Tag Archives: Ovechkin

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 1…and a half

As the season’s first full week has come to a close, it’s time for the first installment of my incessant weekly ramblings. Yes I know we’re basically 2 weeks into the schedule, but lumping that first half-week in with this seriously helps my desire to be only as productive as absolutely necessary. So, without further adieu, let’s get caught up on all those things you already saw and/or knew about, and find out the selections of your humble, know-nothing Midwesterner of an author for the best player/team/game of the week.

Player of the Week: Alex Ovechkin

It just is. Did you see the things he did? Go watch the things he did. They were silly. He has 9 goals in 6 games. At one point he had 7 goals in 2 games. Those…those aren’t real stats, those are video game stats. Stop arguing with me, and somebody give that man a cookie.

Team of the Week: New Jersey Devils

Alright, who had Jersey atop the ridiculous Metropolitan Division on their predictions lists? Nobody, that’s who. Although technically in a tie with Columbus atop the division, and with Toronto (who the Devils lambasted 6-3) atop the conference, those teams were supposed to be good. Same goes for the only team in the entire league the Devils currently trail in the standings, Chicago. The New Jersey roster basically reads “Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Cory Schneider, and some other hockey players” yet here they are handing out Stone Cold Steve Austin-sized cans of whoop-@$ nightly. Hischier mesmerizes nightly, the makeshift forward group is scoring like it’s going out of style, 22-year-old former 5th-round pick defenseman Will Butcher has put up 8 points in 5 games (with 5 of them on the PP), and Schneider and Keith Kinkaid have both played very well in net. Nobody saw this coming, and anyone who says they did is a liar.

Game of the Week: Capitals 3 @ Lightning 4 (OT), Monday October 9th

When two of the league’s most dangerous offenses come together, you generally expect a good show, and this one didn’t disappoint. A comeback OT win, some sweet saves, 30+ hits, a goal of the year candidate… This game wasn’t lacking much. Even with Andrei Vasilevskiy and Philipp Grubauer trading highlight reel stops, a penalty-filled contest led to 3 total PP goals, including the Nikita Kucherov GWG in OT, and no shortage of even-strength offense to boot. Tampa spent most of the game chasing the Caps on the scoreboard, but with just over 9 minutes remaining in regulation Kucherov received a beautiful tic-tac-toe outlet courtesy of Anton Stralman and Alex Killorn, danced his way across the Washington blueline, and with the puck on his backhand (and Taylor Chorney on his back) roofed a bottle-popper over the glove side shoulder of the Washington netminder to tie it up at 3-3. If you don’t feel like watching the full game highlights, at least go dig up this goal, just have an extra pair of shorts on hand to change into afterwards.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

More than a few teams are currently not where they were expected to be in the standings, and that goes for both ends of the spectrum. The aforementioned upstart Devils are accompanied at 4-1-0 by the Red Wings, and followed closely by the Avs (4-2-0) and the “Nobody told us expansion teams are bad” Golden Knights at 3-1-0. Things get even crazier down at the more lackluster end of the standings, with the Rangers (1-5-0), Sharks/Oilers/Habs (1-3-0), and Wild (1-1-2) all notably underperforming. The Rangers and Habs are both particularly surprising, in that the bulk of their respective troubles can be attributed to their usually-stalwart goaltenders being…well, less than stalwart.

Opening night in Vegas was quite a thing to behold, with a beautiful pre-game ceremony honoring the victims and heroes of the Las Vegas terror attack just a few weeks ago. The Knights fed off the raucous crowd and cruised to a 5-2 victory over their desert-dwelling counterparts from Arizona.

Unfortunately for Vegas, their hot start could be quickly simmered by injuries to Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) and Jon Marchessault (lower body). Both players were placed on IR and are expected to miss “at least a week” so Vegas now has to rely on its slim organizational depth to step in for the time being. Marchessault is certainly an important piece of the team (he’s coming off of a 30-goal campaign with Florida), but it’s the Fleury injury that could really hurt them, as they really don’t have any proven goaltenders beyond ‘Flower’. But, given I watched young Malcolm Subban earn a 3-1 victory for the Knights as I typed this article, perhaps they have less to worry about than originally feared.

