Tag Archives: Pavel Buchnevich

Rangers, Vigneault will bounce back

Shortly after their last game of the season on Saturday, the New York Rangers relieved Alain Vigneault of his head coaching duties. In his fifth year with the organization, the Rangers went 34-39-9 (77 points) and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

It was Vigneault’s worst year in the Big Apple. It was a transition year for a team retooling on the fly– trading away Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller and others for centerpieces in Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov (among other assets).

Now it’s time for someone else to take the reins behind the bench of King Henrik’s team.

The clock is ticking in goaltender Henrik Lundqvist‘s quest for his first Stanley Cup. Vigneault was almost the man to do it having brought the Rangers all the way to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final in his first season with New York.

That was the closest Lundqvist has ever been– just three wins away– but the Los Angeles Kings had other plans, given it only took them five games to beat New York for the Los Angeles’s second Stanley Cup championship in three years.

It was the closest the Rangers had come to winning its first Cup since defeating the Vancouver Canucks in 1994.

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The 2014-15 season witnessed a franchise record 113 points in the regular season– good enough to notch the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best record that year. Vigneault’s team knocked out Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games in the First Round in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then New York got behind in the Second Round series with the Washington Capitals, 3-1. Chris Kreider tied Game 5, McDonagh scored the game winner in overtime and the Rangers rallied back in the series to force the first Game 7 at Madison Square Garden since Game 7 in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final against the Canucks.

For the first time in Stanley Cup Playoff history, the Rangers were to battle the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Prince of Wales Trophy in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

Despite a decisive 7-3 victory in Game 6 on the road at Amalie Arena, New York was shutout, 2-0, in Game 7 on home ice.

They wouldn’t get another chance to come that close to the Stanley Cup Final with Vigneault behind the bench.

The 2015-16 Rangers finished third in the Metropolitan Division with 101 points and battled Mike Sullivan‘s Penguins in the First Round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It only took five games for the Rangers to be eliminated in Pittsburgh’s tear through the playoffs to their first Cup since 2009.

In 2016-17, New York regrouped with a 102-point season, but was cursed by the NHL’s current playoff format.

The Rangers were relegated to the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference since three teams finished ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division with at least 108 points or more.

New York had four more points in the regular season than the Ottawa Senators (98 points)– who finished second in the Atlantic Division– and seven more points than the Boston Bruins (95 points, 3rd in the Atlantic) and Toronto Maple Leafs (95 points, second wild card in the Eastern Conference by virtue of having three fewer regulation-plus-overtime wins than Boston).

Vigneault’s team got by Michel Therrien’s Montreal Canadiens in six games of the First Round in what was touted as a rematch of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final.

Then they ran into the streaking Senators who had beaten the Bruins in their own six game series.

Ottawa jumped out to a 2-0 series lead with home ice advantage– despite having the worse of the two teams’s regular season records, but the Rangers seemed unfazed having won Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden 4-1 and 4-1, respectively.

Kyle Turris ended Game 5 almost six-and-a-half minutes into overtime at Canadian Tire Centre and the Rangers found themselves in a 3-2 series hole heading home for Game 6.

Senators captain, Erik Karlsson, had a goal and an assist in Ottawa’s decisive 4-2 victory on road ice and New York hit the golf course after just two rounds of the 2017 postseason.

Time kept ticking. Lundqvist got older.

Management grew more frustrated with the lack of a direction.

Dead last in the Metropolitan Division after all 82 games this season and under .500 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, Vigneault’s dismissal comes as no surprise.

It’s what is expected of any organization that expects to finish first, but fails in a rather large fashion.

Even more so with the league getting younger, skaters getting faster and teams placing more of an emphasis on a constant attack, a constant barrage of offense.

Lias Andersson, Pavel Buchnevich, Spooner, Namestnikov and crew have already showcased a new face of the game in “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, while Vigneault’s systems might have been the only thing slowing them down in the waning days of the season.

It was time to shake things up and head in that new face of the game’s direction.

For the first time since the 1967-68 season only one coach was fired in-season (thanks to Mother Nature having played a part in extending the season by a day due to Boston’s rescheduled matchup from January with the Florida Panthers).

Unfortunately for Vigneault, he was that coach.

New York will be just fine.

They’re stockpiled with prospects and have already integrated youth, skill and speed into their lineup.

Now general manager Jeff Gorton will look to patch the blue line and give Lundqvist a high-caliber backup goaltender to ease the workload of the grueling regular season schedule.

It might not be the quickest turnaround, but it shouldn’t turn out to become an annual groan-fest watching the Blueshirts next season.

For Vigneault, there will be other opportunities.

He led Vancouver to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in the midst of President’s Trophy seasons. He led New York back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in a generation. He’ll be studying hard, but he’s still in demand.

