Tag Archives: Pearson

Game of the week: January 7-13

It’s the first full week of 2019! What better way to celebrate than with some hockey?

Here’s this week’s slate of games:

NHL SCHEDULE: January 7-13
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, January 7
7 p.m. Nashville Toronto 4-0
7 p.m. St. Louis Philadelphia 3-0
7:30 p.m. Minnesota Montréal 1-0
8:30 p.m. Calgary Chicago 4-3
10:30 p.m. Los Angeles San Jose 1-3
Tuesday, January 8
7 p.m. Minnesota Boston 0-4
7 p.m. New Jersey Buffalo 1-5
7 p.m. Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders 4-3
7 p.m. Florida Pittsburgh 1-5
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Washington 3-5
7:30 p.m. Montréal Detroit 3-2
7:30 p.m. Columbus Tampa Bay 0-4
8 p.m. Dallas St. Louis 3-1
8 p.m. Colorado Winnipeg 4-7
10 p.m. New York Rangers Vegas Golden Knights 2-4
10:30 p.m. Edmonton San Jose 2-7
Wednesday, January 9
8 p.m. Nashville Predators Chicago Blackhawks NBCSN, SN360, TVAS
9:30 p.m. Colorado Calgary ESPN+
10 p.m. Ottawa Anaheim RDS
Thursday, January 10
7 p.m. Washington Boston ESPN+, TVAS
7 p.m. Toronto New Jersey  
7 p.m. New York Islanders New York Rangers  
7 p.m. Dallas Philadelphia  
7 p.m. Nashville Columbus  
7:30 p.m. Carolina Tampa Bay  
8 p.m. Montréal St. Louis RDS, TSN2
8 p.m. Winnipeg Minnesota NBCSN
9 p.m. Florida Edmonton  
10 p.m. Arizona Vancouver  
10 p.m. San Jose Vegas ESPN+
10:30 p.m. Ottawa Los Angeles RDS
Friday, January 11
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Carolina NHLN
8 p.m. Detroit Winnipeg TVAS
9 p.m. Florida Calgary  
10 p.m. Pittsburgh Anaheim ESPN+, SN360
Saturday, January 12
1 p.m. Philadelphia New Jersey NHLN, SN
1 p.m. New York Rangers New York Islanders ESPN+
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Buffalo  
7 p.m. Boston Bruins Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, CITY, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Colorado Montréal SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Columbus Washington ESPN+
8 p.m. Detroit Minnesota  
8:30 p.m. Vegas Chicago ESPN+
9 p.m. St. Louis Dallas  
10 p.m. Ottawa San Jose CBC, SN1, TVAS
10 p.m. Arizona Edmonton SN
10:30 p.m. Pittsburgh Los Angeles  
Sunday, January 13
12:30 p.m. Nashville Carolina  
6 p.m. Anaheim Winnipeg  
6 p.m. New York Rangers Columbus Blue Jackets NHLN
7 p.m. Florida Vancouver SN
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Lightning New York Islanders ESPN+
9:30 p.m. Arizona Calgary SN1

Among the week’s biggest games are the usual suspects of rivalries, playoff rematches and player returns.

In the rivalry department, the Battle of California reignited Monday when the Kings visited San Jose, followed a day later by Philadelphia at Washington and an Original Six showdown between the Canadiens and Red Wings. The Battle of New York will be waged twice this week, starting in Manhattan tomorrow night and heading to Brooklyn Saturday afternoon. Also taking place Saturday is the Battle of the Turnpikes between Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as another Original Six fixture featuring Boston and Toronto.

As for rematches from last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Thursday will see Winnipeg make a return to Minnesota in a rematch of the Western Quarterfinals, and a Western Semifinals rematch between San Jose and Vegas. The previously mentioned Bruins-Maple Leafs tilt on Saturday is a rematch of the Eastern Quarterfinals, as is Columbus at Washington on the same day.

Making his first trip back to Raleigh since being traded to Buffalo this summer, no player’s homecoming is bigger than Jeff Skinner‘s this week. Drafted seventh overall in 2010, Skinner was a member of the Hurricanes for eight seasons before joining Jack Eichel‘s Sabres. While a Cane, Skinner won the organization’s first Calder Trophy and was named the youngest All-Star in North American professional sports history – both in 2011.

Also making a major homecoming trip is Tanner Pearson, now a member of the Penguins after a mid-season trade ended his six-season tenure in Los Angeles.

However, the game that excites me the most is going down tonight when the Colorado Avalanche make the trip north into Alberta to take on the Calgary Flames.

For much of the season so far, 20-15-8 Colorado – the West’s top wild card – was one of the scariest opponents in the league for any team. They boast a dominant top line and a top-five power play (the Avs’ 26.5 percent conversion rate is second-best in the conference).

However, that has not been the case for the past three weeks, as Colorado has racked up only a lowly 1-5-2 record in its last eight appearances (including regulation losses to Arizona, Chicago and Los Angeles – all also-rans in the Western Conference), causing them to give up third place in the Central Division to Dallas.

Averaging three goals per game during this run, the offense is still clicking at a good enough pace that the Avalanche should not be struggling – at least not to this extent. Instead, it has been Colorado’s goaltending that has really dropped the ball.

With 9-5-3 G Philipp Grubauer earning the start last night in Winnipeg (Colorado lost 7-4, for those keeping track at home), it seems likely that 11-8-5 G Semyon Varlamov will get the nod this evening. If that’s the case, he’ll surely have full intention of playing closer to the .912 save percentage and 2.8 GAA he’s managed for the season and not the .891 and 2.97 marks he’s posted in his last two starts.

Of course, even those numbers are improvements over Grubauer’s. In the former Capital’s last six starts, he’s managed only an .87 save percentage and 3.94 GAA – only slightly worse than the .895 and 3.29 he’s shown for the entire season. With numbers like those and the fact that 0-2-0 G Pavel Francouz looked fairly solid in his NHL debut this season (he managed a .943 save percentage and 1.96 GAA in 61 minutes), it’s a wonder the Czech hasn’t had the opportunity to join the Avs full-time if it would mean Varlamov could take more games off.

What makes these recent goaltending numbers so frustrating is the fact that Colorado has been playing some solid defense during this stretch of games. In the Avs’ last eight games, they’ve allowed only 29.75 shots against per game – the ninth-lowest mark in the NHL since December 21. W Gabriel Bourque and C Sheldon Dries (both with 2.3 hits per game since December 21), W Matt Calvert (seven takeaways during this stretch) and D Erik Johnson (2.4 blocks per game in his past eight outings) have all played major roles in that success, but they’ll be pushed to the limit tonight when facing the Flames’ imposing attack.

Speaking of those high-flying Flames, they currently boast the Western Conference’s top record with a 27-13-4 mark – a performance that’s even more intimidating when we keep in mind they have at least one game in hand on the Pacific Division’s two other best teams.

Tonight’s tilt will be the Flames’ first back in Calgary after a four-game Eastern road trip that saw them earn six of eight possible points. In fact, Calgary enters tonight’s game on an impressive 5-1-1 run in its past seven showings, including wins over solid Western foes in San Jose and Winnipeg.

Leading that charge is the Flames’ previously mentioned offense, which has few rivals in the NHL lately. Averaging 4.29 goals per game since December 27, Calgary’s attack is ranked fourth in the league and second in the conference in that time.

An outstanding five skaters are averaging at least a point per game during this run, but none are as intimidating as LW Johnny Gaudreau. With 10-6-16 totals in his past seven games (that’s 1.43 goals and 2.29 points per game), he’s elevated his season marks to 26-38-64, good enough for fourth, (t)fifth and (t)eighth in the NHL in points, goals and assists respectively.

