Tag Archives: Pepsi Center

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Western Conference

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.”

Only kidding.

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

Schedule:

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*

*If necessary

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.

Reilly Smith put up 53 points in a “down” season, but Alex Tuch (20-32–52 totals) had a breakout year, so everything evens out in the end.

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

Schedule:

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*

*If necessary

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.

Their offense was led by Ryan Johansen (14-50–64 totals in 80 GP) this season with Filip Forsberg chipping in 50 points and Viktor Arvidsson reaching the 30-goal plateau (he finished with 34).

Their goaltending… oh. Is this when Juuse Saros (17-10-2, 2.62 GAA, .915 SV% in 31 GP) takes over for Pekka Rinne (30-19-4, 2.42 GAA, .918 SV% in 56 GP) as the regular starter?

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

Schedule:

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*

*If necessary

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.

On defense, Jacob Trouba picked up the slack with 8-42–50 totals from the blue line while Dustin Byfuglien was limited to 42 games and 31 points due to injury.

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

Schedule:

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*

*If necessary

No quit, Avalanche beat Predators, 2-1, force Game 6

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Andrew Hammond, Gabriel Landeskog, Sven Andrighetto and the rest of the Colorado Avalanche stole Game 5 from the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Friday night. Hammond was making just his first Stanley Cup Playoff start since he did so in 2015 with the Ottawa Senators.

Oh, and by the way, Hammond was part of November’s Matt Duchene trade. Advantage, Joe Sakic.

Hammond made 44 saves on 45 shots against for a .978 save percentage in his first NHL win in two years, while Nashville’s netminder, Pekka Rinne, made 25 saves on 27 shots faced for a .926 SV% in the loss.

Early in the first period, Nashville’s Kevin Fiala tripped up Colorado’s Alex Kerfoot and gave the Avalanche the first power play of the night. Colorado was not able to convert on the ensuing man advantage.

Both teams swapped chances back and forth, but neither side was able to put a goal on the scoreboard as the first period ended, 0-0.

J.T. Compher picked up a minor penalty for holding Craig Smith at 20:00 of the first period after the Avalanche failed to touch the puck between when the incident occurred and when time expired. The Predators would begin the second period on their first power play of the night.

After one period, Nashville led in shots on goal (11-8), blocked shots (10-3), takeaways (4-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29). Meanwhile, Colorado was 0/1 on the man advantage. Both teams had nine hits aside and four giveaways entering the first intermission.

Much like the first period, there wasn’t a lot happening in the second period.

Nashville started the second frame of the game on the power play, but didn’t convert on the man advantage. Both teams then continued to swap chances until things got uneasy towards the end of the period.

With about three minutes remaining in the second period, Hammond went to play the puck— except he mishandled it. The Predators were not able to capitalize on the Avalanche netminder’s error, but they did sustain the pressure in the offensive zone and got a couple of tremendous rebound opportunities.

The Preds even had a clear sightline to the puck while Hammond was down, but nobody could get it to hit the twine.

Finally, at 17:47 of the second period, Nikita Zadorov slashed Predators captain, Roman Josi, and the crowd at Bridgestone Arena went from already elevated (based on the last few minutes of frantic play) to berserk.

Colorado’s penalty kill, however, was too much to handle for Nashville’s special teams and the score remained, 0-0.

After 40 minutes of play, Nashville led in shots on goal (25-17), blocked shots (15-8), hits (14-13), takeaways (6-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29). For the lack of a better word, the Predators were dominating in every possible way, except for on the scoreboard. Both teams had ten giveaways each and neither team had yet to convert on the power play (Colorado was 0/1 and Nashville was 0/2 through two periods).

Fiala was again guilty of a minor penalty early in the third period— this time for holding Colorado forward, Blake Comeau at 1:39.

The Avalanche bungled a line change in the midst of their ensuing power play and were penalized for too many men on the ice. Colin Wilson served the bench minor in the box for Jared Bednar’s Colorado crew.

There would be 20 seconds of 4-on-4 action until the Predators would then see an abbreviated power play. But Nashville’s special teams were to no avail as Hammond stood tall.

Just past the halfway mark of the third period, Mattias Ekholm sent a shot on Hammond that appeared to rebound right into the pathway of an oncoming Predators forward who looked like he kicked the puck into the open goal.

That Predators forward was Nick Bonino (1) who was crashing the net on what was not exactly a rebound, but rather a deflection to the open space to the side of the net— though not a good one— by Hammond.

Bonino’s goal was immediately waved off and reviewed.

Fans inside Bridgestone Arena began singing “Let It Be” by The Beatles in unison while the refs reviewed the play, which, in hindsight, could’ve been bad if the home fans had any influence on officiating. Maybe don’t sing “Let It Be” if you actually want the call on the ice to be the exact opposite (unless Preds fans were implying the refs to “let [the leg motion] be [called a goal on the ice]”).

Upon replay, everyone in attendance and watching from home, could see Bonino shifted his leg into a prime redirection motion and kept skating into the puck. Or at least, that might be a loose explanation for something that many fans assumed wouldn’t be reversed given the track record of NHL officiating and review this season.

But that didn’t happen.

The call on the ice was reversed and Bonino had scored his first goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the assists credited to Ekholm (5) and Austin Watson (3). Nashville was in command of a 1-0 lead at 10:18 of the third period.

Colorado didn’t let the party in Nashville last too long, though.

Nathan MacKinnon held onto the puck in the offensive zone for just long enough to get Rinne to overcommit and bump into his own defender, failing helplessly to the ice, while MacKinnon slid a loose puck over to Gabriel Landeskog.

Landeskog (4) pocketed the loosed puck on the doorstep of the crease into the gapping goal into front of him to tie the game, 1-1, at 15:49. The Avalanche bulldozed Nashville’s momentum.

MacKinnon (3) and Mikko Rantanen (4) had the primary and secondary assists on the goal and Colorado kept trucking.

Less than three minutes later— on a similar play— Sven Andrighetto (1) found a rebound and Rinne out of position to score on what was otherwise an empty net and give the Avalanche their first lead of the night, 2-1, at 18:32 of the third period.

Compher (3) and Tyson Barrie (4) had the assists on Andrighetto’s first goal of the series and suddenly the Predators were facing a loss on home ice in an elimination game.

Peter Laviolette pulled his goaltender with about a minute remaining in regulation after calling a timeout to instruct his Predators roster what to do as time ticked down.

It did not matter. Colorado held off elimination for at least one more night.

At the final horn, the Avalanche had won Game 5 by a score of 2-1 despite being outshot (45-27). Nashville led in blocked shots (18-14), giveaways (14-13) and faceoff win percentage (61-39), but never got as physical as they have in previous games in the series. In fact, Colorado led in hits (17-16) after 60 minutes.

The Avalanche finished the night 0/2 on the power play, while the Predators went 0/3 on the man advantage.

For the first time since Game 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators lost a postseason game at home. Not just to anyone, but to the Colorado Avalanche— last year’s worst team in the league that only amassed 48 points on an 82-game regular season.

But this year’s Avalanche team is different. They had a 47-point increase in standings between last season and this season (tied for 4th best in NHL history) and they’re looking to play spoiler.

The Predators take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 on the road Sunday night at Pepsi Center. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN. Meanwhile, fans interested in watching the game in Canada can do so on Sportsnet or TVAS.

Dating back to their days as the Québec Nordiques, the Colorado Avalanche are 0-3 lifetime in a series where they have trailed 3-1.

Preds survive Colorado comeback; win away from Second Round

 

With a 3-2 victory at Pepsi Center, the Nashville Predators have taken a commanding 3-1 advantage in their First Round series against the Colorado Avalanche.

All three periods had a very distinct character in this tilt. Act One featured the Predators team that many were predicting could win the Stanley Cup during the offseason, followed by a second period that saw both clubs’ emotions boil over. Finally, Colorado mounted an exciting comeback in the third frame that fell just short of forcing overtime.

Let’s tackle them in that order, shall we?

Perhaps the most boring of the three periods was the first, but that is more a compliment to the second and third frames than it’s an insult to the opening 20 minutes.

G Jonathan Bernier in particular experienced a very quick introduction to Game 4, as he took a W Viktor Arvidsson slap shot to the mask only 22 seconds into the match. In fact, the clapper was so forceful that it damaged the cage through which Bernier peers, forcing him to swap his mask for his blank head gear worn at practice while Avalanche Head Equipment Manager Mark Miller made the necessary repairs.