Somewhere there’s a team looking for his veteran coaching presence– like Buffalo– or a team that just missed the cut this season, but is on the brinks of a breakout year that very well might end up with their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1970– like St. Louis.

But alas, this is all merely speculation.

More coaches will be fired for their team’s shortcomings (of their own fault or otherwise) this offseason upon diligent review in front office’s league-wide.

Rangers fans may be glad and it should be a mutual feeling of respect and good luck. They had a good run that lasted a while, but ultimately came up empty handed. Times have changed, players moved on and the game evolved.

Somewhere, Vigneault is that missing piece a franchise is looking for and it won’t just be a team finally getting over that mountain, but a head coach too.

January 14 – Day 99 -Steel City Second Act

The league has scheduled a light, but very exciting slate of four games for us today. Thanks NHL!

The action starts at 12:30 p.m. with Detroit at Chicago (NBC/TVAS), followed by Calgary at Carolina at 3 p.m. The New York Rangers at Pittsburgh (NBCSN) is the next game on the schedule at 7:30 p.m., and it is trailed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Vancouver at Minnesota (SN). All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Columbus, Edmonton, Florida, Nashville, Ottawa, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Washington and Winnipeg.

Is there any doubt of which game we’re featuring today? Let’s get to the City of Bridges!

 

This game was supposed to be NBC’s “Game of the Week” (a.k.a. the Sunday matinee time slot the Detroit-Chicago contest now occupies), but the Steelers’ 1 p.m. playoff game at Heinz Field changed those plans.

Don’t think the rescheduling plays into the decision to feature this game. That pick was made by 23-19-3 Pittsburgh – a club that many were wondering if it was reaching the end of its dynasty – having the opportunity to climb into the first wild card after being outside the playoff picture for the last month.

Since turning the calendar to 2018, there’s only been a handful of teams better than the Penguins, who have won four of their last five games – including three straight. The offense is humming near 2016-’17 efficiency by scoring a (t)fifth-best 3.8 goals per game, and the defense has allowed sixth-best 2.2 goals against per game.

It’s about time the Penguins’ top stars started performing. From opening day on October 4 through December 31, F Evgeni Malkin managed only 13-22-35 marks (one point per game) and C Sidney Crosby tacked on only 14-21-35 (.9 points per game). In fact, with RW Phil Kessel currently posting team-leading 19-31-50 totals, the Pens are in line for a new season points-leader not named Crosby or Malkin for the first time since D Dick Tarnstrom‘s 16-36-52 effort in 2003-’04.

However, since Head Equipment Manager Dana Heinze – who’s a solid follow on Twitter whether you’re a Pens fan, Flyers fan or anything in between – hung a new calendar in the Pens’ dressing room, Crosby and Malkin have regained their roles as leaders of Pittsburgh’s offense. Both have averaged two points per game in 2018, with Malkin leading the way with 5-5-10 marks.

One constant Pittsburgh is happy to carry over from its lackluster start to the season is its dominant power play. The Pens have converted a league-leading 46.7 percent of their man-advantages since the beginning of the new year, which pulls their season success rate up to an also league-leading 27 percent. The leader of that attack – whether for the season or of late – is none other than Kessel, who has registered a whopping 29 power play points this season, the best mark in the NHL. While Malkin might have more power play points in 2018, Kessel has him beat in extra-man goals with three to his credit in five games.

Of note, 8-3-2 G Tristan Jarry was in net for yesterday’s 4-1 victory over the Red Wings. With 15-12-1 G Matthew Murray taking a leave of absence for a personal matter, 0-1-0 G Casey DeSmith was probably hoping for a chance to earn his first NHL start. However, Head Coach Mike Sullivan has been reluctant to hand DeSmith the reins in the past when the Pens are in this situation, and he’ll stay true to form by giving Jarry – who saved 29-of-30 shots faced yesterday (.967 save percentage) – both starts of the weekend.

For the Penguins to move into the first wildcard spot, the club currently holding that position will have to get out of the way. Considering that team is the 22-16-5 Rangers, I doubt they’ll do that voluntarily.

Unfortunately, the Blueshirts don’t enter tonight’s game in top form. They’ve posted a measly 3-4-2 record over their past nine games, which includes their two most recent games: regulation losses by a combined score of 9-3.

It might seem like the goals against might be the issue based off the last two games, but New York’s biggest concern is an offense that has absolutely dried up. The Rangers have managed a (t)13th-best 2.95 goals per game for the entire season, but that effort has dropped to a (t)league-worst 1.78 goals per game since December 21.

