Tag Archives: Parayko

November 24 – Day 51 – Fastest guns in the West

While I’m sure yesterday’s break was enjoyed by hockey players and fans alike, I think I’m safe in assuming that we’ve been looking forward to resuming play today since the end of Wednesday’s games in Southern California.

Making up for yesterday’s lost time, the NHL has scheduled a whopping 14 games scheduled over the course of eight hours. The action starts at 1 p.m. when Pittsburgh visits Boston (NBC), followed three hours later by a trio of contests (Winnipeg at Anaheim, Colorado at Minnesota and the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [SN]). Tampa Bay at Washington (NHLN) drops the puck at 5 p.m. and San Jose at Vegas finishes up the matinee slate an hour after. The normal starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it a four-game set (Edmonton at Buffalo, Vancouver at New Jersey, Detroit at the New York Rangers and Ottawa at Columbus [RDS]), with Toronto at Carolina waiting half an hour before dropping the puck. Nashville visits St. Louis (TVAS) at 8 p.m., with tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Arizona and Calgary at Dallas – cleaning up the festivities 60 minutes later. All times Eastern.

Let’s see what games I had circled on my calendar…

  • Detroit at New York: Nothing gets me in the holiday spirit like a nasty, old-fashioned Original Six rivalry.
  • Toronto at Carolina: The man, the myth, the legend D Ron Hainsey is back in Raleigh for the first time since being shipped to Pittsburgh at last season’s trade deadline, taking on a Hurricanes team he played with for four seasons.
  • Nashville at St. Louis: If last year’s Western Semifinals matchup is any indicator, this game has a chance of getting nasty.
  • Calgary at Dallas: While this game should be exciting in and of itself, the real treat is happening pregame when RW Jere Lehtinen‘s 26 is retired to the American Airline Center’s rafters.

It’s been a while since we’ve featured either the Blues or Predators. What better way to kick start the second third of the season than a contest between two of the top three teams in the Western Conference?

 

For those that can’t remember all the way back to the last week of April and the first week of May, this was a physical playoff series between these two clubs. In six games, both squads combined to throw 365 total hits, or 60.8 hits-per-game. While I wouldn’t argue that it’s the reason the Predators were able to win the series 4-2, they did technically out-hit the Blues 184-181.

Of course, one of the major motives for the violence – beyond being Central Division rivals, of course – was W Kevin Fiala breaking his leg as a result of one of those hits, a check from D Robert Bortuzzo in Game 1 at Scottrade Center.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, given the extra motivation to avenge their fallen comrade, the Preds were able to claim the only road victory of the series in that game. Though the next five games never had goal-differentials of more than two goals (barring F Calle Jarnkrok‘s empty-netter with a minute remaining in Game 6), Nashville’s imposing home advantage at Bridgestone Arena was enough to earn it a ticket to the Western Conference Finals and, ultimately, the Stanley Cup Finals.

Big hits like those during last year’s playoff series usually imply an active and effective defense. While I have no doubt in the of this year’s blue line, the 13-6-2 Predators of the 2017-’18 season seem to have a much better handle of the game when they are controlling things offensively.

That has been made no more evident than during the three-game winning streak they’re currently riding, as the Predators’ 12 goals are the (t)second-most in the NHL since November 18. While that’s a problem in-and-of itself for the Blues, figuring out who is scoring the goals is another issue entirely.

During this three-game winning streak, the only staple in Nashville’s production has been D P.K. Subban, who has provided five assists since November 18 to lead the team in points. As for who he’s assisting, your guess is as good as 12-5-1 G Jake Allen‘s. 10 different skaters have scored goals in this trio of contests, with only D Mattias Ekholm and F Filip Forsberg scoring more than one.

If St. Louis is going to pick only one forward to stop tonight, they’d probably be best off eliminating Forsberg. Not only has he scored a team-high 11 goals on the season, but he’s also tacked on another dozen assists for a club-leading 23 points.

Unfortunately for the Notes, Forsberg is a tough man to keep under wraps, because he does most of his work while Nashville has the man-advantage. Seven of his goals and 12 of his points have come on the power play, and as such the Preds’ 25.3 percent success rate with the extra man is the third best in the NHL. With St. Louis managing a below-average penalty kill (its 78.6 percent kill rate is [t]11th-worst in the NHL) Forsberg could be well on his way to adding to his season totals tonight if F Brayden Schenn and F Vladimir Sobotka can’t stay out of the penalty box.

Of course, Forsberg and the Predators aren’t going to show up in St. Louis and simply be handed two points, as they are going up against a team that is riding a three-game winning streak of its own: the Western Conference-leading 16-5-1 Blues.

As you’d expect from a squad in their position in the table, it’s hard to find too many issues with the Blues game (ok, beyond the penalty kill). After all, they rank fifth best in the NHL in both goals-for (3.45 per game) and goals-against (2.64 per game) on the season.

That being said – and with no disrespect to Allen’s .909 save percentage and 2.74 GAA for the season – offense has been the name of the game during this little winning streak the Notes have going. In the past three games, the Blues have managed an impressive 16 goals that is (t)second-most in the league since November 16. In fact, considering most teams have played four games in that span, St. Louis’ 5.33 goals-per-game effort has actually been the best performance in the league for the second half of the month.

Now, before we go any further, it should probably be mentioned that two of the Blues’ last three games were played against a struggling 8-12-2 Oilers team that was never known for their defense even in last year’s return to the postseason. St. Louis won both games by a combined score of 12-4, but the biggest takeaways from those games (beyond four points, obviously) was the positive momentum, rhythm and confidence built by seeing what this team is truly capable of.

Whether we’re looking at just this three-game run or the entire season, there’s few names on the Blues’ offense that shine like Schenn and F Jaden Schwartz. While Schwartz has been truly spectacular on the season as a whole with his 11-19-30 totals (he’s on pace for 41 goals and 112 points), first-year Note Schenn has been stealing most of the headlines of late. In only his past three games, the former Flyer has earned 5-3-8 totals to lead the team and bolster his season marks to 10-20-30. Schenn is currently riding an eight-game point streak that includes seven goals.

Of course, this all ignores that RW Vladimir Tarasenko – the third member of St. Louis’ first line – is also on this team, the man who effectively carried the Blues’ entire offense on his back only a season ago with his 39-36-75 totals.

It’s the very fact that he’s not the lone goal provider that is making this Blues team so dangerous. With his linemates scoring like there’s no tomorrow, a potent second line of Sobotka, Paul Stastny and Alex Steen backing them up and a defensive corps that includes the likes of Joel Edmundson (6-2-8 totals), Colton Parayko (2-8-10) and Alex Pietrangelo (7-13-20), Tarasenko is able to settle into his original role as the Notes’ goal-sniper extraordinaire. Considering his 12.1 shooting percentage is (t)second-best in the league among players with at least 85 shots on goal, I’d say he’s gotten back into the swing of things rather nicely.

