Nick and Pete take a stand on video review, predict the rest of the Conference Finals and discuss the Buffalo Sabres new head coach.
Nick, Colby and Pete assess the Philadelphia Flyers’ hiring of Alain Vigneault, the Los Angeles Kings’ hiring of Todd McLellan, where does this leave the Buffalo Sabres in their search for a head coach, as well as some of the good (CBJ and NYI sweep), bad and ugly from the ongoing First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
We’re definitely starting to get close to the Stanley Cup Playoffs now! As of the completion of last night’s games, three teams (Detroit, New Jersey and Ottawa) have already been eliminated from postseason contention, and even more will surely join that list by next week’s featured matchup.
Of course, the only way to figure out which teams those are is by playing out the schedule. Here’s this week’s NHL offerings:
|NHL SCHEDULE: March 11-17|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, March 11|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Toronto||6-2|
|7 p.m.||Columbus Blue Jackets||New York Islanders||0-2|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Minnesota||3-0|
|9 p.m.||New York Rangers||Edmonton Oilers||2-3 (OT)|
|Tuesday, March 12|
|8 p.m.||Arizona||St. Louis||3-1|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Winnipeg||5-4|
|9 p.m.||New Jersey||Calgary||4-9|
|Wednesday, March 13|
|9:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Edmonton||6-3|
|10 p.m.||New York Rangers||Vancouver Canucks||1-4|
|Thursday, March 14|
|7 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||New York Islanders||1-2|
|7:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Ottawa||0-2|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Detroit||5-4|
|10:30 p.m.||Nashville||Los Angeles||3-1|
|10:30 p.m.||Florida||San Jose||4-2|
|Friday, March 15|
|9 p.m.||New York Rangers||Calgary Flames||1-5|
|10 p.m.||New Jersey||Vancouver||3-2 (SO)|
|Saturday, March 16|
|1 p.m.||St. Louis||Pittsburgh||NHLN, TVAS|
|1 p.m.||New York Islanders||Detroit Red Wings|
|4 p.m.||Florida||Los Angeles|
|7 p.m.||Chicago||Montréal||CITY, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||Ottawa||CBC, SN1, TVAS2|
|7 p.m.||Washington||Tampa Bay||NHLN|
|8 p.m.||New York Rangers||Minnesota Wild|
|10 p.m.||Edmonton Oilers||Arizona Coyotes||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1|
|10:30 p.m.||Nashville||San Jose||ESPN+|
|Sunday, March 17|
|3 p.m.||New Jersey||Colorado||SN1|
|5 p.m.||St. Louis||Buffalo||NHLN|
|6 p.m.||New York Islanders||Minnesota Wild||ESPN+|
|7:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Pittsburgh||NBCSN, TVAS|
Another fun week of NHL action, no?
After all, we’ve been treated to a little bit of rivalry action already when the Capitals visited Pittsburgh and the Red Wings headed to Montréal on Tuesday, not to mention Wednesday’s Original Six contest featuring Chicago at Toronto.
The hatred continued Thursday when the Caps headed to the City of Brotherly Love and will resume today with the Hawks in Montréal and the Battle of Ontario. Finally, the Battle of the Keystone State will clean up this week’s derby action tomorrow night.
We were also treated to more than a few playoff rematches from last season, though it must be asked if they’re all that exciting anymore since we’re so close to this year’s postseason.
It’s all about the Capitals and Penguins in that department this week, starting with their Tuesday night tilt in a rematch of the Eastern Semifinals. Washington then heads to Tampa tonight in a rematch of the Eastern Finals, while the Pens host Philly tomorrow in a rematch of the First Round.
Finally, this week’s homecoming king is none other than LW Antoine Roussel, who spent the first six seasons of his NHL career in Dallas before signing with the Canucks this offseason. He’ll play his first-ever road game at American Airlines Center tomorrow.
Players also making important returns this week include F Jacob de La Rose (he was a second-round pick by the Habs in 2013) and C Ryan O’Reilly (he spent three seasons with the Sabres before being traded to St. Louis this offseason).
However, we can throw all of this information out of the window, as I’m instead choosing to feature the tilt fellow DtFR writer Colby Kephart and I are taking this evening featuring his beloved Sabres taking on the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes.
The growing pains for the 30-31-9 Buffalo Sabres have been all too real this season, but the fact that they’re having them should mean the club is growing, right?
Of course, we all remember the Sabres’ unbelievable 10-game winning streak they experienced throughout almost the entire month of November.
