proved that by allowing only one tally against the Ducks.

He resumes control of a team 30-27-4 Kings team that is currently three points outside a playoff spot, as it’s only fifth-best in the Pacific Division and ninth-best in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, Quick’s return probably will have little impact on the offense, where it needs the most help. The Kings have managed only 149 goals  in 61 games this season, which ties for the sixth-worst scoring rate in the NHL.

The issue becomes immediately apparent when one analyzes the Kings‘ individual performances. Jeff Carter has had an incredible season and is far-and-away Los Angeles‘ brightest spot as his 30 goals and 55 points are both team-highs. But he leads second-best Tanner Pearson by 11 tallies and 18 points, a wildly large disparity.

Compare that same differential to Minnesota‘s much more well-rounded attack. Mikael Granlund, the Wild‘s leading point-scorer, has 55 points to his name, only nine more than Mikko Koivu. Similarly, he and Nino Niederreiter – who both have 19 tallies – lead Jason Zucker‘s effort by only one goal.

Not surprisingly, the offense continues to struggle even when presented with the man-advantage. Even with Carter’s 16 power play points and nine extra-man goals, the Kings have found success only 16.7% of the time, the seventh-worst rate in the league.

What’s kept Los Angeles alive this season is that as bad as the power play has been, the penalty kill has been good. Led by Alec Martinez‘ 26 shorthanded shot blocks, the Kings have properly defended 84.5% of opposing power plays, the fifth-best effort in the NHL.

Of course, no matter how good Quick looked against Anaheim, the Wild is a far superior opponent. Even more alarming, it’s not even the offense that makes this team the best team in both the Central Division and the West. Instead, it’s the incredible play of their netminder, who has allowed only 136 goals against – the second-fewest in the league.

To put things simply, 32-11-3 Devan Dubnyk has been one of, if not the best goaltender in the NHL this season. Not only is his .933 save percentage and 2.01 GAA the best in the State of Hockey, but they’re also the best and second-best marks, respectively, in the league.

His effort is made only more impressive by the fact that he faces an average of 31 shots-per-game, the (t)10th-highest rate in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon has done all he can to limit his netminder’s work with 106 shot blocks, but he’s the only skater with more than 80 to his credit. But, with as well as Dubnyk, is playing, I doubt Bruce Boudreau will hear him complain too much.

The Wild continue to be an impenetrable force even when they’re down a man, as their 83.1% penalty kill rate is 10th-best in the league. Just has he does at even-strength, Spurgeon headlines the penalty kill, as his 15 shorthanded blocks lead the club.

The Wild‘s penalty kill is good, maybe even great, but their power play is even better. Actually, to be more specific, it’s tied for best in the league with Toronto, as both are successful on 22.8% of attempts. Granlund headlines that attack with his 17 power play points, but it’s Niederreiter who will keep Quick on his toes. The Swiss wing has buried eight extra-man goals, the most on the squad.

On January 7, the Wild made their annual trek to the Staples Center to face Los Angeles, and they almost came away with two points. Instead, Pearson scored an overtime winner to give the Kings a 4-3 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Los Angeles‘ Carter (30 goals [tied for second-most in the league]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (32 wins on a .933 save percentage [both best in the NHL] and a 2.01 GAA [second-best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+29 [seventh-best in the league]), Koivu (+30 [sixth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+32 [tied for second-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+33 [best in the NHL]) and Zucker (+32 [tied for second-best in the league]).

With Minnesota favored -145 by Vegas, I’d be very surprised if the Kings manage to even force overtime this evening. Abysmal might be a compliment for this offense, and it will be made only worse by the overpowering play of Dubnyk. The Wild should continue to fight for the Western lead with relative ease this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Braydon Coburn (1985-) – Currently playing his third season in Tampa Bay, this defenseman was originally selected eighth-overall by Atlanta in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Most of his 12-season career was spent in Philadelphia, and he was a member of that 2010 Flyers team that won the Eastern Conference from the seven-seed.
  • Dustin Jeffrey (1988-) – Drafted in the sixth-round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by Pittsburgh, he last appeared in the league with Arizona in the 2015-’16 season.

Twice scoring two goals in a period, the Columbus Blue Jackets took it to the Rangers in Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 5-2.

Only 1:02 into the game, First Star of the Game Alexander Wennberg (David Savard and Oliver Bjorkstrand) got the Jackets‘ attack started with a tip-in tally. Rick Nash (Jimmy Vesey and Derek Stepan) pulled New York back even with his snap shot 3:05 later, but a Second Star Cam Atkinson (Sam Gagner and Zach Werenski) power play snapper at the 6:47 mark once again gave the Blue Jackets a lead. That 2-1 score held into the first intermission.

The same man to strike first in the opening frame took credit for the lone tally of the second. Wennberg’s (Bjorkstrand) 12th goal of the year was a backhanded shot at the 9:47 mark of the period, and proved to be the eventual game-winner.

The Wennberg-Atkinson pattern continued 4:12 into the final frame, as Atkinson (Brandon Dubinsky) buried a snapper to give Columbus a 4-1 lead. With 24 seconds remaining in the game, Josh Anderson (William Karlsson and Scott Hartnell) scored the Jackets‘ final tally of the night, followed by Jesper Fast‘s (Marc Staal and Oscar Lindberg) goal with a second remaining on the clock.

Third Star Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (93.3%), leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 21-of-26 (80.8%).

It’s been nine days since a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series has lost. That incredible streak has given the 69-43-21 visitors an 11-point lead over hosts.

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.