The hard part with this scoring slump is no one person is responsible. 18 of New York’s 21 skaters since December 21 have registered at least one point, and eight have three or more points. LW Jimmy Vesey in particular has been giving it his all to try to resolve the Rangers’ scoring woes, as he’s scored three goals and tacked on another assist over these nine games. W Mats Zuccarello has also been strong, as he’s posted four assists in his last eight games.

Just like the Penguins, New York played its usual backup in yesterday’s game. 3-6-1 G Ondrej Pavelec saved 14-of-19 shots faced (.737 save percentage) in the 7-2 home loss against the Islanders. Even though 19-10-4 G Henrik Lundqvist was forced to play over half the game (saving 16-of-18 for a .889 save percentage) for no decision, he’ll get the start today.

Tonight’s meeting marks Game 3 of four between the Blueshirts and Pens this regular season. Both teams have won on road ice, but New York is winning the season series due to forcing extra time when it hosted October 17’s contest (the Penguins won 5-4 thanks to Malkin’s overtime goal, by the way). The Rangers then returned the favor on December 5, beating Pittsburgh 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena. W Pavel Buchnevich scored the game-winning goal near the midway point of the third period, but it was Zuccarello that took First Star honors with his two-point night.

The Penguins seem like they’re getting rolling at the right time this season, and it just so happens that the Rangers are slumping at the exact same moment. Jarry starting two consecutive games is certainly a plus for New York, but I think Pittsburgh’s offense will be enough to get it two points.


The Anaheim Ducks’ comeback tour is in full force, as they beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 at Staples Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Before we even jump into a recap of the goals scored, let’s discuss this rivalry. I predicted a fierce, nasty, scrappy game between these two, and the Freeway Face-Off did not disappoint.  A combined 38 PIM were handed out (led by the six players that took five for fighting in the first period) and 75 hits thrown (led by LW Kyle Clifford and C Ryan Getzlaf, both with five apiece) in what was undoubtedly the meanest game of the night in the Western Conference, if not the entire league.

Of course, those stats don’t earn wins – goals do. Two were struck in the first period, and both belonged to the Ducks. First Star W Ondrej Kase (F Rickard Rakell and Getzlaf) took credit for the first at the 6:14 mark, followed 12:36 later by F Ryan Kesler‘s (D Brandon Montour and Kase) second tally of the season, a power play snap shot that set the 2-0 score that held through the remainder of the first period and the entirety of the second.

Whoever said third-liners can’t provide offense hasn’t seen Anaheim’s stellar sophomore. Only 2:10 into the final frame, Kase (LW Nick Ritchie) buried a wrist shot that proved to be the game-winner.

As good as G Jonathan Quick has been this season, this is at least the second time he’s made a mistake in the DtFR Game of the Day series playing a puck behind his goal that has led to an opposing goal. This time, he was caught trying to settle the puck in the trapezoid with no teammates around him. That allowed Ritchie to drive behind the net and take possession, which he quickly dished to Kase in the left face-off circle. Try as he might, Quick just wasn’t quick enough to get back in his crease, as Kase’s wrister easily found the back of the net.

Facing a 3-0 deficit, the Kings finally decided to find some offense. C Nick Shore (D Christian Folin and F Trevor Lewis) scored their first 6:22 after the goal horn stopped blaring for Kase’s tally, and C Anze Kopitar (D Derek Forbort and Second Star F Alex Iafallo) pulled Los Angeles back within a goal with 6:14 remaining in regulation.

However, the offense dried up following Kopitar’s 18th tally of the season, to the point that Head Coach John Stevens was forced to pull Quick for an extra attacker. W Corey Perry (D Hampus Lindholm) never needs much of an invitation to score goals, so he took advantage of the empty cage with 1:28 remaining in regulation to set the 4-2 final score.

G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 23-of-25 shots faced (.92 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 18-of-21 (.857).

Though the 54-33-12 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series still have an 18-point advantage, they should beware the road teams right now. With Anaheim’s victory away from The Pond, that is the fourth-straight victory for visitors.

November 22 – Day 50 – Decision day, beta version

The big day is finally here! If stats are right – and, I mean, they usually are – the way the standings read after tonight’s action should include 78 percent of this April’s postseason participants.

Making this evening even more exciting, today is the second day of the 2017-’18 season that features the maximum 15 games. Of course, that means one team has to be left off the schedule, which is why members of the Blues are already consuming their turkey dinners.