However, that winning run is certainly in the rear-view mirror nowadays, as Buffalo is currently riding a six-game losing skid (0-5-1) and boasts a lowly 2-10-2 record in its last 14 outings. Making matters even worse, the Sabres’ attack has been shutout for three-straight games, clocking in at 192:40 since their last non-shootout goal.
As might be indicated by a shutout streak of that magnitude, offense has been the Sabres’ biggest struggle of late. That’s not to say the 3.79 goals or 35.07 shots they’re allowing on average since February 15 is OK (those stats respectively rank third and fourth-worst in the NHL in that time), but the Sabres’ 2.07 goals per game in the past month ranks second-worst in the league and simply must improve to something closer to their 2.71 season average if they want to end their campaign on a positive note.
In the Sabres’ defense, they have been without their captain, C Jack Eichel, while he’s been suspended for the last two games for an illegal hit to F Carl Soderberg‘s head. That being said, even his 7-4-11 production in his past 12 outings is still slightly off his expected pace. On the season, he’s managed 25-47-72 points in 65 games and looks to be on pace for his first season averaging more than a point per game.
With his return to the ice, Head Coach Phil Housley will have high expectations that his club’s top line and first power play unit should rediscover its groove. If that proves to be the case, F Jeff Skinner (36-22-58 on the season, 2-5-7 since February 15) and RW Jason Pominville (15-13-28 on the season, 2-3-5 in his last 14 appearances) should see their numbers get back on pace as well.
You’re hard pressed to find a hotter team in the NHL right now than the 38-26-7 Carolina Hurricanes, the Eastern Conference’s current first wild card.
Despite losing last night in Columbus 3-0, Carolina has rattled off an impressive 16-5-2 record in its past 23 outings and is drawing ever nearer to ending its nine-year playoff drought by qualifying for the postseason for the sixth time in Hurricanes history (14th if the Hartford Whalers’ eight Stanley Cup Playoff appearances are included).
While the Canes are certainly finding success in almost every facet of the game during this run, their most impressive strength, at least in my opinion, has been that of their defense. A point of emphasis even before Rod Brind’Amour took over head coaching responsibilities, Carolina has allowed an average of only 28.61 shots against per game since January 20, the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the league in that time.
Leading the defensive charge for the Hurricanes during this run has been none other than D Calvin de Haan (2.5 hits per game in his last 20 appearances) and D Jaccob Slavin (1.7 blocks per game and 21 takeaways since January 20).
Unfortunately, de Haan suffered an eye injury in Colorado on Monday and will likely remain out of the lineup this evening. Taking up de Haan’s role as the rough-‘n’-tough blueliner has been Slavin’s linemate, D Dougie Hamilton, who’s averaged two hits per game since January 20.
Of course, the person in PNC Arena most appreciative of that incredible defensive effort is always 17-8-2 G Curtis McElhinney, who’s all but ensured of this evening’s start since 18-13-3 G Petr Mrazek was in net last night in Ohio. McElhinney boasts a .914 save percentage and 2.52 GAA for the season, and that’s almost the exact form he’s shown for his past nine starts to add his last six wins (his GAA is a 2.54 for his last nine outings, two-hundredths of a goal worse than his season mark).
Especially after last night’s poor outing, it’s hard to pick against the Hurricanes this evening. Having already won their first two meetings with the Sabres this season, Carolina will have its sights set on completing the season sweep and staying ahead of Columbus and Montréal in the playoff race.
That being said, just because the Canes have won the last two meetings doesn’t mean they were easy victories. Both tilts ended with only one goal separating the winner and loser, including their last meeting on February 7 in Buffalo that required overtime.
Being the better rested team that is regaining its captain, the Sabres will surely show their teeth this evening, but Carolina should still escape with two points.