Joining Gaudreau in averaging at least a point per game during this seven game stretch are C Sean Monahan (2-12-14 totals), F Elias Lindholm (3-8-11), LW Matthew Tkachuk (3-5-8) and D Noah Hanifin (0-7-7).

Perhaps the most impressive facet of Calgary’s attack is that the Flames are scoring almost all of their goals at even strength, having converted only four of their last 28 power play opportunities (14.3 percent, 12th-worst in the NHL since December 27. While Head Coach Bill Peters would surely like to see his special teams perform better, the fact that the Flames have scored 21 of their last 30 goals (70 percent) at even strength surely makes that an easier pill to swallow.


A potent attack taking on a slumping goaltending corps is usually a recipe for disaster, but the fact that Colorado boasts a solid offense of its own is what makes this tilt interesting. If the Avalanche want any chance of pulling off the upset, F Nathan MacKinnon, RW Mikko Rantanen and co. will need to do their best to beat 15-4-3 G David Rittich to keep up with the Flames. If they can’t, this could get ugly early.

April 2 – Day 173 – King of the mountain

Today marks the final Monday of regular season NHL action. Do with it what you will, but I’d strongly recommend watching hockey.

Buffalo at Toronto gets the evening underway at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by a pair of tilts (Winnipeg at Ottawa [RDS] and Carolina at Florida). Two more puck drops (Washington at St. Louis [NHLN/TVAS] and Edmonton at Minnesota) are scheduled for 8 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – Colorado at Los Angeles (SN/SN1) – waits until 10:30 before getting started. All times Eastern.

I’d originally marked today’s DtFR Game of the Day as the Battle of the QEW, but Buffalo extending its streak of missing the postseason to a seventh season puts a damper on that option. Instead, let’s make the trip to Hollywood to see if Colorado can keep its playoff hopes alive.

 

 

 

 

 

There were major concerns surrounding 42-28-9 Colorado’s playoff chances when 24-16-6 G Semyon Varlamov was shut down with a lower-body injury, but 18-11-3 G Jonathan Bernier put a damper on that last night with a 38-save performance against the Ducks.

Bernier’s performance in Anaheim, albeit an overtime loss, shouldn’t have really been all that much of a surprise. After all, Varlamov missed the entire month of January due to injury, and Bernier posted a 9-2-1 record in his stead with a .936 save percentage and 2.17 GAA – both marks that are even better than the solid .913 save percentage and 2.86 GAA that he has to show for the entire season.

Bernier seems to relish at the opportunity to be the starter, and he’ll be relied upon this week to once again prove his worth and complete Colorado’s playoff push.

However, since he was in action last night, it remains to be seen if he’ll man the pipes this evening or if 0-1-0 G Andrew Hammond – yes, the Hamburglar from the Senators’ 2015 playoff push – will be called into action for only his second NHL start of the season. Hammond commanded the Avalanche’s crease on March 28, posting a .939 save percentage in a 2-1 home loss to the Flyers.

Of course, part of what makes the Avs so great is not even what they have to offer on the defensive end, but instead their solid attack. Colorado has averaged four goals per game in its last two games, with seven different players averaging at least a point per game in that span.

Of those seven, no player has shone quite as bright as F Tyson Jost. People that don’t regularly watch Colorado might think I misspelled F Nathan MacKinnon (MacKinnon does, after all, rank fifth in the NHL in points and 10th in goals and assists), but Jost has scored three goals in these last two games to improve the second-liner’s season totals to 12-10-22.

Joining Jost in posting at least a point per game in Colorado’s last two outings include D Tyson Barrie (1-2-3 totals since March 30, 13-42-55 overall), F Alexander Kerfoot (1-2-3 since March 30, 18-24-42 overall), W Sven Andrighetto (2-0-2 since March 30, 8-13-21 overall), RW Mikko Rantanen (1-1-2 since March 30, 28-54-82 overall), MacKinnon (0-2-2 since March 30, 38-56-94 overall) and LW Gabriel Landeskog (0-2-2 since March 30, 24-35-59 overall).

The 43-28-8 Kings enter tonight’s tilt as the Western Conference’s first wild card and riding a three-game point streak. As has been a characteristic of Los Angeles and the three California teams for years now, the Kings have found that success by playing some spectacular and physical defense.

Since March 26, Los Angeles has allowed only 26 shots against per game. That’s the second-best mark in the NHL in that time, bested only by Edmonton allowing one fewer shot in its last three games. D Derek Forbort (3.3 blocks per game since March 26) and C Anze Kopitar (five takeaways in his last three games) have led that defensive charge, but the Kings have also had the luxury of four players (LW Kyle Clifford, Forbort, F Trevor Lewis and LW Tanner Pearson) imposing their wills along the boards and averaging two hits per game during this run.

This defensive success has kept 31-27-3 G Jonathan Quick‘s workload light, and that’s just fine by him as he’s managed a .964 save percentage and .96 GAA in his last two starts to lead the Kings to allowing only 1.33 goals against per game since March 26 – the lowest mark in the league in that time.

Quick, the (t)ninth-most winningest goaltender on the season, has a .923 save percentage and a 10th-best 2.37 GAA for this campaign, not to mention a (t)fourth-best five shutouts.

The Kings have certainly had the upper hand in their last two meetings with the Avs, as they’ve earned four points in comparison to Colorado’s one. Just like tonight’s tilt, December 21’s contest took place at Staples Center, where Los Angeles earned a 2-1 overtime victory (W Dustin Brown provided the game-winner). Meanwhile, the March 22 matchup in Denver was a much more lopsided affair, as the Kings posted a dominating 7-1 score (Kopitar earned First Star honors with his four-goal performance).

Should that winning trend continue tonight, the Kings will jump back into third place in the Pacific Division, but they’ll be giving a game-in-hand to Anaheim in the process that – should it convert it into a win of its own – could return the table to how it currently stands.

Meanwhile, as the Western Conference’s second wild card, Colorado has much to gain by pulling off the road upset tonight. A regulation win would propel the Avalanche over Los Angeles into the first wildcard spot, a much more certain position that also has the luxury of avoiding the dreaded Predators in the first round of the playoffs.

However, similar to Los Angeles’ situation with Anaheim, the Blues still have a game-in-hand on Colorado even though they’re also in action tonight at home against the Capitals. If the Avs are lucky, they can expand their lead on St. Louis to three points with a win and a Notes regulation loss, but it’s possible that Colorado could end the night further from playoff qualification than it started – that happens if the Avs lose in regulation and St. Louis earns at least one point, as the Blues would jump into the second wildcard in that situation due to the aforementioned game in hand.

With the top two lines playing remarkably well for Colorado, the Avs are going to be a tough out tonight regardless of who they have in net. However, Los Angeles’ success against against the Avalanche so far this season has me thinking it will be the Kings that come away with two points tonight.


In a penalty-riddled meeting that is just begging for a follow up in the postseason, the Washington Capitals clinched their third-consecutive Metropolitan Division title by downing the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

A whopping 38 combined penalty minutes were distributed in this game, with the hosts taking 10 more than Washington due in large part to F Evgeni Malkin and Assistant Coach Mark Recchi both getting called for misconducts with 61 seconds remaining in regulation. Surprisingly, neither side could capitalize on its five power play opportunities.

One player that went unaffected by all this commotion was First Star of the Game G Philipp Grubauer. Though a late goal by Third Star RW Patric Hornqvist (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) cut his dreams of a career-high fourth shutout 3:45 short, his 36-of-37 performance (.973 save percentage) was more than enough to earn the victory.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an offense scoring a goal per period in support. Washington registered all three of its tallies before Hornqvist got the Penguins on the scoreboard, starting with F T.J. Oshie‘s (W Andre Burakovsky and D John Carlson) wrist shot 6:25 into the first period.

