Tag Archives: Orlov

January 31 – Day 112 – High Flyer-ing offense

There may only be three games on the schedule today, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a quality matchup.

The action starts at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time when the New York Islanders visit Toronto (SN/TVAS), and it is followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: San Jose at Detroit and Philadelphia at Washington (NBCSN).

As I discussed with @nlanciani53 in a recent podcast, it’s time to see just how good this Flyers team actually is, as they face a good test in a rivalry game with the Caps this evening. Let’s take a look into this matchup, shall we?

 

Since December 29, there have been few teams in the Eastern Conference as successful as the Flyers. They’ve posted a 9-3-0 record to surge into the second wildcard, with impressive wins coming against the Lightning in Tampa Bay, St. Louis, the Devils in New Jersey, Toronto, the Devils again and the Capitals in Washington (more on that below).

In other words, Philadelphia hasn’t been picking up wins against scrubs.

All credit for this success is due to the Flyers’ offense, which is scoring the puck at an unbelievable pace (3.33 goals per game, the fourth-best average in the league since December 29) and maintaining possession to limit 5-6-1 G Michal Neuvirth‘s – tonight’s starter with 19-11-7 G Brian Elliott on injured reserve –  workload to an average of only 27.83 shots per game (the lowest mark in the NHL during this run).

As for who’s been behind this attack, all signs point towards C Sean Couturier. Philly’s top center has posted 9-7-16 totals in his last 12 games played to improve his season marks to 26-23-49. In fact, his 26 markers are so impressive, they rank (t)fifth-best in the league.

F Claude Giroux and W Jakub Voracek have also been stellar during this run of success, as they’ve respectively posted 1-13-14 and 1-11-12 totals to join with Couturier in averaging at least a point per game since December 29. Of course, their success is no surprise considering they both rank among the league’s top-three in assists and top-10 in points.

Meanwhile, 29-15-5 Washington has been busy all season proving the doubters wrong, as all the team has done after a tough offseason is lead the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.

However, the Caps did not have the best of runs leading into the All-Star Break. Though they earned points in four of their five games, they posted only a record of 2-1-2 in their last five games.

The biggest reason for this lull in an overall very successful season seems to be the play of 25-9-2 G Braden Holtby. Starting three of those five games, he led the Capitals to only one victory with a .91 save percentage.

Fortunately for him, his defensive corps played a big part in helping him post a 2.66 GAA in those tilts, which is exactly in line with his season mark. Behind the stellar efforts of D Dmitry Orlov (team-leading 1.4 blocks per game and five takeaways since January 12) and D Brooks Orpik (three hits per game over this run), the Capitals have limited his workload to only 30.8 shots against per game during this five-game stretch, the 13th-best effort in the NHL in that time.

Tonight’s tilt is Game 3 of four between the Caps and Flyers this regular season. Though Philly trails in the standings, it has had its way in this series so far, as it has won both the previous two games. They first met on October 14 at Wells Fargo Center, where the Flyers exploded to an 8-2 victory (Voracek took First Star honors with three assists). More recently, Philadelphia traveled to the capital on January 21 to post a 2-1 victory, courtesy of a F Travis Konecny overtime game-winner.

The Flyers have certainly been the more dominant team leading into the All-Star Break. Add in the fact that they haven’t lost to the Caps yet this year, and I have a hard time picking against Philly’s offense.


With three goals in the span of 53 seconds in the third period, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Calgary Flames 4-2 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

This was an odd game in that the number of goals scored in each frame matched the period’s number, and that scoring in each frame was limited to only one team.

Make sense?

Allow me to explain: in the first period, only one goal was scored. Since W Reilly Smith‘s (First Star of the Game F Jon Marchessault and Third Star C William Karlsson) power play tip-in put the Golden Knights up 1-0 with 3:57 remaining in the frame, that meant Vegas was the only team to score in that frame.

Off to Period 2, which featured two markers. Both of those goals belonged to the Flames, as Second Star F Sam Bennett (RW Troy Brouwer) leveled the game 6:02 into the frame with a wrist shot. Calgary then earned its first – and only – lead of the game 12:41 later, courtesy of a LW Matthew Tkachuk (D Dougie Hamilton and F Michael Frolik) wrap-around shot. The 2-1 score held into the second intermission.

Things were looking very good for the Flames in the third period. They still had their one-goal lead with under two minutes remaining in regulation. Worst case scenario, this game went to overtime… right?

Unfortunately for them, the game’s pattern caught up to Calgary in a big way, starting with F Erik Haula‘s unassisted wrist shot with 1:46 remaining on the clock to tie the game at 2-2. The game-winning goal was struck only 10 seconds later, courtesy of Marchessault (Karlsson and Smith).

C Mikael Backlund thought he had this play all wrapped up along the boards in front of his own bench. Karlsson had the puck, but he was coming in to disrupt the play and potentially set his club up for a breakaway opportunity. However, just before he could engage, Karlsson backhanded a pass to Marchessault to set him up for a breakaway opportunity of his own. After getting around D Mark Giordano, Marchessault took advantage of his one-on-one opportunity against G Mike Smith to rip a wrister from the slot top-shelf over the netminder’s glove.

Now trailing by a goal instead of leading by that margin, Flames Head Coach Glen Gulutzan was forced to pull M. Smith with 59 ticks remaining in the game. He was off the ice for only six seconds before W David Perron (F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and D Shea Theodore) capitalized on the gaping cage to set the 4-2 final score with a wrister.

G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the come-from-behind victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the loss to M. Smith, who saved 31-of-34 (.912).

Road teams are staging quite the comeback in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’ve won six of the last seven games. This streak has pulled them within 17 points of the 60-37-15 home teams.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 15

Skater of the Week: Brad Marchand

You may not (probably don’t) like him, but the Little Ball of Hate doesn’t give a damn about what you like. He’s gonna score on your team, and you’re gonna deal with it.

The league’s premiere super-pest tallied two goals and five assists in four contests this week, made arguably more impressive by the fact that he started the week being held scoreless against Dallas before recording three consecutive multi-point games to close the week. Burning arch-rival Montreal for a goal and assist in the first meeting, then adding two helpers in the rematch, together with a three-point night against the Islanders, the former unheralded third round pick continues to prove all the critics wrong, as he’s currently on pace to shatter his breakout 85-point performance from last season.

Marchand’s 48 points in 37 games is good for 16th in league scoring, having played no less than seven-fewer games than any player ahead of him, and his performance over the last seven days is good for this award.

Tendy of the Week: Jonathan Bernier

Yeah, I know, right? I couldn’t believe it either.

Bernier’s NHL career has been a well-documented roller coaster of epic proportions, and the former 11th-overall pick has often seen the ‘Bust’ label floating near his name. But he seems to have really found a home with the upstart Avs this season.

In three starts this week, Bernier faced a ridiculous 110 shots and turned aside 105 of them to pick up three victories. On Monday he stopped 33-of-34 to down the Ducks, on Saturday he stifled 27-of-28 against the Rangers, and even when he gave up three to the Sharks, he managed a .938 save percentage on 48 shots faced. Of the Avs’ strengths, the defense is not high on the list.

Bernier is still shaking off some shaky performances earlier in the year, but in 21 appearances his 13-7-1 record, 2.61 GAA and .919 save percentage are more than respectable behind the run-and-gun Avs. If he continues this sort of play, the Avs could potentially use Semyon Varlamov as trade bait to solidify their D-corps come the deadline.

Game of the Week: Washington Capitals 3 @ New Jersey Devils 4 (OT), Thursday January 18th, 2018

A showdown between the top 2 teams in the stacked Metropolitan Division lived up to the hype, delivering seven goals, 51 shots, 48 hits, and 36 penalty minutes.

Drew Stafford would get things rolling 8:01 into the game, taking advantage of a misplay at the blueline by Dmitry Orlov to flee the zone and receive a breakout pass courtesy of Marcus Johansson, fighting off the back-checking Devante Smith-Pelly and going forehand-backhand-roof on Braden Holtby to give the Devils the early lead. Brett Connolly, who was stifled on a golden opportunity just seconds after the Stafford goal, would get his revenge and even the score at the 12:10 mark, pouncing on a long wrister from T.J. Oshie that deflected off of the skate of Jersey d-man Will Butcher right to his tape and burying it past Keith Kinkaid to give us a 1-1 game after one.

