Tag Archives: Rantanen

Preds survive Colorado comeback; win away from Second Round

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avs score three in first period, take Game 3

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 2 – Day 173 – King of the mountain

Today marks the final Monday of regular season NHL action. Do with it what you will, but I’d strongly recommend watching hockey.

Buffalo at Toronto gets the evening underway at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by a pair of tilts (Winnipeg at Ottawa [RDS] and Carolina at Florida). Two more puck drops (Washington at St. Louis [NHLN/TVAS] and Edmonton at Minnesota) are scheduled for 8 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – Colorado at Los Angeles (SN/SN1) – waits until 10:30 before getting started. All times Eastern.

I’d originally marked today’s DtFR Game of the Day as the Battle of the QEW, but Buffalo extending its streak of missing the postseason to a seventh season puts a damper on that option. Instead, let’s make the trip to Hollywood to see if Colorado can keep its playoff hopes alive.

 

 

 

 

 

There were major concerns surrounding 42-28-9 Colorado’s playoff chances when 24-16-6 G Semyon Varlamov was shut down with a lower-body injury, but 18-11-3 G Jonathan Bernier put a damper on that last night with a 38-save performance against the Ducks.

Bernier’s performance in Anaheim, albeit an overtime loss, shouldn’t have really been all that much of a surprise. After all, Varlamov missed the entire month of January due to injury, and Bernier posted a 9-2-1 record in his stead with a .936 save percentage and 2.17 GAA – both marks that are even better than the solid .913 save percentage and 2.86 GAA that he has to show for the entire season.

Bernier seems to relish at the opportunity to be the starter, and he’ll be relied upon this week to once again prove his worth and complete Colorado’s playoff push.

However, since he was in action last night, it remains to be seen if he’ll man the pipes this evening or if 0-1-0 G Andrew Hammond – yes, the Hamburglar from the Senators’ 2015 playoff push – will be called into action for only his second NHL start of the season. Hammond commanded the Avalanche’s crease on March 28, posting a .939 save percentage in a 2-1 home loss to the Flyers.

Of course, part of what makes the Avs so great is not even what they have to offer on the defensive end, but instead their solid attack. Colorado has averaged four goals per game in its last two games, with seven different players averaging at least a point per game in that span.

Of those seven, no player has shone quite as bright as F Tyson Jost. People that don’t regularly watch Colorado might think I misspelled F Nathan MacKinnon (MacKinnon does, after all, rank fifth in the NHL in points and 10th in goals and assists), but Jost has scored three goals in these last two games to improve the second-liner’s season totals to 12-10-22.

Joining Jost in posting at least a point per game in Colorado’s last two outings include D Tyson Barrie (1-2-3 totals since March 30, 13-42-55 overall), F Alexander Kerfoot (1-2-3 since March 30, 18-24-42 overall), W Sven Andrighetto (2-0-2 since March 30, 8-13-21 overall), RW Mikko Rantanen (1-1-2 since March 30, 28-54-82 overall), MacKinnon (0-2-2 since March 30, 38-56-94 overall) and LW Gabriel Landeskog (0-2-2 since March 30, 24-35-59 overall).

The 43-28-8 Kings enter tonight’s tilt as the Western Conference’s first wild card and riding a three-game point streak. As has been a characteristic of Los Angeles and the three California teams for years now, the Kings have found that success by playing some spectacular and physical defense.

Since March 26, Los Angeles has allowed only 26 shots against per game. That’s the second-best mark in the NHL in that time, bested only by Edmonton allowing one fewer shot in its last three games. D Derek Forbort (3.3 blocks per game since March 26) and C Anze Kopitar (five takeaways in his last three games) have led that defensive charge, but the Kings have also had the luxury of four players (LW Kyle Clifford, Forbort, F Trevor Lewis and LW Tanner Pearson) imposing their wills along the boards and averaging two hits per game during this run.

This defensive success has kept 31-27-3 G Jonathan Quick‘s workload light, and that’s just fine by him as he’s managed a .964 save percentage and .96 GAA in his last two starts to lead the Kings to allowing only 1.33 goals against per game since March 26 – the lowest mark in the league in that time.

Quick, the (t)ninth-most winningest goaltender on the season, has a .923 save percentage and a 10th-best 2.37 GAA for this campaign, not to mention a (t)fourth-best five shutouts.

The Kings have certainly had the upper hand in their last two meetings with the Avs, as they’ve earned four points in comparison to Colorado’s one. Just like tonight’s tilt, December 21’s contest took place at Staples Center, where Los Angeles earned a 2-1 overtime victory (W Dustin Brown provided the game-winner). Meanwhile, the March 22 matchup in Denver was a much more lopsided affair, as the Kings posted a dominating 7-1 score (Kopitar earned First Star honors with his four-goal performance).

Should that winning trend continue tonight, the Kings will jump back into third place in the Pacific Division, but they’ll be giving a game-in-hand to Anaheim in the process that – should it convert it into a win of its own – could return the table to how it currently stands.