Second Star D Dmitry Orlov (F Evgeny Kuznetsov) provided the game-winner on a wrister with 6:14 remaining in the second period. After the Pens had dumped the puck into their offensive zone at the end of a power play to get an even-strength line on the ice, Orlov ended up with possession and began driving through the center of the ice towards G Matt Murray. With D Olli Maatta left to beat, Orlov decided to use him as a screen and fire his wrister through the Finn’s legs, beating Murray’s blocker.

While Orlov does get credit for his second game-winner of the season, the biggest goal in this contest just might have been RW Tom Wilson‘s (D Matt Niskanen) tip-in only 23 seconds into the third period. The Toronto native’s 14th marker of the season set the score at 3-0, meaning Pittsburgh needed far more than a relatively late goal from Hornqvist to seriously cast doubt into the hearts and minds of the Capitals.

Murray took his 16th regulation loss of the season after saving only 31-of-34 shots faced (.912 save percentage).

In addition to clinching their third-consecutive division title, the Capitals’ road win also snapped an eight-game winning streak and 10-game point streak by the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts in the series now have a 98-54-21 record that is 44 points superior to the roadies.

March 19 – Day 159 – There’s a LA Lakers joke here somewhere…

After a busy weekend, only five games are on today’s NHL schedule.

The evening starts with two tilts (Columbus at Boston [SN/TVAS] and Nashville at Buffalo) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Florida at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Los Angeles at Minnesota (NBCSN), while Calgary at Arizona – tonight’s nightcap – waits a full two hours before closing out the night. All times Eastern.

Originally, the Kings-Wild game was marked in my list of potential games for the simple fact that D Christian Folin is returning to Xcel Energy Center for the first time since departing Minnesota. While that’s not exactly a story worth covering (sorry Folin, but you’ve spent the last two games in the press box), the matchup should still prove to be the most competitive – and important – of the night. To the Land of 10,000 Lakes!

 

March has not been the month of consistency for 39-27-6 Los Angeles, as it has alternated between winning and losing on a game-by-game basis. While that is a good thing in the sense that they haven’t strung two losses back-to-back since February 22 and 24, the Kings have also failed to follow a win with another victory since February 27 and March 1.

As such, the Kings have only a 4-3-1 record to show for this calendar month, but that is certainly not the fault of any in the defensive end. Led by W Dustin Brown (five takeaways since March 1) and LW Kyle Clifford (3.4 hits per game over this stretch), Los Angeles has allowed only 29.88 shots against per game to reach 28-26-2 G Jonathan Quick since March 1, the 10th-lowest mark in the NHL in that time.

Of course, a goaltender like Quick that is faced with so few shots per game is almost always capable of making the required saves. The story has been no different lately, as he’s posted an impressive .923 save percentage and 2.27 GAA over his past seven starts, improving his season marks to a .922 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.

Even with the Kings traveling to Winnipeg for a tilt tomorrow night against the Jets, Quick will be in net this evening.

Instead, inconsistency has showed its ugly face within the Kings’ offensive ranks this month. That seems hard to believe considering C Anze Kopitar and D Drew Doughty are both averaging at least a point per game this month with respective 10 and eight points, but it’s how they reached those point totals where we start to get a clearer picture.

It’s a regular occurrence for an offensive defenseman to register far more assists than goals, so it’s no surprise Doughty has 1-7-8 marks over his past eight showings. Similarly, Doughty plays an excellent center role by being a play maker, as evidenced by his 2-8-10 performance this month.

However, it’s the fact that neither of these leaders are finding the back of the net themselves that seems to be the issue. Similarly, the Kings’ two hottest goalscorers – F Jeff Carter and LW Tanner Pearson – can only boast four goals apiece since March 1, but they play together on the second line instead of with Kopitar.

Therefore, it seems that Los Angeles’ top line is in a bit of a rut lately. With F Tobias Rieder and Brown currently listed as Kopitar’s wings, they need to get their act together to solidify the Kings’ playoff run.

In terms of record, 41-24-7 Minnesota has been experiencing a month of March very similar to the Kings, as the Wild can only boast a 5-4-0 record since turning the calendar’s page.

However, the Wild have reached their March record in a very different way than the Kings, as they have already posted a three-game winning streak this month and could match that mark with a victory tonight.

Defense has been a major part of that success, as Minnesota has done well to limit its opponents to only 28 shots against per game since March 1, the third-lowest mark in the entire NHL. D Jonas Brodin (1.9 blocks per game since March 1), D Mathew Dumba (two hits per game over this run) and W Jason Zucker (six takeaways in his last nine games) have all played major roles in that squelching defensive presence.

However, to have a record so close to .500 over this nine-game run, there’s also been more than a few Minnesotan losses this month. Those belong to 31-14-5 G Devan Dubnyk, who has not exactly been spectacular in his last seven starts. Even though he’s earned four victories this month, he’s also posted an .899 save percentage and 2.93 GAA – well below his season marks of a .916 save percentage and 2.61 GAA.

Of these two teams, Minnesota’s playoff chances are all but clinched as it has a five-point advantage on ninth-place Dallas – not to mention a game in hand (technically, tonight’s game is the Wild’s game in hand over the Stars, but it will be returned to them after Dallas plays Washington tomorrow). Additionally, there’s little forward mobility in the Central Division, as Minnesota trails Winnipeg by seven points.

Instead, the Wild are most concerned with holding on to third place in the division to ensure they play the Jets in the first round of the playoffs instead of Vegas. Currently, Minnesota has a three-point advantage on Colorado in the first wild card. With the Avs getting the opportunity to take on the lowly Blackhawks tomorrow night, the Wild need to hold serve with a victory tonight to maintain their slim advantage.

Of course, playoff seeding is the least of the Kings’ worries as they’re currently tied with Dallas at 84 points. Los Angeles needs any points it can get its hands on, but a win tonight would propel it past Anaheim for third place in the Pacific Division, as both sides would have 86 points and the Kings would win the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker.

Tonight’s game is the second of three this regular season between Los Angeles and Minnesota. The first took place December 15 at Staples Center, where the Kings effectively imposed their will to post a convincing 5-2 victory. W Marian Gaborik – now an Ottawa Senator after being traded on Valentine’s Day for D Dion Phaneuf and C Nate Thompson – led the way that night with two third period goals.

If the Kings continue their run of alternating results, they should be in line for a victory tonight considering they fell 3-0 against New Jersey on Saturday. Even facing Minnesota’s impressive defense, I think the Kings can get it done today since Quick playing that much better than Dubnyk lately.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 at Honda Center to propel themselves into third place in the Pacific Division.

Though the Devils twice pulled back within a goal of tying the game, the final result never seemed to be in doubt. Anaheim’s defense squelched almost every attempted attack by New Jersey, as its 36 shots on goals are well more than the Devils’ 17.

Of course, that defense got quite the boost by being spotted a two-goal advantage before even seven minutes had run off the clock. Second Star of the Game C Ryan Getzlaf opened the game’s scoring only 1:14 after the opening puck drop with an unassisted snap shot, and he was followed 5:23 later by W Jakob Silfverberg (D Josh Manson and Third Star D Hampus Lindholm) scoring a tip-in to set the score at 2-0.

Even though they opened the second period with 1:25 of five-on-three play, the Devils’ first comeback attempt didn’t see any real life until 9:29 remained in the second period. With W Corey Perry in the penalty box serving a too many men on the ice penalty, W Kyle Palmieri (C Travis Zajac and F Taylor Hall) buried a slap shot to pull New Jersey back within a 2-1 deficit.