The second saw both the scoring and intensity ramp up, started off by Devils captain Andy Greene (playing in his 750th game) scoring on an almost-identical play to the Connolly goal, this time a Taylor Hall effort from the left point deflecting off the stick of Matt Niskanen and coming right to Greene who was just able to squeeze the shot between the left arm and torso of a sliding Holtby to regain the Jersey lead 3:33 into the frame. Then at the 8:33 mark came some shenanigans. Tom Wilson laid a hammering hit on Brian Gibbons along the boards in the neutral zone, leading Brian Boyle to come to the defense of his teammate and earn himself a misconduct and extra minor for instigating. I could go on a tangent about clean hits leading to fights (Gibbons himself appeared to try to wave off Boyle as he approached Wilson), but I’ll save that for another day.

Further into the secnd we go, and the Devils capitalize (see what I did there?) on another breakout pass, this time with Miles Wood sneaking behind the Washington defense and receiving some airmail from Sami Vatanen before getting one through five-hole of Holtby to give New Jersey the 3-1 edge at the 10:55 mark. But just 14 seconds later Dmitry Orlov would collect a long rebound off the boards and spanked the ‘Made In Slovakia’ lettering right off of the puck as it screamed past Kinkaid into the back of the net, sending us into the final frame with a 3-2 Devils lead after some strong netminding by Holtby in the closing stages of the middle frame.

Kinkaid and the Devils would hold the fort for most of the third, but finally with just 3:48 remaining it would be Connolly (who had himself a very good game, I might add) who collected a terrific Evgeny Kuznetsov feed from below the goal line and slid the puck right underneath the left pad of Kinkaid to knot the score at three and send the game to overtime (though not before Kinkaid would shake off a ‘Nisk-cannon’ to the noggin that removed his mask in the dying seconds).

The crowd at ‘The Rock’ would have little to fret over, though, as just 34 seconds into the extra frame it would be Taylor Hall receiving a chip pass from Sami Vatanen, before giving himself a second chip pass to get around Kuznetsov and streaking in on Holtby, roofing a quick wrister over the glove hand and sending the Jersey-faithful into a frenzy.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

The Golden Knights are, at the time of this writing, the #1 team in the NHL. I don’t actually have anything clever prepared for this, I just wanted to say it out loud.

A couple of high-profile injuries struck this week, with Edmonton losing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a hand injury for at least a month, and the Rangers losing Kevin Shattenkirk to a meniscus tear, an injury that could sideline the defenseman for quite some time.

The Senators have supposedly made it their #1 organizational goal to re-sign Erik Karlsson. I’m not sure how much money it will take to keep him with a franchise that doesn’t appear to be set up for major success any time soon, but if anyone has any suggestions for convoluted schemes to marry into his family, I’m all ears.

Dustin Brown was fined (but not suspended) for brutally cross-checking a helpless Justin Schultz face-first into the boards, in a move the Department of Player Safety referred to as “We have no idea who this Andrew Cogliano person you speak of is, and we’re not sure what two-game suspension you could be referring to.”

The Colorado Avalanche have won nine consecutive games, which might be the only thing less people would have bet on at the beginning of the year than Vegas spending time at #1 in the league.

Rene Rancourt has announced that he will retire from his position as the Bruins’ longtime anthem singer. Personally, I never actually thought he was that good of a singer, but his showmanship has always been absolutely second-to-none, and anyone legendary enough to be referenced in a Dropkick Murphy’s song gets a pass in my book, so congrats to Rene on an incredible career and best of luck in retirement.

Finally, I’ll close on two sombering notes. First, I extend my sincerest condolences to Matthew Murray and his family, as the Pittsburgh goaltender has taken a leave of absence from the team to mourn the passing of his father, and I’ll repeat the sentiment to the family of USA Hockey executive and two-time Olympian Jim Johannson, who passed Sunday morning at just 53 years of age.

January 11 – Day 96 – Seeing red

Usually Thursdays are among the busiest days of the week, but this particular edition doesn’t quite fit the bill with only three East Coast games to offer.

Like it usually does, the action begins at 7 p.m. with a pair of contests (Columbus at Buffalo [SN] and Carolina at Washington [NHLN]), but the nightcap – Calgary at Tampa Bay (TVAS) – gets an early start at 7:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Toronto and Vegas.

Fortunately, all three tilts are being broadcast nationally so no one gets left out on tonight’s fun. However, it is citizens of the United States that are truly the lucky ones, because they get tonight’s best matchup.

 

Hidden within this tilt between Southeast-turned-Metropolitan Division rivals is the homecoming of Mr. Game 7 to Washington for the first time since returning to Raleigh this offseason.

RW Justin Williams played the last two seasons before this one with W Alex Ovechkin and company. Following a successful seven seasons in Los Angeles that earned him his second and third Stanley Cup rings (not to mention the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy), the Kings left him unsigned and he joined the Caps on a two-year, $6.5 million contract.

Beyond the simple offensive prowess he had shown throughout his NHL tenure (he’d averaged .63 points per game for his career leading up to the 2015-’16 season), Williams was brought into the Washington fold to bring the very thing it had missed in seasons past: the clutch factor. The ability to take the ice in a Game 7 knowing they had the experience and scoring touch to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998.

Williams brought exactly what the Capitals expected as far as his scoring was concerned. Having scored .63 points per game for the first 14 seasons of his career, Williams managed a .62 in two seasons with the Caps to post 46-54-100 totals during his tenure.

However, Mr. Game 7 apparently didn’t travel from the West to East Coast, because he managed only 2-1-3 totals in five elimination games with Washington. In fact, even though the Capitals clawed their way back into last year’s Eastern Semifinal against Pittsburgh from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7, all Williams can claim for his last three postseason games are six shots on goal. No goals, no assists. Heck, he even has a goal-differential of zero.

While I’m sure the Caps’ dire cap situation is the primary reason he swapped out red sweaters this offseason, Williams not delivering in the postseason like he was expected to must have factored into the decision to not resign him at least a little bit.

Regardless of the reason, Williams was presented with the opportunity to resign with the Hurricanes, the club with which he won his first Stanley Cup in 2006, on a two-year, $9 million contract. He pounced on the opportunity immediately.

So far, Williams has continued his stellar offensive production. With 7-19-26 totals alongside LW Brock McGinn and C Victor Rask on the Canes’ third line, he’s posting his .62 points-per-game while while also providing a guiding hand for a team with an average age of 26.4-years-old – 1.3 years younger than the league average according to hockeyreference.com.

That guiding hand is apparently working, because Carolina has a 19-15-8 record that is only one point behind Pittsburgh for the second wildcard spot.

We already talked on Tuesday about the impressive surge the Canes have been on lately, earning 17 points over their past 13 games with an 8-4-1 record. However, the next step for this Carolina team is to start beating some of the best teams in the league with a little bit more consistency.

The last six games the Hurricanes have played have been against teams currently in playoff position. In those contests, they’ve managed only a 2-3-1 record, and it’s due in large part to the defense meeting their match against some of the best offenses the game has to offer.

Usually, Carolina is one of the soundest defenses in the NHL. On the season, F Jeff Skinner (42 takeaways), D Jaccob Slavin (2.1 blocks-per-game) and F Jordan Staal (2.4 hits-per-game) have led the Canes to allowing only 29.1 shots against per game, the fewest in the league by half a shot.

Statistically, that defense is still unmatched. Over its past six games, Carolina has allowed only 28 shots per game, the fewest in the league since December 29. However, 11-4-2 G Cam Ward‘s numbers are plummeting from his season marks of a .907 save percentage and 2.78 GAA. How can it be that he’s managed only an .883 save percentage and 3.18 GAA in his past five starts?

Answer: solid offenses.

It is worth mentioning who these current playoff teams are Carolina has played lately: Pittsburgh (2-1 win), at St. Louis (3-2 loss), Washington (5-4 overtime loss), at Pittsburgh (4-0 win), at Boston (7-1 loss) and at Tampa Bay (5-4 loss).

Of these offenses, three are in the top-10 in goals-per-game, and for good reason: they have some of the best scorers in the league. In short, players on these teams (think RW Nikita Kucherov and Ovechkin, just to name a couple) don’t need much room to find the back of the net.

That would put the onus on Ward to perform better against these top teams to keep games close, as well as the offense to find a way to break through these clubs’ defenses with a little bit more success. However, with Carolina and Washington playing a home-and-home series tonight and tomorrow, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of 8-11-6 G Scott Darling for this evening’s matchup.

Darling hasn’t exactly been all the Canes had hoped he’d be when they acquired him this offseason, but he’ll get another opportunity tonight against the Metropolitan Division-leading 27-13-3 Capitals. Washington is rolling right now, as they’ve won five-straight and earned points in 11 of their past 12 games with a 9-1-2 record.

Just like Carolina, Washington is finding much of its success on the defensive end with solid play from RW Alex Chiasson, 24-8-0 G Braden Holtby, D Dmitry Orlov, D Brooks Orpik and RW Tom Wilson, but we tackled that conversation Sunday.

