Tag Archives: Pacioretty

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 14

Skater of the Week: Mathew Barzal

These bye-weeks are making things weird.

Barzal gets the nod for this week’s award having only played one game during that span. But what a game it was.

Helping his Islanders to a 7-2 rout of the rival Rangers, young Barzal tallied his second five-point game of his breakout rookie campaign with two goals and three helpers. Perhaps more amazing is the fact that all five points were scored at even-strength, no power play help needed. This also landed Barzal a perfect +5 rating for the night, to go along with a .5 shooting percentage and even tallying the official game-winning goal (probably not worth much in a rout, but it pads the stats all the same).

With 44 points in 44 games to this point in the season, Barzal continues to make a very strong case for a Calder Trophy nod come season’s end.

Tendy of the Week: Mike Smith

Posting a perfect 3-0-0 record this week on the strength of just four goals allowed in those contests to rack up a .963 save percentage and a GAA just a smidge over 1.30, Smith has his Calgary Flames scorching. (Pun entirely intended)

Smith started the week stopping 33-of-35 shots faced in an overtime victory against the Wild, before nullifying 33-of-34 against the league-leading Lightning and 38-of-39 against Carolina to extend his winning streak to six games.

Calgary went out and got Smith to fill the one glaring weakness they felt they had, and if he can keep this level of play up, they could be deadly.

Game of the Week: Boston Bruins 4 vs Montreal Canadiens 3 (SO), Saturday January 13th, 2018

The 739th all-time meeting between the Original Six arch-rivals had a little something extra to offer, as it was the first meeting of the two squads since Claude Julien‘s firing from Boston and hiring by Montreal late last season. A little bit of extra hype that this tilt ended up living up to.

In total this one saw seven goals, 62 shots, 77 hits, and two power play goals on five opportunities.

Max Pacioretty would get things rolling just 3:22 into the game, collecting the rebound from a deflected Victor Mete point shot and stuffing it just inside the near post behind Tuukka Rask to give the Habs the early advantage. Most of the first period would then pass by with little affair until Brad Marchand would streak in on the back door and receive a gorgeous Patrice Bergeron centering feed from the far board and bury it top shelf to even the score at the 17:40 mark on the power play, and the two teams would carry the 1-1 score into the first intermission.

The second period would see things really open up, starting with a Jake DeBrusk breakaway tally just 2:55 into the frame. Charlie McAvoy caught the Montreal defense standing still and fed a gorgeous tape-to-tape pass to a streaking DeBrusk who made no mistake en route to his 10th goal of the year. Just 2:50 later, though, Nic Deslauriers would pounce on a Zdeno Chara turnover at center ice and streak past the stumbling Boston captain into the high slot, where he would unleash a laser of a wrist shot past the blocker of Tuukka Rask to draw his Habs back even. Then just 3:06 later Montreal would retake the lead on the power play, as Alex Galchenyuk would receive a cross-ice pass from Jonathan Drouin, take a couple strides towards the net, and absolutely smoke a wrist shot over the shoulder of Tuukka Rask into the top of the net to put his team up 3-2. The Bruins controlled a lot of the play throughout the rest of the 2nd, but were met with some solid Carey Price saves at every opportunity until at the 17:42 mark David Krejci was able to corral a bouncing puck in the slot and wire it past a surprised Price and even the game at three heading into the second intermission.

 

The third period would see both teams register the most shots of any period (12 for Boston, 10 for Montreal), but strong play by both goaltenders (and a few clutch saves by the goalpost to the right of Rask) kept things knotted at three to end regulation and send the proceedings to three-on-three overtime. Montreal looked to have it won in the waning seconds when a Jakub Jerabek shot found it’s way up and over Rask, but a diving Torey Krug managed to bat the puck out of the blue paint before Pacioretty or Plekanec could get a stick on it.

So off to the shootout we went. Both Paul Byron and Jake DeBrusk would score in the first frame, but after that the two goaltenders shut things down for the remaining two shooters a side to force shootout overtime, where Rask would shut the door on Galchenyuk to allow Brad Marchand to streak in and bury the game-winner right through the five hole of Carey Price and directly into the hearts of the Montreal faithful.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

I saved the Phillip Danault story from the Boston/Montreal game for this section, because it definitely deserves to be highlighted. Danault is reported to be doing alright and was released from the hospital Sunday after an overnight evaluation. The Habs forward took a Zdeno Chara slapshot off the side of the head in Saturday night’s contest, and was eventually stretchered off of the ice. A truly sombering scene in a very exciting contest, Chara was one of the first to Danault’s aid and appeared to apologize to him as he was loaded up and carried off the ice. Between this and the Girardi/Frk incident last week, I’m thinking maybe people should stop trying to block the hardest shots in the game with their faces.

Speaking of near-disasters, Milan Lucic came millimeters from life-threatening danger himself when he tangled with Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek and, upon the two falling to the ice, had his neck cut by Nosek’s skate. The picture of the stitch job is pretty unnerving, and according to Lucic the cut was mere millimeters too shallow to open up his jugular vein.

One of the NHL’s most impressive streaks is coming to an end. After 830 consecutive games, Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano will be forced to miss the next two contests after being suspended for a very-not legal hit on Kings forward Adrian Kempe. A very heated contest led to a lot of physicality, and the play was certainly very out of character for Cogliano, who sacrifices a streak that could have broken the NHL record next season had it continued.

The Vegas Golden Knights have formed their first rivalry, but not exactly the sort you’d expect. The United States Army has filed a copyright challenge to the franchise on the grounds that they already possessed the rights to the name ‘Golden Knights’ for its West Point parachute jump team. The franchise’s response? A spectacularly sarcastic tweet, obviously.

Jack Johnson has requested a trade out of Columbus. A pending UFA, it is generally believed that Johnson wants to be traded to a team where he will have a chance at seeing more playing time in an effort to raise his stock on the market, after seeing his minutes plummet in recent weeks. While many CBJ fans (myself included) hold ‘JMFJ’ in high regards as a person, trading the defender had become a very common topic in Columbus long before the player’s request, as his production has dipped significantly, highlighting his defensive shortcomings and bringing about the argument for his replacement by younger options within the CBJ system.

Tampa has lost star defender Victor Hedman for 3-6 weeks with a lower body injury. I’m pretty sure if they lost every game in that time they would still be like 4th in the league, but still, it’s a bummer.

Am I the only one who thinks these Olympic Games are actually gonna be pretty fun? As rosters get released, obviously the star power we’re used to isn’t there, but convince me that these lesser-known guys, most of them being players who probably never even dreamed they’d get this chance, aren’t going to play their absolute hearts out every single second of every single game. I think it’s gonna be great.

On a final note, we learned this week via Doc Emrick that Pierre McGuire has undergone successful surgery to remove a cancer-infected prostate. He is recovering and is hopeful to rejoin the broadcast team in time for the Olympics. Now I, like many, can admit to yelling at Pierre to stop yapping on about whatever ridiculous stat or story he knows about some third-line player on a team I don’t like, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that cancer should take a Chara slapshot to the mush and a few skates to its main artery. So get well, Pierre, Eddy-O and everyone else that has to fight this miserable disease.

January 12 – Day 97 – Gagner is “to win” in French, so…

There’s one more day until the first wave of byes end! Get ready for an explosion of games tomorrow!

However, that still means today’s list of matchups is rather short. Only five pucks are going to be dropped this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (Vancouver at Columbus and Calgary at Florida) and Washington at Carolina half an hour later. Next up is Winnipeg at Chicago at 8:30 p.m., followed by Edmonton at Arizona acting as tonight’s nightcap. All times Eastern.

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

You’ll notice none of these games are being broadcast nationally in either Canada or the USA, which is a real bummer. Hopefully you live in one of these 10 markets.

As for which tilt we’ll feature here, my list of two candidates was trimmed to one by the still ongoing saga between RW Jaromir Jagr and the Calgary Flames, who was scheduled to make his return to Sunrise today. Since we featured the Canes and Caps yesterday (you can just use that preview for today’s contest), let’s take in F Sam Gagner‘s return to Ohio.

 

Life is not always easy for a first-round pick.

Just ask Gagner, who was the sixth-overall selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft – you know, the same draft with LW Jamie Benn, F Patrick Kane, LW Max Pacioretty, D Kevin Shattenkirk, W Wayne Simmonds, D P.K. Subban, RW Jakub Voracek… the list goes on to include a total of 93 skaters and four goaltenders that have seen time in the NHL.

It was a good draft class with some exceptional talent, but not a great one – look to 2003 for a better example of a draft with more depth.

By simply arranging the draft class by points they’ve scored so far in their careers, Edmonton picking him sixth is right on the money. He’s posted 149-272-421 totals over the course of his 11 seasons in the league, which puts him behind Kane (797 points), Benn (556), Voracek (539), Pacioretty (434) and Simmonds (424).

However, how is it Gagner, who provides .57 points-per-game, is one of the three players listed above that is no longer with the club that drafted him?