Comebacks are difficult to pull off when Anaheim scores its game-winning goal before Jersey even manages its second. That’s exactly what happened when D Brandon Montour (Getzlaf and First Star F Rickard Rakell) scored a power play clapper 7:55 into the third period.

Montour and co. needed only 26 seconds of D John Moore sitting in the penalty box for cross checking Silfverberg to make the Devils pay. After receiving a pass along the left boards from Cam Fowler at the point, Rakell, moved the puck below the goal line to Getzlaf hanging out just outside the trapezoid. Before New Jersey could get its defense in the right position, Getzlaf centered a perfect pass to Montour at the top-right corner of the slot, who proceeded to rip his clapper past G Keith Kinkaid‘s glove.

Though LW Patrick Maroon (D Sami Vatanen and RW Stefan Noesen) was able to pull the Devils back within a goal with a tip-in against his former team with 9:55 remaining in regulation, a Rakell (Fowler and D Marcus Pettersson) wrist shot only 46 seconds later completed the game’s scoring.

G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 15-of-17 shots faced (.882 save percentage), leaving the loss to Kinkaid, who saved 32-of-36 (.889).

Anaheim’s regulation home victory snaps an eight-game point streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the series’ hosts now have an 88-52-19 record that is 34 points better than the roadies.

NCAA Weekly Match-Up, 10/1/17

October is finally here! The puck has officially dropped on the 2017-18 season!

While it’s time for celebration, it’s also time for people like me to get busy. I’m rolling out a new weekly segment, where I will be choosing one game/series and give you a pre-game preview and post-game write-up(s). If you ever have any suggestions or want to see your team in the spotlight, let us know on Twitter (get ready for the shameless plug.) You can find us at @DTFrozenRiver.

At this point in the early season, there weren’t many games to choose. I could have sided with one of Saturday’s matchups (Boston University defeats Union 4-1; Colgate wins over Niagara 5-1), but I find this Sunday tilt particularly interesting. Without further ado, here is the NCAA Weekly Match-Up:

Wisconsin Badgers v. Michigan Tech Huskies

Let’s start with the Badgers. The Big 10 preseason poll has them coming in at 3rd out of seven teams. In this particular position (if preseason rankings actually mean anything to you), they are a “bubble team.” What that means is if they perform particularly well, they could exceed expectations and be sitting atop the standings at the end of the season. Or, they could live-up to that 3rd place ranking, which will result in an acceptable season, but not a great one. Wisconsin will be a fun team to watch, as tWisconsinhey hope to crash Minnesota’s party. The Gophers are preseason favorites, but I think the Badgers may have something to say about that. Wisconsin will have to replace their leading scorer, Luke Kunin (22-16-38), as well as graduated senior and former Assistant Captain Grant Besse (9-19-28). They will need to see improved play from others, which they believe they will get. If they want to make a good run, they will look to start off on the right foot with this non-conference match-up.

Alright Techies, time to talk about you. I am really interested to see how the Huskies perform this season. What type of product will they be able to put on the ice? In the WCHA pre-season poll, they also received a 3rd place ranking. There problem is that they have a lot more going on behind the scenes in Houghton. Let’s start with the obvious. Mel Pearson was a machine. He helped lead Tech to many successful seasons, culminating in a Broadmoor Trophy. With the retiring of Red Berenson in Michigan (Pearson’s former home as an Assistant Coach), many people feared the worst. Their fears became reality with Pearson accepted the Head Coach position at Michigan. TMichiganTechhe hiring of new Head Coach Joe Shawhan will bring a new era. This new era will also begin with uncertainty on the back end. The goaltenders on their roster include a true freshman, a young transfer, and a junior who has only appeared in five games. With the surprise exit of Angus Redmond, the Huskies must find a way to protect their own net. While they do return many good quality players, graduating seniors made up a large bulk of their scoring last season. I think Michigan Tech will still have a good season, but they will need to overcome a lot of adversity to be back in the NCAA Tournament.

Players to Watch:

Wisconsin – F, Trent Frederic (Sophomore) and G, Jack Berry (Sophomore)

Michigan Tech – F, Joel L’Esperance (Senior) and D, Mark Auk (Senior)

 

Game Details:

Sunday (10/1/17) at 2:00pm

Kohl Center (Madison, WI)

_________________________________________________________________________

Post-Game Wrap-Up:

The Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan Tech Huskies faced off in an early season tilt and what a game it was.

The Cardinal and White got off to a great start, as they put up the only two goals of the first period. At 5:51 of the first period, junior Seamus Malone moved the puck behind the net. Although Tech goalie Patrick Munson was able to fend off the chance, junior forward Will Johnson capitalized on the rebound.

Later in the period, a new face to the Badgers would collect his first collegiate goal. As Michigan Tech’s Jake Jackson went off for a slashing call, Wisconsin’s power-play unit took the ice. Linus Weissbach regained control of the puck after it was blocked by a Husky and sent a wrist shot over the shoulder of Munson. Assists were credited to Johnson Trent Frederic.

Into the second period, Michigan Tech showed they were also capable of using the man advantage. Joel L’Esperance would score his first goal of the young season. Unfortunately for the Black and Gold, the Badgers would regain their two-goal lead shortly after. Senior forward Ryan Wagner entered the zone along the boards and placed a beautiful pass right onto the stick of Weissbach, who was camped near the front of the net. He one-timed the puck behind Munson for his second of the night. Frederic also earned a helper, which earned him his second point as well.

The Huskies would close the gap one more time late in the second period. Another goal on the power-play, scored by Jake Lucchini, put them within one. Gavin Gould and Mark Auk assisted on the play, with Auk earning a multi-point game. Neither team would find the back of the net in the third period, as both Munson and Wisconsin goaltender Kyle Hayton were dialed in.

 

Post-Game Notes:

Players to Watch – Well, we went three for four, which is probably about as good as it gets (we aren’t technically professionals at this). Wisconsin’s Trent Frederic had two assists; Michigan Tech’s Mark Auk also had two assists, while Joel L’Esperance put one point on the scoreboard.

Goalie Match-Up – The goaltending was very well played, regardless of the scoresheet. The Huskies started Patrick Munson, the transfer from the University of Denver. Although his game was not perfect, he showed flashes of brilliance. If he can polish his play, Tech may have found their new number one. Wisconsin countered with Kyle Hayton, a graduate transfer from St. Lawrence. If he continues his strong play that Badger fans witnessed tonight, Jack Berry may be finding himself on the bench more often than not.

First Collegiate Goal (…and Second) – There are many Badgers to keep eyes on this season, but you can surely add Linus Weissbach to the list. The Gothenburg, Sweden native may be a long way from home, but he seems right at home in a Wisconsin uniform. He scored two goals tonight, leading the way to a non-conference victory. Another unique first on the night came from Patrick Munson, who assisted on the first Husky goal (that’s right, goalie making plays). That was his first point as a member of the Black and Gold.

U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game – Regardless of the outcome, both teams were surely proud to partake in such a special game. Unfortunately for the Huskies, they will not have a shot at revenge this season, since this was not a two-game series.

Next Appearances – Wisconsin will take on Ohio State next weekend (10/6 and 10/7), as they open up Big Ten play. Michigan Tech will head to Duluth, Minnesota, as they are participating in the Ice Breaker Tournament. They will face off against Union on Friday and will drop the puck against either Minnesota or Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday.

Los Angeles Kings 2017-’18 Season Preview

Los Angeles Kings

39-35-8, 86 points, fifth in the Pacific Division

Additions: GM Rob Blake, F Mike Cammalleri, D Christian Folin, G Darcy Kuemper, Head Coach John Stevens

Subtractions: G Ben Bishop (traded to DAL), D Matt Greene (retired), GM Dean Lombardi, D Brayden McNabb (drafted by VGK), Head Coach Darryl Sutter

Offseason Analysis: If postseason berths were awarded based on goals allowed, Los Angeles would have been not only the third seed in the Pacific Division in 2017, but also the entire Western Conference. In fact, at 205 goals allowed, Los Angeles was the only non-playoff team in the entire league in the top-15 of the statistic.