Now that all the bye weeks are behind us, the next big event on the NHL calendar is the trade deadline at the end of the month. The activity leading up to that date will be majorly influenced by the next couple weeks’ games, including these tilts:
|NHL SCHEDULE: February 4-10|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, February 4|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles Kings||New York Rangers||4-3 (OT)|
|Tuesday, February 5|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Boston Bruins||1-3|
|7 p.m.||Minnesota||Buffalo||4-5 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Florida||3-2|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||New Jersey||5-1|
|7:30 p.m.||Vegas||Tampa Bay||3-2 (SO)|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Winnipeg||3-2 (OT)|
|Wednesday, February 6|
|8 p.m.||Boston Bruins||New York Rangers||3-4 (SO)|
|Thursday, February 7|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||New Jersey Devils|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||Philadelphia|
|7:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||Montréal||RDS, TSN2|
|7:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Tampa Bay|
|9 p.m.||San Jose||Calgary||ESPN+, SN1|
|Friday, February 8|
|8 p.m.||Carolina Hurricanes||New York Rangers||NHLN, SN|
|Saturday, February 9|
|1 p.m.||Los Angeles||Boston|
|1 p.m.||Minnesota||New Jersey|
|1 p.m.||Colorado Avalanche||New York Islanders|
|2 p.m.||Nashville||St. Louis|
|2 p.m.||Winnipeg Jets||Ottawa Senators||CBC, SN, SN1, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Edmonton||SN, SN360|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||Montréal Canadiens||CBC, CITY, SN1, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Tampa Bay||NHLN|
|10 p.m.||Calgary Flames||Vancouver Canucks||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|Sunday, February 10|
|12:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Nashville||NBC, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Colorado||Boston||SN1, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Carolina||New Jersey|
|3 p.m.||Minnesota Wild||New York Islanders|
|6 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Florida|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||New York Rangers||NBCSN, SN, TVAS|
This week has more than its fair share of derbies with seven on the schedule spread across four days. First up are both of Wednesday’s tilts (the Battle of Ontario and an Original Six tilt between the Bruins and Rangers), followed this evening by Vancouver visiting Chicago (once a rivalry, always a rivalry). Toronto keeps the Original Six fever going into the weekend when it visits Montréal, then continues the trend into Sunday by visiting the Rangers. Joining the Leafs and Blueshirts in rivalry action to close the week will be Tampa Bay and Florida contesting another round of the Governor’s Cup.
In the player homecoming category, there was none bigger than F Jay Beagle‘s trip back to the District of Columbia on Tuesday. Beagle spent 10 seasons with the Caps, departing for the Pacific Northwest after winning the Stanley Cup last summer.
Also making major returns are G Philipp Grubauer and F Nick Bjugstad, both of whom spent six seasons with the Capitals and Panthers, respectively. These homecomings are especially significant for both, as Grubauer will be collecting his Stanley Cup ring and Bjugstad will probably be snagging some more clothes and household items for his new apartment in the Steel City after being traded there Friday.
However, to keep with tradition, let’s totally disregard those tilts and focus on a totally different fixture – specifically, the one featuring F Jeff Skinner taking on his former team.
Boasting a 4-1-1 record in their past six games (including a dominant 4-0 shutout win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday), the 26-21-6 Carolina Hurricanes have pulled within three points of the East’s second wild card with 29 games to play.
After more than half the season has gone by, there’s no surprises any more in the Canes’ style: they play an upbeat style of offense that stresses shots on goal, hoping to wear down opposing goaltenders simply by the mass volume of stops they have to make.
While that strategy has had varied levels of success throughout the campaign, Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour‘s crew has certainly been making magic lately, as they’ve been led by their offense averaging 4.33 goals per game during this run – the second-best in the entire NHL since January 20.
Leading that charge is none other than the 35th-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, F Sebastian Aho. With 3-6-9 totals in his last six appearances, he’s continued his insane scoring pace to elevate his season marks to 24-36-60 in 53 appearances, putting him only five points away from matching last season’s career-highs in goals and points.
Joining Aho in averaging at least a point per game during this six-game run are F Teuvo Teravainen (2-5-7), D Jaccob Slavin (0-7-7) and new addition W Nino Niederreiter (5-1-6). With Niederreiter’s goal-scoring showing up in Raleigh on January 18, perhaps it’s no mere coincidence the offense has taken off and the Hurricanes are enjoying more of their patented “Carolina Surge” celebrations. Of course, the Canes might be just as surprised with Niederreiter’s success as he is – after all, he only scored nine goals in 46 games with the Wild this season. Since donning Carolina red, he’s already lit the lamp five times in only seven appearances.
But the Hurricanes haven’t been just another pretty offense during this winning run. They’ve also played incredibly well on the defensive end too.
Thanks to the excellent play of late by D Justin Faulk (two blocks per game since January 20) and W Micheal Ferland (3.5 hits per game in his last four outings), the Canes have also boasted the league’s third-best defense as measured by shots against per game, as they’ve allowed only 25.33 per game during this six-game span.
And not surprisingly, that solid defensive work has translated incredibly to the scoreboard. Carolina has allowed only 2.5 goals against per game during this run, the (t)10th-best in the league since January 20. While 11-11-3 G Petr Mrazek‘s (.894 save percentage and 2.83 GAA on the season) stats have been far from incredible during this stretch – he’s actually performed below his already below-average season marks, managing an .874 save percentage and 3.28 GAA behind this defense – the fact that he’s earned five of a possible eight points in his last four appearances indicates he’s doing enough to help the Canes win.
