Tag Archives: Providence

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 5

Player of the Week: Nikita Kucherov

Tampa is kind of making these choices too easy every week.

The hottest team in the league continued to roll, and the hottest line in the league followed suit. Linemates Vladislav Namestnikov (4 goals, 1 assist) and Steven Stamkos (1 goal, 5 assists) were certainly no slouches, but Kucherov’s 2 goals and 7 points in 3 games were easily the most impressive output of the week, especially considering both goals and 6 of those points were in the first 2 games of the week.

Kucherov is even being talked about as having a shot at 50 goals in 50 games. While it’s certainly still quite a ways away, it will definitely be interesting to see if he can reach the fabled mark.

Team of the Week: Toronto Maple Leafs

Fans of Steve Dangle’s LFR series will know that this was a week chock full of victory puppies.

After a very shaky stretch that saw the Leafs nearly fall all the way back to a .500 record after a scorching start, things looked increasingly bleak as they learned they’d be without superstar Auston Matthews heading into this week’s 4-game schedule. But the loss of #34 seemed to light a spark under his teammates’ collective tails.

Toronto opened the week hosting the Golden Knights and whoever they could find willing to throw on some goalie pads (we love ya, Max) and the two squads treated us to an extremely fun night that ended in a 4-3 Leafs victory on the strength of a silky shootout goal from Mitch Marner. They would follow that effort up with a 4-2 victory over Minnesota, heading into a back-to-back home-and-home with arch rival Boston.

Now, the Bruins are more Providence than Boston right now as they deal with a slew of injuries, particularly in the forward group, but credit them for putting up one heck of a fight at the ACC on Friday night as they came just 60 seconds from victory before James van Hockey (who notably had 4 points in the 2 games against the Bruins) tied the game and sent it to overtime. In overtime, Patrick Marleau touched the ice, so the team he played for won the game. (If you’re not familiar with Marleau’s ridiculous GWG stats, go have a look. Legitimately about 1/5th of his career goals have won a game.)

Saturday night the Leafs would wrap up a Matthews-less week 4-0 after a 4-1 victory over the Bruins in Boston, with backup goalie Curtis McElhinney shining in net. The Leafs now get 4 days of rest, riding a boatload of momentum, and likely will see the return of Matthews the next time they hit the ice. Maybe hope your team doesn’t play them anytime soon.

Game of the Week: Los Angeles Kings 4 @ Anaheim Ducks 3 (OT), Tuesday November 7th

The NHL likes to think of Wednesday as rivalry night, but boy were they a day late this week.

What was easily the most entertaining game of the year to this point (in this humble writer’s opinion) saw some fantastic stat lines. 7 goals, 79 shots, 54 hits, 51 penalty minutes, and 12 power plays should tell you what sort of game you missed if you didn’t happen to catch this barn-burner.

To put the insanity of this game into simple terms, Jared Boll opened the scoring. Yeah, that Jared Boll! Isn’t that spectacular?! Like, okay, Brandon Montour did 99% of the work and just had his wrap-around attempt bounce onto Boll’s stick so he could hack it into an open net, but who really cares? Somebody get that man a cookie.

Sami Vatanen would send the Ducks up 2-0 later in the 1st just as their power play opportunity expired, and for most of the 1st period the Ducks looked like they had the game by the throat. If not for some simply spectacular goaltending (see also: strategical flailing) by Jonathan Quick, this game could have gotten out of hand early. But after watching their goaltender perform miracles for most of the opening frame, the Kings decided maybe they should help him or something, so Anze Kopitar figured he’d go ahead and score a goal with just over 3 minutes remaining to send the teams to the locker rooms with Anaheim leading 2-1.

The second period saw less offense and more punches in the face. Jonathan Quick attempted to help Derek Forbort ruin Corey Perry‘s day, but the referees felt that someone with a full cage getting into fisticuffs with someone who isn’t wearing a full cage isn’t decidedly fair, so Andy Andreoff (great name, btw) had to go to the penalty box and feel Quick’s shame for him. Jared Boll would later fight Andreoff, I would assume feeling that Andy should earn his own time in the penalty box and not just bum it off of others. Oh, also Rickard Rakell and Adrian Kempe scored goals, so that was kinda neat.