And if there’s one thing 12-3-2 G Pekka Rinne doesn’t want to see tonight, it’s Tarasenko lining up one of his deadly wrist shots with the option to pass to an equally potent forward. In addition to his dozen goals on the season, Tarasenko has also assisted on 14 other St. Louis tallies, making that top line one of the most intimidating in the conference, if not the entire league.

With two extremely talented offenses going at it, it would seem likely that the better defense should be able to come out on top after everything is all said and done. If I’m right in that prediction, it should be the Blues that see their winning streak continue, as their 2.64 goals against-per-game is lower than Nashville’s 2.9.

St. Louis Blues 2017-’18 Season Preview

St. Louis Blues

46-29-7, 99 points, third in the Central Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Nashville

Additions: W Beau Bennett, D Nate Prosser, F Brayden Schenn, C Oskar Sundqvist, W Chris Thorburn

Subtractions: LW Kenny Agostino (signed with BOS), C Jori Lehtera (traded to PHI), W David Perron (drafted by VGK), RW Ty Rattie (signed with EDM), RW Ryan Reaves (traded to PIT), W Nail Yakupov (signed with COL)

Offseason Analysis: The Blues’ biggest struggle last season was finding offensive production from someone not named Vladimir Tarasenko, the right wing that led his team with 75 points – 20 more than second-best F Jaden Schwartz.

Enter Flyer-turned-Note Schenn.

The fifth-overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft has improved almost every season of his career. Starting with his rookie campaign in 2011-’12, Schenn has averaged .58 points-per-game, including .72 points-per-game for the past two seasons even though he played for the ninth-worst offense in the NHL during that time.

For those wanting more moves, you’ll have your wish next offseason when eight NHL contracts will expire. Until then, St. Louis is putting almost the exact same product on the ice as it did at last season’s end. Since that’s the case, the Blues’ goal of a seventh-straight playoff appearance will require a return to form from a few offensive pieces that had down years last season – particularly C Paul Stastny (18-22-40 totals), who has yet to match his career .8 points-per-game in a Blues sweater.

Of course, the main reason Stastny struggled to post numbers similar to his 10-39-49 totals from 2015-’16 was a lower-body injury suffered in March that forced him out of action for the last 10 games of the regular season and most of the Minnesota series. And he wasn’t the only one to face extended time off the ice, as a February ACL injury landed F Robby Fabbri on injured reserve. It was a disappointing halt to an excellent season for Fabbri, who had posted 11-18-29 totals in 51 games before going down.

Of course, it is these injuries that provided 21-year-old Ivan Barbashev his opportunity to explode onto the scene. In only 30 games, Barbashev was able to notch 12 points and helped the Blues close the season on a 12-2-2 run. It seems a safe assumption that he’s earned his way onto the Blues’ starting roster – at least until December when Patrik Berglund should return from his shoulder surgery.

Another task facing the Blues is identifying their new two-way defenseman, a role Kevin Shattenkirk filled for the past seven seasons. In the 20 regular season games following Shattenkirk’s trade to Washington, Captain Alex Pietrangelo more than stepped into that role by notching 5-13-18 totals for .9 points-per-game, far superior to the .5 points-per-game rate he managed in his opening 60 games.

With four assists in 11 playoff contests, Pietrangelo didn’t necessarily disappear from the scoresheet during the postseason, but his offensive contributions from the blue line were dwarfed by those of Joel Edmundson (3-3-6 totals) and Colton Parayko (2-3-5 totals). Drafted in 2012, 24-year-old Parayko has long been tapped as Shattenkirk’s replacement – especially given that he’s posted two consecutive 33+ point NHL seasons – but the Blues are cautiously hoping last April was Edmundson’s (another 24-year-old) coming-out party.

Will that dream pan out? Probably not. Edmundson has only managed 31 total points in two years of regular and postseason NHL play. But, if it somehow proves to be true, it will be hard to argue that St. Louis’ Edmundson (who’s playing for a contract this year, by the way), Parayko and Pietrangelo form one of the most dynamic defensive corps in the league.

Another interesting transition for this club is employing Thorburn as their new enforcer. For seven seasons, Reaves was charged with protecting the likes of Pietrangelo, Alex Steen and Tarasenko, but he’s looking after Pittsburgh’s stars now. With the likes of Duncan Keith still roaming the division, Thorburn – himself a four-year Central veteran – will need to assert himself early to protect St. Louis’ elite players.

Offseason Grade: B-

For the room it had on its roster (read: not much), St. Louis made a great addition in Schenn that should make a noticeable improvement on the offensive end.

But are the Blues a playoff team? I feel pretty confident saying they are. Do they make it to the Western Finals for the second time in three years or – God save me – qualify for the Stanley Cup Finals? Many of the pieces are still there, but there are more than a few talented teams in the mix. Then again, this team has proven in the past that when it’s hot, it’s en fuego. If the Notes are riding one of those highs in April, there’s no telling how far they could go.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 7

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

 

St. Louis Blues at Nashville Predators – Game 6

With its 3-1 victory over the Blues at Bridgestone Arena, Nashville has advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Sometimes you start slow, but you’ve got to finish fast. It may not be an original game plan, but it worked like a charm for Peter Laviolette‘s Predators.

Of course, for that plan to work means a painful beginning to the game. That was represented by Paul Stastny‘s (Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz) wrist shot only 2:04 into the contest.  It was another scrappy, ugly playoff goal. Tarasenko ripped a wrist shot on net from the far face-off circle, but Third Star of the Game Pekka Rinne was more than able to make the save.

But there’s a big difference between simply making a save and containing a save. Rinne did only the former, leaving the puck exposed behind him in the crease. Stastny took notice and reached behind the goaltender to complete the play and give the Blues an early 1-0 lead.

Knowing St. Louis would have home ice for a deciding Game 7, the Preds clearly tightened up following Stastny’s marker. They managed only five shots in the first period due in large part to giving the puck away nine times before the first intermission.

Whether it was a message from Laviolette or Captain Mike Fisher, something got through to the club during the break because the score read 1-1 only 35 seconds after the beginning of the second period. Scoring his fourth goal of the playoffs, Roman Josi (Mattias Ekholm and First Star Ryan Johansen) scored a snap shot on Jake Allen‘s seventh shot faced of the game.

Both defenses yielded only seven shots in the second period to leave the score as it was for the remaining 19:25 before the second intermission. The physical play by both clubs had a big part in that effort, as St. Louis’ Colton Parayko and Smashville’s Colton Sissons both threw five hits during the game.

