Tag Archives: Polak

Game of the week: October 29-November 4

As the calendar flips from October to November, the NHL’s powers are beginning to flex their muscles while the league’s less-talented members are already counting the days until April 6.

Some of that can be seen in the games already played this week (take a look at what a good Devils team suffered in its trip to Tampa), while there’s more than a few games coming up in the remaining four days that will help us better predict some teams’ playoff potentials.

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 29-November 4
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 29
7 p.m. Calgary Toronto 3-1
10 p.m. Minnesota Vancouver 2-5
Tuesday, October 30
7 p.m. Calgary Buffalo 2-1 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3
7 p.m. Boston Carolina 3-2
7 p.m. Detroit Columbus 5-3
7:30 p.m. Dallas Montréal 4-1
7:30 p.m. New Jersey Tampa Bay 3-8
8 p.m. Vegas Nashville 1-4
9 p.m. Minnesota Edmonton 4-3
10 p.m. Ottawa Arizona 1-5
10 p.m. Philadelphia Anaheim 3-2
10:30 p.m. New York Rangers San Jose Sharks 4-3 (SO)
Wednesday, October 31
10 p.m. Chicago Vancouver 2-4
Thursday, November 1
2 p.m. Winnipeg Florida NBCSN
7 p.m. Dallas Toronto
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins New York Islanders SN360
7:30 p.m. Washington Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Ottawa RDS2
7:30 p.m. New Jersey Detroit
7:30 p.m. Nashville Tampa Bay
8 p.m. Vegas St. Louis
9 p.m. Colorado Calgary SN1
9 p.m. Chicago Edmonton
10 p.m. New York Rangers Anaheim Ducks
10:30 p.m. Philadelphia Los Angeles
10:30 p.m. Columbus San Jose
Friday, November 2
2 p.m. Florida Winnipeg NHLN
10 p.m. Colorado Vancouver NHLN
10 p.m. Carolina Arizona
saturday, November 3
2 p.m. Ottawa Buffalo RDS
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Montréal CITY, SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Edmonton Detroit SN
7 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Islanders
7 p.m. Toronto Pittsburgh CBC, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Dallas Washington
8 p.m. Minnesota St. Louis
8 p.m. Boston Nashville
10 p.m. Carolina Vegas
10 p.m. Chicago Blackhawks Calgary Flames CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
10:30 p.m. Columbus Los Angeles
10:30 p.m. Philadelphia San Jose
SunDay, November 4
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Ottawa NHLN, SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Buffalo Sabres New York Rangers
9 p.m. Columbus Anaheim

As usual, there’s more than a few tilts that caught my attention on this week’s slate. I’m always a big fan of rivalries (New York at Pittsburgh, Chicago at Vancouver, Pittsburgh at New York, Buffalo at Ottawa and Ottawa at Buffalo) and players returning to their former home arenas (W Tom Kuhnhackl and F Joakim Nordstrom made their first trips back to Pittsburgh and Carolina, respectively, on Tuesday, while D Roman Polak is heading back to Toronto tonight), but we also get the added benefits of this year’s NHL Global Series between Florida and Winnipeg in Finland as well as an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal rematch between New Jersey and Tampa Bay.

However, with all of that being said, there’s another huge matchup happening this Thursday that rivals last week’s Toronto-Winnipeg showdown.

The reigning regular season conference champions are going at it tonight, so grab your popcorn and settle in to enjoy a great game!

Wait, what? This showdown isn’t on national T.V. in either Canada or the States, but a game between two one-win NFL teams is?

This is lunacy.

I’m not saying to stream this tilt by any means necessary, but I’m not saying not to stream this tilt by any means necessary.

Regardless of the legality of your decision, it’s a choice you certainly won’t regret as both the Preds and Bolts are off to hot starts this season, surely inspired at least somewhat by dreams left unfulfilled during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both were their respective conferences’ No. 1 seeds this spring, but they both got knocked off on home ice in a winner-take-all Game 7 (the Predators fell to Winnipeg in the Second Round, while Tampa lost to Washington in the Eastern Conference Final).

At least Smashville got the Presidents’ Trophy, right? Not to mention its prestigious “Regular Season Western Conference Champions” banner.

Sorry, that’s the last time I’ll point out the Predators’ unprecedented award that should probably be penalized for excessive celebration.

Hopefully.

Just as they did last season, the 9-3-0 Predators currently sit atop the Central Division, the Western Conference and the NHL with the best record of all 31 teams.

The major reason for the Preds’ success is undoubtedly their goaltending tandem of 3-1-0 Pekka Rinne and 6-2-0 Juuse Saros. Even though they do have the luxury of playing behind the league’s 11th-best defense in terms of shots against per game (W Viktor Arvidsson‘s 12 takeaways, D Ryan Ellis‘ two blocks per game and F Zac Rinaldo‘s 2.3 hits per game have been major factors in Nashville’s 29.92 shots against per game), both have been integral in keeping the Predators’ goals allowed per game at 2.42 – the (t)third-best mark in the league. Both boast save percentages better than .915 and GAAs at or below 2.5, not to mention a shutout apiece.

After being activated from Injured Reserve yesterday (G Troy Grosenick made room on the roster by heading back to Milwaukee), it seems likely that Rinne will be the starter this evening. In his first five starts this season before going down with an undisclosed ailment, the Finn posted a .929 save percentage and 2.1 GAA – both of which are top-six among the 36 netminders with at least five starts to their credit.

Regardless of who’s in net, don’t focus too much on that or you’ll miss Nashville’s outstanding offense that ranks second-best in the conference and (t)sixth-best in the league by averaging 3.5 goals per game. In particular, no Predator has been as dominant as F Filip Forsberg, who’s 10-4-14 totals leave no doubt as to who’s the best scorer in Tennessee.

Forsberg’s 10 goals are (t)third-most in the NHL, trailing league-leaders F Patrick Kane (CHI) and RW David Pastrnak (BOS) by only one marker. After scoring a hat trick against Edmonton on Saturday (he scored all of Nashville’s goals in a 5-3 loss), the Swede was totally kept off the scoreboard Tuesday against Vegas, so he’ll be extra motivated to notch another tally tonight.

The team the Predators are leading for the Presidents’ Trophy are none other than the 8-2-1 Lightning, last season’s preseason darlings that have been ignored – rather unwisely, I might add – by the media in favor of division-rival Toronto so far this year.

The Leafs might be getting all the attention, but it’s business as usual in central Florida as the Bolts are leading the Eastern Conference just like last campaign. Tampa still boasts a dominant offense, not to mention a stellar goaltender and overpowering special teams.

Led from the second line by F Brayden Point and his 7-7-14 totals – not to mention RW Nikita Kucherov and F Yanni Gourde‘s respective 5-7-12 and 4-8-12 efforts – Tampa’s attack is among the most feared in the league, scoring 3.64 goals per game to rank third-best.

Only two days ago against New Jersey in an 8-3 victory, Point notched an outstanding five-point game, but if recent performances are any indication, he likely won’t find the scorecard tonight: his last five games saw him score 5, 0, 1, 0 and 3 points respectively.

Defensively, there’s not much to talk about with the Lightning since D Victor Hedman is still on Injured Reserve. The Bolts’ blue line has suffered during his absence, allowing a 12th-worst 32.36 shots against per game for the season.

However, who needs a defense when you have 6-1-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy playing for your team? Vasilevskiy has already been confirmed to be starting this game and will look to improve upon his .935 save percentage and 1.98 GAA that both already rank top-five among the 36 goalies with at least five starts to their names.

If this game boils down to special teams, there’s no way the Lightning aren’t coming away with two points. Tampa Bay leads Nashville in both statistics, including owning the league’s top-rated penalty kill (93.2 percent) that will be more than enough to counteract anything the Preds’ fourth-worst power play (13.3 percent) can muster.

Similarly, Tampa Bay’s power play will be a Halloween hangover to the Predators tonight, as a 29.3 success rate is good enough to rank sixth-best in the NHL – especially when it gets to go to work against the 10th-worst penalty kill (75 percent).

If Nashville’s penalty kill is going to have any success, it should probably try to keep F J.T. Miller under wraps as much as possible. Of his 3-7-10 totals on the year, 3-2-5 have occurred with the man-advantage. If those numbers don’t communicate just how potent he’s been, Miller’s .571 power play face-off winning percentage and .429 power play shooting percentage should do the trick.

An interesting note surrounding this game is its location. While it would be assumed that the Lightning would have the advantage considering they are at home, their 5-1-0 record at Amalie Arena is challenged by the Predators’ outstanding 5-0-0 road mark. With that in mind, there is no doubt Smashville is going to throw everything it has at tonight’s host.

There’s no doubt that this is going to be a showdown of the ages, just as should be expected from the top two teams in the league. But which one wins?

That’s the tough question.