The obvious answer is just to say “Oilers” and move on, but Gagner’s story did not immediately end up in Columbus.

Gagner signed a three-year extension with the Oil before the 2013-’14 season, but he played only one year of that deal before being shipped to Tampa Bay for RW Teddy Purcell. The Bolts apparently never wanted him, because he was shipped off only an hour later to Arizona for a sixth-round pick.

Year two of that three-year deal was spent with the Coyotes as a right wing – not his usual center position. The results of that experiment in 2014-’15 were fairly poor given his 15-26-41 totals playing off the puck, but General Manager Don Maloney insisted Gagner could not play his natural position in the NHL and decided to trade him to Philadelphia that offseason for D Nicklas Grossmann and D Chris Pronger – who, by the way, hadn’t seen the ice since the 2011-’12 season even though his contract expired this most recent offseason.

For those counting at home, Arizona received 58 games played in the 2015-’16 season out of that trade.

Oh yeah, and Maloney was fired after that year. There’s also that.

And so, Gagner completed a hat trick of teams in as many seasons all on the same contract. It was a miserable campaign in Philly that saw him register only 16 points in 53 games (he spent time in the AHL that season as well), and he was allowed to test free agency.

No one wanted Gagner. Nobody. Free agents can begin signing contracts on July 1, but he didn’t earn a spot on a team until August 1. The former first-rounder signed a one-year, $650 thousand contract with Columbus, making $225 thousand fewer than he did during his first three seasons in the league.

The Jackets had nothing to lose in this situation and everything to gain. They had missed the 2016 playoffs entirely, falling all the way to last in the Metropolitan Division and 15th in the Eastern Conference a year after missing the postseason by only nine points. If Gagner failed to produce, the Jackets could easily waive him and he’d almost assuredly end up in Cleveland with their AHL affiliate.

To put things plainly, Columbus General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen looked like a genius after this deal. The Blue Jackets enjoyed their greatest season of all-time by reaching the 100-point plateau for the first time in franchise history, and Gagner was one of the biggest players. He posted fifth-best 18-32-50 totals, setting a career-high in points and tying his career-best in goals.

However, the money just wasn’t there for the Jackets to keep Gagner around for this season. For the second offseason in a row, he was a free agent. But this time, Gagner was one of the first players signed. He was brought into the Vancouver fold on a three-year, $3.15 million deal, and is currently centering the Canucks’ top line.

Unfortunately, Gagner hasn’t been able to bring along the Jackets’ spark to the 16-21-6 Canucks, who currently occupy second-to-last in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. Short of his stint with the Flyers, he’s having the worst season of his career, posting only 7-12-19 totals through 43 games played (.44 points per game).

Of course, it’s hard to say that Gagner is having a bad year on his own accord. His 19 points are enough to place him sixth on the team, and rookie sensation RW Brock Boeser is the only player on the squad with more than 30 points to his credit.

Vancouver is experiencing an especially rough patch in its season right now, as it is in the midst of a seven-game road trip (tonight is Game 4) while also suffering a five-game losing skid that has seen it earn only one point.

As you might expect from a team where 19 points is good enough for sixth-most on the squad, offense is a major issue for the Canucks. During this five-game losing skid, they’ve managed only eight goals, meaning they’re averaging a third-worst 1.6 goals per game since December 30.

What makes things even more frustrating is that the little offense the Canucks are getting is coming from only two players: the legends themselves, LW Daniel Sedin and C Henrik Sedin. D. Sedin has been extremely impressive over his last three games, as he’s managed 2-2-4 totals for a three-game point streak, and H. Sedin has thrown in three assists in that span as well.

Meanwhile, this hasn’t been the best of runs for 25-17-3 Columbus either. The Jackets have earned only a 3-4-1 record over their past eight games, and they now trail Washington, which has a game in hand, by four points for the Metropolitan Division lead.

It’s not very often that I’m disappointed with Columbus’ overall defensive effort, but for the second time in a row of me featuring the Jackets, that’s where I’m having concerns.

Over their past eight games, the Blue Jackets have allowed 24 goals. Those astute at math notice that is an average of three goals per game (well over the 2.69 Columbus has averaged all season), which ties Chicago for 12th-worst since December 27.

One of, if not the biggest issue over this run has been the penalty kill. Over its past eight games, Columbus has successfully defended only two-thirds of its 18 shorthanded situations, making the Jackets the fifth-worst kill over the past 16 days.

G Sergei Bobrovsky has posted only an .844 save percentage against the power play since December 27 (the 22nd-worst among the 61 netminders to face a power play situation in that time), but he’s also had to face a fifth-most 32 power play shots.

With D David Savard being the only Blue Jacket with more than three shorthanded blocked shots and a total of only four total takeaways in that situation, Columbus needs to find a way to get its penalty kill under control in a hurry.

Bobrovsky played yesterday to a 3-1 loss in Buffalo, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see 4-4-0 G Joonas Korpisalo draw tonight’s start. That being said, I’ve made that prediction once already this week and it didn’t pan out, so we’ll see what Head Coach John Tortorella decides to do.

With the Canucks sporting a 20.7 power play conversion rate that is 12th-best on the season, this may not be the easiest of home games for Columbus. Throw in the fact that Korpisalo, who hasn’t faced an NHL shot since December 31, could be in net tonight, and Vancouver has a very real shot at earning two points this evening.


With a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Carolina Hurricanes have moved into the Eastern Conference’s second wild card.

This was a game full of solid defense and counterattacking by the Canes. Even though they out-shot the Capitals 33-28 for the night, it felt like Washington was earning much stronger possessions and longer time in the offensive zone.

That was no more apparent than in Carolina’s first goal of the night. With F Josh Jooris in the penalty box for holding D Madison Bowey, the Caps were on the power play. However, when D John Carlson attempted to reset the play to W Alex Ovechkin at the blue line, C Jordan Staal intercepted the pass to set himself up for a one-on-one duel with G Braden Holtby. Staal won that battle, squeezing a backhanded shot between the netminder’s legs for his second shorthanded tally of the season, the most he’s scored in one campaign as a Hurricane.

Carolina took the lead with 8:27 remaining in the second period, but that advantage wouldn’t last for long. Third Star of the Game C Lars Eller (F T.J. Oshie and D Christian Djoos) was able to level the game 4:32 later with a slap shot from above the face-off circles. The one-all score held into the second intermission.

What other line to score the game-winning goal than RW Justin Williams‘? The former Capital didn’t earn a point on the play, but his protégé Second Star C Victor Rask did with his unassisted wrist shot with 9:06 remaining in regulation.

Because the Caps were facing a delayed penalty, it was a six-on-five situation for the Canes. D Justin Faulk fired an initial wrist shot from above the face-off circles that Holtby was able to deflect, but neither he nor any other skater clad in red could take possession of the loose puck. That’s what allowed Rask to one-time a wrister from the left face-off circle, beating Holtby short side.

Washington tried valiantly to find another leveling goal up its sleeve, but Head Coach Barry Trotz was eventually forced to pull Holtby as regulation was beginning to come to an end. That’s what allowed W Sebastian Aho (F Elias Lindholm) to bury a wrister with 89 seconds remaining in regulation to set the score at the 3-1 final.

While the Canes executed their game plan to a T, the player most deserving of praise was First Star G Scott Darling. Having lost his last two starts, he won this one by stopping 27-of-28 shots faced (.964 save percentage). Holtby took the loss, saving 30-of-32 (.938).

That’s the second-consecutive win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The 54-31-12 home teams still hold the advantage in the series, but the visitors have now pulled within 22 points.

Hey, why isn’t (insert NHL team here) playing?

Still trying to figure out why your favorite team has games all next week, but your rival gets to take five-straight days off? Or maybe you’re most concerned about your fantasy hockey team? Either way, *NSYNC has the answer:

The NHL is in Year 2 of its experiment with bye weeks. Some things – like the average length of each team’s break – stayed the same. 19 of the 31 clubs are taking the minimum five days off, while 11 others get an extra sixth before returning to action. Of course, the winners of the bye week lottery are the Ottawa Senators, who get a whopping seven days to rest, regroup and rediscover the art of ice hockey before hosting St. Louis.

But there are a few differences from last year, most notably where these breaks occur within the league schedule. Last season when the bye weeks debuted, the Islanders and Penguins had already started and finished their breaks by now, while others wouldn’t see the gap in their schedule until well beyond the All-Star Break or even the trade deadline. In fact, the Ducks didn’t take their week off until the beginning of March.

It was probably because Anaheim is on Pacific Time. That’s how time zones work, right?

Anyways, all 31 bye weeks this season – whether five, six or seven days – will start and end in the span of the 18 days between today and January 19.

Though initial thoughts were that the bye weeks were consolidated in anticipation of the NHL potentially releasing its players to their respective national federations for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, it instead will simply be an opportunity for the league’s scheduler to determine which format is better for business.