Instead, let’s talk offense.

We’ve already mentioned Ovechkin and the stellar season he’s having. Posting 27-19-46 points (a goal total that ties Kucherov for most in the NHL), he’s well on his way to having his best season since the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 campaign where he registered 56 points in 48 games.

He’s certainly been the hero during this impressive run the Caps have been on since December 12, but he’s also received tremendous support from D John Carlson and C Nicklas Backstrom, who’ve earned respective 3-9-12 and 4-7-11 marks over their past dozen games.

This offensive explosion has been happening all season for Carlson, who must have gleaned a thing or two from D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s short stay in the capital. He’s already posted 5-29-34 totals for the season in his first 43 games played, and if he continues on his pace, he may very well have a season even better than his 12-43-55 career year in 2014-’15.

Tonight marks Game 2 of four between these clubs for the 2017-’18 regular season. The Capitals made the trip down I-95 on January 2. Even though Rask managed to post a two-goal night, Ovechkin was able to match him and score the most important tally of the game: the overtime game winner. Washington won the contest 5-4.

With Darling in net on the road in a usually hostile environment, I have a hard time of seeing the Canes pulling out the victory tonight. However, they will have more than their fair shot at evening the weekend series tomorrow when theses teams square off once again in Raleigh.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Minnesota Wild snapped their four-game road losing skid by beating the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 at United Center.

Making it all the sweeter, the victory was of the come-from-behind variety, as Third Star of the Game D Brent Seabrook (D Michal Kempny and C Nick Schmaltz) – coming off his first-ever healthy scratch when Chicago played in Ottawa the day before – scored a wrist shot with 7:36 remaining in the first frame to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.

It took until the 9:58 mark of the second period for Minnesota to level the game. D Jonas Brodin (W Jason Zucker and D Mathew Dumba) was the guilty party, scoring a slap shot from the blue line for only his fourth tally of the season.

As for the game-winner, it was fired off First Star D Ryan Suter‘s (C Mikko Koivu and F Mikael Granlund) stick 3:03 into the third period during four-on-four play. Not usually known for his scoring touch (this was only his sixth goal of the year), Suter received a cross-ice pass from Koivu above the right face-off circle that he turned into a powerful top-shelf wrister that squeezed between G Anton Forsberg‘s left ear and shoulder – an area that is almost impossible to defend.

Another major player in the Wild’s victory was Second Star G Devan Dubnyk, who saved 34-of-35 shots faced (.971 save percentage) to earn the victory. That left Forsberg with the loss after he saved 25-of-27 (.926).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are showing life lately, as they’ve earned points in three of the last four contests. However, the series is still dominated by the 54-30-12 home teams, as they still have a 24-point advantage.

January 7 – Day 92 – Hutts; Holtbeast; hockey in D.C.

The NFL is out of the way, so it’s time to load up on Sunday hockey!

It’s a Sunday schedule full of matinees, as six of the 10 games are scheduled before 7 p.m. The action begins at 1 p.m. with a pair of contests (New Jersey at the New York Islanders and Buffalo at Philadelphia [SN]), followed by three more (Edmonton at Chicago [NHLN/TVAS], San Jose at Winnipeg and St. Louis at Washington [SN1]) two hours later. Florida at Columbus cleans up the day games at 5 p.m. to clear the way for the two tilts (Vancouver at Montréal [RDS/SN] and Tampa Bay at Detroit) slated for the usual 7 p.m. starting time. Boston pays a visit to Pittsburgh (NBCSN) at 7:30 p.m., while the New York Rangers at Vegas (SN360) closes out the evening at 9:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Dallas and Los Angeles.

There’s three games being contested between teams currently in playoff position today, but the one that strikes my fancy most is happening in the American capital! Off to Capital One Arena!

 

Don’t tell anybody, but this is only the second time all season that we’ve featured the Blues away from Scottrade Center. The first instance was a 5-4 overtime victory in Pittsburgh on Opening Day, but I’m sure the Caps are hoping for a better showing than their Metro rivals.

Of course, the biggest question for the past month has been which version of the 26-16-2 Blues is going to show up to play? Will it be the club that beat the Western Conference-leading Golden Knights 2-1 Thursday, or the squad that got schooled 6-3 yesterday in Philadelphia?

Before yesterday’s loss, it seemed St. Louis was on the upswing. After all, it had won its previous three games – all of which were against teams currently in playoff position – by allowing a total of only five goals against.

And then 18-13-2 G Jake Allen got a chance to play.

Even though he’s still among the top-10 in wins, Allen has been pretty miserable for the last month. He’s posted a 1-7-0 record over his past eight starts on a .907 save percentage and 3 GAA, well below his sliding .911 and 2.64 season marks.

As you might expect, he was the one in net for yesterday’s debacle against F Brayden Schenn‘s – who’s +20 is (t)fourth-best in the NHL – former club.

For that reason, Allen has lost his starting job to 8-3-0 G Carter Hutton for the time being, and the team is playing with much more confidence because of it. Hutton has been solid since assuming his new, albeit temporary role, posting a .94 save percentage and 1.62 GAA in his past three starts to elevate his season numbers to a .947 save percentage and 1.64 GAA – both of which are the best in the league among qualified netminders.

Hutton will face a tough task today against the W Alex Ovechkin-led, Metropolitan Division-leading 25-13-3 Capitals.

Washington is about en fuego as possible right now, as it has posted an 11-2-2 record since the beginning of December – and that run includes a four-game Western road trip.

Though Ovechkin’s (t)league-leading 26 goals certainly aren’t hurting the situation, the Caps have actually been finding their wins with solid work in the defensive zone. Washington has allowed only 36 goals against since December 1, the fourth-fewest in the league.

This has been far from a banner year for 23-8-1 G Braden Holtby. Though his win total – which is second-highest in the league – would indicate otherwise, he’s only managed a .917 save percentage and 2.68 GAA on the season, and those numbers have actually been hurt over this run of success by the Caps. Even though he’s finding wins, Holtby has managed only a .913 save percentage and 2.78 GAA since December 1.

Instead, the former Vezina and current Jennings Trophy-winner is getting the benefit of a stellar offense, which has scored a seventh-best 51 goals since December 1, and a defensive corps that is doing everything in its power to lessen his workload. Through those combined efforts, Washington has allowed only 475 shots to reach its net since the start of last month (31.7 per game), the sixth-fewest in the NHL in that time.

Defensively, the Capitals are led by fourth line RW Alex Chiasson (averaging a takeaway-per-game since December 1), defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Brooks Orpik (both averaging two blocks-per-game over their past 15 contests) and second line RW Tom Wilson (3.07 hits per game since the start of last month).

This is the first of two times these clubs will square off this season barring a meeting in the Stanley Cup Finals. Just like last year, the Capitals will make their trip to St. Louis late in the season, but with this campaign’s meeting scheduled for April 2, there should be little chance of either side resting too many players for the postseason.

With Hutton in goal, the Blues have been winners of late, but Washington has been an unstoppable force itself. I think the Caps win today with the benefit of home ice and their four days of rest compared to St. Louis’ 23 hours.


The Colorado Avalanche absolutely dominated yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Minnesota Wild 7-2 at Pepsi Center.

It seems retiring RW Milan Hejduk‘s number got everyone excited to score, because a total of 11 Avs found their way onto the scorecard with either a goal or an assist. The first was W Gabriel Bourque (F Colin Wilson and F Tyson Jost), who scored his first goal of the season at the 7:38 mark of the first period. D Patrik Nemeth (Third Star of the Game F Nathan MacKinnon and Second Star RW Mikko Rantanen) followed that goal up 10:38 later with a slap shot to set the score at 2-0, but C Eric Staal (D Jonas Brodin and W Jason Zucker) pulled the Wild back within a one-goal deficit on a wrist shot with 33 seconds remaining before the first intermission.

The game-winning goal was buried 8:03 into the second period courtesy of First Star F Carl Soderberg (F Alexander Kerfoot). After a skirmish between LW Marcus Foligno and LW A.J. Greer that was a result of F Matt Cullen slashing D Erik Johnson, Colorado earned its first real power play opportunity of the night (it had a 12 second man-advantage in the first frame) at the 6:41 mark.

Minnesota’s F Daniel Winnik nearly scored a shorthanded wrister from the right face-off circle, but he found the crossbar. The ricochet from that shot landed right on Soderberg’s stick, and he set Kerfoot up to drive the puck into the Avs’ offensive zone. He ended up along the left boards at the goal line with nowhere to go… except centering a pass to Soderberg, who was waiting at the corner of G Devan Dubnyk‘s crease. Before the netminder could react to what was happening, Soderberg’s elevated snap shot was past his blocker and in the twine.

