Tag Archives: Pacific Division

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Western Conference

In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.

In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.

P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)

The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.

Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”

Only kidding.

Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.

Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.

Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.

Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.

For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.

Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.

Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.

Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.

In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.

Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.

Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?

Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.

Regular season outcomes:

5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th

Schedule:

4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2

4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*

4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*

4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*

*If necessary

P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)

The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.

Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.

There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.

Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.

For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.

Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.

Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.

Reilly Smith put up 53 points in a “down” season, but Alex Tuch (20-32–52 totals) had a breakout year, so everything evens out in the end.

In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.

For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.

The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.

But this time around feels different.

San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2

4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2

4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS

4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2

4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*

4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*

4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*

*If necessary

C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)

A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.

It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.

For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).

Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.

Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.

Their offense was led by Ryan Johansen (14-50–64 totals in 80 GP) this season with Filip Forsberg chipping in 50 points and Viktor Arvidsson reaching the 30-goal plateau (he finished with 34).

Their goaltending… oh. Is this when Juuse Saros (17-10-2, 2.62 GAA, .915 SV% in 31 GP) takes over for Pekka Rinne (30-19-4, 2.42 GAA, .918 SV% in 56 GP) as the regular starter?

Oh. Again. Never mind.

While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.

In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.

Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.

This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?

Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.

On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.

Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.

But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.

Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.

As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.

Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.

Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.

It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.

Regular season outcomes:

5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2

4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2

4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*

4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*

4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*

*If necessary

C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)

After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.

This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.

Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.

Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.

On defense, Jacob Trouba picked up the slack with 8-42–50 totals from the blue line while Dustin Byfuglien was limited to 42 games and 31 points due to injury.

In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).

Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.

Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.

Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.

However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.

The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.

This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.

Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.

Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).

Don’t try to mess with what’s working.

Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.

Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.

For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.

Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.

Regular season outcomes:

1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3

4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS

4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2

4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS

4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*

4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*

4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*

*If necessary

Numbers Game: 2018-19 League Forecast Entering April

There’s only one week remaining in the 2018-19 regular season, so let’s make this quick. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on April 10th.

The stretch run is almost complete. If you’re mathematically alive, you still have a chance. Already clinched a playoff berth? Isn’t a great feeling to be ahead of things for once?

If you’re not, then there’s a good chance you’re looking forward to the 2019 NHL Draft lottery (unless you’re the Ottawa Senators– you see, they traded their 2019 1st round pick last season to the Colorado Avalanche after opting to keep their 2018 1st round pick instead– it’s a long story).

Without further ado, here’s the latest standings forecast through the end of March 31, 2019– keeping in mind this is not an exact science.

Given recent and season long trends, as well as records from the last few seasons, the forecasted standings that appear below are only an educated guess.

Anything can happen (for teams that aren’t otherwise already elimination from postseason contention and/or division, conference of President’s Trophy winners).

Projected Standings After Six Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 126 points (78 games played entering April 1st)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 110 points (79 GP)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 100 points (78 GP)
  4. Montreal Canadiens, 95 points (79 GP)
  5. Florida Panthers, 87 points (79 GP)
  6. Buffalo Sabres, 75 points (79 GP)
  7. Detroit Red Wings, 74 points (79 GP)
  8. Ottawa Senators, 65 points (78 GP)

To no surprise, the Tampa Bay Lightning have already clinched the President’s Trophy in real life and come close to a 130-point season. Though the Bolts didn’t set an NHL record for “best regular season ever”, they did become the third team in league history to amass 60-plus wins in a season.

Also, sorry Nikita Kucherov, but you can’t spread out your 120-plus points over the course of the playoffs. Everything is reset to “zero” as if it’s a new season within a season altogether.

Is this the year Steven Stamkos records a point in a Game 7?

Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs keep running into each other as Toronto is looking to avenge last postseason’s seven-game series loss to the Bruins.

Unless David Pastrnak has anything to say about that on the scoreboard.

The Montreal Canadiens come up short of a playoff berth thanks to the current tiebreaker format, whereby both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes had more regulation-plus-overtime wins. If anything, there’s more hope for next season than this time around last season in Montreal.

And if you’re a Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres or Detroit Red Wings fan, for some reason you still think your teams are on the cusp of playoff contention– especially now that you’ve already reset your focus on being tied with all 31-NHL teams for 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff action.

However, unless the Panthers make some serious moves in the offseason, the Sabres find a system (and goaltender) and stick with it and the Red Wings try to speed up their rebuild, it might be Groundhog Day for another season or two.

Finally, Ottawa Senators fans, you exist. You’re real fans.

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Washington Capitals, 105 points (79 GP)
  2. x-New York Islanders, 102 points (79 GP)
  3. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 99 points (79 GP)
  4. wc1-Columbus Blue Jackets, 95 points (79 GP)
  5. wc2-Carolina Hurricanes, 95 points (79 GP)
  6. Philadelphia Flyers, 83 points (79 GP)
  7. New York Rangers, 77 points (78 GP)
  8. New Jersey Devils, 70 points (79 GP)

In the Metropolitan Division, the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals found a way to once-again reign as the division winner heading into the postseason.

After the New York Islanders charged out of the gate on the heels of Barry Trotz’s defensive masterplan and stellar goaltending from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, things have started to slide in Long Island.

The good news? Trotz is their head coach and is the defending Stanley Cup champion head coach.

The bad news? They’ll suit up against the Pittsburgh Penguins– annual Stanley Cup contenders as long as Sidney Crosby is still playing and Mike Sullivan is within his five-year window of being the game’s best coach in the playoffs– and that’s just the First Round.

In the Eastern Conference wild card race, Columbus entered April with 44 regulation-plus-overtime wins, leading the Hurricanes (41) and Canadiens (40).

Given the forecasted tie and methods in which each team would need to reach 95 points on the season, it appears as though nothing is going to change over the last week of the season.

Nothing should change anyway.

Not to jinx them or anything, but Carolina is looking to end the longest postseason drought in the major four North American professional sports. The Canes haven’t appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2009.

For the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, there’s 1) maybe a goaltender you can rely on, 2) a goaltender who still hasn’t won a Cup and is sticking with a team that’s rebuilding and 3) a goaltender that finally won a game this season (Cory Schneider) and a goaltender that should be your starter next season (Mackenzie Blackwood).

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. y-St. Louis Blues, 99 points (78 GP)
  2. x-Winnipeg Jets, 98 points (78 GP)
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 97 points (79 GP)
  4. wc1-Dallas Stars, 93 points (79 GP)
  5. wc2-Colorado Avalanche, 89 points (78 GP)
  6. Minnesota Wild, 85 points (79 GP)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 81 points (78 GP)

Ever hear of a team going from worst to first? Now have you ever heard of a team doing that in the same season? Because the St. Louis Blues are that team this season (at least in the Central Division alone).

However, the point spread in the expected forecast from 1st to 3rd in the Central is only a two-point difference, which means it’s still anybody’s guess as to who will come out with the top-seed in the division.

Should the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators end up in a First Round rematch of last season’s Second Round battle, then you can expect the Jets to take flight. Just a hunch.

Meanwhile, the Western Conference wild card race came down to the wire and– you guessed it– another tiebreaker.