However, Miller was far from the center of attention while he was working, as the Avs unwisely ended up with D Patrik Nemeth (closing hand on puck) and F Carl Soderberg (hi-sticking against C Nick Bonino) both occupying the penalty box at the same time whilst he was working, resulting in a 2:41 Predators power play that included 1:19 of five-on-three action.

It seems that Bernier’s blank mask is his good luck charm when it comes to facing such tough tasks, as the scoreless draw that was on the scoreboard when Nemeth entered the sin bin remained when Soderberg was released. However, for fear of wearing out any positive juju the mask may contain, Bernier swapped out masks once again for his usual duds at the next stoppage of play.

If you’re one to buy into any sort of thing like that, then perhaps you’d think Bernier should have stuck with the white headgear considering First Star of the Game F Filip Forsberg (F Ryan Johansen and Third Star D Mattias Ekholm) scored a wrist shot with 4:27 remaining in the first period to score Nashville’s first game-opening goal of the series.

That being said, I highly doubt Bernier’s mask played too much into Forsberg’s strike, as D Duncan Siemens – playing in only his third-career Stanley Cup Playoff game after being one of Colorado’s first-round picks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft – was little more than dead weight in his attempt to slow down his opposition. The forward dragged Siemens along as he drove toward Bernier’s crease before patiently depositing his wrister behind the netminder’s left skate.

Due in large part to the extended power play, the Predators dominated the first period in a far stronger fashion than a 1-0 score hints at. Nashville out-shot the Avs 15-8 – nearly doubling the hosts’ offensive offerings.

Inversely, even though the Predators added two more goals in the second frame, it didn’t seem like either team had much of an upper hand on the other in the middle 20 minutes.

That was due in large part to the Predators taking five penalties to Colorado’s three, including a 24-second five-on-three opportunity that effectively amounted to a 3:36 extended power play for the Avalanche.

Just like the Preds, Colorado was unable to convert neither that two-man advantage nor any other second period power play into a goal, which played right into the hands of Nashville. 47 seconds after F Colton Sissons was released from the penalty box (he was guilty of playing the puck with his hand at the face-off dot), he (Forsberg and Ekholm) scored a wrister at the 7:18 mark of the frame to double the Predators’ advantage to two goals.

Just in case Colorado didn’t learn the error of its ways the first time in losing track of penalized players returning to action, F Craig Smith (F Austin Watson) reiterated the lesson with 8:11 remaining in the third period. Having been released from serving RW Ryan Hartman‘s roughing penalty against W Sven Andrighetto only seven seconds before, Smith collected a loose puck at center ice and proceeded to rip a wrister over Bernier’s glove.

Speaking of Hartman, he kind of went berserk at the 9:41 mark of the frame – hence the reason he roped Smith into the box with him to help serve his penalties. Just seconds before the the events leading up to the infractions, Andrighetto borderline speared Smith near his midsection while both were working their ways towards G Pekka Rinne‘s zone. This sent Hartman well over the edge, as he dropped the gloves at the next stoppage of play and pounced on Andrighetto without waiting for the Swiss to agree to fight.

As a result, Hartman was charged with holding the stick and roughing, while Andrighetto only took a roughing penalty to give Colorado the two-minute power play that featured RW Mikko Rantanen getting severely cut below the eye by F Nathan MacKinnon‘s stick (Rantanen returned to play before the end of the frame) and led to Smith’s goal.

To complete our conversation about unruly penalties, it wasn’t only Andrighetto and Hartman allowing their tempers to get the best of them. Ekholm and Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog were charged with negating penalties with 6:32 remaining in the period (slashing and roughing, respectively), and F Alexander Kerfoot‘s roughing infraction against Rinne held over into the third period.

It’s Kerfoot’s penalty that really made Head Coach Jared Bednar’s reluctant decision to replace Bernier with G Andrew Hammond –  another product of the F Matt Duchene trade, for those keeping track at home – even harder to make. However, it was announced that Bernier suffered a lower-body injury, meaning it was time once again for the Hamburglar to take over the NHL.

If only one period of action is enough evidence (it isn’t), the Avs are no worse off defensively in Game 5 with Hammond than they were with Bernier. After the backup-turned-starter saved 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage) in the first two frames, the former Senator saved all eight shots that came his way in the final period.

Colorado finally got on the scoreboard at the 5:20 mark of the third period when Landeskog (F Tyson Jost and D Tyson Barrie) buried the lone power play goal of the game, a five-on-three wrister with Hartman and Sissons in the penalty box for charging Soderberg and tripping F J.T. Compher, respectively.

The comeback continued with 8:59 remaining in regulation when Kerfoot (W Matthew Nieto and D Nikita Zadorov) pulled the Avs back within a goal on a wrister. Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette challenged for goalie interference against W Blake Comeau – and likely should have won the challenge considering Comeau’s skate made contact with Rinne before the puck even reached him – but the NHL is the NHL and decided to keep the marker on the board.

Regardless, even though the Avs fired a total of 11 shots at Rinne in the third period, he did not yield the game-tying goal. In all, Rinne saved 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage) to earn his first road playoff victory since Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Anaheim on May 20, 2017.

Speaking of road wins, Colorado’s offense cannot afford to fall in another 3-0 hole in Game 5 in Nashville if it wants to extend its postseason any further. After all, the Avs have only won one of the three games in which they scored the first goal.

After a quick plane ride from the Rocky Mountains to the Smokies, Game 5 is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday, April 20 and will take place at Bridgestone Arena. The match can be viewed on NBCSN, SN360 and TVAS.

Avs score three in first period, take Game 3

 

The old saying goes that a team is never behind in a playoff series until it loses a home match. With that in mind, the Colorado Avalanche beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 to win Game 3 and pull within a victory of leveling their First Round series.

The good news for the Predators is that G Juuse Saros saved all 18 shots he faced in his 33:34 of action.

The bad news is, of course, that he didn’t start the game.

Instead, that honor was bestowed upon G Pekka Rinne, who saved only 11-of-15 (.733 save percentage) before being lifted at the 4:25 mark of the second period.

Going back to the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals, this was the third-consecutive road playoff game that saw Rinne get chased from the crease, not to mention his fourth-consecutive road playoff loss.

The Avs have made a living in this series pouncing on Rinne early, and that trend was only magnified with the luxury of home ice when they buried three markers before the first intermission.

Just like in Games 1 and 2, the Avs scored the first goal when Third Star of the Game W Blake Comeau (F Carl Soderberg and W Matthew Nieto) buried a tip-in only 1:50 into play – Colorado’s first shot on net in the contest. That advantage doubled to two goals with 6:36 remaining in the frame when W Gabriel Bourque (D Patrik Nemeth and F J.T. Compher) scored another tip-in from a similar position as Comeau’s tally: right in front of Rinne’s crease.

Not to be outdone by his own bottom-six, First Star F Nathan MacKinnon made sure to get on the scoreboard 4:43 after Bourque’s marker by scoring a wrist shot with a breakaway-springing assist from Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog.

MacKinnon’s next act not only proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Rinne, but it also ended up as the game-winning goal by the time the Predators’ comeback attempt was said and done.

4:22 into the second period, RW Mikko Rantanen did his best Serge Savard spin-o-rama impression to fire a centering pass from along the goal line. However, Landeskog was not able to corral the pass and the puck trickled towards the high slot. C Kyle Turris had an opportunity to take possession of the loose puck, but it bounced over his stick to MacKinnon, who was sure to pocket his wrister over Rinne’s right shoulder.

Now with a comfortable 4-0 advantage, Colorado made it its job to weather whatever resurgence Nashville was going to assuredly muster up. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work to perfection when Nemeth and D Nikita Zadorov were both sent to the penalty box at the 9:27 mark of the second frame for respective cross checking and hooking penalties.

Handed a full two minutes of five-on-three play, the Preds did exactly what any good squad would do and took advantage of that opportunity. Nashville finally got on the scoreboard with 9:37 remaining in the second period to pull within a 4-1 deficit courtesy of a F Ryan Johansen (F Filip Forsberg and D Ryan Ellis) wrister.

While Nemeth was serving up the remainder of his penalty, G Jonathan Bernier decided it would be really neat to make a save with his neck. Ellis’ shot rode up on him and would have sneaked by had the netminder not squeezed the puck between his head and shoulder pads. As would be expected, Bernier took a second to recover from the play, but he stayed in the game.