Oh and Jaromir Jagr is back, so the mullet wig I bought a few years ago is still relevant.

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 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.

October 8 – Day Five – Selections are slim, Vol. I

What a day yesterday! 15 games of NHL action is the best way to spend an evening.

But all good things must come to an end, and this one in particular comes to a screeching halt. There’s only one game on the schedule today, making 1-1-0 Montréal’s 7 p.m.* visit to Madison Square Garden (NHLN/RDS/SN1) to face the 0-2-0 Rangers our de facto Game of the Day.

*Eastern time

 

Everybody loves a good Original Six matchup, especially when it’s a rematch from the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s a postseason Habs fans would like to forget though. After winning the Atlantic Division by five points over Ottawa last season with a +26 goal differential, Montréal managed only 11 goals against the first wild card Rangers before being eliminated in six games.

Most noticeable in the Canadiens’ offensive struggles this April was the disappearance of LW Max Pacioretty. He managed .83 points-per-game for 35-32-67 totals to lead his squad in the regular season, but he registered only one assist – albeit on Game 2’s overtime game-winner – as his lone postseason offensive contribution.

Instead, it was RW Alexander Radulov that rose to the challenge, earning a team-leading seven points – including two goals – against G Henrik Lundqvist. But, there’s one problem with that going into tonight’s game: Radulov now wears a green Dallas Stars sweater after signing with them as a free agent this offseason.

To replace his scoring contributions, General Manager Marc Bergevin traded for F Jonathan Drouin‘s RFA rights and then signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract. Though it’s far too early to say it was a bad decision, Drouin has only provided a lone assist in two games played as the offense has deferred to RW Brendan Gallagher‘s 1-1-2 effort to start the season. Pairing that with Pacioretty’s two points in his past 10 non-preseason games, the Canadiens’ stars are struggling to find much attacking rhythm.

As a result, the Habs have not exited the gates as strongly as they were hoping for. They escaped with a shootout victory in Buffalo to open their season Thursday before going to Washington and getting whipped 6-1 last night by W Alex Ovechkin.

Of course, those two points are still miles ahead of where the Blueshirts are to start the year, as they lost 4-2 to Colorado, the presumed worst team in the NHL, in their first game followed by a wild 8-5 loss in Toronto last night. In fact, New York is the only club in the Eastern Conference to have not earned a point already this campaign, even though they have yet to depart the comforts of home.

Having managed seven goals in two games (led by Mats Zuccarello‘s 1-4-5 effort to start the season), offense is definitely the problem in The Big Apple. Instead, Head Coach Alain Vigneault‘s club is struggling on the defensive end, specifically between the pipes.

This is not the start to the 2017-’18 season Lundqvist envisioned. In two starts, he’s saved only 34-of-42 shots faced for a .809 save percentage and a whopping 6.13 GAA. Making those numbers even more alarming, he allowed five goals in the opening period last night against the Leafs before being pulled.

Though the Rangers’ defense looks far from perfect, Lundqvist can’t blame them for his struggles. Led by newcomer D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s team-leading five blocks, the blue line allows only 33.5 shots-per-game to reach the net, a number that ties for 13th-best in the league.

So, does Vigneault sit Lundqvist in favor of G Ondrej Pavelec tonight? Something tells me the answer is no.  Personally, I’d leave King Henrik in the net to face an offense that has yet to find its groove, especially since he sat the last two periods last night and should be rested enough to have another go at earning his first win of the season. Though he’s experienced enough that you wouldn’t think he needs a confidence boost, it’s that experience that gives Vigneault the belief he can bounce back.

As I stated in my Rangers offseason recap/preview, this Rangers club will go as Lundqvist goes. That’s great when he’s playing like his usual self, but until then New York could be in dire straits. With that in mind, whichever team can control Montréal’s offensive zone will win this game tonight.


