Nick reacts to coaching changes, the draft lottery and the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs already in progress while providing an update.
In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.
In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.
P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)
The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.
Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”
Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.
Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.
Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.
Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.
For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.
Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.
Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.
Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.
In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.
Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.
Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?
Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th
4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2
4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*
4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*
4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*
P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)
The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.
Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.
There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.
Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.
Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.
Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.
In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.
For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.
The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.
But this time around feels different.
San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.
Regular season outcomes:
4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th
4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2
4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*
4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*
4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*
C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)
A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.
It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.
For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).
Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.
Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.
Oh. Again. Never mind.
While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.
In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.
Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.
This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?
Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.
On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.
Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.
But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.
Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.
As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.
Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.
Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.
It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th
4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2
4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2
4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*
4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*
4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*
C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)
After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.
This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.
Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.
Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.
In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).
Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.
Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.
Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.
However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.
The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.
This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.
Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.
Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).
Don’t try to mess with what’s working.
Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.
Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.
For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.
Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.
Regular season outcomes:
1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th
4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3
4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2
4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*
4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*
4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*
The DTFR Duo breaks down Jimmy Howard’s one-year extension with the Detroit Red Wings, Gritty’s allegiance in the 2019 NHL Global Series, the New York Islanders’ bottom-six dilemma, Ilya Kovalchuk’s relationship with the Los Angeles Kings, more awards and a look at how things should stack up in the Metropolitan Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
|NHL SCHEDULE: January 21-27|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/ Result|
|Monday, January 21|
|4 p.m.||St. Louis||Los Angeles||3-4|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Florida||2-6|
|Tuesday, January 22|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Washington||7-6 (OT)|
|8:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Chicago Blackhawks||2-3 (SO)|
|9 p.m.||Carolina||Calgary||2-3 (OT)|
|Wednesday, January 23|
|7:30 p.m.||Washington Capitals||Toronto Maple Leafs||NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS|
|7:30 p.m.||Arizona||Montréal||RDS, SN1|
|10 p.m.||St. Louis||Anaheim|
|Thursday, January 24|
|No games scheduled – All-Star Break|
|Friday, January 25|
|No games scheduled – All-Star Break|
|Saturday, January 26|
|NHL All-Star Game from San Jose, Calif.|
|Sunday, January 27|
|No games scheduled – All-Star Break|
Nick and Connor talk the latest trades, Torts drama (and latest record), Casey DeSmith’s extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as a tribute to the careers of Rick Nash and Josh Gorges who both announced their retirement this week.
Additionally, what’s up with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues this season and why can’t they just pick a side? Plus, it’s time to hand out awards for being slightly more than halfway through the 2018-19 regular season. #FlamingNotToFlamingHot
A bunch of minor trades were made in the last week, the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game rosters were released, as well as the 2019-20 outdoor game schedule. Nick and Connor also discuss the legacy that was the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Quarterfinal upsets.
*Editor’s Note: Of course, after recording this week’s episode, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed G Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks.
The Original Trio reunites to talk recent trades, recent coaching changes, the Buffalo Sabres current winning streak, a haphazard review of the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers, as well as a look at the division standings as of American Thanksgiving.
Craig Berube is now in charge behind the bench of the St. Louis Blues and Ken Hitchcock is back from retirement to coach the Oilers after Mike Yeo and Todd McLellan were both fired respectively from their clubs.
Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a star in Buffalo as the team rises in the standings– can the Sabres keep this up? Will Dahlin get some votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year and does Phil Housley deserve credit for the team’s turnaround?
Pekka Rinne signed a two-year extension, John Stevens and Joel Quenneville were fired, Willie Desjardin’s back and there’s a new guy in Chicago (Jeremy Colliton), Philadelphia Flyers goaltending is in the news again, people in Ottawa are fired up about Uber, Lou Lamoriello reached 2,400 games as a GM as the New York Islanders lead the Metropolitan Division and is Halloween the new Thanksgiving? Nick and Connor discuss.
Pekka Rinne celebrated his 36th birthday with a 1-0 shutout Saturday night against the Boston Bruins as the B’s were paying their annual visit to Bridgestone Arena. Roman Josi had the game’s only goal for the Nashville Predators and the Bruins wrapped up their quick two-game road trip, 1-1-0.
Rinne (5-1-0 in 7 games played with a 1.63 goals against average and a .948 save percentage) stopped all 26 shots he faced for the win– his 2nd shutout of the season– and became the first goaltender in National Hockey League history to record multiple regular-season shutouts on his birthday (he previously shutout the Phoenix Coyotes on November 3, 2011).
The Preds netminder also signed a two-year extension with Nashville earlier in the day on Saturday, keeping him in Smashville through the 2020-21 season.
Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (4-1-2, 1.45 GAA, .952 SV% in 8 GP), made 39 saves on 40 shots against for a .975 save percentage in the loss.
Boston defender Torey Krug celebrated 400 career NHL games played with a minus-one rating, two hits and two blocked shots in 23:03 time on ice.
As a result of the loss, Boston fell to 7-4-2 (16 points) on the season, which was good enough to remain 3rd in the Atlantic– but tied in points with the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres. Nashville improved to 11-3-2 (22 points) so far this season– maintaining their 1st overall standing in the Central Division, as well as the Western Conference and entire league.
Bruce Cassidy made one change in the lineup after Ryan Donato was assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Thursday, re-inserting David Backes on the third line as No. 42 in black-and-gold returned to action for the first time since sustaining a concussion in Edmonton last month.
Matt Grzelcyk (lower body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion), Charlie McAvoy (upper body) and Kevan Miller (hand) remained out of the lineup Saturday as McAvoy was retroactively placed on the injured reserve earlier in the week.
The game began with some quick end-to-end action that slowly became heavily dominated by the Predators with quality chances and zone entries.
The Preds did not convert on the ensuing power play, but maintained just momentum in the vulnerable minute after the skater advantage expired for Josi (4) to waltz around Bruins forward, Danton Heinen, cut to the goal and fire a shot past Halak from point blank.
Brad Marchand stirred the pot with a phantom high-sticking minor infraction at 19:58 of the first period.
It’s one thing if there’s a blown call. It’s another thing for a player to continue arguing and receive an extra unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty– resulting in a 4:00 power play that could’ve drastically changed the game for Nashville– and a ten-minute misconduct without any conceivable warning.
Not to put too much thought into it, but just to sidestep onto a soapbox (since nothing else really happened other than a great goaltender battle all night long) regardless of making a call, professional sports usually work on a one-warning system.
It was not made clear by the broadcast whether or not Marchand faced a warning from the referee or whether that was implied by the penalties handed out, however NHL refs are noted for expressing verbal warnings to players early in a game before handing out unsportsmanlike minors or misconducts after repeated bad behavior (verbally or physically) later in the action.
Like how an umpire in baseball delivers a warning to both dugouts sometimes after a pitcher hits a batter. Whether the next hit batter is intentional or not, the umpire has already made it clear that discipline will be handed out and the subsequent pitcher beaning a batter is ejected from the game.
Anyway, that’ll probably save a few minutes on next week’s podcast.
There’s nothing wrong with the penalties handed out after the blown call, but rather the formality in which they occurred, without a given warning that would otherwise deem them flat-out the right call.
Then again, other league’s issue formal apologies after the game, in which nothing can be changed because it’s after the game and, well, the fact of the matter is– refs are human.
This is sports. Mistakes are made. Play better. Rise above. Insert whatever you want here.
Anyway, Marchand’s 14 minutes in penalties came with two seconds remaining in the first period, so Nashville’s power play would extend into the middle frame.
After one period, the Predators led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 15-10. Nashville also had an advantage in takeaways (3-1), giveaways (5-2) and face-off win percentage (55-46). The Bruins had an advantage in blocked shots (7-2) through 20 minutes.
The Preds entered the first intermission 0/3 on the power play, while Boston was 0/1 heading into the dressing room.
Ryan Hartman hooked Heinen early in the second period and gave the B’s a power play at 4:18. Boston didn’t convert on the skater advantage and had one more chance on the power play at 8:51 of the second period after Kevin Fiala got a stick hooked on David Pastrnak.
The Bruins power play was unsuccessful on that chance too.
Despite controlling the flow of the game more in the second period, the Bruins lacked quality in both shots and zone entries. Everything was moving too quick– too many passes, too much setup– and too many saves piling up in Rinne’s save percentage for the night.
Miikka Salomaki interfered with Acciari at 17:47, giving the Bruins one last chance on the power play, but it was unsuccessful.
Shortly thereafter, Steven Kampfer tripped up Johansen on a scoring opportunity after Johansen appeared to not actually get tripped up at all upon replay. Something about not anticipating the play, thereby calling misled reaction penalties and instead enforcing the rules…
Anyway, Nashville didn’t score on their final power play of the game at 19:56 of the second period. Again, the Bruins would start the subsequent period shorthanded, however, if you reread the previous sentence… they made out just fine.
After 40 minutes Nashville was still leading in shots on goal (23-20), despite being outshot by Boston (10-8) in the 2nd period. The Bruins led in blocked shots (10-9), hits (8-6) and face-off win% (54-46) through two periods, while the Predators held an advantage in takeaways (7-3) and giveaways (8-4).