Even though no more scoring occurred in the second frame after Johansen’s marker, Pepsi Center’s scoreboard operator still had much to do. Four more penalties occurred before the second intermission. Three of those infractions were against the Predators, including negating holding penalties between MacKinnon and D P.K. Subban. What doesn’t make the scorecard is why MacKinnon was holding Subban in the first place, as the Nova Scotian was on the receiving end of a questionable elbow. These teams are growing increasingly displeased with each other, and that is made even more apparent when the heavily-favored Predators struggle to get past Bernier and the Avs.

The closest Nashville got to a third period comeback occurred at the 7:12 mark when F Colton Sissons (D Roman Josi and Ellis) buried a wrister, but the Predators couldn’t make anything more out of that positive energy. That forced Head Coach Peter Laviolette to pull Saros for an extra attacker, allowing Landeskog (Rantanen and D Mark Barberio) to score an empty-netter with 1:36 remaining in regulation.

F Austin Watson did score a wrister 21 seconds later that was challenged for goaltender interference, but Toronto ruled it to be a good goal. Of course, it didn’t ultimately matter, as the Predators were unable to score two goals to level the game.

The Avalanche’s comeback is far from done, however. Game 4 is still an important match in this playoff series, as the Predators could go home with either a 2-2 tie or needing only one more win to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. Game 4 is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, April 18 at Pepsi Center. Fans can catch the game on NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

2017 Mock Draft: The First Round

2017_NHL_Entry_Draft_logo
NHL Entry Draft logos via NHL

The time has come for my annual prediction of how the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft will go. This year’s draft class is overall weaker than years past, but comes with a difficult choice for the New Jersey Devils, as they hold the 1st overall pick. The talk surrounding Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier is reminiscent of the Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin days leading up to the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles.

With that in mind, let’s see how many picks I get wrong (it’s an annual tradition!)– this year’s draft is being held in Chicago.

New Jersey Devils Logo1) New Jersey Devils –> C Nolan Patrick, Brandon (WHL)

A gifted center, Nolan Patrick’s status as the long-time coming predicted 1st overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft should not be affected by his injury shortened season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Patrick is a 6’2″, 199-pound gifted two-way player that can not only contribute in goals and assists, but brings some size down the middle for the Devils.

Philadelphia Flyers Logo2) Philadelphia Flyers –> C Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)

If New Jersey doesn’t take Nolan Patrick 1st overall, then the Flyers shouldn’t really have any complaints, because either Nico Hischier or Patrick is quite the impressive steal for the 2.4% longshots at the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft. Hischier stands tall at 6’2″, 179 pounds, and had 38-48-86 totals with the Halifax Mooseheads in 57 games this season en route to being named the CHL’s Rookie of the Year.

Unknown-23) Dallas Stars –> C Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor (OHL)                

Gabriel Vilardi was part of this year’s Memorial Cup champion, the Windsor Spitfires, and amassed 29-32-61 totals in 49 games played this season. He’s a two-way center that remains composed in all situations while utilizing unparalleled hands and finesse in this year’s draft. Vilardi would be quite the addition to Dallas’s prospect pool at 6’3″, 203 pounds and only 17-years-old (until August 16th, that is).

Unknown-14) Colorado Avalanche –> D Miro Heiskanen, HIFK (Finland)

One can assume that the Avalanche are bound to be trading a bunch of forwards for forwards this offseason (at least), but more important than having an offense is having a defense and an offense (which Colorado has had one in recent years and I’ll give you a hint– it hasn’t been a defense). Miro Heiskanen is a 6’1″, 172-pound two-way defenseman that had five goals and five assists (10 points) in 37 games with HIFK this season and is just part one of many moves towards turning things around at Pepsi Center.

imgres-25) Vancouver Canucks –> C Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (HS-MN)

The Vancouver Canucks can begin to start thinking about their long term approach to the end of the Sedin era by assuring themselves of a strong presence down the middle. Casey Mittelstadt brings that strong presence at center by virtue of his 6’1″, 201-pound frame and tremendous skill. There’s a reason why he was named this year’s Mr. Hockey in the state of Minnesota. Mittelstadt had 21-43-64 totals in 25 games with Eden Prairie and 13-17-30 totals in 24 games with the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) this season.

vegas_golden_knights_logo6) Vegas Golden Knights –> C Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)

For their first draft selection in franchise history, the Vegas Golden Knights are bound to select perhaps the most tactically smart playmaker of the draft in Cody Glass. The 6’2″, 178-pound, right-handed center had 32 goals and 62 assists (94 points– T-7th in the WHL) and is sure to fit right in with the Golden Knights roster and longterm plans. Vegas would be wise to let him play coming out of the draft, since Glass is perhaps the most NHL ready player besides Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

Unknown-37) Arizona Coyotes –> D Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)

The Arizona Coyotes have been stockpiling forwards (if you can believe it) in recent drafts, so this year seems to be the right time to snag a puck moving defenseman that’s committed to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst next season. Cale Makar had 24 goals and 51 assists (75 points) in 54 games with the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League this season– a 20-point improvement in as many games compared to last season.

Unknown-28) Buffalo Sabres –> C Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)

At 6’6″, 215 pounds, Michael Rasmussen is exactly what the Sabres need to compliment the already sized up centers of Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly. Sheer intimidation could be one thing Buffalo banks on in the near future, thanks to their Goliath centers, but don’t let that be the only thing. Rasmussen has silky hands and had 32-23-55 totals with the Tri-City Americans this season in the Western Hockey League.

Unknown9) Detroit Red Wings –> RW Owen Tippett, Mississauga (OHL)

Owen Tippett has been drawing comparisons to Phil Kessel (no, not necessarily because he’s a hot dogs and hamburgers guy– though we haven’t asked him– but rather, because Mike Morreale of NHL.com says so). The 6’0″, 200-pound, right winger had 44 goals and 31 assists (75 points) in 60 games with the Mississauga Steelheads and is a natural sniper.

Florida_Panthers_logo_201610) Florida Panthers –> C Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Republic)

Martin Necas is a versatile center that can create space for the puck and generate offense with his playmaking mindset. The right-handed shot had seven goals and eight assists (15 points) in 41 games with Brno this season. Florida shouldn’t be too concerned with his 6’0″, 167-pound frame, considering they’ve got a good mix of forwards to balance things out while Necas works on adding some muscle to his game.

Unknown-311) Los Angeles Kings –> C Elias Pettersson, Timra (SWE-2)

After missing out on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings fired their now former head coach (Darryl Sutter) and general manager (Dean Lombardi) and immediately replaced them with John Stevens behind the bench and Rob Blake as GM, so trying to predict who they’ll draft is difficult based on recent history. However, Elias Pettersson (19-22-41 totals in 43 games with Timra) might just happen to fall into their hands at 11th overall. He’ll need a year of seasoning before appearing in the Kings lineup.

download.png12) Carolina Hurricanes –> D Timothy Liljegren, Rogle (Sweden)

After a bout with mononucleosis in November, Timothy Liljegren wasn’t fully able to rebound this season with Rogle BK, however his skating remains unparalleled as one of the better defensemen of the draft. Liljegren can join the rush and pinch in from the point when needed in the offensive zone and scouts have yet to see the full potential impact of his style of play. Given the uncertainty surrounding Carolina’s money-puck strategy and how it will affect their blue line, drafting Liljegren might provide some security.

Unknown-413) Winnipeg Jets –> C/LW Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)

Klim Kostin missed a lot of time thanks to a shoulder injury, but that shouldn’t stop the Winnipeg Jets from taking a chance on what might be the best Russian forward in the draft. Puck possession is Kostin’s middle name and his 6’3″, 196-pound frame certainly must have something to do with that. The Jets could use him down the middle or restructure their wingers around the Kostin model, albeit acknowledging Blake Wheeler‘s size and existence already in Winnipeg.

Unknown-314) Tampa Bay Lightning –> D Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL)       

Steve Yzerman may continue to be a master of the salary cap (in terms of carefully maneuvering around large contracts, drafting and developing talent on a consistent basis and the like), but he’s got some critical thinking to do this offseason, what with pending RFAs galore and the Vegas expansion draft. Juuso Valimaki might be just enough to help relieve some of that pressure, having been one of the best defensemen of the WHL this season and amassing 19-42-61 totals in 60 games played.
download.png15) New York Islanders –> C Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound (OHL)

Offensively skilled, Nick Suzuki isn’t the biggest player (5’11”, 183 pounds), but he is one of the best power play specialists in this year’s draft– notching 14 power play goals for the Owen Sound Attack this season. Suzuki had 96 points alone (45 goals, 51 assists) in 65 games and would be an upgrade for the Islanders in more ways than one.