With his second game-winning goal in as many games played this season, Second Star of the Game W Brandon Saad and the Blackhawks beat the visiting Blue Jackets 5-1 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Chicago wasted no time in taking command of this game, as First Star F Patrick Kane (W Ryan Hartman and D Gustav Forsling) buried a wrist shot only 93 seconds into the contest to take a quick 1-0 lead. Assisted by Third Star C Jonathan Toews and F Patrick Sharp, Saad followed up Kane’s score only 4:31 later with a power play wrister to beat G Joonas Korpisalo.

Saad was the beneficiary of an ugly free-for-all in front of Korpisalo’s crease.  Sharp started the scoring play by firing a shot on goal from above the right face-off circle. Though Korpisalo was able to make the save, both Toews and Saad collapsed on his crease to apply pressure. Toews had intentions of collecting the puck to score on his own, but couldn’t corral it and instead nudged it across the crease to Saad. Considering Chicago’s prodigal son was able to bury the goal to set a 2-0 score, he’ll be happy to settle for the assist.

Toews (Saad) did eventually find the back of the net for his first goal of the year to add to the Hawks’ lead with 9:46 remaining in the second period, but LW Sonny Milano (F Nick Foligno and D Gabriel Carlsson) pulled the Jackets back within two goals only 31 seconds later on a wrister. Unfortunately for Columbus, that goal could not provide enough of a spark as D Jan Rutta (Kane) buried a wrister with 7:09 remaining in the second frame to set the score at 4-1.

RW Richard Panik provided Chicago’s final insurance goal with 5:55 remaining in the game.

G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 32-of-33 shots faced (.97 save percentage), leaving the loss to Korpisalo, who saved 24-of-29 (.828 save percentage).

For those wondering, both of the Blackhawks’ victories have come against opponents from the Metropolitan Division, the best in the league last season. They’ve won those games by a combined score of 15-2. If that’s not an indication of the caliber of these Hawks, I don’t know what is.

Though not as comfortably as yesterday, the 3-2-0 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series still hold a one-point advantage over their hosts.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 23

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators – Game 6

Thanks to its 2-1 victory over the Penguins at the Canadian Tire Centre Tuesday, Ottawa has forced a winner-takes-all Game 7 for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The first period was an overall bland showing by both sides. Even though both Mark Stone and Second Star of the Game Bobby Ryan served independent stints in the sin bin, the Penguins managed only 11 shots at Third Star Craig Anderson, just two more than Ottawa sent Matthew Murray‘s way.

The action tremendously improved in the second, especially in favor of the Pens early on. By the time the middle frame was through, the Pens had fired a tremendous 23 shots on goal to the Sens’ 10.

One of those belonged to Trevor Daley exactly three minutes into the period. It was a scrappy wrist shot from inside Anderson’s crease that eventually slipped past the netminder. Unfortunately for Daley and the Penguins, Anderson felt he was interfered with, leading to Guy Boucher challenging the goal. The officials ruled in Anderson’s favor, so Daley’s potential second goal of the postseason was taken off the board.

But Ottawa could only keep the game tied at nil against the postseason’s best offense for so long. Only 1:51 after play resumed, Evgeni Malkin (Ian Cole and Scott Wilson) collected the rebound of his own shot from the near slot to push a backhander between Anderson and the near post.

The Penguins didn’t relinquish control of the period until 8:15 remained before the second intermission, though it wasn’t by their own accord. Ron Hainsey didn’t seem to make much contact with Jean-Gabriel Pageau in the neutral zone, and the referee did not seem to be inclined to call a penalty. Until, that is, the Senators’ faithful started to cause a ruckus. The official was quickly persuaded and sent Hainsey to the box for interference.

Ottawa’s power play had not yet found success yet against the Penguins, so there were few on the Pens’ bench truly worried until Cole joined Hainsey in the sin bin 36 seconds later for hi-sticking Kyle Turris.

It took only 54 seconds of the five-on-three advantage for Ryan (Turris and Erik Karlsson) to turn the tides for the Sens. It was some beautiful puck movement that led to the tally, as Turris faked a slap shot from the center of the zone before finding Ryan at the near face-off dot. The left wing immediately ripped a snap shot top-shelf over Murray’s to level the game at one-all with 6:45 remaining in the second period.

