Tag Archives: Palmieri

February 13 – Day 125 – Battle of the Turnpikes

That adventure to Asia yesterday was excellent, but there’s more hockey to be watched today.

At 7:10 a.m. Eastern time this morning, the Team USA women took on the OAR in Group A play. Needing a regulation victory to keep pace with the Canadians, the Americans shutout OAR 5-0.

Meanwhile, the NHL is still going strong in North America. Today’s action begins at 7 p.m. with six games (Calgary at Boston [TVAS], Tampa Bay at Buffalo, Columbus at the New York Islanders, New Jersey at Philadelphia, Ottawa at Pittsburgh [RDS] and Los Angeles at Carolina), followed half an hour later by Anaheim at Detroit. Next up is a pair of tilts (St. Louis at Nashville and the New York Rangers at Minnesota) at 8 p.m., trailed by Washington at Winnipeg 30 minutes later. The final wave of games starts at 10 p.m. when Chicago visits Vegas, with tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at San Jose – dropping the puck only half an hour after. All times Eastern.

Back in South Korea, Group B of the women’s tournament will complete play this evening when Sweden takes on Switzerland at 10:10 p.m., followed by the unified Koreans vs. Japan at 2:40 a.m. Wednesday morning. All times Eastern.

Here’s just a few of the games that are drawing my eye:

  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Battle of the Turnpikes is even more important when these teams are battling for playoff positioning!
  • Ottawa at Pittsburgh: It’s a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals from a season ago!
  • Anaheim at Detroit: Back when the Red Wings were in the Western Conference, this was quite the nasty rivalry.
  • St. Louis at Nashville: Another playoff rematch, this one from the Western Semifinals.
  • Sweden vs. Switzerland: Which team will win Group B of the women’s Olympic tournament? This game will determine just that.
  • Korea vs. Japan: The unified hosts are still looking for their first win. Is this the night?

Of all of those, there’s two games that stand out the most. Let’s make the trip to Broad Street to a big battle in the Metropolitan Division.

 

Starting with the visiting 27-20-8 Devils, who are currently the top wild card in the Eastern Conference, we find a team that has had a rough go of things lately. In its past four games, New Jersey has failed to register even one point in the standings, losing the tilts by a combined 19-9 score.

The biggest difference between these Devils and the club that exploded into the playoff picture at the beginning of the season is the fact that 17-11-6 G Cory Schneider is occupying a seat in the press box instead of the Jersey crease.

While he’s been out with a groin injury, that’s also meant the Devils haven’t had his .913 season save percentage and 2.79 GAA at their disposal, and that’s been a major problem. While 10-7-2 G Keith Kinkaid has been impressive in his sporadic time this season, assuming starting duties in Schneider’s stead since he went down has not been a success. Kinkaid has started three of Jersey’s four games, posting a measly .863 save percentage and 5.29 GAA for an 0-3-0 record in that time.

However, Kinkaid doesn’t have to shoulder all of the blame, as his defense has not been doing him many favors. Even with F Blake Coleman (3.3 hits per game since February 6), D Andy Greene (2.5 blocks per game in his last four showings) and C Pavel Zacha‘s (team-leading three takeaways over this run) trying their hardest, New Jersey has allowed a 12th-worst 33.5 shots against per game in its last four, well above their its season average of 31.6.

Between Kinkaid and his defense, New Jersey has allowed an average of 4.75 goals per game since February 6, the second-worst effort in the league in that time.

Making matters even worse, the Devils’ offense has also struggled mightily of late, scoring a second-worst 2.25 goals per game since February 6.

What had made Jersey’s attack so successful earlier in the season was, among other things, the involvement of blueliner Will Butcher (2-28-30 season totals) on the offensive end. Whether it’s him paying more attention to the defensive end with Schneider out or simply an unfortunate scoring slump, Butcher has only provided one assist over the past four games – well off his pace of registering .55 points per game.

But he’s not the only one in a slump. Only four Devils have registered more than one point in their last four games, led by F Taylor Hall (3-3-6 since February 6, 21-36-57 overall) and W Kyle Palmieri (3-1-4 since February 6, 13-11-24 overall) averaging at least a point per game from the first line. Butcher can only earn assists when his forwards find the back of the net, so that puts the pressure on Hall, LW Miles Wood (15-9-24 totals) and Palmieri to complete plays.

Meanwhile, the 28-19-9 Flyers are among the hottest teams in the league right now having posted a four-game winning streak and five-game point streak, and they’ve ridden that energy into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Over this point streak, the most impressive facets of Philadelphia’s success has easily been 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 7-7-2 G Michal Neuvirth.

Elliott has started three of Philly’s last five games, earning a 2-0-0 record with a .916 save percentage and 2.21 GAA. The reason he doesn’t have the same number of results as starts is because he suffered a lower-body injury February 10 during the shootout in Arizona.

Enter Neuvirth, who became the first goaltender in NHL history to win a shootout after entering midway (per Craig Morgan of NHL.com) and has since assumed starting responsibilities while Elliott has been on the mend. Unlike Kinkaid, who’s been thrust into a similar situation, Neuvirth has performed phenomenally in his three appearances, posting an incredible .978 save percentage for an unbelievable .72 GAA, improving his season marks to a .917 save percentage and 2.5 GAA.

As a result of Neuvirth’s – who’ll be in net tonight – amazing performance, the Flyers have allowed an average of only 2.2 goals against per game since February 3, the (t)third-best effort in the NHL in that time.

Though the season series between these clubs began only a month ago, this is their fourth and final (barring a playoff matchup) meeting of the year. The Flyers took the opening two tilts, winning January 13 in New Jersey 5-3 (C Sean Couturier took First Star honors with a two-goal, three point night) and January 20 in Philly 3-1 (D Shayne Gostisbehere was the First Star). However, a 4-3 home victory by the Devils on February 1 (C Nico Hischier provided the game-winning goal with 1:27 remaining in regulation) has set them up with an opportunity to tie the series with a regulation win tonight.

Considering the Flyers are one of, if not the hottest team in the league, it’s hard to pick against them. Jersey’s offense will need to come alive for the Devils to even have a chance at earning a point tonight.


The Team Canada women dominated Finland in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 4-1 at Kwandong Hockey Centre.

The Canadians needed only 35 seconds to take a 1-0 lead. Meghan Agosta (Melodie Daoust) took credit for that tally, her first of the tournament. Canada found its winner 16:36 later, as Marie-Philip Poulin intercepted an errant Finnish pass and proceeded to tuck a backhanded shot underneath the crossbar. The play happened so quickly that the officials actually revoked the tally after their initial look, but video review proved that the captain had successfully beaten G Noora Raty.

Two goals were scored in the second period, and once again they both belonged to the team in black sweaters. Daoust (Laura Fortino and Agosta) registered the first at the 8:19 mark of the frame, followed 10:07 later by Jillian Saulnier’s (Rebecca Johnston) first Olympic goal.

Finland finally got on the scoreboard at the 7:17 mark of the third period with a tally from Riikka Valila (Susanna Tapani and Michelle Karvinen), but the comeback effort was too little, too late to make any real impact on this game.

G Shannon Szabados earned the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (.957 save percentage), leaving the loss to Raty, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).

With Canada wearing its colored uniforms, it was officially the road team in this morning’s tilt. That means the roadies in the DtFR Game of the Day series have pulled within 23 points of the 68-41-16 hosts.