During the second intermission, it was the Notes’ opportunity to regroup and respond to the Predators’ second period. Instead, Johansen (Second Star Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal 3:15 into the frame.

It was a beautiful breakaway goal befitting the title of series-clincher. Ekholm ripped the puck away from Tarasenko along the far boards in his defensive zone and passed to Forsberg near the far point. Upon seeing Ekholm’s takeaway, Arvidsson had been working his way towards the neutral zone and Forsberg dished across the blue line to him. The Swede raced up the ice into the offensive zone and passed from the far face-off dot to his trailing center to set up a one-on-one matchup with Allen. After making the netminder commit to the near post with a shot fake, he pulled the puck back across the crease and finished with a smooth backhander to give the Predators a lead they would not yield.

Allen departed his crease for the first time with 2:20 remaining in regulation. With the extra attacker, the Blues managed only two shots – neither of which required a save by Rinne. Instead, Calle Jarnkrok (Josi and Rinne) bolted down the ice to ensure Nashville its chance to fight for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl by burying a wrister with 60 seconds remaining before the final horn.

Allen would desert his net for the sixth attacker again with 51 seconds remaining in regulation, but to no avail. The Blues could not manage a tally, much less a second they would have needed to force overtime.

The NHL has yet to release a starting date or time for the Western Conference finals, but Game 7 in the other Western Semifinal will be played Wednesday.

 

Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 6

With five goals in the first period, Edmonton stomped the Ducks 7-1 Sunday at Rogers Place to force the first Game 7 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals.

With an opportunity to advance to the Western Conference Finals with a win, nothing went right for the Ducks in the first period. They managed only eight shots on goal compared to Edmonton’s 16.

Instead everything went the Oil’s way. It started with First Star of the Game Leon Draisaitl‘s (Adam Larsson) wrist shot only 2:45 into the game and only escalated from there. Draisaitl (Milan Lucic and Darnell Nurse) scored again only 4:37 later, followed by Zack Kassian (Second Star Mark Letestu and Griffin Reinhart) at the 8:25 mark. Letestu was apparently impressed by Draisaitl’s two-tally frame, so he buried one (Kris Russell and David Desharnais) with 8:21 remaining in the period and another (Matt Benning and Draisaitl) 7:10 later on the power play.

Edmonton actually reached its sixth goal before the Ducks even fired their ninth shot of the contest. Anton Slepyshev (Patrick Maroon and Draisaitl) buried a wrister from the slot only 45 into the second period to truly break Anaheim’s spirit. Though Rickard Rakell (Corey Perry and Cam Fowler) did manage to get the Ducks on the board at the 8:56 mark of the period, Draisaitl (Lucic and Letestu) completed his hat trick with 4:33 remaining in the frame on a power play to neutralize his tally.

Allowing only one goal on 35 shots faced (97.1%), Third Star Cam Talbot also deserves much credit for Edmonton’s victory. He especially deserves credit for yielding a goal on any of the Ducks’ three power plays. Though Anaheim’s power play hasn’t been very potent this postseason at a 14.3% conversion rate, a man-advantage is still a man-advantage and requires extra focus from a netminder.

Though Game 7 is scheduled for Wednesday, the time of puck drop will be determined following the conclusion of Game 6 between the Capitals and Penguins.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – May 5

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

 

Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues – Game 5

Pekka Rinne stood tall, but not tall enough to prevent the Predators from falling 2-1 to St. Louis at the Scottrade Center in their Western Conference Semifinals matchup.

Instead, it was the Blues’ defense that played exceptionally well to earn the victory. Every single blueliner blocked two Predators shots, but the defensive corps was paced by Carl Gunnarsson‘s three. Add in the forwards’ rejections, and 25 total shots were blocked before reaching First Star of the Game Jake Allen, who saved all 22 shots faced except James Neal‘s (P.K. Subban and Roman Josi) five-on-three power play wrist shot with 6:10 remaining in the second period.

Speaking of Nashville’s special teams, they played incredibly. Not only did they convert the only extra-man opportunity of the combined eight in the contest, but the penalty kill also stood especially strong. In total, the Preds were shorthanded for 7:51, including 1:50 of five-on-three action late in the first period, but did not yield a tally.

But the Notes’ postseason success has not been due to their power play. Even though they played the eighth-best man-advantage during the regular season, they’ve managed an anemic 6.9% conversion rate in their 10 playoff games, the worst in the league since the end of the regular season.

Instead, it’s been grind-it-out goals like Second Star Dmitrij Jaskin‘s (Alex Pietrangelo and Vladimir Sobotka) wrister. Making his first appearance of the 2017 postseason, he took advantage of the rebound of Pietrangelo’s shot from the far point off Rinne’s right pad to beat the goaltender to the near post at the 5:43 mark of the second period.

With Jaskin and Neal both finding the back of the net in the middle frame, the score read 1-1 throughout the second intermission. That score remained for only 25 seconds in the third before Third Star Jaden Schwartz (Colton Parayko) buried St. Louis’ game-winner. Parayko intercepted an attempted clear by Josi at the far point and eventually fired a wrister on Rinne’s net. The netminder was more than able to make the save, but he couldn’t contain the rebound. Schwartz saw an opportunity, and he capitalized by lifting a wrister over Rinne’s right pad for his fourth goal of the postseason.

The Blues wanted a Game 6, and a Game 6 they’ll have. It’s scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast on NBC in the USA or SN and TVAS in Canada.

 

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 5

With its 4-3 double-overtime victory over the Oilers at the Honda Center Friday, Anaheim has pulled within one game of the Western Conference Finals.

After Leon Draisaitl (Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson), Connor McDavid (Mark Letestu and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) and Drake Caggiula (McDavid and Kris Russell) all scored in the second period to set the score at 3-0, the Oilers were feeling confident going into the second intermission.

That confidence only grew the longer that score was displayed on the scoreboard. Cam Talbot played brilliantly for the opening 56:44 of play, saving all 40 shots the Ducks threw at him.

But as it turns out, all the Ducks needed was another attacker.

John Gibson left his net for the first time with 3:34 remaining in regulation. 18 seconds later, Second Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf (Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler) scored a slap shot from the far point to set the score at 3-1.

Gibson reclaimed his net for the face-off at center ice, but departed with 2:59 remaining before the final horn. Exactly 18 seconds later once again, Cam Fowler (Silfverberg and First Star Corey Perry) struck his first goal of the 2017 playoffs to pull Anaheim within a tally.

Of course, the first two goals wouldn’t matter without a third. Once again Randy Carlyle sent Gibson into his crease for the center ice face-off, but the netminder deserted his post with 72 seconds remaining in play.

