Tag Archives: Pavel Datsyuk

DTFR Podcast #127- Tip Of The Hat(s)

John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron both had hat tricks in the last week, so Nick and Connor discuss hat trick ethics and more, since celebrations are hot topics these days. Also, everything else that happened in the first week of regular season action.

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

Down the Frozen River Podcast #98- Do Or Donato, There Is No Try

Nick and Connor rambled about the remaining weeks of the regular season, who will finish last in the NHL, if Boston can catch Tampa, Columbus’s hot streak and more. They also previewed and predicted eight of the NHL’s annual awards. Anze Kopitar has 86 points on the season– get it right, Nick.

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February 24 – Day 136 – Olympic midnight

Settle in and watch all 14 of today’s games. You owe it to yourself.

As I write, the Czech Republic and Canada are playing for the bronze medal at the Olympics. That game started at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time.

Back in North America, the NHL has scheduled a dozen tilts this fine Saturday, starting with Philadelphia at Ottawa (NHLN/TVAS) at 2 p.m. At 4 p.m., Colorado at Calgary is the next matinee scheduled, followed by the New York Islanders at New Jersey to clean up the day slate. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings seven puck drops (Winnipeg at Dallas [SN1/SN360], Boston at Toronto [SN], Tampa Bay at Montréal [CITY/TVAS], Carolina at Detroit, Pittsburgh at Florida, Buffalo at Washington and Chicago at Columbus [NHLN]), followed by Anaheim at Arizona an hour later. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Los Angeles (CITY/SN/SN360) – is slated for 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Last but not least, Olympic gold is up for grabs between the OAR and Germany at 11:10 Eastern time at Gangneung Hockey Centre.

Of quite a list of games, there’s more than a few that are worthy of our attention.

  • Czech Republic vs. Canada: For a Canadian team without its NHL players, bronze has to be considered a success.
  • New York at New Jersey: Patrik Elias was an excellent Devil for 20 years. Tonight, his 26 sweater will be lifted to the Prudential Center rafters alongside Martin Brodeur‘s 30, Ken Daneyko‘s 3, Scott Niedermayer‘s 27 and Scott Stevens‘ 4.
  • Boston at Toronto: Original Six action between teams separated by only one point in the standings? Sign me up.
  • Chicago at Columbus: Brandon Saad makes his return to Nationwide Arena tonight after being traded back to the Windy City this offseason.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: Old rivalries die hard, right?
  • OAR vs. Germany: It’s the favorites against what could be one of the best Cinderella stories of all time. Who wins the medal they want tonight?

Almost all of the games listed above have the potential to be excellent, but there’s obviously only one clear choice for today’s featured matchup.

 

I said something similar in my OAR vs. the Czech Republic semifinal preview, but it bears repeating: no team has been as impressive at the 4-0-0-1 Olympics than the Olympic Athletes from Russia.

Of course, what should we expect from a team consisting of players from three of the best teams in the world’s second-best league?

Красная Машина – The Red Machine – so dominant is its imposing offense. The OAR are managing a ridiculous 4.6 goals per game through their first five games, well above Finland’s second-best effort of 3.2 goals per game.

While almost every skater on the OAR’s roster is capable of finding the scorecard, four in particular have stood out above the rest. F Nikita Gusev leads the way with 2-6-8 totals in five showings, followed by F Ilya Kovalchuk (5-2-7), F Pavel Datsyuk (0-5-5) and F Kirill Kaprizov (4-1-5). All four players are distributed through the Machine’s top two lines.

Of course, one of the bonuses of having such an impressive attack is that it limits the opponent’s opportunities. In addition to averaging the most goals, the OAR are also limiting opponents shots on goal to only 21.6 – the second-fewest of any team in South Korea.

Not that he needs all that much help, that keeps the workload off G Vasili Koshechkin. Having allowed only five goals all tournament, he’s posted an impressive .951 save percentage and 1.08 GAA.

While almost everyone had predicted the OAR to qualify for tonight’s gold medal game, no one expected the 1-3-0-2 Germans to advance this far. Germany has never won either a silver or gold at the Olympics, meaning this will easily be its best performance at the tournament regardless of this game unfolds.

Unfortunately for Träger der Adler – The Eagle Carriers – the odds are not stacked in their favor. Not only is the OAR going to be the most imposing team Germany has faced, but the Germans’ stats simply don’t stack up in comparison.

Let’s start on offense, where Germany’s 2.33 goals per game is sixth-worst of any team in the tournament. No German skater has been more impressive than F Patrick Hager, who’s 3-3-6 totals through six games are easily the best marks of any player on the team.

Meanwhile, considering the Eagle Carriers have allowed a fifth-worst 26.83 shots on goal per game, the defensive end has totally relied on the efforts of G Danny aus den Birken.

If an MVP award is distributed at the Olympics, aus den Birken is certainly the most deserving German considering his .904 save percentage and 2.54 GAA. Though those numbers pale in comparison to Koshechkin’s marks, he’s been able to provide the biggest, most important saves for Germany to keep it alive in this tournament.

Germany’s unprecedented run to the top of this Olympic tournament has been fun to watch, and I’m certainly pulling for the Eagle Carriers in tonight’s game. However, I don’t see them pulling off the massive upset against the OAR.


Midnight has yet to strike in PyeongChang, as Germany – the Olympics’ Cinderella story – advanced to the gold medal game by beating Canada 4-3 at Gangneung Hockey Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though hockey is a game divided into thirds, this semifinal was a tale of two halves. Germany dominated the first half, as they had a 3-0 advantage through the first 28 minutes.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it was a result of some very undisciplined play by the Canadians. With 6:41 remaining in the frame, F Linden Vey earned himself a seat in the penalty box for high sticking, and that infraction was compounded by the Canadian bench also being assessed a delay of game penalty (served by F Rene Bourque). As a result, Germany earned itself a 50-second five-on-three power play once F Felix Schutz was released from the penalty box (boarding). F Brooks Macek (F Dominik Kahun) needed only 14 seconds of that advantage to beat G Kevin Poulin, setting the score at 1-0.

Where Germany really turned on the jets was in the second period, as they posted an imposing three goals in the frame. First up was F Matthias Plachta (F Patrick Hager), scoring only 3:21 into the period to give the Germans a two-goal advantage. That tally was followed only 3:28 later by F Frank Mauer (F Marcel Goc and F David Wolf), setting the score at 3-0. Canada finally got on the scoreboard at the 8:17 mark of the period courtesy of a F Gilbert Brule (D Chris Lee and D Maxim Noreau) power play goal, but the Germans answered right back only 4:14 later when Hager (Plachta and Schutz) registered a power play goal of his own.

Though Hager’s goal was the last of the second period, there was one final major event in the frame. Only 28 seconds after Hager set the score at 4-1, Brule was ejected from the game for checking to the head and neck area.

There’s a difference between winning a period and dominating a period. Germany won the first two periods, but – even with three goals – I wouldn’t say it dominated either frame.

On the other hand, Canada absolutely dominated the third period. Not only did they fire 15 shots on goal – the most of either team in any period – but the Canadians also limited Germany to only one shot against Poulin.

One.

With that in mind, perhaps its no surprise Team Canada fought its way back into this game, starting with M Robinson’s (C Thomas and M Raymond) tally 2:42 into the frame. The next scoring opportunity of the frame belonged to Germany, as Kahun was tripped by C Goloubef while attempting a shot 39 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Robinson. Fortunately for Canada, Poulin stood tall to keep the score at 4-2, meaning F Derek Roy‘s (Lee and Noreau) power play goal at the 9:42 mark of the game pulled it back within a goal.

But the remaining 10:18 belonged to G Danny aus den Birken. No matter how many shots the Canadians fired, he would not yield the game-tying goal to earn the victory for Germany.

Aus den Birken earned the victory after saving 28-of-31 shots faced (.903 save percentage), leaving the loss to Poulin, who saved 11-of-15 (.733).

With that victory, Germany has already clinched its best finish at any Olympic tournament, as the Eagle Carriers are ensured at least silver by qualifying for the gold medal game. As stated above, they play for the Olympic title tonight at 11:10 p.m. Eastern time against the Olympic Athletes from Russia.

Additionally, the 73-46-17 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have recaptured a 21-point advantage over the road teams.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #94- Twenty Years Golden

The USWNT won gold in PyeongChang– defeating Canada 3-2 in a shootout– and Nick and Connor are thrilled. Jarome Iginla might be coming back just in time for trades, playoff talk and more on this week’s episode of the DTFR Podcast.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

February 22 – Day 134 – Russian to Czechmate

It’s the best day of the hockey week! A dozen games are on this Thursday’s schedule!