As for teams on the clock tonight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with nine of those games (Minnesota at Buffalo, Edmonton at Detroit, Toronto at Florida, Boston at New Jersey, Philadelphia at the New York Islanders, Vancouver at Pittsburgh, Ottawa at Washington [TVAS], the New York Rangers at Carolina and Calgary at Columbus [SN360]) and Chicago at Tampa Bay (NBCSN) half an hour later. Montréal at Nashville (RDS/SN1) drops the puck at 8 p.m., while a pair of contests (Dallas at Colorado and San Jose at Arizona) wait until 9 p.m. before getting underway. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – Vegas at Anaheim and Winnipeg at Los Angeles – close out what I consider the first quarter of the season at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

One of the games I had circled on my calendar today was Minnesota at Buffalo due to the returns of F Tyler Ennis and LW Marcus Foligno to the Queen City after being traded this June. Combined, they played 14 seasons in Buffalo.

But, considering how important tonight’s action could be when the regular season comes to a close, I don’t have it in me to make the trip to Upstate New York. Instead, I’m far more interested in a game featuring two teams that started slow, but now are only a point outside of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

 

This matchup at PNC Arena is always a special one to me, because it was my first – and still only – NHL hockey game.

But I’m not featuring it simply for personal nostalgic reasons. As mentioned before, these teams are fighting for their playoff lives after rebounding from very slow starts to the season.

After beginning their campaign with a 2-6-2 record, the 10-9-2 Rangers have exploded in the month of November (and Halloween) to win seven of their last nine games.

The biggest impetus for this resurgence has been the Rangers’ offense making the decision to dominate games. Not only does possessing the puck give New York a better chance of scoring – which it does with ease, by the way, managing 32 goals since Halloween to rank (t)fifth-best in that time – but it also alleviates the pressure on the defense and 9-6-2 G Henrik Lundqvist, whose .91 save percentage since the start of last season is noticeably lower than his career .92 effort.

Leading that offensive charge in the Big Apple is none other than C Mika Zibanejad, whose 10 points in the last nine games top the clubhouse leader board. With seven of those points being assists, Zibanejad’s chemistry with Pavel Buchnevich is almost palpable, as the sophomore winger has warmly embraced his role as the first line’s goalscorer.

In 41 games last season, Buchnevich scored eight goals – a decent enough total for a rookie drafted in the third round. Only 21 games into this campaign, he’s raised his game another level to already match that total, and I’d argue it’s a safe assumption to say he’ll find more than a few more. I could be over-hyping Buchnevich, but I think he has the potential to compete with the likes of Aaron Judge and Kristaps Porzingis for the title of best scorer in town.

Of course, he’ll also need to compete with a member of his own team, at least for the time being. Though W Michael Grabner is only a lowly third-liner, he’s actually been the most potent depth weapon the Blueshirts have at their disposal, as his six goals since Halloween lead the team over that stretch.

There’s just something about playing in New York City that brings out the best in Grabner, because joining the Rangers last year lit a flame that had been dormant since his days with the Islanders. While playing for the blue-and-orange, the Austrian averaged .3 goals-per-game over the course of his five seasons. That attracted the attention of Toronto, who traded for him but received only 18 points out of the transaction in the 2015-’16 season.

Since returning to The Big City, Grabner has gotten right back to his scoring ways much to the Rangers’ delight. He’s scored .37 goals-per-game in a Rangers sweater, giving him decent 9-2-11 totals given his spot on the depth chart.

If any team is capable of slowing down New York, I’d bet on the 9-6-4 Hurricanes, whose 2.68 goals against-per-game is the third-lowest in the Eastern Conference and seventh-best in the entire NHL.

No team in the East plays defense like Carolina. Led by the impressive efforts of F Jeff Skinner (team-best 18 takeaways), D Jaccob Slavin (club-leading 2.5 blocks-per-game) and F Jordan Staal (team-high 2.2 hits-per-game), the Canes allow only 29.2 shots to reach 6-4-4 G Scott Darling, which is important considering the 29-year-old’s .909 season save percentage is nowhere near the .924 he posted last year in Chicago.

Of course, the source of this season’s momentum was the offense’s performance at the end of last season. While averaging 2.95 goals-per-game is not exactly dominant (it’s the [t]15th-worst effort in the league, after all), it seems like the Canes are starting to find momentum a month into the season. Led by F Teuvo Teravainen‘s 5-7-12 effort since November 7, Carolina has managed 25 goals –  the fourth-most in the NHL in that time.

Another weapon the Rangers need to keep an eye on is the wing opposite Teravainen on the top line: Sebastian Aho. After starting the season on a 14-game goalless skid, he’s finally found his touch to score a goal in each of his last four games. With Staal having a scoring renaissance à la his last season in Pittsburgh in 2011-’12 (you know, basically his only good year when he managed 25-25-50 totals), this line has – at least at the moment – few peers (shh, stop talking Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosNikita Kucherov).

When the Hurricanes’ offense is gelling like this, they’re tough to stop – hence the 5-1-1 record over their past seven games. Should they continue that momentum and keep playing the sout defense they have all year, the Canes should be a lock to win tonight’s game and potentially pull into seventh place in the Eastern Conference.