I’m going to go out on a limb and take the Predators tonight. I think their offense is more than good enough to take advantage of the Lightning’s weakened defense corps. That being said, Vasilevskiy is going to be a difficult wall to break (as should Rinne be for the Bolts), so I’m predicting only a 2-1 victory for the visitors.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2018-2019 Season Preview

Toronto Maple Leafs

49-26-7, 105 points, third in the Atlantic Division

Lost in First Round to Boston, 4-3

Additions: RW Adam Cracknell, F Tyler Ennis, C Josh Jooris, C Par Lindholm, G Eamon McAdam, D Igor Ozhiganov, D Jordan Subban, C John Tavares

Subtractions: F Miro Aaltonen (signed with Vityaz Podolsk, KHL), RW Kyle Baun (signed with Belfast Giants, EIHL), C Tyler Bozak (signed with STL), W Martins Dzierkals (signed with Dinamo Riga, KHL), F Colin Greening (signed with Toronto Marlies, AHL), F Leo Komarov (signed with NYI), W Matt Martin (traded to NYI), C Tomas Plekanec (signed with MTL), D Roman Polak (signed with DAL), F Ben Smith (signed with Adler Mannheim, DEL), LW James van Riemsdyk (signed with PHI), LW Nolan Vesey (traded to EDM)

Offseason Analysis: Let’s just get this out of the way early: Johnny T is coming home!

I’m not even a Maple Leafs fan and that gets me mildly excited.

After all, Tavares is departing a team that qualified for the playoffs only thrice during his nine-year tenure and joining one that scored a (t)third-best 270 goals last season without his offensive acumen. With Tavares’ 272-349-621 career totals effectively replacing Bozak’s 136-229-365 marks in just as many seasons (the only difference being Tavares will play no lower than on the second line, while Bozak was the Leafs’ third-line center), it’s safe to say Toronto’s offense – which was already stacked by simply mentioning C Auston Matthews‘ name – is now rivaled only by Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg.

So, that means the Leafs are locks for the Stanley Cup, right? I mean, that’s what all the Toronto fans have been telling me…

Regrettably, I must poke a hole in that balloon, at least until the squad proves me wrong in the first month or so of the regular season.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubts about the Leafs’ offense. Few are going to keep up with Toronto’s attack, which may very well be capable of flirting with the 300-goal mark this year (that’s 3.66 goals per game, Leafs fans).

Instead, my concerns reside along Toronto’s blue line, and I’m sure G Frederik Andersen agrees with me. With Andersen in net last season, the Maple Leafs allowed at least 30 shots on goal 44 times.

He started 66 games last campaign.

For those struggling to do the math, Andersen – who started 80 percent of the Maple Leafs’ games last season and accrued 3889 minutes – faced at least 10 shots per period in two-thirds of his appearances.

Talk about a heavy workload.

To Andersen’s credit, he posted five shutouts and a solid .918 save percentage last season, so he performed marvelously given the immense pressure on him. However, there’s no doubt he would have preferred to see fewer than the 33.9 shots against per game coming his way, a regression from the 32.6 shots the Leafs allowed in 2016-2017.

In my last season preview, I mentioned how Pittsburgh might be a team looking to trade a defenseman should Juuso Riikola continue to impress. If that proves to be the case, General Manager Kyle Dubas would be wise to get in contact with counterpart Jim Rutherford to at least inquire about an asking price, as the Pens have exactly what the Leafs are in the market for: an established, NHL-ready defenseman with significant playoff experience.

The asking price would likely be high considering both are expected to be major players in the Eastern Conference. However, with visions of Stanley Cups dancing in their dreams, the initial cost of addressing the Maple Leafs’ defensive deficiencies likely pale in comparison to the time wasted in a contention window with a porous blue line.

Offseason Grade: B+

Yes, the Maple Leafs landed Tavares. As a result, they automatically earn better than a passing grade. However, doing little to improve a blue line that allowed the fourth-most shots has me very concerned that this club won’t see much of an improvement on that end of the ice. Dubas had better have a plan to address that issue soon, as Matthews’ contract next summer is not going to be cheap, which will make it difficult to retool the defense. In the meantime, hopefully the offense will meet or exceed expectations, as Scotiabank Arena could see more than a few high-scoring games this year.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 2

Player of the Week: Jaden Schwartz

Calm down, Lightning fans, you’ll get your turn.

I could have easily chosen either of the dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in Tampa, who have been going Harlem Globetrotters on every team they’ve come into contact with, but I think Schwartz deserves some props. The diminutive Blues winger has always been a very good under-the-radar guy, usually playing 2nd fiddle to his linemate Vladimir Tarasenko. But Schwartz made the headlines this week, with a hat trick against the Blackhawks on Wednesday, followed up the next night with another goal against Colorado, and finished off with an assist against Vegas Saturday night (more on that game later). All in all, a 4-goal, 5-point week in 3 games is more than enough to earn Schwartz this completely meaningless nomination.

Team of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning

Alright, we good, Bolts fans? We square? Cool.

The Lightning have looked borderline immortal so far this season, with a 7-1-1 record bolstered by this week’s 3-0-1 stretch. But it’s not just that near-flawless week putting them here, it’s how they did it. Tampa’s 3 victories came by a combined score of 12-3 (granted, a big part of that percentage was the 7-1 sha-lacking they put on Pittsburgh), and if not for a sweet little backhand move by Kyle Palmieri in the 3rd round of the shootout in New Jersey (oh, more on that game later, too), the Bolts could have walked away with a perfect week.

Game(s) of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning 4 @ New Jersey Devils 5 (SO), Tuesday October 17th & St. Louis Blues 2 @ Vegas Golden Knights 3 (OT), Saturday October 21st

It simply wasn’t possible to leave either of these games out.

First up, we had the current Team of the Week squaring off with the former Team of the Week, in a battle of two of the league’s hottest clubs. What we got was 72 total shots on goal, 35 hits, 9 power plays (resulting in 3 goals), and a whole mess of fun. The game started with Cory Schneider making a terrific paddle-down save on Brayden Point just moments into the action, and just a few minutes later Drew Stafford let a seemingly harmless wrister go from the right wing boards that eluded a rusty Peter Budaj (his first game action since the preseason) and gave the Devils the 1-0 lead. Budaj would settle down a bit in the next few minutes making a few quality stops, eventually leading to his team tying the game, and taking the lead just minutes later, on the strength of goals from Vladislav Namestnikov and Ondrej Palat. It would be short-lived, though, as just 4 minutes later a top shelf power play rocket from Palmieri would even the score, and Brian Gibbons would follow suit in the final minute of the period to send New Jersey to the room with the lead.

Things settled down on the scoreboard for most of the 2nd period, although both goaltenders were still busy. Finally with just under 6 minutes to play Kucherov would fire a rocket directly from Russia with love and even the score, before linemate Stamkos would give the Lightning the 4-3 lead in the closing minutes of the 2nd. Tampa did their best to lock the game down the rest of the way, but finally with just over 4 minutes remaining Stafford would bury his own rebound to cap off a gorgeous passing play, score his 2nd of the night, and send it to overtime. A relatively tame 3-on-3 period would send it to the shootout, where Palmieri’s nifty mitts would deposit the only biscuit of the frame and send the Jersey faithful home happy.

Now onto a Saturday night in Vegas, where the upstart Golden Knights would look to make history by being the first franchise to ever start its inaugural season with 6 wins in 7 games.

Things weren’t looking great for the Golden Knights early on, as the Blues peppered young Malcolm Subban mercilessly in the opening frame, St. Louis eventually holding an 18-4 shot advantage when the period came to a close. But Subban managed to limit the damage to only a lone Magnus Paajarvi tally and get his team into the dressing room only down 1-0. Vegas would feed off of the strong play of their goaltender, and reward him in the 2nd period with power play tallies from both Reilly Smith and Colin Miller, and they’d take a 2-1 lead into the 3rd period.

Unfortunately for Vegas, just past the midway point of the 3rd period Subban would appear to strain his groin kicking out his right pad for a save, and would have to be helped from the ice, leaving the task of surviving the continued St. Louis onslaught to another youngster, former Blue Jackets prospect Oscar Dansk. Unfortunately for the young Swede, the first shot he faced would be an Alex Pietrangelo one-time bomb from the high slot with just over 5 minutes to play, drawing the game even once again on a shot that no goaltender could be expected to do anything about. The Blues would do everything in their power to get the winning goal past Dansk in the closing minutes, including a Schwartz tip that got behind the Vegas netminder but went wide of the net with just 8 seconds on the clock, but the youngster held the fort and took the game to extra time.