Though they didn’t score after only 18 seconds with the extra man this time, all that matters to the Ducks is that they scored. It was a wild play that was almost overturned by replay. With 21 seconds remaining in regulation, Fowler fired a wrist shot from the far point that Talbot was able to deflect. However, he was unable to contain the rebound, which Perry tried to collect and force into the net.

Darnell Nurse shoved him to the ice before he could fire, leaving the puck exposed on the near side of the crease. Third Star Rickard Rakell found the loose biscuit with 17 seconds remaining to miraculously squeeze a backhanded shot between Patrick Maroon‘s legs, under Nurse’s stick, past Kesler’s stick and through Talbot’s five-hole.

To put it simply, Rakell wouldn’t be able to pull off the shot twice in a row.

But all those heroics did was force overtime. In all, 23 shots were recorded between the two clubs – including 14 by Anaheim – but none could find the back of the net in the first overtime period.

The second overtime period didn’t even last half as long as the first, as Perry (Getzlaf and Rakell) buried a wrist shot at the 86:57 mark to give the Ducks a 3-2 advantage in the series.

Though he was probably exhausted, Perry’s goal was a crash-course in patience. After receiving a pass from Getzlaf from the far boards, Perry crossed the slot from far to near waiting for Talbot to commit. Once he did, he was unable to seal his near post as quickly as he would have liked, and Perry took advantage for only his second tally of the 2017 playoffs.

Part of the reason Edmonton struggled so mightily in the late stages of the game was due to their injuries on the blue line. The Ducks came out of the gates flying, throwing hard hits on Matt Benning and Andrej Sekera that forced both from the game for a short while. Though Benning was able to return to action late in the opening frame, Sekera could not retake the ice, leaving the Oil with only five defensemen for most of the game.

The Ducks will have their first opportunity to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals this Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern time at Rogers Place. Viewers in America should tune their sets to NBCSN, while Canadian fans are advised to watch either SN or TVAS.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 28

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

 

Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues – Game 2

After dropping Game 1, St. Louis desperately needed a victory to salvage home ice at the start of the second round to level the series at 1-1. Thanks to First Star of the Game Vladimir Tarasenko‘s two goals, the Blues did just that by beating Nashville 3-2 Friday night at Scottrade Center.

Though the fourth-best (okay, tied for fourth-best) goalscorer of the 2016-17 regular season earned the spotlight, it was actually Nashville’s defense that performed the best all night. Spearheaded by Roman Josi‘s four blocks, St. Louis managed only 20 shots all game – led by Tarasenko’s six.

Making that effort even more impressive is the fact that the Predators served a whopping 23 penalty minutes. By comparison, St. Louis served only two and Patrik Berglund‘s interference corresponded with an embellishment penalty by Third Star Ryan Ellis, meaning Nashville did not earn a single man-advantage all game.

In all, the Preds faced five Blues power plays and yielded only one tally: a Tarasenko (Alex Pietrangelo and Alex Steen) wrist shot with 20 seconds remaining before the first intermission.

Most of those penalty minutes belonged to Vernon Fiddler, who was caught practicing questionable form when hitting Colton Parayko with 92 seconds remaining in the first period. The skaters made knee-to-knee contact as Fiddler hit the defenseman behind Jake Allen‘s net. It earned him a game misconduct and a major penalty, giving the Blues a five-minute unlimited power play that led to Tarasenko’s marker to tie the game at one-all.

All the shorthanded situations is also a major reason the Preds only managed 24 shots on goal of their own. It is difficult, even for the postseason’s third-best offense, to get any rhythm going when playing without a full fleet of weapons.

But even when faced with that self-imposed handicap, a defensive effort that impressive will eventually produce chances on the other end of the ice. That was no more apparent than when Ellis intercepted Vladimir Sobotka‘s attempted pass to Berglund at St. Louis’ blue line. Since both squads were advancing towards the Blues’ offensive zone, the defenseman had to steer his shot past only one possible defender to beat Allen’s glove 3:07 into the third period and set the score at 2-1.

James Neal (Colton Sissons and Ellis) accounted for Nashville’s other marker, a deflection scored on Ellis’ initial shot from the far point 7:49 into the game. It was only the Predators’ second shot on goal of the night.

Nashville’s lead lasted only 4:32 until Second Star Jori Lehtera (Berglund and Parayko) leveled the game once again for the Blues, but they had yet to lead in the contest.

Until, that is, Tarasenko (Joel Edmundson and Jaden Schwartz) buried his game-winning wrister with 3:51 remaining in regulation. Schwartz attacked up the far boards, traversing all three zones with the puck in his possession. Once he reached the face-off dot, he passed back towards the blue line to Edmundson, who kick-passed to St. Louis’ favorite right wing. Tarasenko dropped to a knee to get the proper contact on his shot to beat Pekka Rinne‘s right pad.

In a game dominated by defense, it’s only logical that a strong Blues stand at the end of the contest would be the reason they held on for victory. Even more fitting, the biggest play came from one of the biggest stars on the ice. With Rinne pulled for the sixth attacker, Ryan Johansen had a wrist shot cocked and ready to fire from the near face-off circle. But instead of sending a shot flying towards Allen, his stick met Tarasenko’s, who dove to knock the puck away from the center.

The now best-of-five series shifts a little over 300 miles southeast to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. for Games 3 and 4. Speaking of Game 3, puck drop is set for Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast on NBC in the United States of America or SN and TVAS in Canada.

 

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 2

When the best player on the ice is the goaltender, the team attacking him faces an uphill battle. That’s exactly what happened to Anaheim Friday, as it fell 2-1 at the Honda Center to give the Oilers a two-game advantage in their Western Conference semifinal.

No matter what the Ducks threw at him, First Star of the Game Cam Talbot was absolutely electric in the crease. In all, he faced 40 shots in Game 2, and stopped all but one of them for a ..975 save percentage.

The opposite goaltender, John Gibson, played nowhere near Talbot’s level, but he didn’t necessarily need to be that often. He faced only 23 shots, but did let two by (91.3%).

Instead, Anaheim played an incredible defense to counter the Oil’s fantastic netminder, made evident by the few shots Gibson faced. Though Edmonton did give the puck away 13 times, the Ducks caused more than their fair share of turnovers by playing a very physical game. In total, Anaheim threw 32 hits, including five by Second Star Ryan Getzlaf to lead the club.

Whether by a corps of blue liners or goaltender, what resulted was a grind-it-out, tough contest typical of a playoff matchup featuring the top two teams of a division.