The Kings absolutely mugged the Ducks in the 3rd, racking up 17 shots on John Gibson to just 6 mustered against them, but only Dustin Brown managed to get one past the Anaheim netminder, so off to bonus hockey we would go, knotted at 3. It would take nearly 4 minutes of 4-on-4 madness to decide the game, but finally Nick Shore would complete the Kings’ comeback and end a terrific night of hockey and shenanigans.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Jarome Iginla is still unsigned (podcast listeners will appreciate that), but he says he’s not ready to retire. I think he should play on a line with Jagr in Calgary, and we can nickname the line the Geri-hat-tricks or something like that.

Roberto Luongo picked up career win number 455 this week, passing Curtis Joseph for 4th all-time in that category. I’m pretty sure nobody above him is better at self-deprecating Twitter humor, though, so really he’s probably the greatest of all time.

Brian Boyle scored his first goal since returning to the Devils lineup, and his celebration was pretty much the most sincere display of happiness that doesn’t include a dog that you’ll ever see.

The Hockey Hall of Fame inductee class of Danielle Goyette, Clare Drake, Jeremy Jacobs, Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi, Teemu Selanne, and Paul Kariya was one for the ages, and if you need a solid laugh, check out the back-and-forth between longtime friends Selanne and Kariya, some of the finest chirping you will ever find.

March 28 – Day 160 – The golden touch

Tuesday is one of those moving days in the NHL when the standings can look vastly different after all the games have been played.

Eleven contests in total will be held this evening, starting with five (Winnipeg at New Jersey, Nashville at Boston [SN1/TVAS], Ottawa at Philadelphia [RDS2], Detroit at Carolina and Buffalo at Columbus) at 7 p.m., followed by two more (Florida at Toronto and Dallas at Montréal [RDS]) half an hour later. Washington at Minnesota (NHLN) drops the puck at 8 p.m., and Los Angeles at Edmonton follows at 9 p.m. The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. when Anaheim visits Vancouver, and tonight’s nightcap – the New York Rangers at San Jose – drops the puck 30 minutes after. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Winnipeg at New Jersey: Thanks to the Nor’easter that blew through earlier this month, this game is being played two weeks late.
  • Nashville at Boston: You have to fall to get back up. Matt Irwin fell while playing for the Bruins organization, but has gotten up in Nashville.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: The Kings‘ postseason hopes are hanging by a thread, but an old-timey rivalry might be just the trick to get a playoff push started.

Given the vast playoff implications a win or loss could have for the Bruins or Predators, let’s catch tonight’s activity at the TD Garden.

 

For starters, let’s tackle Irwin’s story real quick.

Undrafted out of the University of Massachusetts, the defenseman began his professional hockey career in 2010 in nearby Worcester with the Sharks‘ AHL affiliate.

He scored 73 points over his first two seasons of AHL play, which prompted an NHL contract from the parent club after injuries to Brent Burns and Jason Demers.

Irwin finally got his opportunity to play in the big league in 2013, and he made the most of his opportunity. Though he did return to Worcester for most of February 2013, he quickly rejoined the Sharks by the end of the month. He never returned to the DCU Center.

Instead, he spent the remainder of the 2012-’13 season in San Jose, as well as the following two campaigns. In all, he played 153 games for the Sharks, earning 50 points on 16 goals. Additionally, he also appeared in 13 playoff games, registering two points.

Though originally from British Columbia, Bay Staters seemed to have fallen in love with the blueliner – or so Don Sweeney thought. The Bruins general manager signed Irwin to a one-year, two-way deal last season, yet it only felt like a one-way since he played only two games for Boston before being sent down to Providence for the remainder of the year. The biggest reason? He registered a -5 goal-differential over those two games, an absolutely horrid mark for a defender.

Some would not have taken the demotion well. Instead, Irwin seemed to retool his game while in Rhode Island. Fortunately for him, someone took notice.

That someone would be David Poile (okay, it was probably a Predators scout; but that’s not quite as fun a story, now is it?). Irwin has been an effective addition this season, as he’s claimed 14 points on three goals and a +14 goal differential in 66 games played.

What remains to be seen is if his 39-25-11 Predators can continue this impressive run they’re on. Currently occupying third place in the Central Division, the Preds have won their last four games and are 7-1-2 since March 7.