Unfortunately for the Kings’ offense, that’s not the way this game works.

Last season, Los Angeles couldn’t score to save its life. Even with F Jeff Carter’s team-leading 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists), the Kings could only manage 201 markers – tying for the fifth-fewest in the league.

If a club is struggling on offense, what better place to find a scorer than the entry draft? That’s exactly where new GM Blake looked, selecting 18-year-old C Gabriel Vilardi (29-32-61 in the OHL) with the 11th-overall pick. Fans shouldn’t grow too attached to the idea of him wearing black and silver this year though, as Los Angeles’ top two center positions are locked up for at least the next five seasons (Carter will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022), barring a big trade. Both Nick Shore (6-11-17) and Nic Dowd (6-16-22) will be free agents following this season (restricted and unrestricted, respectively) and could open up a hole in the lineup for the youngster, but I’d be concerned about playing the potential future of the offense, should the scouting reports prove correct, on these more physical lines during his development. Vilardi will almost certainly be back in Windsor trying to win his second-straight Memorial Cup this season.

And that leads us to a major problem with the Kings: they are returning almost an identical roster as last year. That is just fine for the Pittsburgh Penguins or Nashville Predators, but teams like the Kings that are trying to capitalize on a two-time Cup-winning goaltender still in his early 30s – like Jonathan Quick – should be doing all they can to help him out.

General Managers in all sports face the tough job of building a competitive team, keeping a balanced budget, appeasing the owner and making the fans happy. It’s a touchy situation that often doesn’t have clear right or wrong answers.

Unfortunately, Lombardi didn’t find the right balance between those things last season. Currently, the Kings have eight forwards signed to contracts through at least the 2019-’20 season for $1.6 million AAV, at minimum. Six of those are Lombardi’s responsibility, as his attempts to keep the 2014 Stanley Cup-winning gang together and hope they rediscover that magic ultimately led to him losing his job this offseason.

Then again, it doesn’t seem Blake learned from his predecessor’s mistakes, as he is responsible for signing 25-year-olds LW Tanner Pearson (24-20-44) and F Tyler Toffoli (16-18-34) this summer. My concern with these signings is not that these players aren’t worth their contracts, but that it has only added to the logjam of talent that will make it difficult for youths like Vilardi to make the team and could make it difficult to trade pieces in the future.

Offseason Grade: C+

The Kings added Cammalleri to replace unsigned Jarome Iginla and shored up the backup goaltending position (sorry Mr. Game 1 Jeff Zatkoff, but Kuemper is better and younger), but they’re returning almost an identical lineup as last season. Unless Stevens can find a way for the offense to increase production and Quick can add four more wins than Peter Budaj could manage in his absence last year, the Kings are on their way to another postseason on the couch.

March 13 – Day 145 – West is wild

It’s another Manic Monday in the NHL, with 16 teams in action this evening. Like it usually does, tonight’s festivities start at 7 p.m. with two games (Tampa Bay at the New York Rangers [TVAS] and Columbus at Philadelphia [SN1]), followed half an hour later by Carolina at the New York Islanders (NBCSN). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Winnipeg at Nashville, which precedes Pittsburgh at Calgary by an hour. A trifecta of matchups (Boston at Vancouver, Colorado at Arizona and St. Louis at Los Angeles) act as tonight’s tri-nightcap, as the all drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Things have really tightened in the Western Conference wild card race, and that competition will be on full display tonight when the eighth and ninth-place teams square off in the Staples Center!

 

 

 

 

 

St. Louis enters tonight’s game with a 35-27-5 record, which is good enough for fourth in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Blues, but they’re definitely riding an “up” right now with their four-game winning streak.

When St. Louis is winning like it is right now, it’s usually due to its offense. Having notched 185 tallies in 67 games, the Notes are tied for the 11th-best scoring rate in the league. As you’d probably guess, the engineer behind most of that scoring is Vladimir Tarasenko, who has an impressive 61 points to lead the team.

Even more impressive? His goal total, which currently stands at 32. He ties for third in the NHL in scores, and is on pace for seven more before the season comes to a close.

St. Louis is especially effective on the power play, as its 22.3% success rate ties for fourth best in the league (and best in the west). Although Tarasenko leads the team with 20 power play points and eight power play goals, he has not been very effective of late with the extra man. In his past five games, he’s only registered one point – albeit a goal – with the man-advantage.

Special teams seem to be a point of emphasis for Mike Yeo, because the Notes are also very strong on the penalty kill. Led by Captain Alex Pietrangelo‘s 29 shorthanded blocks, the Notes have successfully defended 83.6% of their penalties, the eighth-best rate in the NHL.

Playing host this evening are the 33-28-6 Kings, the fifth-best team in the Pacific Division and ninth-best in the West. Winners of their past two contests, Los Angeles‘ biggest struggle this season has been scoring, as their 166 goals is the eighth-lowest total in the league. That being said, the Kings have have managed to score a dozen goals in their past four games, so perhaps Darryl Sutter has finally found a solution for his club.

Although offense has been tough to come by for the club as a whole, Jeff Carter has been having a fantastic season. He’s notched 31 goals for 59 points, both totals that lead the team. It’s quite the resurgence for him, as – if he stays on pace – he’ll have the best campaign of his career since his 46 goal, 84 point effort with Philadelphia in 2008-’09.

But beyond Carter, scoring has been a struggle for Los Angeles. To put things simply, it’s not a good sign when the second-best scorer on the team – Tanner Pearson – has only 22 goals. Excluding those two, no other Kings have more than a dozen tallies.

The Kings have found their success this season on the defensive end of the ice, and that is no more apparent than when they’re on the penalty kill. Refusing to yield a goal on 84.9% of its infractions, Los Angeles ranks fourth-best in the NHL when down a man. Alec Martinez deserves a lot of credit for that prosperity, as his 28 shorthanded shot blocks lead the team.

To make this game even more important, it acts as a rubber match for the season series between these clubs, as they’ve both one of their previous two meetings. The Blues last visited the City of Angels on January 12 when they fell 5-1.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Los Angeles‘ Carter (31 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (32 goals [tied for third-most in the league]).

I’m not surprised that Vegas favors Los Angeles to win tonight, but I am surprised the Kings have a -145 advantage. Both teams enter the game hot, but I like Los Angeles to pull together a victory on the back of their solid defense and their newfound explosive offense.


Sparked by two quick first period goals to chase Devan Dubnyk, Chicago fought within a point of the Western Conference lead by beating the Wild 4-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Who else to get the Blackhawks on the scoreboard than Second Star of the Game Patrick Kane? Assisted by Artemi Panarin and Johnny Oduya, he scored a wrist shot only 51 seconds into the game to give the Hawks an early 1-0 lead. That differential doubled to two when Panarin (Kane and Niklas Hjalmarsson) scored a snap shot 3:47 later. Minnesota pulled back within a tally with 9:30 remaining in the frame when Eric Staal (Nino Niederreiter and Marco Scandella), but could not level the game before the first intermission.

5:28 into the second period, Trevor van Riemsdyk (Marcus Kruger and Jordin Tootoo) expanded Chicago‘s lead back to two goals with a wrister that proved to be the game-winner. Even though the Wild fired 20 shots on goal in the second period, they could not break through First Star Corey Crawford.