While the Dallas Stars laid claim to the first wild card spot, the Colorado Avalanche came out on top of the Arizona Coyotes for the last playoff spot by virtue of having won their regular season series, 2-1-0.

Things didn’t go so well for the Minnesota Wild this season, both because of injuries and because of a lot of inconsistency (so… injuries?).

For the Chicago Blackhawks, the season started in October, not January.

Pacific Division

  1. z-Calgary Flames, 109 points (79 GP)
  2. x-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (79 GP)
  3. x-Vegas Golden Knights, 95 points (79 GP)
  4. Arizona Coyotes, 89 points (79 GP)
  5. Edmonton Oilers, 83 points (78 GP)
  6. Anaheim Ducks, 80 points (80 GP)
  7. Vancouver Canucks, 80 points (79 GP)
  8. Los Angeles Kings, 70 points (78 GP)

The Calgary Flames clinched the best record in the Western Conference for the first time in almost 30 years. Conveniently, the Flames last won the Cup 30 years ago.

Guess it’s about time for another repeat of 2004, even though goal line technology could surely keep that from ever happening again whether you believe it was in or not.

Things are looking like business as usual for the San Jose Sharks as they gear up for another taxing First Round battle– this time around in a rematch from last year’s Second Round matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights, by the way, are the 7th team to reach the postseason in their first two seasons of existence.

It’s too bad the Arizona Coyotes couldn’t pull off an incredible run, despite losing their starting goaltender to injury for the season before American Thanksgiving.

The fact that they’re not in the Jack Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko conversation is about as close as you can come to winning the Cup this season when you’ve relied on Darcy Kuemper for over 20-consecutive starts.

That’s not a shot at Kuemper. That’s just [heck-]ing incredible (pardon my French).

Back up north in Edmonton, the Oilers are gearing up for another rebuild? Is it that time already? Probably not, but if it’s what Connor McDavid wants… (it’s not).

Thanks to that good old ROW tiebreaker, the Anaheim Ducks managed to climb above the Vancouver Canucks in the standings. That’s not saying much.

Vancouver should be this season’s Arizona, next season (minus the injuries). If that makes sense.

Anaheim, on the other hand, should sell, sell, sell this summer.

Finally, the Los Angeles Kings were crowned 2014 Stanley Cup champions for the 5th year in-a-row and finished in the basement of the Pacific.

Game of the Week: March 25-31

Everyone, this is your ghost writer speaking. Connor is preoccupied this week, so I’m taking over to tell you about this humdinger of a matchup for this week’s DTFR Game of the Week.

And also to apologize for not having a cool looking table recapping every night of this week’s action leading up to Sunday’s main attraction in the Western Conference as the Minnesota Wild (36-33-9 record, 81 points, 6th in the Central Division) pay a visit to the Arizona Coyotes (37-33-8, 82 points, 4th in the Pacific Division).


Gila River Arena will be in the spotlight as the Top-2 teams outside of the Western Conference wild card race go head-to-head with the chance to help one of the teams currently in control of a wild card position clinch a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Confused yet?

If Arizona loses in any form on Sunday against the Wild, the Dallas Stars will punch their ticket to the 2019 postseason leaving one final spot remaining in the Western Conference.

Though the Winnipeg Jets (94 points in 78 games played) lead the Nashville Predators (94 points in 79 GP) and St. Louis Blues (92 points in 78 GP) in the Central Division and the Calgary Flames (103 points in 78 GP) lead the San Jose Sharks (97 points in 78 GP) and Vegas Golden Knights (91 points in 79 GP) in the Pacific Division, the First Round matchups across the board in the Western Conference are still to be determined.

The Central Division is a tight race with the current three divisional playoff position holders battling down the wire for the regular season divisional title.

The Pacific Division can be clinched by the Flames on Sunday if they defeat the Sharks in any fashion.

For Minnesota, a win on Sunday would leapfrog the Wild over the Coyotes in the wild card race and put them two points behind the Colorado Avalanche (85 points in 78 GP) for the last playoff berth in the West.

For Arizona, a win on Sunday would provide the Coyotes with a little cushion over the Wild and leave Arizona trailing the Avalanche by one point in the wild card race.

The Coyotes lost to Colorado in their most recent game, 3-2, in overtime on Friday. The Wild defeated the Golden Knights, 3-2, on Friday.

Both teams enter Sunday knowing they control their own destiny in the immediate future as the Avalanche are off until Monday night’s battle in St. Louis.

Colorado doesn’t have an easy road ahead, however, despite their 6-0-1 record in their last seven outings– the Avs have four games remaining in six nights, including one in St. Louis on Monday and a home game against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday prior to hosting the Jets on Thursday and closing out the regular season in San Jose next Saturday.

Minnesota (3-6-1 in their last 10 games) enters Sunday on the heels of a, 3-2, win over Vegas on Friday after posting a 2-6-1 record in their previous nine games.

Arizona (3-4-3 in their last 10 games) has lost six out their last seven games and went 1-3-3 in that span, but has a 9-1-1 record in their last 11 home games.

The Wild and Coyotes are tied in the season series, 1-1-0, through two meetings at Xcel Energy Center prior to Sunday. Minnesota picked up a, 2-1, win on Oct. 16th against Arizona before losing, 4-3, on Nov. 27th to the Coyotes.

Minnesota is 13-3-3 in their last 19 games against the Coyotes and enters the Grand Canyon State to face a familiar foe.

Darcy Kuemper (25-19-8 record, 2.39 goals against average, .922 save percentage in 52 GP) was originally drafted by the Wild 161st overall in the 2009 NHL Draft and will make his 20th consecutive start for the Coyotes in the crease.

Kuemper stopped 26 out of 28 shots faced in Arizona’s, 2-1, loss to Minnesota on Oct. 16th and is 14-6-3 in his last 23 starts.

Since Jan. 6th, he has a 20-8-5 record with a 2.14 GAA and .929 SV% while the Coyotes have been battling injuries.

Nick Schmaltz signed a seven-year extension with the club on Saturday and remains out with a lower body injury, while Antti Raanta (lower body– out for the season) and Kyle Capobiano (lower body) will also be unavailable for Rick Tocchet‘s lineup on Sunday.

Arizona’s hard charging offense has scored nine goals in their last seven games and is led by Clayton Keller (14-32–46 totals) this season. Defenseman, Oliver Ekman-Larsson (14-29–43 totals) is the only other Coyote with more than 40 points and has seven goals and eight assists since Feb. 21st– tied for the 2nd most by a defender in the league during that span.

Tampa Bay Lightning blue liner, Victor Hedman, has 17 points to Ekman-Larsson’s 15 points in that span.

Coyotes third liner, Alex Galchenyuk, leads his club in goals with 17 this season.

Across the ice, Devan Dubnyk (30-27-6, 2.57 GAA, .912 SV% in 65 GP) is expected to get the start for the Wild as Ryan Donato has seven points (two goals, five assists) in his past seven games for Minnesota.

Zach Parise (26-33–59 totals) leads the team in scoring, while Eric Staal has 20 points (14 goals, six assists) in his last 22 games against Arizona.