Overtime brought another golden opportunity for Schwartz, who found himself with all alone in the slot with a clear lane to shoot, only to be bested by the right leg of Dansk. Then Brendan Leipsic would jump on a turnover to break in all alone, but Jake Allen met his backhand with a flash of the leather to keep the game going. But just over a minute later, and with less than 30 seconds left, Smith would jump on a loose puck, glide into the St. Louis zone, and float a beautiful pass to a streaking William ‘Wild Bill’ Karlsson who ripped a one-timer over the two-pad stack of Allen to send the building into bedlam and the Golden Knights into the history books.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Despite their apparent ability to win with anyone wearing goalie pads in net (I could see a Twitter campaign for this being a hit), Vegas’ injury situation is no laughing matter. Marc-Andre Fleury is still dealing with the effects of a concussion (which as we know really doesn’t have a set recovery time), and Subban is out for at least a month. The goaltending duties now fall on Dansk and Maxime Lagace for the foreseeable future. If there’s any consolation to be found in this for the Golden Knights, it’s that they’ve had tremendous success with injury replacements so far. Subban played very well in Fleury’s absence, and Alex Tuch (who was called up to replace the injured Jon Marchessault) has 2 goals and 3 points in his first 3 games with the club.

Roman Polak has signed a 1 year deal with the Maple Leafs, in what was almost certainly just a plot to further shorten the useful lifespan of Steve Dangle’s heart.

Potential big-money bet: Does Montreal fire Claude Julien and replace him with Michel Therrien?

Side bet: Does Therrien walk into that press conference to Eric Bischoff’s “I’m Back” entrance music?

Side-side bet: Over/under on amount of sticks Carey Price destroys before Montreal’s next victory.

If you haven’t seen/heard/read any of Ed Olczyk‘s comments from his return to broadcasting (both on Wednesday in St. Louis for the NBCSN broadcast or Thursday in Chicago to call the Hawks/Oilers game) while in between chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer, please do yourself a favor and go find them. Truly inspiring stuff from one of the best in the business, and the standing ovations he received at both games are enough to give anyone chills.

On a somewhat related topic, Brian Boyle also made his return to action, this time on ice in a full-contact practice on Sunday. Boyle has been battling a form of cancer that attacks bone marrow, but cleared the final ‘hurdle’ in his treatment regimen to be able to get back on the ice with his teammates. Once he and his coaches feel he is fully into game shape, we should see the big man out of Boston College going back to work.

March 16 – Day 148 – Now the East is wild

It’s Thursday once again, my favorite day of the week. There’s a dozen games taking place tonight, starting with five (Philadelphia at New Jersey [TVAS], Winnipeg at the New York Islanders, Nashville at Washington [NHLN], Minnesota at Carolina and Florida at Columbus [TVAS]) at 7 p.m. Another pair of contests (Chicago at Ottawa [RDS] and Toronto at Tampa Bay) drop the puck half an hour later, followed by Boston at Edmonton at 9 p.m. The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. with two matches (Dallas at Vancouver and Detroit at Arizona), followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Buffalo at Los Angeles and St. Louis at San JoseAll times eastern.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: It’s the second rivalry game in as many nights for the Flyers.
  • Toronto at Tampa Bay: Not only is it the return of Brian Boyle to Amalie Arena, but it’s also an important game in the race for the Eastern Conference’s second wildcard.
  • St. Louis at San Jose: These teams combined to create a thrilling six-game series for the Campbell Bowl last postseason.

To put things simply, there’s a lot on the line in the TorontoTampa game that we just can’t miss.

 

 

 

 

 

Although Philadelphia‘s victory over the Penguins last night gave the Flyers a bit of playoff hope, it’s really a three-team race for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card going into the final 14-ish games of the season.

After last night’s action, the Isles have a one-point lead on 10th-place Toronto, and win the regulation+overtime victories tiebreaker against ninth-place Tampa Bay.

To keep math simple in regards to how tonight’s featured matchup effects the standings, know this: As long as the Islanders don’t beat Winnipeg tonight, the winner of this game will move into the second wild card in the Eastern Conference – at least for a day.

Even if all three clubs finish the night with 78 points (that happens if the Isles and Lightning both fall in overtime), Toronto takes over eighth-place with a game in-hand. In that situation, New York and Tampa Bay would remain in the order they’re in right now, but fall a step in the standings.

Clear as mud? Good.

With the most to gain this evening, the Maple Leafs enter tonight’s game with a 31-23-14 record, which is already the most wins they’ve had since their 38-36-8 season in 2013-’14 (man, the East was stacked that year too). The main reason Toronto is having to work so hard for a playoff spot is due to its lackluster defense, which has allowed 198 goals against in 68 games –  the seventh-worst rate in the NHL.

More often than not, 27-15-13 Frederik Andersen has been the man between the pipes for the Leafs, and he’s done a better job than his .916 season save percentage and 2.73 GAA indicate. Although those statistics rank only (t)13th and (t)29th in the league, respectively, among the 37 goalies with at least 28 appearances, he’s performed well under the circumstances.

Those circumstances being, of course, a defense that allows 32.7 shots against per game, the third-highest rate in the entire NHL and worst among playoff hopefuls.

If there’s anything to get excited about regarding Toronto‘s defensive corps, its that Nikita Zaitsev, one of the seven rookies on the roster that gets regular playing time, is the leading shot blocker on the team, having registered 117 already this season. Not only will the 25-year-old continue to develop, but more high-class free agents will be attracted to Toronto this offseason to better bolster the blueline.

That being said, the Leafs‘ defense repeatedly shows they’re potential when they’re forced into a shorthanded situation. By rejecting 82.9% of opposing power plays, Toronto ranks eighth-best in the league on the penalty kill. Much of that credit belongs to Roman Polak, who leads the team with 31 shorthanded blocks.

Given the fact that the Maple Leafs drafted potentially the next greatest player in hockey (or at least the next greatest forward), it’s no surprise that they’re really, really good on the power play. What is surprising, though, is that it’s not Auston Matthews heading that attack. Instead, it’s fellow rookie William Nylander, whose team-leading 22 power play points have sparked a 23.5% penalty-conversion rate, the second-best mark in the NHL. Nazem Kadri has been responsible for a bunch of those goals – 11, to be accurate, which is the most in Toronto.

With arguably the most to lose tonight, Tampa Bay plays host this evening with a 34-26-9 record. Just like with Toronto, there is one main reason Tampa finds itself on the outside of playoff picture looking in – but it’s on the opposite end of the ice (or the same end, depending on how you look at it). Winners of their last four, the Lightning‘s biggest worry is offense, as they have managed only 187 goals this season – the 13th-fewest in the league.

No matter how hard Nikita Kucherov tries, he just can’t seem to pull the Bolts along. He’s having a solid season with his team-leading 69 points and 31 goals (both totals already career highs with 13 games to go), but his team simply will not follow him.

The fact that Tyler Johnson is the second-best forward on the team is all the proof I need: behind Kucherov, his 44 points and 19 goals are most in Tampa Bay. Those totals do not even break into the top-50 in the NHL. Simply put, more than one player needs to provide offense for a club to find true success, and I don’t trust Johnson to truly step up to fill that secondary role.

Of course, I can rail against the Bolts‘ offense all I want, but it’s hard to argue with a power play that is successful on 22.4% of attempts (fourth-best in the league). Kucherov is at the head of that attack too with his 14 goals, but it’s actually Victor Hedman who leads the team in power play points with 27 to his credit.

For division rivals (we’re using that term loosely right now), it’s surprising this is only the third meeting of the season between these two clubs. With both teams beating the other once this season, the Bolts have a slight edge in the series due to forcing overtime in their 3-2 loss on December 29 – the last time they met the Leafs.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Tampa Bay‘s Peter Budaj (seven shutouts [second-most in the league] and a 2.15 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] for 28 wins [tied for ninth-most in the league]), Hedman (45 assists [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Kucherov (31 goals for 69 points [both tied for eighth-most in the league]) & Toronto‘s Jake Gardiner (+25 [leads the team]), Mitch Marner (37 assists [leads the team]) and Matt Martin (254 hits [leads the team]).

With a -128 line, Vegas seems reasonably confident that the Lightning will pull out a victory this evening with home ice. I don’t feel as confident in that pick, since I believe Toronto‘s offense is superior to Tampa‘s defense. It’ll be a good contest, but I like to Leafs to earn the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Roger Crozier (1942-1996) – The first two years of this goaltender’s 14-year career were phenomenal. Making his debut in Detroit in the 1963-’64 season, he won the 1965 Calder Trophy on a 2.42 GAA, followed a year later by hoisting the Conn Smythe with seven shutouts.
  • Duane Sutter (1960-) – Players selected 17th-overall are expected to produce. By winning four Stanley Cups in a row for the Islanders, this right wing did just that. He marked 45 points in those four Cup runs, including 20 goals.
  • Riley Cote (1982-) – This right wing appeared in four NHL seasons – all with the Flyers. An enforcer by trade, he now earns his paycheck as an assistant coach with Philadelaphia‘s AHL farm team.
  • Brandon Prust (1984-) – Calgary selected this left wing 70th-overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, but his longest tenured team is the Rangers. He is still playing hockey professionally, but with Nürnberg in the DEL.