Meanwhile, as the Western Conference’s second wild card, Colorado has much to gain by pulling off the road upset tonight. A regulation win would propel the Avalanche over Los Angeles into the first wildcard spot, a much more certain position that also has the luxury of avoiding the dreaded Predators in the first round of the playoffs.

However, similar to Los Angeles’ situation with Anaheim, the Blues still have a game-in-hand on Colorado even though they’re also in action tonight at home against the Capitals. If the Avs are lucky, they can expand their lead on St. Louis to three points with a win and a Notes regulation loss, but it’s possible that Colorado could end the night further from playoff qualification than it started – that happens if the Avs lose in regulation and St. Louis earns at least one point, as the Blues would jump into the second wildcard in that situation due to the aforementioned game in hand.

With the top two lines playing remarkably well for Colorado, the Avs are going to be a tough out tonight regardless of who they have in net. However, Los Angeles’ success against against the Avalanche so far this season has me thinking it will be the Kings that come away with two points tonight.


In a penalty-riddled meeting that is just begging for a follow up in the postseason, the Washington Capitals clinched their third-consecutive Metropolitan Division title by downing the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

A whopping 38 combined penalty minutes were distributed in this game, with the hosts taking 10 more than Washington due in large part to F Evgeni Malkin and Assistant Coach Mark Recchi both getting called for misconducts with 61 seconds remaining in regulation. Surprisingly, neither side could capitalize on its five power play opportunities.

One player that went unaffected by all this commotion was First Star of the Game G Philipp Grubauer. Though a late goal by Third Star RW Patric Hornqvist (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) cut his dreams of a career-high fourth shutout 3:45 short, his 36-of-37 performance (.973 save percentage) was more than enough to earn the victory.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an offense scoring a goal per period in support. Washington registered all three of its tallies before Hornqvist got the Penguins on the scoreboard, starting with F T.J. Oshie‘s (W Andre Burakovsky and D John Carlson) wrist shot 6:25 into the first period.

Second Star D Dmitry Orlov (F Evgeny Kuznetsov) provided the game-winner on a wrister with 6:14 remaining in the second period. After the Pens had dumped the puck into their offensive zone at the end of a power play to get an even-strength line on the ice, Orlov ended up with possession and began driving through the center of the ice towards G Matt Murray. With D Olli Maatta left to beat, Orlov decided to use him as a screen and fire his wrister through the Finn’s legs, beating Murray’s blocker.

While Orlov does get credit for his second game-winner of the season, the biggest goal in this contest just might have been RW Tom Wilson‘s (D Matt Niskanen) tip-in only 23 seconds into the third period. The Toronto native’s 14th marker of the season set the score at 3-0, meaning Pittsburgh needed far more than a relatively late goal from Hornqvist to seriously cast doubt into the hearts and minds of the Capitals.

Murray took his 16th regulation loss of the season after saving only 31-of-34 shots faced (.912 save percentage).

In addition to clinching their third-consecutive division title, the Capitals’ road win also snapped an eight-game winning streak and 10-game point streak by the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts in the series now have a 98-54-21 record that is 44 points superior to the roadies.

March 26 – Day 166 – Potential playoff preview?

If you’re a fan of a team outside the Eastern playoff picture, your club is in action tonight.

Get excited.

The action finds its start at 7 p.m. with a trio of tilts (Buffalo at Toronto, Florida at the New York Islanders and Ottawa at Carolina [RDS2]), followed half an hour later by three more (Washington at the New York Rangers [NBCSN], Detroit at Montréal [RDS/TSN2] and Arizona at Tampa Bay). San Jose at Chicago drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., while Colorado at Vegas (SN1) waits until 10 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Calgary at Los Angeles – gets underway at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

There’s more than a few games I was looking to at the beginning of the season on today’s schedule, including…

  • Buffalo at Toronto: With the regular season series tied at 1-1-0, Game 3 of the Battle of the QEW goes down tonight!
  • Washington at New York: Another rivalry involving a club from the Empire State, this one takes place in the shadow of the Empire State Building.
  • Detroit at Montréal: Original Six. Need I say more?

If I had to choose one game out of that group of three, the Washington-New York game certainly has the best chance of being a real thriller. However, that tilt should pale in comparison to what’s going down in The Silver State tonight!

 

 

 

 

 

What makes this matchup exciting is that, as the playoff picture currently stands, this tilt is operating as a first round preview between the Pacific Division’s top team and the Western Conference’s first wild card.

But the playoff allusions don’t stop with simply the matchup, though. The Avalanche and Golden Knights tangled only two days ago in Denver to an extremely competitive result headlined by 23-15-6 G Semyon Varlamov, who saved 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage) – plus three more in the shootout – to earn the Avs a narrow 2-1 victory.

With neither team playing yesterday, emotions from Saturdays meeting will surely spill into the back half of this home-and-home series. The Golden Knights will surely want to find more success against Varlamov with their home fans behind them, and the Avs are no doubt trying to keep the pressure on Minnesota for third place in the Central Division (more on that later).