Unknown-416) Calgary Flames –> LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (Sweden)

Kristian Vesalainen is a 6’3″, 207-pound power forward that might be able to muster his way to a new arena for the Calgary Flames. Jokes aside, Vesalainen would be a solid draft pick by Calgary for his physical prowess and goal scoring ability. In the Battle of Alberta, the Flames could select their very own Milan Lucic, but with more of a two-way element to his game.

Unknown17) Toronto Maple Leafs –> D Nicolas Hague, Mississauga (OHL)

How could the Toronto Maple Leafs get any better than they already are with a lineup full of kids? Answer: they could draft Nicolas Hague. Toronto’s got a plethora of players waiting to insert themselves into their mix of forwards that it wouldn’t hurt them to give a little more attention to their blue line for a bit. Hague is a monstrous 6’6″, 215-pound, shutdown defenseman that can also contribute on the power play. He had 18-28-46 totals in 65 games with the Mississauga Steelheads this season.

Unknown-718) Boston Bruins –> C Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCHC)

It seems unusual to say, but the Boston Bruins have a little something on the horizon to start thinking about– what will the team look like after Patrice Bergeron (and David Krejci)? Boston GM Don Sweeney has a recent history of opting for college players and could select center Ryan Poehling with the future in mind. The 6’2″, 183-pound, playmaker has great vision and puck protection and had 7-6-13 totals in 35 games with St. Cloud State this season. Additionally, Poehling’s got intelligence (both on and off the ice) as he graduated a year early from high school and just tuned 18 on January 3rd.

Unknown19) San Jose Sharks –> D Callan Foote, Kelowna (WHL)

The San Jose Sharks have some big names to re-sign this offseason, including Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Naturally, while one might think the Sharks should use this draft to find their eventual replacements, San Jose is already in a good spot regarding forwards. Their blue line, however, could use someone like the 6’4″, 212-pound, likeness of Callan Foote. He had six goals and 51 assists (57 points) in 71 games this season and is sure to follow in the foot(e)steps of his father, Adam Foote.

imgres-120) St. Louis Blues –> LW Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)

A 30-goal-scorer in 52 games played with Sioux City this season, Eeli Tolvanen brings just about every offensive element the St. Louis Blues are looking for in a forward. He can shoot from just about anywhere on the ice– at any time too. Quick with his feet, Tolvanen can snipe an impressive shot. Don’t let his 5’10”, 170-pound setup fool you, this winger is ready to become even better at Boston College in the fall. After a couple of seasons of losing vital veteran forwards, the Blues get a chance for redemption by bringing in a goalscorer that could soon be skating on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko.

download.png21) New York Rangers –> LW Jason Robertson, Kingston (OHL)

In 68 games with the Kingston Frontenacs this season, Jason Robertson (6’2″, 192 pounds) had 42 goals and 39 assists for 81 points. He knows what to do with the puck and with the unwavering uncertainty of Rick Nash‘s longevity, along with the legitimacy of Jimmy Vesey and others as impact players when you need them the most (like in the playoffs, for example), Robertson is a risk worth taking. He’s only a risk because his skating game could use some improvement.

Unknown-522) Edmonton Oilers –> C Lias Andersson, HV71 (Sweden)

Lias Andersson is a mobile two-way forward that matches grit with nifty hands that generate scoring chances, as evidenced by his 9-10-19 totals in 42 games played with HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League this season. At 5’11”, 198 pounds, Andersson is the right fit for the Edmonton Oilers lineup, where he can increase his offensive skill by learning from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, while taking a page or two from Milan Lucic in the physical game. Additionally, his father, Niklas Andersson, is currently a scout for the Los Angeles Kings and played in 164 career NHL games.

 

Unknown-323) Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota Wild) –> C Shane Bowers, Waterloo (USHL)

The Coyotes have two 1st round picks in this year’s draft and they’d be smart to take a forward with their second pick. Luckily, Shane Bowers is just the player for Arizona. The Boston University-bound center scored 22 goals and had 29 assists (51 points) in 60 games for Waterloo this season. The 6’1″, 183-pound forward models his game after Jonathan Toews, which wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Coyotes to have in their prospect pool with a clear need for a stable, solid, two-way center.

Columbus Blue Jackets Logo24) Columbus Blue Jackets –> RW Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane (WHL)

At 5’8″ and 153 pounds, Kailer Yamamoto is not a player to overlook. Why? Because he scored 42 goals and had 57 assists for 99 points (6th in the WHL in scoring) in 65 games with Spokane this season. Yamamoto is relentless on the puck and has hands beyond his years, as well as speed and skill that make him quite the threat on the ice.

Unknown-125) Montreal Canadiens –> LW Maxime Comtois, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

After acquiring Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason, the Montreal Canadiens have made great strides at improving their group of forwards. But with the uncertainty of everything panning out as planned, why not add to the plan? Maxime Comtois is versatile and ready to take the next step in his professional career with the right guidance (*ahem* Claude Julien‘s system). Best inserted on the wing, Comtois had 22-29-51 totals in 64 games with Victoriaville this season. The 6’2″, 200-pound forward could play center if the Canadiens see it fit.

 

imgres26) Chicago Blackhawks –> D Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Finland)

Chicago is bound to have a tough offseason in a non-Cup year for the first time in a while, it seems, what with the Expansion Draft, as well as the salary cap working against their favor. While the Blackhawks may have to deal a top-4 defenseman or part of their core group of forwards (without getting too crazy, mind you, we’re not talking a trade involving Patrick Kane), Chicago can rest assured that Urho Vaakanainen is their defenseman of the future. The 6’1″, 185-pound blue liner is good at 1) getting the puck out of the zone and 2) playing his game– and a physical one at that.

 

imgres-127) St. Louis Blues (from Washington Capitals) –> D Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

An offensive-minded defenseman with a right-shot, Conor Timmins fits the bill for the St. Louis Blues. At 6’1″ and 185 pounds, Timmins can rush the ice as a two-way defenseman who contributed 61 points (seven goals, 54 assists) for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 67 games this season. Think Colton Parayko, but not, because this guy’s name is Conor Timmins and he doesn’t already play for the Blues.

Unknown-628) Ottawa Senators –> C Josh Norris, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

A product of the United States National Team Development Program, Josh Norris had 23-28-51 totals in 52 games played this season. The 6’1″, 192-pound center could contribute to the Senators organization in a manner similar to how Colin White has been implemented into the roster. Who knows, he might be worth it, Ottawa.

Unknown-229) Dallas Stars (from Anaheim Ducks) –> RW Kole Lind, Kelowna (WHL)

Tremendous hockey sense and intelligence are part of Kole Lind’s game. A natural playmaker, Lind was also known to produce goals of his own for the Kelowna Rockets this season, amassing 30-57-87 totals in 70 games played. The 6’1″, 178-pound right winger could be a solid fit alongside the likes of Jamie Benn and Seguin in Dallas.

Unknown30) Nashville Predators –> C Robert Thomas, London (OHL)

Hey look it’s Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty! Again, I’m only kidding. This Robert Thomas of the London Knights had 16-50-66 totals in 66 games this season as a two-way forward. A noted playmaker, Thomas reads and reacts to the play before him beyond his years and will need some time to really come into his own at the NHL level. Yet, the Nashville Predators can afford to take their time carefully crafting the almost 6′, 188-pound, center in their system that’s produced the likes of Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg and many more in recent years.

 

pittsburgh_penguins_logo31) Pittsburgh Penguins –> D Henri Jokiharju, Portland (WHL)

It took Henri Jokiharju a few months to really transition to the North American style of the game, but for this offensively focused defenseman, that wasn’t a big deal. He can get the puck out of his own zone with ease– not just with crisp passes, but also due to his incredible stride and speed in the transition department. Jokiharju (6’0″, 180 pounds) had nine goals and 39 assists (48 points) in 71 games for the Portland Winterhawks this season.

Other top potential 1st round prospects that should easily be 2nd round picks if they’re not taken in Round 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft:

G Jake Oettinger, Boston University (Hockey East)

LW Isaac Ratcliffe, Guelph (OHL)

D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)

D Erik Brannstrom, HV71 (Sweden)

LW Filip Chytil, Zlin (Czech Republic)

C Aleksei Heponiemi, Swift Current (WHL)

G Michael DiPietro, Windsor (OHL)

LW Matthew Strome, Hamilton (OHL)

C Antoine Morand, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

LW Tyler Steenbergen, Swift Current (WHL)

So there you have it. This is how I see the 1st round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft shaking out. Be sure to tune in next Friday night (that’s one week from now) to watch your favorite team pick a teenager and hope for the best. I’ll be at work that night, so no spoilers, please. Let me believe I got more than two picks right for once.