We begin today’s slate in North America with 11 NHL tilts, starting with three (the New York Islanders at Toronto, Minnesota at New Jersey and Columbus at Philadelphia) at 7 p.m. and four more (the New York Rangers at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Tampa Bay at Ottawa [RDS2], Buffalo at Detroit and Washington at Florida [TVAS]) half an hour later. San Jose at Nashville drops the puck at 8 p.m., followed an hour later by a pair of Western Conference matchups (Colorado at Edmonton [SN1] and Calgary at Arizona). Finally, Dallas visits Los Angeles at 10:30 p.m. to close out the league’s action. All times Eastern.

Of course, there’s also the Olympics to keep in mind. The first men’s semifinal between the Czech Republic and the OAR is scheduled for 2:40 a.m. Eastern time Friday morning.

Of those games, I’ll have my eye on three:

  • New York at Montréal: Not only is this an Original Six rivalry, but it’s also a rematch from last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.
  • Calgary at Arizona: G Mike Smith (injured) and D Michael Stone are making their first trips back to Glendale to take on the Coyotes, the team they both spent six seasons with before joining Calgary.
  • Czech Republic vs. the OAR: The top two remaining seeds are going at it for a chance to play for a gold medal!

We’ve featured Olympic action the past six days, and I see no reason to stop that trend now. Let’s see who’s advancing to the gold medal game!

 

Let’s start with the 3-1-0-0 Czech Republic, which posted a 2-1-0-0 record in Group A against the likes of Canada (3-2 SO), Switzerland (4-1) and South Korea (2-1) to clinch a first round bye into the quarterfinals, where it beat the United States in a 3-2 shootout victory.

Offensively, there are few teams in this Olympic tournament that can rival the Czechs, as their three goals-per-game is (t)third-best among all 12 participating nations and (t)second-best of the four squads remaining.

For those wondering: no, you will not witness any of the Czech Republic’s legendary right wings in this game. Instead of Jaromir Jagr, Martin Prochazka and David Vyborny, you should be looking forward to witnessing F Michal Repik (3-1-4 totals) and F Jan Kovar (2-2-4) continuing their stellar tournaments, as both are averaging a point per game.

29-year-old Repik’s performance is of particular interest, as he’s managed his impressive marks from the Czechs’ fourth line and, more importantly, from both special teams. All three of his goals have been scored in different situations: one at even strength, one on the power play and one on the penalty kill. He’s a dangerous Swiss army knife of a player that should be taken seriously on every shift.

The Czechs have also played decently in their own zone, as they’ve held their opponents to an average of only 25 shots against per game – the (t)fifth-lowest mark of all Olympic teams and third-lowest among the semifinalists.

That’s left G Pavel Francouz to shine, and shine he has. Having been the lone goaltender Head Coach Josef Jandac has employed throughout this tournament, he’s posted a solid .94 save percentage for a 1.41 GAA.

Mix all that defensive work together and you get a Czech Republic team that has allowed only 1.5 goals per game for the entire tournament, the (t)third-best mark in comparison to all 12 teams that have participated in PyeongChang and (t)second-best among the semifinalists.

One final advantage the Czech Republic has in its back pocket is its support in the stands. With the exception of the South Koreans, no team has enjoyed larger crowds than the Czechs, who average 5460.25 fans in attendance at each game – almost 450 more than the Russians, who rank fourth in attendance. With both teams bringing their large fanbases, Gangneung Hockey Centre could very well sell each and every one of its 10,000 seats.

Of course, that’s not a knock on fans of the Olympic Athletes from Russia, who’ve had the pleasure of cheering one of the most dominant teams in South Korea. After dropping their first tilt against Slovakia 3-2, the OAR has earned a 3-0-0-1 overall record, beating Slovenia (8-2) and the United States (4-0) to win Group B, and then Norway (6-1) in the quarterfinals.

Not a bad rebound for Красная Машина – The Red Machine – after pundits were already accusing them of choking as favorites at a second-consecutive Olympic tournament.

The strength in the OAR’s game relies heavily on their dominant offense maintaining almost constant possession of the puck, similar to the style the Boston Bruins have employed in the NHL this season. Not only is this a great way to generate goals – which the OAR does, averaging an Olympic-leading five goals per game – but it also limits opposing opportunities. The 19.25 shots faced per game by G Vasili Koshechkin are the fewest any of the 12 defenses in South Korea have allowed, and he’s been able to post a cool .929 save percentage for a 1.37 GAA as a result.

Pair all that together, and the 1.5 goals against per game the OAR has allowed in their first four games is the (t)third-best mark at the Olympics and (t)second-fewest among the final four.

Anyways, back to the offense. The OAR has more than a few stellar skaters at its disposal, but none have been better than F Nikita Gusev, a Vegas Golden Knights prospect should he choose to join them when his contract expires after next season. During this stint with the Red Machine, he’s posted incredible 1-6-7 totals to average almost two points per game.

But the Czechs shouldn’t focus all their efforts on Gusev, or else one of the other six Russians averaging at least a point per game will fly right by them. F Ilya Kovalchuk, Minnesota Wild prospect F Kirill Kaprizov, F Sergei Mozyakin, D Vyacheslav Voinov, F Sergei Andronov and F Pavel Datsyuk have united to form what may be the strongest Russian team since its days as the USSR.

It’s like they should have been favored to win this tournament or something.

Usually this is where I jump into recent matchups, but I’d instead like to point out how each team handled a common opponent: Team USA. The OAR manhandled the United States in their Group B finale, dominating the game to a 4-0 final score. By comparison, the Czechs required not just overtime, but also a shootout to knock off the Americans 3-2 in the quarterfinals.

There’s certainly much to be said about how the Americans approached either game. The US appeared nervous when playing the OAR, remembering the stories their parents, coaches and just about any other American hockey fan had told them about that fateful day 38 years ago.

There was no second act of the Miracle on Ice for Team USA in this tournament against the OAR, and the Russians made them pay for their inability to string together more than a pass or two.

Comparatively, the rivalry between Team USA and the Czech Republic ranks just above the rivalry between the American and Mexican hockey teams – in other words, its non-existent. Pairing the lack of heightened emotion with G Ryan Zapolski’s excellent play, the Americans rode out the Czechs’ stellar play and countered at just the right times to stave off elimination as long as they could.

Now, this is not supposed to be a summary of Team USA, even if it did seem that way. Instead, I simply pose the question: if the Americans weren’t so riled up to play this game, would they have been as big a thorn in the Russians’ side as they were to the Czechs?

I feel the answer is yes, but the OAR still would not have needed a shootout to knock them off. With that in mind, I feel safe in my prediction that the Olympic Athletes from Russia will be playing for the gold medal after beating the Czech Republic.


With a 3-2 shootout victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the curse has been lifted on the United States’ women’s hockey team as it beat Team Canada to clinch the gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Penalties were the big story in the first period, as Team USA earned a whopping three power plays. The first two opportunities amounted to only a combined two shots on goal, but F Sarah Nurse’s interference infraction with 1:34 remaining in the frame turned into a F Hilary Knight (D Sidney Morin and F Brianna Decker) deflection 68 seconds later to give the American’s a 1-0 advantage going into the first intermission.

It didn’t take long for the Canadians to level the game. Only two minutes into the second period, F Haley Irwin (F Blayre Turnbull) set the score at 1-1 by deflecting a Turnbull pass pass past G Maddie Rooney out of mid-air. 4:55 later, who else to give Team Canada than F Marie-Philip Poulin (F Meghan Agosta and F Melodie Daoust)? With Agosta firing a reverse pass from the goal line, Poulin lifted her snap shot from the left face-off circle to the near post.

That 2-1 Canadian advantage lasted into the second intermission and through the midway point of the final frame. If any doubt was beginning to creep into the Americans’ minds that they couldn’t beat G Shannon Szabados one more time to level the game, it was dashed with 6:21 remaining in regulation when F Monique Lamoureux-Morando (F Kelly Pannek) scored to tie the game and force overtime.

With no goal struck in the 10-minute four-on-four overtime period, the gold medal would be awarded to the team that won the six-round shootout.