But we’re not worried about attendance, advertising dollars or TV ratings here at Down the Frozen River (actually, that’s a lie: we love to talk about that stuff during podcasts). Let’s talk about who’s going to be off when. Teams are presented in order of the league table as it stands entering play January 7, and you might find some notes from myself and @nlanciani53.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

29-9-3, 61 points, leading Presidents’ Trophy race

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 11

Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 18

Nick’s Notes: A hot team must cool off a bit and then play the Vegas Golden Knights on their first night back to action? Talk about a prison sentence. At least they’ve still got the Presidents’ Trophy (lead) as consolation.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

28-10-2, 58 points, leading the Western Conference

Final game before the bye: Hosts the NY Rangers on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Son, where the Golden Knights are from, they don’t need no breaks. Polar opposites of the Tampa Bay Lightning bye week, Vegas plays a good team before taking time off. Then they play Edmonton. Next!

Connor’s Notes: That may be true, but there’s surely some concern among Gerard Gallant and his staff that the Knights just might lose some of this positive energy over the break. They’ve posted a 9-1-0 record over their last 10, and it’d be a shame if the only reason this club drops from Cloud 9 to Cloud 8 is just five little days off.

WINNIPEG JETS

24-11-7, 55 points, leading the Central Division

Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 13

Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Calgary on January 20

Nick’s Notes: The Winnipeg Jets are vying for first place in the Central Division this season after missing the playoffs last year. Their second best point-scorer (that’s right, point-scorer, not goal-scorer, Patrik Laine), Mark Scheifele‘s been nursing an upper body injury and this break won’t hurt the team for a week while he remains out of the lineup.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

24-11-6, 54 points, second in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 9

Bye week: January 10-15

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 16

Nick’s Notes: Most people think the party never stops in Vegas, but they’re wrong. The party never stops in Smashville and let’s just hope none of the Predators players get carried away on Broadway in their week off.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

26-16-2, 54 points, third in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Florida on January 9

Bye week: January 10-15 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Toronto on January 16

Connor’s Notes: Any way to avoid playing games while Jaden Schwartz‘ ankle is still healing is a good thing. While he won’t be ready to go until the end of the month, the Blues will hope to get out of a rut that has led to them posting a 4-6-0 record over their last 10 games entering Sunday.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

25-13-3, 53 points, leading the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 12

Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 18

Nick’s Notes: It’s not that Braden Holtby‘s been bad, but he’s having his worst season since 2013-14, so like, maybe send him to a remote mountain top or whatever it takes for Holtby to regain his form and focus (a water bottle usually does the trick). Seriously though, his 2.68 GAA and .917 save percentage is not great, Bob.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

24-13-5, 53 points, second in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: Hosted Nashville on January 6, lost 4-3

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Anaheim on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Best of luck to the Los Angeles Kings who will smash bodies against the boards with Nashville leading into their bye week and then smash bodies all over again with the Anaheim Ducks fresh off their vacations. It’s a grueling game. Ice those bruises.

BOSTON BRUINS

23-10-6, 52 points, second in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Montréal on January 13

Connor’s Notes: Similar to Vegas’ current run of success, with an 8-0-2 record over their last 10 games played entering Sunday, the Bruins arguably have the most positive energy to lose by going on break of any team in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately for them, they’ll play in what I expect to be a rivalry game that’s even more heated than usual given the Habs’ position in the standings to get right back into the swing of things.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

25-16-2, 52 points, third in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Ottawa on January 10

Bye week: January 11-15 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 16

Connor’s Notes: While the Leafs aren’t currently certain he’ll be ready to go by then, the original hope was that sophomore defenseman Nikita Zaitsev‘s lower-body injury would be healed by the time Toronto returned to action against the Notes. If St. Louis’ offense is ticking that day, his presence in the defensive zone will be a big help to Frederik Andersen

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

22-11-7, 51 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At the NY Islanders on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Philadelphia January 13

Nick’s Notes: The New Jersey Devils have been quietly good as of late. They’re this year’s biggest surprise outside of the Golden Knights. Nico Hischier just turned 19, so unless he’s going outside of the United States for his break, he can’t (legally) party hard.

DALLAS STARS

24-16-3, 51 points, fourth in the Central Division – first wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosted Edmonton on January 6, won 5-1

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Colorado on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Wouldn’t it be mean if nobody tells Kari Lehtonen when the break is so he just drives up to the practice rink on the first day like “where’d everybody go”? Just a thought.

NEW YORK RANGERS

22-14-5, 49 points, third in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Great, another week off means Henrik Lundqvist has to wait even longer for a Stanley Cup.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

23-16-3, 49 points, fourth in the Metropolitan Division – first wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 12

Bye week: January 13-17 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Dallas on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Columbus Blue Jackets have been the St. Louis Blues of the Eastern Conference this season. One week they’re amazing, the next week they’re losing. A lot.

Connor’s Notes: Nick is right, and the Jackets are in one of their losing funks right now. Entering Sunday, they’ve posted a 3-5-2 record over their last 10 games played. They won’t regain any of their four injured players during the break, but perhaps John Tortorella can find a way to regroup his troops before they lose any more ground in the Metro.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

21-12-6, 48 points, third in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Winnipeg on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Arizona on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Joe Thornton should use this break to regrow that part of his beard that got torn off his face by Nazem Kadri in Toronto.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

22-16-3, 47 points, fifth in the Central Division – second wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosted Minnesota on January 6, won 7-2

Bye week: January 7-12 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At Dallas on January 13

Connor’s Notes: Goaltender Semyon Varlamov should be prepared to return to action following the bye week after suffering a lower body injury on January 2, and there’s a possibility J.T. Compher get back into the lineup too. However, considering the Avs’ unbelievable position in the standings, does Jared Bednar even think about pulling Jonathan Bernier?

MINNESOTA WILD

22-17-3, 47 points, sixth in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19

First game out of the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Oft-injured and finally healthy, the Minnesota Wild should place everyone in bubblewrap for their bye week. Just a suggestion.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

19-15-9, 47 points, fourth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Calgary on January 6, lost 3-2

Bye week: January 7-12

First game out of the bye: At Los Angeles on January 13

Connor’s Notes: With Corey Perry returning to action last night against the Flames, Anaheim is effectively at 100 percent once again after losing basically every star at one point or another this season. After seeing what an injured Ducks team was capable of, the Pacific Division should get ready, because a rested and healthy Ducks team just might wreck havoc against weak competition.

CALGARY FLAMES

21-16-4, 46 points, fifth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Carolina on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Winnipeg on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Whoever’s running the airport gates in Calgary should make sure that wherever the player’s are going doesn’t actually say “Seattle” on their ticket. Unless the gate agent is originally from Seattle. *dramatic Twin Peaks music plays in the background*

CAROLINA HURRICANES

19-14-8, 46 points, fifth in the Metropolitan Division – second wild card

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Detroit on January 20

Nick’s Notes: One thing’s for sure, even with their potential new majority owner, none of the Carolina Hurricanes players are going back to Hartford for their break. What a shame.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

21-19-3, 45 points, sixth in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Boston on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Phil Kessel doesn’t like time off (remember the 2016 World Cup of Hockey?) and Matthew Murray should probably go to the same place as Braden Holtby for a week. Murray’s goals-against average is almost a 3.0.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

19-15-6, 44 points, last in the Central Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Detroit on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts the NY Islanders on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Jeff Glass is the feel good story of 2018 so far, so why would anyone want to see him take five nights off? *Checks standings* Oh, right, this team isn’t in playoff worthy right now.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

18-15-8, 44 points, seventh in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Buffalo on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At New Jersey on January 13

Nick’s Notes: Someone make sure the Philadelphia Flyers don’t try to move to the Atlantic Division over their bye week. They’ll do anything to make the playoffs this season.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

20-18-4, 44 points, last in the Metropolitan Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts New Jersey on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 13

Connor’s Notes: The reason the Islanders have been making by with their horrendous defense, which was made worse by Calvin de Haan requiring a season-ending shoulder surgery, has been their explosive offense. Josh Bailey should be back at 100 percent following New York’s bye to reunite the BLT Line, allowing the Isles to get back to their version of Russian Roulette: finding out which goaltender is going to allow just one more goal than the other.

DETROIT RED WINGS

17-16-7, 41 points, fourth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Tampa Bay on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Pittsburgh on January 13

Nick’s Notes: If the Detroit Red Wings were a young, rebuilding, team I’d recommend a five-day long pizza party at The Pizza Box (Little Caesar’s Arena). Maybe they can figure out the right way to tank during their time off instead of winning a lot before the break.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

17-18-5, 39 points, fifth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Calgary on January 12

Bye week: January 13-18 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vegas on January 19

Connor’s Notes: Just as James Reimer is beginning to run out of steam, Roberto Luongo is expected to return to the Panthers’ crease with his club seven points outside playoff position. Whether he resumes his starting job before or after the bye, the break allows both of them to be fully rested.