Since the 41-26-8 Avalanche won Saturday, let’s start with them. Colorado has been playing some excellent hockey this March, as it has posted an impressive 7-2-3 record since March 2.

No matter how you slice it, offense is the resounding name of the game in the Avalanche dressing room. Since March 2, the Avs have averaged an impressive 3.58 goals per game, the fifth-best performance in the NHL in that time.

F Nathan MacKinnon has been dominating all hockey-related headlines out of Colorado all season (well, at least since that trade), and that’s been no different this month with his dominating 9-12-21 totals in 12 games played to improve his season marks to 38-54-92. Currently (t)third in the league in points and (t)eighth in goals, MacKinnon will be among the top vote-receivers for the Hart Memorial Trophy – it just remains to be seen if he can actually bring the award back to Denver for the first time since C Peter Forsberg did just that in 2003.

Joining MacKinnon in averaging more than a point per game are the severely underrated RW Mikko Rantanen (7-14-21 totals since March 2, 27-53-80 overall) and D Tyson Barrie (5-8-13 since March 2, 12-40-52 overall). Since February 10, every single one of Barrie’s 23 points have been recorded with either MacKinnon or Rantanen (often both) also registering a point, so his chemistry with Colorado’s first line is not to be taken lightly.

As made evident by Saturday’s game, another major component to Colorado’s turnaround this season and success over the past month has been Varlamov. Despite the lackluster effort by his defense (he’s faced an average of 35.58 shots per game since March 2, the third-highest mark in the NHL in that time), Varlamov has kept opposing offenses under his thumb by posting an impressive .935 save percentage and 2.31 GAA in his last 11 starts. In total, the 2.5 goals per game the Avalanche have allowed since March 2 is (t)eighth-fewest in the NHL in that time.

On the season, Varlamov now has a .919 save percentage and 2.73 GAA, the ninth and 16th-best efforts in the NHL, respectively, among the 34 goalies with at least 30 starts.

However, the Avalanche aren’t the only team March has treated nicely. 47-21-7 Vegas has also had its share of success this month, posting a 5-2-2 record since March 8.

As important as Varlamov has been for Colorado, 27-11-4 G Marc-Andre Fleury has been even bigger for the Golden Knights lately. Allowing 33.78 shots against per game since March 8, the Knights’ defense has below average lately to rank 12th-worst in the NHL in that time.

However, you wouldn’t know that by looking at Vegas’ last nine scores, as the Knights have allowed an average of only 2.11 goals against per game over this run, the (t)fewest in the league since March 8.

That success is due entirely to Fleury, who has posted an impressive .95 save percentage and 1.61 GAA in his last eight starts. With a .93 save percentage and 2.15 GAA on the season (both second-best in the league among qualified goaltenders), Fleury should certainly be in the running for this season’s Vezina Trophy. While I worry he’ll be passed over due to missing so much time this season with injuries, it would be his first individual award should he get enough votes to win the award.

If Fleury does win the Vezina, does that and his three Stanley Cups make him a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame? At 33-years-old, these sorts of conversations about Fleury are going to become more and more common.

Just like I stated in Saturday’s preview, there’s very little the Golden Knights have left to achieve this regular season. The top seed in the Western Conference is virtually out of reach since the Predators have a six-point advantage, and Vegas has effectively locked up its first Pacific Division title in its debut season with its six-point lead on San Jose. The Knights’ focus now is getting healthy, conserving energy and preparing for the postseason.

If only life were so easy for Colorado.

The reemergence of the Blues, who trail Colorado by one point from their spot in the second wildcard, paired with the steady pressure from Los Angeles (tied with St. Louis in points, but with one more game played) has put the Avs in a fistfight to not only qualify for the postseason, but also avoid Nashville in the first round.

Obviously, a win tonight is a step in the right direction for the Avs putting those troubles behind them, but they’re also within range of knocking Minnesota out of third place in the Central (why they’d want to is beyond me – I’d rather stay as far away from Nashville and Winnipeg as possible this postseason). The Wild have 93 points – three more than Colorado – in just as many games played, so that will be a race worth keeping an eye on over the next two weeks.

One thing the Golden Knights have in their back pocket today is an impressive home ice advantage. Colorado has already fallen victim to that once this season, falling 7-0 on October 27 (G Oscar Dansk led the way with his 32-save effort). However, the Avalanche coming to town tonight are playing approximately one million percent better now than they were at the beginning of the season, so I wouldn’t expect such a lopsided result in the finale of this regular-season series.

With two hot goalies squaring off for the second time in three days, this game is going to boil down to which offense has the upper hand. Since MacKinnon is leading his red-hot Avalanche attack, its hard to pick against Colorado. However, the Knights have averaged 3.62 goals per game at home this season, so I’d expect a better result by them tonight compared to Saturday’s one-goal performance.


With a 5-4 overtime win at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Pittsburgh Penguins completed the season sweep of their arch-rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers.