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Metropolitan Division

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1. Washington Capitals– 31-17-5 (67 points, 53 GP)

After spending a couple of months figuring themselves out and weathering the storm that’s been Braden Holtby‘s second-to-last career worst season (his 2.76 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 39 games played are better and the same as his 2013-14 2.85 GAA and .915 SV% in 48 games played respectively).

It’s a bit of an off year for Washington, but even an off year for the Capitals is still a pretty good season, considering they’re currently first in a division that is more active than a lava lamp in terms of rising and falling.

Washington has a plus-11 goal differential through 53 games played despite the loss of Marcus Johansson in a trade with the New Jersey Devils this offseason and an injured Andre Burakovsky seeing limited time so far. That doesn’t even mention the loss of depth for the Capitals last July either– remember Justin Williams (signed with Carolina) and Karl Alzner (signed with Montreal)?

Luckily for the Capitals they only have about $412,000 in cap space as I write, so their trade deadline plans are pretty much already determined for them.

If they’re able to dump a guy like Brooks Orpik— and his $5.500 million cap hit that runs through next season– that would provide the organization with some much needed relief.

Potential assets to trade: F Jay Beagle, D Brooks Orpik

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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2. Pittsburgh Penguins– 30-22-3 (63 points, 55 GP)

After bouncing around the Metropolitan Division standings, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are currently four points behind first place in the division.

Much like his rival in Washington, Matthew Murray is having a season to forget. Injuries and the death of his father have taken a toll on the two-time Cup winning goaltender, limiting Murray to just 34 games thus far with a 2.97 GAA and .903 SV% (again, both career worsts– though he is in just his second full season since his 13 GP in 2015-16).

Despite their plus-three goal differential and gifted scorer (turned 2018 All-Star snub), Phil Kessel (24-41–65 totals in 55 games), the Penguins have been porous on defense. Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, is a minus-15 through 52 games played.

Only Justin Schultz (plus-5, 38 GP) and Jamie Oleksiak (plus-6, 20 GP– split between Dallas and Pittsburgh) are positive plus/minus blue liners.

Since November, Pittsburgh has been trying to move defenseman, Ian Cole– though head coach, Mike Sullivan, has been forced to play him (thereby keeping him on the Penguins roster) due to injuries affecting Schultz and friends.

Antti Niemi didn’t pan out and bring stable backup goaltending to the Steel City (he’s since departed via waivers to Florida, then Montreal). Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been left to pick up the tab with some impressive performances at times.

Midseason acquisitions F Riley Sheahan, as well as Oleksiak, have not been enough to fill holes left by Nick Bonino (the forward signed with Nashville in July) and Trevor Daley (left via free agency, landed in Detroit) respectively.

But with roughly $425,000 in cap space to work with currently, the Penguins can’t afford to make much noise on February 26th– but they should definitely snag a defenseman and rental backup goaltender.

Potential assets to trade: D Ian Cole, D Brian Dumoulin, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Carl Hagelin, D Matt Hunwick, F Riley Sheahan

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Jason Garrison (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

New Jersey Devils Logo

3. New Jersey Devils– 27-17-8 (62 points, 52 GP)

New Jersey has almost $8.000 million to work with currently as things approach the trade deadline at the end of the month.

The Devils are one of the biggest surprises this season east of the Mississippi River.

First overall pick in the 2017 draft, Nico Hischier, has been quietly setting the tone with forwards, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha in the resurgence of youth. Travis Zajac is back in his dominant, physical, ways and the Sami VatanenAdam Henrique trade has worked out quite well for both teams.

And that’s not even mentioning Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.

Will Butcher is quite the offensive threat on the blue line and John Moore is firing on all cylinders. Despite Marcus Johansson’s concussion, New Jersey hasn’t faced much adversity in overcoming injuries this year.

There’s a lot of cap room to work with, but not a whole lot that this team can really give up to bring in the best guys on the trade market, like Evander Kane, unless the Devils are comfortable parting ways with prospects and draft picks (spoiler alert, they might be).

New Jersey really should be in the hunt for Kane, Rick Nash, Max Pacioretty, David Perron and other great offensive assets– either as the front-runner or the stealthy dark-horse that’ll make one or two big moves to carry them to glory.

The Devils have the time and space to add a veteran forward or defenseman that might eat some salary, but put them lightyears beyond their Metropolitan counterparts.

It’s a buyers market.

Potential assets to trade: F Ben Coleman, F Jimmy Hayes, D Ben Lovejoy, F Drew Stafford

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

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4. Philadelphia Flyers– 25-19-9 (59 points, 53 GP)

Aside from the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now.

Goaltender, Brian Elliott, has found his top-notch form once again while Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux are rolling along. With almost $3.000 million to spend at the deadline, the Flyers could make some improvements to their team.

Trading away Brayden Schenn was costly for Philadelphia this offseason, but thankfully Jakub Voracek and the rest of the roster decided to pick up some of the points left behind by Schenn’s departure.

Adding Jori Lehtera, on the other hand, was a big mistake– both in production value and in cap management.

The Flyers could really solidify their offense with one or two moves and probably should anchor their defense with at least a depth blue liner or two coming down the stretch. Someone like David Perron, Patrick Maroon or Nic Petan could flourish in the Philly system. Meanwhile, a defenseman like Cody Franson would help put them over the edge if someone’s injured.

Potential assets to trade: D Radko Gudas, F Jori Lehtera, F Matt Read, F Dale Weise

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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5. Columbus Blue Jackets– 27-22-4 (58 points, 53 GP)

After getting a fast start out of the gate the Columbus Blue Jackets have really cooled off. It’s not that they’re a bad team, but rather, they’re just average.

Sergei Bobrovsky can’t stop the puck and play every other position too. Otherwise, the Blue Jackets would probably be first in the division. But good news, Columbus, you’ve got some cap space to work with at the end of the month.

As I write, the Blue Jackets have about $5.000 million to work with in cap room.

That’s good enough to bring in just about any player without considering what the future impact on the team his cap hit might have (unless Jarmo Kekalainen brings in a clear-cut rental player that won’t be re-signed in July). The point is this, Columbus has enough room to mess around with something valuable at the deadline, but they’re going to have to re-sign a plethora of core/future core pieces of the franchise this offseason.

The Blue Jackets aren’t doomed– they know their future plans more than anyone else.

But what could they bring in to make this team better? Someone. Is there anyone they could snag now and really shake things up as a contender moving forward? Short answer, yes.

For all of the return of Rick Nash to Columbus talk, well, that’s not ideal. Kekalainen should consider someone like Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before taking back a guy like Nash– who will only break the franchise’s heart again in July when he goes back to the Rangers *bold prediction alert*.

Potential assets to trade: D Andre Benoit, D Jack Johnson

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF)F Blake Comeau (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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6. New York Islanders– 26-22-6 (58 points, 54 GP)

The biggest question heading into the 2018 trade deadline for the New York Islanders is the same one that’s been asked since Steven Stamkos signed his extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning– will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?

New York has expressed that they are not looking to trade Tavares should things go detrimentally south between now and February 26th, but if things do…

The Islanders have almost $1.500 million in cap space to play around with before the deadline. They also have 13 pending free agents at season’s end, meaning there’s plenty of options the franchise could pursue.

Should Tavares get a raise and a long-term deal? Absolutely.