Ottawa carried that momentum into the third period, easily it’s best frame. The Sens fired six shots at Murray before a single one reached Anderson. One of those offerings was a slap shot over Murray’s glove from First Star Mike Hoffman (Fredrik Claesson and Clarke MacArthur), who did his best Alex Ovechkin impression 94 seconds into the final frame from the far face-off circle to give Ottawa its first lead since Game 3.

Any chance for a late Penguins comeback was effectively eliminated when they were caught with too many men on the ice with 4:05 remaining in regulation. Even with Murray pulled for the remaining 1:44 of regulation for the extra attacker, they could not level the game.

The officiating in this contest was questionable at best, especially in the minds of Mike Sullivan and the Penguins. Though it’s rare – especially in the middle of the game – that a club agrees with a referee, there will be many Pens fans that question Daley’s goalie interference call. Even more will wonder if Hainsey’s blow should have earned him a seat in the box.

The lone Game 7 of the Conference Finals will be played Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. NBCSN is responsible for broadcasting the event in the United States, while Canadians will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 1

 

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 3

By beating Pittsburgh 3-2 in overtime, the Capitals have pulled within a game of leveling their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup

The tone of this match was set early  – at the 5:24 mark, specifically – when Captain Sidney Crosby was injured after driving towards Braden Holtby‘s crease. While Alex Ovechkin‘s slash across the back appeared to be intentional, his taking Crosby’s left skate out from under him and whacking him across the head with his stick while preparing to play defense was done with no malice.

The contact threw Crosby off-balance and he tumbled across Holtby’s crease. The first thing he came in contact with was Matt Niskanen, and it is here where Crosby probably got hurt.  The defenseman was taken by surprise and raised his hands to fend him off, a reasonable reaction especially since the puck was still in his defensive zone. But with hands come a stick, and Niskanen’s ended up catching Crosby squarely in the forehead. Though conscious, Pittsburgh’s star stayed down following the hit and the play was soon stopped.

Crosby did not see the ice for the rest of the game with an apparent head injury and Niskanen was charged with a five-minute major and a game misconduct, suspending him for the remainder of Game 3. Niskanen probably doesn’t deserve the misconduct he received, but was forced into a penalty befitting one who downs – intentionally or accidentally – a league superstar.

As one would expect, the physical series became only more so after play resumed. 67 hits were thrown in all between the two clubs, led by Pittsburgh’s 36. Chris Kunitz was the Penguins’ most dominant checker with seven hits, with his counterparts Brooks Orpik and Ovechkin both managing four blows apiece.

All the physicality made it difficult for either club to find much rhythm throughout the game, which is why power plays and man-advantages proved to be so important.

The first tally of the game was a wrist shot from Second Star of the Game Nicklas Backstrom (Ovechkin and Justin Williams), but even with the five-on-three power play it was not easy. After receiving Ovechkin’s pass from above the far face-off circle, Backstrom fired his shot from the far corner of the slot. Obviously boucing the puck off Marc-Andre Fleury‘s stick and Ian Cole‘s shaft was the plan, because his shot ended up in in the corner of the goal to give the Caps a 1-0 lead with 6:55 remaining in the first period.

No goals were struck in the second period, but the Penguins’ situation became even more dire when Patric Hornqvist accidentally injured teammate Conor Sheary. He bore the brunt of his attempted hit on Lars Eller, and his recoil sent him crashing into Sheary’s head. Similar to Crosby, Sheary did not return for the remainder of the game.

The lack of bodies started becoming apparent late in the frame and through much of the third. Losing two top-line forwards in a game is detrimental to any team, but especially one that is trailing.

Though technically scored at even-strength, Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s (Marcus Johansson and Williams) wrister at the 9:46 mark of the third might as well have been with the man-advantage given his exhausted opponent. Given the circumstances, the Capitals  – and the many Pittsburgh fans that made their ways home early – thought they’d iced the victory away.

Then the Penguins made things interesting.