Then again, that doesn’t well explain the first goal of the game, as Andrej Sekera buried a quick unassisted slap shot only 65 seconds into the game to give Edmonton an early one-goal lead. Hampus Lindholm was trying to pass to Jakob Silfverberg at the goal line and set up a breakaway opportunity, but his dish was too strong and sneaked to Sekera at the near point. Seeing no better option, the defenseman banged home his first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and only his second career postseason marker (his first was scored way back in 2011 with the Sabres).

The game-winning tally belongs to Patrick Maroon (Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) at the 6:41 mark of the second period, but his play started before he even took to the ice. 1:43 before he scored his tip-in, Korbinian Holzer was caught holding Zack Kassian‘s stick to earn himself a seat in the penalty box.

Similar to the Rangers-Senators game Thursday, hockey has a way of perfectly playing out the “what comes around, goes around” idiom. Only 8:34 after Maroon had scored the insurance goal, Darnell Nurse was sent to the sin bin for hi-sticking Jared Boll. Silfverberg (Third Star Cam Fowler and Ryan Kesler) didn’t wait long to capitalize on that mistake, waiting only 20 seconds before pulling the Ducks back within a goal.

Unfortunately for Anaheim, they could not manage to break through the might Talbot over the remaining 24:26 of regulation. The Ducks now face an intense uphill climb to the Western Finals, as they will need to win three of the next five games – and at least one in Canada – to simply force a deciding Game 7 on The Pond.

Their first chance to get back into the series will be this Sunday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. Puck drop is scheduled for at 7 p.m. Eastern time and the contest may be viewed on NBCSN in the USA and SN or TVAS in Canada.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 26

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

 

Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues – Game 1

The Predators’ record in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs reads 5-0 after beating St. Louis 4-3 Wednesday at Scottrade Center.

Even before Colin Wilson (First Star of the Game P.K. Subban and Ryan Ellis) scored his power play tip-in 11:24 after puck drop to open the scoring, this series was already showing its true colors.

If the character of the game can be summed up in one hockey buzzword, it would have to be gritty. Of course, a tip-in tally would qualify for that adjective too, but it’s more defined by the violent interactions between the skaters. In that first period alone, a combined 28 hits were thrown between the two clubs. In total? 70 blows were thrown before the final horn, with the Blues leading the total by only two hits.

Then again, what should have been expected in a series featuring Cody McLeod (eight hits) and Ryan Reaves (10 hits)?

Unfortunately, that commitment to contact can sometimes have unintended results. 1:43 into the second period, Kevin Fiala got smashed into the boards by Robert Bortuzzo with his legs spread in an unnatural position. Fiala could not get back to his skates and remained on the ice.

The injury (trainers focused exclusively on the upper part of his left leg) was severe enough that he laid on the ice for more than five minutes and had to be stretchered off the ice and taken by ambulance to a St. Louis hospital for further evaluation and treatment. Wilson moved into Fiala’s left wing spot on the second line, but the Predators have since stated Fiala is in stable condition. His status for Game 2 on Friday is unknown.

Though Fiala’s condition and treatment was far more important, his injury certainly had an impact on the contest. The most immediate effect was the amount of downtime between play. Even after he was removed from the ice, play was further delayed until another ambulance arrived per NHL rules. In all, over 15 minutes elapsed between Matt Irwin‘s shot at the 1:45 mark to Ryan Johansen‘s face-off victory at the 1:46 mark.

After sitting inactive for that long with nothing but a serious injury on the mind, both the Blues’ and Predators’ response out of the break would be extremely important. Nashville’s reaction was by far the better of the two, made evident by Subban’s slap shot (Johansen) from the point 36 seconds after resuming play to set the score at 2-0.

Not all contact is legal, though – especially when it involves a netminder. David Perron forced St. Louis to learn the tough “If you knock their goalie down, you’re going to pay” lesson 9:38 into the game when he was caught interfering with Pekka Rinne. It was that penalty that yielded Wilson’s game-opening marker 1:46 later.

Blues penalties were certainly trendy in the second period. After Second Star Colton Parayko (Joel Edmundson and Kyle Brodziak) pulled the Notes back within a five-hole wrist shot at the 8:04 mark of the second period, all three ended up in the sin bin for individual infractions. Before the end of the frame. Though Nashville couldn’t take advantage four-on-three or five-on-three situations, Filip Forsberg (Subban and Roman Josi) did score a power play goal with his skate with 7:49 remaining in the second frame, setting the score at 3-1.

Whether it was St. Louis’ offense truly coming alive or a coach seeing something in the Predators’ play during intermission, Scottrade Center’s scoreboard came alive in the final frame. 6:48 after resuming play, Third Star Jaden Schwartz (Paul Stastny and Edmundson) scored the Blues’ second five-hole goal to pull the home team back within a tally, followed 2:34 later by a Vladimir Sobotka (Magnus Paajarvi) wrist shot that found the top shelf of Rinne’s net.

The crowd tried as hard as it could to spur its team to another goal, but Vernon Fiddler (Austin Watson) had other plans – though the goal was more a mistake by Jake Allen than the center’s hard work. After receiving a pass from Watson along the far boards, Fiddler drove towards Allen’s crease. The puck started to get away from him, so the netminder tried to dive and bat the puck away with his stick. But Allen’s stick never made contact with the puck, so it slid underneath him and into the back of the net for the game-winning goal.

As hinted before, Game 2 will be contested Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at Scottrade Center. Americans intending to watch the game can do so on NBCSN, while Canadian viewers will find the contest on CBC and TVAS.

 

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Ducks – Game 1

With a thrilling third period, the Oilers beat previously unbeaten-in-the-playoffs Anaheim 5-3 Wednesday at the Honda Center.

Through the first two periods, it was a great goaltending matchup. If not for Second Star of the Game Ryan Getzlaf (Cam Fowler and Ryan Kesler) and Third Star Mark Letestu (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl) both scoring power play goals in the second frame to set the score at one-all, both John Gibson and Cam Talbot would have perfect shutouts on 20 shots faced apiece.

Then the final 20 minutes happened.

First Edmonton had its spurt. Letestu (Draisaitl and Connor McDavid) buried a power play wrist shot 6:23 into the frame to give the Oil their first lead of the night, followed 100 seconds later by First Star Adam Larsson‘s (Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon) wrister that flew past Gibson.

But the Ducks were more than able to hold serve after that strike with one of their own. 79 seconds after Larsson was finished celebrating the second playoff goal of his career, Patrick Eaves (Getzlaf and Brandon Montour) scored a wrister and pulled Anaheim back within a tally of the young Oilers. Jakob Silfverberg (Andrew Cogliano and Kesler) completed the comeback on a tip-in with 9:13 remaining in regulation, tying the contest at three-all.

The first time Larsson scored a goal in the postseason was his first-ever playoff game: May 1, 2012 with New Jersey. That nearly five-year-old weight could not be lifted soon enough, as Larsson scored his third postseason goal (Oscar Klefbom and Maroon) on a wrister only 7:17 after his second.