With Carolina heading to Manhattan tomorrow to take on a less offensively-talented Rangers team, it seems likely Mrazek will be in net tonight. Should Brind’Amour instead give 12-6-1 G Curtis McElhinney the nod, he’ll hope to improve on his .918 season save percentage and corresponding 2.37 GAA.
Speaking of New York-based teams, the 26-20-6 Buffalo Sabres also find themselves trailing eighth-place Columbus by three points, but they currently lead the Hurricanes in the standings by virtue of playing one fewer game so far this campaign.
Unfortunately for the Sabres, that is where the positive marks end for a moment, as they’ve had the misfortune of stumbling into a 3-6-0 rut over their past nine games.
The biggest reason for this slump? Struggling goaltending.
Due in large part to an offense that is providing only three goals per game (tied for 13th-fewest in the NHL since January 11) and a defense yielding 31.11 shots against per game (15th-worst in the league in their past nine outings) during this stretch, 11-5-3 G Linus Ullmark has been forced to shoulder the brunt of the Sabres’ mistakes for the past few weeks and has struggled mightily under the pressure.
Despite owning a solid .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA for the season, Ullmark’s stats in his last seven appearances (of which only five were starts, meaning 15-15-3 G Carter Hutton is struggling even more than Ullmark) have showcased just how much Buffalo has been struggling in the middle of the season. Ullmark has only an .882 save percentage and 3.53 GAA in these games, a far cry from the performance Head Coach Phil Housley has come to expect.
Hutton has an even worse .832 save percentage and 5.59 GAA in his last four starts (of which he’s only won one), so I’d be surprised if the 33-year-old is in net tonight against the Canes’ rolling offense.
Regardless of who’s in net, I have a hard time seeing the Sabres breaking out of their funk against the red-hot Hurricanes. With everything coming up Carolina’s way in it’s last few outings, the Canes should escape the Queen City with two more points in their possession.
For the first time since Oct. 4-14th (2018), the Boston Bruins are on a four-game winning streak thanks to their, 2-1, victory over the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden on Saturday night.
Chris Wagner opened the game’s scoring for Boston in the first period before David Backes‘ eventual defactogame winning goal in the second frame, while Tuukka Rask (11-8-2 record, 2.55 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 21 games played) made 31 saves on 32 shots against (.969 SV%) in the win.
Rasmus Ristolainen had Buffalo’s only goal with 2:38 remaining in regulation.
Linus Ullmark (9-2-3, 2.69 GAA, .924 SV% in 15 GP) turned aside 39 out of 41 shots faced for a .951 SV% in the loss for the Sabres.
Boston improved to 24-14-4 (52 points) on the season and remained in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division, while Buffalo fell to 22-14-6 (50 points) on the season and remained in 4th place in the Atlantic.
The B’s take on the Wild next Tuesday at home, while the Sabres head back to KeyBank Center to face the New Jersey Devils.
Minnesota comes to Boston on the second night of back-to-back road games with a stop in Montreal to face the Canadiens on Monday.
Saturday night was the final game of the regular season between the Bruins and the Sabres with Boston winning the season series, 2-1-1, and outscoring Buffalo, 11-7.
Jack Eichel (5-6–11 totals in 13 career games against the Bruins) was out of Buffalo’s lineup for the second straight game due to his ongoing injury (upper body).
Sabres head coach, Phil Housley, did not provide an update on when his captain would return, though he was scheduled to miss at least two games (Thursday against the Florida Panthers and Saturday in Boston).
Cassidy inserted Backes on the second line to the right side of Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci, while keeping his first and fourth lines the same.
Danton Heinen, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Ryan Donato were reunited on the third line with their stellar, youth-infused, chemistry that yielded a couple quality scoring chances, but nothing on the scoresheet Saturday night.
Boston’s defensive pairings were left untouched with Rask getting the start in net over Jaroslav Halak.
About 20 seconds into the first period, Wagner thought he had scored the game’s first goal after following up on a rebound and burying the puck in the back of the largely open net as Ullmark was pulled out of position.
Wagner’s goal was immediately waved off by the officials and deemed “no goal” on account of Sean Kuraly falling and barreling into Ullmark as Ullmark was pushing away from the center of the crease to deny Kuraly’s initial shot that generated the rebound for Wagner to cash in on in the first place.
Cassidy used his coach’s challenge for further review, but the call on the ice was confirmed and the score remained, 0-0, with the Bruins losing their timeout less than half-a-minute into the game.
Moments later, Remi Elie was penalized for interference at 6:32, sending Boston on their first power play of the night.