The  Islanders could pack it up and go home on this season given their injuries, lack of defense and well, let’s just say, things aren’t going so great for the team that ranks 31st (out of 31 NHL teams) in average attendance this season.

Or they could be active in trying to scrap together a good team centered around their current stars (Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Joshua Ho-Sang and others).

Potential assets to trade: F Josh Bailey, F Jason Chimera, F Casey Cizikas, D Thomas Hickey, D Dennis Seidenberg

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)

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7. Carolina Hurricanes– 24-21-9 (57 points, 54 GP)

New Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, might call an audible heading into this year’s trade deadline and decide to spend money on the roster. With almost $15.500 million in cap space, the Hurricanes are in the best possible position to land not just one or two of the big names floating around the rumor mill, but rather three or four quality pieces.

The trouble is, who would they get rid of, since their prospects and youth are worth keeping for further development and overall organizational growth?

Jeff Skinner is someone to build around. So are Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

Lee Stempniak might make his annual trip around the league, but other than that, who are the Hurricanes actually going to offer up from their forwards? If anything, Carolina would move a guy like Noah Hanifin given the contract extensions (and pay raises) that kick in next season for Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.

Regardless, though they’re not out of contention, the Hurricanes could really use a goaltender to pull them through the stretch. This whole Cam Ward/Scott Darling thing isn’t working out.

Potential assets to trade: G Scott Darling, D Noah Hanifin, F Lee Stempniak, F Derek Ryan, draft picks

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ),  D Mike Green (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

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8. New York Rangers– 25-24-5 (55 points, 54 GP)

Look, the New York Rangers are still (technically speaking) in contention– but they absolutely shouldn’t waste another year of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career in the National Hockey League without a Stanley Cup.

The team they have right now? Yeah, they aren’t winning.

They’ve aged out. The core’s been decimated by the Vegas expansion draft and some offseason moves (namely trading Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona after losing Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in June).

Not every player is washed up.

Some will find better homes and rejuvenate their careers before potentially signing with the Rangers in free agency and going back “home” *ahem, Rick Nash*.

Others will simply be a superb rental/long term participant in a franchise, like Michael Grabner.

Basically I’m saying that all the guys New York’s been rumored to trade should get traded and the team can pull off a quick turnaround with their up-and-coming youth, plus whatever they get in return for Nash, Grabner and Co.

And with only about $1.400 million in cap space, the Rangers could have some fun blowing things up (partially).

Build around Mika Zibanejad and friends. Do it, New York. Do it now.

Potential assets to trade: F David Desharnais, F Michael Grabner, D Nick Holden, D Ryan McDonagh, F Rick Nash, G Ondrej Pavelec, D Marc Staal, F Jimmy Vesey, F Mats Zuccarello

Potential assets to acquire: D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Weeks 16 & 17

Another two-week special, courtesy of a trip to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Skater of the Week(s): Evgeni Malkin

Hey, so, you know that thing the Penguins do where they trick everyone into thinking they’re not very good and then right around February they just start crapping in everyone’s Wheaties? Yeah, keep those cereal boxes sealed.

The Pens are 4-1-0 in five games over this two-week span, and Geno is a major reason why. With eight goals and 11 points over the five contests, Malkin leads the league by two points in overall scoring in that span, and teammate Phil Kessel is the one trailing him. Possibly even more impressive is the fact that in the first game of the five, he was held scoreless, so he’s actually put up those numbers across just four contests. Throw in three power play tallies, a game-winner, and a cartoonish .40 shooting percentage, and it’s not hard to see why Malkin gets the nod here.

Tendy of the Week(s): Carter Hutton

I’m honestly very glad I checked the stats page on this, because I was jotting down Tuukka Rask‘s name when I saw he had actually been bested.

Hutton continues an absolutely ridiculous run this season with a perfect 4-0-0 record and seemingly-impossible advanced stats with a .984 save percentage and 0.50 GAA over the past two weeks. He’s given up two goals on 123 shots, and I literally cannot even come up with anything witty for that.

The 32-year old career journeyman now boasts a 14-4-1 record on the season with a .947 save percentage and 1.61 GAA. When the Blues traded Brian Elliott, it was because they felt they now possessed a true #1 goaltender for the future. But I’m pretty sure Hutton was not the name they were thinking of at the time.

Game of the Week: Super Bowl LII

The empire has fallen. Behold a god that bleeds.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Rick Nash has submitted his list of teams that he would not accept a trade to upon the Rangers’ request. The former Rocket Richard winner is now in his mid-30s and has seen his production dip signficantly, though some think a change of scenery could reinvigorate his career. The popular narrative is that he returns to Columbus, but I think I speak for most intelligent CBJ fans when I say ‘Dear god please no’.

Jaromir Jagr retired from the NHL and returned to his native Czech Republic to continue his career back home. There were many touching sendoffs from around the NHL, but I’m honestly not sure why considering he’ll just come back in about three years and be a productive player for a few more teams.

Filip Forsberg was suspended for three games following a very illegal hit, a decision that has apparently shocked and upset his teammates. Now I will definitely say the Department of Player Safety has been less than stellar with some decisions this year, and I am certainly of the opinion that good clean hits cause far too much hooplah anymore, but I don’t know how anyone can defend a hit as late and dirty as this one.

Rookie sensation Charlie McAvoy made his triumphant return to the Bruins lineup just 12 days after undergoing a procedure on his heart to treat an abnormal rhythm. I’m not a doctor, but that sounds like a pretty heroic comeback effort to me after literally having the thing that keeps you alive fixed.

Radko Gudas is back at the center of controversy, because of course he is. The oft-suspended Flyers defenseman made airborne contact with Kyle Palmieri after attempting to avoid leg-on-leg contact with teammate Wayne Simmonds by leaping out of the way, only to be met by a backchecking Palmieri. I am actually of the belief that this was truly an accident, but Gudas’ history probably doesn’t help his case.

No one knows what goaltender interference actually is anymore, so everybody get your licks in on that guy who always stones you on breakaways while you can.

December 30 – Day 84 – Seeing red

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

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

Two of today’s contests have caught my eye…

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Jersey Devils 2017-’18 Season Preview

New Jersey Devils

28-40-14, 70 points, last in the Eastern Conference

Additions: F Brian Boyle, C Nico Hischier, F Marcus Johansson, W Drew Stafford

Subtractions: W Beau Bennett (signed with STL), F Mike Cammalleri (signed with LAK), W Patrik Elias (retired), F Jacob Josefson (signed with BUF), D Jonathon Merrill (drafted by VGK), W Devante Smith-Pelly (signed with WSH)

Offseason Analysis: Ignoring the lockout-shortened seasons of 1994-’95 and 2012-‘13, last year’s 70-point effort was the Devils’ worst campaign since 1988-’89. That ensuing draft, New Jersey selected future four-time All-Star RW Bill Guerin, who eventually contributed 11 points in the Devils’ 1995 run to the Stanley Cup – including an assist on C Neal Broten’s Cup-clinching goal.

Especially in light of recent draft standouts at the center position (think Jack EichelAuston Matthews, Connor McDavid, etc.), General Manager Ray Shero is hoping last year’s struggles that allowed him to draft Hischier with the first overall pick will yield similar results in the near future as he works to rebuild the club back to the level of success it’s experienced for most of the past three decades.