As made evident by the necessity of extra time, that victory did not come without its challenges. In fact, the Flyers led after the first period thanks to goals from D Travis Sanheim (Third Star of the Game F Jordan Weal and W Wayne Simmonds) and D Brandon Manning (Weal and F Valtteri Filppula), though it was only by one tally due to C Derick Brassard‘s (W Conor Sheary and RW Phil Kessel) wrist shot registered in between the Flyers’ markers.

Another three-goal frame was in store in the second period, but the score read 3-3 by the time the Flyers and Penguins retreated to their dressing rooms for the second intermission. RW Patric Hornqvist (Kessel and First Star D Justin Schultz) scored a power play wrister only 37 seconds into the period to level the game at 2-2, followed exactly two minutes later by F Evgeni Malkin (Schultz and D Brian Dumoulin) scoring a snap shot to give Pittsburgh its first lead of the game. However, with 2:50 remaining in the frame, Weal (D Shayne Gostisbehere and LW Oskar Lindblom) managed only his eighth goal of the season to tie the game for the Flyers.

Second Star C Sidney Crosby (Schultz and F Jake Guentzel) was apparently motivated to outdo Hornqvist, because he returned a one-goal advantage to Pittsburgh only 17 seconds into the third period. That 4-3 score held for exactly 19 minutes before C Sean Couturier (Gostisbehere and F Claude Giroux) scored a wrister with the extra attacker to level the score at 4-4 and force three-on-three overtime.

The five-minute overtime period nearly reached its midway point before disaster befell the visitors, as W Bryan Rust (Crosby and D Kris Letang) scored a tip-in at the 2:25 mark to register his third game-winning goal of the season.

Crosby started the play by advancing the puck into the offensive zone, but all three Philadelphia skaters were already in front of him to slow his offensive charge. Surprisingly, Crosby’s usually sure stick-handling skills failed him in his charge towards G Petr Mrazek‘s net, as Gostisbehere never physically influenced the reigning Richard Trophy-winner before the puck ended up in the left corner. The Captain was able to recollect his error, though, and reset the play to Letang at the blue line, who ripped a centering pass for Rust that he was unable to score due to Mrazek’s left pad.

If at first you don’t succeed, try an try again – just ask Rust. Crosby collected the rebound and fired another quick centering pass, and Rust tucked this puck where Mama hides the cookies to earn Pittsburgh the bonus point.

G Matt Murray earned the victory after saving 41-of-45 shots faced (.911 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Mrazek, who saved 19-of-21 (.905). Mrazek entered the game at the 2:37 mark of the second period following Malkin’s goal that set the score at 3-2. G Alex Lyon saved eight-of-11 (.727) for no decision.

That is the third-straight match in the DtFR Game of the Day series to require extra time, and the second in a row to end as a home winner. As such, the 92-53-21 hosts in the series have reclaimed a 36-point lead on the roadies.

March 24 – Day 164 – Unpredictability at its finest

It’s a busy Saturday in the NHL, so let’s jump right into today’s schedule!

First up is Vegas at Colorado (SN1) at 3 p.m., trailed an hour later by Calgary at San Jose as the only other matinee of the day. A whopping eight games (Detroit at Toronto [CBC], Washington at Montréal [NHLN/SN/TVAS], Carolina at Ottawa [CITY/SN1], Arizona at Florida, Tampa Bay at New Jersey, Chicago at the New York Islanders, Buffalo at the New York Rangers and St. Louis at Columbus) drop the puck at 7 p.m., followed by Nashville at Minnesota 60 minutes later. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Edmonton (CBC/SN/SN1) – drops the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the day’s festivities. All times Eastern.

Some of the games I’ve had my eye on include…

  • Detroit at Toronto: Including this one, there’s only four more Original Six matchups left this regular season! Get ’em in while you can!
  • Arizona at Florida: D Jason Demers spent all of last season with the Panthers. Hopefully the Florida faithful will give him a warm welcome tonight.
  • Chicago at New York: With G Jean-Francois Berube and G Anton Forsberg competing for next season’s backup job, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the former get tonight’s start against his former team.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: Consider this your fourth and final reminder of the season that the Oilers traded away C Wayne Gretzky.

However, none of those matchups feature two teams still in the hunt for the postseason. Instead, let’s make the trip to Denver to see what the Avs can do to the Knights!

 

 

 

 

 

This has been far from a bad week for the 47-21-6 Golden Knights, as they’ve posted a 2-0-1 record over their past three games in spite of 27-11-3 G Marc-Andre Fleury joining Reilly Smith on Vegas’ injury list.

There was certainly concern when Fleury went down with his head injury in Tuesday’s tilt against the Canucks – not only for the player, but also for the team’s performance. After all, the only reason the Golden Knights shutout the Flames on Sunday was because Fleury put on an amazing performance, saving all 42 shots Calgary fired.

