Tag Archives: Oshie

Caps OT Win Puts Jackets On Brink

With an overtime-winning goal from Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps became the first team to win a game on home ice in this series as they moved within a win of the second round.  The Jackets have now lost three straight after starting the series with a 2-0 advantage.

The Jackets had played a solid first period, but the Caps got a power play that felt like it could shift momentum.  Instead, Matt Calvert scored a short-handed goal to give the Jackets their first 1-0 lead of the series off of some nice board work by Seth Jones.  The lead wouldn’t last long as Backstrom got a lucky break on a shot that went off of David Savard‘s skate, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s mask and into the goal.

As the second period started, it felt like the Caps were the hungrier team.  Dmitry Orlov sent a long stretch pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov that he buried to give the Caps their first lead of the game at 2-1.  It was one of several poor line changes by Columbus and Washington took advantage.  Despite continued pressure from the Caps, the Jackets would even it up when Calvert got his second of the game on a breakaway after initially whiffing on a shot and then making a spin move to put it in the net.  With 3:18 left in the 2nd period T.J. Oshie redirected a point shot from John Carlson to put the Caps ahead 3-2. Once again, it felt like maybe the Caps were going to take control of the game.

However, Oliver Bjorkstrand had other thoughts.  Ian Cole took a shot from the point that Bjorkstrand tipped to knot the game at three early in the third period.  Bjorkstrand had seen little time throughout the game (and the series), but he seemed to gain confidence in this game and John Tortorella rewarded him with additional time in the third period and overtime.  All of the momentum was with Columbus in the third period, but they couldn’t solve Braden Holtby.  The Caps were outshot 16-1 in the final frame of regulation.

Once again, the long change seemed to cause problems for the Jackets as momentum again shifted to the Caps in overtime.  The Jackets have struggled with the long change throughout the season and this trend seems to have carried into the playoffs.  The Jackets best chance in overtime was with Bjorkstrand and Jenner on the ice together.  It is a pairing that work at times in the early part of the season and which made some sense here given the game Bjorkstrand had played to that point and the series that Jenner has had.  But it wasn’t to be and the game-winning goal came on a shift in which the Caps managed to sustain pressure and, again, re-direct a point shot past Bobrovsky.

There were some encouraging signs for the Blue Jackets and John Tortorella was emphatic in the press conference that his team would be ready for Game 6 and that they would force a Game 7, but they are running out of chances and now they have their backs against the wall.  Getting Bjorkstrand involved in the game is definitely a positive as the Jackets have been over-relying on their top line.  Cam Atkinson finished the game with 28:25 time on ice and Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois weren’t far behind.

There are also some things to be concerned about.  Bobrovsky’s subpar save percentage in this game is probably not as big of a concern given that more than one of those goals was off a redirection.  What is more of a concern is that Panarin seemed less dynamic than usual after a slash to his knee.  While his 80 percent is still better than most players at 100 percent, his line has also been a big driver in this series and, as noted above, spends a lot of time on the ice.  The Jackets also need to make a decision about Brandon Dubinsky with Alexander Wennberg back on the ice.  Dubinsky’s struggles have been a story line this season, sometimes to the point of being tabloid material.  His struggles as this series have progressed are real and time on ice of just 7:28 (despite getting time on penalty kill) suggests the coaching staff is well aware of the issue.  Mark Letestu looked to be the better option as this game progressed.

The Caps will have the chance to finish the series off in Columbus on Monday and will have confidence having beaten the Jackets twice on the road.  Should they lose, however, the old doubts might start to creep back in, so the series still isn’t over yet and could have some surprises in store.

Road team wins again, CBJ-WSH series leveled at two

 

After winning Game 4 at Nationwide Arena 4-1, the Washington Capitals have salvaged losing Games 1 and 2 to reclaim home-ice advantage in their Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The first two periods of this game were so exciting, even people with insomnia were falling asleep with ease. Whether that was due to lazy offense by Columbus or incredible defense by Washington (the Blue Jackets managed only 15 shots in opening 40 minutes), the fans at Nationwide Arena had very little to get excited about.

Playing a major role in hampering the Jackets’ offense all night was none other than D Brooks Orpik, who blocked a (t)game-high four shots (D Seth Jones matched him in that effort for Columbus), and Third Star of the Game RW Tom Wilson with his team-leading three hits.

Perhaps Columbus’ best scoring opportunity of either of the first two periods came with 5:37 remaining in the opening frame. LW Artemi Panarin had not one, but two shots from prime real estate right in front of G Braden Holtby‘s crease, but the netminder rejected both offerings to keep his young shutout alive.

However, that’s not so say there wasn’t any offense in those periods, as there were two goals struck – but both those markers belonged to the visiting Capitals. Wilson (First Star F Evgeny Kuznetsov) took credit for the first tally at the 6:16 mark of the first period with a slap shot from the top of the zone, followed by F T.J. Oshie‘s (Second Star W Alex Ovechkin and D John Carlson) power play wrist shot 23:03 later.

Oshie’s play started at the 8:49 mark of the second period when Panarin was caught slashing Kuznetsov. Washington’s resulting man advantage lasted only 30 seconds before its third-ranked postseason power play achieved its goal of setting the score at 2-0. After both Carlson’s and Ovechkin’s offerings were rejected by G Sergei Bobrovsky, Oshie collected the loose puck in the slot and beat the netminder’s glove to the far post.

While Oshie’s tally will go down as the game-winner (the fourth of his playoff career), Ovechkin’s (Kuznetsov and Wilson) wrister 2:49 into the third period proved to be the most important goal of the game. Not only was it the Caps’ purest snipe of the night (Ovi elevated his shot from the right face-off dot over Bobrovsky’s glove to beat him near side), but it also forced Head Coach John Tortorella to pull Bobrovsky for an extra attacker even earlier than he would have liked.

But more on that after we discuss the Blue Jackets’ lone goal of the game: a redirection on RW Josh Anderson‘s clapper from above the left face-off circle by F Boone Jenner. For the first time in 46:22 of action, Jackets fans finally had something to cheer about – and cheer they did. Nationwide Arena sounded like it did Tuesday during Game 3, and Columbus rode that positive energy to firing nine shots on goal in the third period – the most it managed in any frame all game.

Just when it seemed like the party was beginning to die down, Bobrovsky ramped the fans back up with an impressive glove save on Ovechkin at the 8:46 mark after The Great 8 earned a one-on-one matchup against the netminder with a long breakaway.

However, all good things must come to an end, and that end started when Tortorella pulled Bobrovksy with 3:29 remaining in regulation.

If only Ovechkin hadn’t scored scored earlier in the third period and the Jackets were only trailing by one instead of two, maybe the Russian goaltender would have still been in the net when Kuznetsov came up with the puck with 2:19 remaining in the game. However, desperate times call for desperate measures, and that ended up in Kuznetsov’s favor as he buried an unassisted wrister from the blue line to set the score at 4-1 with his third goal of the series.

Holtby earned the victory after saving 23-of-24 shots faced (.958 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

After winning two games in Washington and having the tempting “sweep” word on the mind, the Blue Jackets need to regroup in a similar way the Caps did when the series transitioned to Ohio. If they don’t show a positive effort in Game 5, Columbus may be forced to wait another year to taste a playoff series victory.

Scheduled for a 3 p.m. Eastern matinee puck drop, the aforementioned Game 5 will go down on Saturday, April 21 at Capital One Arena. Viewers should tune their televisions to NBC, NBCSN, SN or TVAS to catch the action.

Columbus sitting pretty with 2-0 lead

 

Another overtime game, another Columbus Blue Jackets victory, as they beat the Washington Capitals 5-4 to take a two-tilt advantage going into Game 3.