But the Avs weren’t done just yet. Rantanen (LW Gabriel Landeskog and MacKinnon) set the score at 4-1 with 3:41 remaining in the second frame, which would have held had Staal (Zucker and D Ryan Suter) not scored another tally with 38 seconds remaining before the intermission.

The Avalanche truly took command of this contest in a chippy third period that featured 18 of the game’s 32 penalty minutes. Zucker’s interference against Rantanen 4:29 into the frame proved to be the first infraction that cost Minnesota, as Soderberg (W Nail Yakupov and Kerfoot) buried a snapper with the man-advantage 44 seconds later to set the score at 5-2. Later, Dubnyk took exception to Kerfoot’s goalkeeper interference to earn not one but two roughing penalties, served by F Tyler Ennis and F Joel Eriksson Ek. In the resulting five-on-four, MacKinnon (D Samuel Girard and Rantanen) buried a wrister to chase Dubnyk and give Colorado its third insurance tally at the 7:17 mark, followed by Jost (Wilson and Bourque) setting the the 7-2 final score with 2:14 remaining on the clock.

G Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 34-of-36 shots faced (.944 save percentage), leaving the loss to Dubnyk, who saved 26-of-32 (.813). G Alex Stalock assumed Dubnyk’s crease after MacKinnon’s goal, and he saved five-of-six (.833) in the remaining 12:43 of action for no decision.

Colorado’s victory in the DtFR Game of the Day gives home teams in the series a 52-29-11 record that is 24 points superior to that of the roadies.

December 30 – Day 84 – Seeing red

In preparation for New Year’s Eve tomorrow, the NHL has elected to schedule a light slate of games this Saturday.

Only half a dozen contests will be played this evening, starting with three (Boston at Ottawa [SN], Montréal at Florida [CBC/CITY/TVAS] and New Jersey at Washington) at 7 p.m. Two more games (Carolina at St. Louis and Minnesota at Nashville) drop the puck an hour later, while Los Angeles at Vancouver (CBC/SN) – tonight’s nightcap – waits until 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Two of today’s contests have caught my eye…

  • Boston at Ottawa: It’s a rematch of one of last year’s Eastern Conference First Round matchups. The Sens won the series in six games.
  • New Jersey at Washington: Not only is this an important Metropolitan matchup, but F Marcus Johansson is also making his first return to the American capital after seven seasons with the Caps.

Considering the Senators have been a bit of a disappointment (that’s probably putting things lightly) this year, I think we have to make the trip to D.C.

 

Johansson’s presence in the NHL began during the 2009 Entry Draft when the Capitals selected him with the 24th-overall pick on the heels of a 3-2-5 performance in the 2008 IIHF World U18 Championships.

Though he didn’t immediately join the Caps, instead playing one more season with Färjestad BK in Sweden’s top league and posting 10-10-20 totals in 42 games played, he did eventually carve out a spot for himself on Washington’s roster during the 2010-’11 season, his first in North America.

Johansson posted rather unimpressive 13-14-27 totals during that rookie season, but it’s safe to say he’s improved with every season he spent in a Capitals sweater. With the exception of the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 season, Johansson earned a minimum of 44 points in each of the next six seasons he spent in Washington. No campaign was better than last year’s, as he established new career-highs in goals (24) and points (58). He also earned valuable playoff experience, playing in 69 postseason games for 9-21-30 totals.

Unfortunately for the Capitals, they faced some well-documented salary cap issues this offseason, and that forced them to make at least one move that would probably hurt their hockey team. Johansson proved to be one of those tough decisions, as General Manager Brian MacLellan opted to dump the forward’s remaining two-year, $4.58 million-per contract within the division in exchange for two 2018 draft picks.

So far, Johansson has not yielded the return New Jersey General Manager Ray Shero was expecting when he traded for him. He’s managed only 5-3-8 totals so far this season, but he’s been limited to only 19 games played. That puts his points-per-game at .42, which is barely better than his .39 points-per-game rookie season. After spending four mid-December games in the press box nursing an ankle injury, he’s regained his spot on the second line (and second power play unit, for that matter) and will be expected to begin converting more opportunities with linemates W Kyle Palmieri (5-7-12) and C Travis Zajac (2-0-2) sooner than later.

Of course, even though they’d prefer more production out of him, it’s not like the 22-9-6 Devils are really hurting for offense. The Metropolitan Division leaders have managed an impressive 3.14 goals-per-game to rank (t)seventh-best in the NHL this season, and they’ve been even better since December 12, scoring 29 goals (second-most) during their eight-game point streak (3.63 per game).

During this dominating run Jersey is on, no two players have been a more dominating force than F Brian Boyle (5-4-9 since December 12; 10-6-16 overall) and F Taylor Hall (3-4-7; 12-24-36 overall), both of whom are averaging more than a point-per-game since mid-December. Boyle’s success is especially exciting given not only his health concerns coming into the season, but also his position as the third line center.

One of the major reasons for the Devils’ stellar attack is they don’t miss on too many power play opportunities. Over their past eight games, the Devils have converted 28.6 percent of their man-advantages – the (t)third-best rate in the NHL – which is even better than their (t)eighth-ranked 21.4 percent conversion rate on the season.

If 23-13-3 Washington, the second place team in the Metro, wants a chance of beating the Devils, it’ll need to successfully employ a solid penalty kill or try its hardest to stay out of the penalty box. The latter will probably be the better game plan, because the Caps’ 80.1 percent kill rate is the 11th-worst in the NHL.

But don’t read that as the Caps being a bad team defensively, because that’s erroneously far from the truth. On the season, Washington has allowed a 14th-best 2.82 goals against-per-game, but that number has dropped to 2.38 since December 12 while the Capitals have earned points in seven of eight games.

Though the Capitals employ the reigning William M. Jennings Trophy winner, I’d argue that Washington’s defensive success has less to do with 21-8-0 G Braden Holtby (even though he has the second-most wins in the league) and more to do with the impeccable efforts of late by RW Alex Chiasson, D Dmitry Orlov and D Brooks Orpik, who’ve respectively posted eight takeaways, 15 blocks and 26 hits since December 12.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have W Alex Ovechkin playing on the same team either. Sometimes the best defense is stellar offense, and Ovi has provided that throughout his career. This season is no exception, as his 24 goals are tied for the most in the league.

Of note, Jersey did play last night to a 4-3 overtime loss against the Sabres at The Rock. That loss snapped a five-game winning streak for both the club and 17-6-5 G Cory Schneider (his 17 wins are the [t]eighth-most in the NHL). Since he was in net last night, I’d expect 5-3-1 G Keith Kinkaid, who’s lost his last two games, to assume starting duties this evening.

Another important note is that these teams have already met once this season, and that game went the Capitals’ way. On October 13, Washington descended upon New Jersey and dominated the Devils to a 5-2 win, thanks in large part to a four-point night by C Nicklas Backstrom.

But who takes the two points tonight? I’m leaning towards the Devils. Even though they’re playing on the road, I’m concerned that Washington’s inability to stay out of the penalty box (the Caps’ 136 times shorthanded is eighth-most in the league) will bite it in the butt. Look for Jersey to exact revenge for October 13’s home defeat.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 at the Honda Center.

Though the score doesn’t indicate it, Anaheim absolutely dominated this game, as it out-shot the Flames 41-23. That was especially true in the first period, as the Ducks managed to fire a whopping 20 shots on goal compared to Calgary’s five. Third Star of the Game G Mike Smith was up for the task for most of that onslaught, but First Star D Cam Fowler (Second Star C Ryan Getzlaf and F Rickard Rakell) was able to sneak a backhanded shot past him at the 3:48 mark to give Anaheim an early lead.

Calgary’s best frame was easily the second, as it out-shot the Ducks 11-8. As a result, W Micheal Ferland (D Matt Bartkowski and Smith) was able to level the game with a snap shot with 8:05 remaining in the period.

With that pesky long change out of the way, the Ducks resumed their command of the game in the third period, and that control was only heightened when LW Matthew Tkachuk made the mistake of sending a puck over the glass to earn himself a seat in the penalty box. However, he was held out of action for only seven seconds, as Rakell (Getzlaf and W Jakob Silfverberg) was able to use the man-advantage to score a game-winning power play wrist shot at the 2:17 mark.

If tic-tac-goals are among your favorite things, you’ll like this tally. After Getzlaf won the face-off at the right dot in his attacking zone, C Adam Henrique tapped the puck back to Fowler at the point. The defenseman sent the biscuit back towards the crease to Silfverberg, who tapped back towards the slot to Getzlaf in a centering attempt. However, instead of taking the obvious snapper, the captain instead elected to shove the puck towards the left face-off circle to the waiting Rakell, who one-timed a wrister over a diving Smith.