Just like it has been all season, offense has been the name of the game over this stretch. Tied for seventh-most goals on the season, Smashville has scored 33 goals in their last 10 games to tie for fourth-most in that time-span. The culprit? None other than Viktor Arvidsson, who has nine points since early March, including six goals – a top-10 effort over that stretch.

That success shouldn’t come as a surprise. He and Filip Forsberg have been the dominant strikers for the Preds all season, as both have 29 tallies to their credit to co-lead the club.

After beating the Islanders on Saturday to end their four-game losing skid, the 39-30-6 Bruins will get back to work defending their playoff position tonight. When Boston has found success this season, it’s usually been on the offensive end of the ice, as its 212 goals is the 12th-highest total in the NHL.

If you haven’t heard, Brad Marchand is pretty good. Actually, he’s an offensive machine with his team-leading (and fourth-best in the league) 80 points. 37 of those points have been goals, which – you guessed it – also leads the team.

To put things in perspective, since you flipped your calendar to March, Marchand has struck nine goals. Nine! That’s tied for third-most in the league this month, better than scorers of the likes of Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, T.J. Oshie, Joe Pavelski and Vladimir Tarasenko – just to name a few.

Playing into that, the Bruins‘ power play has also been playing very well. Though only the third-best effort in the Atlantic Division, David Pastrnak has led Boston to a 26.5% conversion rate in March with his three power play goals this month.

The penalty kill has been extremely solid for the entire season. Boston is third-best in the league with its 84.9% kill rate, led by 33-20-4 Tuukka Rask. Though he’s faced the 10th-most power play shots among the 39 goaltenders with at least 30 appearances, he’s saved .884 percent of them –  the 14th-best effort of the group.

The Bruins‘ visit to Bridgestone Arena on January 12 did not go the way they wanted to. Though they fired 36 shots on Juuse Saros‘ net, he saved all but Torey Krug‘s second period power play goal to lead Nashville to a 2-1 victory.

Should a Boston win be paired with regulation loss by the Maple Leafs, the Bruins will jump into third place in the Atlantic if only for a day.

As for the Predators, they are also in a fight for third place in their division with St. Louis. Since the Blues are inactive tonight, Nashville is giving them a game-in-hand by playing tonight. A win puts the pressure on the Notes to hold serve, while a loss would put the Preds in limbo until St. Louis plays the extra contest.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [third-most in the NHL] for 80 points [fourth-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [fifth-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [sixth-most in the league]) & Nashville‘s Pekka Rinne (30 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]).

As much as I want to pick the Bruins since they’re playing at home, I like the Predators‘ offense too much to pick against them. Boston has not been playing well on the defensive end of late, and I think Smashville will be able to take advantage.

Hockey Birthday

  • Keith Tkachuk (1972-) – A longtime member of the Jets/Coyotes franchise (though his longest-tenured city was St. Louis), this 18-year NHL veteran was selected 19th-overall by Winnipeg in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. The five-time All Star scored 1065 points before calling it quits, including 538 goals. His son, Matthew Tkachuk, is a rookie with the Flames this season.

The storm rages on in Carolina, as a 4-3 overtime loss to the Red Wings in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day extends its point streak to 11 games.

The Hurricanes found the ice-breaking goal relatively quickly with Jeff Skinner (Jaccob Slavin and Lee Stempniak) scoring a slap shot only 5:15 into the game to give them an early lead. The 1-0 score held to the intermission.

At Carolina‘s 10:30 a.m. practice today, I expect Bill Peters to be harping on his guys about limiting the opposition’s breakaway opportunities, because the Red Wings – specifically First Star of the Game Anthony Mantha – absolutely torched them in that situation. Mantha scored twice in 70 seconds (Third Star Andreas Athanasiou and Danny DeKeyser assisted on the second tally) to give Detroit the lead. But it didn’t end the period with that lead. Instead, Second Star Justin Faulk (Slavin and Derek Ryan) tied the game with a snap shot 58 seconds before heading to the dressing room for the second intermission.

Tomas Tatar (Gustav Nyquist and Henrik Zetterberg) buried a power play snapper 8:30 into the third period to reclaim the lead for the Red Wings, and they nearly held it to the end of regulation. Once again: “instead, Faulk.” With six skaters on the ice and only 52 seconds remaining in regulation, he scored a snapper (Noah Hanifin and Victor Rask) to force three-on-three overtime.