Even though it was challenged for offsides, First Star of the Game LW Matt Calvert (D Zach Werenski and RW Josh Anderson) scored his fourth career postseason goal – and second-ever playoff overtime winner – to etch his name into Jackets lore on an elevated wrist shot to the near post from along the goal line with 7:38 remaining in the first overtime period.

For a franchise that has never escaped the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Blue Jackets are a mighty confident team right now. Going back to the regular season, Columbus has earned a 15-2-2 record in its last 19 games played and is showing no signs of slowing down yet.

That being said, tonight was not a game in which Columbus dominated play. That was made apparent right from the opening puck drop, as F Jay Beagle (D Brooks Orpik and D Jakub Jerabek) scored Washington’s first shot on goal to give the Capitals an early 1-0 advantage. That lead doubled to two 11:14 later when Third Star W Alex Ovechkin (D John Carlson and F T.J. Oshie) scored a power play slap shot from his usual spot in the left face-off circle.

In all, the Capitals out-shot the Blue Jackets 58-30, earning a dominating 28-shot differential that effectively demonstrated just how much action was taking place in G Sergei Bobrovsky‘s end.

However, it was the incredible play of Bobrovsky – who saved 54-of-58 shots faced (.931 save percentage) and earns the honorary DtFR Fourth Star – that not only kept the Jackets alive defensively, but also allowed Columbus to set up an effective counterattack on numerous occasions.

Enter Second Star RW Cam Atkinson with 1:35 remaining in the first period. Having been the Jacket called for the goalie interference penalty that allowed Ovechkin to find the back of the net 4:59 earlier, Atkinson (F Nick Foligno) collected a long stretch pass that crossed both blue lines to beat G Philipp Grubauer‘s left skate to the post with a wrister, pulling Columbus back within a goal.

Even though it came late in the period, Atkinson’s play signified a major turning point in this game. The tally came on the heels of the conclusion of two minutes of four-on-four play (F Pierre-Luc Dubois and F Evgeny Kuznetsov were charged with corresponding slashing minors) that certainly boosted the confidence of Columbus’ defense.

Of course, it didn’t take long for Washington to try to reclaim control after the intermission – and it did with a little help from F Brandon Dubinsky, who accidentally removed Carlson’s helmet with a hi-stick while hitting W Devante Smith-Pelly.

The power play is usually Ovechkin’s (C Nicklas Backstrom and Carlson) time to shine, and he didn’t disappoint by burying another one of his patented clappers at the 4:09 mark of the frame – only eight seconds after Dubinsky took his seat in the sin bin.

However, a two-goal advantage is all the Caps could manage, as the Jackets started to turn the tides in their favor to score three goals before the second intermission.

Getting back to the counterattack point from earlier, Anderson (Werenski and LW Artemi Panarin) was the next beneficiary at the 8:49 mark of the frame. After W Brett Connolly fell down in the corner to Bobrovsky’s right, Anderson pounced on the newly vacated puck to set up a five-on-two rush for Columbus. With such a man-advantage, it’s no surprise that the Jackets were able to pass the puck back-and-forth enough times to confuse Grubauer and pull themselves back within a one-goal differential.

The theme of Game 1 was unwise and untimely penalties, and the Capitals decided to reprise that story line for the remainder of the second frame with two such infractions that resulted in Columbus goals.

First was a RW Tom Wilson roughing penalty against D Seth Jones with 9:24 remaining in the period. Like so often happens in a hockey game – regardless of if it is in the regular season or playoffs – there was a little scrum in front of Grubauer’s net after he froze the puck. However, Wilson took offense to this one in particular and elected to literally jump into the fray and take Jones down to the ice. In turn, Atkinson (Panarin and Jones) made his stay in the penalty box only 37 seconds long after tying the game with a power play wrister.

Old habits die hard, so it only makes sense that Smith-Pelly was sent to the box with 2:20 remaining before the second intermission for a holding the stick penalty. This power play lasted 1:12, but the net result as the same: Werenski (RW Oliver Bjorkstrand and Panarin) scoring another goal for the Blue Jackets, giving them their first lead of the night.

With the rumored hockey gods distributing power play goals like Oprah gives away household appliances, it’s only logical that the Capitals would be handed one last opportunity to level the game when Werenski flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game infraction with 4:51 remaining in regulation.

Still looking for his first goal of the 2018 postseason, Oshie (Backstrom and Carlson) capitalized on the man-advantage to bury a power play snap shot, tying the game at 4-4 with 3:35 remaining in regulation.

But wait, there’s more! After Oshie scored, F Boone Jenner didn’t like him very much so he tripped him with 1:59 remaining in regulation. That’s right, ladies and gentleman: Jenner decided to give the regular season’s seventh-best power play a shot at winning this game in regulation.

Fortunately for Jenner, he escaped the wrath of Head Coach John Tortorella when Wilson absolutely whiffed on an excellent opportunity, allowing the game to advance into overtime which eventually ended in Columbus’ favor.

Though he didn’t start the game, G Braden Holtby takes the overtime loss after saving seven-of-eight shots faced (.875 save percentage) in the third period and overtime. He replaced Grubauer, who saved 18-of-22 (.818) and earned no decision, following the second intermission.

Of note, W Andre Burakovsky suffered an upper body injury on his first shift of the game, meaning the Capitals played almost the entire contest with only 11 forwards. It remains to be seen what his status for Game 3 and beyond will be for Washington.

After a short flight west to Central Ohio, Game 3 will take place at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, April 17 at Nationwide Arena. American viewers can catch the game on NBCSN, while Canada will be serviced by SN360 and TVAS.

Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games

We’ve talked a lot in DtFR Podcasts about who is – and maybe even more about who isn’t – going to the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. However, we haven’t had too many discussions yet about the tournament itself.

What nations are going to be there? What is the format of the tournaments? What time will those games be? Will the United States get those games broadcast live? And, most importantly, who’s taking gold?

Let’s tackle those questions one at a time.

What nations are going to be at the Olympics this year?

In total, there will be 14 nations represented between the two tournaments – though that number does come with a catch.

Starting with the women’s tournament (which drops the first puck February 10 at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time), there will be two groups of four sides apiece competing to qualify for six spots in the knockout tournament.

Group A consists of:

  • Canada
  • Finland
  • Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR)
  • United States of America

One of these things is not like the others, so now sounds like as good a time as any to discuss one of our “wildcard” nations.

With a press release on December 5, 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the Russian Olympic Committee for the 2018 Games for “the systematic manipulation of the anti-doping system” during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

While that is a hefty charge, the IOC did offer an avenue for clean Russian athletes to compete. Every Russian who passes the IOC’s drug tests is eligible to compete for the Olympic Rings instead of for the Russian Federation, meaning any medals won by Russian athletes will not count towards Russia’s all-time medal counts. No Russian flags will be raised, nor will the State Anthem of the Russian Federation be heard, but at least those athletes will still have an opportunity to compete.

Group B consists of:

  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

Ooh, our other “wildcard!” It’s hidden a bit better than the Russian situation, but there’s a hint in one team’s name.

You probably noticed there was no specification associated with Korea. That’s because North Korea and South Korea are fielding a unified team of 35 players (the standard 23 from South Korea with an additional dozen from North Korea) in the women’s hockey tournament.

This is a weird and highly politicized (Politics at the Olympics? *insert sarcastic ‘No!’ here*) decision that was finalized only 24 days before Korea’s first game, and that crunched timeline may yield unfortunate results on the ice. Steve Mollman of Quartz provides some excellent information about the politics of the situation, but the only rule Head Coach Sarah Murray, a dual-citizen of Canada and the USA, must follow is three North Korean players must be active for each game.