Making it all the sweeter, it proved to be the contest’s game-winner, as the Ducks could not find a way to get another goal past Talbot in the remaining 4:40 of action. When that looked not to be the case, Draisaitl (Milan Lucic and Larsson) scored on an empty net to ensure the victory.

The match closed like many in the playoffs do: with many skirmishes. In all, three Ducks (Getzlaf, Kesler and Corey Perry) and three more Oilers (Drake Caggiula, Zack Kassian and Andrej Sekera) were sent to their dressing rooms four seconds early for roughing penalties. What’s interesting is that these types of fights are already happening in Game 1. The rest of this series will be physical and scrappy.

Game 2 will be right back at the Honda Center Friday at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time. Residents of the USA will find the game on NBCSN, while Canadians can watch the contest on SN and TVAS.

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.

February 6 – Day 110 – Broad Street Bullies have you feeling Blue?

We’re down to two Big 4 sports in North America now. Time to hone in even more on the NHL.

That’s easy to do tonight, as there’s only three games being played tonight. Even better, they all drop the puck at 7 p.m. eastern time. Those matchups are: Buffalo at New Jersey, Toronto at the New York Islanders (SN) and St. Louis at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS).

It’s not often that a inter-conference matchup can have such an effect on the standings, but there’s a lot on the line tonight on Broad Street for both teams involved.

UnknownPhiladelphia Flyers Logo

 

 

 

The Blues make their lone trip of the season to the Wells Fargo Center with a 25-22-5 record, good enough only for fourth-place in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference. The reason they find themselves on the outside looking in is due to their horrendous goaltending, which has allowed 161 tallies so far this year, the fourth-most in the league.

More often than not, 18-14-3 Jake Allen has been charged with manning St. Louis‘ crease this season, but it hasn’t always gone the way he’s hoped. He has only a .897 save percentage and 2.82 GAA to his credit, the (t)42nd and (t)31st-best efforts, respectively, among the 46 goalies with at least 19 or more appearances.

For those wondering, 7-7-2 backup Carter Hutton has effectively been a carbon copy with his .896 save percentage and 2.81 GAA.

It takes work to be as good as the Notes are on defense to give up that many goals. Just as St. Louis has allowed the fourth-most scores, the blueline allows the (t) fourth-least shots-against per night at 27.7. That effort has been headlined by Captain Alex Pietrangelo, who’s 103 shot blocks not only leads the club, but is also the 18th-most in the NHL.

That outsanding defense stands especially tall on the penalty kill, where their 83.5% kill rate is ninth-best in the league. Once again, Pietrangelo deserves much of the credit with his 26 shorthanded blocks, which are eight more than Colton Parayko.

If the Flyers are going to pick one special team to focus on though, it’d have to be St. Louis‘ power play. The Blues convert 22.1% of opposing penalties into tallies, the sixth-best rate in the league. The man-advantage has been a two-headed attack, with both Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko notching 18 extra-man points. Of the two, the defenseman’s seven goals has been slightly more impressive, leading the Russian right wing by one tally.

A win tonight can do wonders for the Notes. Two points would pull them into a tie with Calgary for the second wildcard in the Conference, and St. Louis would win the games-played tiebreaker by two contests.

Wearing the home orange sweaters this evening are the 26-20-7 Flyers, the fifth-best team in the Metropolitan Division and seventh-best in the Eastern Conference. Although they’ve had their struggles scoring of late, the offense is still the core of this team; their 139 goals ties for 19th-most in the league.

Jakub Voracek has been the man at the helm for the Flyers this year, already notching a team-leading 45 points. That being said, Wayne Simmonds has been the true threat striking fear into the hearts of goalies. He’s buried 21 pucks this season, easily the most in the clubhouse.

I would argue the reason for Philly‘s struggles has been a lack of consistency from the left wing position. As of yesterday, the best at that position is Nick Cousins (5/8/13), who is currently playing on the third line. Michael Raffl and Dale Weise, the first and second-liners, have combined for 16 points. If they were one person (Dale Raffl or Michael Weise?), he’d only have contributed the ninth-most points on the team. If Ron Hextall isn’t actively looking for a top-two left wing before the trade deadline, he’s blatantly not doing his job in my humble opinion.

Regardless of their troubles, Philadelphia is still home to one of the more feared power plays in the league. Led by Captain Claude Giroux‘ 22 man-advantage points, the Flyers have scored on 21.4% of their man-advantage opportunities, the ninth-best rate in the NHL. A lot of those points have been assists from Giroux to Brayden Schenn, who’s 12 power play goals are best in Eastern Pennsylvania.

While a loss this evening isn’t necessarily devastating for Philly, it’s definitely a scenario they’d like to avoid. A Toronto win in New York paired with a Flyers loss drops the Broad Street Bullies to eight place in the conference.

Sure, it’s still a playoff spot, but it eliminates the buffer they had between themselves and the members of the Atlantic Division hoping to make the postseason. Currently, Boston occupies eighth-place, even though they are in third in the division. It effectively blocks any other members of the Atlantic from taking over the second wildcard, as they would first take the Bruins‘ spot and not require the wildcard to qualify.

If that’s confusing, just know the Flyers want to win tonight, like most sports teams prefer to do.

Tonight’s game is the second meeting of the season between these two clubs. They last met December 28 at Scottrade Center and played to a 6-3 Blues win. Hutton was in net for the victory.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Philadelphia‘s Voracek (31 assists among 45 points [both most on the team]) and St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (23 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL] among 50 points [tied for ninth-most in the league]).

The strongest line of the night belongs to the Flyers at -120. That being said, I like the Blues to earn the road upset this evening. Even though both teams haven’t been playing as well as they’d like, St. Louis still has some very strong special teams in their back pocket that could prove to be the difference.

Hockey Birthday

  • Kent Douglas (1936-2009) – The 1963 Calder-winning defenseman spent all but a season of his eight-season career in the NHL, and most of that was in Toronto. In fact, the three-time All-Star’s rookie year was so good, he helped the Maple Leafs to the 1963 Stanley Cup.
  • Adam Henrique (1990-) – A third-round pick by New Jersey in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman is still lacing them up for the Devils. A phenomenal rookie campaign that featured 51 points (a career-high), 57 blocks (another career-high) and 49 takeaways only got him third-place in Calder Trophy voting, but it’s tough to beat guys like Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Only a day after featuring a TorontoBoston game where 11 goals were struck, we turned the tables to a surprisingly defensive matchup, as the Oilers needed a shootout to break a scoreless draw in Montréal in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

We’ll pick up the action in the shootout…

  1. …where Alexander Radulov was the first to take a shot. Cam Talbot made the save.
  2. Third Star of the Game Leon Draisaitl took his turn next, finding the back of Second Star Al Montoya’s net to give Edmonton a 1-0 shootout lead.
  3. Paul Byron‘s attempt to level things for the Habs was saved by Talbot.
  4. Mark Letestu found similar fate as Byron in his try to improve the Oil‘s lead.
  5. Max Pacioretty had one final opportunity to pull the Canadiens even, but Talbot was up to the task, securing the bonus point in the standings for Edmonton.