However, 11-3-2 G Malcolm Subban has easily taken command of the crease in Fleury’s stead, as he completed the starter’s game against Vancouver by allowing a lone goal and followed it up by yielding only two tallies and forcing overtime against the Sharks on Thursday.

As hinted at before with Fleury’s performance against Calgary, the reason the goaltenders have been so incredible lately is because they’ve been the only line of defense lately. Since March 18, the Golden Knights have allowed an average of 38.67 shots against per game, the second-most of any team in the league in that time.

It remains to be seen which goaltender will earn the start this afternoon, as Fleury was seen on ice for practice in Denver today.

Incredibly, the 40-26-8 Avalanche have been one of the best feel good stories of the year in a season that features an expansion team posing a real threat for winning the Stanley Cup. That’s been no less true over the past 16 games, as Colorado has earned a 9-3-4 record since February 20.

The biggest reason for the Avs’ success this season has been their impressive offense, headed by 2014 Calder-winner F Nathan MacKinnon. Over Colorado’s last 16 games, MacKinnon has posted unbelievable 14-17-31 totals – one point short of averaging two points per game over this run – to improve his season marks to 38-54-92.

But it hasn’t been just MacKinnon. F Mikko Rantanen and D Tyson Barrie have also been unstoppable lately, managing respective 9-18-27 and 7-14-21 marks since February 20. With Barrie gelling so well with Colorado’s top line, there’s little that can slow down this attack.

While it might be a little extreme to say Vegas doesn’t care about this match or any other until Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Golden Knights’ fortunes really don’t change all that much with a win, loss or draw. Vegas currently trails Nashville by six points for the Presidents’ Trophy, but that lead is even greater considering the Predators have a game in hand. Similarly, the Knights aren’t all that concerned with second-place San Jose catching up and challenging for the Pacific Division title, as they have a seven-point advantage over their NorCal nemeses.

However, the same cannot be said for the Avalanche, as they have fallen back into the second wild card after Anaheim’s overtime loss last night in Winnipeg. Since tonight’s tilt is Colorado’s game in hand on the Ducks (at least until tomorrow when Anaheim is in Edmonton while the Avs are dormant), it needs to earn at least one point to jump back into the first wild card. Should the Avs fall in regulation, they risk relinquishing their playoff position to St. Louis, which has a tough matchup of its own in Columbus.

Colorado and Vegas have squared off only once so far this season, and it was far from a pleasurable experience for the Avs. Colorado was invited to T-Mobile Arena on October 27, where it was pounded into oblivion by the Knights to a 7-0 final score. G Oscar Dansk earned First Star honors with a perfect 32-save performance, while 11 different Golden Knights registered at least a point – four of which posted 1-1-2 totals on the night.

Whether it’s Fleury or Subban in net today, they are going to face a tough task in trying to slow down the Avs’ dominating attack. Though they’ve been good this season, I think Colorado has what it takes to earn two points at home today.


Even though the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to rally from a 3-1 deficit in the third period, the New Jersey Devils won yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at PPG Paints Arena 4-3 in overtime.

The Devils would eventually score their three goals, but not before the Penguins would take an initial one-goal lead. Third Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby (D Jamie Oleksiak and F Jake Guentzel) scored his 25th goal of the season 2:29 into play, burying a wrist shot to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 advantage that held into the first intermission.

Head Coach John Hynes must have had some choice words for his club during the first break, because New Jersey absolutely dominated the second frame – or, at least 3:39 of it. D Will Butcher (D Damon Severson and First Star F Taylor Hall) pulled the Devils even 5:15 into the frame with a power play snap shot, followed only 2:05 later by a F Blake Coleman (W Drew Stafford and C Pavel Zacha) backhanded shot that gave Jersey the lead. Second Star C Nico Hischier (D John Moore and Hall) completed the Devils’ blitz with a wrister at the 8:54 mark to give them a 3-1 lead that they held into the second intermission.

Facing a two-goal deficit, Pittsburgh didn’t waste much time in starting its comeback after the start of the third period. Only 3:13 into the frame, D Brian Dumoulin (Crosby) halved the Devils’ advantage with a slap shot, his fifth goal of the season. The goal horn was brought to life once again 7:39 later, this time by RW Phil Kessel (C Derick Brassard and W Conor Sheary) to level the game at 3-3.

With that tie holding through the end of regulation, the game advanced into five minutes of three-on-three play. However, Hall (Hischier) needed only 27 seconds of those five minutes to find the game-winner.

After struggling mightily under an intense forecheck by the Penguins his own defensive zone, Hischier finally ended up with the puck on his stick long enough to fling a pass to Hall waiting near the blue line into the Devils’ offensive zone. Unfortunately for the Penguins, the very defense that was causing such troubles proved to be extremely beneficial to Hall, as he had only G Matt Murray to beat to end the game, which he did with a wrister through the netminder’s five-hole.

G Keith Kinkaid earned the victory after saving 40-of-43 shots faced (.93 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Murray, who saved 30-of-34 (.882).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day have been an incredibly difficult out lately, as they’ve earned points in 11 of the last 14 featured matchups. As such, the 90-53-21 hosts now have only a 34-point advantage in the series.