  1. F Natalie Spooner was the first Canadian to try to beat Rooney, but the netminder stood tall to keep her off the board.
  2. F Gigi Marvin gave Team USA an early lead in the shootout by beating Szabados.
  3. Facing an early hole, Agosta leveled the shootout score at one-apiece, but Szabados still had to face her second shooter to complete the turnaround.
  4. She did just that by keeping F Hannah Brandt’s attempt out of the back of her net. The shootout score read 1-1 through two rounds.
  5. Having already beaten Rooney in regulation, Poulin was Canada’s third shooter. However, she didn’t find the same success, as the American kept her net clean.
  6. Usually playing defense, Emily Pfalzer was given her opportunity to make an offensive contribution in the third round. Her shot was saved by Szabados, leaving the shootout tied through three rounds.
  7. Canada’s next hope was Daoust, and she made good on her opportunity by beating Rooney.
  8. However, that advantage didn’t last long, as F Amanda Kessel was able to level the shootout at 2-2 in her half of the fourth round.
  9. With the opportunity to force a miss-and-lose situation for the Americans, F Brianne Jenner’s attempt to set the shootout score at 3-2 were nullified by Rooney.
  10. That gave Team USA its first opportunity to win the shootout. Who else to send to center ice than Knight? However, her attempt was saved by Szabados, forcing an extra shootout frame.
  11. The Americans won the coin toss and elected to shoot first. F Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson made good on that decision, employing a triple move against Szabados to force a miss-and-lose on Team Canada.
  12. The Canadians called on Agosta to find the leveling goal, but Rooney was there to clinch the Americans’ second gold medal in women’s ice hockey.

Rooney earned the shootout victory after saving 29-of-31 (.935 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Szabados, who saved an impressive 39-of-41 (.951).

February 17 – Day 129 – No collusion here

Get ready to take in some hockey, because there’s a deluge of 15 games on today’s slate!

The men’s Olympic action continues this morning at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time when the OAR squares off against Team USA to determine the winner of Group B, not to mention a tilt between Slovenia and Slovakia at the same time.

Back in North America, there’s a whopping 11 games of NHL action on the schedule. The festivities begin at 1 p.m. when Los Angeles visits Buffalo (NHLN), followed an hour later by a pair of tilts (Anaheim at Minnesota and the New York Rangers at Ottawa [TVAS]). The final matinee featuring Edmonton at Arizona drops the puck at 4 p.m. Three games (Montréal at Vegas [CITY/SN360/TVAS], New Jersey at Tampa Bay and Toronto at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN]) get underway at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed an hour later by Detroit at Nashville and Washington at Chicago at 8:30 p.m. Finally, the last two NHL games of the day (Boston at Vancouver [SN/SN360] and Florida at Calgary [CITY]) find their starts at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Back in South Korea, there’s only four games left to be played in the men’s group stage – two of which will be played tonight. Germany takes on Norway at 10:10 p.m. in Group C action, followed by the Czech Republic vs. Switzerland at 2:40 a.m. in Group A. All times Eastern.

Some of the games that stuck out to me when the schedule was released include…

  • OAR vs. USA: If the Olympic Athletes from Russia win this game, they could earn an automatic entry into the Olympic quarterfinals. Should they lose, they could fall all the way to fourth in the four-team Group B.
  • Slovenia vs. Slovakia: Those scenarios are dependent on the result of this game, as Slovakia – having beaten the OAR – would clinch the group with a victory and an American loss of any variety.
  • New York at Ottawa: Though these teams look nothing like they did this time last year, tonight is a rematch of the 2017 Eastern Semifinals.
  • Montréal at Vegas: D David Schlemko was a member of the Golden Knights for less than a day before he was shipped to Montréal for a fifth-round pick in next year’s draft.
  • Germany vs. Norway: It’s a battle for third place in Group C!
  • Czech Republic vs. Switzerland: Umm… I wrote this post before Group A’s second games, so I don’t know important or unimportant this game will be. I guess we’ll just hope its a good match!

Beyond those games at the Olympics, I’m most drawn to the tilt between Anaheim and Minnesota, as the winner of that game will take a major step towards qualifying for the playoffs. However, since no club is officially qualifying or being eliminated from Stanley Cup playoff contention today, I think we have to take in the important game in Group B!

 

Before you say it: yes, I know the Russians are officially the “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” meaning the Russian flag shouldn’t be used. However, I am way too scared of the International Olympic Committee to be throwing the Olympic Rings around on this website.

We ain’t playing that game.

Anyways, back to the hockey. With a 1-0-1-0 record, Team USA is currently atop Group B – though only by a  slim one-point margin. If they can hold onto that position (easiest done with a regulation victory in this game), the Americans would earn a first-round bye and automatic entry into the quarterfinals.

Through two games, I’ve been most impressed with the United States’ effort on the defensive end – especially the effort of G Ryan Zapolski. Though his overall form has left more to be desired by this American fan, he’s managed to post a .915 save percentage and 1.99 GAA. Pair that with the group’s second-best defense, which has allowed an average of 23.5 shots against in its first two showings, and the Stars and Stripes have allowed only two goals per game – the (t)best in Group B.

Speaking of leaving much to be desired, the Americans’ offense has been nothing short of anemic by scoring only two goals apiece in their first showings.

That being said, F Ryan Donato (the Bruins’ second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft) has been far and away the most exciting skater Team USA has to offer. His 2-1-3 totals lead the squad, and he owns the distinction of being the only American to score in the USA’s 2-1 victory over Slovakia Thursday night, both on the power play.

Joining Donato in averaging a point-per-game are F Brian O’Neill (1-1-2 totals) and F Chris Bourque (0-2-2). Bourque was a major part of Donato’s two-goal performance a couple days ago, as he provided the secondary assist on both of the youngster’s markers.

As for the 1-0-0-1 Olympic Athletes from Russia, it’s a question of which side is going to show up for this morning’s tilt: the team that lost 3-2 in regulation to Slovakia, or the team that dominated Slovenia to a frightening 8-2 victory.

Considering I wasn’t alone in pegging the OAR – which currently occupies third place in the group – to come away with gold medals at the end of the tournament, I’m sure the Americans are planning on another positive showing from today’s opposition.

Even factoring in the statistics from their disappointing showing against the Slovaks, the OAR still ranks among the best in Group B. That is no more apparent than when looking at Красная Машина‘s (The Red Machine) offense, which has averaged a group-leading five goals per period.

If these Olympic Games are a proper representation, it looks like the Minnesota Wild found a steal of a player in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by selecting F Kirill Kaprizov, as he’s posted dominating 4-0-4 totals in only two games played.

Hold on, I want to make sure you caught that. By averaging two goals per game, Kaprizov has single-handedly matched the entirety of Team USA’s offensive effort. If that doesn’t make American Head Coach Tony Granato‘s heart beat a bit faster, he doesn’t deserve his job anymore.

Another major player in the Russian attack is F Nikita Gusev, who’s matched Kaprizov’s four goals with four assists of his own – three of which were apples on Kaprizov markers. In total, a whopping nine OAR skaters are averaging a point per game, including the likes of F Ilya Kovalchuk (2-1-3 totals), Columbus’ sixth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft D Vladislav Gavrikov (1-1-2) and F Pavel Datsyuk (0-2-2).

Allowing an average of only 2.5 goals against per game, the Red Machine is just as strong in its defensive end, as its 17 shots allowed per game is far and away the best performance of the group. That’s allowed G Vasili Koshechkin a pretty easy tournament so far, as even though his .852 save percentage is far from impressive, it’s been good enough for him to post a 2.43 GAA.

The last time Team USA and the Russians squared off was on May 16 in group play of the 2017 IIHF World Championship in Cologne, Germany. The Americans won that game 5-3, thanks in large part to a two-goal game – including the game-winner – by F Kevin Hayes.

Perhaps the most important hint to how this game will end is found in the fact that Hayes, who provided the big goals in the last meeting between these sides, is in Ottawa today instead of PyeongChang. With that in mind, the OAR should be able to pull off the victory this morning.

However, perhaps the USA’s biggest weapon in this game is its goaltender. As Jokerit’s starter in the KHL, Zapolski has seen many of the OAR’s players. Considering he’s posted a .932 save percentage and 1.73 GAA with his professional club, perhaps he can bring that edge against the skaters he sees on a regular basis.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, Finland’s women’s hockey team dominated Sweden to a 7-2 victory at Kwandong Hockey Centre, setting up a rematch against the United States in the Olympic semifinals.

Everything was going the Lady Lions’ way from the opening puck drop, as they found their game-winning goal in the first period by entering the first intermission with a 3-0 advantage. F Petra Nieminen (F Venla Hovi) scored the game’s opening goal at the 6:12 mark, followed only 5:20 later by F Riikka Valila (D Isa Rahunen) scoring to set the score at 2-0.