Scoring a goal every 10 minutes is usually a good way to earn a victory. That’s what the Bruins did for the final two periods to beat Calgary 5-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. That loss snaps Calgary‘s 10-game winning streak.

It was actually the Flames that opened the scoring, courtesy of an Alex Chiasson (Lance Bouma and Matt Stajan) wrist shot 9:23 into the game. Third Star of the Game David Pastrnak (Zdeno Chara) pulled Boston even 2:24 later with a wrister that proved to be the final tally of the opening frame.

6:04 after returning from the break, the score read 2-1 in favor of the visitors. First Star Brad Marchand continued his impressive season by scoring his 36th goal of the year, an unassisted backhanded shot. 70 seconds later, Dougie Hamilton scored an unassisted marker of his own, a wrister, to once again tie the score. Yet it proved to be Calgary‘s final goal of the night, meaning David Backes‘ (David Krejci) wrister with 8:57 remaining in the second period proved to be the winning-tally.

Matt Beleskey (Ryan Spooner and Drew Stafford) and Pastrnak (Marchand and Patrice Bergeron) provided two insurance goals in the third period to ensure Boston‘s victory.

Anton Khudobin earned the victory after saving 21-of-23 shots faced (91.3%), leaving the loss to Chad Johnson, who saved 27-of-31 (87.1%).

The back-and-forth between home and away teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series continues. After tonight’s victory by the club in white, the 75-53-22 road teams now have a one-point lead over the hosts in the series.

March 9 – Day 141 – Talk about a playoff push

What happens when you mix one of the best days of the week with one of the greatest sports and leagues in the world? I don’t know the answer, but it probably looks something like hockey on a Thursday night.

The New York Rangers at Carolina gets things started at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by two more games (Philadelphia at Toronto [NHLN/TVAS] and Minnesota at Tampa Bay). Anaheim at Chicago drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., trailed by a trio of contests (New Jersey at Colorado, Montréal at Calgary [RDS] and Ottawa at Arizona [RDS2]) 30 minutes later. The final wave of games drop the puck at 10 p.m. with the New York Islanders at Vancouver, followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Nashville at Los Angeles (SN360) and Washington at San JoseAll times eastern.

While tonight’s action features three matchups between teams currently qualifying for a playoff position, the contest my attention is drawn to most is between two teams currently on the outside looking in.

 

Only eight of the 16 Eastern Conference clubs earn the opportunity to compete beyond the regular season for the Stanley Cup. While that means half the teams move on, the other half are sentenced to their couches to watch the postseason move on without them.

Currently, both of tonight’s squads find themselves in that second set of teams – on the outside of the playoff picture peering in. Even more frustrating for them, they aren’t missing the mark by much. Both have their sights set on the Islanders‘ 73-point mark, which eludes either team by less than four points.

29-22-14 Toronto certainly has the best shot of surpassing New York for that playoff spot, as they are only a point out of eighth-place in the Eastern Conference. While they probably won’t admit it externally, the Maple Leafs are well ahead of schedule in terms of returning to the top of the hockey landscape, and they have their imposing offense to thank for that.

Yet it’s been its defense that has prevented Toronto from maintaining a playoff position. The Leafs have allowed 187 goals against in 65 games – the eighth-worst rate in the NHL. 25-14-13 Frederik Andersen has been in net for most of those goals, even though his season .916 save percentage is tied for 13th-best in the league among the 37 netminders with at least 27 appearances.

That’s because his 2.72 GAA is only 28th in the league in that same group. That’s where the defense comes into play – or apparently not, as the Leafs‘ blueliners allow 32.6 shots to reach Andersen’s crease per night – the third-highest rate in the league.

As is the case with the entire Toronto roster, it’s a young defensive corps that should hopefully improve with time, but in the meantime Nikita Zaitsev, himself a rookie at 25-years-old, will be expected to continue his impressive play. He leads the group with 116 shot blocks, the most on the team.

Even though defense may not be the club’s strong-suit, don’t just assume that the Maple Leafs are always pushovers. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as Toronto is home to the ninth-best penalty kill in the league, successful on 83.5% of disadvantages. Roman Polak has been front-and-center when the Leafs have a man in the sin bin, as his 30 shorthanded shot blocks are most on the team – as are his 24 shorthanded hits.

The penalty kill is bordering on great and trying to catch up to an exemplary power play. Led by rookie William Nylander‘s 20 power play points, Toronto has scored on 22.9% of their man-advantages – the third-best rate in the NHL. Nylander has been good, but it’s Nazem Kadri that opposing goalies have to keep an eye on – he has a team-leading 11 power play goals, which ties for sixth-most in the league.

Although they have two more wins than the Leafs, the 31-26-8 Flyers are actually in worse shape than tonight’s opposition in terms of catching up to the Isles (those extra-time losses sure add up), as New York has a three-point lead on 10th-place Philadelphia.

Philly‘s reason for falling out of postseason contention is the exact opposite of Toronto‘s. Instead, the Flyers struggle to consistently get on the scoreboard, as they’ve managed only 164 goals this season – the ninth-lowest total in the league.

At the start of the season, there were few offenses more potent than that of high-flying Philadelphia. While they certainly had their slump, it seems Jakub Voracek and his team-leading 53 points is trying to get things back to what they were. Over their past five games, the Flyers have averaged three goals-per-game, which rivals Chicago‘s seventh-best rate on the season.

While it may be a much smaller sample size, any time a team can be mentioned in the same breath as the Blackhawks, they’re usually doing something right.

Two of those goals belonged to Wayne Simmonds, who will be extremely important in the Flyers‘ playoff push. He’s managed 27 markers already this year, eight more than second-place Brayden Schenn. Should Simmonds continue on his current pace, he should manage 34 games by the time the season ends – the highest total of his nine-year career.

In the previous two games between these clubs, it’s been all about the home-ice advantage as both teams have won a game in their colored sweaters and, arguably more importantly, lost in regulation in their road whites. They last met in Philly on January 26, where the Flyers won 2-1, but the Leafs handily won 6-3 when they last hosted Philadelphia on November 11.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Philadelphia‘s Voracek (36 assists for 53 points [both lead the team]) and Toronto‘s Auston Matthews (31 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]).

With the recent meetings in mind, it’s hard to pick against Toronto tonight, especially when Vegas has already marked the Leafs a -138 favorite. The Leafs have full control of the special teams play in almost every game they play, and I have full faith in their offense to dominate Philadelphia‘s blueline.

Hockey Birthday

  • Harry Neale (1937-) – After seven years of WHA coaching experience, Neale transitioned to the NHL in 1978, a year before the merger. Predominantly spending his time with the Canucks, he led Vancouver to a 142-189-76 record and three-straight playoff appearances.
  • Paul MacLean (1958-) – St. Louis may have selected this French right wing in the seventh round of the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, but he spent most of his career with the Jets. He earned his lone All-Star appearance in 1985 during a 101 point season, by far the best effort of his career. After more than three seasons as the Senators‘ head coach, he’s in his second year as an assistant coach in Anaheim. Also, he and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid are probably really good friends, if not twins.
  • Phil Housley (1964-) – This Hall of Fame defenseman was selected by Buffalo with the sixth-overall pick in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft. He certainly did not disappoint, as he ended up being a seven-time All-Star with 1232 points over his 21 seasons.
  • Radek Dvorak (1977-) – The 10th-overall pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, this right wing spent most of his 18-year career, albeit over two stints, with the club that selected him. His best season was by far his 2000-’01 campaign with the Rangers when he accounted for 67 points, including 31 goals (both career highs).
  • Brent Burns (1985-) – There were a few good players selected before the 20th-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but I’d venture to say that at least 15 scouts whiffed on Burns. Somehow only a two-time All-Star, the six-year Shark has accounted for 490 points over his 13-year career, and he doesn’t look like he’s stopping anytime soon.
  • Colin Greening (1986-) – Ottawa selected this forward in the seventh round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he’s spent most of his career. He has yet to make his NHL debut this season, but he was last seen during the 2015-’16 campaign for Toronto.
  • Morgan Rielly (1994-) – Speaking of the Maple Leafs, they selected this defenseman fifth-overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He’s accounted for 114 points and a -70 over his four year career. Also, I’m five weeks older than him. Pick the more successful of us, I dare you.

There’s no other word than disrespectful to describe how Boston took advantage of the Red Wings in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. With four unanswered goals in the first period, the Bruins won 6-1.

The scoring onslaught began with 8:53 remaining in the first period. First Star of the Game David Krejci (Drew Stafford and Third Star Zdeno Chara) took credit for the opening tally with a wrist shot, followed 61 seconds later by a Second Star Brad Marchand (David Pastrnak and Chara) wrister – the eventual game-winner. Stafford buried his fifth tally of the season with 6:28 remaining in the frame, and Krejci notched his second of the contest 15 seconds before the period came to a close.