March 5- Day 137- Sharks live in the Wild, not pools

For the second day in a row, somebody else has had to take the Game of the Day duties, since Connor Keith is out of town. Here goes nothing.

Sundays are perfect for sitting and watching hockey all day and if you don’t have anything to do from mid-afternoon through the rest of the night, then today’s schedule is just for you.

Sunday’s action begins in Calgary, Alberta as the New York Islanders pay their annual visit to the Calgary Flames at 4 p.m. Buffalo at Pittsburgh (NHLN/ROOT/MSG-B) kicks off at 5 p.m. As things get underway at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, newly acquired defenseman Kyle Quincey and the Columbus Blue Jackets face off against now former Blue Jacket defenseman Dalton Prout and the New Jersey Devils in New Jersey.

An hour later the Pacific Division leading San Jose Sharks visit the 2nd place in the Central Division Minnesota Wild. At 8 p.m. the Vancouver Canucks face former teammate Ryan Kesler and the Anaheim Ducks in southern California as the St. Louis Blues square off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on NBCSN.

Half an hour later, the evening’s final game kicks off in Glendale, Arizona with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Arizona Coyotes. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Buffalo at Pittsburgh: In a rematch of the 2008 Winter Classic, the Sabres and head coach Dan Bylsma pay a visit to Bylsma’s former club as Buffalo looks to climb from being five points out of a wild card spot in the Atlantic Division.
  • Columbus at New Jersey: Kyle Quincey and Dalton Prout were traded for each other, so which team made the better move? Obviously we’ll find out after whoever wins this game.
  • San Jose at Minnesota: Two division leaders in the Western Conference do battle as the Wild look to compete with the Washington Capitals in this season’s President’s Trophy race. Okay, fine, Minnesota was on top of the Central Division until last night.
  • St. Louis at Colorado: Some professional team from St. Louis is playing some bantam team from Colorado (only kidding). Honestly, I’m just throwing this one on here in case your team’s not playing tonight and you want to watch out of market hockey on NBCSN.

Since I was informed I would be writing today’s Game of the Day matchup preview, the Minnesota Wild were on top of the Central Division as the San Jose Sharks continued to dominate the Pacific Division and everything seemed to be perfectly aligning for my Daily Matchup debut– that is until the Chicago Blackhawks decided to ruin the fun, surpassing the Wild for 1st in the Central Division with their 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators Saturday night.

However! First place is still on the line for both teams in the San Jose Sharks at Minnesota Wild matchup (technically). Minnesota can reclaim the Central Division lead with a win at home and San Jose can do everything to keep the Wild out of first place in the Central while putting more separation between themselves and the Edmonton Oilers for first in the Pacific Division.

Stay with me here.

UnknownThe Sharks enter Xcel Energy Center on a three game winning streak with a 38-18-7 record through 63 games played (good enough for 83 points on the year), as the Wild enter Sunday night coming off of a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets and a 41-15-6 record after 62 games played and 88 points on the season.

Despite losing in the Stanley Cup Final last year, San Jose is still a hot team on a run, similar to how the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to shrug off their 2015 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Blackhawks. The Sharks aren’t in the hunt for the President’s Trophy– but the Wild are, more on that in a second– yet they’re quietly peaking at the right time.

Though quietly might not be the right term.

Winners of four out of their last five games, in which they’ve outscored their opponents 15-6 in that span, San Jose is witnessing quite the team effort in the midst of a Hart Trophy worthy season from defenseman Brent Burns (27-40-67 totals in 63 games). Only Sharks captain Joe Pavelski ranks in the top-50 in scoring in the NHL tied for 21st in the league with 55 points alongside Auston Matthews (TOR), Alex Ovechkin (WSH), Leon Draisaitl (EDM) and Victor Hedman (TB).

Despite trailing off in goals this season, Joe Thornton’s 35 assists contribute to the overall +29 goal differential for the team in teal.

Martin Jones (30-15-6 on the season in 52 GP) has stood tall in goal for the second straight year, notching 30 wins thus far (tied for 5th in the league with Boston’s Tuukka Rask). Jones’s .917 save percentage ranks 17th (tied with Florida’s Roberto Luongo) among active goalies with at least 25 games played this season, as his 2.28 goals against average is good enough to be tied for 9th in the league with Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray (same parameters as before, active goalies with at least 25 games played).

Unknown-2Minnesota enters Sunday with a 41-15-6 record through 62 games played (good enough for 88 points) and is 3-2-0 in their last five games, having outscored their opponents 19-17 during that time.

Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau has led his team within reach of the President’s Trophy as the team with the best record in the league at the end of the regular season, trailing one point behind the Blackhawks with three games in hand and seven points behind the Washington Capitals with two games in hand.

The State of Hockey’s leading scorer, center Mikael Granlund, ranks 12th in the league with 21-38-59 totals in 62 games played. Mikko Koivu (48 points), Nino Niederreiter (46 points) and Eric Staal (46 points) are also in the top-50 scorers in the league among active skaters.

Depth scoring has been a strong suit of an otherwise solely superstar-less driven scoring team as the Wild have racked up a +61 goal differential. Devan Dubnyk (34-12-3 on the season in 49 GP) ranks 1st in the league in save percentage with a .933 and 2nd in GAA with a 2.03 among active goalies with at least 25 games played this season. Dubnyk’s underrated play in net is sure to land him a Vezina Trophy this season.

The Sharks are 18-11-3 on the road, including their most recent 4-1 win in Vancouver against the Canucks on February 25th. Meanwhile, the Wild are 22-8-1 on home ice, including their 5-4 victory in overtime against the Los Angeles Kings on February 27th.

Minnesota topped San Jose in their previous meeting by a score of 5-4 on January 5th. The two teams will do battle once again on March 21st in what could be a season series tiebreaker.

Both teams are on a tear on offense in the last couple of weeks, however, Sunday night could be a different story with Dubnyk and Jones in net (so long as they’re the starters). Additionally, the Sharks have a slight edge in defense, having allowed one fewer goal than the Wild this season (147 goals against for SJ, compared to 148 GA for MIN).

I don’t know what the odds in Vegas are saying, but my money’s on San Jose pulling off a win with a slim margin of victory over Minnesota. The Wild beat the Sharks on road ice in January, so it’s only fair that San Jose wins one in Minnesota, right?

Hockey Birthday

Milt Schmidt (1918- January 4, 2017)– The Ultimate Bruin played all of his career (1936-1955) with Boston, coached in Boston (1954-1966) and was even the general manager (1967-1972) for the Bruins, winning two Stanley Cups as a player in 1939 and 1941, as well as two Stanley Cups as a GM in 1970 and 1972 for a total of four Cups in his life in hockey. Schmidt also coached the Washington Capitals in their first couple of seasons in existence (1974-1976), though they missed the playoffs both years.Hockey Birthday

Schmidt helped find Bobby Orr and pulled off the blockbuster trade of Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte and Jack Norris for Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield from the Chicago Black Hawks as a general manager and took three years off from his playing career (in its prime!) from 1942-1945 to serve in World War II for the Royal Canadian Air Force alongside his Kraut Line teammates Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer.

Sadly, the Kitchner, Ontario native passed away in January at 98-years-old as the last member of the inaugural (1936-1937) American Hockey League (AHL) season.

He passed on the reigns of the oldest living former NHL player to John “Chick” Webster, 96, who made his NHL debut in the 1949-1950 season with the New York Rangers, appearing in 14 games and racking up four penalty minutes in his short NHL career.

Other Birthdays

Bill Thoms (1910-1964), Harry Pidhirny (1928-2010), Ken Yackel (1932-1991), Dale Anderson (1932-2015), Pat Hannigan (1936-2007), Bob Richer (1951-), Paul Gardner (1956-), Tim Friday (1961-), Anatoli Semenov (1962-), Bob Halkidis (1966-), Matt DelGuidice (1967-), Shjon Podein (1968-), Bryan Berard (1977-), Paul Martin (1981-), Barret Jackman (1981-), Michel Ouellet (1982-)


Saturday night’s DTFR Game of the Day matchup between the host New York Rangers and visiting Montreal Canadiens witnessed a 4-1 victory for the Habs on road ice as Montreal improved to 6-2-0 in the Claude Julien (Part Deux).