The game-winning play started with 4:10 remaining in the frame, as that’s when Sweden’s F Maria Lindh was caught tripping a Finn to earn herself a seat in the penalty box. With the five-on-four advantage, Suomi did not disappoint, scoring with only six seconds remaining before Lindh was released. F Susanna Tapani (F Noora Tulus and F Linda Valimaki) was the one to complete the play, beating G Sara Grahn to set to give the Lady Lions a three-goal advantage.

When play resumed in the second period, Finland’s winning ways continued as it needed only 7:14 of action for F Michelle Karvinen (D Minnamari Tuominen and D Ronja Savolainen) to score what was at the time a third insurance tally. Sweden finally got on the scoreboard at the 8:53 mark when F Emma Nordin (F Erika Grahm and D Annie Svedin) sneaked a shot past G Noora Raty, but Finland once again had a four-goal advantage only 36 later when Valila (Karvinen and Tapani) scored her second goal of the match. The second period ended with a 5-2 score thanks to F Rebecca Stenberg (D Maja Nylen Persson) burying  a shorthanded goal with 48 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

Any chance of a comeback by the Lady Crowns was demolished in the third period when F Emma Nuutinen (Tulus and Rahunen) and F Sanni Hakala (F Annina Rajahuhta) scored Finland’s final insurance braces, setting the score at the 7-2 final.

Raty and her defense performed marvelously in this game, as she saved 19-of-21 shots faced (.905 save percentage) for the victory. Meanwhile, Grahn took the loss after saving only eight-of-11 (.727). Following her poor performance in the first period, G Sarah Berglind took over goaltending duties for the final two frames, and she saved 16-of-20 (.8) for no decision.

Officially listed as the visitor in yesterday’s quarterfinal, the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day have pulled back within 24 points of the 70-42-17 hosts in the series.

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Central Division

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1. Nashville Predators– 34-12-9 (77 points, 55 GP)

The Nashville Predators are amazing. They’re pulling off their spectacular season on the heels of last year’s Stanley Cup Final run with almost $3.000 million in salary tied up in buyouts.

Oh, and they somehow added to their depth down the middle in the whole Matt Duchene, three-team trade saga that saw Kyle Turris swap out Ottawa Senators gear for a Preds sweater.

They don’t need to add, but general manager David Poile still might work a little magic by adding without subtracting if he can. Mike Fisher, 37, is trying to come back from retirement because he believes Nashville’s time is now. Only time will tell if he can go from his current PTO to a one-year deal that just might get him his first taste from the Stanley Cup.

If Poile wants to add anything, he’s going to have to do so with about $3.200 million in cap space currently.

Potential assets to trade: Honestly, don’t.

Potential assets to acquire: F Derek Ryan (CAR), D Cody Franson (CHI), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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2. Winnipeg Jets– 33-15-9 (75 points, 57 GP)

Injuries are beginning to mount for the Winnipeg Jets and it’ll be interesting to see what the GM Kevin Cheveldayoff does by February 26th considering his team’s current backup goaltender is 22-year-old, Eric Comrie. Their starter is 24-year-old, Connor Hellebuyck, who’s emerged as clear-cut starting goaltender this season (aside from his All-Star appearance back in January).

But what considerations has Cheveldayoff made with Jacob Trouba out for a signifcant portion of “the stretch”? What’s the game plan if a guy like Kyle Connor or Patrik Laine goes down?

Winnipeg has about $5.400 million in cap space to play with as of this writing.

They are what should be a destination for rental players looking to take a team that’s on the verge of breaking out in the postseason deeper than they could ever imagine.

And the Jets have just enough to offer other teams to bring in the right pieces to the puzzle.

Potential assets to trade: D Ben Chiarot, F Matt Hendricks, F Nic Petan

Potential assets to acquire: F Boone Jenner (CBJ), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)

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3. St. Louis Blues– 34-21-4 (72 points, 59 GP)

There’s almost $125,000 in cap space for the St. Louis Blues right now. While it’d be great for the Blues to add one or two of their missing pieces that’d send them right over the edge of victory (once-and-for-all), the better time to readjust appears to be this summer.

Besides, Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri and Carter Hutton will all need new contracts. Not that they’re going to cost St. Louis tens of millions of dollars, but it’ll likely mean that someone will have to get traded either at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft or later this summer.

Jay Bouwmeester is 34-years-old and has a $5.400 million cap hit through next season. He also has a no-trade-clause that could make things difficult for the foreseeable future, given that when the Blues are on their “A” game they can really make a claim for Cup contender status this season.

It’d be unwise to part with Bouwmeester now, but it only makes sense to do it later.

Just don’t get behind the eight ball is the best advice for St. Louis looking past the end of this month. Otherwise, salary cap hell isn’t all that fun.

Potential assets to trade: D Jay Bouwmeester

Potential assets to acquire: F Derek Ryan (CAR), F Blake Comeau (COL), F Matt Cullen (MIN), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Nikita Soshnikov (TOR), F David Perron (VGK)

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4. Dallas Stars– 33-20-4 (70 points, 57 GP)

The Dallas Stars currently cling to the first wild card spot in the Western Conference, though they trail the St. Louis Blues by two points for 3rd in the Central Division in what’s shaping up to be the tighter points battle in the West compared to the lackluster Pacific Division.

Yes, I’m fully aware Los Angeles did something to their defense Tuesday night, why do you ask?

The Central is all about racking up points while the Pacific bangs bodies off of each other in hopes of amounting to something more than your standard pylon.

So where do the Stars fit into the playoff picture? They should be in the running for at least a wild card spot coming down the stretch– and with almost $889,000 in cap space right now it’s going to be hard to add what they really need to push them over the hill.

Backup goaltender, Kari Lehtonen, is a pending-UFA at season’s end, so it’s not like Dallas needs to make a move there, but they could help their starter, Ben Bishop, a little more.

While other teams in the league are searching for the right rental forward, the Stars should be looking for the right rental defenseman. Whether that’s a Mike Green or a Cody Franson, well, only Stars GM Jim Nill will know, based on what he must give up.

Potential assets to trade: F Martin Hanzal, D Greg Pateryn

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT), D Ben Hutton (VAN)

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5. Minnesota Wild– 31-19-6 (68 points, 56 GP)

There’s good news and bad news for the Minnesota Wild as the trade deadline nears. The good news is that the Chicago Blackhawks are more than likely taking a pass on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The bad news is the Wild might do that too (oh, and Minnesota only has about $129,000 in cap room– with Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba as pending-RFAs this July).

For all of the talk regarding trading Jonas Brodin, there sure hasn’t been any radio chatter this time around as the deadline nears this month.

Though the Wild hold on to the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, there’s at least two California based teams (Los Angeles and Anaheim) that should be in the playoff picture coming down the wire.

If it’s make or break, then Minnesota has all the time in the world to wait and see what’s to come this summer.

But if they’re on the fence about determining whether to buy or sell, well, they could do a bit of both. If they’re looking for a quick retool, it’s within their means, but if they’re content with sinking before they swim, there’s always the reset (rebuild) button.

Still, it’d be a shame to rebuild with Devan Dubnyk in net. Alas, this is the world of the salary cap and bad contracts *ahem, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise*.

Potential assets to trade: D Jonas Brodin, F Matt Cullen, D Kyle Quincey, F Chris Stewart, F Daniel Winnik

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), D Ben Hutton (VAN)

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6. Colorado Avalanche– 31-21-4 (66 points, 56 GP)

In theory, the Colorado Avalanche could be buyers at this year’s trade deadline.

They’re in great shape cap-wise, with about $8.400 million to spend currently, but Avalanche general manager, Joe Sakic, knows it by now– the best thing to do for Colorado is let their youth gain experience, make minor moves until the offseason, then address specific needs.

Colorado has expendable components, but cannot touch its core.

With Matt Duchene out of the picture, the focus has turned to making the Avs– in every way– Nathan MacKinnon‘s team. Gabriel Landeskog‘s just along for the ride at this point. If he’s patient, many rewards may find their way to the Mile-High City. If he’s sick of waiting, Sakic might be forced to reap another surplus of players, picks and prospects like he did in the three-way Duchene deal.

After Francois Beauchemin‘s $4.500 million buyout penalty comes off the books at season’s end, the Avalanche will have at least $13 million to spend on giving backup-turned-potential-starting goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, a fair raise while also making decisions on several pending-RFAs.

Potential assets to trade: D Tyson Barrie, F Gabriel Bourque, F Blake Comeau, F Rocco Grimaldi, G Semyon Varlamov, F Nail Yakupov

Potential assets to acquire: Literally anyone, F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Gustav Nyqvist (DET), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Nikita Soshnikov (TOR), D Ben Hutton (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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7. Chicago Blackhawks– 24-25-8 (56 points, 57 GP)

Reward contracts have killed the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty. This is what drives parity in a salary cap league (see “Detroit Red Wings downfall since 1998, thanks to 2004-05”), so once again, welcome to the Salary Cap Era.