Scoring continues to be a problem for the Montréal Canadiens, as they lost 3-1 to the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

While it’s good to find success on the power play, it must be partially embarrassing to the Habs to know their only goal in this game was struck as the result of a man-advantage. With RW Brett Ritchie serving time in the penalty box for hi-sticking D Joseph Morrow, RW Brendan Gallagher (LW Charles Hudon and Morrow) broke the scoreless draw with 7:56 remaining in the second period.

After that, this game almost entirely belonged to the Stars. That was made no more apparent than in the final 100 seconds before the second intermission when Dallas scored two quick goals to take the lead. The first belonged to First Star F Devin Shore (D John Klingberg and D Esa Lindell) courtesy of a wrist shot struck with 1:38 remaining in the period, followed only 59 seconds later by a wrister from Third Star F Jason Spezza (F Tyler Seguin and Shore) that proved to be the game-winner.

Just like Spezza has been taught his whole life, good things happen when you hang out near the net. Just before Seguin ripped his snap shot from between the left face-off circle and the goal line, Spezza moved from screening G Charlie Lindgren to moving to the top of the crease, pushing Morrow out of position in the process. Though the netminder was able to block Seguin’s shot with his left shoulder, the loose puck was prime for the taking for a relatively uncovered Spezza. Even though Morrow tried to knock him down before he could take possession, Spezza had just enough time to tap the puck to the far post before Lindgren’s left skate sealed the gap.

Both defenses really clamped down in the third period, as a total of only 14 shots were fired between the two teams. As a result, Montréal was unable to find a goal to level the game and Head Coach Claude Julien was forced to pull Lindgren for an extra attacker. With 27 seconds remaining in regulation, Seguin (RW Alexander Radulov) took advantage of the gaping cage to score an insurance empty netter and set the 3-1 final score.

Second Star Ben Bishop earned the victory after saving 29-of-30 shots faced (.967 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lindgren, who saved 26-of-28 (.929 save percentage).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a five-game point streak thanks to Dallas’ victory last night. The win sets the hosts’ record at 27-17-6, which is 11 points better than that of the roadies.

November 15 – Day 43 – Heading in opposite directions

We’re halfway through the month of November and only a week away from American Thanksgiving, an important benchmark in the NHL for separating the men from the boys in terms of probable playoff teams. Though it wouldn’t seem it with over four months of play remaining, this is a pivotal week.

Calgary makes its yearly visit to Detroit (SN/TVAS) to get this stretch started at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Chicago (NBCSN). Finally, this evening’s nightcap of Boston at Anaheim (SN360) will drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

All three games should be very competitive, as they are being contested by opponents separated by only two points or less in the league table. That being said, there’s going to be no game more exciting than the one between Original Six clubs taking place in the Windy City.

 

I apparently really like these Central vs. Metropolitan matchups, because this is the fourth game we’ve featured between these two divisions in the last five days.

9-7-2 New York’s wild ride through the month of November continues since the last time it was featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Starting with Halloween night against the Golden Knights, the Rangers have yet to drop a point in any of their past six contests, including tilts against Tampa Bay (you know, the best team in the NHL) and Columbus.

In fact, the Blueshirts have played so well they’ve converted their goal-differential, which was once an ugly -10 on October 23, into a positive number for the first time this season. And with that success, the Rangers find themselves in a tie with their crosstown rivals for eighth-place in the Eastern Conference.

This may seem elementary, but the best way to improve a goal differential – and by default, win – usually involves burying some goals. Offense has been all the rage at Madison Square Garden lately, as the Rangers have scored a league-high 26 goals since October 31, averaging 4.33 per game.

In the league-wide list of top-10 point earners since Halloween, there is only one defenseman listed: Kevin Shattenkirk. Managing 3-5-8 totals in his past six games, the New Rochelle, N.Y. native and first-year Ranger has been a major driver in this surge. Of note, half his points – both for the season and during this run – have come on the power play (an effort the Rangers rank third-best for the season with a 25.8 percent conversion rate), indicating his impact in all situations.

Not to be overshadowed too much, top-line C Mika Zibanejad has also earned eight points over this stretch, but he’s been earning his pay more as a play-maker than a goalscorer, as he’s buried only one goal in this stretch. His favorite player to assist of late has been sophomore W Pavel Buchnevich, who has scored four goals in six games – an effort eclipsed only by fourth-liner W Michael Grabner.

It’s also been a tale of two months for the 8-8-2 Blackhawks, but they’re not exactly as happy with the change as the Blueshirts. Going back to October 24’s 4-2 loss in Vegas, Chicago is an uninspiring 3-6-0. That includes losses to the Avalanche, Canadiens and Flyers, who among them have a combined 24-24-5 record and a -15 goal-differential.