Talbot saved all 22 shots he faced for the shutout victory, leaving Montoya the shootout loss after saving all 32 shots he faced in regulation and overtime.

Thanks to Edmonton, that’s two-straight wins for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, pulling them within nine points of the 59-36-17 hosts.

November 17 – Day 36 – Campbell Bowl

Wednesday was a light schedule, so you know what that means: gobs and gobs of hockey tonight. The action commences at the usual 7 p.m. with two games (Tampa Bay at Buffalo and Winnipeg at Philadelphia), followed half an hour later by another pair (Florida at Toronto and Nashville at Ottawa [RDS]). 8 p.m. marks the beginning of our third pair (San Jose at St. Louis and Boston at Minnesota), with Colorado at Dallas trailing 30 minutes later. A final pair drop the puck at 10 p.m. (Arizona at Vancouver and New Jersey at Anaheim) with Edmonton at Los Angeles (SN360) getting underway half an hour later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • San Jose at St. Louis: In a thrilling six-game series, the Sharks advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals by beating St. Louis.
  • Arizona at Vancouver: Radim Vrbata took a two-year hiatus from playing with the Coyotes from 2014-’16. You remember correctly, he played for Vancouver.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: In addition to the more historic than current rivalry between the clubs, Milan Lucic makes his first return to the Staples Center after calling it home a season ago.

In the spirit of playoff rematches from a season ago, we’re off to the Gateway to the West.

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The Sharks swim into St. Louis (Yeah, just ignore it. It’s bad.) with a 9-7-0 record, which is good enough for third place in the Pacific Division. Before losing in Carolina Tuesday night, the Sharks were riding a three-game winning streak.

While they’ve certainly been let down by their offense, San Jose has found their nine wins on a solid defense.

Martin Jones has started 14 games already this season to an 8-6-0 record. He has a .913 save percentage and 2.2 GAA to his credit, which ranks 16th and 11th-best among goaltenders with at least seven appearances.

These are not numbers one would expect from a netminder that was two wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup. Why has he been able to find wins?

I’d argue it is his blue line. Led by Justin Braun‘s 35 blocks, the Sharks allow only 25.7 shots per night to reach the net, the second-lowest rate in the NHL. Of course, knowing that Jones is facing far fewer shots than most goalies and still not performing well is a bit distressing, but at this point a win is a win!

That defensive success has continued to the penalty kill, where the Sharks rank third-best in the league by negating 89.5% of their infractions. They’ve also done well to limit opposing extra-man opportunities, facing only 38 power plays so far this season (2.4 per game).

Playing host this evening are the 8-6-3 St. Louis Blues. Although neither the offense nor defense has been anything near impressive, the thing that concerns me as an admittedly-biased Blues fan is the decline in defense and goaltending.

Last season, St. Louis allowed only 197 goals – 2.4 per game. So far this year, they’ve allowed 2.8 per game. You’d think that four-tenths of a goal isn’t much, but at this rate the Blues will allow 30 more goals by season’s end than they did a year ago.

Manning the net this season is 6-3-3 Jake Allen, who has a .901 save percentage and 2.49 GAA to his credit, which ranks 12th and 23rd-worst among the 42 netminders with six or more appearances.

None of that blame may be placed on St. Louis‘ defense. Led by Colton Parayko‘s 31 blocks, the Blues have allowed only 26.3 shots to reach net, the third-lowest average in the league.

Just like San Jose, that defensive success has continued to the Blues‘ penalty kill. Only 10.3% of opposing power plays have found the back of Allen’s net, the second-lowest rate in the league.

Offensively, the Blues have found much of their success on the power play. Led by Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko, both of whom have nine power play points, St. Louis has connected on 22% of their extra-man opportunities, the 10th-best rate in the NHL.

The last time these teams met, the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl was awarded to the Sharks for besting the Blues in six games. It should have been expected given that the Sharks won the 2015-’16 season series 2-1-0.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (18 points [tied for sixth-most in the league] on 12 assists [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]) and San Jose‘s Jones (one shutout [tied for ninth-most in the league] and eight wins [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]).

St. Louis comes into tonight’s game slightly favored at -110. Since the Sharks are on the tailend of a long eastern roadtrip, I’ll stick with Vegas’ decision.

Hockey Birthday

  • The Western Pennsylvania Hockey League (1896-1910) – This league was the first of it’s kind, allowing players to be paid for their services and be traded between clubs.
  • Dennis Maruk (1955-) – The California Golden Seals drafted this center 21st overall in the 1975 NHL Entry Draft. Not only was he a part of the merge with Minnesota, he returned to the North Stars for the final six seasons of his career.

The Penguins were nothing short of whipped in yesterday’s Game of the Day, falling 7-1 in Washington.

Second Star of the Game T.J. Oshie (Jay Beagle) didn’t wait long to open the scoring, but he did choose the most difficult circumstances. He potted a backhand shot while the Capitals were short-handed 7:32 after the opening puck drop. The eventual game-winning goal was struck almost 10 minutes later by First Star Nicklas Backstrom (Oshie and Matt Niskanen), who scored a snap shot with 2:30 remaining in the period. Oshie (Backstrom and John Carlson) struck again with eight seconds remaining in the first frame to set the score at 3-0.

Dmitry Orlov (Marcus Johansson and Backstrom) scored an insurance goal in the second period, as did Justin Williams (Oshie and Backstrom), Alex Ovechkin (Andre Burakovsky) and Backstrom (Nate Schmidt and Brooks Orpik) in the third.

The Penguins did get on the board with a tally from Phil Kessel (Nick Bonino and Justin Schultz) with 3:32 remaining in the game, but it was far too little too late to make any sort of an impact on the tone of the contest.

Third Star Braden Holtby saved  25-of-26 shots faced (96.2%) to earn the victory, while Matthew Murray takes the loss after saving 12-of-14 (85.7%). He was lifted for Marc-Andre Fleury with 24 seconds remaining in the first period after taking Evgeni Malkin‘s stick to the face. Fleury saved 20-of-25 (80%) for no decision.

The Capitals‘ victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 22-12-4, favoring the homers by 10 points over the roadies.