Marchand (Colin Miller) set the score at 5-0 with 3:05 remaining in the second period before Tuukka Rask finally ceded a goal. Niklas Kronwall (Mike Green and Dylan Larkin) is the lucky Red Wing, as his club could not find the back of the net again the rest of the night.

Pastrnak (Krejci) notched the finally tally of the game 34 seconds into the third period to set the 6-1 final score.

Rask earned the victory after saving 26-of-27 shots faced (96.3%), leaving the loss to Jared Coreau. He saved five-of-eight (62.5%) before getting pulled after Stafford’s tally. He was replaced by Petr Mrazek, who saved 18-of-21 (85.7%) for no decision.

Boston‘s win is the third in four days for the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That victory pulls them within four points of the 72-49-22 visitors.

March 3 – Day 135 – Andersen’s revenge

Fridays usually aren’t too eventful in the NHL, but that’s not true tonight with half a dozen contests being played. The action starts at 7 p.m. with Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (NHLN/SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Arizona at Carolina. The staggered starts continue at 8 p.m. with St. Louis at Winnipeg, trailed 30 minutes later by the New York Islanders at Chicago. Detroit at Calgary drops the puck at 9 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Toronto at Anaheim – waiting an hour before getting underway. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh: The Penguins needed seven games to get past the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals en route to their fourth Stanley Cup victory.
  • New York at Chicago: For four years of Andrew Ladd‘s career, he wore the Blackhawksred-and-black. But now, he dresses for the Islanders.
  • Toronto at Anaheim: Frederik Andersen also returns to his former stomping grounds, as he called the Honda Center home for the first three years of his career.

Since Ladd only played 19 regular seasons with the Hawks last year, lets focus in on Andersen’s trip west.

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*Author’s note: All statistics were accurate at the time of composition. Three games (NYI@DAL, TOR@LAK and VAN@SJS) had yet to finish. My apologies for the inconvenience.*

Although originally drafted by Carolina in 2010, Andersen elected for re-entry after being unable to reach a contract with the Hurricanes and was selected by Anaheim 87th-overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Only a season later, he was the Ducks‘ primary backup. He made 24 starts during that 2013-’14 rookie season, and earned a 20-5-0 on career-bests .923 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.

That good impression earned him the starting job in his sophomore season, and he retained it through last year. Over his entire career in Anaheim (aka, the first three years of his career), he earned an impressive 114-77-26 record on a .918 save percentage and 2.33 GAA, and helped lead the Ducks to a 2015 Western Conference Finals appearance.

He looked to be the goaltender of the Ducks‘ future, but Bob Murray had other ideas. With the quick coming of age by John Gibson (Andersen’s backup from 2014-’16), he was presented with the perfect situation: two fantastic goaltenders both under the age of 30. Looks like it’s time to make a trade, but who to ship off?

Murray decided to stick with the younger Gibson, leaving Andersen as the odd man out. That’s how he ended up in Toronto. He was traded to the Maple Leafs this offseason in exchange for two draft picks (one of which became Sam Steel of the Regina Pats).

It’s easy to say it’s been a seamless transition. Andersen’s play has, for the most part, remained consistent to what he exhibited in Anaheim and the Leafs are in playoff contention for the first time since 2012-’13.

While Andersen has been good, the 28-21-13 Maple Leafs‘ offense has been better. They’ve buried 189 goals in 62 games this season – the sixth-best effort in the NHL – and that success has led them to fourth place in the Atlantic Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference.

Of course, when you have the incredible Auston Matthews, that shouldn’t be that difficult to do. The rookie has been absolutely unstoppable this season, as he already has an impressive 55 points to his credit to lead the team. 31 of those points have been goals, another total that paces Toronto.

The Leafs are especially potent on the power play. Led by rookie William Nylanders‘ 20 power play points, Toronto leads the NHL with a 23% success rate with the man-advantage. If Gibson picks one Maple Leaf to pay extra attention to when his club is short a man, it should be Nazem Kadri. The center has 10 extra-man goals to his credit – the most on the team.

Toronto has also been solid on the penalty kill. Properly defending 83.5% of their infractions, the Leafs are ninth-best in the league in that situation. Much of that success is the fruit of Roman Polak‘s labor, as his 29 shorthanded blocks are best on the team.

Though playing without him, Andersen’s former club is still finding wins this season. They currently occupy third place in the Pacific Division with their 32-21-10 record, and most of that success is directly due to their impressive defense and goaltending, as the Ducks have allowed only 159 goals against this year – that ties for the sixth-fewest in the NHL.

It turns out keeping Gibson was, at minimum, a good choice. He’s earned an impressive 23-15-8 mark so far this year on his season .922 save percentage and 2.24 GAA, the (t)seventh and sixth-best effort in the league among the 43 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

Of course, it never hurts to help a 23-year-old netminder with one of the league’s better defenses. Led by Cam Fowler‘s 105 shot blocks (he’s on pace to best his former career-high 122 blocks by 15), Anaheim has allowed only 29.3 shots-per-game to reach Gibson’s crease – the ninth-best effort in the league.

As you’d expect from a team that does almost everything regarding the defense well, the penalty kill is fairly solid. The Ducks properly neutralize 84.9% of opposing power plays, the fourth-best rate in the league. Fowler deserves a lot of the credit, as his 23 shorthanded shot blocks are tops on the club.

The Ducks have already made their yearly trip to Toronto, and it was certainly a successful trip. Thanks to Fowler’s game-winning power play tally, Anaheim won December 19’s contest at the Air Canada Centre 3-2.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Gibson (five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the leauge] and a 2.24 GAA [sixth-best in the NHL] on a .922 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Toronto‘s Matthews (31 goals [tied for second-most in the NHL]).

I like the Ducks to win tonight not only because they have home ice, but also because I trust their offense more than I trust the Leafs‘ defense. It should be a tight game, but Anaheim should prevail.

Hockey Birthday

  • Andy Murray (1951-) – A head coach with 10 years of experience, Murray’s longest tenured position was with the Los Angeles Kings from 1999 to 2005. He has a career 333-278-127 record.
  • Brian Leetch (1968-) – Probably the best hockey player from Texas all-time, this Hall of Fame defenseman was selected ninth-overall by the Rangers in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft and played 18 sesaons. A nine-time All-Star, he won the 1994 Stanley Cup as well as two Norris Trophies, the 1989 Calder and the 1994 Conn Smythe.
  • Stephane Robidas (1977-) – Selected in the seventh round by Montréal in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played 15 seasons in the league, spending 11 of those years in Dallas. He finished his career with a +16 rating and earned one All-Star Game appearance.
  • Colton Orr (1982-) – He may not have been drafted, but that didn’t stop him from playing 11 years in the NHL. Spending most of that time in Toronto, he was known as an enforcer and has 641 career hits to show for his work.
  • Alexander Semin (1984-) – Washington selected this left wing 13th-overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he’s spent the most of his 11-year NHL career. Currently, he plays for the Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL.

First Star of the Game Paul Byron didn’t really feel like playing overtime last night, so he buried an unassisted wrist shot with nine seconds remaining in regulation to give Montréal a 2-1 victory over the Predators in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Nashville actually had the lead for most of the game. With 95 seconds remaining in the first period, Ryan Ellis (P.K. Subban and Mike Fisher) buried a power play slap shot to set the score at 1-0.

Not only would that tally last to the first intermission, but it would also hold through the entire second period.

With 9:05 remaining in regulation, things started to get interesting. Brendan Gallagher (Alex Galchenyuk) potted a wrap-around goal to pull the Habs even with the Preds. Then madness happened, as Byron won the game with fewer than 10 seconds on the clock.

Second Star Carey Price earned the victory after saving 24-of-26 shots faced (96%), leaving the gut-wrenching loss to Third Star Pekka Rinne, who saved 24-of-26 (92.3%).

Montréal‘s victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, no small task given how successful the 70-45-22 visitors have been of late. Hosts now trail the visitors in the series by only eight points.

February 25 – Day 129 – Bring a broom

If Saturdays are good for nothing else, they’re definitely fantastic for hockey.

Even better, we’re treated with a wide sample of matinee action today. Anaheim at Los Angeles (NHLN/SN1) gets things started at 4 p.m., followed an hour later by a trio of contests (Washington at Nashville [SN], the New York Islanders at Columbus and the New York Rangers at New Jersey). The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the puck drop of Montréal at Toronto (CBC/CITY/TVAS), followed 60 minutes later by Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (NBC/SN/TVAS2). Finally, today’s co-nightcaps (San Jose at Vancouver [CBC/SN1] and Buffalo at Colorado) drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Anaheim at Los Angeles: The Freeway Face-Off resumes at 1 p.m. local time.
  • New York at New Jersey: The Battle of the Hudson River also rages on at the Prudential Center.
  • Montréal at Toronto: These rivals go way, way back.
  • Philadelphia at Pittsburgh: So do these enemies, but tonight’s game will not take place at PPG Paints Arena. Instead, it’s under the lights at Heinz Field.