Mikko Koivu (knee), Matt Dumba (upper body) and Parise (lower body) will all be unavailable to Wild head coach, Bruce Boudreau‘s lineup on Sunday.

Boudreau perhaps put it best following Friday night’s win in Las Vegas for Sunday’s preview against Arizona– “I think whoever loses is probably for sure out.”

It’s hard not to agree with that sentiment given both teams will have three games remaining on the schedule after Sunday wraps up and the loser will have an almost insurmountable deficit in the wild card standings.

That said, look for the red-hot on home ice Coyotes to keep Minnesota down in what’s sure to be a wild matchup as the two teams tempt fate.

Tune into the matchup on ESPN+ at 5 p.m. ET.

DTFR Podcast #150- Improper Twelve

The DTFR Duo runs through some Tampa Bay Lightning franchise records, Conor McGregor reactions, hands out more awards, fixes the NHL and takes a look at how things are shaping up in the Pacific Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show onPatreon.

Numbers Game: 2018-19 League Forecast Entering March

Happy Meteorological Spring (and when the time comes, actual Spring too as the Spring Equinox falls on… well, it’s written on the calendar in your office somewhere).

Of course, the only day that really matters in March is the 18th (you thought I was going to say the 17th, but we can’t all pretend to be Irish now, can we?).

If you’re new to the sport, that’s the day the Lord Stanley of Preston first presented the idea of the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup back in 1892 and thus the Stanley Cup was first played for and awarded in 1893.

The original Cup resides in an old bank vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario and was purchased for ten guineas, which was $48.67 at the time or almost $1,400 in contemporary times.

Anyway, March is a pretty important month.

Teams have added or subtracted to their rosters from the trade deadline and are looking to go down the stretch without any additional injuries or worries heading into the postseason (or for some, the offseason).

Feeling lucky? Is this the year your bracket won’t be busted in the First Round? Let the madness begin with a look at the latest standings forecast* across the league based on all 31 NHL teams’ performances through February 28, 2019.

*Standard disclaimer: This forecast is not an exact science, but rather an educated guess among recent and season long trends, with a foundation steeped in recent records over the last few seasons.

In simple terms, just focus on the standing within the division and less on the point spread. A team isn’t eliminated from postseason contention until they are mathematically eliminated.

Anything can still happen (relatively, of course).

Projected Standings After Five Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 121 points (65 games played entering March 1st)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 115 points (64 GP)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points (64 GP)
  4. wc1-Montreal Canadiens, 103 points (64 GP)
  5. wc2-Buffalo Sabres, 90 points (63 GP)
  6. Florida Panthers, 82 points (63 GP)
  7. Ottawa Senators, 61 points (64 GP)
  8. Detroit Red Wings, 60 points (64 GP)

In the Atlantic Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning are still on pace for what could almost be the best regular season in league history. Their franchise record ten-game winning streak was halted by the re-hot Boston Bruins on Feb. 28th.

Tampa should still lock up the division (if not the President’s Trophy) with ease, though they are beatable– as proven by the Bruins recent win (ignoring the back-to-back games), as well as the St. Louis Blues’ 1-0 overtime victory on Feb. 7th (more on the Blues later).

Boston, meanwhile, is surging at the right time. After going 7-7-0 in December and 6-3-3 in January, the B’s went without a regulation loss in the month of February, finishing with an 11-0-2 record.

It was the 9th time in franchise history and first time since November 2011, that the Bruins went without a regulation loss in an entire calendar month.

Not to be outdone, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still very alive and well in a divisional spot and for the second straight season appear destined to battle the Bruins in a First Round rematch from last season.

At least one of the Eastern Conference wild card spots in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be filled by an Atlantic Division team– the first of which being the Montreal Canadiens.

The Habs are in the hunt and could knock the Maple Leafs out of the last divisional spot with a good run down the stretch, while the second wild card spot is a little harder to project.

It could be the Buffalo Sabres or it could very well be a team that’s surging in the Metropolitan Division.

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-New York Islanders, 113 points (63 GP)
  2. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 101 points (63 GP)
  3. x-Washington Capitals, 92 points (64 GP)
  4. Carolina Hurricanes, 89 points (63 GP)
  5. Pittsburgh Penguins, 87 points (63 GP)
  6. New York Rangers, 77 points (63 GP)
  7. Philadelphia Flyers, 74 points (64 GP)
  8. New Jersey Devils, 61 points (64 GP)

John Tavares wasn’t well-received in his first trip back to Long Island since leaving the New York Islanders for the Leafs in free agency last July, however, Barry Trotz has been adored by Isles fans as the coach of the Metropolitan Division’s best team.

Despite adding a lot of firepower leading up to the trade deadline, the Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t quite a surefire powerhouse in the division, but they should be good enough for home ice advantage in the First Round and a rematch with the defending Stanley Cup champion, Washington Capitals.

It’s a wide-open race for two or three potential playoff spots in the Metropolitan Division, as the Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins all have their sights set on one of two remaining divisional spots or at least one wild card spot in the postseason.

Despite the Capitals edging the Hurricanes and Penguins in this forecast, gut feeling indicates there’s sure to be an upset before the brackets are even finalized.

Carolina is playing really well lately and as those bunch of jerks have shown all season long– you can’t count them out. They also reached 70 points in 61 games played for just the second time in franchise history this season.

The last time they did that was in the 2005-06 season– you know, the one they went on to beat the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

As for the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, well, there’s always a chance things go south for some of the teams ahead of them– except the Rangers are rebuilding and the Flyers have gone zero weeks without an injury to one of the eight goaltenders they’ve used this season.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. y-Winnipeg Jets, 104 points (63 GP)
  2. x-St. Louis Blues, 100 points (63 GP)
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 93 points (66 GP)
  4. wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 92 points (64 GP)
  5. Minnesota Wild, 85 points (64 GP)
  6. Dallas Stars, 84 points (64 GP)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 75 points (64 GP)

The Western Conference as a whole has been weaker than the Eastern Conference this season, but no division has been quite as lively as the Central Division.

While the Winnipeg Jets soar into the postseason as the top-team in the Central, the St. Louis Blues are attempting to go from last to first– and then some.

St. Louis might not stop at potentially leading the Central Division by the time the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin– they could just very well go on to win the Cup. The Blues are that hot.

Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators added a lot of grit leading up to the trade deadline, acquiring Cody McLeod, Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds to bolster their crunch to go along with new addition, Mikael Granlund‘s scoring ability.

Anyway, they’ve been slipping as of late and appear destined to miss out on home ice advantage in what will likely be a First Round matchup with St. Louis.

Finally, one of the Western wild cards will surely come from the Central Division teams. Whether that’s the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild or Dallas Stars will depend on how hot Colorado’s first line is and/or how injured the Wild and Stars are.

Kudos to the Chicago Blackhawks for setting the second half of the season ablaze, though not nearly as mightily as the Blues have, but they’ll still end up last in the Central, but about mid-pack league-wide.