Both teams failed to convert on the power play, as Nashville finished the night 0/5 on the skater advantage and the B’s went 0/4.
Though some things may have been mismanaged in the first 40 minutes, the on-ice officials put away their whistles in the final 20 minutes, yielding no stoppages for major or minor infractions.
Cassidy pulled his netminder with 2:02 remaining in the third period and called a timeout after a stoppage in the action with 12.0 seconds remaining in the game. Neither strategy worked as time ran out on the Bruins’s hopes for scoring a game-tying goal and the Predators walked away with the 1-0 victory.
Nashville finished the night with a 40-26 advantage in shots on goal (17-6 in the third period), as well as an advantage in giveaways (12-10) and face-off win% (53-47). Boston finished the 60-minute effort leading in hits (17-8) and both teams recorded 14 blocked shots.
Boston travels back home to begin a four-game home-stand with a matchup against former Bruin, Tyler Seguin, and the Dallas Stars Monday at TD Garden. The B’s will face the Stars (Nov. 5th), Vancouver Canucks (Nov. 8th), Toronto Maple Leafs (Nov. 10th) and Vegas Golden Knights (Nov. 11th) over the next four-games.
As the calendar flips from October to November, the NHL’s powers are beginning to flex their muscles while the league’s less-talented members are already counting the days until April 6.
Some of that can be seen in the games already played this week (take a look at what a good Devils team suffered in its trip to Tampa), while there’s more than a few games coming up in the remaining four days that will help us better predict some teams’ playoff potentials.
|NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 29-November 4|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, October 29|
|Tuesday, October 30|
|7 p.m.||Calgary||Buffalo||2-1 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Pittsburgh Penguins||6-3|
|7:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Tampa Bay||3-8|
|10:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||San Jose Sharks||4-3 (SO)|
|Wednesday, October 31|
|Thursday, November 1|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh Penguins||New York Islanders||SN360|
|7:30 p.m.||Washington||Montréal||RDS, TSN2|
|7:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Detroit|
|7:30 p.m.||Nashville||Tampa Bay|
|8 p.m.||Vegas||St. Louis|
|10 p.m.||New York Rangers||Anaheim Ducks|
|10:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Los Angeles|
|10:30 p.m.||Columbus||San Jose|
|Friday, November 2|
|saturday, November 3|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Montréal||CITY, SN360, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey Devils||New York Islanders|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||Pittsburgh||CBC, NHLN, SN1|
|8 p.m.||Minnesota||St. Louis|
|10 p.m.||Chicago Blackhawks||Calgary Flames||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|10:30 p.m.||Columbus||Los Angeles|
|10:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||San Jose|
|SunDay, November 4|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Ottawa||NHLN, SN, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Buffalo Sabres||New York Rangers|
As usual, there’s more than a few tilts that caught my attention on this week’s slate. I’m always a big fan of rivalries (New York at Pittsburgh, Chicago at Vancouver, Pittsburgh at New York, Buffalo at Ottawa and Ottawa at Buffalo) and players returning to their former home arenas (W Tom Kuhnhackl and F Joakim Nordstrom made their first trips back to Pittsburgh and Carolina, respectively, on Tuesday, while D Roman Polak is heading back to Toronto tonight), but we also get the added benefits of this year’s NHL Global Series between Florida and Winnipeg in Finland as well as an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal rematch between New Jersey and Tampa Bay.
However, with all of that being said, there’s another huge matchup happening this Thursday that rivals last week’s Toronto-Winnipeg showdown.
Wait, what? This showdown isn’t on national T.V. in either Canada or the States, but a game between two one-win NFL teams is?
This is lunacy.
I’m not saying to stream this tilt by any means necessary, but I’m not saying not to stream this tilt by any means necessary.
Regardless of the legality of your decision, it’s a choice you certainly won’t regret as both the Preds and Bolts are off to hot starts this season, surely inspired at least somewhat by dreams left unfulfilled during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both were their respective conferences’ No. 1 seeds this spring, but they both got knocked off on home ice in a winner-take-all Game 7 (the Predators fell to Winnipeg in the Second Round, while Tampa lost to Washington in the Eastern Conference Final).
At least Smashville got the Presidents’ Trophy, right? Not to mention its prestigious “Regular Season Western Conference Champions” banner.
Sorry, that’s the last time I’ll point out the Predators’ unprecedented award that should probably be penalized for excessive celebration.
Just as they did last season, the 9-3-0 Predators currently sit atop the Central Division, the Western Conference and the NHL with the best record of all 31 teams.