The speedy Swiss 18-year-old brings 38-48-86 totals from his time with QMJHL side Halifax last year, but he alone won’t be enough to significantly improve the third-worst offense in the league. That’s where former first-rounder Johansson and his career-high 24-34-58 totals from a season ago with the Capitals comes into play. Since both C Jesper Boqvist and W Fabian Zetterlund – the Devils’ second and third selections in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft – are expected to spend at least one more season in their native Sweden, it’ll be up to them to spearhead any attacking improvements for Head Coach John Hynes’ club alongside Taylor Hall (20-33-53) and Kyle Palmieri (26-27-53), last season’s co-leaders in points for the team.

Since the addition of 2017 Hobey Baker Award winner D Will Butcher on August 27, the situation along Jersey’s blue line could be evolving even though the Devils did little more than draft D Reilly Walsh with their second third-round pick, but it remains to be seen if Butcher will join Captain Andy Greene and co. on the senior team or if he’ll be assigned to Binghamton on AHL assignment.

Of note in this situation are the contracts, or lack thereof, of two Devils defensemen of the same mold: 26-year-old John Moore (12-10-22) and 23-year-old Damon Severson (3-28-31). Moore will be an unrestricted free agent following this season, while Severson is currently a restricted free agent. Should the Devils be unable to agree to terms with Severson – which would seem unlikely, given their almost $18 million in cap space – Butcher would be a lock to make Jersey’s 23-man roster, if not earn regular playing time. And in the predictable case Severson remains with the Devils, Butcher would almost certainly be an improvement over D Dalton Prout, who is eligible to be demoted to the AHL without hitting the waiver wire.

The same two goaltenders return from last year, and Cory Schneider – co-winner of the 2011 William M. Jennings Trophy – will be expected to return to his previous form. For his entire NHL career, Schneider has managed a .922 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, but those numbers fell to .908 and 2.82 last season. In large part, that may have been due to his defense allowing 31.4 shots to reach his crease per game (tied for ninth-worst in the NHL), but he cannot expect that to change given the Devils’ inactivity in changing personnel along the blue line. If New Jersey plans to end its rebuild now (*hint* it shouldn’t), it will have to fall on Schneider to shore up the defensive end.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect Devils fans to witness immediate progress noticeable in a final score. Instead, they should be looking for improved fundamentals from all skaters, a rebound season for Schneider and another solid entry draft to shore up the defensive corps. Rasmus Dahlin or Jared McIsaac, anyone?

Offseason Grade: B

Make no doubt about it: the Devils are in full rebuild mode and would be unwise to believe they are retooled enough to emerge from the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season. But, they have made many of the right steps in improving their forward corps with talented youths and could begin making their resurgence in a few years if they stick with #TheProcess.

February 1 – Day 105 – Get your brooms ready

Last night was beyond busy in the NHL. While those types of evenings are fun, sometimes it’s nice to only have a few games to keeps tabs on. Tonight is one of those nights, as only six teams drop the puck. Boston at Washington (NBCSN/TVAS) gets things started at 8 p.m., and is basically the only game going on during that time-frame. The next game to get underway is Minnesota at Calgary (SN360), but that isn’t until 10 p.m. The nightcap is right behind, as Colorado at Los Angeles (NBCSN) gets started only half an hour later. All times eastern.

Not only do I not like repeating teams twice in a row (sorry Washington!), tonight’s contest in Calgary could act as a playoff preview. Off to Cowtown we go!

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It’s hard to argue with those that believe Minnesota is the best team in the Western Conference. Riding a three-game winning streak, their 33-11-5 record is five points better than second-best San Jose, and they’ve been led by an impressive goaltender that has allowed only 109 goals this season, the second-fewest in the NHL.

Since Darcy Kuemper played last night in Edmonton, 27-8-3 Devan Dubnyk will be more than ready to go this evening. That’s bad news for the Flames, as his .936 save percentage and 1.88 GAA are both the best marks in the league.

What makes Dubnyk’s season so impressive is that the bluelines playing in front of him are nothing more than average, as they allow 30.6 shots to reach his crease per night – tied for the 12th-most in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon and his 90 shot blocks have been at the head of the defensive front and tie for 32nd-most against the rest of the league.

Combine those two aspects of the defensive end, and you find a club that has the sixth-best penalty kill with a 83.8% success rate. Mikael Granlund has been the most effective skater on that effort, as he leads the Wild with 13 shorthanded blocks.

The Land of 10,000 Lakes is also the home of the 10th-best power play in the league (ok, they’re technically tied for 10th), finding success 21.3% of the time. Granlund is apparently the Wild‘s special teams ringer, as his 12 power play points are tops in the dressing room, but Nino Niederreiter has been the one scoring all the goals. He has six man-advantage tallies to his credit, the most in Minnesota.

Playing host this evening are the 25-24-3 Flames, the ninth-best team in the Western Conference thanks to Los Angeles beating Arizona last night. That being said, simply making it to overtime tonight would move them back into playoff position.

The reason Calgary finds itself on the bubble is due to its lackluster defense and goaltending, which has allowed 147 tallies so far this season, the ninth-most in the NHL. That starts with 16-12-1 Chad Johnson, who has a .913 save percentage and 2.5 GAA – the (t)27th and (t)18th-best effort, respectively, among the 49 goalies with at least 15 appearances.

A decent GAA paired with a below-average save percentage is usually the mark of a decent defense, and that’s exactly the case the Wild will find this evening in the Saddledome. Led by Mark Giordano‘s 116 shot blocks (tied for sixth-most in the league), the Flames allow only 28 shots to reach Johnson’s crease per game – the sixth-best effort in the game.

Although they’re the ones currently sitting on the outside of the playoffs looking in, it’s been the Flames that have dominated the season series between these clubs so far this year. Calgary has yet to drop a game to the Wild even if their most recent meeting on December 2 required a shootout to determine the 3-2 result.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Mikael Backlund (34 points [leads the team]), Troy Brouwer (98 hits and .16 shot percentage [both lead the team]), Giordano (116 blocks [leads the team]), Dougie Hamilton (144 shots and 25 assists [both lead the team]) and Sean Monahan (16 goals [leads the team]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (1.88 GAA on a .936 save percentage [both best in the league] for 27 wins [second-most in the NHL], including five shutouts [tied for second-most in the league]), Matthew Dumba (+22 [eighth-best in the NHL]), Granlund (+26 [tied for sixth-best in the league]), Mikko Koivu (+26 [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+28 [tied for third-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+30 [tied for the NHL-lead]) and Jason Zucker (+30 [tied for the league-lead]).

Vegas has marked Calgary a slight underdog, placing a +105 next to their name. Personally, I’d take that bet. Not only do they have the history beating Dubnyk this season, they’re playing at home after a nice long All-Star break, compared to the Wild who just played last night. I like the Flames to complete the season-sweep and get back into the playoff bracket.

Hockey Birthday

  • Mark Recchi (1968-) – Although drafted in the fourth round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft by rival Pittsburgh, this right wing spent most his career in Philadelphia. That being said, none of the seven-time All-Star’s three Stanley Cups were with the Flyers.
  • Kyle Palmieri (1991-) – Another right wing, Palmieri was drafted 26th-overall by Anaheim in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He spent the first five seasons of his NHL career with the Ducks before moving on to New Jersey before the 2015-16 season.

The wins just keep rolling in for the Islanders. They won their third-straight game 3-2 last night against the league-leading Capitals in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It’s only made sweeter by the fact that it was a comeback victory. That’s because Evgeny Kuznetsov (Justin Williams and Brooks Orpik) was able to bury his snap shot only 4:41 after the game’s initial puck drop. That was the lone tally of the first period.