Pacific Division

  1. z-Calgary Flames, 111 points (64 GP)
  2. x-San Jose Sharks, 107 points (64 GP)
  3. x-Vegas Golden Knights, 100 points (65 GP)
  4. wc2-Arizona Coyotes, 91 points (64 GP)
  5. Vancouver Canucks, 88 points (65 GP)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 84 points (64 GP)
  7. Anaheim Ducks, 75 points (64 GP)
  8. Los Angeles Kings, 68 points (64 GP)

In the most disappointing division of the season, the Calgary Flames have risen a cut above the rest in the West. Not only do they look to lead the conference, but they look to do so in style.

The Flames are a team that’s destined for a deeper run than just a First or Second Round exit in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but how much will recent playoff experience for the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights play into Calgary’s chances of going far?

Vegas hasn’t been as dominant as they were in their inaugural season, however the Sharks have also had a few slip ups in the last month.

Both teams are looking like they’ll meet in the First Round– a round sooner than their Second Round matchup last postseason. It’s a rematch for the ages for the Golden Knights, as the young franchise looks to continue to add to the nearly 30 years of dismal playoff failure for San Jose.

One of the biggest– and most pleasant– surprises in the Western Conference? The Arizona Coyotes.

The team is destined for a wild card spot this season and just might spoil the party for more than just who they cut out of the playoff picture.

For the Vancouver Canucks, it’s a battle until the end. They might make it, they might not, but next season should be better– just stay the course.

And if you’re the Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks and/or the Los Angeles Kings, you’ve got a lot of work to do in the offseason.

DTFR Podcast #147- Trade The Whole Team

It’s the DTFR 2019 Trade Deadline recap! Plus a few other notes from the last week around the NHL.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Bruins take bite out of the Sharks, 4-1

The Boston Bruins returned home for the first time in two weeks on Tuesday night and promptly beat the San Jose Sharks, 4-1, at TD Garden– eight days after the two teams collided for a thrilling (and controversial) battle in San Jose.

Boston swept the season series with the Sharks, 2-0-0, after Tuesday’s win and Feb. 18th’s, 6-5, victory in overtime.

David Krejci, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Brad Marchand had goals for the Bruins, while Logan Couture had the only goal for the Sharks.

Jaroslav Halak (17-9-4 record, 2.29 goals against average, .924 save percentage in 32 games played) made 19 saves on 20 shots against for a .950 SV% in the win for the B’s.

Sharks goaltender, Martin Jones (29-13-5, 2.95 GAA, .875 SV% in 48 GP), stopped 28 out of 32 shots faced for an .875 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins improved to 23-1-3 when leading after two periods and 10-0-2 in the month of February.

Boston also improved to 37-17-9 (83 points) on the season and remained in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division standings, while San Jose fell to 37-19-8 (82 points) on the season, but still in 2nd place in the Pacific Division.

Weymouth, Massachusetts native, Charlie Coyle, made his home debut for Boston and Marcus Johansson made his debut (at home and for the team) with the Bruins on Tuesday.

Johansson was acquired in a trade with the New Jersey Devils on Monday prior to the league’s trade deadline in exchange for a 2019 2nd round pick and a 2020 4th round pick. He is the first player in franchise history to wear No. 90.

The Bruins also signed Lee Stempniak to a one-year, $650,000 contract on Sunday and formally assigned the veteran NHL winger to the Providence Bruins (AHL).

Upon the acquisition of Johansson, the B’s re-assigned Karson Kuhlman and Peter Cehlarik to Providence to keep them eligible for the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Boston General Manager Don Sweeney provided an update on David Pastrnak (left thumb) during his press conference after the trade deadline on Monday and announced Pastrnak would be in a cast for about two more weeks, then he’d need to get a splint and a sense as to his measure of comfort for his eventual return to the lineup.

With Kevan Miller (upper body) day-to-day after blocking a shot up high in Vegas against the Golden Knights, John Moore was inserted on the third defensive pairing.

Bruce Cassidy kept his usual first and fourth lines together, as well as his first two defensive pairings, while adjusting his second and third lines to account for the additions of Johansson and Coyle.

Johansson suited up to the right side of Krejci and DeBrusk, while Coyle centered the third line with David Backes on his right wing and Joakim Nordstrom returning to the lineup as the left wing (Nordstrom was a healthy scratch in St. Louis).

Steven Kampfer was the only healthy scratch for Boston on Tuesday with Miller and Pastrnak out of the lineup due to injury.

Early in the first period, Justin Braun slashed Coyle as the Bruins center was in the midst of a scoring chance at 5:41.

Boston did not convert on the ensuing power play and instead committed the game’s next infraction, when Matt Grzelcyk hooked Michael Haley at 11:58 of the first period.

Less than a minute into San Jose’s first power play of the night, Couture (23) banked one off of Halak’s leg pad and squeezed the puck between Halak’s pad and the inner post.

Couture’s power play goal was unassisted and gave the Sharks the lead, 1-0, at 12:47 of the opening frame.

Less than two minutes later, Timo Meier caught DeBrusk with a high-stick and drew some blood. As a result, Meier was assessed a double-minor penalty at 14:29.

Just ten seconds into the resulting 5-on-4 advantage for the next four minutes, Boston worked the puck around the umbrella setup, yielding a one-timer from Krejci (15) that blew past Jones to tie the game, 1-1.

Torey Krug (38) and Marchand (48) notched the assists on Krejci’s power play goal at 14:39.

Entering the first intermission, the score was tied, 1-1, while the Bruins led the Sharks in shots on goal (16-8). The B’s also held the advantage in blocked shots (5-3), takeaways (4-3), giveaways (8-4), hits (11-3) and face-off win percentage (68-32).

San Jose was 1/1 on the power play, while Boston went 1/3 on the skater advantage heading into the second period.

Erik Karlsson had battled a groin injury earlier in the month of February and missed the last time these two teams went toe-to-toe on Feb. 18th, but he was on the ice for a grueling effort.

Early in the middle frame, Karlsson tried to defend McAvoy in the Sharks’ defensive zone, but appeared to have overexerted himself and tweaked something in his leg.

Karlsson went to the dressing room and returned later in the period, only to once again make an exit after Marchand danced around the Sharks defender for a shorthanded goal later in the period.

The veteran blue liner did not return for the third period of action.

Meanwhile, almost halfway through the second period, McAvoy (5) sniped a wrist shot past Jones’ blocker on a give-and-go from Marchand after the feisty Bruin received a pass from Danton Heinen entering the zone.

Marchand (49) and Heinen (13) tallied the assists on what would become the game-winning goal at 9:09 of the second period and the Bruins had their first lead of the night, 2-1.

A mere 37 seconds later, DeBrusk (20) reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career as Boston entered the attacking zone on a three-on-one with tremendous puck movement.

Krejci (40) and Johansson (16) were credited with the assists on DeBrusk’s goal at 9:46, as the Bruins led, 3-1.

With the assist on the goal, Johansson picked up his first point as a member of Boston.

Less than a minute later, Sean Kuraly tripped up Joe Thornton and took a trip to the penalty box at 10:29.

While shorthanded, Marchand (25) received a pass and broke free from Karlsson and the rest of the Sharks to dangle and get a shot off with the backhand through the five-hole on the San Jose netminder to make it, 4-1, for Boston at 12:28 of the middle frame.

Marchand’s shorthanded goal was the 25th of his career and tied Rick Middleton for the most in Bruins franchise history.