Meanwhile, the men’s tournament is a bit larger and features three groups of four teams for a total of 12 nations.

Group A consists of:

  • Canada
  • Czech Republic
  • South Korea
  • Switzerland

…Group B:

  • Olympic Athletes from Russia
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • United States

…and Group C (the group I’m affectionately calling “The Euro Cup.” Original, I know):

  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Norway
  • Sweden

All 12 squads will qualify for the knockout stage, but there is a major reward for each nation that wins its group: an automatic entry into the quarterfinals. The best second-place team will also earn a bye in the playoff round that will feature the remaining eight teams.

What is the format of each tournament?

Like many international sporting events, both the men’s and women’s Olympic hockey tournaments will begin with a group stage.

Each team in a given group will play one game against the other three teams in its section. For example, the unified Korean team in the women’s tournament will play Switzerland (February 10 at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time), Sweden (February 12 at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time) and Japan (February 14 at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time).

Standings will be tabulated in a way similar to the NHL, however there are a few differences: wins count for three points, while overtime and shootout wins only count for two. Overtime and shootout losses will still count for one point, and a regulation loss is… well, a major bummer.

Okay, we’ve completed the group stage. How does this turn into a knockout tournament?

This is the phase where things start to look a bit different between the men’s and women’s tournaments. Let’s start with the women’s competition, which will begin its knockout stage on February 16 at 10:10 p.m. Eastern time.

Did you notice how stacked Group A is? The IOC and IIHF did that intentionally, but they also paved the way for those teams into the tournament as all four will qualify for at least the quarterfinals. The top two teams from the group (A1 and A2) will receive automatic bids into the semifinals, while the remaining sides will square off against the winner and runner-up of Group B (A3 versus B2 and A4 versus B1) in the quarters. B3 and B4 will continue play, but the best they’ll be able to finish in the consolation tournament is fifth place.

The winner of A3vB2 will take on A1 in the semis, and A2 will square off against the victor of A4vB1. Once those tilts are done, it will boil down to the Gold Medal game, which is scheduled for February 21 at 11:10 p.m. Eastern time. The Bronze Medal match is slated for February 21 at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time.

As stated before, the group stage in the men’s tournament has no bearing on which nations advance into the knockout – all 12 teams will do just that. However, playoff matchups are dependent on success in the group stage.

Once group play is complete, all 12 teams will be pooled into one table with the three group winners listed 1-3, the runners-up 4-6 and so on, so forth. Within those four trios, they’ll be ordered by the number of points they earned in the group stage. Should there be a tie in points, it will be decided by goal-differential, then goals for, then – hopefully it doesn’t come to this one – the superior 2017 IIHF ranking.

I won’t bore you with the seeding process, but the first round of the men’s knockout tournament will begin February 19 at 10:10 p.m. Eastern time. The top four teams from the group stage enter during the quarterfinals, which are scheduled for February 20 at 10:10 p.m. Eastern time, followed by the semifinals three days later. Bronze medals will be awarded after the game at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time on February 24, followed by the Gold Medal tilt at 11:10 p.m. Eastern time that night.

What time are these games happening, and are they being televised?

To our readers not from the United States, the broadcasting part of this section doesn’t apply to you. Then again, most of you probably don’t want puck drops listed in Eastern time anyway, so thanks for reading this far if you’re still here!

Since the women’s tournament begins first, let’s start with their schedule. Remember, OAR means Olympic Athletes from Russia.

2018 Women’s Tournament
Date/Time in PyeongChang Date/Time (EST) Group/
Round
Matchup USA Live Broadcast
February 10 at 4:40 p.m. February 10 at 2:40 a.m. B Japan v Sweden
February 10 at 9:10 p.m. February 10 at 7:10 a.m. B Switzerland v Korea USA
February 11 at 4:40 p.m. February 11 at 2:40 a.m. A Finland v USA NBC Sports Network
February 11 at 9:10 p.m. February 11 at 7:10 a.m. A Canada v OAR
February 12 at 4:40 p.m. February 12 at 2:40 a.m. B Switzerland v Japan NBC Sports Network
February 12 at 9:10 p.m. February 12 at 7:10 a.m. B Sweden v Korea NBC Sports Network
February 13 at 4:40 p.m. February 13 at 2:40 a.m. A Canada v Finland NBC Sports Network
February 13 at 9:10 p.m. February 13 at 7:10 a.m. A USA v OAR NBC Sports Network
February 14 at 12:10 p.m. February 13 at 10:10 pm B Sweden v Switzerland NBC Sports Network
February 14 at 4:40 p.m. February 14 at 2:40 a.m. B Korea v Japan USA
February 15 at 12:10 p.m. February 14 at 10:10 pm A USA v Canada NBC Sports Network
February 15 at 4:40 p.m. February 15 at 2:40 a.m. A OAR v Finland USA
February 17 at 12:10 p.m. February 16 at 10:10 pm QF Quarterfinals CNBC
February 17 at 4:40 p.m. February 17 at 2:40 a.m. QF Quarterfinals USA
February 18 at 12:10 p.m. February 17 at 10:10 pm CONS Classification (5-8 place)
February 18 at 4:40 p.m. February 18 at 2:40 a.m. CONS Classification (5-8 place)
February 19 at 1:10 p.m. February 18 at 11:10 pm SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 19 at 9:10 p.m. February 19 at 7:10 a.m. SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 12:10 p.m. February 19 at 10:10 pm CONS Classification (7-8 place)
February 20 at 4:40 p.m. February 20 at 2:40 a.m. CONS Classification (5-6 place)
February 21 at 4:40 p.m. February 21 at 2:40 a.m. BMG Bronze Medal Game USA
February 22 at 1:10 p.m. February 21 at 11:10 pm GMG Gold Medal Game NBC Sports Network

And now, the men’s tournament:

2018 men’s Tournament
Date/Time in PyeongChang Date/Time (EST) Group/
Round
Matchup USA Live Broadcast
February 14 at 9:10 p.m. February 14 at 7:10 a.m. B Slovakia v OAR USA
February 14 at 9:10 p.m. February 14 at 7:10 a.m. B USA v Slovenia NBC Sports Network
February 15 at 12:10 p.m. February 14 at 10:10 pm C Finland v Germany CNBC
February 15 at 4:40 p.m. February 15 at 2:40 a.m. C Norway v Sweden NBC Sports Network
February 15 at 9:10 p.m. February 15 at 7:10 a.m. A Czech Republic v South Korea USA
February 15 at 9:10 p.m. February 15 at 7:10 a.m. A Switzerland v Canada NBC Sports Network
February 16 at 12:10 p.m. February 15 at 10:10 pm B USA v Slovakia CNBC
February 16 at 4:40 p.m. February 16 at 2:40 a.m. B OAR v Slovenia NBC Sports Network
February 16 at 9:10 p.m. February 16 at 7:10 a.m. C Finland v Norway USA
February 16 at 9:10 p.m. February 16 at 7:10 a.m. C Sweden v Germany NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 12:10 p.m. February 16 at 10:10 p.m. A Canada v Czech Republic NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 4:40 p.m. February 17 at 2:40 a.m. A South Korea v Switzerland NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 9:10 p.m. February 17 at 7:10 a.m. B OAR v USA NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 9:10 p.m. February 17 at 7:10 a.m. B Slovenia v Slovakia USA
February 18 at 12:10 p.m. February 17 at 10:10 pm C Germany v Norway NBC Sports Network
February 18 at 4:40 p.m. February 18 at 2:40 a.m. A Czech Republic v Switzerland NBC Sports Network
February 18 at 9:10 p.m. February 18 at 7:10 a.m. A Canada v South Korea USA
February 18 at 9:10 p.m. February 18 at 7:10 a.m. C Sweden v Finland NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 12:10 p.m. February 19 at 10:10 pm Q Qualifications NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 4:40 p.m. February 20 at 2:40 a.m. Q Qualifications NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 9:10 p.m. February 20 at 7:10 a.m. Q Qualifications USA
February 20 at 9:10 p.m. February 20 at 7:10 a.m. Q Qualifications NBC Sports Network
February 21 at 12:10 p.m. February 20 at 10:10 pm QF Quarterfinals CNBC
February 21 at 4:40 p.m. February 21 at 2:40 a.m. QF Quarterfinals NBC Sports Network
February 21 at 9:10 p.m. February 21 at 7:10 a.m. QF Quarterfinals NBC Sports Network
February 21 at 9:10 p.m. February 21 at 7:10 a.m. QF Quarterfinals USA
February 23 at 4:40 p.m. February 23 at 2:40 a.m. SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 23 at 9:10 p.m. February 23 at 7:10 a.m. SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 24 at 9:10 p.m. February 24 at 7:10 a.m. BMG Bronze Medal Game NBC Sports Network
February 25 at 1:10 p.m. February 24 at 11:10 pm GMG Gold Medal Game NBC Sports Network