G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (.957 save percentage), leaving the unfortunate loss to Smith, who saved 39-of-41 (.951).

Mark it down as another win for the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have a 47-27-10 record that is exactly 20 points better than the visitors’.

October 20 – Day 17 – Don’t get confused, Mike Green

You know that feeling you get when 5 p.m. rolls around on a Friday? Allow me to magnify that for you: there’s hockey on tonight!

Specifically, there’s six games happening around the league this evening, starting with two (Vancouver at Buffalo [SN360] and San Jose at New Jersey) at 7 p.m. and another pair (Washington at Detroit and Pittsburgh at Florida [TVAS]) half an hour later. The action continues at 8 p.m. when Minnesota visits Winnipeg before tonight’s nightcap – Montréal at Anaheim (RDS/TSN2) – closes out the festivities two hours later.

I was going to feature G Anders Nilsson‘s return to Buffalo this evening, but since he played in the Canucks’ game in Boston last night and is unlikely to draw back-to-back starts, I’m slightly more drawn to the action in Motown.

 

I know we’ve already watched the Red Wings once this week, but that’s what we get on days when the schedule isn’t exactly filled to the brim with exciting matchups.

#ThanksNHL

And, considering expectations for the Wings this season (and the Capitals too, for that matter), we should enjoy watching them as much as we can while they’re still playing well and staying relevant.

How much longer 4-3-0 Detroit can keep up its solid start is certainly the question, as the Wings are currently the last team in if the playoffs started today (you know how important playoff positioning is in Week 3 of a 27-week season).

Earning them this better-than-expected start has certainly been their offense. It may not be as daunting as the days of old (à la C Steve Yzerman and basically anybody else on his line), but the Wings quietly run a decent top-two lines.

The top line is headlined by W Anthony Mantha (3-4-7 totals) and F Henrik Zetterberg (4-4-8), both of whom are averaging at least a point-per-game. If G Braden Holtby and the Caps can fend them off, a second line that includes the likes of W Justin Abdelkader (2-2-4) and F Dylan Larkin (1-7-8) are right behind to continue applying the pressure.

Two skaters that should also be included in that group are defensemen Mike Green and Nick Jensen. 32-year-old Green, a former first-round selection by the Capitals that played 10 seasons in Washington, actually leads the team in points scored with his 1-8-9 totals, while youngster Jensen has provided four assists from the third defensive pairing.

As Minnesota and Ottawa have already proven this season, teams that sleep on this squad are liable to miss out on points that should be earned against a rebuilding club.

That rebuild is no more apparent than when the Wings take to the power play. No matter how hard Green tries with his team-leading four power play points, the club has only converted four-of-27 man-advantage opportunities for an abysmal 14.8 percent success rate that’s eighth-worst in the league. Fortunately for the Wings, they aren’t exactly playing an exemplary penalty kill this evening (Washington kills only 78.6 percent of opposing power plays, 13th-worst in the NHL), so they might be able to find some success.

Of course, it seems the Capitals are experiencing a bit of a rebuild themselves. Though the offense is still trucking right along at 3.14 goals-per-game, the defense has definitely suffered following the offseason’s transactions.

It is no fault of Holtby’s that Washington is allowing an average of 3.43 goals against-per-game (10th-worst in the league). He’s still trucking along as well as ever with his .931 save percentage and 2.19 GAA, both of which are top-10 efforts in the NHL among goaltenders with at least three starts.

Instead, the Capitals are fielding (Icing? No, that’s a penalty…) a defensive corps that allows an 11th-worst 33.9 shots against-per-game – even with D Brooks Orpik blocking 2.6 shots-per-night. In particular, D Dmitry Orlov has been pretty rough to open the season. He has yet to produce a point after posting 6-27-33 totals last season, and has been on the ice for 11 goals against for a -3 rating (both team-worsts).

It seems losing both D Karl Alzner and D Nate Schmidt is proving a bit tougher to handle than previously hoped – and that was before D Matt Niskanen went down with an upper-body injury last Friday. Fortunately for the Caps, they may not notice those departures as badly this evening considering the Red Wings are not a club that likes to pepper opposing goaltenders.

It’s another game of evenly-matched offenses, which means Detroit should have the upper-hand in this game (that’s weird to say when Holtby is playing for the opposing team) based on its defense. The Wings should be more than able to take two points tonight, especially if G Jimmy Howard rediscovers his form from his first three starts.


Though they needed the shutout, the New York Islanders were able to beat the New York Rangers 4-3 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Islanders came out with guns blazing to start this game, as F Anders Lee (D Ryan Pulock and RW Jordan Eberle) was able to bury a power play wrist shot only 2:40 into the game. That early lead didn’t last long though, as C David Desharnais (D Kevin Shattenkirk and D Marc Staal) scored a tip-in only 2:22 later to level the game at one-all. Much to the Islanders’ delight, that tie lasted only 64 seconds courtesy of Second Star of the Game F Brock Nelson‘s (LW Andrew Ladd) wrister to retake the lead for the Boys from Brooklyn.

All goals are important, but C Mathew Barzal‘s (D Calvin de Haan and F Josh Bailey) wrister 75 seconds into the second period will stick out in the minds of the Islanders for the next couple of weeks. Not only was it the first of Barzal’s NHL career, but it also proved to be the one that ensured the Isles would make it to overtime.

The Rangers’ comeback began in earnest 3:29 into the third period when W Mats Zuccarello (Third Star D Brendan Smith) scored a wrister to pull the Blueshirts back within a goal. Brooklyn people and Manhattanites alike were on the edge of their seats until F Kevin Hayes (RW Jesper Fast and D Ryan McDonagh) leveled the game at three-all with a backhanded shot.

Even though a total of six shots were fired over five minutes of three-on-three overtime and the Islanders played the final 79 seconds on the power play, neither club could find the golden goal, forcing the first shootout of the 2017-’18 DtFR Game of the Day series.

  1. Zuccarello drew the first chance to fire at G Jaroslav Halak, and he made good on the opportunity to give the Blueshirts an early lead.
  2. Eberle tried to match it against G Henrik Lundqvist, and he did. 1-1 after two shooters.
  3. Next up for the Rangers was C Mika Zibanejad, but Halak was able to make the save.
  4. With the opportunity to take the lead, Head Coach Doug Weight sent out First Star C John Tavares. The captain converted the break to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead.
  5. Tavares’ goal forced a miss-and-lose situation for Desharnais and the Rangers, but the center wasn’t able to get past Halak. That gave the Islanders a 4-3 victory on a 2-1 shootout.

Halak earned the victory after saving 38-of-41 shots faced (.927 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Lundqvist, who saved 35-of-38 (.921).

The Isles’ road victory snaps a two-game winning streak by the 10-5-2 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the hosts still have a six-point advantage.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 8

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 6

By beating Pittsburgh 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena, the Capitals have forced a winner-takes-all Game 7 for a chance to play in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Simply put, absolutely nothing was going right for the Penguins. Though the Capitals did throw an impressive 38 hits (led by both Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson‘s five blows), Pittsburgh still should have managed more than 18 shots on goal.

It wasn’t until 7:43 remained in the first period that the Pens managed their first shot on Braden Holtby‘s goal. Unfortunately for them, Third Star of the Game T.J. Oshie (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Second Star Nicklas Backstrom) was already getting to work on the Capitals’ first goal of the night 24 seconds later, a power play snap shot from the far face-off circle.

Another part of the game the Penguins struggled at was keeping the puck away from Washington. They committed a combined 11 giveaways, the most egregious of which was Ron Hainsey‘s at the 6:32 mark of the second period.

Though it doesn’t go down as a turnover because First Star Andre Burakovsky dislodged the puck with a hit along the far boards, Hainsey brought the contact on himself. At the tail end of what proved to be a long 76-second shift, he tried to maintain possession for his club instead of chip the puck out of the defensive zone, turning back towards Marc-Andre Fleury‘s goal. Burakovsky took advantage of the exhausted defenseman to squeeze a wrist shot between Fleury and the far post to double the Caps’ lead.

But not all of Washington’s goals were results of Penguins mistakes. The game-winner certainly qualifies as one of those, as Backstrom (Oshie and Dmitry Orlov) won the third frame’s opening face-off to bury a snapper only 16 seconds later to set the score at 3-0.

John Carlson (Matt Niskanen and Kuznetsov) and Burakovsky tacked on two more goals within 1:12 of one another to set up a comfortable five-goal advantage for the visiting Caps, more than enough to survive Jake Guentzel (Sidney Crosby) and Evgeni Malkin‘s (Conor Sheary and Brian Dumoulin) two-goal surge in the remaining 3:22 of regulation.