Unknown-1Carey Price made 26 saves on 27 shots faced en route to picking up the win at Madison Square Garden, while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 31 shots against on 35 shots faced in the loss.

Shea Weber opened the scoring for the Canadiens at 12:51 of the first period for his fifteenth goal of the season. Max Pacioretty (26) and Steve Ott (4) picked up assists on Weber’s goal. Montreal went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead in what looked like it would be a goalie battle after all (as Colby wrote about yesterday), as Lundqvist made 10 saves on 11 shots faced and Price turned aside all six shots from the Rangers in the first period.

Despite trailing in shots on goal by five in the first period, New York only trailed in SOG 14-10 in the 2nd period and led in the category 11-10 in the 3rd period.

Artturi Lehkonen (12) scored what would become the game winning goal 8:48 into the 2nd period on a one-timer from one knee on a pass from Phillip Danault (21). Pacioretty (27) picked up the seconday assist.

The Canadiens went up 3-0 nearly ten minutes later in the 2nd period on a goal from Andrew Shaw (10). Shaw’s wraparound goal was assisted by Alex Galchenyuk (21) and Andrei Markov (24).

The lone goal from the Rangers came on a shot from Chris Kreider who notched his 24th goal of the season. Derek Stepan (32) and Mats Zuccarello (33) assisted on Kreider’s goal at 1:44 of the 3rd period. New York cut the lead to two goals, but could not muster enough to do anything further.

New addition to the lineup for Montreal, defenseman Jordie Benn fired home his 3rd goal of the season (and first as a Hab) at 6:58 of the 3rd period. Nathan Beaulieu (21) and Galchenyuk (22) assisted on Benn’s goal.

For more stats on Daily Matchup records, wait for Connor to get back (though I’m having a lot of fun writing this, maybe I’ll steal it from him more often).

 

Realistic Predictions for the 2016-2017 Season

By: Nick Lanciani

Anaheim Ducks

Unknown-1The Anaheim Ducks added Jared Boll in the offseason to help bolster Team USA’s heart and grit rating at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Oh wait. Anaheim also brought back Randy Carlyle as head coach.

So basically it’ll be Throwback Thursday everyday this season for the Ducks, since it’ll be ten years since their 2007 Stanley Cup championship with Carlyle and crew. Why not bring back the maroon and jade uniforms while we’re at it?


Arizona Coyotes

Unknown-3Youth is not just prevalent on the Arizona Coyotes roster this season, but in their front office as well, as 27-year-old, John Chayka, was hired as the youngest GM in NHL history.

Max Domi and Anthony Duclair do all they can to convince Shane Doan to become the next Jaromir Jagr and maybe then we can start talking about a potential Cup run for the Coyotes. A plethora of defensemen fight for six roster spots and are narrowed down throughout the season, Hunger Games style.

Boston Bruins

Unknown-7Big and Bad are Backes. Wait, that’s not it. The Boston Bruins added David Backes, Riley Nash and Dominic Moore to their group of forwards this offseason all while seeming to forget that they still need another top-4 defenseman (let alone an entire defense).

Like most years of Boston sports (okay, with the exception of the last fifteen years), the Bruins will probably narrowly miss the playoffs again, much to the dismay of their hardcore fan base that still goes to every game like it’s their job. Or am I confusing them with the guys on the roster? At least 63 + 37 = 100.

Buffalo Sabres

Unknown-2So the Buffalo Sabres look to do things this year. That’s a thing, I’m pretty sure. Major loss? Chad Johnson left the team via free agency and went to Calgary. Major gains?

They brought in Kyle Okposo and everything else remained pretty much the same, so they should probably be on the outside looking in again, unless they become the new Ottawa Senators (forged by youth and a backup goalie that takes over from February through their early first round playoff exit in April).

All kidding aside, the Sabres remain hopeful. Meanwhile, Rasmus Ristolainen finally got paid (at a discount, none the less— Flo from Progressive would be happy).

Calgary Flames

Unknown-4What did the Calgary Flames do this offseason? They got some goaltending. Brian Elliott was acquired via a trade with St. Louis and Chad Johnson came over from Buffalo in free agency, so that’s two new goalies for a total of about half as many goalies that the Philadelphia Flyers have played in the last twenty years (though Calgary is starting to catch up).

Johnny Gaudreau is still unsigned, so that could be problematic, since he’s like, Calgary’s entire offense. At least, that’s what the fake Kanye West account told me— just kidding, he finally signed the other day. Given the state of the Western Conference, it’s safe to say they won’t be flaming their competition in the standings.

Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes LogoBiggest additions: Lee Stempniak, Viktor Stalberg and Teuvo Teravainen (so basically just Teravainen, if you’re playing along with the rebuild at home). Matt Tennyson was also brought in on the blue line via free agency from San Jose, so there’s that.

Hurricanes fans, take solace in the fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets exist in your division, because at least Carolina won’t finish last with an improved New Jersey Devils team (minus their defense) looking to jump ahead of the Hurricanes in the standings.

Chicago Blackhawks

Unknown-22013, 2015— shoot, this year’s Stanley Cup Final is in an odd numbered year, isn’t it? Well, forget all of the season predictions, congrats to the Chicago Blackhawks. They’ll probably just insert some prospect alongside Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Artemi Panarin, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook or someone and be fine.

I mean, that’s been the formula since 2010 anyway. Win the Cup, trade a bunch of people because of the salary cap over the next offseason or two, win the Cup again and do it all over again. The only problem is, the Blackhawks have got the toughest division, so they’ll probably still make the playoffs, at least.

Colorado Avalanche

Unknown-1The Colorado Avalanche added two Bourques to their team (Gabriel Bourque and Rene Bourque) so they’re obviously hoping to double their efforts of their 2001 Stanley Cup championship with legendary defenseman Ray Bourque. What’s that? They’re not related? Nice try Joe Sakic.

While the Av’s were perfect in the preseason, sadly none of it counted and they’ll start 0-0-0 just like everybody else. New head coach, Jared Bednar, won’t be dismantling any stanchions this year, so that’s good news, glass between the benches at Pepsi Center.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus Blue Jackets LogoZach Werenski made the team, so now they’ll have a defense. Oh, sorry, didn’t you there Ryan Murray, Seth Jones and Jack Johnson. But all kidding aside, these guys just need to stay healthy— I’m looking at you Sergei Bobrovsky.

Their group of forwards kind of have it going on. But sadly, this isn’t the year for the Columbus Blue Jackets, unlike the rest of the teams in Ohio it seems. Also, how it is possible for Werenski, a player from Michigan University, to not get run out of Ohio? I’ll wait.

Dallas Stars

Unknown-2The Dallas Stars have the same goaltending tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, the same core group of forwards primarily in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn and an improved defense with the loss of Kris Russell.

Somehow every year, this band of veterans impresses the hockey world by combatting speed and skill with heart and grit (minus some of the grit). But just like last year, they probably still won’t figure it out in the playoffs between their two goaltenders and fail miserably (in the eyes of Stars fans).

Detroit Red Wings

UnknownThe Detroit Red Wings added Steve Ott (grit), Thomas Vanek (heart) and Frans Nielsen (actually, kind of good), this offseason to their group of forwards that doesn’t include Pavel Datsyuk for the first time in like, forever.

Datsyuk was traded to Arizona at the draft after he announced his retirement from the NHL to go play in the KHL back home before ultimately wrapping up his professional hockey career. And with that, so ends the Red Wings playoff appearance streak this season. But at least Petr Mrazek will be their number one goalie, right?

Edmonton Oilers

Unknown-5Rogers Place looks pretty cool. Milan Lucic Bruinsinizes the team. Peter Chiarelli traded Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson. And that is all. Just kidding, Chiarelli also traded Nail Yakupov to the St. Louis Blues for practically nothing (so just like the Hall trade).

Connor McDavid was named captain and the team got worse. Kris Russell was added to the defense and Eric Gryba was not re-signed, then PTO’ed, then signed to a new deal with Edmonton, then probably placed on waivers. Sounds like things are business as usual for the Oilers.

Florida Panthers

Florida_Panthers_logo_2016James Reimer signed as the backup goaltender to Roberto Luongo for the Florida Panthers this offseason, so if you’re a fan of the 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs or 2011 Vancouver Canucks, maybe Florida is your team (until games actually matter in the playoffs).