A master schedule is available at the bottom of this article, but there’s one question left to answer first.

So, who’s going for the gold?

Ah, perhaps the most important question of them all.

As we’ve been doing this whole time, we’ll stick with tradition and predict the women’s tournament first.

Just examining the format of the tournament, the IIHF and the IOC are simply begging for another Gold Medal Game between Canada and the United States, the world’s top-two ranked women’s teams.

There’s obviously potential for either team to stumble in a group that features the four best squads in the world and be forced to play in the quarterfinals, but I just don’t see it happening. Should my prediction prove correct, the world’s best teams would square off in a third-straight Olympic Final, with Canada playing for its fifth-consecutive gold.

As for the men’s tournament, it’s been well reported that the NHL keeping its players at home will play a major role in determining which nations are taking home hardware.

In my opinion, that leaves the door wide open for the Olympic Athletes from Russia, especially since they’re playing in what I believe to be the weakest group of the bunch. The OAR boasts players such as F Pavel Datsyuk, C Mikhail Grigorenko, W Ilya Kovalchuk, D Alexey Marchenko, D Nikita Nesterov and F Vadim Shipachyov – all of whom have NHL experience. Tack on the fact that they all play in the second-best league in the world, and they’re more than prepared for every challenge that can come their way in Pyeongchang.

Of course, we all saw what happened the last time the Russians were favorites to win the Olympics. Should this team crumble like 2014’s squad (even though F T.J. Oshie will be preoccupied playing with the best Russian player in the world, W Alex Ovechkin), I’m leaning towards the winner of the mini Euro Cup taking full advantage. All four of those teams are in the top-10 of the current IIHF World Rankings, with Sweden and Finland respectively leading the way as numbers 3 and 4.

But don’t leave the predicting work to me. Here’s what all of us here at Down the Frozen River – and even our old pal Frank Fanelli, now of Student Union Sports – think is going to happen:

Down the Frozen River’s Olympic Picks
Cap’n Colby Connor Frank Jordan Nick Pete
Women’s Tournament
Gold Canada Canada Canada USA USA USA USA
Silver USA USA USA Canada Canada Canada Canada
Bronze Finland Sweden Finland Sweden Sweden Finland Sweden
Fourth Sweden Japan OAR Finland Finland Sweden Finland
Men’s Tournament
Gold Sweden Sweden OAR Sweden OAR Sweden Sweden
Silver Canada USA Finland USA Canada OAR OAR
Bronze Finland Canada Sweden Canada USA Canada Canada
Fourth OAR OAR Canada Finland Sweden USA USA

It seems I’m not alone in my prediction of a Canada-USA Gold Medal match in the women’s tournament! All seven of us have the two squaring off in the final, with a slim majority believing Captain Meghan Duggan and co. can lead Team USA to its first gold since 1998.

As for the women’s Bronze Medal game, we’re leaning towards a Scandinavian country taking home some hardware – with most of us favoring Sweden over Finland. However, Colby and I think underdogs are going to make it to the semifinals before falling, as I’m pegging the fourth-ranked Olympic Athletes from Russia to end up in fourth and Colby’s picking ninth-ranked Japan.

In the men’s tournament, it seems Sweden is the nearly consensus favorite to come away with the medals that match its tri-crowned sweaters. However, who Captain Joel Lundqvist‘s – yes, the twin brother of the Rangers’ G Henrik Lundqvist – team beats in that Gold Medal game is anyone’s guess, as we’ve picked four different teams to take home silver.

We seem to be in a bit more agreement about the winner of the bronze medal, as four of us have pegged Captain Chris Kelly‘s Team Canada to come home with its third-consecutive medal.

While we may all have our own rooting interests, I think we can all agree that this should be a fun and exciting two weeks of hockey.

2018 Olympic Hockey Tournament
Date/Time in PyeongChang Date/Time (EST) Sex Group/
Round
Matchup USA Live Broadcast
February 10 at 4:40 p.m. February 10 at 2:40 a.m. W B Japan v Sweden
February 10 at 9:10 p.m. February 10 at 7:10 a.m. W B Switzerland v Korea USA
February 11 at 4:40 p.m. February 11 at 2:40 a.m. W A Finland v USA NBC Sports Network
February 11 at 9:10 p.m. February 11 at 7:10 a.m. W A Canada v OAR
February 12 at 4:40 p.m. February 12 at 2:40 a.m. W B Switzerland v Japan NBC Sports Network
February 12 at 9:10 p.m. February 12 at 7:10 a.m. W B Sweden v Korea NBC Sports Network
February 13 at 4:40 p.m. February 13 at 2:40 a.m. W A Canada v Finland NBC Sports Network
February 13 at 9:10 p.m. February 13 at 7:10 a.m. W A USA v OAR NBC Sports Network
February 14 at 12:10 p.m. February 13 at 10:10 pm W B Sweden v Switzerland NBC Sports Network
February 14 at 4:40 p.m. February 14 at 2:40 a.m. W B Korea v Japan USA
February 14 at 9:10 p.m. February 14 at 7:10 a.m. M B Slovakia v OAR USA
February 14 at 9:10 p.m. February 14 at 7:10 a.m. M B USA v Slovenia NBC Sports Network
February 15 at 12:10 p.m. February 14 at 10:10 pm W A USA v Canada NBC Sports Network
February 15 at 12:10 p.m. February 14 at 10:10 pm M C Finland v Germany CNBC
February 15 at 4:40 p.m. February 15 at 2:40 a.m. W A OAR v Finland USA
February 15 at 4:40 p.m. February 15 at 2:40 a.m. M C Norway v Sweden NBC Sports Network
February 15 at 9:10 p.m. February 15 at 7:10 a.m. M A Czech Republic v South Korea USA
February 15 at 9:10 p.m. February 15 at 7:10 a.m. M A Switzerland v Canada NBC Sports Network
February 16 at 12:10 p.m. February 15 at 10:10 pm M B USA v Slovakia CNBC
February 16 at 4:40 p.m. February 16 at 2:40 a.m. M B OAR v Slovenia NBC Sports Network
February 16 at 9:10 p.m. February 16 at 7:10 a.m. M C Finland v Norway USA
February 16 at 9:10 p.m. February 16 at 7:10 a.m. M C Sweden v Germany NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 12:10 p.m. February 16 at 10:10 pm W QF Quarterfinals CNBC
February 17 at 12:10 p.m. February 16 at 10:10 p.m. M A Canada v Czech Republic NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 4:40 p.m. February 17 at 2:40 a.m. W QF Quarterfinals USA
February 17 at 4:40 p.m. February 17 at 2:40 a.m. M A South Korea v Switzerland NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 9:10 p.m. February 17 at 7:10 a.m. M B OAR v USA NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 9:10 p.m. February 17 at 7:10 a.m. M B Slovenia v Slovakia USA
February 18 at 12:10 p.m. February 17 at 10:10 pm M C Germany v Norway NBC Sports Network
February 18 at 12:10 p.m. February 17 at 10:10 pm W CONS Classification (5-8 place)
February 18 at 4:40 p.m. February 18 at 2:40 a.m. M A Czech Republic v Switzerland NBC Sports Network
February 18 at 4:40 p.m. February 18 at 2:40 a.m. W CONS Classification (5-8 place)
February 18 at 9:10 p.m. February 18 at 7:10 a.m. M A Canada v South Korea USA
February 18 at 9:10 p.m. February 18 at 7:10 a.m. M C Sweden v Finland NBC Sports Network
February 19 at 1:10 p.m. February 18 at 11:10 pm W SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 19 at 9:10 p.m. February 19 at 7:10 a.m. W SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 12:10 p.m. February 19 at 10:10 pm M Q Qualifications NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 12:10 p.m. February 19 at 10:10 pm W CONS Classification (7-8 place)
February 20 at 4:40 p.m. February 20 at 2:40 a.m. M Q Qualifications NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 4:40 p.m. February 20 at 2:40 a.m. W CONS Classification (5-6 place)
February 20 at 9:10 p.m. February 20 at 7:10 a.m. M Q Qualifications USA
February 20 at 9:10 p.m. February 20 at 7:10 a.m. M Q Qualifications NBC Sports Network
February 21 at 12:10 p.m. February 20 at 10:10 pm M QF Quarterfinals CNBC
February 21 at 4:40 p.m. February 21 at 2:40 a.m. W BMG Bronze Medal Game USA
February 21 at 4:40 p.m. February 21 at 2:40 a.m. M QF Quarterfinals NBC Sports Network
February 21 at 9:10 p.m. February 21 at 7:10 a.m. M QF Quarterfinals NBC Sports Network
February 21 at 9:10 p.m. February 21 at 7:10 a.m. M QF Quarterfinals USA
February 22 at 1:10 p.m. February 21 at 11:10 pm W GMG Gold Medal Game NBC Sports Network
February 23 at 4:40 p.m. February 23 at 2:40 a.m. M SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 23 at 9:10 p.m. February 23 at 7:10 a.m. M SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 24 at 9:10 p.m. February 24 at 7:10 a.m. M BMG Bronze Medal Game NBC Sports Network
February 25 at 1:10 p.m. February 24 at 11:10 pm M GMG Gold Medal Game NBC Sports Network