Knowing his club needed a goal as soon as possible, Mike Sullivan pulled Fleury for an extra attacker with 2:56 remaining in regulation, and Third Star Evgeni Malkin (Phil Kessel and Justin Schultz) capitalized with 63 seconds later on his six-on-five slap shot from the near face-off circle.

There was little to no celebration by Malkin, as he knew there was still work to be done. Sullivan left his piecemeal top-line on the ice for the remainder of regulation and eventually called a wise timeout with 94 seconds remaining before the final horn.

That’s exactly the rest the Penguins needed, as Schultz (Malkin and Kunitz) scored a slap shot with only 65 ticks remaining in regulation to level the game at two-all and force overtime.

That extra period didn’t last long though, due in part to Trevor Daley holding Johansson 2:40 after it began. 33 seconds later, First Star Kevin Shattenkirk (Backstrom and Kuznetsov) took advantage of the man-advantage by ripping a slap shot past Fleury for the first postseason game-winner of his career.

Of course, Washington’s work has only just begun. With the Penguins winning both games at the Verizon Center, they still have home ice in this series. If the Caps truly want to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in franchise history, they’ll need to repeat Monday’s performance in Game 4.

Speaking of, Game 4 is slated for Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time at PPG Paints Arena. The contest will be televised on NBCSN in the USA and CBC and TVAS in Canada.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 29

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.

 

 

 

 

 

New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators – Game 2

With four goals from First Star of the Game Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa won 6-5 in a wild double-overtime contest to take a two-game lead in its Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Rangers.

Many a young boy in Ottawa dreams of playing for the Senators when he grows up. Not many get that opportunity. Even fewer get to play with the Sens in the playoffs.

Pageau joined that select list in 2013, but he’s created a list all his own by playing arguably the best game of his professional career to lead his hometown team to a come-from-behind victory.

His day started early, but then again, so did the Rangers. Only 4:16 after puck drop, Michael Grabner (Jesper Fast) scored a shorthanded snap shot to give the Blueshirts an early lead. Pageau seemed to take exception to that, so he leveled the game at one-all with 6:01 remaining in the frame.

Then came New York’s big period. With the exception of Marc Methot‘s (Mike Hoffman and Ben Harpur) snapper with six minutes remaining in the frame, the Rangers dominated the second period by scoring three goals in 5:12. First up was Chris Kreider (Mika Zibanejad and Ryan McDonagh), who scored a wrist shot at the 10:39 mark. 2:31 later, Derek Stepan (Rick Nash) buried a shorthanded wrister on Craig Anderson. Finally, with 4:09 remaining in the frame, Third Star Brady Skjei (McDonagh and Zibanejad) banged home a wrister to set the score at 4-2 going into the second intermission.

Things were looking grim for the home fans, but Guy Boucher had just the right things to say to his club. That intermission pep talk led to Mark Stone (Second Star Dion Phaneuf and Fredrik Claesson) scoring a snapper just 88 seconds into the frame to pull Ottawa within a goal, but Skjei (Brendan Smith) was quick to reclaim a two-tally lead for the Rangers, burying a snapper of his own 3:42 later.

Skjei’s marker set the score at 5-3, the same differential that read when Pageau took control of the contest. The Senators’ comeback didn’t resume until 3:19 remained in regulation. That’s when the Ottawan scored his second goal (Zack Smith and Phaneuf) of the game on a deflected Smith shot.

62 seconds separated the Rangers from heading back to Manhattan with home-ice advantage, but once again Pageau had other ideas. With the sixth attacker, Kyle Turris took Erik Karlsson‘s pass from the near point to slam home a slap shot from Alex Ovechkin-land toward Henrik Lundqvist‘s net. The netminder probably would have been able to make the save if not for Pageau, who redirected the shot in mid-air to squeeze it between the far post and Lundqvist’s body.

Pageau has only registered one hat trick in his career before Saturday’s effort. It was on May 5, 2013 in Game 3 of the Senators’ Eastern Conference quarterfinals series with Montréal, only his third-ever playoff appearance.

But he’s never scored four goals in a game. Not in the postseason. Not in the regular season.

At least not until Saturday.