Of course, Patrice Bergeron (36) had the primary assist on Marchand’s goal, while Brandon Carlo (5) had the secondary assist.

Late in the period, Evander Kane tried to fight Kuraly, but the linesmen intervened as Kuraly had not had the chance to take off his gloves.

Kane received two roughing minors to Kuraly’s one roughing infraction, leaving the Sharks shorthanded at 14:55. Kevin Labanc served Kane’s extra minor.

A few minutes later, Barclay Goodrow and Chris Wagner got tangled up in front of the benches and exchanged brief fisticuffs before the linesmen got in the way and ended the fight early.

Goodrow and Wagner both received five-minute major penalties for fighting at 17:54.

Less than a minute after that, Moore was penalized for cross-checking Meier at 18:25.

San Jose did not score on the ensuing power play and both teams went into the second intermission with Boston leading on the scoreboard, 4-1, and in shots on goal, 24-12.

The B’s also led in blocked shots (10-6), takeaways (6-5), giveaways (11-9), hits (18-16) and face-off win% (58-42) as they continued to flat-out dominate the Sharks on home ice.

Boston was 1/4 on the power play, while San Jose was 1/3 heading into the third period.

Early in the third period, while going hard for the puck, Zdeno Chara caught an elbow on Kane, which led to Kane pulling down the 6-foot-9 captain of the B’s from behind and throwing a couple punches.

Chara, in return, got back to his feet and was willing to fight a fair fight. He promptly delivered several well placed punches as Kane hunched over to avoid an otherwise surefire death sentence from the tallest player in NHL history in his 2nd fight in 44 games this season.

Kane received an instigating penalty on top of his five-minute major for fighting. As such, he automatically was charged with a ten-minute misconduct, while Chara picked up two minutes for elbowing and a five-minute major for fighting.

As a result of Kane’s instigating penalty, the Sharks were left shorthanded at 3:22 of the third period.

Almost 30 seconds later, Kane received a game misconduct for his continued verbal argument with the refs at 3:51.

Seconds after the ensuing face-off Haley didn’t even bother to make a play and instead dropped the gloves with Backes as the game further descended into chaos.

After Backes and Haley were sent to the sin bin– each with five-minute majors for fighting– at 3:56 of the third period, neither team scored a goal, nor committed another infraction.

By the final horn, Boston had secured the win, 4-1, over San Jose and dominated shots on goal, 32-20.

The Bruins finished the night leading in blocked shots (16-7) and face-off win% (58-42), while the Sharks finished the action ahead in giveaways (15-13) and hits (27-21).

Boston finished Tuesday’s action 1/4 on the power play, while San Jose went 1/3 on the skater advantage.

The B’s finish off the month of February with a Thursday night matchup against the league leading, Tampa Bay Lightning. Boston then sets its sights on the month of March as their six-game homestand continues against the Devils on Saturday and the Carolina Hurricanes next Tuesday (March 5th).

Next Thursday (March 7th), the Florida Panthers visit Boston, followed by the Ottawa Senators (March 9th), before the Bruins hit the road in Pittsburgh (March 10th) for their first road trip since the trade deadline.

Vegas Golden Knights 2018-19 Forecast Through 62 Games

Coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, the Vegas Golden Knights (32-25-5, 69 points, 3rd in the Pacific Division) have 20 games remaining in the 2018-19 regular season.

These aren’t your father’s Golden Knights, as production is down from their inaugural season in just their 2nd season of existence.

Though Marc-Andre Fleury (29-18-5 record, 2.60 goals against average, .908 save percentage in 52 games played) remains Vegas’ starter on an almost nightly basis, backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban (3-6-0, 2.76 GAA, .912 SV% in 10 GP) has struggled to carry his own weight.

Despite bringing in Paul Stastny via free agency and Max Pacioretty via trade, the Golden Knights haven’t been immune to the injury bug this season.

Stastny and Pacioretty themselves have joined Reilly Smith and others throughout the lineup on the injured reserve or out of playing action for various points of the season.

While the Pacific Division title might be out of reach for Vegas this season, a divisional spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs is all but assured as long as the floor doesn’t fallout from underneath Gerard Gallant and his players.

Of note, the Arizona Coyotes are emerging once again with a late season push for the playoffs– and this time around, they’re doing it without their starting goaltender, Antti Raanta (out for the season due to injury).

Plus the Vancouver Canucks are still in contention and, well, that’s about it, realistically among Pacific Division teams that still have a chance for the last divisional spot and/or a Western Conference wild card berth.

Anyway, back to the Golden Knights.

Here’s a look at the latest Vegas forecast– keeping in mind there are many variables that can and will effect the final outcome, such as injuries and/or being called up, assigned, traded, lucky or unlucky.

This forecast is just an educated guess. It’s a glimpse of what could be or could’ve been by the end of the regular season.

As always, my degree is in communication– not math– and hockey is naturally steeped in context and holistic unpredictability. Nothing can account for sheer puck luck, the odd bounce or a blown call.

If a player reaches the expected outcome, they’ve met expectations. If said player exceeds the forecasted stats, they’ve exceeded expectations (naturally). Of course, if a player does not perform, then they did not live up to expectations.

On a game-to-game basis, whatever’s on the scoresheet can indicate general trends that can be further broken down into an educated forecast.

At best, it’s a guess. At worst, well, it doesn’t really matter– it’s not like Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee is reading this and making his roster decisions based on what’s here, right?

If he is, I’d like a job, please. Thanks.

Vegas Golden Knights Forecast Through 62 Games (20 Games Remaining)
WordPress, when are you going to make the ”gallery” option again (and actually make it good like how it used to be)?

Among forwards, Vegas’ consistent first line last season of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Smith hasn’t had as much consistent luck and skill this season.

Though Smith has battled injury this season, Marchessault remains one of the Golden Knights most consistent performers expected to lead his team in goals (25) and points (54) with 25-29–54 expected totals.

Now what about Karlsson?

Good question, what about him? Things haven’t gone exactly as planned in terms of capitalizing on his breakout season last season with a new contract in the offseason and higher expectations for this season.

Karlsson’s bridge, one-year, extension last summer coming off the backs of a 43-goal season has only managed 18 goals thus far– including four goals in the last 22 games for the Golden Knights.

Given his current trend, Karlsson is expected to amass 21-23–44 totals. He’d be tied with Pacioretty for 2nd place in expected goals (21) and 3rd in expected points (44) on the roster, but nowhere near the emergent star in the making that he was last season.

While he very well could bounce back– similar to Smith in nature, following a good-year, bad-year, good-year, bad-year pattern– the phrase “what have you done for me yesterday” won’t help him in his next contract negotiation this summer unless McPhee gives him the benefit of the doubt.

Meanwhile, Alex Tuch is expected to finish the season with a career-high 20-33–53 expected totals.

That’s comforting to hear for a team that needs to rely on secondary scoring in the midst of a recession in primary production.

Tuch is expected to lead in assists (33), followed by Smith (30) and Marchessault (29), while Marchessault is destined to lead in points (54) over Tuch (53) and Karlsson (44).