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.

December 14 – Day 71 – No sushi here

It’s another Thursday in the NHL packed with action, as all but seven teams will be lacing them up this evening.

Like they do most nights, the festivities find their start at 7 p.m. with the puck drop of three games (Washington at Boston [SN360], Buffalo at Philadelphia and the New York Islanders at Columbus), followed half an hour later by New Jersey at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). Three more puck drops (Anaheim at St. Louis, Toronto at Minnesota and Chicago at Winnipeg) are scheduled for 8 p.m., while a four-pack (Florida at Colorado, San Jose at Calgary, Nashville at Edmonton [TVAS] and Tampa Bay at Arizona) waits until 9 p.m. to get underway. Finally, Pittsburgh makes its first-ever visit to Vegas (NHLN/SN/SN360) at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

For those that know me, or at least keep track of this column, you probably know which two teams I call my own (I know, I’m cheating by having two. That’s what you get when your dad pulls for a team far from where you live.). So, you’re probably guessing I’m leaning towards the Penguins-Golden Knights game to see the reunion of G Marc-Andre Fleury and his old Pens pals.

However, I’m far more interested in Fleury’s return to the Steel City when he gets greeted by his former home fans and receives his 2017 Stanley Cup ring (hint: look forward to my February 6 column).

In the meantime, let’s head to southern Alberta where there’s an important Pacific Division game taking place.

 

Tell me if you’ve read this as recently as yesterday’s column: these two teams are fortunate they play in the division they do, or their playoff hopes could already be in the trash.

While the Pacific Division has been full of surprises this season (the dominance of the Kings, the Golden Knights being way better than an expansion team should and the Oilers’ fall from incredible to dumpster fire), the middle of the pack has been nothing more than… well, average.

Take for example tonight’s visitors, the 16-10-3 Sharks. San Jose is average in a very special way, because it pairs one of the best defenses in the game with an offense that can’t seem to figure out why there’s goals at both ends of the rink.

Let’s start with the good: led by the impressive efforts of defensemen Justin Braun (team-leading 1.96 blocks per game), Brent Burns (33 takeaways) and Brenden Dillon (2.85 hits per game), the Sharks allow an average of only 29.13 shots to reach 5-3-1 G Aaron Dell – tonight’s probable starter, per Curtis Pashelka of Bay Area News Group due to the Sharks traveling to Vancouver for a game tomorrow night.

Though his eight starts and 11 appearances are a fairly small sample size at this point of the season, Dell has technically outperformed 11-7-2 G Martin Jones so far, posting a superior .939 save percentage and 1.72 GAA. In fact, of the 50 goaltenders in the league with at least eight starts, Dell has been the class of the NHL and led both statistical categories.

Of course, he’s also faced the fourth-fewest shots of any of those netminders, so maybe that’s a better reflection of his defense’s effort. Either way, the Sharks have allowed only 2.34 goals against per game this season, the second fewest in the league.

But with all that good comes an equal share of bad; specifically, an offense that averages only 2.68 goals per game, the seventh-fewest in the league. I wrote about why I think the Sharks’ attack isn’t working here (hint: looking at you, Burns), but one player that doesn’t deserve a nightly tongue lashing from Head Coach Peter DeBoer is F Logan Couture. He’s been a solid player this season on an unspectacular offense, posting 15-10-25 totals that puts even the likes of C Jack Eichel, W James Neal and F T.J. Oshie behind him on the league leader board.

The longer Burns and that offense struggles, the more opportunities it gives teams like the 16-12-3 Flames to climb into playoff position. Calgary currently occupies fourth place in the Pacific Division, but only 10th in the Western Conference, which means it is not even next in line for the second wild card.

That puts a big emphasis on these division games, and there’s no time like the present to play one for these Flames. They may have only won two of their last four games, but they’re riding a four-game point streak that includes three road contests, including visits to the Air Canada Centre and Bell Centre.

Over this decent run, 13-9-3 G Mike Smith has buckled down and put on some solid performances in the crease. Starting three of the four games, he’s posted a .947 save percentage and 1.26 GAA to go 1-0-2 and improve his season numbers to a .919 save percentage and 2.6 GAA.

Due to Calgary’s defense allowing an average of 31.8 shots per game (15th-most in the league), Smith needs to be on his game most nights to give his team a chance to win. That’s especially true considering the Flames’ offense averages only 2.8 goals per game – the 11th-fewest in the NHL – even though LW Johnny Gaudreau (12-26-38 points) and C Sean Monahan (17-13-30) have been putting on a show this season.

The Flames’ struggle this year had been depth scoring, but its no surprise that’s exactly what they’ve gotten during this little run they’re on. 14 different players have found the scorecard in the past four games, including Travis Hamonic (1-3-4 season totals) and Brett Kulak (0-4-4), defensemen not usually known for their offensive contributions. If this trend can continue, maybe – just maybe – Calgary can shape up into a decent team.