The B’s were not able to generate a successful offense on the skater advantage and the Sabres killed off Elie’s minor.
Past the halfway mark of the first period, Wagner (5) scored a goal that actually counted this time after Rasmus Dahlin turned the puck over to Noel Acciari and Acciari slid the puck to Wagner for the twine seeking missile.
Acciari (2) had the only assist on Wagner’s goal at 10:10 of the first period and the Bruins led, 1-0.
The goal was Wagner’s first in his first game since his grandfather’s passing, leaving some comfort for the Boston forward in the face of such a tremendous loss outside of the game.
Through one period of play, the B’s led, 1-0, and held an advantage in shots on goal, 13-10. The Sabres entered the first intermission with the lead in takeaways (7-3) and hits (16-10), while the Bruins led in face-off win percentage (68-32).
Both teams had three blocked shots aside and seven giveaways each after 20 minutes of play and Boston was 0/1 on the power play.
A couple minutes into the second period, Backes (4) tallied a goal to make it, 2-0, Bruins on a rush the other way after Rask stopped a quality chance by Buffalo.
Backes sniped his shot past Ullmark’s glove side and rang the rear crossbar of the net at 2:00 of the second frame. Rask (1) had the only assist on the goal, giving the Bruins goaltending tandem four assists on the season.
After 40 minutes of play, Boston led by two goals and in shots on goal, 28-20, while the Sabres led in blocked shots (9-7), takeaways (18-8) and hits (22-21).
The B’s also led in face-off win% (63-37) heading into the dressing room for the second intermission, while both teams had eight giveaways each.
Buffalo did not convert on the skater advantage.
Moments later, Jake McCabe tripped Donato and Boston went back on the power play for the second time of the night at 12:39 of the third period. The B’s did not capitalize on the 5-on-4 advantage.
Late in the final frame, Rasmus Ristolainen (5) put a shot past Rask, high on the short-side, that was unassisted at 17:22 to make it a one-goal game and put the Sabres on the scoreboard, 2-1.
With about 1:44 remaining in regulation, Housley pulled Ullmark for an extra attacker, but it was too little too late– even after Buffalo used their only timeout after a stoppage with 1:17 left in the game.
The Sabres failed to register a shot on goal after Ristolainen’s goal as time expired and the Bruins won, 2-1.
Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal (41-31) and face-off win% (56-44), while Buffalo ended the night leading in giveaways (16-8) and hits (32-26). Both teams had 11 blocked shots.
Buffalo went 0/1 on the skater advantage and Boston finished 0/2 on the power play Saturday night.
The B’s improved to 14-3-2 when scoring first this season and take on the Wild on Tuesday at TD Garden before hosting the Washington Capitals next Thursday, then traveling to Scotiabank Arena for a one-game road trip to visit the Toronto Maple Leafs next Saturday.
Happy New Year!
It’s time to figure out whether or not your team has a legitimate chance of winning the Stanley Cup, making the playoffs, being a seller at the trade deadline or a basement dwelling rebuilder in desperate need of anything but what is happening right now.
Teams have begun to reach the official halfway point in the regular season (41 games played out of an 82-game schedule) as the calendar flips from 2018 to 2019.
Here’s a glance at the latest forecast based on how the league standings were through December 31, 2018.
Keeping in mind, there’s no guarantees with any forecast, but rather general trends and “educated” guesses. It’s not always about the exact number of points expected on the season. Sometimes the focus is on the spread or each team’s positioning in the standings.
There’s always context. Plus, nothing’s impossible until it’s mathematically impossible.
So let’s take a look around the league and figure out the future– well, rest of this season, at least.
Projected Standings After Three Months
- p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 125 points (40 GP entering Jan. 1st)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 111 points (39 GP)
- x-Boston Bruins, 98 points (39 GP)
- wc2-Montreal Canadiens, 97 points (40 GP)
- Buffalo Sabres, 96 points (40 GP)
- Florida Panthers, 84 points (38 GP)
- Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (41 GP)
- Ottawa Senators, 72 points (40 GP)
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the dominant team in the NHL right now. There’s no other comparison. They’re in a league of their own.
Though the Toronto Maple Leafs have surged into one of the league’s most prominent teams this season, they’re no match for the Lightning in the regular season standings Atlantic Division race.
The postseason might be another story– too bad we won’t get to see these teams meet up in the Eastern Conference Final with the current playoff format.
For the Boston Bruins, a lackluster 7-7-0 month of December has taken a toll on their outlook. Sure, winning five out of their last seven games is a good sign and all, but missed opportunities and blown chances regardless of the injury status of many of their players this season has brought them back to Earth this season.