March 13 – Day 153 – The Central teams without Ss

Only seven games are on this Tuesday’s schedule, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the lower volume means lower quality.

We find our start at 7 p.m. with Boston at Carolina (SN1), followed half an hour later by a pair of tilts (Dallas at Montréal [RDS/TNS2] and Ottawa at Tampa Bay [RDS2]). Next up is Winnipeg at Nashville (TVAS) at 8 p.m., while Colorado at Minnesota (NBCSN) waits 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Edmonton at Calgary (SN/SN1) gets underway at 9 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Arizona – completes the evening’s festivities with their 10 p.m. tilt. All times Eastern.

When the schedule was released last summer, there was a few games that stuck out to me on today’s slate.

  • Dallas at Montréal: RW Alexander Radulov returned to the NHL last season for the third time of his career, but he spent only one campaign with the Habs before commuting to the Lone Star State.
  • Edmonton at Calgary: The Flames need points in the worst way to stay in playoff discussion, but two points are never easily earned in this rivalry.
  • Los Angeles at Arizona: F Tobias Rieder spent the first four seasons of his NHL career with the Coyotes, but that tenure ended at this trade deadline when he was shipped to the Kings.

However, those games pale in comparison to the bouts taking place in the Central Division tomorrow. Since Nashville and Winnipeg are all but locked into the postseason, let’s see what the Avs and Wild can do.

 

The 36-24-8 Avalanche are on a nice little run lately, as they’ve posted an impressive 5-1-4 record over their last 10 showings. A major reason for that success is an imposing offense that has averaged 3.6 goals since February 20, the sixth-best mark in the NHL in that time span.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but F Nathan MacKinnon has been an absolute animal this season.

Okay, I’ve decided that even though you have heard this fact, I’m still going to talk about him.

Let’s just start with his season as a whole. MacKinnon has posted 32-49-81 totals this season, far and away the best numbers of his five-year career having eclipsed his 24-39-63 rookie marks that earned him the 2014 Calder Trophy a while ago. What really sticks out to me here are the 81 points he’s already registered this campaign, even with 14 games separating the Avalanche from the end of the regular season. What that means is, unless he somehow gets held scoreless through his next 14 showings, he’s all but ensured averaging a point per game for the entire 82-game season.

But wait, there’s more! MacKinnon’s marks get even better when we remember that he missed eight games with injury, meaning he’s earned his 81 points in only 60 games played. For those not so mathematically inclined, that means MacKinnon has averaged 1.35 points per game this season, the best mark in that statistic in the league. He’s also managed a cool .53 goals per game this season (well better than his previous career-best .29 in 2013-’14 and 2015-’16), which should be worrisome to Minnesota this evening considering he hasn’t potted his own score in a week.

More recently, the 22-year-old from Halifax, Nova Scotia has still been the class of the NHL. Since February 20, no player has posted numbers like MacKinnon’s, as his 8-12-20 points (that’s right, he’s averaging two points per game in his last 10 showings!) in that time are even better than division-rival RW Patrik Laine‘s 14-4-18 in as many games played.

I haven’t made my Hart Trophy pick yet, but MacKinnon is certainly going earn his fair share of votes this April.

Of course, an even bigger problem when facing Colorado is that the team is a little bit more than MacKinnon. RW Mikko Rantanen (5-11-16 totals since February 20) and D Tyson Barrie (5-10-15 in his last 10 games) have also been headline worthy lately by averaging at least 1.5 points per game during this run.

Meanwhile, things have also seemed to be going 39-23-7 Minnesota’s way in recent days, as it has managed a 3-1-0 record in its last four tilts.

Just like tonight’s rival, offense has been a major part of the Wild’s winning ways lately, as they’ve averaged an imposing four goals per game over their last four showings, the (t)third-best mark in the league since March 4.

Though there are four players averaging a point per game over this four-game run, none stand out quite like C Eric Staal, who has 37-31-68 totals on the season. The Thunder Bay, Ontario native has rediscovered his scoring touch at a ripe 33-years-old, scoring the most goals in one season since his 38-tally effort with the Hurricanes in 2007-’08.

Just to make sure you caught that, that was 10 years ago. 10.

Staal is on track for 44 goals this season, which would be one short of his career mark set in 2005-’06, his sophomore campaign. His last four games have more than kept him in line for that mark, as he’s averaging a frightening goal per game since March 4.

Joining Staal in averaging a point per game during this four-game run are third-liner F Charlie Coyle (2-2-4 totals) and top defensive pair Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter (both with 0-4-4 marks). Suter in particular has played a major role in Staal’s recent success, as three of his assists – two of which were the primary apples – have resulted in goals for the Canadian.

An added perk of Minnesota’s success on the offensive end has been its puck possession. Since March 4, the Wild’s opposing offenses have managed only 30 shots per game, the (t)ninth-best mark in the NHL in that time. Spurgeon (2.3 blocks per game over his last four games) and W Jason Zucker (averaging a takeaway per game over this run) in particular have played major roles in that defensive success.