The brightest star on the ice decided enough overtime was enough after 22:54 of extra hockey. It was a breakaway goal that started in Anderson’s end. Alexandre Burrows beat Nick Holden to a loose puck at the far end of the goal line and cleared it into the neutral zone. Starting from the blue line, Pageau took chase and claimed possession near center ice along the far boards. Using Tommy Wingels – who entered the offensive zone with him – as a decoy, Pageau made Lundqvist commit to one or the other before cocking his snapper. Once he saw the netminder cash in on saving an attempt from Wingels, he fired his shot over Lundqvist’s glove to pull Ottawa within two victories of the Eastern Finals.

An extra day off has been included between Games 2 and 3, so Madison Square Garden will not come alive until 7 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, May 2. American hockey fans can watch that game on NBCSN, while Canadians will be serviced by CBC and TVAS.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals – Game 2

The Penguins’ offense showed no mercy in their 6-2 beat-down against Washington at the Verizon Center.

Though there were a firestorm of goals, none of them were struck in the first period. For Pittsburgh, it was Second Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury keeping the Capitals off the board, saving all 16 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes. Meanwhile, it was an extremely physical attack from the Caps’ skaters that kept the Pens off-balance. Both John Carlson and T.J. Oshie were a big part of that effort, as they both ended the game with five hits apiece (Oshie threw two of his blows in the opening frame).

Nothing seems to get an offense humming quite like a shorthanded goal. That’s exactly what happened for the Penguins, as Matt Cullen capitalized on his steal at the blue line to score an unassisted wrist shot on Braden Holtby only 75 seconds into the second period. Though Matt Niskanen (Ovechkin and Third Star Nicklas Backstrom) did cash in on Jake Guentzel‘s hooking penalty to level the game, Pittsburgh’s offense was certainly cooking.

That became brutally apparent when First Star Phil Kessel (Sidney Crosby and Guentzel) and Guentzel (Crosby) scored within 3:10 of each other in the second half of the period. Kessel’s goal was a beautiful wrister to beat Holtby top shelf from the far face-off dot, but Guentzel’s was a low wrister that should have been an easy glove save for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.

Due in part to Guentzel’s marker, Holtby was pulled for the third period in favor of Philipp Grubauer, the Capitals’ backup goaltender with only one previous game of NHL playoff action. Pair his lack of experience with Kevin Shattenkirk sending the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty, and it’s no wonder Kessel (Justin Schultz and Evgeni Malkin) was able to score a power play wrister only 2:19 into the final frame to set the score at 4-1.

Once again Washington had a response to the Pens’ first goal of the period – a wrister courtesy of Backstrom (Ovechkin and Oshie) – but the Capitals couldn’t close the gap any further. 107 seconds after Backstrom’s tally, Malkin (Ian Cole and Kessel) tipped-in his goal that all but ended any chance of a Washington comeback.

Guentzel (Matt Cullen and Olli Maatta) tacked on an empty netter with 43 seconds remaining in the game for his seventh of the postseason.

You could’ve heard a pin drop in the Verizon Center after Malkin’s goal. It fell quiet as fans watched a team destined for greatness begin to lose its edge in the second round of the playoffs.

The Capitals will face an uphill battle if they want to qualify for the Eastern Finals for the first time since 1998. Pittsburgh needs only two more victories to close the series, and it will have three home game opportunities to do just that.

The series will resume at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Penn. with Game 3 on Monday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. Residents of the United States can watch that game on NBCSN, while Canadians will be able to choose between CBC or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 27

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.

 

 

 

 

 

New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators – Game 1

Second Star of the Game Erik Karlsson‘s third period wrist shot proved to be the difference in Game 1 at the Canadian Tire Centre, as Ottawa beat the Rangers 2-1.

It seems like it’s said every time Henrik Lundqvist is involved, but this was a stunning goaltending matchup.  The Swede saved a brilliant 41-of-43 shots faced (95.3%), but was out-dueled by First Star Craig Anderson, who allowed only one tally on 35 attempts (97.1%).