What should be truly concerning for the Blackhawks is their record in meaningful games since April 1 of last season. They went 0-2-2 to finish out the 2016-’17 regular season campaign, followed by an 0-3-1 performance in the playoffs. Add that in with this year’s record and Chicago has gone 8-13-5 in its last 26 competitive matches.

If this is an April Fools’ Day joke, it should go down in the Guinness World Records as the longest and most convoluted, because this Hawks team should be in much better position than 11th in the Western Conference.

After all, the Hawks boast players such as F Patrick Kane (winner of 2016’s Hart, Lindsay and Ross Trophies), D Duncan Keith (a two-time Norris Trophy winner) and C Jonathan Toews (the 2013 Selke Trophy winner), all of whom have thrice hoisted the Stanley Cup.

What’s most frustrating is that the Hawks aren’t really doing anything wrong statistically. Sure, the offense’s 2.94 goals-per-game for the season could technically be better (it’s only [t]13th-best in the league, after all), but allowing a (t)ninth-fewest 2.72 goals against-per-game should be more than enough to keep Chicago competitive.

Of course, season averages have a way of camouflaging recent momentum – or lack thereof. Since October 24, the Blackhawks have scored only 21 goals, tying Detroit for sixth-fewest in that stretch.

Perhaps the most telling point about this squad during this nine-game stretch is that W Alex DeBrincat, a rookie on the third line, is leading the attack with his 5-2-7 totals (6-5-11 for the season), followed close behind by F Artem Anisimov‘s – a player that’s never scored more than 45 points in a season – 5-1-6 effort. Not Kane; not Toews; heck, not even W Brandon Saad.

DeBrincat and Anisimov.

Head Coach Joel Quenneville will never complain about depth scoring. Depth scoring is one of the top things that separates the best teams in this league from pretenders. But you can’t have depth scorers without stars like Kane and Toews doing their jobs as the primary forwards. Until they rediscover their groove, Chicago will continue to struggle.

It’s with that in mind that I’m forced to favor the Rangers in this contest. Though I’m sure G Corey Crawford – who’s having a Vezina-caliber season so far – will prove a solid test against New York’s red-hot offense, I don’t think the Blackhawks’ offense will be able to break through G Henrik Lundqvist and his defense.


A combined seven goals were struck in the second period of yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, but the Nashville Predators weathered the storm to beat the Washington Capitals 6-3 at Bridgestone Arena.

Though the middle act of this three-ring circus was the wildest, the first period still provided some excitement for the home fans when F Craig Smith (First Star of the Game LW Kevin Fiala and D Anthony Bitetto) scored a tip-in with 8:12 remaining before the first intermission. 5:55 later, Third Star C Nick Bonino (D Roman Josi and F Calle Jarnkrok) doubled the Preds’ advantage to 2-0.

It took only 6:28 of play in the second period for the Caps to level the game. Aided by Jarnkrok earning a seat in the penalty box for hooking him 45 seconds earlier, F T.J. Oshie (D John Carlson and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) scored Washington’s first goal of the night at the 4:29 mark with a power play tip-in. 1:59 later, RW Alex Chiasson (W Brett Connolly and Carlson) tied the game at two-all with a slap shot. That tie lasted exactly 17 seconds before F Filip Forsberg buried an unassisted wrist shot to reclaim a lead for Nashville.

Scoring subsided for almost two-and-a-half minutes before Fiala (Second Star D Mattias Ekholm) decided to get things ramped back up with a tip-in that proved to be the game-winner at the 9:04 mark to set the score at 4-2, but his tally was quickly answered by Oshie’s (F Chandler Stephenson and C Nicklas Backstrom) wrister 17 seconds later to pull Washington back within a 4-3 deficit.

Now that we’ve reached the midway point of the frame, let’s take a second and recap: five goals have already been scored in this second period! There’s still 10 more minutes to play! Meanwhile, the last three teams to face Wild G Devan Dubnyk have not been able to score even one goal against him.

Hockey is a fickle game.

Anyways, only two more goals were struck in the period, and they both belonged to the Preds. W Miikka Salomaki (C Colton Sissons and D Matt Irwin) scored his second goal of the season with 5:54 remaining in the frame, and Ekholm (C Kyle Turris and Sissons) finished the period off with a power play clapper two minutes before the second intermission.

It seems both teams used up all their offense in the second period, because not a single goal was struck in the third period. That left G Pekka Rinne with the victory after saving 26-of-29 shots faced (.897 save percentage) and G Braden Holtby, who saved 19-of-25 (.76), with the loss. Holtby was lifted for G Philipp Grubauer at the start of the third period, and he saved all six shots he faced.