EDMONTON OILERS

18-21-3, 39 points, sixth in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Vegas on January 13

Bye week: January 14-19 (six days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Peter Chiarelli can’t possibly figure out how he’s going to save his team in six days when he spent $21 million on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in about that amount of time over the summer.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

16-19-6, 38 points, seventh in the Pacific Division

Final game before the bye: At Minnesota on January 14

Bye week: January 15-19 (five days)

First game out of the bye: At Edmonton on January 20

Nick’s Notes: Like Mark Scheifele and the Winnipeg Jets, Bo Horvat and the Vancouver Canucks haven’t seen each other in a little while due to injury. Take some time and rest up.

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS

17-20-4, 38 points, sixth in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: Hosts Vancouver on January 7

Bye week: January 8-12 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Boston on January 13

Nick’s Notes: I’m pretty sure you can’t trade players during your bye week, so don’t try to move Max Pacioretty while nobody’s paying attention, Montreal.

OTTAWA SENATORS

14-17-9, 37 points, seventh in the Atlantic Division

Final game before the bye: At Toronto on January 10

Bye week: January 11-17 (seven days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts St. Louis on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Ottawa Senators will find a way to lose games over their seven day break. Meanwhile, Eugene Melnyk will have just enough time to figure out an escape plan while nobody’s at Canadian Tire Centre.

BUFFALO SABRES

10-22-9, 29 points, last in the Eastern Conference

Final game before the bye: Hosts Columbus on January 11

Bye week: January 12-17 (six days)

First game out of the bye: At the NY Rangers on January 18

Nick’s Notes: The Sabres should hold an exhibition matchup with some bantam teams while on their break. You know, so they can get better.

ARIZONA COYOTES

10-27-6, 26 points, last in the NHL

Final game before the bye: Hosted the NY Rangers on January 6, won 2-1 in a shootout

Bye week: January 7-11 (five days)

First game out of the bye: Hosts Edmonton on January 12

Nick’s Notes: Wait, you mean Arizona hasn’t already been taking time off all season?


Final notes: I strongly dislike how the NHL is abandoning entire markets for a week at a time. This is most noticeable in the United States’ two biggest cities: New York and Los Angeles. All five teams that play in those markets will be dormant for the same five days (January 8-12). Why didn’t they stagger these byes so those important markets would still have at least one squad active at all times? After all, if there’s one thing Devils fans love to see as much as a Jersey win, it’s a Rangers loss. Whether they take in that loss at Madison Square Garden or from their couch doesn’t ultimately matter. The fact that those markets could turn their attention away from the NHL to either the Clippers, Knicks or Friends reruns on TBS does.

But this extends further. The entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will be shut off from NHL hockey from January 8-12 (The same days as New York and Los Angeles? Who is making these decisions?), as neither the Flyers nor Penguins will be in action. Boston and Montréal? Nope, they’re both on the bye at the same time too (you guessed it, January 8-12). The Blues and Predators can vacation together as well – though I doubt they’d want to – as they are both out of action from January 10-15.

I’m sure the league’s competition committee is going to claim that they’re trying to reduce the possibility of one particular team getting too much of an advantage, but this just seems silly from a business perspective. If that is truly the case, perhaps one day when the league reaches 32 teams it will simply shut down an entire conference for five days and then the other (the odd number of teams right now makes scheduling a little… interesting in that scenario), or – the more likely of these two options – perchance expand the distribution of byes over the course of three weeks instead of just two. Who knows?

Beyond this issue, while I don’t necessarily like where it is in the schedule, I do like that the NHL has condensed the time period for bye weeks in the season. Keeping track of which teams had and hadn’t taken their week off last season was a bother, and this system eliminates that. Of course, we’ll know how NBC and Sportsnet react based on how these byes are arranged next year.

As for my final complaint, the byes have the possibility of creating a very staggered January. We just got out of the three-day holiday break 12 days ago. Each team has played an average of only 5.4 games since then. Now we have these bye weeks of at least five days, and the four-day All-Star Break (January 26-29) is only 20 days out. If those sentences were confusing, I’m concerned that’s how the month of January is going to feel – scattered hockey thoughts until Groundhog’s Day.

The NHL Players’ Association demanded these bye weeks in return for the league turning the All-Star Game into the divisional three-on-three format we have had for the past two years. They’re not going anywhere: the players obviously like the idea of getting some time off, and putting it near the midway point of the season seems like a logical idea.

However, how this change is impacting the league’s product is still being understood. Unless we could see a plausible situation where bye weeks don’t happen until the end of February or March (remember, that’s likely after the trade deadline), the existence of the midway-point byes could be yet another reason the NHL could axe the All-Star Game, eliminating that break altogether.

Throw in the fact that the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement could expire as soon as 2020’s offseason – should either party opt out early – and no later than the summer of 2022 and we could be looking at a whole heap of changes  – or a whole heap of no hockey – within the next four years.

December 22 – Day 79 – Do you “C” what I “C”

It’s the second-to-last Friday of 2017, so don’t miss your chance to take in some hockey this evening!

For those taking me up on that offer (which should be all of you), the action starts at 7 p.m. with Philadelphia at Buffalo (SN), followed half an hour later by Minnesota at Florida. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Montréal at Calgary [RDS/TSN2] and Washington at Arizona) find an early start at 9 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Sometimes hockey fans get spoiled by a given day’s schedule, and some days… are like this. However, there’s a clear choice for which contest should attract most of our attention this evening.

 

After climbing from the bottom of the Eastern Conference into third place in the Atlantic Division, the 15-15-4 Canadiens have cooled off of late. Even though they’ve posted a decent 6-3-1 record over their last 10 games, they’ve ceded their playoff spot to the red-hot Bruins and have settled back into mediocrity.

Though the defensive end still leaves much to be desired, my biggest complaint with the Habs for most of the season has been their offense that has managed only 2.74 goals per game, the (t)sixth-fewest in the NHL.

That being said, Montréal currently has a wonderful story on its hands in undrafted third-year NHLer W Daniel Carr. With only eight NHL games to his credit this season, the Union College product has already earned 3-6-9 totals on the Canadiens’ fourth line to climb to 13th place in Montréal’s season point-earners leader board.

As for players who have been with the club all season, F Phillip Danault certainly doesn’t deserve the blame for the Habs’ struggles. His 7-14-21 totals from the second line lead the team, and he’s trailed closely behind by LW Max Pacioretty‘s 8-12-20 effort.

Playing host this evening are the 18-14-3 Flames, another team currently in fourth place in their division after spending time at various points over the past two months on the right side of the playoff bubble.

Of the two teams involved in tonight’s game, Calgary is easily the hotter of the two – and not just because of its nickname and logo. The Flames are riding a two-game winning streak, having beaten the rival Canucks 6-1 Sunday and a good-but-slumping Blues team 2-1 on Wednesday.

Made apparent by both of those scores, the defensive zone has not been the Flames’ biggest problem this season. 14-11-3 G Mike Smith is putting together a decent enough season with a .919 save percentage and 2.55 GAA, and he’ll be in net this evening since Calgary is off until Thursday.

Instead, my concerns with the Flames is the same as the Habs: an anemic offense. Calgary has managed only 2.77 goals per game this season, the ninth-fewest in the NHL.

That number would be much worse without LW Johnny Gaudreau on this team. He’s by far Calgary’s best offensive weapon, and he’s posted team-leading 13-27-40 totals from his spot on Head Coach Glen Gulutzan’s top line. Unfortunately for Gaudreau, there are few besides linemate C Sean Monahan (17-14-31) acting as a supporting cast, which has allowed defenses to have their way with the Flames.

It’s always tough to pick against 10-10-2 G Carey Price, but I feel confident that the Flames can defend the Saddledome and earn two points in tonight’s contest.


Though they needed a shootout, the New Jersey Devils beat the New York Rangers 4-3 at the Prudential Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Even though D John Moore (C Nico Hischier and Third Star of the Game W Kyle Palmieri) opened the scoring in the Devils’ favor, the Rangers took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission thanks to tallies from W Jimmy Vesey (F Paul Carey and C David Desharnais) and D Nick Holden (F Chris Kreider and W Pavel Buchnevich).

With a shorthanded snap shot with 3:36 remaining in the second period, Second Star F Blake Coleman (D Steven Santini) pulled Jersey even with the Blueshirts at two-all.

Only 1:48 into the third period, F Kevin Hayes (D Brendan Smith and W Mats Zuccarello) buried a wrist shot to give New York a 3-2 advantage, but a Kreider elbowing penalty with 9:05 remaining in regulation proved to be the Rangers’ downfall. 59 seconds into the man-advantage, First Star F Brian Boyle (F Taylor Hall and Palmieri) scored a power play backhanded shot to level the game at 3-3, the score that would hold through the remainder of regulation and all five minutes of three-on-three overtime.