Depending on your methods of calculation, the Blackhawks will either have $0 to spend at the deadline or maybe up to about $3.100 million in wiggle room.

Regardless, they’re not buying this year. They’re buying for the future– so draft picks and prospects. One thing that might get in their way (other than the salary cap) is what they have to offer.

Large reward contracts were handed out to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews while Duncan Keith took a discount. Marian Hossa is on the books at a cap hit of $5.275 million through the end of the 2020-21 season, whether he plays or not.

If Hossa never plays again, Chicago can always place him on the long-term injured reserve (eh, just paperwork), buyout his contract (yikes) or trade him to a team like the Arizona Coyotes (preferable) who took on the large salary of Pavel Datsyuk in his final NHL-contract year just to meet the cap floor, knowing he had jettisoned for the KHL.

The bottom line is Chicago’s cash-strapped. Someone important is going to have to be dealt in order to protect the organization’s future endeavors.

With Toews and Kane at a combined $21.000 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season, unless the cap rises significantly, this just might keep the Blackhawks down in the dumps for a while.

Potential assets to trade: F Artem Anisimov (before his NMC/modified-NTC kicks in), D Cody Franson, F Marian Hossa (if he’ll waive his NMC), F Brandon Saad, D Brent Seabrook (if he’ll waive his NMC),

Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, prospects and cap room

Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games

We’ve talked a lot in DtFR Podcasts about who is – and maybe even more about who isn’t – going to the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. However, we haven’t had too many discussions yet about the tournament itself.

What nations are going to be there? What is the format of the tournaments? What time will those games be? Will the United States get those games broadcast live? And, most importantly, who’s taking gold?

Let’s tackle those questions one at a time.

What nations are going to be at the Olympics this year?

In total, there will be 14 nations represented between the two tournaments – though that number does come with a catch.

Starting with the women’s tournament (which drops the first puck February 10 at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time), there will be two groups of four sides apiece competing to qualify for six spots in the knockout tournament.

Group A consists of:

  • Canada
  • Finland
  • Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR)
  • United States of America

One of these things is not like the others, so now sounds like as good a time as any to discuss one of our “wildcard” nations.

With a press release on December 5, 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the Russian Olympic Committee for the 2018 Games for “the systematic manipulation of the anti-doping system” during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

While that is a hefty charge, the IOC did offer an avenue for clean Russian athletes to compete. Every Russian who passes the IOC’s drug tests is eligible to compete for the Olympic Rings instead of for the Russian Federation, meaning any medals won by Russian athletes will not count towards Russia’s all-time medal counts. No Russian flags will be raised, nor will the State Anthem of the Russian Federation be heard, but at least those athletes will still have an opportunity to compete.

Group B consists of:

  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

Ooh, our other “wildcard!” It’s hidden a bit better than the Russian situation, but there’s a hint in one team’s name.

You probably noticed there was no specification associated with Korea. That’s because North Korea and South Korea are fielding a unified team of 35 players (the standard 23 from South Korea with an additional dozen from North Korea) in the women’s hockey tournament.

This is a weird and highly politicized (Politics at the Olympics? *insert sarcastic ‘No!’ here*) decision that was finalized only 24 days before Korea’s first game, and that crunched timeline may yield unfortunate results on the ice. Steve Mollman of Quartz provides some excellent information about the politics of the situation, but the only rule Head Coach Sarah Murray, a dual-citizen of Canada and the USA, must follow is three North Korean players must be active for each game.

Meanwhile, the men’s tournament is a bit larger and features three groups of four teams for a total of 12 nations.

Group A consists of:

  • Canada
  • Czech Republic
  • South Korea
  • Switzerland

…Group B:

  • Olympic Athletes from Russia
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • United States

…and Group C (the group I’m affectionately calling “The Euro Cup.” Original, I know):

  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Norway
  • Sweden

All 12 squads will qualify for the knockout stage, but there is a major reward for each nation that wins its group: an automatic entry into the quarterfinals. The best second-place team will also earn a bye in the playoff round that will feature the remaining eight teams.

What is the format of each tournament?

Like many international sporting events, both the men’s and women’s Olympic hockey tournaments will begin with a group stage.

Each team in a given group will play one game against the other three teams in its section. For example, the unified Korean team in the women’s tournament will play Switzerland (February 10 at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time), Sweden (February 12 at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time) and Japan (February 14 at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time).

Standings will be tabulated in a way similar to the NHL, however there are a few differences: wins count for three points, while overtime and shootout wins only count for two. Overtime and shootout losses will still count for one point, and a regulation loss is… well, a major bummer.

Okay, we’ve completed the group stage. How does this turn into a knockout tournament?

This is the phase where things start to look a bit different between the men’s and women’s tournaments. Let’s start with the women’s competition, which will begin its knockout stage on February 16 at 10:10 p.m. Eastern time.

Did you notice how stacked Group A is? The IOC and IIHF did that intentionally, but they also paved the way for those teams into the tournament as all four will qualify for at least the quarterfinals. The top two teams from the group (A1 and A2) will receive automatic bids into the semifinals, while the remaining sides will square off against the winner and runner-up of Group B (A3 versus B2 and A4 versus B1) in the quarters. B3 and B4 will continue play, but the best they’ll be able to finish in the consolation tournament is fifth place.

The winner of A3vB2 will take on A1 in the semis, and A2 will square off against the victor of A4vB1. Once those tilts are done, it will boil down to the Gold Medal game, which is scheduled for February 21 at 11:10 p.m. Eastern time. The Bronze Medal match is slated for February 21 at 2:40 a.m. Eastern time.

As stated before, the group stage in the men’s tournament has no bearing on which nations advance into the knockout – all 12 teams will do just that. However, playoff matchups are dependent on success in the group stage.

Once group play is complete, all 12 teams will be pooled into one table with the three group winners listed 1-3, the runners-up 4-6 and so on, so forth. Within those four trios, they’ll be ordered by the number of points they earned in the group stage. Should there be a tie in points, it will be decided by goal-differential, then goals for, then – hopefully it doesn’t come to this one – the superior 2017 IIHF ranking.

I won’t bore you with the seeding process, but the first round of the men’s knockout tournament will begin February 19 at 10:10 p.m. Eastern time. The top four teams from the group stage enter during the quarterfinals, which are scheduled for February 20 at 10:10 p.m. Eastern time, followed by the semifinals three days later. Bronze medals will be awarded after the game at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time on February 24, followed by the Gold Medal tilt at 11:10 p.m. Eastern time that night.

What time are these games happening, and are they being televised?

To our readers not from the United States, the broadcasting part of this section doesn’t apply to you. Then again, most of you probably don’t want puck drops listed in Eastern time anyway, so thanks for reading this far if you’re still here!

Since the women’s tournament begins first, let’s start with their schedule. Remember, OAR means Olympic Athletes from Russia.

2018 Women’s Tournament
Date/Time in PyeongChang Date/Time (EST) Group/
Round
Matchup USA Live Broadcast
February 10 at 4:40 p.m. February 10 at 2:40 a.m. B Japan v Sweden
February 10 at 9:10 p.m. February 10 at 7:10 a.m. B Switzerland v Korea USA
February 11 at 4:40 p.m. February 11 at 2:40 a.m. A Finland v USA NBC Sports Network
February 11 at 9:10 p.m. February 11 at 7:10 a.m. A Canada v OAR
February 12 at 4:40 p.m. February 12 at 2:40 a.m. B Switzerland v Japan NBC Sports Network
February 12 at 9:10 p.m. February 12 at 7:10 a.m. B Sweden v Korea NBC Sports Network
February 13 at 4:40 p.m. February 13 at 2:40 a.m. A Canada v Finland NBC Sports Network
February 13 at 9:10 p.m. February 13 at 7:10 a.m. A USA v OAR NBC Sports Network
February 14 at 12:10 p.m. February 13 at 10:10 pm B Sweden v Switzerland NBC Sports Network
February 14 at 4:40 p.m. February 14 at 2:40 a.m. B Korea v Japan USA
February 15 at 12:10 p.m. February 14 at 10:10 pm A USA v Canada NBC Sports Network
February 15 at 4:40 p.m. February 15 at 2:40 a.m. A OAR v Finland USA
February 17 at 12:10 p.m. February 16 at 10:10 pm QF Quarterfinals CNBC
February 17 at 4:40 p.m. February 17 at 2:40 a.m. QF Quarterfinals USA
February 18 at 12:10 p.m. February 17 at 10:10 pm CONS Classification (5-8 place)
February 18 at 4:40 p.m. February 18 at 2:40 a.m. CONS Classification (5-8 place)
February 19 at 1:10 p.m. February 18 at 11:10 pm SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 19 at 9:10 p.m. February 19 at 7:10 a.m. SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 12:10 p.m. February 19 at 10:10 pm CONS Classification (7-8 place)
February 20 at 4:40 p.m. February 20 at 2:40 a.m. CONS Classification (5-6 place)
February 21 at 4:40 p.m. February 21 at 2:40 a.m. BMG Bronze Medal Game USA
February 22 at 1:10 p.m. February 21 at 11:10 pm GMG Gold Medal Game NBC Sports Network