After 1:59 of overtime play, Athanasiou (Nyquist) scored a backhanded shot to win the game, but that quickly became of lesser importance. As the center dove towards Eddie Lack‘s crease, he made contact with the netminder in the head and neck area.

Lack remained nearly motionless on the ice, moving only his legs. He had to be stretchered off the ice and transported to the hospital for further evaluation. Fortunately, he tweeted around midnight that he was discharged with a clean bill of health.

Petr Mrazek earned the victory after saving 39-of-42 shots faced (92.9%), forcing Lack to take the overtime loss after saving 23-of-27 (85.2%).

Within the DtFR Game of the Day series, the Wings‘ victory has expanded the 82-57-23 road teams’ lead over the hosts to two points.

February 9 – Day 113 – Back in the saddle again

The NHL is trying to make up for scheduling only one game yesterday with 11 today.

I think I accept it’s apology.

Like it usually does, the action starts tonight at 7 p.m. with six games (San Jose at Boston [SN360/TVAS], Anaheim at Buffalo, Nashville at the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [NBCSN], Detroit at Washington and Vancouver at Columbus), followed half an hour later by three more (St. Louis at Toronto, Dallas at Ottawa [RDS2] and Los Angeles at Florida). Only one more time-slot exists this evening, and it holds two games (Pittsburgh at Colorado and Montréal at Arizona [RDS]) as co-nightcaps at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Whether he deserved it or not, Claude Julien was handed a pink slip Tuesday after 10 years of service to the Bruins organization. Tonight, it will be Bruce Cassidy making his first appearance as head man behind Boston‘s bench, although it’s not his first head coaching job in the NHL.

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419 victories. Four division titles. A Presidents’ Trophy and a Stanley Cup.

The club may get to keep the hardware and banners, but Julien was the one to lead them there.

That being said, he’s been under fire for almost this entire season, and part of last year as well. Even though he’s the winningest coach in Bruins history and got the team into the playoffs in all but two seasons (hint: the last two) under his command, it’s that very fact that became his downfall. Even with some great players on his roster, including Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and goaltender Tuukka Rask, the Bruins haven’t tasted the postseason since 2014 and are in danger of making it three years in a row should the standings remain as they currently are.

That’s what prompted Don Sweeney to make the change to Cassidy. The interim head coach is remembered most from his days behind the Capitals‘ bench, a job he held from 2002-’03. He was in command for the entire 2002-’03 campaign and led Washington to second place in the Southeastern Division. That success didn’t continue in the playoffs, as the Caps were eliminated in the Eastern Quarterfinals.

That elimination marked the beginning of the end of Cassidy’s tenure in the capital. Washington started the 2003-’04 season with an 8-16-1 record, which was not good enough for George McPhee and resulted in Cassidy being relieved of his duties.

He began his time with the Bruins‘ organization in 2008 as an assistant coach in Providence, but he was the man in charge by the 2011-’12 season. During his tenure as skipper, the Bruins went a combined 207-128-45, include a Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy-winning (effectively the Presidents’ Trophy, but in the AHL) 50-21-5 record in 2012-’13.

He was rewarded for that success this season with a promotion to assistant coach in Boston (Come to think of it, it seems Sweeney had this whole thing planned out, didn’t he?). A former defenseman, his addition has certainly been noticed on the ice. Last season, Boston allowed 30.4 shots to reach Rask’s crease per game. This season? That number is down to 26.4, an impressive improvement.

Cassidy takes command of a 26-23-6 Bruins team that is riding a two-game losing skid and currently occupies fourth place in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference, missing out on a playoff position by one point technically two points to avoid losing a games-played tiebreaker to Philadelphia.

As stated before, the Bruins have certainly improved on the defensive end. Unfortunately, they didn’t plan for the offensive regression they’re experiencing this year. A season ago, Boston scored 236 goals – the fifth-most in the NHL. Nowadays, they’ve only managed 141 tallies in 55 games, the 10th-worst rate in the league.

That regression can’t be pinned on Marchand, though, as his 55 points are tops on the team. Making that number even more impressive is the fact that he personally takes credit for 23 goals, which is also the best in Beantown.