If nothing else can be said about the bottom five teams in the Pacific Division, it will certainly make for an exciting trade deadline and playoff push this March if all these teams are fighting for third place. We may not know who will square off in Vegas’ playoff debut until the last day of the regular season.

As for who will get two points closer to that goal this evening, I’m leaning towards the Flames. Smith has been playing spectacularly this season and should be able to quell the Sharks’ anemic offense, and I think Calgary’s depth can keep up its scoring streak.


Though they had to pull Second Star of the Game G Tuukka Rask for an extra attacker just to force overtime, the Boston Bruins were able to get past the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 at Little Caesars Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first goal of this contest wasn’t struck until the 9:15 mark of the second period. That’s when F Tomas Tatar (D Niklas Kronwall and F Henrik Zetterberg) buried a power play wrist shot to give the Wings a 1-0 lead that would last into the second intermission.

Thanks to F Noel Acciari‘s (F Tim Schaller) second goal of the season, the Bruins leveled the game at the 3:02 mark of the third period, but Detroit once again took the lead 8:32 later on a special teams goal. Third Star F Dylan Larkin (F Darren Helm and D Trevor Daley) took advantage of RW David Pastrnak‘s indecisiveness to score a breakaway shorthanded backhanded shot. Pastrnak (First Star LW Brad Marchand and D Torey Krug) was provided the opportunity to redeem himself though, and he leveled the game at two-all with 86 seconds remaining in regulation with Rask pulled for the extra attacker.

Even though the Bruins never led in this game, Marchand (Krug) gave the Bruins their 15th win of the season with what our in-house Bruins expert @nlanciani53 is calling nothing more than “a typical Marchand breakaway backhander.”

We’ll take his word at it.

Rask earned the victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to G Jimmy Howard, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have now won two-straight contests. As such, they’ve pulled within 14 points of the 39-23-9 hosts.

November 28 – Day 55 – Welcome to Smashville

If you’re a hockey fan and don’t look forward to Tuesdays, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. This is one of the busiest and most exciting days of the week!

The final Tuesday of November is no exception, as the NHL as scheduled 10 games to take place today. Like it usually does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with five contests (Tampa Bay at Buffalo, Vancouver at the New York Islanders, Florida at the New York Rangers [TVAS], San Jose at Philadelphia and Carolina at Columbus), trailed half an hour later by Los Angeles at Detroit. Chicago at Nashville (NBCSN) drops the puck at 8 p.m., with two more tilts (Toronto at Calgary and Arizona at Edmonton) in tow an hour after. Finally, tonight’s nightcap finds its start at 10 p.m. when Dallas visits Vegas (SN1). All times Eastern.

Like every busy day, I have already circled a few games on my personal calendar (it’s actually an Excel spreadsheet, if we want to get really technical).

  • Chicago at Nashville: This rematch of a Western Quarterfinal has already occurred twice this season, but it’s yielded two stellar games.
  • Dallas at Vegas: D Marc Methot was a Vegas Golden Knight for five days this offseason before being traded to Dallas. But what a Knight he was!

Since the Chicago-Nashville series has already yielded two stellar games this season, I see no reason why we shouldn’t expect a third.

 

Somehow, 14-6-3 Nashville having only a four-point advantage over the 12-8-3 Blackhawks in the Central Division still undersells how competitive the games between these teams have been.

As hinted at before, these clubs are already well into their season series, having already played two of their four games this year. Game 1 at the United Center went the way of Chicago thanks to an overtime goal by W Brandon Saad, but home ice didn’t work in the Blackhawks’ favor 13 days later when the Predators beat them 2-1 on G Pekka Rinne‘s almost-perfect night. Those results mean Nashville has a 1-0-1 advantage against the Hawks so far this year.

Exactly one month has passed since the Predators made their second trip to the Windy City, but not much has changed in either team’s style. Nashville still plays stellar defense backed by Rinne – though the Preds’ offense has climbed to 11th-best in the NHL – while the Hawks continue to rely on the incredible play of G Corey Crawford to find wins.

Let’s jump into that for a minute, starting with tonight’s hosts, who currently occupy third place in the Central Division.

Averaging only 31.3 shots against-per-game to rank 11th-best in the NHL, the Predators play an above average defense that isn’t enough to write home about.

That being said, above-average is all Head Coach Peter Laviolette really needs when he has 13-3-2 Rinne in goal. It seems the Finn has finally bucked the trend of the past five seasons where he alternated yearly between success and misery, as he has followed up last season’s .918 save percentage and 2.42 GAA with superior .926 and 2.31 marks this campaign. Under Rinne’s leadership, the Predators have allowed only 2.78 goals against-per-game to rank ninth-best in the NHL.

Knowing Rinne can effectively dominate the defensive end on his own means the Preds’ blueliners can turn their attention to contributing on the offensive end. As such, defensemen Mattias Ekholm (6-9-15 totals), Roman Josi (5-10-15) and P.K. Subban (4-14-18) have all earned at least 15 points to rank among Nashville’s top-six point-earners. Mix in the incredible F Filip Forsberg (11-13-24 totals), and you have an offense that averages an 11th-best 3.09 goals-per-game.

No discussion about the Preds’ offense is complete without mentioning their special teams, as Nashville is home to the third-best power play in the NHL and best in the Western Conference. Of the players listed above, Forsberg and Subban are the brightest when the Predators have the man-advantage as both have at least nine power play points. The forward deserves special recognition for his seven power play goals, as he’s tied with the likes of C Sean Monahan, F T.J. Oshie and C Steven Stamkos for most in the NHL.

Facing the tall task of taking down a very complete team are the Blackhawks, who could use two points to hold off three teams trying to move into the top wild card position Chicago currently occupies.

When Chicago is at the top of its game, it’s the toughest team to score against in the division, as the Hawks allow only 2.61 goals against-per-game to rank fourth-best in the NHL. A major reason for that success has been the brilliant play of 11-7-1 Crawford, who has managed a .933 save percentage and 2.21 GAA (both second-best among goaltenders with at least 18 starts) behind a defense that allows a fourth-worst 34.1 shots against-per-game.

Unfortunately for Chicago, it seems unlikely that Crawford will see the ice tonight, as he played to 7-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks last night at the United Center. Instead, the start will probably go to 1-1-2 G Anton Forsberg, who has earned only a .904 save percentage and 3.81 GAA.

I was surprised to see Crawford given last night’s start, considering the injury-riddled Ducks sport an offense vastly inferior to Nashville’s. Forsberg will need to put up a performance similar to his 40-for-42 (.952 save percentage) showing against the Oilers on October 19 to give the Hawks a chance in this game.

Since the odds of that aren’t exactly likely, the onus falls on Chicago’s eighth-ranked offense to find a way to earn a victory.

Usually this is when most would start talking about F Patrick Kane and C Jonathan Toews – and with good reason. Kane has managed 9-16-25 totals to lead the team, followed by Toews’ 6-10-16 effort for third-most points on the team.

However, it would be highly irresponsible to not highlight rookie F Alex DeBrincat. Having yet to celebrate his 20th birthday, DeBrincat has earned the second-most points for the Blackhawks this season with his 10-7-17 totals and is coming off the game of his life. Yesterday against Anaheim, the youngster had a four-point night that included the first hat trick of his career. Whether or not he can duplicate at least half of that effort tonight could determine the result of this contest.

If Vegas (the bettors, not the Golden Knights) is right, the Predators should be in line for a win tonight, as they’re favored at a -160 money line by most bookies. I’m siding with the bookies on this one since I believe Head Coach Joel Quenneville made a mistake in playing Crawford last night against the Ducks. The Predators’ offense should feast on A. Forsberg tonight.