With a power play slap shot 2:41 after returning to the ice for the second period, Second Star of the Game Alan Quine (Third Star Andrew Ladd and Calvin de Haan) leveled the contest for New York. Once again, it was the lone score of the frame to set up a deciding third period.

The Isles responded well coming out of intermission, with their surge completed by First Star Ryan Strome‘s (Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier) wrister to give them the lead. The game remained 2-1 until Johnny Boychuk (Casey Cizikas and John Tavares) took advantage of an empty net with 68 seconds remaining in the contest. Impressively, Alex Ovechkin (Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov) was able to make it only a one-goal differential with his slap shot, but the Capitals were unable to level with the remaining 47 seconds.

Thomas Greiss earns the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (93.3%), leaving the loss to Philipp Grubauer, who saved 26-of-28 (92.9%).

Not only is the Islanders‘ victory their third-straight, it is also the second-straight win by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That advances the hosts’ record in the series to 56-35-16, seven points better than the roadies.

January 12 – Day 89 – Y’Hall come back now

You’re getting close to the weekend. Only one more day of school or work. The best way to prepare for Friday is with some hockey tonight, obviously.

As usual, the action begins at 7 p.m. with Vancouver at Philadelphia, followed half an hour later by two more games (Pittsburgh at Ottawa [RDS2] and Buffalo at Tampa Bay). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of another pair of contests (Boston at Nashville [TVAS] and Montréal at Minnesota [NBCSN/RDS]), with Detroit at Dallas trailing 30 minutes later. The final pair of games gets the green light at 9 p.m. (New Jersey at Edmonton and Anaheim at Colorado), with tonight’s nightcap – St. Louis at Los Angeles (SN/SN360) – getting underway at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Taylor Hall finally plays his first game in Rogers Place, although it’s much later than many Oilers fans expected before this offseason. He should receive a warm welcome this evening.

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It seems like it was only last weekend that these two played each other. Oh wait, it was last Saturday that the Oilers beat New Jersey 2-1 on an overtime slap shot from Mark Letestu.

This game has certainly been the more anticipated of the two contests waged between these teams this season. Thanks to a trade that shipped the former number one pick to Newark, Hall has been champing at the bit to get back in front of his original home crowd.

Hall was drafted in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and made an almost immediate impact. He played 65 games in his rookie season, scoring a team-leading 22 goals.

Although he only achieved that status one more time (ironically, it was last season when joined by Connor McDavid, the kid that replaced him as the star of the future), Hall was always an integral part of the Oilers‘ offense. He led the club in points three times in his six Edmonton seasons, and never fell lower than third place. In all, Hall contributed to or directly scored 328 goals in a blue sweater, only three fewer than Jordan Eberle in that time span.

Since making his way to New Jersey after being traded for Adam Larsson, he’s learned all about how difficult scoring can be. Currently only taking credit for 25 points on nine goals, Hall is on pace for only 56 points on 20 goals, which would be the fifth and third-worst efforts, respectively, of his seven-year career.

In his defense, it doesn’t help that he regularly has to play against the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky, Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist. Those guys don’t give up many goals to start with, no matter how good you are.

Hall and his 16-18-8 Devils make their way to Edmonton with the second-worst record in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. That sounds much worse than it actually is though, as it’s only eight points out of a playoff spot – and with a game in-hand! – but I’m far from predicting a New Jersey surge. As one might expect from Hall’s numbers, the Devils have mightily struggled to score, accounting for only 92 tallies in 42 games, the third-lowest scoring rate in the league.

Remember Hall’s scoring stats? 25 points on nine goals? I regret to inform you that he’s actually a team-leader with those numbers. He and Travis Zajac both have the same point total due to sharing the second line. The other skater on that line – P.A. Parenteau – has certainly benefited from their efforts, as his dozen tallies are the most in Jersey.

It’s not happenstance that the third-worst offense has the second-worst power play in the league, as the Devils capitalize on only 13.3% or their opponent’s penalties. Both Kyle Palmieri and Damon Severson have thrived with one fewer foe to keep an eye on, as both have nine power play points to lead the club, but it’s been Hall and Parenteau who have truly done the minimal damage, each with four man-advantage tallies.

Hosting Jersey this evening are the 21-15-7 Oilers, the third-best team in the Pacific Division even though they’ve lost their last two games. As a club is prone to do when four of their last five first-round picks are forwards, Edmonton has made their living on the offensive end of the ice, scoring 121 goals – the seventh-most in the NHL.

When I said McDavid replaced Hall as the star of Edmonton in his rookie season, I meant it. McDavid has the world – or at least the NHL – by a string with his league-leading 48 points. Just like Parenteau, Patrick Maroon has taken advantage of having such a player on his line, as his 16 goals are tops in Edmonton.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Edmonton‘s McDavid (48 points on 34 assists [both lead the league]) and Cam Talbot (three shutouts among 20 wins [both tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) and New Jersey‘s Parenteau (12 goals [leads the team]) and Steven Santini (+5 [leads the team]).

Vegas has marked the Oilers a heavy favorite to win tonight’s game at -190, and it’s hard to pick against that. The Oilers have been one of the better stories this season barring Columbus and Minnesota, and New Jersey hasn’t been able to match their mid-November form when they went 5-0 in nine days. Oilers fans shouldn’t need to break a sweat.

Hockey Birthday

  • Jimmy Skinner (1917-2007) – Although offered a contract from the Rangers, Skinner never played a game in the NHL. Instead, he coached four seasons in Detroit to win the 1955 Stanley Cup.
  • Tim Horton (1930-1974) – Just in case some of you kids don’t know, he’s more than a donut and coffee shop. This seven-time All Star played 24 seasons, almost all of which were in Toronto, where he won four Stanley Cups – including three-straight from 1962-’64.  He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977, three years after passing away in a car accident.
  • Curt Fraser (1958-) – Drafted 22nd-overall by his hometown Canucks in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, this left wing played a dozen seasons in the league, most of which in Chicago. He ended his career with 433 points to go with his 1306 penalty minutes.
  • Espen Knutsen (1972-) – Although this center was drafted in the 10th-round of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by Hartford, he never played a game with the club. Instead, he spent most of his five seasons in Columbus. In 2002, he became the first and only Norwegian participant in an All Star Game.
  • Jocelyn Thibault (1975-) – This goaltender was drafted 10th-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by Quebec, but he ended up spending most of his time in Chicago. He completed his career with a 238-238-75 record and earned one All Star nomination.
  • Marian Hossa (1979-) – The 12th-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Ottawa, this right wing is currently in his eighth season in Chicago. He’s thrice hoisted the Stanley Cup, not to mention his five All Star Game appearances.
  • Claude Giroux (1988-) – The captain of Philadelphia was drafted 22nd-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He’s spent his entire career with the Flyers and has been thrice named an All Star.

Led by First Star of the Game Alex Ovechkin‘s two-goal night to notch the 1000th and 1001st points of his career, Washington was more than prepared to beat the Penguins 5-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Ovechkin (Second Star Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie) got off to a quick start, giving the Capitals the lead only 35 seconds into the contest with an impressive wrister. Although it proved to be the only goal of the first period, Pittsburgh was never able to pull ahead of the Caps.