Nashville’s victory is the second-straight by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. With their record now improved to 22-16-5, hosts now own a four-point advantage over the roadies.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round – April 27

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

 

 

 

 

 

New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators – Game 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals – Game 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round– April 22

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 writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.

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St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild – Game 5

By: Connor Keith

Thanks to an unlikely scorer, the Blues beat Minnesota 4-3 in overtime at the Xcel Energy Center to earn a spot in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Nashville Predators.

Of all the sources for an overtime winner, most would not have selected former first-rounder-turned-First Star of the Game Magnus Paajarvi. Following his 80-game rookie season, Paajarvi has not played more than 55 contests in any of his six other NHL seasons. This year, the third liner made only 32 appearances, notching a lowly eight goals in the process.

But the postseason doesn’t care about experience; it cares only about goals – and Paajarvi notched the first postseason marker of his career Saturday. The play started with Vladimir Sobotka fighting with Martin Hanzal for possession along the far boards after Devan Dubnyk had tried to clear from behind his net. The comeback kid eventually came away with the puck and drove to Dubnyk’s crease through the face-off circle. His attack drew Jared Spurgeon off Paajarvi, leaving the left wing wide open in the slot. Sobotka took notice and centered a pass for the Czech, who top-shelfed his wrist shot over Dubnyk’s stick shoulder for the series victory. Jori Lehtera also provided an assist on the play.

Speaking of first playoff goals, that’s sort of how the game started. Waiting until 7:16 into the last game of the first round, Vladimir Tarasenko (Jaden Schwartz) finally scored his first postseason goal since his two-tally performance against the Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Finals a year ago.

It was a St. Louis explosion to start the game, as Alex Steen (Colton Parayko) followed up Tarasenko’s wrister with one of his own only 3:15 later, putting Minnesota in an early 2-0 hole that loomed especially large since the Notes have not lost this postseason when scoring first.

The Notes’ final regulation tally was struck 7:23 into the third period, courtesy of Paul Stastny (Schwartz and Jori Lehtera) who was playing his first game since March 21.

Ryan Suter (Jared Spurgeon) did find the back of the net on a power play slap shot with 89 seconds remaining in the opening frame (Scottie Upshall is the guilty party for the Blues with his boneheaded cross-check), meaning Stastny’s tally set the score at 3-1 with 12:37 remaining in regulation. It proved to be a very important marker.

Just like the match was dominated early by the Blues, regulation ended at Minnesota’s discretion. First it was Third Star Mikko Koivu (Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund) pulling the State of Hockey back within a tally on a wrister with 9:22 remaining in regulation, thanks in large part to a man-advantage caused by Jay Bouwmeester’s hold on Granlund.

Though St. Louis was completely focused on its defensive efforts – the Blues fired only five shots in the third period – Second Star Jason Zucker (Erik Haula and Jonas Brodin) was still able to level the game with Minnesota’s lone five-on-five goal of the contest. Brodin advanced the puck through his defensive zone before connecting with Haula at the near point with a blue line-to-blue line pass. Haula one-touched a dish to Zucker, who completed the advance on Allen’s net through the near face-off circle. Firing from the slot, he squeezed his shot between the netminders’ skate and the far post to level the game at three-all and force the second overtime contest of the series.

Speaking of Allen, he was at the center of attention for much of the contest – though not always for his 34 saves. The first of two major events in his crease occurred with 5:36 remaining in the first frame when Granlund earned two minutes in the box for a goaltender interference penalty that looked to be a little bit more. Simply driving on Allen’s crease and making contact with the goaltender doesn’t sound like anything egregious, but that ignores the fact that the goalie is pulled to the ice by Granlund’s stick across his neck.

Allen was unharmed by the play, making the event with 6:13 remaining in the second period far scarier. Eric Staal started at his own blue line and possessed the puck all the way to the crease. He initially fired a shot from between the face-off circles that Allen saved, but did not contain. Though surrounded by Carl Gunnarsson and Parayko, Staal looked like he was going to be the first to the loose puck to fire a second shot.

Allen threw his right leg out to defend the far post in preparation, but the shot never came: Parayko managed to snag the puck just before Staal could try to score again. However, that didn’t stop Staal’s momentum, which carried him into Allen’s leg. Staal lost his balance and stumbled head-first into the boards, lying motionless on the ice while clutching his head through for almost two minutes before being helped off the ice. He was later released from the hospital Saturday night.

Conference semifinal action is slated to begin on April 28, but a date and time for Game 1 between the Predators and Blues at Scottrade Center has yet to be determined.