In a game chock-full of momentum swings, the Pittsburgh Penguins emerged from overtime at PPG Paints Arena victorious over the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

All in all, the game started calmly enough with only one goal struck in the first period. First Star of the Game F Jake Guentzel (D Justin Schultz and G Matthew Murray) is the guilty party, as his snap shot with 3:57 remaining before the first intermission gave Pittsburgh the lead.

It was in the second period when all heck broke loose, which played right into the hands of the Flyers. For starters, both D Brian Dumoulin and D Olli Maatta earned seats in the penalty box to allow D Shayne Gostisbehere (F Nolan Patrick and F Claude Giroux) to score a five-on-three power play slap shot 3:40 into the frame. Philadelphia then took the lead with 4:55 remaining in the second period courtesy of a F Travis Konecny (D Brandon Manning and Third Star W Michael Raffl) tip-in.

The next major play took place only 34 seconds after Konecny’s goal, but it won’t show up on the score sheet. RW Jakub Voracek blew an edge and crashed into Murray with, according to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, his skates directed towards the netminder’s midsection. Whatever the injury was, it forced G Tristan Jarry to enter the game, who proceed to allow C Sean Couturier (D Ivan Provorov and Giroux) to set the score at 3-1 with 32 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

It seems power play goals are the way to steal momentum, because that’s exactly how RW Patric Hornqvist (Guentzel and Second Star C Sidney Crosby) pulled Pittsburgh back within a goal 67 seconds into the third period. The Penguins completed their comeback 39 seconds later courtesy of a W Bryan Rust wrist shot.

Courtesy of an unassisted backhanded shot by Raffl, Philly reclaimed a one-goal lead with 3:41 remaining in regulation to put the pressure on the hosts, but the Pens were up to the task. Guentzel (Schultz and Crosby) leveled the game at four-all with 64 seconds remaining before the final horn to force three-on-three overtime.

The overtime period lasted only 1:48 before Crosby (D Kris Letang and RW Phil Kessel) top-shelfed a redirection to win the game. Following Kessel returning the puck to the point while the Penguins were still on a four-on-three power play, Letang blasted a clapper intentionally wide of the goal to Crosby, who was waiting near the right post, at the same time the door opened to allow Voracek back onto the ice. The captain angled his stick just right to elevate the shot over G Brian Elliott and into the top of the netting.

Jarry earned the victory after saving eight-of-10 shots faced (.8 save percentage) in place of Murray, who saved 20-of-22 (.909) before exiting the game. Elliott, DtFR’s honorary Fourth Star, takes the overtime loss after saving 47-of-52 (.904).

Don’t all look at once, but home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a three-game winning streak. That elevates the hosts’ record to 30-19-6, which is 11 points better than the visitors’.

October 13 – Day 10 – Sold their souls to the Jersey Devil

Sorry, no obscure celebrity references in the title today. Hopefully you came for the references and stayed for the hockey previews.

Friday has a few fun games on the roster, starting with two (Washington at New Jersey and the New York Rangers at Columbus [NHLN/SN1/TVAS]) at 7 p.m. Another pair of contests (Anaheim at Colorado and Ottawa at Calgary) drop the puck at 9 p.m., followed by tonight’s nightcap, Detroit at Vegas, 90 minutes later. All times Eastern.

It’s unfortunate that New Jersey and Vegas weren’t squaring off tonight, as two undefeated clubs tangling would have been a fun sight. Instead, we have to choose between one or the other, and since we’ve already featured the Golden Knights twice this season, it looks like it’s off to Newark with us!

 

Anyone who pegged the New Jersey Devils to start the season a perfect 3-0-0, please stand up.

OK, now all of you sit down, because I think most of you are liars.

A season removed from the third-worst offense in the league, the Devils have absolutely exploded to start this campaign, as they average 5.33 goals-per-game to rank second-best in the NHL.

While it’d be fun to assume that the reason for Jersey’s improvement is the addition of C Nico Hischier (0-1-1 totals), the top-overall pick in this season’s NHL Entry Draft, much of the offense has actually come from W Jesper Bratt, a Swedish 19-year-old that was a sixth-rounder from the Class of 2016.

Bratt (3-3-6) has been absolutely outstanding to begin his rookie career, as he currently averages a goal and an assist per game. It’s an elite group to be a member of, as only Washington’s D Christian Djoos can make a similar claim – though he’s played in only one game.

Additionally, a total of only six players currently average two points-per-game, and it is quite a group. Bratt and Djoos are currently sharing company with the likes of Detroit’s D Mike Green, Buffalo’s LW Evander Kane and Washington’s C Evgeny Kuznetsov and W Alex Ovechkin.

Not too shabby, as all are established names in his league.

Another integral part to the Devils’ early success has been free agent signing D Will Butcher. Another rookie, he’s managed to provide five assists – three of which were on the power play – to fully integrate himself into New Jersey’s attack from the blue line.

Why the Avalanche didn’t want Butcher in their system is beyond me. Maybe General Manager Joe Sakic thought he accidentally happened into his Hobey Baker Award.

Turns out he was wrong in that assessment.

As a result of Butcher’s play on the man-advantage, Jersey has seen a massive improvement on its power play. Last season, the Devils converted 17.5 percent of opponents’ penalties into goals, but this year is a totally different ball game (err… puck game). New Jersey has found success in four-of-13 opportunities for a 30.8 percent conversion rate, the fifth-best in the NHL.

Unfortunately, numbers like Bratt’s and Butcher’s are tough to maintain even for RW Jaromir Jagr, much less two rookies. Both skaters will return to Earth eventually, so G Cory Schneider will need to continue his bounce-back season. Having played all three of the Devils’ games so far, he’s managed a .948 save percentage and a 2.00 GAA to rank among the top-10 goalies in the league.

In the red corner, the Capitals enter this game on a two-game losing skid (most recent of which was Wednesday’s 3-2 home defeat at the hands of the Penguins).

As I stated in Wednesday’s preview, Washington is playing far better than its offseason would have indicated. In particular, the Caps’ power play has been very good, as they’ve already registered three goals in 13 extra-man opportunities.

One of Washington’s best play makers, C Nicklas Backstrom has been at the front of the man-advantage surge. He’s already registered three power play assists in four games. One of his favorite goal scorers to set up has been F T.J. Oshie, who has scored two man-advantage goals of his own. Considering New Jersey is playing the eighth-worst penalty kill to start the season, they’d be wise to keep RW Stefan Noesen under control.

Additionally, RW Tom Wilson will make his season debut this evening. He was suspended for the first four games of the season for boarding St. Louis’ LW Samuel Blais in their preseason game on October 1. Wilson has already served two suspensions this season after serving a first during the preseason, so he’ll be walking on eggshells with Head Coach Barry Trotz and the Department of Player Safety. If the former first-rounder cannot clean up his game in his contract year, he may struggle to find a job that pays the way he wants it

If Wilson shows any signs of timidity, I’d guess the Devils won’t hesitate to jump on him.

Considering all the momentum is on New Jersey’s side right now, I’m leaning towards the Devils taking this game. That being said, Vegas is leaning towards the Capitals taking this one, favoring them in the -140 range.


After allowing the Dallas Stars to score the first goal, the Nashville Predators buried four unanswered tallies to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Bridgestone Arena.

Dallas’ lone goal of the night was struck 8:04 into the contest courtesy of LW Jamie Benn (C Jason Spezza and D John Klingberg), who used a power play wrist shot to pot his first marker of the season. The Stars held onto that lead throughout the opening period and into the first intermission.

It took only 3:27 of action after returning to the ice for First Star rookie D Samuel Girard (D P.K. Subban and W Cody McLeod) to find his first goal of his NHL career. That slap shot leveled the game at one-all, allowing Second Star F Filip Forsberg‘s (Girard and F Ryan Johansen) power play wrister 2:54 later to be what proved to be the game-winner.