San Jose at St. Louis – Game 5 – Sharks score six goals to pull within a win of the Stanley Cup Finals

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The two highest scoring postseason teams went at it again Monday night, and did not disappoint as the Sharks won 6-3 to pull within a win of the Stanley Cup Finals.

St. Louis started the night with three straight shots before the Sharks could register their first almost four minutes into play.  It didn’t matter though, as Shot No. 2 found the back of the net on a Tomas Hertl backhander, assisted by Marc-Edouard Vlasic and First Star of the Game Joe Pavelski.  Third Star Joe Thornton won the face-off at the far dot, which was collected by Pavelski heading towards the point.  He passed back to the far boards to Vlasic, who fired a slap shot towards Jake Allen’s net before Troy Brouwer could apply pressure, but Hertl redirected the puck before it reached the crease to get past Allen’s glove.

Following that tally, the Sharks certainly took control of the game, as they had another great scoring opportunity around the 6:30 mark.  A San Jose forward collected a rebound in front of a fairly open net, but he elevated the puck too much and it sailed over the cross bar.

Jaden Schwartz leveled the game at the 7:04 mark with a wrister, assisted by David Backes (his seventh helper of the postseason) and Patrik Berglund.  Off an initial shot from Kevin Shattenkirk, Berglund collected the rebound around the near face-off dot.  He turned around and shot again at Martin Jones’ net, which was once again blocked.  From his usual spot right in front of the crease, Backes passed along the goal line to Schwartz, who fired past Jones’ stick side to tie the game at one-all.

With 4:52 remaining in the frame, Brouwer fired a wrister out of midair to give the Blues their second tally.  He was assisted by Paul Stastny (his ninth playoff helper), who had fired the initial shot that became the airborne rebound off Jones’ pads, and Alexander Steen.  Steen advanced the puck into the zone before running into Hertl, but passed just in time to Stastny who fired from between the face-off dots.  Brouwer one-timed his shot from the near face-off circle to beat Jones stick side.

Just like San Jose, the Blues fed off the momentum of that tally to keep the puck almost predominantly in the offensive zone.  Although it did not turn into their third goal, the Notes were certainly happy to keep the Sharks off the board for the remainder of the frame, sending the game into intermission at 2-1.

Although St. Louis led on the scoreboard, San Jose statistically had the advantage through the first frame.  Their 10 shots were one more than the Blues‘, helped by winning 56% of face-offs.  Defensively, their five blocks were two more than St. Louis‘, the same differential as their takeaways (the Sharks had three of those).  Giveaways and hits also favored San Jose, as the Sharks committed one fewer turnover and threw four more blows.

The first power play of the game occurred at the 2:38 mark, but it was three players earning seats.  Tommy Wingels hit an unaware Shattenkirk, who didn’t take kindly to it and initiated a fight.  He was also charged with roughing, which was served by the innocent Second Star Robby Fabbri.  The Blues were two seconds from killing the penalty, but Joel Ward was able to score a wild puck to tie the game again at the 4:37 mark.  He was assisted by Vlasic and Paul Martin.  Martin received a pass at the point and passed to Vlasic, waiting at the top of the near face-off circle.  His initial shot on Allen’s net was saved, but wildly bounced off the crossbar and the net-minder’s back.  Ward’s quick stick was able to complete the score to level the game at two-all.

St. Louis earned their chance at the power play at the 8:03 mark when Justin Braun held Fabbri, partially because he had thrown a solid hit and fired a quality in the preceding seconds.  The Sharks‘ penalty kill stood tall though, so the score remained tied at two.

The second fight of the night was between Roman Polak and Dmitrij Jaskin.  The two were tumbled together in the St. Louis offensive zone and, while they were still on the ice, Polak threw a right punch at Jaskin’s head, and again once they’d gotten  up.  Polak was charged with roughing, and both with fighting, giving the Blues a second power play.

In their first power play attempt, the Blues didn’t notch a shot on goal.  They learned from their mistakes and scored on this one with 8:02 remaining in the frame.  Fabbri takes credit for the tally, assisted by Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo (his seventh playoff helper).  Fabbri begins the play retreating back to the blue line before passing across the zone to Pietrangelo.  After getting to the near face-off dot, he passed across the zone to the rookie defenseman in open ice, who found Fabbri at the point to score five-hole on Jones, making him only the second Blues rookie with 15+ points in a postseason.

With 2:52 remaining, Shattenkirk earned a seat in the sin bin for hooking Hertl as he was streaking towards Allen’s crease, although I would guess that many folks in the Bay Area would have been inclined to award a penalty shot.  The net result was the same, as the Sharks struck on their second power play with their second power play goal with 1:27 remaining in the frame to level the score again.  Pavelski takes credit with a slap shot, assisted by Thornton and Logan Couture (his 14th playoff assist).  Patrick Marleau collected the puck along the near boards and dumped further into the goal to Couture, who won a scrum against Carl Gunnarsson to pass behind the net to Thornton.  Thornton centered a pass to Pavelski, setting him up to beat Allen over his glove.

Three more shots in the period turned into an extra goal for the Sharks, especially when paired with eight takeaways, only two giveaways and 30 hits through 40 minutes.

The Sharks took a 4-3 lead only 16 seconds after returning to the ice when Pavelski tipped-in his second goal of the game, assisted by Brent Burns (his 13th postseason helper) and Hertl.  Off another face-off win (this one courtesy of the goalscorer), Thornton collected and dumped off to Burns, who fired a shot on Allen.  Allen blocked the attempt into the near corner where it was collected by Hertl, who returned the puck to Burns at the top of the zone.  Burns fired once again from the blue line, which Pavelski redirected under Allen’s glove.

A bad situation got worse for St. Louis when they were caught with too many men on the ice, giving the Sharks the opportunity to go three-for-three on the power play this game.  Vladimir Tarasenko took the seat in the box for the Notes at the 4:52 mark.  It lasted only 41 seconds before Marleau tripped Parayko, setting the game at four-on-four for 1:19 and ending that opportunity.  The four-on-four was exciting, with both teams having solid opportunities, but no score.

St. Louis‘ 41 seconds of the power play was equally as unsuccessful as the Sharks‘, so the score remained 4-3.

With 54 seconds remaining in the regulation, Chris Tierney scored a wrap-around goal on an empty net to secure the victory, assisted by Thornton (his 14th playoff helper).  Another empty netter was struck from mid-ice 21 seconds later by Ward, his fourth of the playoffs, setting the score at the 6-3 final.

Jones earns the win after saving 18 of the 21 shots he faced (85.7%), while Allen takes the loss, saving 21 of 25 (84%).

Game 6 will take place on May 25 in San Jose at 9 p.m. eastern.  It may be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.