I know the NHL loves its outdoor games, but the best game happening today is easily the one in Hogtown between two of the best teams the Atlantic Division has to offer.

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Nevermind the fact that these teams have been competing since 1917, how could a rivalry not emerge between the two largest cities in Canada, especially when they’re separated by only 337 miles 542 kilometers?

Montréal makes their second and final trip of the regular season to the Air Canada Centre with a 32-21-8 record, the best mark in the Atlantic Division. Defense and goaltending has definitely been the name of the game in the City of Saints this season, as the Habs have allowed only 156 goals in 61 games, which ties them for the eighth-best rate in the NHL.

Of course, that always starts with the goaltender, and the Canadiens have a good one in 25-16-6 Carey Price. His .918 save percentage and 2.43 GAA are not only the best of the two netminders Claude Julien has at his disposal, but they also tie for 11th and 12th-best in the league, respectively, among the 43 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

What makes Price special is the fact that the defense playing in front of him is, although above average, not one of the elite units in the league. They allow 29.8 shots-per-game to reach his crease, which ties them for only 11th-best in the NHL. Shea Weber has been at the forefront of that effort with his team-leading 127 shot blocks. At the rate Weber is on, he is on pace for a total of 171 blocks by the end of the regular season, the second-highest mark of his career.

Surprisingly, that effort does not carry over to the penalty kill at all, as the Canadiens rank ninth-worst in the league when down a man. Even with Weber’s 34 shorthanded blocks (which ties for third-most in the NHL), Montréal only stops 80.3% of opposing power plays.

Of course, if they’re allowed to, the Habs usually have a good chance of earning that goal back. Successful on 21% of attempts, Montréal ranks 10th-best in the league on the man-advantage. That effort has been headlined by Shea “Special-Teams-Mastermind” Weber, who has 19 power play points to lead the team. 11 of those points have been goals which tie for fourth-most in the NHL in addition to – you guessed it – leading the squad.

Hosting them this evening are the 28-20-12 Maple Leafs, the third-best team in the Atlantic. This team has certainly accumulated some offensive firepower, as they’ve taken credit for 186 goals so far this season, the fifth-most in the NHL.

The ringmaster of that attack is the next NHL stud, rookie Auston Matthews. He’s already accounted for 52 points this season and shows no sign of slowing down. One of his favorite things to do is shoot the puck, but Toronto isn’t complaining. Even though he leads his club in shot attempts, he has the fourth-highest shooting percentage  (13.3%) for 28 goals, the clubhouse lead.

When was the last time the Leafs could claim the best power play in the league? Regardless, it’s happening right now, as their 23.1% success rate is .3% better than Minnesota’s. While one rookie leads the even-strength effort, another has taken an interest in the five-on-four play. William Nylander has 19 power play points to his credit to lead the squad, but it’s actually Nazem Kadri he’ll need to keep an extra-close eye on. Kadri has potted 10 goals with the extra man this season, which leads the team.

The penalty kill has also played extremely well this season for Toronto. Led by Roman Polak‘s 29 shorthanded shot blocks, the Leafs have correctly battled 83.5% of opposing power plays, which ties for eighth-best in the NHL.

The Canadiens have already clinched the season series between these clubs this year with a perfect 3-0-0 record. The last time they met was January 7, when the Habs won 5-3 on this very surface thanks to Alexander Radulov‘s one-goal, two-point performance.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (28 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Price (25 wins [ninth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Matthews (28 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]).

It’s not a huge spread, but being favored is always a club’s preference. Vegas has marked the Maple Leafs as a -114 favorite to win this evening, and I believe they’ll be able to keep up their end of the bargaining. Regardless of how well their special teams will play or home ice advantage, this is big hurdle for this team. Toronto does not want to get swept by one of their biggest rivals this season, and they’re going to put everything on the line tonight to win.

Hockey Birthday

  • King Clancy (1903-1986) – This defenseman spent most of his 16-season NHL career with the original Senators franchise. Hoisting two of his three Stanley Cups with the club, the Hall of Famer is now memorialized in the NHL by having a leadership and humanitarian award named in his honor.
  • Anton Volchenkov (1982-) – Another defenseman that spent most of his career in Ottawa, this Russian was selected 21st-overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Sens. Although he has not yet formally retired, he has not made an appearance in the NHL since the 2014-’15 season.
  • Justin Abdelkader (1987-) – This left wing was selected 42nd-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Detroit, and he’s been there ever since. His best season was in 2014-’15 when he accounted for 23 goals and 44 points, both career-highs.

With three-straight unanswered goals in the first frame, the Flames bested Florida 4-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

A whopping five goals were struck in the first period, starting with Nick Bjugstad‘s (Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith) power play slap shot for the Panthers only 4:54 into the game. That 1-0 lead is all the motivation the Flames needed to start their scoring stampede. Sam Bennett (Michael Stone and Second Star of the Game Troy Brouwer) pulled the game even 4:03 after Bjugstad’s tally, and Mikael Backlund (Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik) gave the Flames a 2-1 lead with a wrist shot. The goal that proved to be the game-winner belonged to Deryk Engelland (Frolik and Tkachuk), the third Calgary goal in 4:54 of play. With 2:40 remaining in the period, Third Star Aleksander Barkov (Jonathan Huberdeau and Smith) pulled Florida back within a goal with a pure snap shot, setting the score at 3-2.

Brouwer (Matt Stajan and Lance Bouma) tacked on an additional insurance goal, the final of the game, in the second period to secure Calgary‘s 4-2 victory.

First Star Chad Johnson earned the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (94.7%), leaving the loss to Roberto Luongo, who saved 24-of-28 (85.7%).

For the past seven days, all road teams featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series have done is win. That streak has improved the visitors’ record to 67-43-21, eight points better than home teams in the series.

February 23 – Day 127 – When the Rangers are in Canada, are they called Mounties?

Thursday is one of my favorite nights for hockey. Not only is there usually tons of games on, but there’s only one more day of work and, hey, Thirsty Thursday isn’t just an expression!

In all seriousness though, there’s some high-quality games being played tonight, even if there’s only six on the schedule. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with three contests (the New York Islanders at Montréal [RDS], the New York Rangers at Toronto [TVAS] and Calgary at Tampa Bay), followed half an hour later by Colorado at Nashville (SN360). Arizona at Chicago (NBCSN) drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., followed two hours later by tonight’s nightcap: Boston at Los Angeles (SN).

It’s been a week since we’ve featured the Rangers, and even longer for the Maple Leafs. Let’s get both off that list by featuring the biggest city in the United States against the biggest in Canada. Off to the Air Canada Centre!

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The Rangers make their trip to The Queen City with a 38-19-2 record, the fourth-best mark in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. The reason for that success? An impressive offense that has managed 196 goals, the third-most in the NHL.

Even though he’s only in his third full season with the senior club, J.T. Miller has been at the head of that attack with his team-leading 46 points, already accounting for three more scores than his previous career-high. He’s certainly proven that Glen Sather was right to draft him 15th-overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Part of the reason Miller has been so deadly is due to linemate Michael Grabner, who takes credit for a team-high 26 goals. Just like Miller has already done Grabner is on pace to exceed his current 34-goal career-high by three goals.

Hosting the Blueshirts tonight are the always exciting Maple Leafs, whose 28-20-11 record has earned them third place in the Atlantic Division. As you’d expect from a team that has won their past two games and drafted a center with the first pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, offense is the name of the game in Toronto, as they’ve managed 185 goals already this season, which ties for fifth-most in the NHL.

That rookie, of course, is Arizonan Auston Matthews, and he’s already made an immeasurable impact on a franchise that hasn’t tasted the playoffs since 2013. Not only is he a shining light at the end of the tunnel for brighter futures, he’s providing an early sampler by having the Leafs competitive ahead of schedule thanks to his team-leading 52 points (the second-most among rookies).

Matthews has been especially deadly when he calls his own number. As he grows his supporting cast, the center will learn to distribute the puck just as much as he shoots, but it’s certainly been a pleasure to witness him bury a team-leading 28 goals this season, a total that ties for fourth-most in the league regardless of NHL-tenure.

You’re hard-pressed to find a better club on the power play than Toronto, because there isn’t one. Successful on 23.5% of attempts, the Maple Leafs are best in the league. Since Matthews has been busy with operating the even-strength action, fellow rookie William Nylander has taken up the role of “power play specialist,” as his 19 points with the man-advantage is tops in Toronto. Yet it’s been Nazem Kadri who has been the most dangerous with the extra man, as he has a team-leading 10 power play goals on his resume.

New York shouldn’t expect to catch the Leafs napping when they commit a penalty either, as Toronto is home to the (t)eighth-best penalty kill in the NHL. Led by Roman Polak‘s solid 28 shorthanded blocks, the Maple Leafs don’t yield a goal in 83.3% of penalty kill situations.