Jason Demers and Keith Yandle were two major additions to the Panthers blue line, while they managed to finagle Jared McCann out of Vancouver in exchange for Erik Gudbranson. So basically, the Panthers are poised to dominate the Atlantic Division once again in the regular season. Can I get a Jaromir Jagr for the Hart Trophy to with it?

Los Angeles Kings

Unknown-3The Los Angeles Kings most recently added Devin Setoguchi to their batch of forwards, so that summarizes everything about their offseason. Props to Setoguchi for making a comeback in the NHL. Shouts to the Kings for having a cool arena by the way. I stopped by there in August.

Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick and Anze Kopitar all won awards last season, so that should have some indication of how they’ll do this season. They’ll probably make the Western Conference Final and have to play the Chicago Blackhawks again, won’t they?

Minnesota Wild

Unknown-2The Minnesota Wild added Eric Staal to their roster this offseason and most recently (and more important than Staal), Teemu Pulkkinen.

Chris Stewart returned to the Wild organization after a trip around the league (or so it seemed) and everything else pretty much remained the same.

So if you’re a Minnesota fan, first, good luck surviving the winter (as usual). Second, nobody knows how the Vikings are doing it, but they’re doing it. And third, the Wild aren’t going to be that great this season, so pick one of the first two options to bandwagon, if you would please.

Montreal Canadiens

Unknown-1The Montreal Canadiens traded P.K. Subban. That is all.

But seriously, how could you, Montreal? Other than that, Alexander Radulov, Andrew Shaw and Shea Weber are all part of the team now, while Carey Price will miss the first game with the flu and Mike Condon got claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh. Looks like the team’s all yours, Al Montoya.

Nashville Predators

UnknownThe Nashville Predators acquired P.K. Subban this offseason. What were the Montreal Canadiens thinking?

The Preds are letting their forwards develop and made their defense significantly better by getting rid of Shea Weber for Subban. Now if only Pekka Rinne would return to vintage Pekka Rinne form, then this could the year for Nashville. Then again, they’re in the same division as Chicago in an odd numbered playoff year, so…

New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils LogoThe New Jersey Devils restructured their forwards with the additions of Taylor Hall, Beau Bennett, Vernon Fiddler and P.A. Parenteau, but they still lack a defense (mostly). Brandon Gormley, Ben Lovejoy and Kyle Quincey are notable (somewhat) additions to the blue line in the Garden State.

Andy Greene remains one of the strangest trivia questions when someone asks you “who is the current captain of the Devils?” And Cory Schneider is still a highly underrated goaltender that somehow manages to survive without a team in front of him. But at least New Jersey is gearing up for the underdog of the year status.

New York Islanders

New York Islanders LogoThe New York Islanders added a lot of veteran presence to their noticeably Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum-less organization (yes, I took a shot at Barclays Center, there). Jason Chimera, Andrew Ladd and Dennis Seidenberg are now members of the Islanders and well, at least Seidenberg’s contract is only for a year.

As long as Jaroslav Halak plays like he did at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey (minus the final loss to Canada) and stays healthy, John Tavares and crew could lead this team further in the playoffs than in recent memory. Time may be winding down on their Cup contention clock, since Tavares is looking for an extension and well, everyone else on their roster is getting older.

New York Rangers

New York Rangers LogoIf winning the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes counts for anything than the New York Rangers are winners. But they probably won’t be winners of much this season. Granted, they could make a playoff run (or miss it altogether), the same tune rings true, Henrik Lundqvist cannot be a team on his own.

Josh Jooris and Mika Zibanejad are big name additions to the offense. Okay, so they’re just names added to the roster. Nick Holden is new to the Blueshirts blue line and well, they’re still an aging defense. Best of luck to the youth in the New York, like Vesey, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes and others for getting to play more than one position this year on the same shift.

Ottawa Senators

Unknown-6Chris Kelly is back with the Ottawa Senators this season after playing 11 games last year with the Boston Bruins and recovering from a broken femur. Derick Brassard was acquired from the Rangers in exchange for Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan switched his number from 6 to 9 (get your mind out of the gutter, Internet).

Otherwise, the Senators remain virtually the same. On the outside looking in, but probably raising a few eyebrows for their late season surge. They’re still waiting on their youth, which is at least working better than it is for their counterparts in Ontario, the Toronto Maple Leafs (who, although contrary to popular belief, might actually be better this year).

Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers LogoThe Philadelphia Flyers already appear to be in midseason form, what with Radko Gudas‘s six-game suspension and their apparent preference for Steve Mason as their number one goalie, as usual.

Boyd Gordon and Dale Weise are additions (though, can you really call them that?) and Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov made the team from training camp (and the last couple of years of drafting), so the Flyers appear to be a middle of the pack team again this year.

Additionally, they’ll face off with the Pittsburgh Penguins in this season’s Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Heinz Field on February 25, 2017 as part of the league’s 50th season celebration of the 1967 expansion. So yeah, that’s all I got for Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh Penguins

pittsburgh_penguins_logoThe Pittsburgh Penguins have virtually the same team from Game 6 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final and look to defend their championship title without Sidney Crosby for at least game one of an 82 game regular season schedule.

New goaltender, Mike Condon, could make things interesting when comes time to decide between Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray before the 2017 expansion draft, since he could likely become Murray’s backup.

San Jose Sharks

UnknownJust like the Penguins, the San Jose Sharks roster remains virtually untouched since their loss in Game 6 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, which kind of makes you wonder, did anyone remember that there was an offseason?

Matt Tennyson jettisoned to Carolina (I was dying to juxtaposition those words), where he was now sent down to the Charlotte Checkers. Roman Polak went back to Toronto and honestly, that was probably for the better for San Jose. Aaron Dell is the new backup to Martin Jones and would someone just let Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau win a Cup this year? I mean, if Phil Kessel can, then surely those guys can too.

St. Louis Blues

UnknownThe St. Louis Blues will be consciously uncoupling with Ken Hitchcock at the end of the season in his farewell to coaching tour. Mike Yeo has already been named as his replacement and has begun barking out orders at practice, similar to his meltdown in Minnesota (though I have not confirmed that).

They lost David Backes to free agency, because the salary cap exists and good luck to the front office in St. Louis to try figure that one out in the next few years. Meanwhile they added Nail Yakupov for virtually nothing, though in their defense, they already had their own Yakupov in Magnus Paajarvi on their roster, so maybe this time they can make it work.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Unknown-3Nikita Kucherov and the Tampa Bay Lightning finally agreed to a three year bridge deal extension, so Lightning fans rejoice, your fountain of youth is still intact for now. Steven Stamkos stuck around for eight more years and GM Steve Yzerman can now take the next six months off until the playoffs when he has to start worrying about how far his team will go and what to do with Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Bolts look like geniuses here, for having developed their players well over the last few seasons and will more than likely dominant the Atlantic Division with their in-state rivals, the Florida Panthers. Sadly, Tampa probably won’t win the Cup because the Blackhawks exist and that whole 2013, 2015, 20??? pattern exists.

Toronto Maple Leafs

UnknownAuston Matthews.

(Colby told me to just write that. I think it works).

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

UnknownLoui Eriksson joined fellow Swedes, Daniel and Henrik Sedin in Vancouver this offseason. So in other news, Team Sweden, feel free to send the Canucks some of your jerseys, because after looking at the rest of the roster, I’m sure they don’t want to be associated with whatever Vancouver’s front office is doing.

Vancouver added Erik Gudbranson. At the cost of Jared McCann to the Florida Panthers. Actually, from the sound of it, it wasn’t a cost at all. The Canucks hate youths. Millennials ruin everything. Best of luck to you Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom.

Washington Capitals

Washington Capitals LogoThe Washington Capitals acquired Lars Eller this offseason, so that’s good, but they also signed Brett Connolly via free agency (so that’s bad). But let’s be honest, the Capitals will probably make the former 6th overall pick better than he’s ever been. Or at least playing on a line with Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom will probably help with that.

So basically, the outlook for Washington is this: they’re a good team, they’ll do well, Braden Holtby is elite and they’ll win a lot. Maybe a Cup run is in their future.

Winnipeg Jets

Unknown-4Patrik Laine was selected 2nd overall at this year’s draft by the Winnipeg Jets, Blake Wheeler was named captain and Winnipeg finally moved on from Ondrej Pavelec (by sending him to Manitoba).