It’s been two weeks since the last shootout in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Let’s see how this one pans out…

  1. As the home team, Jersey elected to shoot first. Hall didn’t make good on that decision though, as G Henrik Lundqvist was able to save his backhander.
  2. Zuccarello drew the Rangers’ first shot, but his snapper met the same fate as Hall’s offering: saved by G Cory Schneider.
  3. Palmieri scored the first goal of the shootout for the Devils…
  4. …but C Mika Zibanejad was able to match that effort and set the score at 1-1.
  5. W Drew Stafford had made half the shots he’d attempted in the shootout before last night, but his conversion percentage fell to .4 after Lundqvist made the save on his snapper.
  6. Vesey had the opportunity to win the game, but his wrister was saved by Schneider to force the shootout into overtime.
  7. Boyle did not earn his First Star honor for simply tying the game – he was also the last person to score a goal in the shootout.
  8. D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s wrister was saved by Schneider, earning the bonus point for the Devils.

Schneider earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (.893 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Lundqvist, who saved 45-of-48 (.938).

There’s no stopping the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series nowadays, as they’ve won six of the last seven contests. Last night’s win gave the hosts a 45-25-9 record that is 21 points better than the visitors’.

DtFR Overtime: Where’s the Star Power?

Welcome to DtFR Overtime, where somebody on the most recent podcast offers some deeper thoughts on one of the points of discussion.

Today’s subject: Star power and the absence of it.

We all know the list of current NHL stars: LW Jamie Benn, D Brent Burns, C Sidney Crosby, G Braden Holtby, F Patrick Kane, D Erik Karlsson, G Henrik Lundqvist, C Auston Matthews, C Connor McDavid, W Alex Ovechkin, G Carey Price, G Jonathan Quick, C Steven Stamkos, D P.K. Subban, RW Vladimir Tarasenko, C John Tavares

OK, I think you get the idea.

But how important are these stars really? I mean, of the skaters listed above, they play an average of only 21 minutes – or barely over a third of a game.

While the top NHL teams put a strong value on depth scoring, I would argue that, over the course of a season, it is necessary for Team X’s star to be the best player on the ice for that team to have success.

It sounds basic, right?

It is, but even the clubs that seem to be built to withstand the unfortunately inevitable scoring droughts from its top players are struggling this season.

My first example is the 12-11-5 Chicago Blackhawks, a club that currently sits in 12th place in the Western Conference and is at risk of missing the postsesaon for the first time since the 2007-’08 campaign.

I brought up Kane in the list of stars earlier, but his team-leading 10-17-27 totals are not the reason Chicago finds itself on the outside looking in. Instead, this star-laden team is struggling to find leadership from its captain.

Getting outplayed by rookie F Alex DeBrincat‘s 11-9-20 effort, C Jonathan Toews has only 8-11-19 totals to his credit and is on track for the worst offensive production of his professional career. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Blackhawks have an 11-2-2 record when Toews finds his way onto the scorecard, but a 1-9-3 record when he doesn’t.

That was fun, especially for a fan of a Central Division team that hasn’t worn a lick of red since the 1997-’98 season. Let’s head east and examine another city where it looks like the local club is in an even more dire situation

Welcome to Ottawa, the national capital of Canada.  Expectations were high after forcing a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series with Pittsburgh back in May, but all the 9-11-6 Sens, who currently sit third-to-last in the conference, have done this season is disappoint.

To be fair, Karlsson at least has the excuse of an injury to partially explain his slump. The hard part in figuring out Karlsson’s 1-16-17 effort is that he’s mostly on track from a points-per-game standpoint. Given he missed the Sens’ first five games, his .81 points-per-game is, while not exemplary by his standards, still a solid output.

Unfortunately, this is where points can distract from goals. You probably noticed he only had one tally to his credit, which is where I think his team needs him most.

The 14-10-2 Sharks are facing a similar situation with their star defenseman Burns, who has managed only 1-11-12 totals in 26 games a year after posting 29-47-76 numbers to win the Norris Trophy. As such, San Jose does not have the solid footing in the standings it would like, as the Sharks are holding onto their second wild card position by winning only a games-played tiebreaker.

Now, I’m not going to sit here on my couch and pontificate about how to score a goal in the NHL against the 30-something best goaltenders in the world. I mean, I live in the South and can barely keep my skates underneath me the entire time I’m at the rink. But, I am going to say that Karlsson’s .05 goals-per-game for the season and Burns’ .04 is – you guessed it – the worst performances of their careers.

Last year, Karlsson scored 17 of the Sens’ 212 regular season goals. That may only be eight percent of the total, but Ottawa earned a 12-3-3 record when he personally put a goal on the scoreboard, including a perfect 2-0-0 record in the postseason. Similarly, Burns’ career-high 29 goals earned the Sharks an 18-7-1 record last season, though it might be of bigger note that Edmonton did not allow him to find the back of the net in their six-game first round matchup, the Sharks’ only playoff series of the 2017 postseason.

Now, don’t read this as all doom-and-gloom for these respective squads. All of these teams can get right back into the playoff discussion (yes, even Ottawa thanks to a weak Atlantic Division) or better cement their position in the tournament if their biggest players can simply rediscover their mojo.

Take for example Montréal, where as recently as two weeks ago it looked like the 13-13-3 Canadiens had never seen, much less used hockey sticks before. Then Price came back from his lower-body injury, and the Habs look better than ever.

Of course, things weren’t exactly peachy in Québec before Price took time off. In his 11 appearances before retreating to the press box, Price had managed only an .877 season save percentage and 3.77 GAA to earn a 3-7-1 record, forcing Habs fans and bloggers alike to wonder when exactly this injury occurred.

But since Price’s return on November 25, Price and the Habs have been almost unbeatable, as they’ve won five of their last six games with him in net. The goaltender himself has been extremely successful as well, as he’s posted a .94 save percentage and 1.67 GAA in that time.

But the turnaround hasn’t been simply in the defensive end. Even the offense is gelling now that its true leader is back (Sorry LW Max Pacioretty, but this is Price’s team. You’re captain by technicality), as success breeds success and positive energy. Since Price’s return, Montréal’s offense has managed a whopping 4.5 goals-per-game, highlighted by Saturday’s 10-1 shellacking of the Red Wings. Even taking out that major outlier, the Habs’ 3.4 goals-per-game is much better than the 2.32 goals-per-game they’d managed before Price’s return. This surge has propelled the Canadiens from sixth place in the Atlantic Division into third – a playoff spot.

Since we’re on the topic of Montréal and its stars and I already brought up Pacioretty, we might as well discuss my concerns over this team. Pacioretty is struggling something fierce right now. He’s only managed 8-8-16 totals so far this season, and is on pace for his worst professional season since his first two years with the Habs.

Unfortunately for Canadiens fans, this scoring skid is not limited to just this season. I don’t need to remind them of the magic disappearing act he performed in the playoffs against the Rangers, managing only a lone assist. In fact, since March 14 of last campaign, he’s managed only 10-14-24 totals in games that count (aka everything but the preseason).

While I belittled the letter Pacioretty wears on his sweater, he is still one of the leaders on this team. For the Habs to sustain this recent success, Pacioretty is going to need to snap out of his slump – even if it means he has to become a play-maker before resuming a goalscorer role.

Another team that has had more struggles than it would like is the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions. While they’ve had trouble finding depth scoring and are now facing even bigger goaltending issues than they had before, the 15-11-3 Penguins have held onto a playoff position for most of the year.

Now, the operative word here is ‘most.’ There was a point in late November when the Penguins had fallen outside the playoff picture, and – as you might guess from the other examples – I would pin a lot of the club’s struggles on Crosby.

It is very hard to point at a player that is contributing a point-per-game on the season and say he is not doing enough for his team. After all, isn’t this the same team that supposedly embodies the speed-based future of the sport while also trotting out RW Ryan Reaves onto the ice every game? Why can’t his lousy 1-2-3 totals be the problem?

And yet, it’s hard to ignore that Pittsburgh’s slump aligned almost perfectly with Crosby’s goal-scoring slump. Between October 21 and November 22, Crosby managed only 1-6-7 totals in 15 games, which led the Penguins to earning only a 6-7-2 record in that time.

You might say that 6-7-2 isn’t a terrible run while one of the league’s top players is on the schneid, and I’d agree if that team wasn’t in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. The Penguins also have the luxury of employing RW Phil Kessel and F Evgeni Malkin, who were able to keep the team mostly afloat with their combined 10-18-28 effort.

If that stat does nothing other than stress the importance of Crosby to his team, I don’t know what does. The fact that the Penguins were losing, or at least treading water, while two players created nearly 30 goals in 15 games is unbelievable.

Anyways, Crosby has rediscovered his scoring ways since then, and the Pens are all the better for it. Starting with November 24, the captain has earned 6-6-12 totals that are closer to what fans expect from him. As such, the Penguins have found their way back into the win column, earning a 4-2-0 record in spite of G Matthew Murray missing Pittsburgh’s last three games with a lower-body injury.