Thanks to Carl Hagelin earning a seat in the penalty box for hooking Tom Wilson, Ovechkin (John Carlson and Backstrom) doubled the Capitals‘ lead with a power play slap shot  from the spot he always shoots from in the left penalty circle. The 2-0 Washington lead held into the second intermission.

Justin Williams (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov) takes credit for the eventual winning goal, as his wrister only 4:31 into the final frame was pure. The Pens tried to claw (wing?) their way back into the game with an Evgeni Malkin (Justin Schultz and Phil Kessel) power play wrister only 3:15 later, but Backstrom (Oshie and Carlson) put that threat to bed with a power play wrsiter of his own with 6:49 remaining in the third period. Patric Hornqvist (Sidney Crosby and Kessel) tried once again to find some late momentum by scoring a power play wrister with 2:36 remaining in regulation, but Lars Eller (Backstrom and Oshie) scored on the empty net with 18 seconds left on the clock to fully ice the game.

Third Star Holtby earns the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (93.75%), while Marc-Andre Fleury takes the loss, saving 25-of-29 (86.2%).

Washington‘s home victory snaps the four-game winning streak by the road squads in the DtFR Game of the Day series and improves their record to 48-29-14, nine points better than the visitors.

January 7 – Day 84 – Larsson is back in town

It’s the first Saturday of the New Year, and there’s no better way to celebrate than with hockey.

You’ll notice we’ll celebrate anything around here, and we always celebrate the same way.

There’s a dozen games being played today, so odds are good your favorite team is in action. Everything starts at 1 p.m. with a pair of contests (Tampa Bay at Philadelphia [NHLN/SN1] and Winnipeg at Buffalo), followed three hours later by Minnesota at Los Angeles (NHLN), the last day game. The usual 7 p.m. starting time brings with it five games (the New York Rangers at Columbus [NHLN], Boston at Florida, Montréal at Toronto [CBC/TVAS], Washington at Ottawa [CITY/TVAS2] and Edmonton at New Jersey [SN]), with a another pair of games waiting an hour before dropping the puck (the New York Islanders at Arizona and Dallas at St. Louis). The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. with Vancouver at Calgary (CBC/SN), with Detroit at San Jose – this evening’s nightcap – waiting half an hour before getting green lit.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Toronto: It’s Original Six rivalry night in the Queen City!
  • Edmonton at New Jersey: Welcome back, Adam Larsson. Welcome back.
  • Dallas at St. Louis: Last season, these clubs met up in the Western Semifinals. The Stars may have been the higher seed, but it was the Blues competing for a Stanley Cup Finals berth.
  • Vancouver at Calgary: What’s better than a rivalry? A rivalry on the second-half of a home-and-home matchup. Tensions will be high.

One of the bigger trades of the offseason has helped put the Oilers solidly in playoff position. The beneficiary? A certain defenseman…

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Born in Skellefteå, Sweden, this defenseman made his way to the USA in 2011 after being drafted fourth-overall in that year’s NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey.

Lou Lamoriello was drawn to Larsson after two successful World Championships. Playing with the Junior Crowns in 2010 at both the World Junior Championships and the IIHF World U18 Championships, he won bronze and silver medals, respectively.

He got five good seasons in with the Devils, playing a total of 274 games. Although he only notched 69 points during that time, he performed his primary responsibility – keeping shots off his goaltender’s net – to a t. Headlined by his career 163 block campaign last season, he blocked 425 shots for Jersey.

Thanks to a trade only four days after the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Larsson now wears blue and orange instead of red and black. On the way to Edmonton, he passed Taylor Hall, the player traded from the Oilers to New Jersey. Since joining Edmonton, Larsson has only improved. He already has 119 shot blocks this season, and is on pace for 125 more.

Larsson and the 20-13-7 Oilers come to Newark in control of the third-best record in the Pacific Division. The defenseman has been a big help, but theme of the Oil‘s success has been their high-flying offense that has scored 113 goals, tied for the eighth-most in the NHL.

Have you heard of Connor McDavid? He’s kind of good at hockey. He’s already notched 45 points this season and is one of seven players to average more than a point per game. Even though only 14 of those points have been goals, but linemates Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon join McDavid with 14 goals. 42 between the three of them is an impressive number made dangerous as opposing goaltenders don’t know who the final shot will come from.

The power play has also been a strength for Edmonton, as their 20.9% conversion rate is tied for the ninth-best mark in the league. Draisaitl has been the main man in this situation, notching 15 power play points. Most of those have been his 8 man-advantage goals, another statistic in which he leads the club.

Playing host tonight are the 16-17-7 Devils, the second-worst team in the Metropolitan Division. The main problem in New Jersey has been their struggling offense that has managed only 91 goals, tied for the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

Although it doesn’t look like it’s going to yield a return to the playoffs, today’s featured trade has worked out equally as well for the the Devils. Hall leads the team with 25 points, although P.A. Parenteau has the goalscoring lead with a dozen tallies. Where Jersey has struggled is finding others to score the puck. Only three skaters have 10 or more tallies, which is far from enough to compete in the deep Metropolitan.

Part of the problem is that the Devils severely struggle on the power play. Even with Kyle Palmieri‘s team-leading nine power play points, Jersey has converted only 12.8% of their man-advantage opportunities. Once again, it’s the fact that there’s not a true standout completing plays. Hall leads the team with only four power play goals.

Some players to keep an eye on include Edmonton‘s McDavid (31 assists among 45 points [both most in the league]) and Cam Talbot (19 wins [tied for third-most in the NHL], including three shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & New Jersey‘s Andy Greene (79 blocks [leads the team]) and Damon Severson (17 assists [leads the team]).

I know the Devils are playing on home ice, but I don’t see any way Edmonton doesn’t win their second-straight game. McDavid is just too good.

Hockey Birthday

  • Babe Pratt (1916-1988) – For eight of his dozen seasons, this Hall of Fame defenseman played for the Rangers en route to two Stanley Cup titles. A year after joining Toronto during the 1942-’43 season, he won the Hart Trophy on a career-high 57 points.
  • Mike Liut (1956-) – A fourth-round pick by St. Louis in the 1976 NHL Amateur Draft, this goaltender played 13 seasons in the NHL. Selected to the All Star Game in 1980-’81, he was also the recipient of the Pearson Trophy that season on a 33-14-13 record.
  • Guy Hebert (1967-) – Another St. Louis goaltending selection, Herbert was picked in the eighth-round of the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. He ended up playing most of his 10-season career in Anaheim, notching a career 191-222-56 record.
  • Donald Brashear (1972-) – Although undrafted, this left wing played an impressive 16 seasons – most of which in Vancouver. He was most known as an enforcer, earning a career 2634 minutes in the sin bin.
  • Alex Auld (1981-) – The 40th-overall pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, this goaltender appeared in 10 NHL seasons, spending most of his time in Vancouver. By the time his career was complete, he set a 91-88-32 record.

A Vancouver 4-2 victory over the Flames in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day was worth more than a rivalry victory. It moved the Canucks into playoff position.

Calgary got things going quickly, scoring only 78 seconds into the game compliments of Third Star of the Game Michael Frolik‘s (Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk) wrister. The Canucks leveled with 9:11 remaining in the first period when Michael Chaput (Jack Skille) buried his first goal of the season. 2:18 later, Loui Eriksson (Second Star Markus Granlund and Alexander Edler) gave Vancouver a 2-1 lead with a wrister.