Regression in hockey, however, is to be expected– even for teams that outperformed expectations. Last season was just that– exceeded expectations in the regular season for Boston.
Though the Buffalo Sabres have slumped a bit in the last month, the Montreal Canadiens have solidified themselves as a potential spoiler in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If it’s not them, it’s definitely Buffalo for sure.
The race for the Eastern Conference wild card spots should come down to three teams– Buffalo, Montreal and the New York Islanders (unless the Islanders snag a divisional spot in the Metropolitan Divsion– more on that later).
Look, as good as some players on the Florida Panthers are, it’s not happening this year.
And for all the hype regarding the Detroit Red Wings early in the season? Yeah, it’s the same as last year. They’re not doing so hot either.
There’s some good news if you’re an Ottawa Senators fan– wait, they traded their 2019 1st round pick in the draft to the Colorado Avalanche as part of the three-team Matt Duchene trade and didn’t protect it (because they chose to protect 2018’s 1st round pick and offer up 2019’s instead)? Oh. Never mind.
- y-Washington Capitals, 109 points (38 GP)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 103 points (39 GP)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 102 points (39 GP)
- wc1-New York Islanders, 98 points (38 GP)
- New York Rangers, 90 points (38 GP)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 80 points (38 GP)
- New Jersey Devils, 80 points (38 GP)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 78 points (38 GP)
As we get closer to “the stretch” things are heating up in the Metropolitan Division, which might not be as full of garbage as once thought earlier in the year.
For now, the Washington Capitals appear to be in a serious “defend the castle” mood. They’re the defending champions and they’re pretty hard to beat.
But the Pittsburgh Penguins are surging. The Pens are on a seven-game winning streak and they’re outscoring their opponents, 28-9, during that span.
What’s necessary to take into account in the divisional spots in the Metropolitan Division is not that the Capitals should lead the way, but rather, that Washington only has a six-point lead in the current forecast over the Penguins– and seven points over the Columbus Blue Jackets (who somehow find themselves in the “top dog” conversation?)– therefore, anything is up for grabs.
If the Islanders don’t scratch and claw their way into a divisional spot, they’ll be a wild card team.
It’s not a completely lost season for the New York Rangers, but it’s not one that’ll end with a playoff berth either.
The same could almost be said for the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils, except one’s a little more inconsistent (and worse off), while the other’s just worse.
Sure, the Devils are nowhere to be found this season, but Mackenzie Blackwood could change that outlook next year.
And if Carter Hart‘s ready to take on the full-time role of starting netminder for the Philadelphia Flyers that probably wouldn’t do much for them this season, but it’s promising moving forward.
This year’s Flyers team just goes to show that the problem’s beyond a GM and coaching change, so don’t be surprised to see some roster turnover.
- z-Winnipeg Jets, 107 points (39 GP)
- x-Nashville Predators, 96 points (40 GP)
- x-Colorado Avalanche, 91 points (40 GP)
- wc2-Dallas Stars, 89 points (40 GP)
- Minnesota Wild, 87 points (38 GP)
- St. Louis Blues, 81 points (37 GP)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 77 points (41 GP)
The Winnipeg Jets are one of two teams in serious contention for the Western Conference regular season title– and the Nashville Predators won’t even get to raise a banner next season for it.
Nashville’s been on shaky ground for the last month and, as a result, it shows in the latest forecast. Inadequacy ruptures standards or expectations.
Anyway, between Winnipeg and the Calgary Flames one of those teams will be the best in the West at the end of the regular season.
It says something as a whole about the Central Division when the Colorado Avalanche are currently forecasted to slip into a divisional spot in the postseason with 91 points in the standings.
Usually about 95 points puts you within the wild card range and anything 98 or above brings you into serious contention for a divisional berth.
What all of this means is there’s a lot of uncertainty from the Avs, Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild in terms of where they end up, ultimately.
All three teams have been all over the place– at times– this season.
Fear not, though, they’re nothing like the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Nothing makes sense in St. Louis, short of obvious locker room problems and a lack of leadership.
Whereas, in Chicago, the game plan was already reset to “longterm” last season by default (having finished last in the division). Jeremy Colliton‘s job security is safe for now.
There weren’t high expectations coming into the season for the Blackhawks and there weren’t immediate expectations for Colliton in their transition from Joel Quenneville to their 33-year-old head coach.
Essentially, firing Quenneville when they did was an easy way out of having to make things more awkward(?) with a rebuild, but it kind of was anyway given when they did it.