Of course, the Penguins are doing a great job of poking a hole in my argument by falling from third in the division back into the second wild card spot while Murray is healing, but I’m still going to hold firm that G Tristan Jarry has earned a 3-1-0 record filling in not because of his solid .926 season save percentage (though that doesn’t hurt), but because Crosby has scored a goal in every game but – you guessed it – Jarry’s one regulation loss.

Confidence – which I am led to believe is the word people are actually looking for when they discuss momentum in sports (I mean, “momentum” is technically mass x velocity, so the momentum of a sports team cannot change without either a plane or a player transaction) – is like hitting in baseball: it’s a contagious thing.

Star players are not star players simply because they can score or stop goals no one else can. Stars are stars because they can make those plays and make the athletes associated with them feel like they too can contribute to the ultimate goal and find wins and success.

Stars are leaders.

And that’s why stars have to perform their best. That’s why they have to have the best numbers on their team. It’s not to belittle the third and fourth liners, but it’s their success that should drive a team to achieve more.

Success breeds success.

In that same train of thought, leaders can’t create success from the rest of their team while they themselves are struggling to find their groove. Stars are stars because they find that motivation to excel within themselves, and then use that flame to light the others’ torches.

You might have noticed the thread that connects all of the players called out in this column: Toews, Karlsson, Burns, Pacioretty and Crosby are all captains. These players have been selected by their coaches and peers based not only on their undoubted skills, but also on their work-ethic and leadership abilities. They were honored with that distinction, so it is time for them to step up and serve the letter and crest on the front of their sweaters and get/keep their squads on track.

These teams are capable of winning; it just takes a little input from a star.

November 29 – Day 56 – A real rivalry

Wanna see a cool trick? I’m going to list the four games on today’s schedule, and I want you to pick which one is actually a rivalry, and which one is being promoted as such by the NHL’s preferred American broadcaster.

Half of tonight’s contests drop the puck at 7:30 p.m. (Tampa Bay at Boston [NBCSN] and Ottawa at Montréal [RDS/SN]), followed by Anaheim at St. Louis at 9 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap is slated to start at 9:30 p.m., featuring Winnipeg at Colorado. All times Eastern.

Salty is probably too strong a word, but I’m definitely not a fan of being sold a rivalry on the simple basis that the Lightning and Bruins both play in the Atlantic Division – especially since the league’s 2013 realignment.

As such, consider yourself a lucky member of my protest being waged on the National Broadcasting Company. Instead of watching their so-called rivalry, we’re just going to watch what we want: a real feud.

 

Oh, you say the Ottawa-Montréal game isn’t being broadcast in the United States? Well, while that does make our protest a little bit more difficult, we must press on for the integrity of the word rivalry!

Unfortunately, this rivalry is not currently as important as many would have expected during the preseason, as both teams currently rank in the bottom-five of the Eastern Conference.

Expectations were especially high for the 8-8-6 Senators after their trip to the Eastern Finals in May, but losing six-straight games (one in overtime) since returning from Stockholm, Sweden has pinned them third-worst in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.

The primary reason for this skid has been a major scoring drought. Starting with November 16’s game against the Penguins, Ottawa has scored only eight goals in six games. As you’d expect, that’s the lowest output of any team in the league in that time.

Since mid-November, I suppose you could say RW Mark Stone (1-3-4 totals) and F Mike Hoffman (2-1-3) have been Ottawa’s biggest offensive stars, but it’d probably be disrespectful to use the same word we’d use to describe Vegas’ F Jon Marchessault, who has scored a league-leading 4-7-11 effort in the same time span it’s taken Hoffman and Stone to earn their combined seven points.

While their efforts aren’t exactly superb, at least they’re trying to get the Sens rolling again. Instead, the biggest problem I can find with the Senators right now is found at the bottom of the list. No, not those players who only have one point to their credit – I’m looking beyond the 13 players who have gotten on the scorecard in the past six games. Listed behind them are D Erik Karlsson and W Bobby Ryan, who have a combined zero points.

For those wondering, the last time Karlsson scored a point or earned a personal goal-differential that was not negative was against the Avalanche in Sweden, the last time Ottawa won. Coincidence? I think not. His performance on both ends of the ice is of the utmost importance to the success of this Senators team, and until the captain gets out of his rut, Ottawa will continue to lose.

Of note for the Sens is 1-0-3 G Mike Condon will be the starting goaltender tonight. This will be his first time in net at the Bell Centre since April 9, 2016 as a member of the Canadiens. In five starts, Condon has a .904 save percentage and averages three goals against per 60 minutes on the season.

Meanwhile, the 10-12-3 Habs are trying to take advantage of a weak Atlantic Division and salvage their slow start to the season.

Similar to Karlsson’s importance to the Sens, there’s no doubting how integral 5-7-1 G Carey Price is to this Montréal team. Since returning from a lower body injury that sent him to the press box for 10 games, he’s managed an incredible .986 save percentage and .5 GAA in two starts.

With Price seemingly back to the form that earned him basically every individual trophy he could earn during the 2014-’15 season, the offense has also rediscovered the art of scoring to register three goals against both the Sabres and Blue Jackets – well above their 2.36 goals-per-game season average that ranks second-worst in the NHL.

The positive momentum is absolutely contagious, as those six goals have been scored by six different players. My biggest concern about the Habs is that their captain, LW Max Pacioretty, is not one of those six skaters, but I doubt Head Coach Claude Julien is complaining as long as his club is winning.

Considering how well Price has been playing, Karlsson will be hard-pressed to end his point skid tonight. If that proves to be the case, I see no reason why Montréal can’t win its third-straight contest.


Though backup G Anton Forsberg tried to do his best G Corey Crawford impression, it wasn’t enough to stop the Nashville Predators from beating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 at Bridgestone Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Preds’ offense made a habit of scoring early, as they scored a goal within the first four minutes of each period. First Star of the Game F Filip Forsberg (W Viktor Arvidsson and F Ryan Johansen) was the first to score for Nashville, as he buried a wrist shot 3:16 into the game to give the Predators an early lead. That lead didn’t last long however, as F Tommy Wingels (F Alex DeBrincat and F Patrick Sharp) banged a wrister past Second Star G Pekka Rinne only 1:54 later to level the game at one-all.

The game remained tied until the 3:48 mark of the second period when Nashville found its second goal on F Austin Watson‘s (D Matt Irwin and D Anthony Bitetto) stick. Watson’s tip-in set the score at 2-1 and gave the Predators a lead they would not yield.

A major reason Nashville was able to hold on to that advantage was Third Star D Roman Josi‘s (C Kyle Turris) insurance-turned-game-winning power play goal scored 2:32 into the third period.

Though winning face-offs isn’t the most important thing in a hockey game, it can certainly be a very important task in certain situations. C Colton Sissons did his job at the right-most neutral zone face-off dot nearest A. Forsberg to get the puck to Turris. The former Senator advanced into the offensive zone along the right boards and attracted all four Chicago defenders before sending a crossing pass to a totally uncovered Josi at the left point. No Hawks had a chance to block the captain’s slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle, including A. Forsberg, who watched the puck sail over his glove and into the back of the net.

F Lance Bouma (F John Hayden and D Jan Rutta) buried a wrister at the 9:38 mark of the final frame, but Chicago could not level the game with the remaining 10:22 of regulation.

Rinne earned the victory after saving 37-of-39 shots faced (.949 save percentage), leaving the loss to A. Forsberg, who saved 28-of-31 (.903).

Currently riding a four-game winning streak, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series now own a 31-19-6 record that is 13 points better than the visitors’.

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.

Montreal Canadiens 2017-’18 Season Preview

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Montreal Canadiens

47-26-9, 103 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the 1st round by the New York Rangers

Additions: D Karl Alzner, C Jonathan Drouin, C Byron Froese, RW Ales Hemsky, C Peter Holland, D Joe Morrow, D David Schlemko, D Mark Streit, D Matt Taormina

Subtractions: D Nathan Beaulieu, C Connor Crisp, RW Bobby Farnham, C Brian Flynn, LW Dwight King, D Andrei Markov, D Nikita Nesterov, RW Alexander Radulov, D Mikhail Sergachev, D Dalton Thrower

Offseason Analysis: I wonder if Marc Bergevin‘s phone has stopped smoking yet…

After a roller coaster 2016-’17 campaign, which saw a scorching 13-1-1 start simmered by an 18-18-7 stretch and then doused by a 1-5-1 run that ended Michel Therrien’s coaching tenure (again) and saw Claude Julien replace him (again), they finished the season with a 16-7-1 hot streak to win the Atlantic Division and carry solid momentum into the playoffs.

And then the Rangers beat them in 6.

Sports. They’re weird.

After looking like potential Cup contenders, the Habs now found themselves facing a very ominous offseason with little to show for it. GM Marc Bergevin had loaded up at the deadline in an effort to take a shot at a deep playoff run, and now many of his assets were pending UFAs. There was also the endless stream of Carey Price rumors to add to the pressure. But Bergevin didn’t wait long to start silencing his critics.