And now, the men’s tournament:

2018 men’s Tournament
Date/Time in PyeongChang Date/Time (EST) Group/
Round
Matchup USA Live Broadcast
February 14 at 9:10 p.m. February 14 at 7:10 a.m. B Slovakia v OAR USA
February 14 at 9:10 p.m. February 14 at 7:10 a.m. B USA v Slovenia NBC Sports Network
February 15 at 12:10 p.m. February 14 at 10:10 pm C Finland v Germany CNBC
February 15 at 4:40 p.m. February 15 at 2:40 a.m. C Norway v Sweden NBC Sports Network
February 15 at 9:10 p.m. February 15 at 7:10 a.m. A Czech Republic v South Korea USA
February 15 at 9:10 p.m. February 15 at 7:10 a.m. A Switzerland v Canada NBC Sports Network
February 16 at 12:10 p.m. February 15 at 10:10 pm B USA v Slovakia CNBC
February 16 at 4:40 p.m. February 16 at 2:40 a.m. B OAR v Slovenia NBC Sports Network
February 16 at 9:10 p.m. February 16 at 7:10 a.m. C Finland v Norway USA
February 16 at 9:10 p.m. February 16 at 7:10 a.m. C Sweden v Germany NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 12:10 p.m. February 16 at 10:10 p.m. A Canada v Czech Republic NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 4:40 p.m. February 17 at 2:40 a.m. A South Korea v Switzerland NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 9:10 p.m. February 17 at 7:10 a.m. B OAR v USA NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 9:10 p.m. February 17 at 7:10 a.m. B Slovenia v Slovakia USA
February 18 at 12:10 p.m. February 17 at 10:10 pm C Germany v Norway NBC Sports Network
February 18 at 4:40 p.m. February 18 at 2:40 a.m. A Czech Republic v Switzerland NBC Sports Network
February 18 at 9:10 p.m. February 18 at 7:10 a.m. A Canada v South Korea USA
February 18 at 9:10 p.m. February 18 at 7:10 a.m. C Sweden v Finland NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 12:10 p.m. February 19 at 10:10 pm Q Qualifications NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 4:40 p.m. February 20 at 2:40 a.m. Q Qualifications NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 9:10 p.m. February 20 at 7:10 a.m. Q Qualifications USA
February 20 at 9:10 p.m. February 20 at 7:10 a.m. Q Qualifications NBC Sports Network
February 21 at 12:10 p.m. February 20 at 10:10 pm QF Quarterfinals CNBC
February 21 at 4:40 p.m. February 21 at 2:40 a.m. QF Quarterfinals NBC Sports Network
February 21 at 9:10 p.m. February 21 at 7:10 a.m. QF Quarterfinals NBC Sports Network
February 21 at 9:10 p.m. February 21 at 7:10 a.m. QF Quarterfinals USA
February 23 at 4:40 p.m. February 23 at 2:40 a.m. SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 23 at 9:10 p.m. February 23 at 7:10 a.m. SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 24 at 9:10 p.m. February 24 at 7:10 a.m. BMG Bronze Medal Game NBC Sports Network
February 25 at 1:10 p.m. February 24 at 11:10 pm GMG Gold Medal Game NBC Sports Network

A master schedule is available at the bottom of this article, but there’s one question left to answer first.

So, who’s going for the gold?

Ah, perhaps the most important question of them all.

As we’ve been doing this whole time, we’ll stick with tradition and predict the women’s tournament first.

Just examining the format of the tournament, the IIHF and the IOC are simply begging for another Gold Medal Game between Canada and the United States, the world’s top-two ranked women’s teams.

There’s obviously potential for either team to stumble in a group that features the four best squads in the world and be forced to play in the quarterfinals, but I just don’t see it happening. Should my prediction prove correct, the world’s best teams would square off in a third-straight Olympic Final, with Canada playing for its fifth-consecutive gold.

As for the men’s tournament, it’s been well reported that the NHL keeping its players at home will play a major role in determining which nations are taking home hardware.

In my opinion, that leaves the door wide open for the Olympic Athletes from Russia, especially since they’re playing in what I believe to be the weakest group of the bunch. The OAR boasts players such as F Pavel Datsyuk, C Mikhail Grigorenko, W Ilya Kovalchuk, D Alexey Marchenko, D Nikita Nesterov and F Vadim Shipachyov – all of whom have NHL experience. Tack on the fact that they all play in the second-best league in the world, and they’re more than prepared for every challenge that can come their way in Pyeongchang.

Of course, we all saw what happened the last time the Russians were favorites to win the Olympics. Should this team crumble like 2014’s squad (even though F T.J. Oshie will be preoccupied playing with the best Russian player in the world, W Alex Ovechkin), I’m leaning towards the winner of the mini Euro Cup taking full advantage. All four of those teams are in the top-10 of the current IIHF World Rankings, with Sweden and Finland respectively leading the way as numbers 3 and 4.

But don’t leave the predicting work to me. Here’s what all of us here at Down the Frozen River – and even our old pal Frank Fanelli, now of Student Union Sports – think is going to happen:

Down the Frozen River’s Olympic Picks
Cap’n Colby Connor Frank Jordan Nick Pete
Women’s Tournament
Gold Canada Canada Canada USA USA USA USA
Silver USA USA USA Canada Canada Canada Canada
Bronze Finland Sweden Finland Sweden Sweden Finland Sweden
Fourth Sweden Japan OAR Finland Finland Sweden Finland
Men’s Tournament
Gold Sweden Sweden OAR Sweden OAR Sweden Sweden
Silver Canada USA Finland USA Canada OAR OAR
Bronze Finland Canada Sweden Canada USA Canada Canada
Fourth OAR OAR Canada Finland Sweden USA USA

It seems I’m not alone in my prediction of a Canada-USA Gold Medal match in the women’s tournament! All seven of us have the two squaring off in the final, with a slim majority believing Captain Meghan Duggan and co. can lead Team USA to its first gold since 1998.

As for the women’s Bronze Medal game, we’re leaning towards a Scandinavian country taking home some hardware – with most of us favoring Sweden over Finland. However, Colby and I think underdogs are going to make it to the semifinals before falling, as I’m pegging the fourth-ranked Olympic Athletes from Russia to end up in fourth and Colby’s picking ninth-ranked Japan.

In the men’s tournament, it seems Sweden is the nearly consensus favorite to come away with the medals that match its tri-crowned sweaters. However, who Captain Joel Lundqvist‘s – yes, the twin brother of the Rangers’ G Henrik Lundqvist – team beats in that Gold Medal game is anyone’s guess, as we’ve picked four different teams to take home silver.

We seem to be in a bit more agreement about the winner of the bronze medal, as four of us have pegged Captain Chris Kelly‘s Team Canada to come home with its third-consecutive medal.

While we may all have our own rooting interests, I think we can all agree that this should be a fun and exciting two weeks of hockey.