The eventual game-winning goal was struck with 22 seconds remaining in the second period. Thanks to a too many men on the ice penalty, Granlund (Bo Horvat and Jayson Megna) took advantage of the power play to set the score at 3-1.

3:18 into the third frame, Granlund (Nikita Tryamkin) deflected an insurance goal into net for the Canucks. Calgary tried their best to get back into the game, but they could only manage a power play wrist shot from Frolik (Backland and Mark Giordano) with 1:43 remaining in regulation.

First Star Ryan Miller earns the victory after saving 44-of-46 shots faced (95.7%), leaving the loss to Brian Elliott, saving nine-of-13 (69.2%).

The Canucks‘ victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 47-26-13, favoring the home sides by 14 points.

December 18 – Day 67 – Battle of the Hudson River

There’s only six more days of hockey left before the Christmas break! Start cramming hockey pucks now, starting with Los Angeles at Boston (SN) at 1 p.m., followed by Colorado at Winnipeg at 3 p.m. and Columbus at Vancouver at 4 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time brings with it two puck drops (San Jose at Chicago [NHLN] and Ottawa at the New York Islanders [SN/TVAS]), trailed 30 minutes later by tonight’s nightcap: New Jersey at the New York RangersAll times eastern.

The Devils may not be having the success they’d like this season, but nothing can lift a team’s spirits more than a victory over a nearby rival. Let’s follow the Rangers back to Madison Square Garden for the Battle of the Hudson River!

New Jersey Devils LogoNew York Rangers Logo

 

 

 

 

 

Separated by only 10 miles, this rivalry was sparked the minute the Colorado Rockies moved to Meadowlands Arena in 1982. Since then, these clubs have met 267 times total, with the Rangers leading both the all-time series at 122-110-27-8, and the more competitive playoff series at 18-16.

Nothing details this rivalry better than their dominance in the 90s than counting trophies. New York‘s Stanley Cup victory in 1994 is widely known, as it was their first title in 54 years. But don’t let it be forgotten who they played in the Eastern Conference Finals. You guessed it, it was their old pal Jersey. The Rangers needed seven games to best the Devils before advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals to beat Vancouver.

Although they didn’t have to go through the Blueshirts (they have Philadelphia to thank for that, even though they don’t get along with that club either), it was the Devils‘ turn to take home Lord Stanley a year later. They bested Detroit in a quick four games that year to earn the franchise’s first title.

My, how things have changed since those days. Entering tonight’s game in seventh-place in the Metropolitan Division, the 12-12-6 Devils would beg for success like that, especially given their five-game losing skid. Although the defense and goaltending have not been phenomenal this season, the main reason for Jersey‘s struggles have been on the scoring end of the ice where they’ve managed only 70 goals – the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

With a team-leading 23 points, Travis Zajac has been involved in nearly a third of the Devils‘ scores. That being said, Mike Cammalleri holds the clubhouse goal-scoring lead having lit the lamp nine times so far this campaign.

Between the two of them and Taylor Hall, who has eight goals among 20 points with his new club, they have scored 35.7% of the Devils‘ goals. In short, the Devils need to find a way to get more skaters involved in scoring. No other players have more than 17 points to their credit, which is a striking number given the fact that Zajac only ties for the 36th-most points in the league. This entire offense needs a reboot, but it is going to have to be a team-effort.

Not unexpectedly, the Devils have also struggled on the power play. Their 14.9% conversion rate is eighth-worst in the NHL, but that can’t be blamed on Hall. He already has seven power play points to his credit, as well as four power play goals to lead the squad in both categories. Unfortunately for the Devils, that only ties for the 61st-best effort with the man-advantage in the league, which considerably takes the wind out of Hall’s sails.

Jersey might have been struggling on the power play, but they still find great success on the penalty kill. Led by Captain Andy Greene‘s 19 shorthanded blocks, the Devils have refused to yield a goal to 83.2% of opposing power plays, tying them for the ninth-best rate in the league.

Unfortunately for New Jersey, the odds of them snapping their losing skid are bleak, as they face the second-best team in the Metropolitan Division: the 22-10-1 Rangers, who are riding a two-game win streak thanks to last night’s shootout victory in Nashville. As has been the case all year, the Blueshirts are making headlines with their powerful offense that has already notched 109 tallies this season – the most in the NHL.

Like I said yesterday, you have to keep an eye on the club scoring title in Manhattan. Currently, the king of the dressing room is Kevin Hayes, who has 23 points to his credit. Similarly, Michael Grabner is not the sole lead-goalscorer anymore. He’s been joined by Rick Nash, as they both have 13 tallies apiece.

Currently rating ninth-best, New York has had a solid power play this season as they’re successful on 21.4% of attempts. Six skaters have headed that effort, but Nash, Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Vesey deserve special credit as they each have four goals with the man-advantage, tying for a team-high.

The Blueshirts have been even more impressive on the penalty kill, where their 87.3% success rate is third-best in the NHL. Kevin Klein‘s 13 shorthanded blocks have been the most impressive effort on the squad, but 14 of New York‘s 26 skaters have notched at least one block on the penalty kill. This entire club has bought in on both ends of the ice, and Alain Vigneault should be proud.

Tonight’s contest is the second time these teams have met this season. Only a Sunday ago, Madison Square Garden hosted the Devils to a five-goal shutout Rangers victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New Jersey‘s Cammalleri (nine goals [leads the team]), Kyle Palmieri (57 hits [leads the team]), Kyle Quincey (+5 [leads the team]) and Zajac (15 assists among 23 points [both lead the team]) & New York‘s Grabner (+18 [tied for second-best in the league]), Hayes (+16 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) and, depending on who plays, Henrik Lundqvist (14 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league]) or Antti Raanta (1.67 GAA on a .941 save percentage [both second-best in the NHL], including two shutouts [tied for eighth-most in the league]).

New York is favored at almost every casino in Vegas, and for good reason. All facets of the game are going their way these days, which is the exact opposite of what you can say about Jersey. Expect the Rangers to put a similar beat-down on their rivals as they did last weekend.

Hockey Birthday

  • Jean Pronovost (1945-) – This right wing played 998 games over 14 seasons, most of which with Pittsburgh. By the time his career was done, he’d notched 774 points and been selected for four All Star games.
  • Dan Cleary (1978-) – The 13th-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, this left wing has played most of his 17+ year career with Detroit, where he was a member of the Stanley Cup winning 2008 Red Wings team. He still plays in Detroit‘s system with Grand Rapids, and made 17 appearances with the senior team in the 2014-15 season.

Third Star of the Game Vesey’s return to Nashville – if you can call it that – went exactly as he would have liked, as his Rangers beat the Predators 2-1 in a shootout in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it belonged to Nash (Hayes and Nick Holden) and the Rangers. Nash’s wrister was his 13th goal of the year.

It stood as the would-be winner until Second Star Mike Fisher buried an unassisted wrister of his own 9:22 into the second frame to level the score at one-all. As neither side was able to break the tie with the remaining 35:38, which included five minutes of three-on-three play, the important bonus point was awarded in a shootout.

As home team, the Predators elected to shoot first…

  1. …and sent Ryan Johansen into the fray. Lundqvist was not about to let that into his net.
  2. Wonder boy himself, Vesey’s shot was pure to give the Rangers a 1-0 shootout lead.
  3. Next up for Nashville, Craig Smith did even worse than Johansen – he missed the cage.
  4. Mats Zuccarello ended the shootout almost as quickly as it began, scoring on First Star Juuse Saros.