The series’ deciding game has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, May 10. American viewers can catch the game on NBCSN, while Canadian hockey fans will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 3

For the first and second rounds 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 writer is Connor Keith.

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 4

With a 3-2 victory over the Capitals at PPG Paints Arena Wednesday, Pittsburgh has pulled within a win of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fifth time in the last decade.

After the events of Game 3, two things could have happened in this contest. The Penguins could have taken to the ice with intentions of revenge for Matt Niskanen unintentionally downing Sidney Crosby with at least the fourth concussion of his career, or they could let the scoreboard do the talking.

Since Mike Sullivan and his club still have intentions of hoisting the Stanley Cup for a second straight season, cooler heads prevailed and they decided on the latter option.

Of course, missing Crosby and Conor Sheary – both first-liners – will put a damper on the offense no matter how brilliant Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin perform. That’s where First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury comes in.

Just like he’s done for most of his appearances this postseason, the veteran goaltender posted another exemplary 60 minutes. Though the Capitals fired 38 shots at him, he saved all but two for a solid .947 save percentage.

As far as scoring is concerned, almost all the action – save Second Star Patric Hornqvist‘s (Olli Maatta and Matt Cullen) marker 4:39 into the game – occurred in the second period when the Capitals scored three goals.

Wait, three?

Officially recorded as Guentzel’s eighth goal of the playoffs, Dmitry Orlov started Washington’s scoring with his right skate at the 3:51 mark. It looks like he intended to catch the puck with his skate then collect with his stick, but the second half of his plan never came to fruition. Because of that, Guentzel’s shot deflected into Braden Holtby‘s net to set the score at 2-0.

But the Caps didn’t waste any time getting that goal back. First up was Third Star Evgeny Kuznetsov (Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson), who buried his wrist shot from the at the 7:21 mark to pull Washington back within a goal. Nate Schmidt (T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk) followed that marker up 72 seconds later to level the game at two-all with his first-ever postseason marker.

After Washington had tied the game at two-all, the Penguins defense clamped down. In the remaining 31:27 of play, they allowed only 17 shots to reach Fleury’s net. That effort was led in large part by Ian Cole, who blocked three Capitals shots in addition to his team-leading six hits by the end of the game.

With that in mind, it’s only fitting then that the game-winning goal belongs to one of Pittsburgh’s blueliners. Buried with 8:36 remaining in the second period, Justin Schultz (Malkin and Guentzel) banged home a power play slap shot over Holtby’s stick shoulder for the final tally of the contest.

The Capitals certainly had their chances to score at least one more goal in the third period to force overtime. They had all the momentum in the final frame and maintained possession in their offensive zone most of the time, but were done in by a questionable penalty with 1:52 remaining in regulation.

On initial look, it seemed like Oshie’s stick caught Nick Bonino in the face when they made contact in the far corner behind Fleury’s net. The penalty for that is, of course, a seat in the penalty box for hi-sticking.

But a replay later, the truth came out: the stick only caught Bonino’s shoulder – the eighth-year center sold/embellished/flopped (pick your favorite) to force the Caps to the penalty kill, effectively neutralizing any chance of an equalizer.

Of course, that’s only part of the story.

Guentzel actually suffered a hi-stick from Andre Burakovsky late in the third period that went uncalled, even though the officials knew he was bleeding.

And of course, this was all played out a year after this same narrative was played out by the exact same players. That time, Oshie was crossing Matt Murray’s crease and Bonino hit him in the chest in Game 5. Though a stick came nowhere near his face, Oshie threw his head back in faux pain to draw a penalty and force off elimination for one more game.

In either case, Penguins fans see the Oshie penalty as a makeup call.

Pittsburgh’s first opportunity to advance to the Conference Finals is scheduled for Saturday at 7:15 p.m. Eastern time at the Verizon Center. American viewers can look for Game 5 on NBC, while Canadians will be serviced by CBC, SN and TVAS.

 

Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 4

After trailing 2-0 – in more ways than one – the Ducks beat Edmonton 4-3 in overtime at Rogers Place to make their Western Conference Semifinals matchup a best-of-three series.

Third Star of the Game Drake Caggiula (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Patrick Maroon) did so well to tie the game with 102 seconds remaining in regulation. The rookie’s first postseason goal was struck only seconds after Cam Talbot was pulled for the extra attacker.

It was a typical grind-it-out style tally we’ve come to expect in the playoffs. He took advantage of John Gibson being unable to contain Nugent-Hopkins’ initial shot from the far face-off circle and collected the rebound to bury the puck over the netminder’s glove shoulder.

And only 2:27 of action later, it was all for naught.

Following intermission, the Ducks exploded onto the ice. Beyond Ryan Kesler losing the face-off to open overtime, Anaheim did not let the Oilers do anything else. 35 seconds into the fourth period, Adam Larsson tried to fire a puck at Gibson, but his shot was stopped by First Star Ryan Getzlaf.

Getzlaf maintained possession following the block and began Anaheim’s attack into the offensive zone by passing to a streaking Second Star Jakob Silfverberg. Silfverberg couldn’t take control of the puck and lost possession to Oscar Klefbom, who passed to Larsson.

Once again, Getzaf had other plans than letting the Oilers dump the puck into the neutral zone or start a counterattack. He intercepted Larsson’s pass and dished across the face-off circles to a waiting Silfverberg, who absolutely ripped a wrist shot past Talbot to end the game and level the series at two-all after losing both games at the Honda Center.

Making the Ducks’ victory all the more impressive is the fact that Edmonton effectively dominated the first period. Milan Lucic had the Oil riled up as they were hitting in the first period like it was going out of style. In total, Edmonton threw 37 hits before Silfverberg’s game-ending marker, led by both Zack Kassian and Lucic’s five blows apiece.

Lucic (Leon Draisaitl and Mark Letestu) was eventually rewarded for his physical play by scoring a power play goal with 4:22 remaining in the first period. Similar to Caggiula’s tally to force overtime, it was a hard-nosed goal struck from Gibson’s crease after he didn’t collect Draisaitl’s initial shot.

Only 2:05 after that, Connor McDavid (Draisaitl and Maroon) caught Gibson sprawled on the ice following a botched diving save to set the score at 2-0, the same score that read going into the first intermission.

Then Getzlaf happened.

The Ducks’ captain was involved in all four goals on the evening, starting with his first of two tallies only 97 seconds after the start of the second frame. After receiving a pass from Brandon Montour from the far point,  he rang home a wrister to pull Anaheim within a goal.

Unfortunately for him, that goal was slightly controversial. Talbot was not caught off-guard for this tally, but was instead fighting to see around Corey Perry.

Screens are perfectly legal in hockey, and a very effective way to produce goals. Perry rushed towards the crease from the far boards to act as one, but bounced off Larsson in the process. That slight change of direction changed his course from screening Talbot to making contact with Talbot.

The nudge was enough to force Talbot off his spot and the netminder immediately threw his hands up in frustration. That led Todd McLellan to quickly challenge the play. Though the officials deliberated for a few minutes, they ultimately decided to count the goal even though contact with the goaltender is clearly made.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it should have counted. But then again, I don’t wear black-and-white stripes to hockey games.

The Ducks’ relentless, 21-shot attack in the second period continued 3:56 later when Rickard Rakell (Getzlaf and Perry) did his best tic-tac-goal off Getzlaf’s pass from the far post of Talbot’s net. Getzlaf passed across the crease to Rakell, who was waiting in the slot, and the right wing beat Talbot to the near post with his fast hands.

Getzlaf completed the surge on an unassisted slap shot  with 5:35 remaining in the frame for his seventh goal of the playoffs. Of all the goals the Oilers defense allowed in this contest, this is the one they want back the most.

After Talbot had saved Rakell’s initial wrist shot from the slot, Nugent-Hopkins had the puck on his stick near the far corner of the crease. Instead of quickly dumping the puck to allow his team to fight another day, he remained motionless and looked for a pass to start a counterattack. Getzlaf took advantage and attacked the puck through Nugent-Hopkins’ stick to bury it five-hole.

With hosts in this series having yet to successfully defend home ice, these remaining three games will be must-see TV.

Speaking of, the pivotal Game 5 is set for Friday at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time at the Honda Center. Residents of the United States will find the contest on NBCSN, while Canadians should tune to either SN or TVAS.

April 5 – Day 168 – The hardware is ready for the taking

After a busy Tuesday in the NHL, only two games will be contested on the final Wednesday of the regular season.

The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Montréal at Buffalo (RDS/SN), followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Washington (NBCSN/TVAS). All times eastern.

Is there any question which game we’re featuring tonight? Off to the American capital! Hopefully the cherry blossoms are still in bloom.