What’s that? Jacob Trouba is still a RFA? He wants to be TRADED? Forget all of the good storylines going for the Jets, the Trouba dilemma overshadows everything especially after Rasmus Ristolainen re-signed with the Sabres and began the end of the stare down between Ristolainen, Hampus Lindholm and Trouba as to which RFA defenseman would make a move first. So Kevin Cheveldayoff, who are you going to trade Trouba to? Asking for a friend. No, but seriously, he doesn’t want to miss playing time.

*Honorable mention* Las Vegas _____ Knights

Honestly, somebody just name the team already. I want to start working on coming up with a uniform in NHL 17’s Franchise Mode for you, Bill Foley.

President’s Trophy Winner

If you’re Canadian, this doesn’t matter. If you’re American, good luck. Oh, you meant the President’s Trophy, as in “the team with the best record at the end of the regular season in the NHL”? Well, probably can’t go wrong with the Washington Capitals for that one, unlike their other Washington counterparts that have marred records.

1st Place in the Atlantic Division at season’s end– Florida Panthers or Tampa Bay Lightning, basically the entire state of Florida

One of the teams in Florida will win the Atlantic Division, that’s really all I know.

1st Place in the Metropolitan Division at season’s end– Pittsburgh Penguins

It’s no cakewalk, but Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury live up to that “two is better than one” mantra (sorry Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss).

1st Place in the Central Division at season’s end– Nashville Predators

It doesn’t really matter who clinches the Central Division this season because they’re still going to lose in the 2nd or 3rd round of the playoffs.

1st Place in the Pacific Division at season’s end– Los Angeles Kings

Winning the division isn’t everything. Just ask the 2015-2016 Anaheim Ducks and the late 2000s/early 2010s San Jose Sharks. Unfortunately what this means for Los Angeles is that they’ll be out in seven games in the first round.

TRADE: Toronto ships Polak and Spaling to San Jose

Early on Monday morning, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded D Roman Polak and F Nick Spaling to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for San Jose’s 2nd round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, San Jose’s 2nd round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and F Raffi Torres one week before this year’s trade deadline.

Unknown.pngPolak is a 29-year old defenseman who had one goal and 12 assists in 55 games with Toronto this season. He is in the final year of a five year contract with an AAV of $2.75 million.

The 6’1″, 236-pound native of Ostrava, Czech Republic has played in 535 career regular season NHL games with the St. Louis Blues and the Maple Leafs, posting 19-82-101 career totals and 423 career penalty minutes. Polak has a +8 rating and 56 penalty minutes thus far in the 2015-2016 season, ranks 5th in the league in hits (220) and averaged 19:44 TOI per game with Toronto.

He was drafted by the Blues in the sixth round (180th overall) of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and has represented the Czech Republic internationally, including the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, B.C.

Spaling is a 27-year old forward who was in and out of the Maple Leafs lineup this season, amassing 1-5-6 totals in 35 games. He is a pending UFA with a cap hit of $2.2 million.

He played in 414 career NHL games with the Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto, amassing 50-68-118 totals and 114 penalty minutes. This year alone, Spaling had 18 penalty minutes over his 35 game span with the Leafs.

The 6’1″, 201-pound native of Palmerston, Ontario was drafted in the third round (58th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Predators and has previously played under current San Jose Sharks head coach, Peter DeBoer, during his time in Juniors with the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

Polak bolsters San Jose’s blueline, while Spaling provides some much needed depth heading into the long run before the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With about $107,000 left in cap space, the Sharks are likely done making trades until June at the earliest, unless they come up with a massive salary dump (thereby tanking in the process).

Unknown-3Torres, a 34-year old forward, has appeared in six games this season for the San Jose Barracuda (AHL) and will spend the rest of the season on loan from Toronto with the Barracuda.

Raffi Torres was previously acquired by the Sharks from the Arizona Coyotes on April 3, 2013 and played in 16 regular season games, scoring five goals and producing six assists. Torres had served a 41 game suspension this season for an illegal hit to the head of Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg in a preseason game on October 3rd and has yet to see any NHL action.

No salary was retained in the deal.

This is now just the third trade prior the 2016 trade deadline on February 29th and all three have involved the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs are in action on Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators on home ice at the Air Canada Centre, while the San Jose Sharks square off with the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center on Monday night. Polak and Spaling may join the Sharks at the latest on Wednesday night when San Jose travels to the Pepsi Center to take on the Colorado Avalanche.

TRADE: Maple Leafs send Matthias to Colorado

 

By: Nick Lanciani

The Toronto Maple Leafs traded F Shawn Matthias to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for F Colin Smith and a 4th round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft on Sunday.

 

Unknown-1Matthias is a 28-year old forward who has played in 51 games this season for Toronto. He has 6-11-17 totals currently and signed with the Maple Leafs as a free agent on July 6, 2015.

The 6’4″, 231 pound center spent the 2014-2015 season with the Vancouver Canucks. He had a career high 18 goals and 27 points last season in 78 games. Matthias also took part in all six playoff games for Vancouver in their first round exit to the Calgary Flames, where he had a goal and an assist in the series.

The Mississauga, Ontario native has won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2008 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic and was selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round (47th overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Matthias made his NHL debut with the Florida Panthers in the 2007-2008 season and went on to amass 148 points in 459 career games with the Panthers, Canucks and Maple Leafs. He has 1-2-3 totals in 15 career playoff games.

Unknown-3Smith is a 22-year old product of the seventh round (192nd overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, where he was selected by the Colorado Avalanche. The 5’10”, 175 pound center has appeared in one career NHL game last season.

He had 13-21-34 totals in 54 games played with the San Antonio Rampage this season prior to the trade, and will likely spend time with the Toronto Marlies moving forward. Smith had 8-26-34 totals in 76 games played in the 2013-2014 season with the Lake Erie Monsters and 12-19-31 totals in 53 games last season with Lake Erie.

No salary was retained in the trade by either team. The Maple Leafs are in the process of clearing house and were able to take advantage of Colorado’s full roster to pry a prospect and a draft pick in exchange for the lack luster Shawn Matthias. Matthias is a pending UFA with a cap hit of $2.3 million and will likely fill the role of a third or fourth liner for Colorado as they embark on the push for a wild card spot for the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Western Conference.

The Avalanche are in action on Sunday night in Vancouver to take on the Canucks while the Maple Leafs resume play on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre as they welcome the Nashville Predators. It looks like Matthias will join Colorado in time for their Wednesday night matchup with the San Jose Sharks at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

 

Numbers Game: Look to the Rafters- Colorado Avalanche

By: Nick Lanciani

I continue to explore an important element of the game and what retired numbers around the league may look like in the future. While there’s only a finite set of numbers to utilize on the back of a jersey, many teams choose to retire (or honor) some numbers based on extraordinary circumstances, dedication to the organization, or legendary status.

Many thoughts went through my head in each and every consideration. Feel free to agree or disagree- I want to know what you, the fans, consider worthy when evaluating a player, their career, and whether or not their number should be retired by a franchise. I am interested in seeing what you have to say, assuming you are actually a fan of the team and/or player that you argue for or against. Drop us a line in the comments or tweet to @DtFrozenRiver using #DTFRNumbersGame.

For each team, I thought of former and current players that should have their numbers retired now or once they hang up the skates.

Colorado Avalanche LogoColorado Avalanche

Current Retired Numbers- 19 Joe Sakic, 21 Peter Forsberg, 33 Patrick Roy, 52 Adam Foote, 77 Ray Bourque

Recommended Numbers to Retire

23 Milan Hejduk

How could you not retire the record holder for the most career games as an Avalanche player’s number? Aside from having phenomenal scoring totals for the Avalanche, Hejduk played an instrumental role in the locker room, as well, alongside superstars like Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. So again, how could you not retire his number? Sometimes fan favorites and guys that are loyal to the organization, even if they weren’t the superstar attracting fans to games every night deserve credit for all they’ve done.

26 Peter Stastny

Much like how the Hurricanes should retire at least Goride Howe’s number 9 from his Whalers days, the Avalanche should set aside number 26 now that Paul Stastny, the son of Peter Stastny, is no longer on the team.

The Stastny brothers were pioneers and instrumental in attracting European talent, especially from behind the Iron Curtain, to the NHL- isn’t it time that Colorado nods recognition to their history as the Québec Nordiques? At the very least, retire Stastny’s number and we can let Michel Goulet’s number 16 (which was retired in Québec) slide for now.

Other Notes

Some day, I’m sure, we’ll see numbers 9 (Matt Duchene), 29 (Nathan MacKinnon), and 92 (Gabriel Landeskog) raised to the rafters of the Pepsi Center, but that’s still roughly ten or twelve- or fifteen- years out.