At least they’re not their rivals in St. Louis– let alone the Los Angeles Kings– where expectations were high after reaping some rewards in the offseason.
- y-Calgary Flames, 103 points (40 GP)
- x-Vegas Golden Knights, 100 points (42 GP)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 98 points (41 GP)
- wc1-Anaheim Ducks, 92 points (41 GP)
- Vancouver Canucks, 83 points (42 GP)
- Edmonton Oilers, 82 points (39 GP)
- Arizona Coyotes, 76 points (39 GP)
- Los Angeles Kings, 75 points (40 GP)
The Flames are red hot. Can they make 2019 more like 1989 and less like 2004? Does having a goaltender even matter any more?
Luck’s starting to turn in Vegas as the Golden Knights have come alive and look to make a serious claim at potentially knocking Calgary off from the Pacific Division lead– if they can catch them first.
Despite their ups and downs, the San Jose Sharks are still a divisional playoff berth kind of team. Expect them to be out of the playoffs before the Western Conference Final though. Surely Martin Jones‘ below average season has to catch up to him at some point, regardless of scoring power.
With no real competition below them, the Anaheim Ducks are a wild card team that will likely continue to live in the First Round elimination hell until John Gibson single handedly plays every position for the club.
Everyone said Ken Hitchcock would turn around the Edmonton Oilers and was dancing in the streets when his first half-dozen games brought the Oilers back into being relevant.
Well, everyone, except me. Hitchcock’s shtick isn’t fit for the contemporary NHL anymore and his last (and only) Cup win came 20 years ago.
The Arizona Coyotes haven’t panned out and it’s not the numbers that have been lying to them. Dylan Strome, their 3rd overall pick in 2015, didn’t develop as planned– whether through the fault of the Coyotes or not– and they traded him.
That draft was four years ago and Mitch Marner was selected after Strome by the Maple Leafs. Hindsight is 20/20, but still.
If it’s any consolation, Mikko Rantanen was selected by Colorado, 10th overall, so Carolina, New Jersey, Philly, Columbus and San Jose all missed out on one of the current leaders in scoring.
Scouting’s not Arizona’s strong-suit from year-to-year, or rather, asset management as a whole it’s just… …not there.
Finally, Los Angeles, the Grim Reaper’s at the door. Bring out your dead (Cup hopes and dreams for 2019). It’s time to rebuild.
Now that the holiday break has come and gone, it’s time to get back into some hockey. Let’s take a gander at all the tilts the NHL has crammed into four days this week.
|NHL SCHEDULE: December 24-30|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, December 24|
|No Games Scheduled – Christmas Eve|
|Tuesday, December 25|
|No Games Scheduled – Christmas|
|Wednesday, December 26|
|No Games Scheduled – Boxing Day|
|Thursday, December 27|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Boston||5-2|
|7 p.m.||Columbus Blue Jackets||New York Rangers||4-3 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Tampa Bay||5-6 (OT)|
|8 p.m.||Buffalo||St. Louis||1-4|
|10:30 p.m.||Arizona||Los Angeles||1-2|
|10:30 p.m.||Anaheim||San Jose||2-4|
|Friday, December 28|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||Florida||RDS, TSN2|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa Senators||New York Islanders||RDS2|
|Saturday, December 29|
|1 p.m.||Carolina||New Jersey||SN|
|4 p.m.||Vegas||Los Angeles||SN1|
|4 p.m.||San Jose||Edmonton|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Toronto Maple Leafs||CBC, ESPN+, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Washington||Ottawa||CITY, SN360|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||Tampa Bay||SN, TVAS|
|8 p.m.||Pittsburgh||St. Louis|
|8 p.m.||New York Rangers||Nashville Predators||ESPN+|
|10 p.m.||Vancouver Canucks||Calgary Flames||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|Sunday, December 30|
|8 p.m.||Vegas||Arizona||ESPN+, SN, TVAS|
Rivalries on tap this week included Detroit at Pittsburgh, Calgary at Winnipeg, Minnesota at Chicago and Anaheim at San Jose on Thursday; Boston at Buffalo and Vancouver at Calgary today and Vegas at Arizona tomorrow.
We also got the pleasure of taking in a few playoff rematches from this spring, including the previously mentioned Anaheim at San Jose tilt Thursday night, as well as Minnesota at Winnipeg and Vegas at Los Angeles on this evening.
Finally, a few tilts involved players making homecoming trips to former longtime homes. Now a member of the Sabres after an offseason trade, F Vladimir Sobotka made his first trip back to St. Louis on Thursday, while F Leo Komarov returned to Toronto – his former home of five seasons – today.