2018 Olympic Hockey Tournament
Date/Time in PyeongChang Date/Time (EST) Sex Group/
Round
Matchup USA Live Broadcast
February 10 at 4:40 p.m. February 10 at 2:40 a.m. W B Japan v Sweden
February 10 at 9:10 p.m. February 10 at 7:10 a.m. W B Switzerland v Korea USA
February 11 at 4:40 p.m. February 11 at 2:40 a.m. W A Finland v USA NBC Sports Network
February 11 at 9:10 p.m. February 11 at 7:10 a.m. W A Canada v OAR
February 12 at 4:40 p.m. February 12 at 2:40 a.m. W B Switzerland v Japan NBC Sports Network
February 12 at 9:10 p.m. February 12 at 7:10 a.m. W B Sweden v Korea NBC Sports Network
February 13 at 4:40 p.m. February 13 at 2:40 a.m. W A Canada v Finland NBC Sports Network
February 13 at 9:10 p.m. February 13 at 7:10 a.m. W A USA v OAR NBC Sports Network
February 14 at 12:10 p.m. February 13 at 10:10 pm W B Sweden v Switzerland NBC Sports Network
February 14 at 4:40 p.m. February 14 at 2:40 a.m. W B Korea v Japan USA
February 14 at 9:10 p.m. February 14 at 7:10 a.m. M B Slovakia v OAR USA
February 14 at 9:10 p.m. February 14 at 7:10 a.m. M B USA v Slovenia NBC Sports Network
February 15 at 12:10 p.m. February 14 at 10:10 pm W A USA v Canada NBC Sports Network
February 15 at 12:10 p.m. February 14 at 10:10 pm M C Finland v Germany CNBC
February 15 at 4:40 p.m. February 15 at 2:40 a.m. W A OAR v Finland USA
February 15 at 4:40 p.m. February 15 at 2:40 a.m. M C Norway v Sweden NBC Sports Network
February 15 at 9:10 p.m. February 15 at 7:10 a.m. M A Czech Republic v South Korea USA
February 15 at 9:10 p.m. February 15 at 7:10 a.m. M A Switzerland v Canada NBC Sports Network
February 16 at 12:10 p.m. February 15 at 10:10 pm M B USA v Slovakia CNBC
February 16 at 4:40 p.m. February 16 at 2:40 a.m. M B OAR v Slovenia NBC Sports Network
February 16 at 9:10 p.m. February 16 at 7:10 a.m. M C Finland v Norway USA
February 16 at 9:10 p.m. February 16 at 7:10 a.m. M C Sweden v Germany NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 12:10 p.m. February 16 at 10:10 pm W QF Quarterfinals CNBC
February 17 at 12:10 p.m. February 16 at 10:10 p.m. M A Canada v Czech Republic NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 4:40 p.m. February 17 at 2:40 a.m. W QF Quarterfinals USA
February 17 at 4:40 p.m. February 17 at 2:40 a.m. M A South Korea v Switzerland NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 9:10 p.m. February 17 at 7:10 a.m. M B OAR v USA NBC Sports Network
February 17 at 9:10 p.m. February 17 at 7:10 a.m. M B Slovenia v Slovakia USA
February 18 at 12:10 p.m. February 17 at 10:10 pm M C Germany v Norway NBC Sports Network
February 18 at 12:10 p.m. February 17 at 10:10 pm W CONS Classification (5-8 place)
February 18 at 4:40 p.m. February 18 at 2:40 a.m. M A Czech Republic v Switzerland NBC Sports Network
February 18 at 4:40 p.m. February 18 at 2:40 a.m. W CONS Classification (5-8 place)
February 18 at 9:10 p.m. February 18 at 7:10 a.m. M A Canada v South Korea USA
February 18 at 9:10 p.m. February 18 at 7:10 a.m. M C Sweden v Finland NBC Sports Network
February 19 at 1:10 p.m. February 18 at 11:10 pm W SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 19 at 9:10 p.m. February 19 at 7:10 a.m. W SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 12:10 p.m. February 19 at 10:10 pm M Q Qualifications NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 12:10 p.m. February 19 at 10:10 pm W CONS Classification (7-8 place)
February 20 at 4:40 p.m. February 20 at 2:40 a.m. M Q Qualifications NBC Sports Network
February 20 at 4:40 p.m. February 20 at 2:40 a.m. W CONS Classification (5-6 place)
February 20 at 9:10 p.m. February 20 at 7:10 a.m. M Q Qualifications USA
February 20 at 9:10 p.m. February 20 at 7:10 a.m. M Q Qualifications NBC Sports Network
February 21 at 12:10 p.m. February 20 at 10:10 pm M QF Quarterfinals CNBC
February 21 at 4:40 p.m. February 21 at 2:40 a.m. W BMG Bronze Medal Game USA
February 21 at 4:40 p.m. February 21 at 2:40 a.m. M QF Quarterfinals NBC Sports Network
February 21 at 9:10 p.m. February 21 at 7:10 a.m. M QF Quarterfinals NBC Sports Network
February 21 at 9:10 p.m. February 21 at 7:10 a.m. M QF Quarterfinals USA
February 22 at 1:10 p.m. February 21 at 11:10 pm W GMG Gold Medal Game NBC Sports Network
February 23 at 4:40 p.m. February 23 at 2:40 a.m. M SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 23 at 9:10 p.m. February 23 at 7:10 a.m. M SF Semifinals NBC Sports Network
February 24 at 9:10 p.m. February 24 at 7:10 a.m. M BMG Bronze Medal Game NBC Sports Network
February 25 at 1:10 p.m. February 24 at 11:10 pm M GMG Gold Medal Game NBC Sports Network

DtFR Overtime: Have your break and eat it too

In this week’s edition of DtFR Overtime, I’ll tackle one of the things we highlighted in the most recent podcast: the bye weeks.

As was outlined in a previous post, the NHL is in Year 2 of implementing bye weeks into its schedule. Starting January 7, all teams will have a five-day minimum break that will begin no later than today. Everyone will be back in action no later than January 20.

Within that post, I outlined some of the things I like about this year’s iteration of the byes (specifically, their being compacted into a span of 13 days instead of strewn over the course of more than two months), but also touched on some of my concerns.

One of my biggest complaints was that the entire month of January would feel very thin in terms of games played. That is no more obvious than in my “Game of the Day” column, as I’ve repeated three teams twice in the span of six days.

Of course, there’s bigger issues than my daily writings. Time off abounds at this stage of the schedule, as the NHL has added bye weeks between its already existing three-day holiday break (December 24-26) and the four-day All-Star Break (January 26-29).

This choppiness, among other reasons, is one of the reasons the NHL has been floating the idea of eliminating the All-Star Game entirely, apparently wanting to find a way to expand its reach in foreign markets.

Among the DtFR crew, we’d been discussing how we felt interest in the All-Star Game among fans was declining. However, with just a little bit of research, I discovered that, according to SB Nation, last year’s All-Star Game brought in a 1.6 TV rating for NBC, reaching over 2.5 million Americans (sorry Canada, your results didn’t pop up in the first return).

Now, that doesn’t sound like a lot when you compare it to such sports broadcasts as Super Bowl LI, which garnered 111.3 million views, but it is actually a solid number in relation to recent NHL All-Star spectacles. The 2017 All-Star Game was the highest-viewed edition of the event since the 2004 festivities in St. Paul, Minn., and marked a second-consecutive year of growth in viewership.

The NHL saw a steep decline when the All-Star Game moved from ABC to NBCSN (dropping from a 2.5 rating in 2004 to a .5 in 2007), but the move back to broadcast television last year seems to have been a good move. So good, in fact, that 2017’s 1.6 rating is superior to both the 2017 (1.5) and 2018 Winter Classics (1.4).

And don’t think TV numbers are the only thing important here. All-Star Games are still must-see events for fans in the host markets. In fact, by compiling All-Star Game attendances and comparing it to stadium capacities over the past 28 editions of the event, the NHL has reached max capacity – if not exceeded it – 21 of the 28 times.

That’s why I’m of the opinion that the NHL shouldn’t be thinking of scrapping the All-Star Game. The fans, which is a growing number in and of itself (I mean, who would’ve expected a hockey team to actually work out in Vegas?), still want to see the best of the best compete with and against each other.

However, the spectators are just one part of the puzzle. More than a handful of players (C Sidney Crosby, C Pavel Datsyuk, D Nicklas Lidstrom, W Alex Ovechkin and C Jonathan Toews come to mind, just to name a handful) have skipped the All-Star Game in recent years – some with more believable excuses for their absences than others – and I think that is where the real problem lies. Many players do not want to risk expending energy, getting hurt or further straining an existing injury in an exhibition game that ultimately does not matter, to the point that they are willing to serve a one-game suspension that only extends their time off.

Therefore, we have two parties: one that wants to see the best hockey players in the world compete with no “less-thans” holding them back, and another that wants time off to heal and prepare for the final push of the season.

This dichotomy does not seem to be prevalent in the other two “Big Four” North American sports that play their All-Star Games mid-season. Perhaps they can provide a hint as to how to solve this problem.

It might have been just how I was raised, but I am under the impression that no athlete feels more honored to be a part of an All-Star Game than a baseball player. You can feel free to disagree with me, but the difficulty of achieving consecutive appearances, plus the storied tradition – not to mention the lower risk of injury – make it a very desirable experience and honor. There’s obviously players who have skipped the Midsummer Classic (SS Derek Jeter, P Stephen Strasburg, etc.), but it is not something that happens often for sportsmen that play at least 150 games per regular season.