Lundqvist earns the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (96.9%), while Saros takes the shootout loss, saving 26-of-27 (96.3%).

Another road victory in the DtFR Game of the Day series pulls the roadies within six points of the hosts, who have a 36-22-11 record.

November 26 – Day 45 – Penguins gone bad?

The only disappointing thing about all the games after Thanksgiving is that we don’t have as busy a Saturday as usual. That being said, most of today’s games have a bit of intrigue. Like usual, we get started at 7 p.m. with five games (Washington at Toronto [CBC/NHLN], Carolina at Ottawa [CITY], Montréal at Detroit [SN/TVAS], Columbus at Florida and New Jersey at Pittsburgh), followed an hour later by Minnesota at St. Louis. The West Coast games get underway at 10 p.m. with Vancouver at Colorado (CBC/SN), trailed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps, Chicago at Los Angeles and Anaheim at San Jose, at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Detroit: Nothing rings in the holiday season like the first Original Six matchup since Thanksgiving. Yup, you read it here.
  • New Jersey at Pittsburgh: Beau Bennett and Ben Lovejoy spent a combined 11 seasons in Pittsburgh before joining Jersey this off-season.
  • Washington at Toronto: Another return to a former home stadium, but this one features Daniel Winnik.
  • Anaheim at San Jose: We always love a good rivalry, especially involved with two teams from the Golden State.
  • Chicago at Los Angeles: Another rivalry that always produces good TV.

You only make one first return of the year, and since they hoisted the Cup last season, we’ll catch Bennett and Lovejoy’s homecoming.

New Jersey Devils Logopittsburgh_penguins_logo

 

Bennett was the Penguins‘ top pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and played a total of 129 contests over four seasons with the black-and-gold, providing them 45 points over that span. This time last year, Bennett was playing regularly for Pittsburgh, although that would last only a few more weeks until injuries started piling up, limiting him to only 33 regular season and one postseason games.

Lovejoy’s tenure with the Pens is a little but longer, but it took two stints for him to reach his 184 games over seven campaigns. The defenseman made it to the NHL the hard way. Undrafted, he signed a contract with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2007 to, in effect, audition for a job with Pittsburgh. His 20 point, +16 season was enough to do the trick, as the Penguins signed him to a contract the next summer. By the 2010-’11 season, his AHL days were behind him, even though he was regularly a healthy scratch. That season was arguably his best in the Steel City, as he notched 17 points and a +11 in 47 appearances.

After being traded to Anaheim three games into the 2012-’13 season, Lovejoy returned to Pittsburgh at the 2014-’15 trade deadline. He played in every Stanley Cup playoff game last spring, notching six points for a +5.

Both skaters joined the Devils this offseason. Bennett was traded at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft for a third-round pick, while The Reverend left on his own will, joining New Jersey for a three-year deal for $8 million, a far cry from his first $875,000 deal with Pittsburgh in 2008.

Their Devils come to the City of Champions with a 10-6-4 record after hosting the Red Wings last night for a 5-4 overtime loss. While the offense hasn’t been enviable with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri missing time, they’ve kept afloat with a decent defense.

So far this season, New Jersey has allowed only 51 goals, tying for 11th-fewest in the NHL. With 16 starts, Cory Schneider has been has been net for most of those scores, but that’s not to say he’s had a poor season. He has a .915 save percentage for a 2.53 GAA to his credit, which ranks (t)19th and 21st fewest among the 40 goaltenders with eight or more appearances.

With only average netminding numbers, it’d be assumed that the Devils‘ defense is playing out of their mind.

All those who raised their hands are in for some learning.

Schneider faces an average of 30.6 shots against per game, tying for 12th-most in the league. Although Captain Andy Greene‘s 46-block effort has been admirable, he’s the only Devil with more than 40 blocks to his credit. The rest of the blueline needs to get involved, or the Devils may be scheduling tee times right after the regular season.

The power play has not had a lot go their way either. Jersey has been successful on only 13.4% of their attempts, sixth-worst in the NHL. Damon Severson has been the man in charge of the power play with five points to his credit, but those are all assists. The aforementioned Hall was the one with the most power play goals (three), but active Travis Zajac takes that role with two extra-man tallies on his resume.

Hosting them this evening are the 12-6-3 Penguins, who were taken to school in Minnesota yesterday, losing 6-2. While the defense has still led much to be desired, Pittsburgh‘s offense is still one of the best in the league, with 62 goals to their credit – tied for the eighth-highest total in the league.

For those worried that Phil Kessel wouldn’t work out in Pittsburgh, surely you’re doubts ended during last season’s playoffs. If not, you have to believe in the Mr. “The Thrill” now, as he’s leading his club with 21 points. That being said, it’s been Sidney Crosby finishing a lot of plays, with 14 goals in his 15 games played.

Pittsburgh is also home to the seventh-best power play, successful on 21.4% of attempts. That’s where Kessel has been at his best, earning nine power extra-man points. The same goes for Crosby, who leads the squad with five power play tallies.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New Jersey‘s Greene (46 blocks [leads the team]) and Zajac (15 points, 10 of which are assists [both lead the team]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (14 goals [leads the NHL]), Kessel (15 assists [tied for second-most in the league] for 21 points [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and Matthew Murray (1.58 GAA [tied for second-best in the league] and .945 save percentage [tied for third-best in the NHL]).

From what I’ve found, Vegas doesn’t seem to have a line published for tonight’s contest, which is usually a good sign. That being said, I’m not so confident. The Penguins are an incredible offense that should be able to handle anything Jersey throws at them defensively. Paired with a solid defense, Pittsburgh should earn two points.

Hockey Birthday

  • National Hockey League (1917-) – The Montréal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs and Toronto Arenas band together in what would become the greatest hockey league in the world.
  • Chris Osgood (1972-) – This goaltender played 744 games over 17 seasons, most of which with Detroit, the team that drafted him 54th-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. At 401 victories, he still has the 10th most in NHL history, and hoisted the Stanley Cup twice.
  • Keith Ballard (1982-) – He may have been drafted 11th-overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo, but he never played a game in a Sabres sweater. Instead, most of his 10-year career was spent in Phoenix.

New York took care of business in yesterday’s Game of the Day, beating the Flyers 3-2 in the House that Eric Lindros Built.

Two goals were struck in the opening 20 minutes, and they both belonged to the visiting Blueshirts. 13:16 after the opening puck drop, Second Star of the Game Derek Stepan (J.T. Miller) buried a snap shot to give the Rangers a lead. That lead doubled 1:34 later with Matt Puempel‘s (Jimmy Vesey and Josh Jooris) first goal as a Ranger, only four days after signing with the club.

The eventual game-winning goal found the back of the net with 7:27 remaining in the second period. Kevin Hayes tipped-in Nick Holden‘s initial shot for a 3-0 lead.

Philly tried valiantly to level the game. Only 1:34 after returning to the ice for the third period, Chris VandeVelde deflected Andrew MacDonald‘s shot into the net to pull the Flyers within two goals. The only other score the Flyers could manage was Shayne Gostisbehere‘s (Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds) slap shot with 2:04 remaining in regulation.

First Star Henrik Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 40-of-42 shots faced (95.2%), leaving Steve Mason the loss, saving 20-of-23 (87%).

New York‘s victory pulls the road squads within seven points of the home teams, who have a 25-15-7 record.