Once again the Wild pulled within a goal when Mikael Granlund scored an unassisted wrister 46 seconds after starting the third frame, but once again Minnesota couldn’t pull even. They couldn’t manage another goal for the rest of the game, and Marian Hossa (Third Star Duncan Keith) made sure a comeback would be difficult by setting the score at 4-2 with 6:18 remaining in regulation.

Crawford saved 42-of-44 shots faced (95.5%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Darcy Kuemper, who saved 18-of-20 (90%). Kuemper came into the game in relief of Dubnyk, who was pulled after allowing two goals on two shots. Dubnyk earned no decision after 4:38 of play.

With that victory, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have finally reclaimed an advantage, even if it is only by one point, over the roadies with a 74-52-21 record.

February 28 – Day 132 – Shattenkirk welcome tour

Tuesdays are absolutely fantastic, aren’t they? Anything is better than Monday, and the NHL makes that even better by usually scheduling a wide slate of games that night. That action gets a strong start at 7 p.m. with four games (Washington at the New York Rangers [SN1/TVAS], Nashville at Buffalo, Colorado at Philadelphia [NBCSN] and Arizona at Boston), followed half an hour later by another pair of contests (Carolina at Florida and Columbus at Montréal [RDS]). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of two matchups (Edmonton at St. Louis and Minnesota at Winnipeg), with Pittsburgh at Dallas trailing 30 minutes after. Los Angeles at Calgary (SN1) gets green-lit at 9 p.m., followed an hour later by Detroit at Vancouver. Finally, Toronto at San Jose – tonight’s nightcap – gets underway at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Rivalry nights mean only more with the ultra-competitive nature of the Metropolitan Division this season. Looks like we’re headed to Madison Square Garden.

Washington Capitals LogoNew York Rangers Logo

 

It seems impossible to believe, but this is the first time this season Down the Frozen River has featured a CapitalsRangers matchup. In our defense, we’ve only had two previous opportunities, but that’s no excuse given the incredible hockey being played by both clubs this season.

While this rivalry has technically existed since the 1980s, it’s really heated up since 2009 with the clubs meeting in the playoffs five times from ’09-’15. Mix in the fact that they’ve played in the same division since 2014, and you get one of the better matchups of the season.

So far, it’s been all New York when these teams compete, as they’ve won both games by a combined 6-3 score. They last met only Sundays ago on February 19 at the World’s Most Famous Arena, where the Blueshirts won 2-1 in front of their usual 18,006 fans.

Before hopping into Washington‘s preview, I’d be remiss to ignore the fact that the Capitals came away with the big shiny prize of the 2017 trade deadline: defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, formerly of the Blues. Shatty, as he was affectionately known in St. Louis, had the second most points (42) on the club this season, including seven power play goals. His move reunites him with the injured T.J. Oshie, another former fan-favorite in the Gateway to the West.

In comparison, the Capitals‘ best offensive blueliner before Shattenkirk’s arrival was the injured Matt Niskanen, who had 32 points and only one tally on the man-advantage. As if Washington needed help scoring the puck, this move certainly puts them in an even better position in those regards. Shattenkirk also has the added luxury of leaving one solid defensive corps and joining another. This is important, as his offensive contributions can often cause a negligence on the defensive end, made evident by his -11 mark – the second-worst in St. Louis among all players.

As for the Caps as a whole, they’re just the best team in hockey getting better. To put it simply, their 41-13-7 record gives them a three-point lead over Minnesota for the Presidents’ Trophy, and with that comes a lead in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. As imposing a reputation as Washington‘s offense has, it’s actually been the defense and goaltending leading the charge this year, as the Capitals have allowed only 128 goals against – the fewest in the NHL.

It is truly an understatement to say that 31-8-5 Braden Holtby is good at his job. Not only are his .928 save percentage and 1.97 GAA the best marks in Washington, they’re also fourth and tops, respectively, in the league. Vezinas don’t win themselves, you know.

As stated before, Holtby also has the added luxury of one of the top defensive units playing in front of him. Led by Karl Alzner‘s 122 shot blocks, Washington‘s blueline-corps has allowed only 28 shots-per-game to reach Holtby’s crease, which ties for the fifth-best rate – with St. Louis, ironically – in the league.

That success carries right over into the penalty kill, where the Capitals rank seventh-best after stopping 83.8% of opposing power plays. Just as he is at even-strength, Alzner is a brick wall of a shot blocker, as his 32 rejections are most in Washington.

What should be alarming to the Rangers is that the Caps‘ power play is even better than their penalty kill. Successful on 21.8% of attempts, Washington is sixth-best with an extra-man at their disposal. Nicklas Backstrom headlines the power play with his 23 man-advantage points, but we all know who’s scoring all the goals in these situations. It’s none other than Alex Ovechkin, who has a dozen goals on the power play – almost all of them probably from his spot in the left face-off circle.

Their the scary monsters of the league, but it seems the 40-20-2 Rangers are unfazed by the daunting task of taking down the Caps as they’ve already bested them twice this season. Currently occupying fourth place in both the Metropolitan and the East, the Blueshirts are most known for their offense, which has managed a whopping 203 tallies this year – the second-most in the NHL.

How many third lines can you think of that are as intimidating as this one? The Rangers have found scoring magic this season, specifically with J.T. Miller, whose 47 points are tops on the club. Most of Miller’s points are assists, as he prefers to set up fellow wing Michael Grabner, who does a great job of finishing plays. He has 26 goals to his credit – all but one at even-strength – to lay claim to the squad’s scoring title.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Grabner (+28 [eighth-best in the league]) and Henrik Lundqvist (28 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]) or Antti Raanta (.92 save percentage [10th-best in the league]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (45 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL] for 63 points [sixth-most in the league]), Holtby (1.97 GAA [best in the NHL], including seven shutouts [tied for most in the league], on a .928 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] for 31 wins [tied for third-most in the league]), Dmitry Orlov (+28 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) and Ovechkin (27 goals [tied for eighth-most in the league]).

You know what a -110 line in Vegas says to me tonight? “We’re going to favor the Rangers on home ice, but we don’t feel very confident that they can hold their own against Washington.” It’s rarely wise to bet against the Caps, and I wouldn’t advise it this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Eric Lindros (1973-) – One of the most recent Hall of Fame inductees, this center was selected first-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Quebec. Playing most of his 13-season career in Philadelphia, the six-time All-Star was the recipient of the Hart and Pearson Trophies in 1995.

In a back-and-forth match like we witnessed in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, it almost always boils down who scores last. That proved to be First Star of the Game Mikael Granlund, who’s tally a dozen seconds into overtime secured Minnesota a 5-4 victory over the visiting Kings.

The Wild actually never led yesterday’s contest until the 60:12 mark, as it was Nick Shore (Marian Gaborik and Jake Muzzin) who struck the first goal, a snap shot 8:15 into play. Nino Niederreiter (Third Star Jared Spurgeon and Second Star Ryan White) pulled Minnesota even 4:45 later, but an unassisted Tanner Pearson deflection with 4:59 remaining in the first frame set the score at 2-1, the count that held to the first intermission.

Once again the Wild tied the game, this time on a Jordan Schroeder (Chris Stewart) deflection 4:23 into the second period. That 2-2 draw held until 8:30 remained in the frame. That’s when Muzzin (Nic Dowd and Dwight King) scored a deflection to once again give Los Angeles a one-goal lead. 1:35 later, Minnesota‘s White (Eric Staal) pulled the Wild into a tie – again. The three-all score held into the second intermission.

Minnesota scored last, so… Cue Gaborik (Shore and Trevor Lewis), who buried a wrist shot 1:57 after returning from the break. The pattern struck one more time only 5:07 later, as Jason Zucker (Tyler Graovac and Schroeder) buried a wicked turn-around wrister to tie the game. It was so good, in fact, that you need to see it for yourself.