Fortunately for the Bruins, the penalty kill has been topnotch this year, stopping 86% of opposing power plays – the second-best rate in the league. The sick Zdeno Chara has been a major part of that success with his 27 shorthanded blocks, but is still unknown if he’ll play this evening. If he doesn’t, Adam McQuaid and his 24 penalty kill blocks will be called upon to fill the captain’s role when down a skater.

The Sharks make their annual visit to the TD Garden with a 33-17-4 record, more than good enough for the lead in the Pacific Division even if they have lost their last two games in overtime. The defense leads the way in San Jose, as the Sharks have allowed only 125 goals in 54 games this season, the second-best effort in the NHL.

Have you ever met someone who is really good at their job? Martin Jones is one of those people. His .917 season save percentage and 2.25 GAA are (t)12th and fifth-best in the league, respectively, among the 37 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

Of course, it’s easy to be good when you have a defense like Jones does. Led by Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s 100 shot blocks, San Jose allows only 27.3 shots to reach Jones’ crease per game, the third-best rate in the NHL.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (55 points [fourth-most in the league], including 23 goals [10-most in the NHL]) and Rask (five shutouts [tied for third-most in the league] among 25 wins [tied for sixth-most in the NHL] on a 2.31 GAA [tied for ninth-best in the league]) & San Jose‘s Brent Burns (57 points [third-most in the NHL], including 35 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Jones (27 wins [tied for third-most in the NHL] on a 2.25 GAA [sixth-best in the league]).

Boston has been marked with a -123 favorite by Vegas, and if I were a gambling man I’d bet lots of money on the Sharks spoiling that this evening. Not only are the Sharks exceptional at preventing something the Bruins have had little success doing (scoring), Boston is also not kind to the home team. The Bruins are only 12-13-0 on their home surface. San Jose should exploit that and take this contest easily.

Hockey Birthday

  • Chris Nilan (1958-) – He may have only been a 19th-rounder in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft by Montréal, but this right wing enjoyed a 13-year career. The highlight of his career came in 1986 when he was a member of the Canadiens team that hoisted the Stanley Cup.
  • Andre Burakovsky (1995-) – Selected by Washington with the 23rd-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing is certainly making a name for himself. His 11 tallies tie for seventh-most on the team.

It took overtime, but the Blackhawks don’t mind as they earned their first victory over Minnesota in the last nine tries in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Chicago came to play, and they proved it with a tally with 9:06 remaining in the first period, compliments of Ryan Hartman (Vinnie Hinostroza and Duncan Keith). It was the lone tally of the frame, giving the Hawks a one-goal lead going into the first intermission.

If you like scoring, the second period was easily the most exciting – at least in regulation. Four goals were scored, starting with Nick Schmaltz‘ (First Star of the Game Jonathan Toews and Third Star Richard Panik) only 1:09 after returning to the ice, but Second Star Jared Spurgeon (Eric Staal and Nino Niederreiter) apparently took exception to that and pulled the Wild back within a tally only 37 seconds later. With a wrister, Zach Parise (Charlie Coyle and Jason Pominville) leveled the game at two-all at the 7:15 mark, but a Panik (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Toews) wrister with 2:36 remaining in the frame returned a one-goal lead to the Blackhawks going into the second intermission.

Only one goal was scored in the third period, but it was one that blew the roof off the Xcel Energy Center. With 3:03 remaining in regulation, Erik Haula (Marco Scandella and Niederreiter) buried his wrister to level the game for Minnesota at three-all. Neither club could break the knot in the remaining time, forcing five minutes of three-on-three sudden-death overtime.

There is nothing more damning than committing an overtime penalty. Just ask Ryan Suter, who was caught holding Marian Hossa at the midway point of the frame. Only 39 seconds later, Toews (Patrick Kane and Keith) was able to capitalize on the man-advantage to seal the Hawks‘ victory.

Corey Crawford earns the victory after saving 35-of-38 shots faced (92.1%), forcing Darcy Kuemper to take the overtime loss, saving 28-of-32 (87.5%).

Chicago‘s victory is the fourth in the last five games by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, pulling the visitors within eight points of the 60-37-18 hosts.