On defense, Vegas’ blue line will finish off the season being led by Shea Theodore (11-21–32 expected totals), followed by Colin Miller (30 expected points) and Nate Schmidt (25 expected points despite missing the first 20 games of the season while serving a suspension for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug).

In net, Fleury looks like he’s bound to break under the weight of all the minutes he’s been playing and will play this season. A 2.74 expected GAA and .909 expected SV% is not starting goaltender material, unless we’re talking about Sergei Bobrovsky with the Columbus Blue Jackets or something.

But it’s not like Gallant can really count on his current backup to offset some of Fleury’s load. Subban’s expected 2.70 GAA and .912 SV% isn’t tremendous either.

If anything, it’s an indication that McPhee could help bolster his team with the acquisition of an extra goaltender by the trade deadline.

Someone like Ryan Miller, 38-years-old, could help steal some crucial points for the Golden Knights down the stretch if the San Jose Sharks aren’t already in the process of completing a trade for the goaltender with the Anaheim Ducks.

Growing pains are a fact of life– especially in sports– and Vegas is going through puberty already in its 2nd season. This season’s been full of highs, lows and awkward phases that hopefully will end in a glow up.

Otherwise we’ll all be looking back at this season shaking our heads at how it could pull off that much denim or something back in the day.

Backes’ shootout winner lifts B’s, 3-2, over Vegas

David Backes scored the game-winning shootout goal in the sixth round to lift the Boston Bruins over the Vegas Golden Knights, 3-2, at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday.

As a result, the Bruins are 4-0-0 on their current five-game road trip and a seven-game winning streak.

Jake DeBrusk and Brad Marchand had goals for Boston, while Reilly Smith and Nate Schmidt scored in the loss for the Golden Knights.

Jaroslav Halak (16-9-4 record, 2.33 goals against average, .924 save percentage in 31 games played) made 31 saves on 33 shots against for a .939 SV% in the shootout victory for the B’s.

Vegas goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury (29-18-5, 2.60 GAA, .908 SV% in 52 GP) stopped 25 out of 27 shots faced for a .926 SV% in the shootout loss.

The Bruins improved to 36-17-8 (80 points) on the season and remain in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, while the Golden Knights fell to 32-25-5 (69 points) and remained 3rd in the Pacific Division.

Boston also improved to 9-0-1 in the month of February.

Prior to puck drop in Wednesday night’s action, the Bruins completed a trade with the Minnesota Wild, sending Ryan Donato and a conditional 2019 5th round pick to Minnesota in exchange for Charlie Coyle. If Boston advances to the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the conditional 5th round pick becomes a 2019 4th round pick (originally from the New York Rangers).

The 2019 4th round pick was previously acquired along with Steven Kampfer from New York in return for Adam McQuaid on Sept. 11, 2018.

As a result of the acquisition, since the Bruins were already at the 23-player roster limit, Peter Cehlarik was reassigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) during the first intermission of Boston’s Wednesday night battle with Vegas (at which point, the trade was officially announced).

Bruce Cassidy kept the same lines from Monday night’s, 6-5, overtime win over the San Jose Sharks, while Kampfer joined John Moore as the only official healthy scratches at the arena (as Coyle had yet to join the team and Cehlarik was assigned).

David Pastrnak remains out of the lineup due to surgery on his left thumb.

Early in the first period, Schmidt was penalized for high-sticking when he got his stick up in Marchand’s face at 4:58 of the first period. Boston did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Midway through the first period, DeBrusk (19) struck first on the scoreboard after receiving a pass from David Krejci, spinning past a defending Golden Knight skater and scoring from the low slot to make it, 1-0, Bruins.

Krejci (39) and Karson Kuhlman (1) tallied the assists on DeBrusk’s fifth goal in the last five games at 11:17.

Moments later, Danton Heinen tripped up Vegas defender, Jon Merrill, sending the Golden Knights on the power play at 14:24 of the first period.

Vegas did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Two minutes after the Bruins killed off Heinen’s minor infraction, the Golden Knights were pressing with a shot from the point that rebounded off of Halak’s leg pad.

Smith (10) jumped at the loose puck and pocketed his first goal in 13 games, tying the game, 1-1, at 18:24.

Cody Eakin (17) and Merrill (8) notched the assists on the goal.

After one period, the game was tied, 1-1, despite Vegas leading in shots on goal, 10-6. Boston led in blocked shots (9-6) entering the first intermission, while the Golden Knights led in takeaways (7-2), giveaways (4-2), hits (15-5) and face-off win% (57-44).

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play heading into the second period.

Vegas was caught with too many men on the ice early in the second period and was charged with a bench minor. Gerard Gallant sent Oscar Lindberg to serve the penalty and the Golden Knights’ penalty kill successfully thwarted Boston’s power play advances.

Brayden McNabb was nabbed for holding Chris Wagner at 12:21 of the middle frame, but the Bruins struck out on the extra skater advantage once again.

Through 40 minutes of play, the score was still tied, 1-1, with the Golden Knights outshooting the Bruins, 22-14.

The B’s led in blocked shots (14-13) and giveaways (8-7) after two periods, while Vegas led in takeaways (14-4), hits (28-16) and face-off win% (52-48).

Entering the third period the Golden Knights were 0/1 on the skater advantage and the Bruins were 0/3.

Just 69 seconds into the third period, Marchand (24) ripped a one-timer past Fleury to give Boston the lead, 2-1, early in the final frame.

Heinen (12) and Charlie McAvoy (14) had the assists on Marchand’s fifth goal in the last seven games for the Bruins.

A mere 27 seconds after Marchand put the B’s ahead, Schmidt (7) waltzed past the B’s defense and roofed the puck past Halak’s glove side to tie the game, 2-2.

Smith (24) and Jonathan Marchessault (22) had the assists on Schmidt’s goal at 1:36 of the third period.

There were no other events on the scoresheet until the final horn in regulation.

With the score knotted up at two goals aside, overtime would commence after the Golden Knights led in shots on goal (30-26) through 60 minutes of play. Vegas also led in blocked shots (18-17), takeaways (15-6), giveaways (12-9) and hits (37-24).

Entering the five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime period, Boston led in face-off win% (53-47).

Sean Kuraly, Wagner and Matt Grzelcyk started the overtime period for the Bruins, while Max Pacioretty, Marchessault and Shea Theodore kicked things off for the Golden Knights.

After Boston was sluggish getting out of their own zone almost midway through overtime, they finally managed to change their forwards, leaving Krug behind the play.

While Krug took his time getting off the ice, McAvoy jumped onto the playing surface and received a pass, but the whistle was blown– the Bruins had too many men on the ice.

Cassidy sent Heinen to the penalty box to serve the bench minor at 2:14 of the overtime and Boston dug in deep to kill of the penalty.

After 65 minutes of action, the score was still, 2-2, but the Golden Knights led in shots on goal, 33-27 (3-1 in OT).

The Bruins finished the night leading in blocked shots (20-18) and face-off win% (52-48), while Vegas led in giveaways (12-9) and hits (38-24).

Vegas went 0/2 on the power play, while Boston went 0/3 on the skater advantage Wednesday night.

Gallant elected to have his team shoot first in the ensuing shootout, sending Brandon Pirri to the net against Halak with the first shot.

Halak made the save.