Facing only 30 shots per outing has certainly made 30-13-5 G Devan Dubnyk look pretty good as well. Having started all of Minnesota’s last four games, Dubnyk has posted a .933 save percentage and 2.01 GAA to improve his season marks to a .917 save percentage and 2.6 GAA.

However, all this success comes with a slight asterisk. The Wild’s last four games have been played against the Red Wings (4-1 victory), Hurricanes (6-2 victory), Canucks (5-2 victory) and Edmonton (4-1 loss) – all teams on the outside of the playoff picture, of which only Carolina still has a real shot at qualifying (though the Canes’ odds are dropping like rocks in a pond). In fact, the last time Minnesota played a good team, it was against the Avalanche.

As we’ll tackle in a moment, that was not a pleasurable experience for the Wild.

With seven points currently separating the Wild from the second-place Jets, there’s little climbing Minnesota can do in the Central Division. Instead, its focus is staving off the Stars and Avalanche from its third place spot. A home win in regulation tonight would obviously be an important step towards that goal, as Dallas – which trails the Wild by only three points – is also in action tonight.

For those that like chaos in the standings (consider me a member of that party), Colorado is the team for you this evening. Not even a full year removed from one of the worst seasons in recent history, the Avs are currently holding onto a second wild card spot over the Ducks, also with 80 points, with two games in hand. With Anaheim inactive tonight, one of those games in hand is being played tonight, meaning Colorado cannot afford to leave St. Paul without at least a point for its effort.

Of course, the Avalanche would prefer to not play Nashville in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and they could jump into the first wildcard spot with a win tonight should Dallas fall in Montréal, as both clubs would be tied at 82 points with Colorado having a game in hand.

Through the first three meetings between these teams in their four-game season series, it’s been all Colorado, as the Avs have earned a 2-0-1 record against the Wild to clinch the series victory. Minnesota won the first meeting on November 24 3-2 with the help of the shootout (9-10-2 G Alex Stalock earned First Star honors for allowing no goals after the first period), but Colorado responded by posting 7-2 (MacKinnon and Rantanen both posted 1-2-3 totals) and 7-1 (MacKinnon led the way with a dominating 2-3-5 performance) victories on January 6 and March 2, respectively.

It goes without saying that the Avalanche have Minnesota’s number this season, but the comforts of home should play in the Wild’s favor to keep the Avs from hanging seven goals for a third-consecutive matchup. That being said, it’s hard to imagine a game that doesn’t end with Colorado earning two points, as MacKinnon and co. have been finding success regardless of opponent lately.


With two goals in the third period, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

When the Flyers were caught with too many men on the ice at the 4:27 mark, it opened the door for Vegas to find the game’s opening goal. F Erik Haula (W David Perron and D Nate Schmidt) provided the tally, burying a power play wrist shot with only 10 seconds remaining before F Travis Konecny would rejoin play.

Speaking of Konecny, he would be involved in the goal that tied the game at 1-1. Only 1:27 into the second period, Second Star of the Game F Claude Giroux (C Sean Couturier and Konecny) leveled the game with a wrister, the lone marker of the frame.

Another penalty proved to be Philadelphia’s downfall in the third period. When D Travis Sanheim was caught hi-sticking Haula at the 4:30 mark, Third Star C William Karlsson (F Tomas Hyka and D Shea Theodore) needed only 90 seconds with the man-advantage to return a one-goal advantage to the Knights.

However, the referees didn’t only have gold-tinted glasses, as Vegas ended up giving up a power play goal of its own. With D Brayden McNabb in the box for hooking RW Jakub Voracek only 31 seconds after Karlsson’s goal, W Wayne Simmonds (Voracek and D Shayne Gostisbehere) set the score at 2-2 at the 7:06 mark, creating a tie that would last more than 10 minutes.

But instead of that tie holding to the end of regulation, First Star F Ryan Carpenter (C Cody Eakin and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) provided the game-winning goal with 2:40 remaining on the clock. Playing against his former club, Bellemare performed a lot of the dirty work on this goal, as he scrapped along the boards for four seconds with two Flyers before shoving a pass to Eakin in the trapezoid. Eakin one-timed a centering pass past G Petr Mrazek‘s right post to Carpenter, who fired his wrister from the face-off circle over the netminder’s glove shoulder to win the match.

G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the victory after saving 38-of-40 shots faced (.95 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved 26-of-29 (.897). With the victory, Fleury notched the 400th victory of his career, and it was made all the more sweet by coming against his former rivals.

Vegas’ victory while wearing white marks the third-consecutive win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day. As such, the 83-50-19 hosts’ advantage in the series has been trimmed to 29 points.

February 28 – Day 140 – Volcanic eruption

Almost every game  being played tonight is being televised nationally in Canada, so I want no complaints about nothing to watch this evening. I’ll hear none of them!