Of all of those, the showdown I’m most interested in is taking place in the Queen City. The Bruins are the healthiest they’ve been all season, while the Sabres are looking to once again regain the form that earned them a 10-game winning streak through much of November.
Though the 20-14-4 Boston Bruins can currently lay claim to the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, they are far from comfortable or safe in that position considering the New York Islanders are only two points behind them in the standings with two games in hand.
However, playing in the Bruins’ favor is their previously mentioned return to good health. With the exception of D Urho Vaakanainen, Boston’s 2017 first-round pick who has a whopping two NHL appearances to his credit, D Charlie McAvoy and LW Brad Marchand, the Bruins have almost achieved full health once again – albeit with F David Backes taking in tonight’s tilt and the next two as well from the press box after he was suspended for a high hit against New Jersey’s F Blake Coleman on Thursday.
Yes, Boston fans, you did the math correctly: Backes will be unavailable for New Year’s Day’s Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium, nor the tough matchup with the Flames on Thursday.
Of course, there’s always the question of just how much he’ll be missed. He’s been involved in all of the Bruins’ last seven games in which they’ve posted a 3-4-0 record, contributing only four assists and a -5 rating in those outings.
Now, it might sound like I’m piling on Backes and implying that he does more harm than good when he’s on the ice. While it would certainly be a stretch to say he’d be the best player in white this evening if he were dressing, there’s no doubting the former captain’s defensive contributions. He’s top eight among Bruins forwards since December 14 in hits per game, blocks per game and takeaways (for those wondering, the forwards leading those stats in that time frame are F Noel Acciari [3.8 hits per game], F Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson [1.3 blocks per game] and Marchand [eight takeaways]).
Instead, what has been letting Boston down during its last seven games is clearly some sub-par goaltending. Despite a defense that has yielded only 28.86 shots against in its last seven showings (a mark that’s sixth-best in the NHL in that time), neither 12-6-2 G Jaroslav Halak nor 8-8-2 G Tuukka Rask – tonight’s starter – has looked all that impressive.
It goes without saying that Rask is having the worst season of his career this year. His .911 season save percentage and 2.72 GAA are both on pace to be the worst marks of his professional career (barring, of course, his four-game 2007-08 campaign). Making matters even more dreadful for the Bruins’ faithful, Rask’s last two starts have been even more alarming, as he boasts only an .873 save percentage and 4.15 GAA in those outings.
It probably goes without saying, but he lost both of those games (4-2 against Buffalo and 5-3 at Carolina).
With a 21-12-5 record, the Buffalo Sabres have settled into third place in the Atlantic Division, though just like Boston, there’s not many points separating them from teams trying to chase them down. Montréal trails the Sabres by only two points, while the Bruins could pull within a point of Buffalo with a win tonight.
Much of the reason the Sabres are starting to fall back to Earth is their playing .500 hockey of late. Over Buffalo’s last eight games, it has managed only a 4-3-1 record, losing ground on the Maple Leafs in the division standings during Toronto’s five-game winning streak.
If anyone is to blame for Buffalo’s inconsistencies of late, it’s certainly not 8-1-3 G Linus Ullmark. He’s managed a solid .922 save percentage and 2.71 GAA for the entire season, but he’s been even better in his last three starts, winning all three and posting an impressive .953 save percentage and 1.65 GAA.
Making those numbers even more impressive, he hasn’t had the luxury of playing behind one of the league’s best defenses. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. In the Sabres’ last eight games, they’ve allowed 32.75 shots against per game, the 10th-worst mark in the NHL since December 11.
It is unclear if Ullmark or 13-11-2 G Carter Hutton will be in net tonight, but I would argue that it is this decision that will ultimately determine the outcome of this tilt. Just like Rask, Hutton has not looked particularly good lately, as he has earned only three points in his last five starts due to an average .91 save percentage and 2.78 GAA in those showings (compared to his .916 save percentage and 2.64 GAA for the season).
Should Hutton get the start, I am confident the Bruins’ offense, which has averaged 3.29 goals per game in their past eight showings, should be strong enough to earn the road victory. However, if Head Coach Phil Housley gives the nod to Ullmark, he has proven to me that he is more than able to lead the Sabres to two points.
Nick and Connor review the Vegas Golden Knights draft history, praise Carter Hart’s NHL debut, talk about Scott Gordon’s introduction as interim head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, as well as the Patrik Berglund situation, Whalers Night and a teaser 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship preview.
*Editor’s note: Paris is hosting the 2024 Summer Games and Los Angeles is hosting the 2028 Summer Games. The 2026 and 2030 Winter Games host cities have yet to be selected.