DeBrusk kicked things off in the shootout for Boston with a soft handed shot elevated just enough to ring the crossbar on its way into the net behind Fleury, giving the Bruins the lead in the shootout, 1-0, after one round.

William Karlsson followed up DeBrusk’s goal with a snap shot goal of his own, tying the shootout, 1-1, through two rounds (Patrice Bergeron‘s attempt was denied by Fleury).

Alex Tuch and Marchand were both denied in the third round. The same went for Marchessault and Heinen in the fourth round.

Gallant and Cassidy sent out their defenders in the fifth round, with Theodore getting a chance (denied) and Krug getting a shot off on Fleury (easy save).

In the sixth round, Gallant sent out Lindberg’s skilled hands, but Halak kept the paddle down to block his five-hole and make the save.

Finally, Backes emerged from the Bruins bench and made his way towards the net with the puck casually on his stick.

He unloaded a wrist shot up high on Fleury and scored the game-winning shootout goal, notching the, 3-2, victory for Boston in the sixth round of the shootout.

Boston’s point streak was extended to 12 games as the B’s improved to 2-2 in shootouts this season. Vegas fell to 2-2 in shootouts and lost on home ice for the first time to the Bruins in Golden Knights franchise history.

The Bruins improved to 24-4-5 when scoring first this season and improved to 15-10-5 on the road. They have not lost a game in regulation since Jan. 19th.

Boston travels to St. Louis to wrap up their five-game road trip on Saturday against the Blues. Coyle is expected to make his Bruins debut with the team on the road before his homecoming debut at TD Garden next Tuesday (Feb. 26th) against the team that originally drafted him, the San Jose Sharks.

The B’s close out the month of February with a home matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning next Thursday (Feb. 28th).


Thornton’s hat-trick measures short, B’s beat Sharks, 6-5, in OT

Messy officiating was a theme of the night, but at the end of the night, Charlie McAvoy scored the game-winning overtime goal to lift the Boston Bruins over the San Jose Sharks, 6-5, on Monday night at SAP Center.

San Jose’s ageless wonder, 39-year-old Joe Thornton had his fifth career hat trick (and first since Oct. 27, 2010) and united the hockey world in his quest for four goals in one game that was ultimately unsuccessful due to the loss.

Tuukka Rask (20-8-4 record, 2.45 goals against average, .918 save percentage in 33 games played) made 33 saves on 38 shots against for an .868 SV% in the overtime win for Boston.

Sharks goaltender, Martin Jones (28-11-5, 2.95 GAA, .896 SV% in 45 GP) turned aside 14 out of 20 shots faced for a .700 SV% in the overtime loss.

The B’s improved to 35-17-8 (78 points) on the season and remained in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, while the Sharks fell to 35-17-8 (78 points) on the season and stayed in 2nd place in the Pacific Division.

Boston improved to 23-4-5 when scoring first this season and 11-2-3 when tied after two periods. San Jose fell to 4-4-3 when tied after two periods this season.

In addition, the Bruins are now 14-10-5 on the road this season and 3-0-0 on their current five-game road trip.

The Bruins are also on a six-game winning streak (their longest of the season) and are now 8-0-1 in the month of February.

Peter Cehlarik did not take part in morning skate on Monday, as Bruce Cassidy reassured reporters after practice that Cehalrik sustained a lower body injury in Saturday night’s matchup with the Los Angeles Kings and would be out against San Jose.

Karson Kuhlman took over Cehlarik’s spot on the second line right wing alongside Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci, while David Backes took Kuhlman’s spot from Saturday on the fourth line with Joakim Nordstrom and Trent Frederic.

Bruins defender, Steven Kampfer rejoined the NHL club in San Jose on a recall after a three-game conditioning stint with Boston’s AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins.

Other changes to Cassidy’s lineup included swapping Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller on the second and third defensive pairings, respectively.

Carlo took the ice alongside Torey Krug, while Miller laced them up with Matt Grzelcyk.

Cehlarik (lower body), John Moore (healthy scratch), Kampfer (healthy scratch) and David Pastrnak (left thumb) were the only Bruins out of the lineup against the Sharks on Monday.

From puck drop to the first whistle, the Bruins and Sharks played a consecutive span of 10:13– negating the first media timeout altogether.

In fact, the networks carrying the game Monday night couldn’t even go to break after the first whistle as it came on an icing call.

As the frantic postseason-infused pace settled in, San Jose defender Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved the puck from crossing the line just in the nick of time. Or did he?

An overhead view from the crossbar might have indicated that Boston was robbed of a goal, but since the call on the ice was “no goal” and the other camera angles were inconclusive– the original call stood.

Midway through the first period, Tomas Hertl was penalized for high-sticking Sean Kuraly at 10:56.

While shorthanded, Evander Kane broke free from the Bruins blue liners, beat Rask and rang the post with his shot.

Moments later, after killing off the Hertl infraction, Kane got a stick up high on Grzelcyk, sending the B’s back on the power play at 13:04 of the opening frame.

After failing to generate any offense on their first power play chance of the night, Boston capitalized on their second extra skater advantage.

45 seconds into their second power play, Krug (6) blasted a slap shot while moving into the face-off dot to Jones’ right side, while Erik Karlsson partially screened his own goaltender, as the puck went high, glove side, into the twine.

Krejci (36) and Patrice Bergeron (35) tallied the assists on Krug’s power play goal at 13:49 as Boston jumped out to a, 1-0, lead.

With his assist on the goal, Krejci became the fourth Bruin to reach at least 50 points this season.

A few minutes later, Kuraly won a face-off in the attacking zone back to Zdeno Chara (6) whereby the 6-foot-9 defender rocketed his patented slap shot past Jones for his 199th career goal.

Kuraly (11) had the only assist on Chara’s goal at 16:26 and the Bruins led, 2-0.

Less than two minutes later, Boston continued to strangle the momentum pendulum into their metaphorical side.

DeBrusk lobbed an aerial pass on a two-on-one to Kuhlman (1) as Jones was caught behind the play, giving Kuhlman his first career NHL goal and a three-goal lead for the Bruins.

Kuhlman’s goal was assisted by DeBrusk (9) and Krejci (37) at 18:24 of the first period as Boston led, 3-0.

As the seconds ticked down before the first intermission, Joe Thornton (11) put the Sharks on the scoreboard to make it a two-goal game.

Joe Pavelski had the initial shot on goal, but Thornton found the rebound in the crease and sent it home to make it, 3-1, Boston at 19:57 of the first period.

Pavelski recorded his 22nd assist of the season on Thornton’s first goal of the game.

Entering the first intermission, the Bruins led, 3-1, on the scoreboard, but both teams recorded eight shots on goal aside.

The B’s led in takeaways (3-2), hits (8-6) and face-off win percentage (63-37), while the Sharks led in blocked shots (4-2) and giveaways (4-2) after one period of play. San Jose had yet to see any time on the power play, while the Bruins were 1/2 on the skater advantage heading into the second period.

Early in the middle frame, Miller sent the puck over the glass and received an automatic delay of game penalty– leaving Boston shorthanded at 1:40 of the second period.