 

It looks said and done, but the 47-26-6 Rangers still technically have a ridiculously small chance at earning the third seed in the Metropolitan Division. All they need to do is win all their games without a shootout, increase their +39 goal differential to at least +53 and hope the Blue Jackets suffer three-straight blowout losses to close the season.

If that sounds impossible, it’s because it almost certainly is. Then again, I’m kind of pulling for a tie so severe the NHL runs out of official tiebreakers. That’d be awesome.

Of course, that neglects the fact that the Rangers are probably happy where they are. A road series against Montréal sounds much more manageable than a road series against Pittsburgh.

Since the odds of all that happening are slim, the Rangers play the role of lame duck in the three remaining games of their regular season.

But don’t read that as Blueshirts aren’t taking advantage of their situation. They’re using this opportunity to rest some players (including Jesper Fast, Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello tonight), while giving others who are still completing their return from the trainer’s room an opportunity to iron out some kinks – à la 31-18-4 Henrik Lundqvist, who will start in net for only his fifth time since coming back from a hip injury.

Though I can’t say I’ve had the chance to watch the Rangers recently, I’d guess Alain Vigneault is taking advantage of the fact that there are no negative repercussions to experimenting with new plays or strategies.

A combination of all of these things (and probably a few more) are probably the reason New York has gone only 1-0-2 in its last three games.

When the Blueshirts have been at the top of their game this year, everything has revolved around the offense. They’ve averaged 3.15 goals-per-game, the fourth-best scoring rate in the league.

Usually, Zuccarello takes the lead on offense, as he’s notched a team-leading 59 points. Since he’ll be sitting in the press box this evening, that responsibility will fall to J.T. Miller, who is chasing his Norwegian teammate by three points.

Of the two, Miller has actually been the more prolific scorer with his 22 goals, and he’s using his propensity for finding the back of the net to reign in Zuccarello in the clubhouse scoring race. He has buried two goals in the last three games, and added on two more assists.

Of course, he still plays second fiddle (well, technically fourth fiddle) to Chris Kreider in the goal-scoring department. Kreider has buried 28 goals this season to lead the team, and has matched Miller’s two-goal surge of late with a pair of his own.

Scorers can be found throughout the Rangers‘ roster, and that becomes even more apparent when they take to the power play. Usually successful only 20% of the time, New York is riding a real hot-streak right now with the extra man, as it’s converted 44.4% of its man-advantages into goals in its last three games (tied for second-best in the league in that time).

Of those expected on the ice tonight, defenseman Brady Skjei has been a major part of that success. Though he’s only managed assists, he has two power play points in the last nine days to lead the team. Four different Rangers have provided the man-advantage goals, all of whom should be on the ice tonight.

Earlier, we briefly touched on Vigneault experimenting with his club’s play. If he’s been changing things up on the penalty kill, he’s doing exactly what he needs to. On the season, New York has successfully defended only 79.7% of its penalties – the eighth-worst rate in the NHL.

That’s all changed of late. In the past three games, the Rangers have allowed only one power play goal against for a 87.5% penalty kill rate. That ties for the ninth-best rate in the league in that time.

Lundqvist deserves a lot of the credit for this impressive run with his .923 power play save percentage that ties for seventh-best in the NHL in his last three games.

New York may have little to gain from this game, but there’s still some work to be done for the 53-18-8 Capitals. They have yet to lock-up anything beyond a spot in the playoffs, but that can all change tonight. Should Washington simply avoid a regulation loss, it will have won the Metropolitan Division, the Eastern Conference and the Presidents’ Trophy.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Alex Ovechkin and Co. did that very same thing a year ago, only to fall to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Not only has Washington been the best team all season, it’s also been the past team in the league since March 14. Going 9-1-1 in their past 11 games, it seems the Caps are peaking at just the right time as they try for their first Stanley Cup.

Just like New York‘s season-long success, offense has been the core of this recent surge. The Capitals have scored 39 goals in the past 23 days, which ties Toronto (another potent offense) for the second-highest total in that time.

Having the best year of his career since his 2009-’10 season, Nicklas Backstrom has been an absolute machine over the past 11 games. He’s registered a whopping 17 points in that time to not only lead the team, but also rank third-best in the NHL since March 14.

Of course, Backstrom is known for his ability to pass the puck. On the receiving end of many of those assists has been T.J. Oshie, who has buried a team-leading seven goals in the past fortnight. Of course, we’d be remiss to forget the left wing on that line: Ovi. The captain has also been extremely successful, as his goal total in this run is only one short of Oshie’s mark.

One of the most feared aspect of Washington‘s game is its power play. Lundqvist will be put to the test tonight, as the Capitals have converted 38.7% of their opponent’s penalties of late into goals. The usual suspects are behind this success, as Backstrom leads the team in power play points since mid-March with nine and Ovechkin has five man-advantage goals.

The opposite special team has also been solid over the past 23 days, as the Capitals have successfully defended 84.4% of their shorthanded situations. 41-12-6 Braden Holtby has been good, but I’ve been most impressed with Brooks Orpik and the blueline. Together, they’ve combined for a dozen shorthanded shot blocks over the past three weeks to allow only  37 power play shots to reach 12-6-2 Philipp Grubauer or Holtby.

Though the Caps have a solid lead on New York in the standings, things haven’t gone quite so smoothly for them when they actually see the Rangers face-to-face. The Blueshirts currently lead the four-game series 2-1-0 coming into tonight’s game, though the last time they met Washington was when they lost to them.

It was February 28 in Madison Square Garden. Lundqvist was in net, but was unable to stop Marcus Johansson from earning a two-goal, three-point night to lead the Caps to a 4-1 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Michael Grabner(+23 [leads the team]), Nick Holden (160 hits [leads the team]), Kreider (28 goals [leads the team]) and Derek Stepan (203 shots [leads the team]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (62 assists [second-most in the league] for 85 points [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Holtby (eight shutouts [tied for most in the league] among 41 wins [tied for most in the NHL] on a 2.11 GAA [second-best in the league] and a .924 save percentage [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]), Dmitry Orlov (+31 [fifth-best in the league]), Orpik (+32 [tied for third-best in the NHL]) and Oshie (+27 [seventh-best in the league]).

Though the Rangers should be a scary team when they face Montréal next week to start the playoffs, it’s hard to pick them to win tonight. Washington simply has too much to play for, not to mention home ice and the fact it’s the best team in hockey. I’d bet on the Capitals winning by two goals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Gord Donnelly (1962-) – Though selected by St. Louis 62nd-overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman never played a game for the Notes. Instead, he spent much of his 12 seasons in Quebec. A consistent enforcer, he spent 2069 minutes in the penalty box, including 316 in the 1991-’92 season alone (4.45 minutes-per-game).

Boy was I wrong in my prediction for yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. I thought we’d get a closely contested game in the Blue Jackets‘ favor, but Pittsburgh instead exploded for a 4-1 victory.

Rookie Carter Rowney (Scott Wilson) found the Penguins‘ icebreaker with 69 seconds (keep it together Rob Gronkowski) remaining in the first period. His tip-in to find the back of Sergei Bobrovsky‘s net was only the second goal of his young 24-game career.

Things really got rolling for the Pens in the second period, as two scores were added before the second intermission. 9:26 into the frame, Patric Hornqvist (Tom Kuhnhackl) provided what came to be the winning goal with a pure wrist shot. 3:04 later, Third Star of the Game Brian Dumoulin (First Star Jake Guentzel and Second Star Sidney Crosby), the same defenseman I called out in my preview, rose to my challenge and buried his first tally of the season to set the score at 3-0.

Only 33 seconds into the final frame, Guentzel (Justin Schultz and Crosby) provided Pittsburgh its final insurance goal. By scoring a shorthanded snap shot with 9:40 remaining in regulation, Brandon Dubinsky robbed Matthew Murray of his fifth shutout of the season.

Murray saved 38-of-39 shots faced (97.4%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 23-of-27 (85.2%).

The 86-59-25 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day have now won five of the last six games in the featured series. That expands their lead to five points with only five days remaining in the regular season.

March 23 – Day 155 – Stars upon thars

Thursday is upon us again, which means a lot of hockey action to watch. The festivities begin at 7 p.m. with two games (Tampa Bay at Boston [TVAS] and Columbus at Washington), followed half an hour later by four more (New Jersey at Toronto, Carolina at Montréal [RDS], Pittsburgh at Ottawa [NHLN/RDS2] and Arizona at Florida). A trio of contests drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Vancouver at St. Louis, Calgary at Nashville and Philadelphia at Minnesota) to precede Dallas at Chicago at 8:30 p.m. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of Edmonton at Colorado, 90 minutes before the start of tonight’s nightcap: Winnipeg at Los AngelesAll times eastern.