This summer, MLB will give almost every team (the Cardinals and Cubs are the exception, as the league is experimenting with highlighting one game in a sort of “Opening Day to the Second Half of the Season” this year) a four-day break before resuming play following the festivities in Washington, D.C., an eternity in a 162-game season. Even the All-Stars themselves will take at least two days off, and most will get three since only eight participate in the Home Run Derby.

Of course, baseball is the least strenuous sport of the “Big Four,” but there’s still enough time for even those selected to the All-Star Game to take a moment to rest before the second half of the season, especially since most play only an inning or two in the exhibition.

Next up is the NHL’s redheaded stepchild-turned-attention hog of the winter months, the NBA (Don’t believe me, NBA fans? Time for you to read up on why professional basketball exists).

The Association’s All-Star Break is scheduled a little bit later than the NHL’s and won’t take place until February 16-21 this season, with the action taking place in Staples Center – the site of last year’s NHL All-Star Game.

Just like in hockey and baseball, the NBA stages a skills competition the day before its actual All-Star Game, but that still leaves four days for the players involved in the festivities to rest and recoup, and six for the scrubs (not really, there’s tons of deserving players that get left off the two 12-men rosters). You know, because most of them there don’t request nights off at least once a month.

Shots fired NBA.

All jokes aside, I’m sure you noticed something both these leagues have that the NHL doesn’t: an actual break. The NHL All-Star Break lasts only four days, as all but the Kings will be in action on January 16 (only because there isn’t a 32nd team for them to play – yet) and most will jump right back to the fray on January 30.

Perhaps this is why the NHLPA requested bye weeks when the league wanted to switch to the three-on-three backyard pickup-style tournament?

And so, at long last, I present an option that could potentially save the All-Star Game from extinction while also preserving the time off the players desire: we simply need to expand the All-Star Break to an actual week.

In a perfect world, my solution can resolve both concerns facing the league and its players. By extending the break, the players – even those elected into the weekend’s festivities – get to take more time off the ice to rest and recuperate, and coaches could probably convince the NHLPA to allow them to recommence light installation practices the last day before resuming play.

Another problem this might fix is the NHL’s ratings during the All-Star Game. While a 1.6 rating is good, you have to believe the league would like to see higher numbers. Maybe – just maybe – the league can create enough of a “hockey famine” that fans would tune in to get a sampling of the sport before their favorite clubs returned to the ice.

My plan?

Have play commence until the Wednesday before the All-Star Game (within this season’s calendar, that would be January 24). The league can decide whether it wants this to be a normal Wednesday with only two or three games, or if wants to cash in like the day before the break begins this year and schedule as many games as possible. I’m not picky.

Continuing the presumption we’re editing this year’s schedule, the All-Star Festivities would still take place in Tampa on January 27 (Skills Competition) and 28 (63rd All-Star Game), but players would not be back in action with their actual clubs on January 30 like they’re currently slated to be. Instead, the NHL would not schedule play again until the next Tuesday or Wednesday (January 30 or 31).

This would allow at least four days of rest for all players whether they’re All-Stars or not, and six days for those not involved in the weekend’s festivities. I feel, with that amount of time off, the league might be able to go back to a time without bye weeks, circa 2016.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 7

Player of the Week: William Karlsson

The kid the Jackets bribed Vegas to take in the expansion draft is making Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson sweat, and CBJ fans like myself weep.

Karlsson’s 13 goals in 22 games this season already far surpass his previous best effort of 9 in 81 games with Columbus 2 years ago, and he is only 3 points off of a career high of 25 last year with the Jackets. Those eye-catching stats are due in large part to his current scorching stretch of 5 consecutive multi-point games (and 6 multi-point games in his last 7 contests), as the young Swede has really found his offensive game in an increased role with the expansion Golden Knights.

This week’s 3-game stretch saw ‘Wild Bill’ tally 4 goals and 6 points, including just his 2nd power play goal of the year (Karlsson has as many shorthanded tallies as he does PP markers), and he’s a major reason that Vegas is riding a 5-game winning streak and have found themselves suddenly propelled to 4th place in the entire league.

Team of the Week: New York Islanders

…what? Oh, right, sorry, I was still watching that John Tavares setup on Josh Bailey‘s OT goal.

A pair of exciting games capped with OT wins against the Flyers and a 2-1 victory over the Senators took the suddenly-streaking Islanders to a 3-0-0 week and 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. The Isles are starting to show signs of the balanced attack I hinted at in the season preview I wrote a few months ago, with 14 different players tallying at least 1 point this week, led by Josh Bailey’s 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists). Bailey’s lone goal was an overtime game-winner, which was made possible by John Tavares absolutely ruining Sean Couturier‘s reputation as a defensive stud with the prettiest bit of 1-on-1 puck protection you’re likely to see by anyone not named Pavel Datsyuk.

Questions loom over the legitimacy of the Isles as contenders, but for now they’re as hot as their arena is terrible.

Game of the Week: Nashville Predators 3 @ Carolina Hurricanes 4 (SO), Sunday November 26, 2017

This week had a helluva lot of potential choices for this award, but I’m giving the nod to Preds/Canes on the basis that it’s not a traditional matchup that you’d expect to see produce a fantastic game, but that’s exactly what it did.

Two teams that don’t see much of each other certainly didn’t play like strange bedfellows, with a combined 71 hits. Tack on 71 shots for good measure, and you’ve got all the makings of a spectacular Sunday matinee.

Josh Jooris would kick things off just 3:37 into the 1st period, receiving a stretch pass from Marcus Kruger and using his speed to create just enough separation from Mattias Ekholm (boo for my fantasy team) to sneak a backhander through the legs of Juuse Saros that would just squeak across the goal line to give the Canes the early lead. Both netminders were extremely solid for the bulk of the first (and the entire game for that matter), but with just over 4 minutes remaining Ekholm (yay for my fantasy team) would find Viktor Arvidsson with a stretch pass of his own, and Arvy would go to work from there. Gliding across the blueline on the left wing side, Arvidsson gave Noah Hanifin the old howdoyado with a gorgeous toe-drag, before collecting the puck on his forehand and burying a quick wrister bar-down over the glove of Scott Darling to knot the game at 1.

The first half of the 2nd period saw a goaltending duel, before finally just past the 10 minute mark Ekholm (yay for my fantasy team) would blast home a power play goal to give the Preds their first lead of the game. But just 1:04 later Victor Rask would collect a bouncing puck at the side of the Nashville net and bury the equalizer.

The two netminders again duked it out until Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams would collect the rebound of Mr. Jersey Number 7 Derek Ryan and give the Canes the lead once again at 5:49 of the 3rd period on a power play goal. Then just over 5 minutes later it would be Craig Smith once again tying the game, capitalizing on a netmouth scramble after a hectic odd-man rush and tallying the goal that would eventually send the game to extra time.

A relatively tame 3-on-3 period was highlighted by a heroic penalty kill shot block by Joakim Nordstrom on P.K. Subban, but the game was eventually settled in the shootout by a pair of Finns, as Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen would both score on countryman Saros to send the Raleigh crowd home happy.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Hockey Fights Cancer month continues to destroy everyone’s ability to be negative, as this week we saw Brian Boyle score the night the Devils had their HFC promotional game, as well as Alex Ovechkin tripling the wish of cancer survivor and new best friend Alex Luey, who asked for a goal from his buddy and was rewarded with 3.

Carey Price returned to the Montreal lineup, and promptly reminded the Sabres that they’re still worse than the Habs, with a 36-save blanking in a 3-0 win. Oh, and in case you thought you were done reading this article through tear-blurried eyes, he did so on a night where he was joined for the anthems by 11-year-old Charlotte Richard, a cancer patient who was attending her first ever Canadiens game and meeting her hero in the process. Break the tissues back out, no shame in it.

In a complete 180 from heartwarming stories like those, the Anaheim Ducks posted (then promptly deleted and apologized for) a video of a naked Ryan Kesler strolling through their offices, apparently celebrating the NHL’s 100th birthday in his birthday suit. I’m not sure who’s idea this one was, but I wouldn’t be shocked to find out they were no longer gainfully employed.

Apparently Andy Andreoff has never been on the internet, because he seemed to think challenging Kevin Bieksa to a fight was a solid strategy. Much like Radko Gudas, Andreoff waded in to the deep end without his water wings, and found himself on the receiving end of Bieksa’s 2nd superman punch KO of the season. Andy tried to pop right back to his feet and look tough, but we all saw those Bambi legs, bud. You’re not fooling us.