There’s nothing like a revenge goal with the cherry on top being that it ended up the winner. 5:12 into the second period, Spezza was sent to the penalty box for tripping Forsberg, the eventual goalscorer.  The play started when Forsberg entered the offensive zone along the near boards. Under pressure from two Stars penalty killers, he was forced to retreat back towards the point before passing to Girard on the opposite side of the zone. The youngster advanced towards G Ben Bishop‘s crease before firing a slap shot from the face-off circle to the netminder’s stick side. Bishop was forced to make a diving save but was unable to contain the rebound, leaving him vulnerable to Forsberg’s elevated wrister.

W Viktor Arvidsson (Forsberg) and Subban tacked on braces in the third period to cement the Preds’ second-straight victory.

Third Star G Pekka Rinne earned the victory after saving 30-of-31 shots faced (.968), leaving the loss to Bishop, who saved 27-of-30 (.9).

The DtFR Game of the Day series has certainly favored the 6-3-1 home teams so far, as they now have a four-point advantage over the visitors following tonight’s win.

October 11 – Day Eight – Second round preview

Now that all the fun of the opening week is behind us, it’s time to get focused for the two-month run to American Thanksgiving.

Don’t think the holiday is that important in the NHL? Maybe this will change your mind.

With that in mind, let’s jump into the five games on the schedule this evening. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with two contests (New Jersey at Toronto [SN] and Pittsburgh at Washington [NBCSN]), followed two hours later by Boston at Colorado. Fixtures continue to fall in line every half hour as the New York Islanders visit Anaheim at 10 p.m. and tonight’s nightcap, Calgary at Los Angeles, drops the puck 30 minutes later. All times Eastern.

Tonight was supposed to be Brian Boyle‘s return to Toronto, but since his diagnosis of chronic myelogenous leukemia has kept him off the ice to star the season, we’ll delay the celebration of the Leafs’ trip to the second round until his return in mid-November.

Instead, let’s take in one of the NHL’s best rivalries in recent years.

 

If not for the Capitals’ significant roster turnover this offseason, it would have been safe to pencil these two squads into a third-straight meeting in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Then again, given Washington’s 2-0-1 record to lead the Metropolitan Division after a week of play, maybe that assumption isn’t too far off the mark.

What has made Washington so deadly to start the season has been its ultra-efficient offense. Though the Capitals average 4.33 goals-per-game ([t]fourth-best in the NHL), they take the fewest shots-per-game in the league at 25.7.

In effect, the Caps are attacking opposing goalies with scalpels instead of battle axes.

At the head of that attack is head surgeon W Alex Ovechkin (.389 shooting percentage), who’s assisted by American Sniper F T.J. Oshie (.375) – both of whom are in the top-15 of shooting percentage and combine for 10 of Washington’s 13 goals. With two solid centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov feeding them passes, Head Coach Barry Trotz is optimistic his top-two lines won’t miss a beat after the offseason departures of F Marcus Johansson and RW Justin Williams.

Speaking of the title of “American Sniper,” Oshie should look out for Columbus’ LW Sonny Milano and his obnoxious .571 to start his rookie season. The kid’s going places with a shot like that, but we’ll worry about that when the Capitals and Jackets tangle in early December.

Back to our game tonight, Washington has felt its turbulent offseason most within the defensive corps. It’s a good thing G Braden Holtby moonlights as a brick wall, as his career .922 save percentage has been put to the test by facing an average of 37 shots-per-game, the (t)fourth-highest in the league. If the Pens want any chance of beating the reigning Jennings Trophy winner, they’ll need to attack him early and often.

All but two (D Nate Schmidt and D Kevin Shattenkirk) of the goalscorers from the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs have returned to Washington this season. Mentioned above as simply play-makers, Backstrom and Kuznetsov both found much success against Pittsburgh in May, as they both beat former Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury for four goals apiece.

Similarly, only two players (C Nick Bonino and F Matt Cullen) that scored on Holtby last postseason departed Pittsburgh. In particular, Holtby is least looking forward to seeing F Jake Guentzel again, as the 23-year-old scored on him four times five months ago.

The Penguins simply haven’t played the same way twice to start the season (most notably falling flat on their faces in Chicago, losing 10-1), though they’d like to repeat their performance from Saturday when they beat Nashville 4-0.

Beyond simply jumping out to a quick start (F Evgeni Malkin scored the game-winning goal only 66 seconds into the game), Pittsburgh got back to playing a sound defensive game. The Predators managed to fire only 26 shots at G Matthew Murray, far below the Penguins’ average of 34.7 shots-against-per-game.

It was also in that game where the city of Pittsburgh fell in love with RW Ryan Reaves, similar to how St. Louis did seven years ago, as he provided a goal to go with his fights with W Cody McLeod and F Austin Watson. Fans and pundits alike questioned General Manager Jim Rutherford‘s decision to bring in an enforcer, but if he can manage to be a goon with a little bit of touch and put up similar numbers to his 7-6-13 performance last season, he’ll be a welcome addition to this lineup.

This is a tough game to pick, as it seemed the Penguins turned a corner last Saturday and are resuming the form we’ve come to expect from them year in and year out. That being said, I think this Capitals team matches up well against them. No matter how hard Pittsburgh’s defense tries, I believe that either Ovechkin or Oshie will be able to find just the right shot to beat Murray.


In an exciting and emotional night for the city of Las Vegas, the Golden Knights were able to beat the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 to win their first-ever home tilt at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Knights absolutely blitzed the Coyotes out of the gates, as they scored four of their five goals in 10:42 of play. First up was F Tomas Nosek (F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and D Luca Sbisa) burying a wrist shot 2:31 after puck drop, followed by Second Star of the Game D Deryk Engelland (LW Brendan Leipsic) finding the back of G Antti Raanta‘s net only 107 seconds later. Scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal was none other than Third Star W James Neal (D Brayden McNabb and W David Perron), the same man who has now accounted for all three of Vegas’ winners to begin its inaugural season.

Within this sequence, the puck first made its way towards the goal off a shot by McNabb from the top of the offensive zone. It was casually blocked by D Jason Demers at the top of the crease, but Neal was able to collect the rebound and pivot towards the face-off circle to Raanta’s right. Once he finished his spin, he squeezed his wrister between the goaltender’s blocker and the near post.

But Neal wasn’t done. Thanks to F Mario Kempe interfering with Fleury, Vegas earned a power play that Neal (W Reilly Smith and F Erik Haula) was able to convert with a wrister from the crease to beat a fallen G Louis Domingue five-hole. Though F Tobias Rieder (D Niklas Hjalmarsson) was able to get the Coyotes on the board with 7:23 remaining in the first period, it did little to dampen the spirits of the newborn hockey fans.

After a wild opening frame, the second and third periods were much more tame. C Oscar Lindberg (Leipsic) and D Kevin Connauton (C Derek Stepan and F Clayton Keller) were able to score for Vegas and Arizona, respectively, but their tallies had little impact on the outcome.

Overall, the Knights absolutely dominated this game. To start with, they won 68 percent of face-offs, but they were further helped by sloppy play from the Yotes. Though the statistic is recorded as takeaways, most of Vegas’ 12 steals (led by Smith’s three) were a result of aimless passes from Arizona. The Coyotes supposedly improved on paper this offseason, but this showing was not evident of that.

Fleury earned his third victory in as many games played by saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the loss to Raanta, who saved two-of-five (.4) before being pulled. He was replaced by Domingue 6:15 into the game, and saved 21-of-23 (.913) for no decision.

That’s a fourth-straight win by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, a series that now favors the 5-2-1 hosts by four points.

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.