With Tomas Plekanec‘s production declining rapidly (the former 70-point producer managed just 10 goals and 28 points in 78 games) and questions over young Alex Galchenyuk‘s ability to shoulder the load of #1 center duties, Bergevin stunned the hockey world when he shipped promising defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev and a 2nd round pick to Tampa Bay for human highlight reel Jonathan Drouin and a 6th round pick.

Though he’s had his struggles in Tampa (including a controversial holdout after an AHL demotion), a breakout performance in the 2016 playoffs followed by dominant stretches of the ’16-’17 campaign showed that the former Halifax Mooseheads superstar is coming into his own in the pro game, and is likely to soon be making fools of NHL defenders just as he did to QMJHL d-men a few years ago. As long as his play at center continues to improve, Montreal will have a devastating 1-2 punch up the middle for many years to come.

Next up was possibly the biggest fish Montreal needed to fry: Locking up arguable best-goalie-in-the-world Carey Price. With Price’s deal entering its final year, dark clouds seemed to be looming in the distance. What were the Habs going to do? Would they re-sign him? COULD they re-sign him? Was there any foreseeable way to replace him?

Well, as often happens in situations such as these…homeboy got paid. In fact, this particular homeboy got paid more than any goaltender in history, to the tune of about $10.5M per year from the time it takes effect in 2018 until it expires in 2026. Habs fans, go ahead and buy that #31 jersey.

Now we get to the meat and potatoes of Montreal’s offseason. On July 1st, the Habs lost roster regulars Dwight King, Brian Flynn, and Nathan Beaulieu on top of key components Andrei Markov and Alex Radulov. The former has been the guiding force of the entire defensive corps for the better part of a decade, and the latter was a free agency homerun from last season, contributing 18 goals and 54 points. But with Shea Weber now firmly at home in red and blue, and Drouin arriving to bolster the offense, Bergevin could afford to let them go in the interest of cap space.

Speaking of cap space gained on July 1st, Bergevin wasted little time utilizing it. On the opening day of free agency alone, he brought in useful depth in the form of Byron Froese and Joe Morrow, and solidified his blueline with former Washington Capitals stalwart Karl Alzner. Though certainly not an offensive dynamo, Alzner’s career +61 rating and ice time average north of 20 minutes per game show his value as a reliable blueline anchor. Alzner is also one of the league’s resident ironmen, having not missed a single game of action since the 2009-10 season. Couple that with being on the right side of 30 years old, and his 5-year, $4.625M contract carries very little apparent risk.

Two days later the Habs brought in speedy winger Ales Hemsky on a 1-year, $1M contract. Though his production has dipped in recent years, he can still be relied upon for around 15 goals and 40-45 points in a full season, and with a low-risk deal, he could be another free agent success story similar to Radulov.

Hemsky also potentially fills a hole in the Habs lineup, as they really don’t possess a bonafide top line RW. But if he would happen to find chemistry with Drouin and captain Max Pacioretty, that line would feature a generous mix of speed, elusiveness, skill, and power. Add in a 2nd line of last year’s big surprise in Phillip Danault, who put up 40 points in 82 games after netting just 10 in 53 prior NHL appearances, Galchenyuk, and pesky Brendan Gallagher, and opposing teams have more than just one line to pay attention to.

The bottom six is going to be a brawl. I have Charles Hudon, Tomas Plekanec, and Artturi Lehkonen making up the 3rd line with Paul Byron, Torrey Mitchell, and Andrew Shaw completing the lineup. But Montreal has a spoil of riches at forward on the depth chart, with the option of adding size (6’3″ 214lb Jacob de La Rose, 6’3″ 220lb Andreas Martinsen, or 6’6″ 237lb Michael McCarron), skill (former 1st round picks Peter Holland and Nikita Scherbak), or versatility (veterans Chris Terry and Byron Froese) all at their disposal.

Scherbak is a particularly interesting option, as the 21 year-old 26th overall pick from 2014 is possibly more highly skilled than anyone not named Drouin or Galchenyuk on the entire roster. A WHL standout, his production has been solid (if not spectacular) in the AHL. Depending on his preseason/training camp showing, Scherbak could land himself anywhere from a continued AHL role all the way up to knocking Hemsky off of the top line.

On the blueline, I expect to see Shea Weber sharing top pairing minutes with Jordie Benn, with new arrival Karl Alzner partnering with Jeff Petry on the 2nd pair (though Alzner could certainly swap with Benn should the latter faulter under heavy minutes). I’d expect the 5-6 defensemen to be Brandon Davidson and David Schlemko, with veteran free agent signing Mark Streit likely to draw in should they need a little extra firepower. There isn’t nearly as much competition here as in the forward group, but Joe Morrow and Zach Redmond could throw a wrench in the top 6 with strong preseason showings, as could PTO invite Eric Gelinas.

The goalies are Carey Price and Al Montoya, with little likelihood of that changing, as youngsters Charlie Lindgren and Zach Fucale continue getting their feet wet in the AHL.

Offseason Grade: B+

With so much on his plate, it would have been easy for Bergevin to falter over the summer. But he managed to replace (and arguably upgrade) multiple lost pieces, all on reasonable terms, and lock up the cornerstone of his franchise well into the next decade. They’ll need to rely on the improvement of some young talent, but should they get that, the Habs look poised for another division title and maybe even a solid playoff run.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 14

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

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 2

Montréal redeemed itself in in Game 2 by beating the Rangers 4-3 in overtime at the Bell Centre to level their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at a game apiece.

And none of it would have been possible if not for Third Star of the Game Tomas Plekanec‘s (First Star Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk) miracle goal with 18 ticks remaining on the clock in regulation. Carey Price had vacated his crease for the extra attacker, but the real advantage occurred when Shea Weber knocked Michael Grabner down along the blue line. That freed up the Galchenyuk to find Radulov in the far corner, who then set up Plekanec on the far post for a quick tip-in.

In similar fashion as far as the clock was concerned, the Canadiens waited to strike until the end of the overtime period was near. Radulov (Max Pacioretty and Weber) earned the first playoff game-winning goal of his career in the scrappiest of ways. Though the Habs captain had fired the initial shot, Second Star Henrik Lundqvist was able to keep that attempt out of his net. He was unable to contain that shot however, leaving the rebound in front of his crease ready for the taking by Radulov, who buried a wrister five hole for the victory.

Speaking of Lundqvist, he stood tall though he faced adversity all night. He knew he was in for a tough game when his stick snapped early in the first period. He was without that important piece of equipment for almost a minute, and Jeff Petry (Phillip Danault and Radulov) was able to take advantage for the opening goal of the game.

In all, the Rangers netminder saved an incredible 54-of-58 shots faced (93.1%). By comparison, Price saved 35-of-38 (92.1%) in his win.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 2

Thanks in large part to another stellar performance by Second Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins earned a 4-1 victory against the Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena to claim a two-game advantage in their Eastern Quarterfinals matchup.

Mike Sullivan is going to have quite the decision on his hands when Matthew Murray is cleared to resume play. Though last year’s Stanley Cup-winning goaltender was expected to command the Pens’ crease throughout the postseason, longtime starter Fleury has saved a combined 70 of 72 shots faced (97.2%) for two-straight victories.

Offensively, no one on the ice was finer than First Star Sidney Crosby. He posted a three-point effort on the night, including the lone tally of the first period.

It was an excellent play that started with Conor Sheary ripping the puck away from Sergei Bobrovsky behind the goaltender’s net. After Bobrovsky had given up on the play to return to his goal line, Sheary passed to Third Star Jake Guentzel (who took credit for the game-winner in the second period), who was waiting on the near side of the crease. Bobrovsky committed to saving a Guentzel shot, so the rookie dished across the crease to Crosby, who powered home an easy wrist shot.

 

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild – Game 2

It may not be what many predicted, but the Blues emerged from two games at the Xcel Energy Center with a two-game lead in their Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup against Minnesota thanks to a 2-1 victory.

Both clubs’ defenses were the true stars of this game. Neither Jake Allen (21 saves, 95.5%) nor Devan Dubnyk (22 saves, 91.7%) faced more than 24 shots, and a combined 27 shot blocks were earned between the two teams. The brightest blueliners were Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko, as both rejected three shots apiece from reaching Allen’s crease.

Another blueliner that earned his pay was Joel Edmundson, who seems to be taking over Kevin Shattenkirk‘s former position of two-way defenseman. Assisted by Patrik Berglund and Magnus Paajarvi, he fired a slap shot from the blueline to give the Notes an early lead in the second period.

Zach Parise (Eric Staal and Ryan Suter) made sure St. Louis would not escape the frame with the lead, though. Taking advantage of Alex Steen and Scottie Upshall sitting in the penalty box, Staal collected his own rebound and slid a pass between Allen and a sprawled Bouwmeester to Parise waiting at the top of the crease. The wing elevated his wrist shot bar-down over Allen to level the game at one-all.