Tonight marks the final of three meeting between these clubs this season, and it’s a true rubber match as both sides have a 1-1-0 record against the other. In an interesting turn of events, both teams have won on their opponent’s ice. The Leafs beat New York 4-2 at Madison Square Garden on January 13, followed six days later by the Rangers besting Toronto 5-2 on tonight’s surface.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Grabner (+28 [eighth-best in the league] with 26 goals [10th-most in the NHL]) and Henrik Lundqvist (27 wins [tied for seventh-most in the league]) or Antti Raanta (2.32 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (24 wins [10th-most in the league]) and Matthews (28 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]).

It’s not much of line, but Vegas favors Toronto to win tonight’s game with a -110 line. Although both teams have exceptional offenses, I’m leaning towards the Leafs winning tonight’s contest. Not only do they have home ice, but both of Toronto‘s special teams have been exceptional this season, and that should give them the edge.

Hockey Birthday

  • Jeff O’Neill (1976-) – Drafted fifth-overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing was selected by Hartford and spent most of his playing days with the organization – even if a majority of that time was in Carolina! He was named an All-Star one time in his 11-year career.
  • Dan Snyder (1978-2003) – Due to a single car accident cutting his life short, this center played only 49 games in the NHL (all with Atlanta), but his memory lives on in various forms, including the organization (now in Winnipeg) and the Chicago Wolves naming awards in his memory and the creation of a scholarship for natives of his hometown Elmira, Ontario, among others.

If only Philadelphia hadn’t committed goaltender interference as its disallowed goal slipped by Braden Holtby 23 seconds into the game, maybe this DtFR Game of the Day would have ended differently for them. Instead, the Capitals swiped a cool 4-1 victory.

The first goal of the game that stayed on the scoreboard belonged to Nicklas Backstrom (Second Star of the Game T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin), who scored his snap shot 6:33 after the initial puck drop. First Star Evgeny Kuznetsov (John Carlson and Justin Williams) followed that up with 3:32 remaining in the frame by scoring a power play snapper to set the score at 2-0. That final goal of the period proved to be the winning tally.

6:54 into the second period, Third Star Brayden Schenn (Brandon Manning) tried to spark life into the Flyers with a deflection that found the back of the net, but Kuznetsov (Williams and Taylor Chorney) once again set the scoring advantage for Washington at two goals by burying a deflection of his own with 2:01 remaining in the frame.

Oshie (Ovechkin and Backstrom) provided a final insurance tally with 5:17 remaining in the game to ensure a Caps win.

Holtby earned the victory after saving 33-of-34 shots faced (97.1%), leaving the loss to Michal Neuvirth, who saved 25-of-29 (86.2%).

If a team is going to be featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series, they want to be wearing white, as the 65-43-21 road teams have won their past five contests and now have a five-point lead over the hosts.

February 11 – Day 115 – Youth explosion on the QEW

You know what one of the best things about the weekend is? All the hockey. No day is that more apparent than Saturdays, when almost the entire league is in action.

That remains true today, as we have 13 games taking place, starting with a trio (the New York Islanders at Ottawa [RDS], Vancouver at Boston [SN] and San Jose at Philadelphia [NHLN]) of 1 p.m. matinees, followed an hour later by two more (Carolina at Dallas and Florida at Nashville) and Detroit at Columbus at 5 p.m.  The usual 7 p.m. starting time marks the puck drop of four contests (Tampa Bay at Winnipeg [SN], Buffalo at Toronto [CBC], St. Louis at Montréal [CITY/NHLN/TVAS] and Colorado at the New York Rangers), with Anaheim at Washington getting underway half an hour later. Pittsburgh at Arizona gets green-lit at 8 p.m., followed by Chicago at Edmonton (CBC/SN) – this evening’s nightcap – at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Vancouver at Boston: Welcome bask to Boston Loui Eriksson!
  • Buffalo at Toronto: The third installment of the Battle of the QEW rages on tonight!

And that list doesn’t even include the five fantastic games between teams currently in the playoff hunt.

As good as Eriksson might have been in Boston, it’s been awhile since we’ve featured Buffalo in the DtFR Game of the Day series, so we’re off to Toronto!
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When two teams are separated by only 100 miles, there’s a strong chance of a rivalry. Mix in a handful of the shining young forwards in the league, and it’s almost a certainty.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always yield success. Just ask the visiting 22-22-10 Sabres who currently sit in seventh place in the Atlantic Division and 15th in the Eastern Conference. Even with Jack Eichel at it’s disposal, Buffalo has still managed only 132 goals this season, the seventh-fewest in the league.

Eichel has certainly been fantastic in his sophomore season, improving on his .69 points-per-game in his rookie campaign by a tenth of a point. Unfortunately, his high ankle sprain suffered at practice a day before the Sabres began this season effectively spoiled the rhythm from a solid 13-goal, 4-2-1 preseason. He missed two months with the injury, which is why most of the offensive numbers belong to newcomer Kyle Okposo. The right wing has 35 points so far this season, including 16 goals – both team-highs.

For those that want to breakdown the Sabres‘ offense further to find the biggest problems, I have two words of advice:

  1. Consult @kephartc.
  2. Don’t look at the power play.

Even if the overall offense has struggled, the power play has been, as the kids say, straight fire. Buffalo converts 23.3% of opponents’ penalties into goals, the second-best rate in the league. Both Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen can share equal responsibility for that dominating performance, as they both have 18 power play points, but it’s been Matt Moulson (usually a fourth-liner, but on the second power play line) with the most goals on the man-advantage, with nine on his season résumé.

Unfortunately, prosperity on one special team does not translate to the other. Stopping only 73.8% of opposing power plays, the Sabres‘ penalty kill ties for dead last in the NHL. Even though Josh Gorges ties for 25th in the league with 23 shorthanded shot blocks, both his goaltenders, Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson, are not very good against the power play. They both have only a .867 save percentage in that situation, tying for 27th in the league.

Playing host this evening are the 25-17-11 Maple Leafs, the third-best team in the Atlantic Division thanks in large part to their intimidating offense. Toronto has buried 163 goals so far this season, tied for the sixth-most in the league.

It seems like every time the Leafs are featured, someone else has the points and goals lead. And it’s always a rookie.

Tonight’s star rookie is Mitch Marner, who has an impressive 46 points to his credit, two more than second-place Auston Matthews – another rookie. That being said, there’s one thing Matthews has that Marner doesn’t: a knack for scoring. The center has buried 25 goals this season, the most among NHL rookies and tied for eighth-most in the league overall.

Just like Buffalo, the Leafs play a beyond-impressive power play. Led by William Nylander‘s (yup, another rookie) 16 power play points, Toronto has converted 23.1% of opposing penalties into goals, the third-best rate in the league. Even though he’s not a first-year player, scoring most of those tallies has been Nazem Kadri, as he has a solid 10 to his credit.

The Sabres‘ power play will be put to the test this evening, as the Leafs are one of the best teams in the two minutes following a penalty. Led by Roman Polak‘s 28 shorthanded blocks, Toronto stops 83.7% of opposing power plays – the eighth-best rate in the league.

Twice these rivals have met this season, and twice have the Maple Leafs emerged victorious. The last time they met was January 17 in Toronto, where they played to a 4-3 result in front of 19,122 fans.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Lehner (.923 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (three shutouts [tied for seventh-most in the league) and Matthews (25 goals [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]).

It’s never a good sign for the visitors when Vegas puts a negative number next to the host’s name. That’s the situation this evening, as the Maple Leafs are marked with a -158. Given the Sabres‘ abysmal penalty kill, I don’t see this one going any other way. The Leafs should win.

Hockey Birthday:

  • Eddie Shack (1937-) – This left wing played 17 seasons in the NHL, most of which in Toronto which is only 400 kilometers from his hometown of Sudbury. He was a member of four Stanley Cup-winning Leafs teams, including their most recent in 1967.
  • Jaroslav Spacek (1974-) – Florida selected this defenseman in the fifth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, but he played most of his games in a Sabres sweater. A 13-year NHL veteran, his best season was in 2005-’06 when he notched a combined 43 points and a +11 between Chicago and Edmonton.
  • Maxime Talbot (1984-) – Selected in the eighth-round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Pittsburgh, this center spent 11 seasons in the league. His crowning achievement was being a member of the Penguins‘ 2009 Stanley Cup-winning team.
  • Mike Richards (1985-) – This center was drafted 24th-overall by Philadelphia in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but he won both of his Stanley Cups as a member of the Kings.

Thanks to a three-goal third period, the Blackhawks were able to knock off the Jets 5-2 in Winnipeg in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Who else to score the lone goal of the first period than First Star of the Game Patrick Kane (Third Star Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov)? He buried his snap shot with 4:23 remaining in the opening frame to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.

Only 1:43 after returning to the ice from intermission, Bryan Little (Toby Enstrom and Patrik Laine) pulled the Jets back even with a wrister, but Anisimov (Panarin and Kane) made sure that Chicago entered the second intermission with a lead, scoring a wrister of his own with 7:44 remaining in the frame.