Overtime lasted only 12 seconds before Granlund (Spurgeon and Mikko Koivu) powered his way through two Kings before burying a wrister past Jonathan Quick to secure the bonus point for the Wild.

Devan Dubnyk earned the victory after saving 26-of-30 shots faced (86.7%), leaving the overtime loss to Quick, who saved 30-of-35 (85.7%).

For the first time in 10 days, a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series has finally held serve and earned two points on its own ice. Minnesota‘s victory pulls hosts within 10 points of the 69-43-22 roadies.

February 27 – Day 131 – Qui(c)k Trip to Minnesota

This Monday in the NHL is no different than many of the others in that there aren’t too many games on the schedule this evening. The staggered starts begin at 7 p.m. with Montréal at New Jersey (RDS), followed half an hour later by Ottawa at Tampa Bay (RDS2). Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Minnesota (NBCSN/TVAS) – drops the puck at 8 p.m. All times eastern.

Jonathan Quick‘s triumphant return to the ice Saturday has significantly increased Los Angeles‘ chances of making the playoffs, but they face a stiff test against the Wild tonight. What better way to see if they’re up to the task for a magical run?

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Just as I was prepared to count the Kings out of this year’s edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Quick reemerged from injured reserve and proved he is more than capable of resuming the high quality play we know he’s capable of. He proved that by allowing only one tally against the Ducks.

He resumes control of a team 30-27-4 Kings team that is currently three points outside a playoff spot, as it’s only fifth-best in the Pacific Division and ninth-best in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, Quick’s return probably will have little impact on the offense, where it needs the most help. The Kings have managed only 149 goals  in 61 games this season, which ties for the sixth-worst scoring rate in the NHL.

The issue becomes immediately apparent when one analyzes the Kings‘ individual performances. Jeff Carter has had an incredible season and is far-and-away Los Angeles‘ brightest spot as his 30 goals and 55 points are both team-highs. But he leads second-best Tanner Pearson by 11 tallies and 18 points, a wildly large disparity.

Compare that same differential to Minnesota‘s much more well-rounded attack. Mikael Granlund, the Wild‘s leading point-scorer, has 55 points to his name, only nine more than Mikko Koivu. Similarly, he and Nino Niederreiter – who both have 19 tallies – lead Jason Zucker‘s effort by only one goal.

Not surprisingly, the offense continues to struggle even when presented with the man-advantage. Even with Carter’s 16 power play points and nine extra-man goals, the Kings have found success only 16.7% of the time, the seventh-worst rate in the league.

What’s kept Los Angeles alive this season is that as bad as the power play has been, the penalty kill has been good. Led by Alec Martinez‘ 26 shorthanded shot blocks, the Kings have properly defended 84.5% of opposing power plays, the fifth-best effort in the NHL.

Of course, no matter how good Quick looked against Anaheim, the Wild is a far superior opponent. Even more alarming, it’s not even the offense that makes this team the best team in both the Central Division and the West. Instead, it’s the incredible play of their netminder, who has allowed only 136 goals against – the second-fewest in the league.

To put things simply, 32-11-3 Devan Dubnyk has been one of, if not the best goaltender in the NHL this season. Not only is his .933 save percentage and 2.01 GAA the best in the State of Hockey, but they’re also the best and second-best marks, respectively, in the league.

His effort is made only more impressive by the fact that he faces an average of 31 shots-per-game, the (t)10th-highest rate in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon has done all he can to limit his netminder’s work with 106 shot blocks, but he’s the only skater with more than 80 to his credit. But, with as well as Dubnyk, is playing, I doubt Bruce Boudreau will hear him complain too much.

The Wild continue to be an impenetrable force even when they’re down a man, as their 83.1% penalty kill rate is 10th-best in the league. Just has he does at even-strength, Spurgeon headlines the penalty kill, as his 15 shorthanded blocks lead the club.

The Wild‘s penalty kill is good, maybe even great, but their power play is even better. Actually, to be more specific, it’s tied for best in the league with Toronto, as both are successful on 22.8% of attempts. Granlund headlines that attack with his 17 power play points, but it’s Niederreiter who will keep Quick on his toes. The Swiss wing has buried eight extra-man goals, the most on the squad.

On January 7, the Wild made their annual trek to the Staples Center to face Los Angeles, and they almost came away with two points. Instead, Pearson scored an overtime winner to give the Kings a 4-3 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Los Angeles‘ Carter (30 goals [tied for second-most in the league]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (32 wins on a .933 save percentage [both best in the NHL] and a 2.01 GAA [second-best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+29 [seventh-best in the league]), Koivu (+30 [sixth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+32 [tied for second-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+33 [best in the NHL]) and Zucker (+32 [tied for second-best in the league]).

With Minnesota favored -145 by Vegas, I’d be very surprised if the Kings manage to even force overtime this evening. Abysmal might be a compliment for this offense, and it will be made only worse by the overpowering play of Dubnyk. The Wild should continue to fight for the Western lead with relative ease this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Braydon Coburn (1985-) – Currently playing his third season in Tampa Bay, this defenseman was originally selected eighth-overall by Atlanta in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Most of his 12-season career was spent in Philadelphia, and he was a member of that 2010 Flyers team that won the Eastern Conference from the seven-seed.
  • Dustin Jeffrey (1988-) – Drafted in the sixth-round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by Pittsburgh, he last appeared in the league with Arizona in the 2015-’16 season.

Twice scoring two goals in a period, the Columbus Blue Jackets took it to the Rangers in Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 5-2.

Only 1:02 into the game, First Star of the Game Alexander Wennberg (David Savard and Oliver Bjorkstrand) got the Jackets‘ attack started with a tip-in tally. Rick Nash (Jimmy Vesey and Derek Stepan) pulled New York back even with his snap shot 3:05 later, but a Second Star Cam Atkinson (Sam Gagner and Zach Werenski) power play snapper at the 6:47 mark once again gave the Blue Jackets a lead. That 2-1 score held into the first intermission.

The same man to strike first in the opening frame took credit for the lone tally of the second. Wennberg’s (Bjorkstrand) 12th goal of the year was a backhanded shot at the 9:47 mark of the period, and proved to be the eventual game-winner.

The Wennberg-Atkinson pattern continued 4:12 into the final frame, as Atkinson (Brandon Dubinsky) buried a snapper to give Columbus a 4-1 lead. With 24 seconds remaining in the game, Josh Anderson (William Karlsson and Scott Hartnell) scored the Jackets‘ final tally of the night, followed by Jesper Fast‘s (Marc Staal and Oscar Lindberg) goal with a second remaining on the clock.

Third Star Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (93.3%), leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 21-of-26 (80.8%).

It’s been nine days since a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series has lost. That incredible streak has given the 69-43-21 visitors an 11-point lead over hosts.

January 18 – Day 95 – Battle of California

It’s time for some Wednesday hockey! The action begins at 7:30 p.m. with two contests (Arizona at Winnipeg and Pittsburgh at Montréal [RDS/SN1]), with Boston at Detroit (NBCSN/TVAS) waiting until 8 p.m. 9:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Florida at Edmonton (SN1) and precedes this evening’s nightcap – San Jose at Los Angeles (NBCSN) – by an hour.

Short list:

  • Boston at Detroit: Not only is it an Original Six rivalry, but the Bruins were held out of last season’s playoffs due to losing a tiebreaker to the Wings.
  • San Jose at Los Angeles: This rivalry was made only more intense by the Sharks eliminating the Kings in last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

We’ve only made one trip to the Staples Center this season, and that’s just inexcusable. Let’s fix that by featuring the Battle of California tonight.

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We all know the Sharks‘ story last season. They won their first Western Conference title. They were within two games of hoisting one of, if not the most coveted piece of hardware in sports.