With 2:27 remaining in regulation, Jaden Schwartz (Alex Pietrangelo and Kyle Brodziak) provided St. Louis its second tally of the night. The Blues’ captain dished to Schwartz from the red line, who entered the offensive zone slow enough to allow David Perron to screen Dubnyk. Schwartz did not simply use that screen, he used Perron. He fired his wrister five hole… on Perron… to find the back of the net before the Minnesota netminder even knew a shot was fired.

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 2

With a 2-0 victory over the Sharks at Rogers Place, Edmonton pulled even at one game apiece in its Western Conference Quarterfinal and earned the celebration it had been waiting 11 years for.

The Oilers scored only four shorthanded goals during the regular season, but both tallies they registered in the victory were on the penalty kill. One of those – the opening goal of the game – belonged to First Star of the Game Zack Kassian. He was the best player on the ice all night, sticking his nose in every play and throwing six hits – including two bone-rattling blows on Logan Couture and Brenden Dillon.

His shorty was a direct result of a Joe Pavelski fumbled puck early in the second period (It was that kind of night for the Sharks. They managed only 16 shots on goal). The wing collected the puck at the Sharks’ blueline, but Pavelski tried to steal it right back.

Unfortunatly for San Jose, his steal landed right on Mark Letestu‘s stick, who returned the puck to the streaking wing for a one-on-one showdown against Martin Jones. Kassian elected to fire a snap shot from between the face-off dots, beating the netminder low for the winner.

The usual star of the Oilers would not be outdone. Just like Kassian, Third Star Connor McDavid registered the first goal of his playoff career in a shorthanded situation. Assisted by Darnell Nurse and Second Star Cam Talbot, he fired a snapper from the far face-off dot after screaming up the boards to beat Jones low.

April 7 – Day 170 – Selections are Slim, Vol. III

Here’s tonight’s listings.

  • Tampa Bay Lightning at Montréal Canadiens – 7:30 p.m. eastern – NBCSN
  • Hawaii Five-0 – 9 p.m. eastern – CBS
  • Blue Bloods – 10 p.m. eastern – CBS

Have you realized when I make this joke (not just today, but all season) just how many of those shows are on CBS? They crank out some good TV.

*This post not sponsored by Columbia Broadcasting System*

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This will be only Tampa Bay‘s fifth time being featured in the Game of the Day, while Montréal is making its 19th appearance. Within the DtFR series, the teams have 2-1-1 and 11-5-2 records, respectively.

By going on the road to the Air Canada Centre and beating current wild card Toronto 4-1 yesterday, the 40-30-10 Bolts amazingly still have playoff life. No matter the injuries and no matter the goaltending struggles, they’ve continued to find ways to get the job done.

If I asked you to name the best offense in the NHL since March 23, I’d assume you’d give me an answer like Washington or the Predators. While both are good guesses, one attack has been better: the Lightning‘s.

Tampa has struck 29 goals in the past 16 days for a 3.625 goals-per-game average. That impressive scoring ability has propelled the Bolts to a 6-1-1 record and within three points of eighth-place in the East. They may still need the Leafs to lose out, but the fact that there’s still a chance to dance is reason enough for the surge.

Regardless of how daunting or unpredictable a task playoff qualification is, Tampa doesn’t have to look far for inspiration. Only a season ago, Philadelphia climbed from fourth-worst in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star Break into the second wild card.

Though Nikita Kucherov has headed the Lightning‘s offense throughout this season during Steven Stamkos‘ absence, it has been Ondrej Palat and his league-leading 13 points leading the Bolts‘ attack in the past eight games. He closed March on a six-game point streak and already has two multi-point games this month.

Playing left wing on Tampa‘s top line, Palat is very adept at passing the puck. This has remained the case during his recent scoring spurt, as he’s set up fellow wing Kucherov for five tallies, the highest mark on the team since late-March.

Tampa has been especially deadly on the power play. as it has converted 38.1% of opponents’ penalties into tallies – the third-best mark in the NHL since March 23.

The man behind this surge is neither Kucherov nor Palat, but defenseman Victor Hedman – just as it’s been all year. Of his season-total 33 power play points, six have been struck in the past two weeks. All of those have been assists to a stellar first PP unit that includes Jonathan Drouin, Kucherov and Palat; each of whom has buried two man-advantage tallies since late-March.

Maybe the most significant improvement during this late-season run has been Tampa‘s penalty kill. On the season, the Bolts have only successfully defended 81% of their infractions, which is tied for 13th-best in the league. Lately, that kill rate is up to 85.7%, which ties for ninth-best in the NHL. 21-17-7 Andrei Vasilevskiy has been absolutely spectacular over this run, as his .935 shorthanded save percentage ties for third-best in the NHL since March 23 among netminders with at least five games played.

While one team is fighting for its playoff life, the other has been sitting around with nothing to play for since Monday night. That was when 46-25-9 Montréal beat the Panthers to clinch the Atlantic Division.

Montréal‘s overall defensive effort this season has been spectacular, and that’s been especially true since March 25. Over the past six games, the Habs have allowed only eight tallies, and that’s led them to a 5-1-0 record that ties for fifth-best in the league in that time.

Of course, that all starts with 37-19-5 Carey Price, who’s been in net for this entire run except for the division-clincher in Florida. He’s posted a .951 save percentage and 1.4 GAA over the past two weeks, which is the sixth and fifth-best marks, respectively, among the 42 goalies with at least three appearances since March 25.

Maybe even more impressive than Price’s effort has been that of his blueline. Co-led by Nathan Beaulieu and Andrei Markov and their 11 shot blocks apiece, the Canadiens‘ defense has allowed only 175 shots to reach its goaltender since late-March, the second-lowest total in the NHL.

If there’s three indicators to a strong defensive club, Montréal has them all. The goaltender? Solid. The defense? Excellent. The penalty kill? Unstoppable, at least of late. The Canadiens PK has not allowed a power play goal in its past six games, thanks in large part to Alexei Emelin‘s three shorthanded shot blocks.

That penalty kill will face a stiff test this evening, and may prove to be the deciding factor in this game. Of course, predicting anything about Montréal is difficult since it has nothing to play for. Head coach Claude Julien could take advantage of the fact that the Lightning are treating this like a playoff game to give his club a “playoff practice” of sorts, or he could keep his best players off the ice to keep them safe from a team willing to do anything for a win.

Tonight’s game is the final contest of the four-game regular season series between these clubs. They last met six days ago in Tampa, where Price led the Habs to a  2-1 overtime victory over the Bolts. That victory extended Montréal‘s record against the Lightning to 2-0-1 this year.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (35 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]) and Price (2.2 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] on a .924 save percentage for 37 wins [both tied for fifth-best in the league]) & Tampa Bay‘s Peter Budaj (seven shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL] and a 2.18 GAA [fourth-best in the league]), Hedman (55 assists [tied for third-most in the NHL]) and Kucherov (39 goals [tied for second-most in the league] for 82 points [sixth-most in the NHL]).

This is a tough game to predict since we have no idea what Julien will do. Due to that I offer my pick to win this way: if the Habs play this game to win, I believe they can do just that. If not, Tampa should have no trouble finding two points.

Hockey Birthday:

  • Pascal Dupuis (1979-) – The left winger enjoyed 871 games over 14 NHL seasons before being forced to retire last December due to blood clots. He was most known for his nine seasons with the Penguins, playing in 452 games and twice hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Between Second Star of the Game Oscar Klefbom‘s four-point night and First Star Milan Lucic‘s hat trick, the Oilers were able to best San Jose 4-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to all but lock up home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

The Sharks were actually the first club to score, as Joel Ward (David Schlemko and Marc-Edouard Vlasic) scored off a deflection at the 6:08 mark of the first period. It was the lone tally of the frame.

Third Star Connor McDavid (Klefbom and Adam Larsson) pulled the Oil back even 4:40 into the second period, but Edmonton couldn’t maintain a tied game into the second intermission. Brent Burns (Tomas Hertl) was the cause of that, as he scored a wrist shot with 7:30 remaining in the period.

I assume you’ve quickly realized that Lucic dominated the third period. He was most imposing in the first half of the frame, as he’s scored two of his tallies before eight minutes had ticked off the clock. His first tally, assisted by Klefbom and McDavid, was a power play deflection 4:26 into the third period to tie the game. 3:31 later, Klefbom and Jordan Eberle assisted him to another goal, a wrister that proved to be the game-winner. He added on his own insurance marker with 3:29 remaining in regulation on a power play wrister.

Even more than the offense, what might have been most impressive about Edmonton‘s play is the fact that the blueline yielded exactly five shots per period to reach Cam Talbot. He saved 13 of them (86.7%) for the victory, leaving the loss to Martin Jones, who saved 28-of-32 (87.5%).

A road victory is important in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as it means the visitors have not lost the season series. The 87-60-25 home teams lead the visitors by five points with three days remaining on the schedule.