Almost 30 seconds later, Pavelski (32) redirected an initial shot from the point off Rask, whereby the Bruins goaltender made the initial save, but the puck took an odd bounce and went over his shoulder and into the four-by-six frame behind him.

Brent Burns (54) and Logan Couture (33) picked up the assists on Pavelski’s power play goal at 2:24 of the second period.

Couture followed up his assist on Pavelski’s goal with a hooking penalty at 4:43.

Late in the ensuing power play for Boston, DeBrusk (18) entered the attacking zone on a breakaway with speed and beat Jones to make it, 4-2, Bruins.

In the last four games, DeBrusk has 4-4–8 totals.

Danton Heinen (11) and Backes (9) notched the primary and secondary assists, respectively, on DeBrusk’s power play goal at 6:30 of the second period.

Midway through the middle frame, Justin Braun caught Kuraly with a clean hit along the boards that Chris Wagner did not view as clean as it was.

Wagner and Braun tussled for a few seconds with the gloves off before the linesmen got in-between the two and separated them.

Despite not actually fighting, Wagner and Braun each received five-minute majors for doing more than what otherwise would have been considered roughing at 10:25.

Late in the second period, whatever tilt in the ice there was took a tank (at the Shark Tank, get it?) as San Jose made it a one-goal game at 16:03, thanks to another garbage goal collected by Thornton (12).

For the second time of the night, Thornton banged home the rebound to record his first two-goal game in his 51st game this season and fourth since 2013.

Shortly thereafter, Thornton took a trip to the penalty box for high-sticking Bruins winger, Brad Marchand.

While shorthanded, Couture split the Boston defense and charged into the offensive zone while the B’s were caught changing lines.

As Couture neared Rask, Marchand hooked the Sharks forward and the puck didn’t cross the goal line, despite the quick string of confusing signals indicated by the referee.

Instead of waving off the goal that wasn’t (alas, the puck almost reached the goal line), then pointing towards the center-ice face-off dot to award the ensuing penalty shot, the ref closest to the goal appeared to change his mind and indicated a goal had been scored.

Except he hadn’t, technically.

To the dismay of those in attendance, the ref had simply misdirected his followup signal to the washout and should have pointed towards center-ice as Couture was to follow up with a penalty shot, regardless.

The official call was that Rask had made the save on the initial breakaway while Marchand had hooked Couture, illegally disrupting the scoring chance and thus resulting in a penalty shot.

On the ensuing penalty shot, Couture (22) fired one into the twine at 19:35 of the second period, resulting in yet another last minute goal for San Jose– this time tying the game, 4-4.

As a result, Couture became just the fourth player in Sharks franchise history to score a shorthanded penalty shot goal.

Through 40 minutes of play, both teams were tied, 4-4, on the scoreboard, despite San Jose’s distinct advantage in shots on goal in the middle frame alone (14-4).

Entering the second intermission, San Jose led in shot on goal (22-12), blocked shots (7-3), giveaways (7-3) and hits (20-17), while Boston led in face-off win% (54-47). Both teams had five giveaways each after two periods.

The Sharks were 1/1 on the power play, while the Bruins were 2/4 on the skater advantage heading into the third period.

After not changing lines quick enough, the refs decided to charge the Bruins with a bench minor for delay of game at 1:57 of the third period.

Sure, that’s an actual thing, but given the standard (or lack thereof) of the night, well…

Too many men on the ice was something that went overlooked and two goals (one that was that wasn’t and one that wasn’t that was) were both miscalled as some of the bigger takeaways for next season’s “what not to do” officiating training video.

Jokes aside, it was a poorly officiated game.

Backes served the delay of game bench minor for Boston, but the Sharks weren’t able to capitalize on the power play.

Finally, in a moment the hockey world had been waiting to see in almost nine years, Thornton (13) scored his third goal of the game, notching a hat trick on the first lead change of the night.

San Jose led, 5-4, at 13:32 of the third period.

Pavelski (23) and Braun (13) tallied the assist’s on Thornton’s goal as the game’s momentum completely shifted to the Sharks’ favor.

Chara and Pavelski exchanged pleasantries and slashed each other with their sticks, yielding matching slashing minors at 15:42.

Late in the ensuing 4-on-4 action, Carlo sent a shot on goal that rebounded high into the air.

Wagner (8) batted the puck down with a seemingly high stick, then swung his stick along the ice at the puck tying the game, 5-5.

That’s right, Wagner scored the game-tying goal after playing the puck with a high stick.

Going to review is not an option for a goal that is thought to be scored as a result of knocking the puck down with a high stick, then scoring the goal from a legal elevation.

The problem with the goal was that the play should’ve been whistled dead as soon as Wagner knocked the puck out of the air with his stick above his shoulder.

Whether it was seen or not from the angle on the ice, we’ll never know (it’s not the NHL’s nature to make refs explain why a call was made or not– in fact, it’s never happened for anything that’s not reviewable).

Carlo (4) and Noel Acciari (4) had the assists on Wagner’s goal, which set a new career-high in goals in a season for the Walpole, Massachusetts native at 17:11 of the third period.

At the end of regulation, the Bruins and Sharks were tied, 5-5.

San Jose led in shots on goal (33-19) and in blocked shots (8-7), giveaways (9-5), hits (23-22) and face-off win% (54-46) after three periods of play.

Both teams had ten takeaways aside. The Sharks finished the night 1/2 on the skater advantage as Boston went 2/4 on the power play.

Peter DeBoer was coaching in his 800th career game on Monday and rolled out line after line of All-Star quality 3-on-3 overtime lines, especially after Cassidy started Kuraly, Grzelcyk and McAvoy in the five-minute overtime period.

Trouble is, one of those starters actually turned out to be the right one. *foreshadowing*

After Kane entered the zone with a virtual 3-on-0 for San Jose, the play was blown dead as the net behind Rask had come off its moorings and was not properly fixed even though the ref behind the play should have gone over and readjusted it while the puck was at the opposite end of the ice.

It’s either the goaltender’s responsibility or the referee’s job to fix the net if it’s off its pegs, but not enough to immediately disrupt play.

If it’s fixable, the ref must fix it as long as the puck is completely out of the zone.

Officiating be damned, Kane’s surefire scoring chance was killed.

On a 3-on-2 back the other way, DeBrusk worked the puck to Krejci for the perfect pass to McAvoy (4), who ripped a bullet past Jones to win the game for Boston, 6-5, in overtime.

Krejci (38) and DeBrusk (10) collected the assists on McAvoy’s game-winning goal at 3:59 of the overtime period, as the Bruins improved to 7-6 in overtime this season.

The Sharks fell to 6-5 past the 60-minute mark, but before having to go to a shootout, this season, despite finishing Monday night’s action with the advantage in shots on goal (38-20, including a 5-1 advantage in overtime alone), giveaways (10-6) and face-off win% (52-48).

Boston finished the night leading in blocked shots (11-8).

Both teams recorded 24 hits aside.

The Bruins travel to Las Vegas for a Wednesday night battle with the Vegas Golden Knights before finishing up their current five-game road trip on Saturday in St. Louis against the Blues. Boston returns home to close out February with a Tuesday (Feb. 26th) night matchup with the Sharks and a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 28th.