Duncan Keith (Nick Schmaltz) takes credit for the game-winning tally with 2:59 remaining in regulation, but the real stick to break the camel’s back was Marian Hossa‘s (Niklas Hjalmarsson) shorthanded empty netter 68 seconds later. Adam Lowry (Joel Armia and Jacob Trouba) took advantage of the man-advantage with 71 seconds remaining in regulation to pull Winnipeg back within two goals, but Panarin (Keith) set the final 5-3 score with a wrister on an empty net.

Corey Crawford earns the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (93.3%), leaving the loss to Second Star Connor Hellebuyck, who saved 31-of-34 (91.2%).

The last two road teams to win a game in the DtFR Game of the Day? Chicago and Chicago. Last night’s win pulls the visitors in the series within eight points of the 61-38-18 hosts.

February 4 – Day 108 – Saturday in the pahk. I think it was the Fourth of February

So close Chicago, but your Blackhawks and the NHL aren’t exactly active during July, so you’re just going to have to settle for the month we’re in.

This first Saturday of February has more than it’s fair share of action, with 26 teams lacing up their skates today. It all gets started with a couple 1 p.m. matinees (Washington at Montréal [RDS/SN] and Los Angeles at Philadelphia [NHLN]), followed two hours later by Winnipeg at Colorado. Five games (Toronto at Boston [CBC/CITY], Ottawa at Buffalo [SN/TVAS], Anaheim at Tampa Bay, Carolina at the New York Islanders and New Jersey at Columbus) drop the puck at the usual starting time of 7 p.m., with three more (Pittsburgh at St. Louis, Detroit at Nashville and Chicago at Dallas [NHLN]) getting underway an hour later. The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. with Minnesota at Vancouver [CBC/SN], followed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Arizona at San JoseAll times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Boston: An important installment in the Original Six category takes place this evening in the Atlantic Division.
  • Ottawa at Buffalo: Another rivalry game, but another down season for the Sabres detracts from this contest’s attractiveness.

The Maple Leafs are trying their hardest to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the Bruins beat them in Game 7 en route to a Stanley Cup appearance. What’s the better way to pull within a point of achieving that goal than by beating that same team on it’s home ice almost four years later?

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The comeback kids make their trip to New England with a 23-17-9 record, which is good enough for fifth in the Atlantic Division and 10th in the Eastern Conference even though their riding a three-game losing skid. As I said Thursday when the Leafs were last featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series, even though their main issue is on the defensive end, they’ve only allowed 138 goals against, which ties for 15th-worst.

Of course, preventing an opposing offense from scoring always starts with the goaltender, and 21-11-8 Frederik Andersen has been a good one this season. His .917 save percentage and 2.67 GAA are (t)16th and 22nd best in the league, respectively, among the 38 goaltenders with at least 22 appearances this season.

An okay save percentage paired with a not-so-good GAA usually implies that a netminder is facing more shots than he’d like, and that is certainly the case in Toronto. Even with Nikita Zaitsev‘s team-leading 81 shot blocks, the Maple Leafs still allow the sixth-most shots in the NHL at 32.1 per game.

Fortunately for Toronto, that defense kicks it into high gear on the penalty kill where they tie for third-best in the league with their 84.5% kill rate. It’s obvious Roman Polak has made that a priority of his, as he leads the club with 24 shorthanded blocks.

The power play has also been very powerful for the Leafs. They find the back of the net 23.2% of the time, which ties for third-best rate in the league. It’s a two-headed attack, as both rookie William Nylander and James van Riemsdyk have 15 power play points to their credit, but Nazem Kadri has been the truly unstoppable force: he has 10 man-advantage goals to his credit, which ties for third-most in the league in addition to being the team lead.

Playing host this evening are the 26-22-6 Bruins, the third-best team in the Atlantic Division. If I was a Bostonian, I’d be concerned about the playoff chances for my club, as the defense that has held the team together so far this season is starting to fall apart. The Bruins have allowed 141 goals against in 54 games, only the 11th-best rate in the NHL (only six games ago on January 20, the Bruins tied for seventh-best in this statistic).

Just like with Toronto above, an analysis of keeping the opponent off the scoreboard has to start with the goaltender. Enter 25-13-4 Tuukka Rask. His .914 save percentage and 2.24 GAA are (t)19th and sixth-best in the league, respectively, against that same group of 38 goalies as before.

It’s the exact opposite situation facing Rask as is facing Andersen. Thanks to Zdeno Chara‘s team-leading 93 shot blocks, Rask faces an average of only 26.4 shots-per-game. That’s the second-best rate in the NHL.

He’s lost three of his last six outings (four if you tack on the overtime loss to Detroit on January 24) and has a .87 save percentage since January 3 – the worst in the league in that span among the 28 goalies with eight or more appearances. While I certainly respect Rask and believe him to be one of the better netminders in the league, his decline and that of the Bruins are certainly associated.

That being said, this does not fall entirely on Rask. Many are calling for Claude Julien‘s job, and he could be blamed for starting Rask in all but one game over the past month. He’s exhausted. He is one of two goaltenders with 13 starts in that span of time, the most in the league. Even though the All Star didn’t get his entire break to himself, hopefully his time off helped him recharge the batteries.

One point where the Bruins haven’t struggled has been their penalty kill. Led by Chara’s team-leading 27 shorthanded blocks, Boston refuses to yield a goal on 86.4% of opponent’s power plays, the second-best rate in the league.

Having already played half of their four meetings of the season, Toronto is already owning this series. While their 2-0-0 record against the Bruins is certainly impressive, it’s the fact that they’ve won both games 4-1, regardless of if they were played at the Air Canada Centre (October 15) or the TD Garden (December 10), that should have made the Bruins not sleep easy last night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston’s Brad Marchand (54 points [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] on 23 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]) and Rask (five shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL] among 25 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league] on 2.24 GAA [seventh-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (three shutouts [tied for seventh-most in the league] among 21 wins [10th-most in the NHL]) and Auston Matthews (23 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]).

It’s not often that I side with a road team on three-game losing skid, but the Leafs are still trending in an upwards direction in comparison to the struggling Bruins. Pair that with the success they’ve had against Boston, and I think we have a safe Toronto victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Denis Savard (1961-) – Drafted third-overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, this center played nearly his entire career with the Blackhawks. While it might be unbelievable with his club’s current success, the seven-time All-Star didn’t win his lone Stanley Cup with the Hawks. Instead, he was a member of Montréal‘s 1993 Cup-winning team. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2000.
  • Manny Legace (1973-) – Hartford selected this goaltender in the eighth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, but he never suited up for the Whalers and ended up playing most of his career in Detroit. His best season was his 2005-’06 campaign when he was named to his only All Star game, four years after he won his lone Stanley Cup.
  • Lee Stempniak (1983-) – The Blues picked this right wing in the fifth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s the team he’s spent most of his days playing for. Then again, it’s tough for the current Hurricane to call St. Louis home when he’s played for 10 different clubs over 12 seasons. He’s the true definition of an NHL journeyman.

They needed overtime, but Pittsburgh was able to pull out the 4-3 victory over the Blue Jackets in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Penguins certainly got off to a hot start, as they accounted for both the tallies in the opening frame. The first belonged to First Star of the Game Phil Kessel (Brian Dumoulin and Trevor Daley), a wrister with 6:23 remaining in the first period. It was followed up 4:51 later by Patric Hornqvist‘s (Matt Cullen and Second Star Kris Letang) wrister to set the score at 2-0 going into the first intermission.

With 4:17 remaining in the second period, Third Star Brandon Dubinsky (Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson) pulled Columbus back within a score of the Pens, but Nick Bonino (Jake Guentzel and Kessel) returned the differential to two scores only 2:40 later. That 3-1 scored held into the second break in the action.

Just like Pittsburgh did in the first, the Blue Jackets absolutely took over the third period. Only 29 seconds after returning to the ice, Alexander Wennberg (Brandon Saad and Seth Jones) pulled them back within a goal with his wrister. Columbus completed the comeback with 8:40 remaining in regulation when Cam Atkinson (Dubinsky and Johnson) buried his wrister to set the score at three-all. Neither team could find the tiebreaker before the horn sounded, which forced three-on-three overtime.

Leave it to a nice guy that tries hard and loves the game to find a game-winner. With 105 seconds separating overtime from a shootout, Kessel (Letang and Justin Schultz) buried his power play wrister to earn the bonus point against the Jackets.

Matthew Murray earns the victory after saving 28-of-31 shot faced (90.3%), leaving the overtime loss to Sergei Bobrovsky, who saved 29-of-33 (87.9%).

You definitely want your favorite team to be at home when featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Pittsburgh‘s victory is the fifth-straight for hosts and improves the home teams’ record to 59-35-16, a dozen points better than the visitors.