Is there any question of which game we’re watching tonight? When two of the top-three teams in the league square off and the Metropolitan Division lead is on the line, it’s must-see TV!

 

Two points is all that separates these clubs from one another at the top of the Metropolitan Division. That differential is made only tighter by Pittsburgh sitting right between them in second place.

Of course, that could all change after tonight’s games. Columbus, Pittsburgh or Washington could finish tonight leading the division/conference/league.

47-17-8 Washington‘s path is simplest: don’t lose in regulation. As long as the Capitals earn at least a point tonight, they’ll retain their lead – no matter how Pittsburgh does in Ottawa.

Of course, the Capitals have every intention of improving their two-game winning streak into three, and they’ll do that on the back of their incredible defense and goaltending that has allowed only 156 goals – the fewest in the entire league.

For 37-11-6 Braden Holtby, it’s unfortunate that goaltenders like Sergei Bobrovsky and Devan Dubnyk are having such spectacular seasons, as last year’s Vezina Trophy winner is actually having an even better campaign this year than last. He has a .925 season save percentage and 2.05 GAA, the fifth and second-best marks, respectively, in the league among the 40 netminders with at least 28 appearances.

But what truly sets Washington apart this year is not simply the fact that it not only has Holtby at its disposal, but also one of the elite defensive units in the game. Led by Karl Alzner and his 151 shot blocks (the 10th-most in the NHL), the Capitals have allowed only 27.8 shots-per-game to reach Holtby’s crease, the fourth-lowest total in the league.

Pair those two facets together, and that ice is pretty solid. Although I would argue the Capitals still under-perform in this aspect, they still play one of the better penalty kills in the league. Tied for seventh-best in the league, Washington has successfully snuffed out 83.8% of opposing power plays.

In my opinion, this is where Holtby’s Vezina-pitch falls flat. He only has a .847 save percentage against the power play, the sixth-worst effort in the league.

Fortunately for Washington, Alzner and the defense are prepared to pick up the slack. With 36 shorthanded blocks, Alzner leads a pack of eight skaters (note: I’m being intentional about using the word skater; four of these skaters are forwards) that have notched more than 10 blocks on the penalty kill.

Just like Edmonton last night, the Capitals are more than capable of reclaiming any goals they allowed while on the penalty kill with their own elite power play. Washington successfully converts 22% of man-advantages, which is the sixth-best mark in the NHL. Nicklas Backstrom is far-and-away the lead man on special teams, as his 30 power play points lead not only the Capitals, but the entire league. Of course, he also has one of the best offensive weapons in the game at his disposal in Alex Ovechkin, who has 13 man-advantage goals to his credit to lead the team.

While they’ll need some help from the Senators, the 47-19-6 Blue Jackets are also eligible for the league’s top spot for the night. Should the Penguins fall, Columbus can take over the top spot in the league with a victory in regulation tonight by virtue of winning the third tiebreaker – the season series.

After tonight’s game, both Columbus and Washington will have played 73 games. Should the Jackets win in regulation, they’ll both also be tied with 46 regulation+overtime wins.

The Blue Jackets already lead the season series with Washington 2-1-0, but they’d be much more comfortable with this tiebreaker with another win tonight. That would clinch their series advantage over the Capitals with three points, as these clubs will meet up only once more this season.

It will be a battle of defense tonight, as the Jackets have also found most of their wins by limiting opposing scoring chances. Columbus has allowed only 168 goals against, which ties for second-fewest in the NHL.

Leading that charge is 39-13-4 Bobrovsky, the proud owner of the most wins in the league so far this season. He’s earned every single one of them, as his .931 save percentage and 2.04 GAA are both best in the league among the 40 netminders with at least 28 appearances.

What makes Bobrovsky so impressive is the fact that he’s doing better than Holtby, but with a far inferior defense. Though led by Jack Johnson‘s 112 shot blocks, the Jackets have allowed 30.1 shots against per game, only the 12th-lowest average in the league.

That effort shines through in the penalty kill. Though Bobrovsky has faced the fifth-most shots from teams on the power play, he’s saved 88.7% of them, which ties for the 13th-best power play save percentage in the NHL. That has led the Jackets to killing 82.6% of their penalties, the 10th-best rate in the NHL.

Columbus‘ power play is also extremely talented – though not as much as Washington‘s. Successful on 21.4% of attempts – the eighth-best mark in the league – the Blue Jackets have been led by none other than Alexander Wennberg and his 22 power play points. Though it’s been two weeks since his last contribution on the special teams, he’s still a point of emphasis for Barry Trotz’ club.

Another member of the special team that the Caps will keep an eye on is Nick Foligno, as the left wing has registered 11 power play goals this season to lead his club.

Earlier we discussed the fact that the Jackets have had the upper-hand on the Caps this year. It didn’t look that way the last time they met though, as Washington hosted the Blue Jackets to a five-goal shutout victory on January 5.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include ColumbusCam Atkinson (33 goals [tied for fifth-most in the league]), Bobrovsky (2.04 GAA on a .931 save percentage for 39 wins [all best in the NHL], including six shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and David Savard (+27 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (56 assists [second-most in the league] on 78 points [fifth-most in the NHL]), Holtby (eight shutouts among [most in the league] 37 wins [tied for second-most in the NHL] on a 2.05 GAA [second-best in the league] and a .925 save percentage [fifth-best in the NHL]), Dmitry Orlov (+29 [sixth-best in the league]), Brooks Orpik (+32 [tied for second-best in the NHL]) and T.J. Oshie (+27 [tied for eighth-best in the league]).

For those that love a low-scoring affair, this is the game for you. Since there’s so much on the line tonight, I expect a very competitive, intense game that will end in a Washington victory. Whether it ends in regulation, overtime or a shootout, I will not venture a guess.

Hockey Birthday

  • Don Marshall (1932-) – This left wing hoisted the Stanley Cup five years in a row during his 10-year career in Montréal. In all, he appeared in 19 NHL seasons and played in seven All-Star Games.
  • Bengt-Ake Gustafsson (1958-) – A fourth-round pick by Washington in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, this Swedish right wing played 629 games over nine years for the Capitals. He never finished a season with fewer than 40 points, and twice notched 75.
  • Alex Selivanov (1971-) – Philadelphia may have selected this right wing in the sixth round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, but he never wore a Flyers sweater. Instead, he spent most of his seven-year career in Tampa Bay. He scored one postseason overtime goal during his playing days to beat – you guessed it – the Flyers.
  • Patrick Bordeleau (1986-) – It’s been a tough career for this scrappy left wing. Although selected by Minnesota in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, he didn’t start his NHL career until 2012 with Colorado. After recovering from an off-season back surgery, he played less than a minute in his first game in the 2014-’15 season before fracturing his kneecap. That was his last game in the league – since then, he’s been playing in Wales.
  • Michal Neuvirth (1988-) – Since being selected 34th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by Washington, this Czech goaltender has played with four clubs over nine seasons of play. This year marks his second with Philadelphia, where he’s earned a 28-18-5 record.

A dominating 20-shot second period is just what the doctor ordered for Anaheim, as it bested the visiting Oilers 4-3 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The scoreboard operator got to work early last night, as Leon Draisaitl (Patrick Maroon and Connor McDavid) earned Edmonton a one-goal lead with a slap shot 5:58 into the game. That advantage didn’t lost long though, as Patrick Eaves‘ (Third Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf and First Star Hampus Lindholm) snap shot leveled the game 1:48 later. That didn’t seem to sit well with McDavid (Draisaitl and Kris Russell), so he returned the lead to the Oil at the 8:49 mark, and they would’ve held onto it if not for Lindhom’s (Second Star Rickard Rakell and Getzlaf) tip-in with 31 seconds remaining before intermission.

Anaheim took it’s first lead of the evening 93 seconds after returning from the break. Josh Manson (Lindholm) provided the tally, his fourth of the year. It proved to be a lead the Ducks would not yield, thanks to Rakell’s (Getzlaf) wrist shot with 8:37 remaining in the second frame. That set the score at 4-2, which held almost the remainder of the game.

The reason Rakell’s goal is the winner and not Manson’s is due to Mark Letestu‘s (McDavid and Maroon) power play snapper with seven seconds remaining in regulation. Unfortunately for the Oilers, it was too little, too late.

Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 29-of-32 shots faced (90.625%), leaving the loss to Cam Talbot, who saved 14-of-18 (77.8%). Following Rakell’s eventual-winning goal, Talbot was pulled for Laurent Brossoit, who saved all 16 shots he faced for no decision.

Forget the fact that Anaheim now occupies second place in the Pacific Division, the real news here is that home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now trail the 79-56-22 visitors by only a point thanks to the Ducks‘ win.