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Montréal Canadiens at New York Rangers – Game 6

By: Connor Keith

With its 3-1 victory at Madison Square Garden Saturday, New York has eliminated the Canadiens from the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs and will advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

What makes it that much sweeter for the Rangers is the fact that it is their second-straight come-from-behind victory to clinch the series’ fifth and sixth games. It looked like the Habs were well on their way in the first period, as they led the Blueshirts in shots 11-6 and on the scoreboard thanks to Alexei Emelin’s (Third Star of the Game Alexander Radulov and Artturi Lehkonen) snap shot that found the back of Second Star Henrik Lundqvist’s net only 6:19 into the contest.

Alain Vigneault must have some serious speeches during the first intermission, as his club quickly pounced on Montréal when it returned to the ice. Aided by Jordie Benn holding Pavel Buchnevich 90 seconds into the frame, First Star Mats Zuccarello (Mika Zibanejad and Ryan McDonagh) leveled the contest at one-all at the 2:26 mark of the period.

But that’s not all Zuccarello had up his sleeve. With 6:29 remaining in the second period, he managed to find the game-winner on his stick. The secondary assist belonged to J.T. Miller, who collected the puck behind Carey Price’s net after it was dumped there in an effort to maintain possession in the offensive zone. After winning the puck from Brandon Davidson, he passed to Kevin Hayes at the far face-off circle. Hayes seemed to know exactly where Zuccarello was without looking, as his pass to the scorer was right to him at the near corner of the crease. Price had already committed to saving a shot from a wide open Hayes, so the entire cage was open for Zuccarello to bury an easy snapper.

Losing is a tough pill to swallow for the Canadiens, but New York played excellently in the second and third frames. Montréal could not manage more than nine shots in either period (thanks in large part to Nick Holden’s five shot blocks), and Lundqvist was more than able to save them all.

If the Canadiens are going to blame anyone for their Quarterfinals exit, it has to be their captain. Max Pacioretty could not find the back of the net on any of his 28 shots over the course of the six-game series, and managed only a lone assist in Game 1. Though he did try to inspire his club by scrapping with Jimmy Vesey early in the game, he would have done far better by getting the Canadiens on the scoreboard, especially since one of his teammates is the notorious troublemaker Steve Ott. In the words of South Park, “when your leading goal scorer – who tied for the eighth-most goals in the NHL’s regular season – doesn’t find the back of the net in a playoff series, you’re going to have a bad time.”

Now that they’ve defeated Montréal, the Rangers await the victors of the Bruins-Senators series. Ottawa currently leads three games to two, but Game 6 will be played in Boston at the TD Garden Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern time. Americans can view that contest on NBC, while Canadians will be serviced by both SN and TVAS.

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Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks – Game 6

For the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers are moving on to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, fresh off a 3-1 victory in San Jose on Saturday night. Yes, the Oilers defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games to meet up with that other California team in the playoffs, the Anaheim Ducks.

Of note, Edmonton defeated San Jose and Anaheim en route to their 2006 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Oilers goaltender, Cam Talbot, made 27 saves on 28 shots faced for a .964 save percentage in the win, while Sharks goalie, Martin Jones stopped 18 of the 20 shots he faced for a .900 SV% in the loss.

Leon Draisaitl (1) kicked off scoring for Edmonton just 54 seconds into the 2nd period, really quieting down the San Jose crowd after a pretty evenly matched 1st period. Adam Larsson (1) and Oscar Klefbom (1) had the assists on Draisaitl’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal.

After Chris Tierney failed to connect on a pass to Paul Martin in the San Jose offensive zone, Anton Slepyshev (1) scored the game winning goal on a breakaway 56 seconds after Draisaitl scored to make it a 2-0 game for the Oilers. Slepyshev’s goal was unassisted.

At 12:12 of the 3rd period, Mr. Shark himself, Patrick Marleau (3) made it a one-goal game with plenty of time left for the Sharks to tie the game. Logan Couture (1) and Joonas Donskoi (2) were credited with the assists that made it a 2-1 game.

With the goaltender pulled and a last ditch effort in full force for San Jose, Connor McDavid (2) picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone before flip dumping it towards the vacated net and falling to his knees. At 19:59 of the 3rd period, McDavid pocketed the empty net goal and sealed the series for Edmonton. Andrej Sekera (2) had the only assist on the goal.

Upon winning the game, the Edmonton Oilers advanced to the Second Round to take on the Anaheim Ducks, while the San Jose Sharks and their fans were sent home to find something else to do until October rolls around again.

Both Western Conference matchups in the Second Round have now been set and await the announcement for when the next round begins, upon conclusion of the Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins series and Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs series.

Anaheim has home ice in the next round against Edmonton, having won the regular season Pacific Division title.