But fans – okay, most fans (sorry Angelenos!) – need to remember that according to seeding, San Jose had no business finding that success. The Sharks were the three seed in the Pacific Division, arguably the weakest division in the NHL. But they didn’t care. They blew up the Kings‘ trend of winning even-yeared Cups and cruised to a five-game Western Quarterfinals victory.

Tonight, the Sharks return to the very surface they clinched that series victory on for the third time this season. They’re 1-1-0 in Los Angeles this season, and lead the overall season series against the Kings 2-1-1.

San Jose makes the trip to the City of Angels with a 26-16-2 record, good enough for third-place in the Pacific Division. They’ve found that success by playing a phenomenal combination of defense and goaltending to allow only 102 goals against, the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

Every defensive feature has to start with the goaltender, and 22-14-2 Martin Jones is no slouch. He’s notched a .916 save percentage for a 2.25 GAA, the (t)20th and (t)sixth-best efforts, respectively, in the league among the 41 goalies with 19 or more appearances.

A good GAA paired with a less-than-impressive save percentage is almost always due to a fantastic defense, and San Jose is not exception. Thanks to Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s team-leading 81 blocks, the Sharks have allowed only 27 shots-per-game to reach Jones’ crease, the third-best average in the league.

If the Sharks could improve on one aspect of their game, it would have to be the power play where they rank ninth-worst after converting only 16.5% of their opportunities. Joe Pavelski has been most-responsible for the little success his squad has found with a team-leading 14 power play points, yet it’s been Logan Couture who’s stricken the most fear into opposing goaltenders with his seven man-advantage goals. Unfortunately, he injured his upper body on Monday against the Jets and could miss tonight’s contest. If he does, the “power play striker” role shifts to Brent Burns, who has five extra-man goals to his credit.

Hosting this evening are the 22-18-4 Kings, the fifth-best team in the Pacific Division. Just like their rivals, Los Angeles plays a some phenomenal defense and goaltending to allow only 107 goals, the fifth-fewest in the league.

20-12-3 Peter Budaj continues to do a good job standing in for the injured Jonathan Quick this season, notching a .917 save percentage and 2.09 GAA – the 19th and fifth-best efforts, respectively, among the 44 netminders with 18 or more appearances.

Although Budaj has been good, his bluelines have been better. Led by Alec Martinez‘ 93 shot blocks, the Kings have allowed only 25.8 shots-per-game to reach Budaj’s net, easily the best rate in the NHL.

Unlike San Jose, the Kings‘ defensive success has carried into the penalty kill. Los Angeles refuses to yield a tally after 83.2% of their penalties, the ninth-best effort in the league. Once again, Martinez has been at the core of the blueline’s play with a team-leading 24 shorthanded shot blocks.

Unfortunately, the Kings‘ power play has not been able to maintain the special teams reputation of success. They’ve converted only 16.9% of their opportunities for goals, which ties for 10th-worst in the NHL. Jeff Carter has tried as hard as he can with his team-leading 11 power play points, but only Drew Doughty has joined him in his push. Carter also leads the club in power play goals with seven.

Some players to watch this evening include Los Angeles‘ Budaj (four shutouts [fourth-most in the league] and a 2.09 GAA [sixth-best in the NHL] for 20 wins [eighth-most in the league]) and Carter (23 goals [second-most in the NHL]) & San Jose‘s Burns (45 points [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Jones (22 wins [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] on a 2.25 GAA [tied for eighth-best in the league]).

I like San Jose to come to Hollywood to earn the victory. It will certainly be a tight, defensive matchup that will only be solved by the superior offense. Compared to the Kings‘ 2.5 goals-scored average, the Sharks average 2.61 goals per game should be enough to earn them the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Syl Apps (1915-1998) – This Hall of Fame center played all of his 10 seasons in Toronto. He had a habit of collecting hardware, including three Stanley Cups, the 1937 Calder Trophy and the 1942 Byng Trophy.
  • Mark Messier (1961-) – Drafted 48th-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton, this Hall of Fame forward played in 15 All Star games over his 25 NHL seasons. The longtime Oiler hoisted the Stanley Cup six times, as well as two Hart Trophies, two Pearsons and the 1984 Smythe.
  • Ruslan Fedotenko (1979-) – Even though he went undrafted, this left wing played 863 games over his dozen seasons, most of which in Tampa Bay. The two-time Stanley Cup champion scored 366 points before hanging up his skates the last time.
  • Brian Gionta (1979-) – A third-round pick by New Jersey in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing is in his third season in Buffalo. He was on the 2003 Devils squad that won the Stanley Cup.
  • Alex Pietrangelo (1990-) – The lone non-champion on today’s list, this defenseman was drafted fourth-overall by St. Louis in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He’s never played a game without the Blue Note on his chest, and was awarded the Blues‘ captaincy in August.

I sure do love a one-goal game, and that’s what we got in Vancouver yesterday for the DtFR Game of the Day as the Canucks beat the visiting Predators 1-0.

That winning tally wasn’t struck until only 7:32 remained in regulation. Second Star of the Game Henrik Sedin (Luca Sbisa and Loui Eriksson) takes credit with a solid wrister to beat Third Star Pekka Rinne.

First Star Ryan Miller earns the shutout victory after turning away all 30 shots he faced, leaving the disappointing loss to Rinne after saving 25-of-26 (96.2%).

The Canucks‘ shutout victory is the first in the DtFR Game of the Day series since the Philadelphia-San Jose game on December 30. Just like in that game, the home team won, improving the hosts’ record to 51-32-14, seven points better than the visitors.

San Jose at Los Angeles – Game 1 – Pavelski and the Sharks steal Game 1

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Who would’ve guessed that a one-goal third period would be the difference in this one?

The first goal was struck after only 2:53, courtesy of Jake Muzzin on a tip-in, assisted by Second Star of the Game Milan Lucic and Tanner Pearson.  After collecting a deflected shot, Lucic was taking the puck behind the net, put a puck into the exposed crease for Muzzin to send home.  Anze Kopitar quickly followed that tally with a trip to the box for interference with 14:14 remaining in the first, which First Star Joe Pavelski capitalized on with a slap shot to level the game.

Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the remaining 13:35, and the game leveled out in that time.  Neither team managed more than eight shots fired (Los Angeles only fired the puck five times), which was further improved by the Sharks‘ five blocks.

The second period was one of power plays, with five being awarded, and three of those penalties against San Jose.  Brent Burns gave San Jose a one-goal lead at the 6:50 mark with a long range slap shot from the face off dot assisted by Third Star Joel Ward, who followed the play by interfering with Dustin Brown.  The lead lasted only 40 seconds before Jeff Carter scored on the ensuing power play.  Muzzin committed a hooking penalty 2:17 after Carter’s goal, giving the Sharks a power play, which they almost capitalized on, but they were hurt by an iffy no-call on a potential Alec Martinez trip on the San Jose shooter.  Trevor Lewis gave the Kings their second lead of the night at the  17:18 mark on a stunning shorthanded roofer of a slap shot, but it lasted only half a minute before Tomas Hertl returned the favor at the completion of Drew Doughty serving his time for hooking Ward.  After all the action, which also included tons of hits, the second period ended three-all.

Only 17 seconds after returning to the ice, Pavelski connected on a wraparound for his second of the night.  Los Angeles certainly upped their pressure in the remaining time, but Martin Jones stood tall to earn the 4-3 victory.

Jones made 21 saves on 24 shots faced (87.5%), while Jonathan Quick takes the loss, saving 19 of 23 (82.6%).

These squads will meet again Saturday night at 10:30 p.m. eastern, which can be viewed on NBCSN, CBC and TVAS.