The major reason for the Preds’ success is undoubtedly their goaltending tandem of 3-1-0 Pekka Rinne and 6-2-0 Juuse Saros. Even though they do have the luxury of playing behind the league’s 11th-best defense in terms of shots against per game (W Viktor Arvidsson‘s 12 takeaways, D Ryan Ellis‘ two blocks per game and F Zac Rinaldo‘s 2.3 hits per game have been major factors in Nashville’s 29.92 shots against per game), both have been integral in keeping the Predators’ goals allowed per game at 2.42 – the (t)third-best mark in the league. Both boast save percentages better than .915 and GAAs at or below 2.5, not to mention a shutout apiece.
After being activated from Injured Reserve yesterday (G Troy Grosenick made room on the roster by heading back to Milwaukee), it seems likely that Rinne will be the starter this evening. In his first five starts this season before going down with an undisclosed ailment, the Finn posted a .929 save percentage and 2.1 GAA – both of which are top-six among the 36 netminders with at least five starts to their credit.
Regardless of who’s in net, don’t focus too much on that or you’ll miss Nashville’s outstanding offense that ranks second-best in the conference and (t)sixth-best in the league by averaging 3.5 goals per game. In particular, no Predator has been as dominant as F Filip Forsberg, who’s 10-4-14 totals leave no doubt as to who’s the best scorer in Tennessee.
Forsberg’s 10 goals are (t)third-most in the NHL, trailing league-leaders F Patrick Kane (CHI) and RW David Pastrnak (BOS) by only one marker. After scoring a hat trick against Edmonton on Saturday (he scored all of Nashville’s goals in a 5-3 loss), the Swede was totally kept off the scoreboard Tuesday against Vegas, so he’ll be extra motivated to notch another tally tonight.
The team the Predators are leading for the Presidents’ Trophy are none other than the 8-2-1 Lightning, last season’s preseason darlings that have been ignored – rather unwisely, I might add – by the media in favor of division-rival Toronto so far this year.
The Leafs might be getting all the attention, but it’s business as usual in central Florida as the Bolts are leading the Eastern Conference just like last campaign. Tampa still boasts a dominant offense, not to mention a stellar goaltender and overpowering special teams.
Led from the second line by F Brayden Point and his 7-7-14 totals – not to mention RW Nikita Kucherov and F Yanni Gourde‘s respective 5-7-12 and 4-8-12 efforts – Tampa’s attack is among the most feared in the league, scoring 3.64 goals per game to rank third-best.
Only two days ago against New Jersey in an 8-3 victory, Point notched an outstanding five-point game, but if recent performances are any indication, he likely won’t find the scorecard tonight: his last five games saw him score 5, 0, 1, 0 and 3 points respectively.
Defensively, there’s not much to talk about with the Lightning since D Victor Hedman is still on Injured Reserve. The Bolts’ blue line has suffered during his absence, allowing a 12th-worst 32.36 shots against per game for the season.
However, who needs a defense when you have 6-1-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy playing for your team? Vasilevskiy has already been confirmed to be starting this game and will look to improve upon his .935 save percentage and 1.98 GAA that both already rank top-five among the 36 goalies with at least five starts to their names.
If this game boils down to special teams, there’s no way the Lightning aren’t coming away with two points. Tampa Bay leads Nashville in both statistics, including owning the league’s top-rated penalty kill (93.2 percent) that will be more than enough to counteract anything the Preds’ fourth-worst power play (13.3 percent) can muster.
Similarly, Tampa Bay’s power play will be a Halloween hangover to the Predators tonight, as a 29.3 success rate is good enough to rank sixth-best in the NHL – especially when it gets to go to work against the 10th-worst penalty kill (75 percent).
If Nashville’s penalty kill is going to have any success, it should probably try to keep F J.T. Miller under wraps as much as possible. Of his 3-7-10 totals on the year, 3-2-5 have occurred with the man-advantage. If those numbers don’t communicate just how potent he’s been, Miller’s .571 power play face-off winning percentage and .429 power play shooting percentage should do the trick.
An interesting note surrounding this game is its location. While it would be assumed that the Lightning would have the advantage considering they are at home, their 5-1-0 record at Amalie Arena is challenged by the Predators’ outstanding 5-0-0 road mark. With that in mind, there is no doubt Smashville is going to throw everything it has at tonight’s host.
There’s no doubt that this is going to be a showdown of the ages, just as should be expected from the top two teams in the league. But which one wins?
That’s the tough question.
I’m going to go out on a limb and take the Predators tonight. I think their offense is more than good enough to take advantage of the Lightning’s weakened defense corps. That being said, Vasilevskiy is going to be a difficult wall to break (as should Rinne be for the Bolts), so I’m predicting only a 2-1 victory for the visitors.