This contest’s scoreless draw was not broken until 27:10 had ticked off the clock, though what set up the play occurred a little bit before that. 6:54 into the second period, Cody Ceci earned a seat in the penalty box for tripping Michael Grabner, and the Blueshirts made sure he paid. Captain Ryan McDonagh (Mats Zuccarello and Pavel Buchnevich) took advantage of the man-advantage only 16 seconds later by pinging a strong slap shot from the far point off the near post.

But as happens so often in sports, what comes around goes around. Brady Skjei got caught holding Ryan Dzingel with 2:23 remaining in the frame, followed 62 seconds later by the Third Star himself (Alexandre Burrows and Kyle Turris) cashing in on the power play with a wrist shot from the slot. Dzingel’s goal leveled the contest at one-all with only one period of regulation remaining.

Karlsson is one of the most clutch players for the Senators and he proved that once again tonight with his first goal of the 2017 playoffs. The play reset at the far point when Marc Methot battled Rick Nash to keep the puck in the Sens’ offensive zone. Mike Hoffman collected that victory and carried the puck to the face-off circle before rolling it along the boards behind Lundqvist’s net to Karlsson at the opposite end of the goalline. There’s not much room to score from there by usual means, but the two-way defenseman proved his mastery at scoring by banking the puck off the back of the netminder’s head and into the net.

What a way to score the first postseason game-winning goal of your career.

As made evident by tonight’s action, it’s going to take a talented – or otherwise opportunistic – goalscorer to earn a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. Be on the lookout for New York’s Grabner and J.T. Miller (both earned a .167 shooting percentage in the regular season) or Ottawa’s Mark Stone (scored on 16.4% of shots) to be the determining factor in future games.

Game 2 will drop the puck at 3 p.m. Eastern time this Saturday. Residents of the 50 States can catch the contest on NBC, while those that salute the red maple leaf will be serviced by CBC and TVAS2.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals – Game 1

The first round of this best-of-seven bout between Metropolitan Division rivals went to the visiting Penguins, who beat Washington 3-2 at the Verizon Center Thursday.

Before the offensive performances by the two captains, this series proved to be shaping into exactly what it was expected to be. Both defenses were flying in Game 1, leading to only 56 combined shots being fired. Pittsburgh’s blue line made its presence known with its 29 blocked shots (led by Ian Cole‘s eight), while the Capitals preferred a more personal approach: sparked by Third Star of the Game Alex Ovechkin‘s six hits, Washington threw an impressive 41 blows to disrupt the Pens’ attack.

But no matter how well a defensive corps plays, there’s not much that can ensure these clubs don’t bury the puck. Braden Holtby stopped all four shots he faced in the first period, but couldn’t keep Second Star Sidney Crosby (Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist) off the board a dozen seconds into the middle frame. Crosby (Hornqvist and Olli Maatta) followed that up 52 seconds later with another wrist shot to give Pittsburgh a quick two-goal lead.

The game cooled – offensively, at least – following Crosby’s blitz, but the period wouldn’t end without Ovechkin (Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie) having some fun. With 103 seconds separating him from the second intermission, the captain scored a wrister of his own on Marc-Andre Fleury to pull his Caps back within a tally.

Washington’s comeback was completed 8:05 into the third period courtesy of Evgeny Kuznetsov, who scored a wrister from the slot off a beautiful cross-slot setup from former Penguin Matt Niskanen to set up a thrilling finish.

Unfortunately for fans clad in red, that finish is not what they were hoping for. That result is due in large part to the existence of First Star Nick Bonino, who has scored the last two game-winning goals for Pittsburgh in playoff games against the Capitals.

This one was a wrister struck with 7:24 remaining regulation with assists from Scott Wilson and Cole. After receiving a Justin Schultz from behind Fleury’s net, Cole dished to Wilson along the far boards into the offensive zone. The left wing one-touched a pass to his trailing center who was tearing towards Holtby’s crease. When he reached the slot, he ripped his wrister glove-side before the goalie could react.

These clubs will drop the puck again Saturday night at 8 p.m. Eastern time. The game will be televised on NBC in the USA and CBC and TVAS in Canada.

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.