As it so often does, today’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with a pair of matchups (the New York Islanders at Montréal [RDS/SN] and Buffalo at Tampa Bay [TVAS]), followed an hour later by Detroit at St. Louis (NBCSN). Next up is Calgary at Colorado (SN360) at 9:30 p.m., trailed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: the New York Rangers at Vancouver. All times Eastern.

It is true that the Blues and Red Wings are reviving their former rivalry tonight, but there’s much more pressing matters taking place in the Rocky Mountains.

 

Currently sitting a point behind second wild card Anaheim, the 32-22-9 Flames are trying their hardest to stay within an arm’s reach of the playoff picture. They’ve posted a 2-1-1 record in their last four showings, due in large part to the solid play of their defense.

Since February 19, Calgary has allowed an average of only 30 shots against per game. That’s the (t)seventh-best mark in the league in that time, and the Flames owe it all to LW Johnny Gaudreau (averaging 1.8 takeaways per game since February 19), D Travis Hamonic (2.6 blocks per game in his last five showings) and F Curtis Lazar (averaging three hits per game over this run).

Gaudreau’s effort in particular stands out to me, as he’s usually known for his production on the offensive end of the ice considering he’s managed only a +12 goal-differential with his 20-53-73 season totals. However, with 23-16-6 G Mike Smith still recovering from his groin injury, Johnny Hockey has led the charge in making life as easy as possible for 2-1-0 G Jon Gillies while he fills in for the former Coyote.

Another way to keep the pressure off a young goalkeeper thrust into the limelight is by providing some attacking support on the other end. That’s where LW Matthew Tkachuk (3-2-5 totals since February 19) and Gaudreau (1-4-5 in his last four showings) come into play, as they’ve both averaged a point per game recently to spearhead an attack that has managed 2.8 goals per game since last Monday – the 10th-best scoring average in the league in that time.

Every year keeps getting better for Tkachuk. He posted impressive 13-35-48 totals in 76 games during his rookie season to finish seventh in voting for the Calder Trophy, and he’s only improved to post 24-23-47 marks this year. If the Flames can do nothing else, they certainly know how to identify talent at the left wing position.

Meanwhile, 33-24-5 Colorado – only a season removed from one of the worst campaigns in NHL history – is just three points behind the Ducks for the eight seed in the Western Conference. Similar to Calgary, the Avalanche are 2-1-1 in their past four showings, but Colorado has been finding its success largely on the offensive end.

There is a chiropractor in Denver making a whole lot of money off F Nathan MacKinnon, because the 22-year-old has put this entire team on his back since returning from injury. He’s averaged two points per game in his last four showings, managing 4-4-8 totals in that time.

Okay, so maybe it hasn’t been all MacKinnon. D Tyson Barrie (1-5-6 totals since February 20) and RW Mikko Rantanen (2-3-5) have also been pretty solid during this run. Together, they’ve willed the Avs to scoring 2.75 goals per game over the past eight days – the (t)11th-best scoring rate in the NHL in that time.

What’s been most impressive about Colorado lately is its unstoppable power play. Posting only a middle-of-the-pack 20.1 percent success rate for the entire season, the Avalanche have boasted 46.2 conversion percentage in their past four showings.

It is largely with the man-advantage where Barrie comes into play, as it’s on the power play where he registered his most recent goal and four of his last five assists. In fact, Barrie and MacKinnon have combined on five of the Avs’ six power play goals scored during this run. Calgary’s penalty kill has been good lately (neutralizing 85.7 of its infractions since February 20), but the Flames would still be wise to avoid the sin bin at all costs tonight.

Tonight’s game is the finale of the three-game regular season series between the Avs and Flames. Calgary has already clinched victory in the first two matchups, winning 3-2 in Denver on November 25 (C Mikael Backlund provided the game-winner in the second period) and 5-1 in Alberta four days ago (Backlund took First Star honors with his 1-2-3 performance).

With Anaheim being dormant this evening, a Calgary win of any variety would propel the Flames past the Ducks into the second wild card (technically, Calgary would tie Los Angeles for third in the Pacific, but lose a games played tiebreaker). Should Colorado be the club to come away with a regulation win, the Avs would jump from 11th in the Western Conference to ninth, only one point behind the Ducks.

It is true that the Avalanche have home ice this evening, but I feel confident the Flames can earn two points tonight. However, if they can’t keep D Nikita Zadorov – the club’s leader in penalty minutes – out of trouble, Colorado’s power play will show no mercy en route to a victory.


Have yourself a game, First Star of the Game D Roman Josi! He registered five assists in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, leading the Nashville Predators to a 6-5 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Bell Centre.

Unbelievably, a game that ended with 11 combined goals featured no goals in the first period even though the Preds and Jets fired 24 shots on goal altogether.

The second period made up for that offensive drought with a whopping seven goals.

The scoreless draw wasn’t broken until the 2:45 mark of the second period, courtesy of a F Matt Hendricks (RW Joel Armia and C Andrew Copp) wrist shot. Winnipeg’s advantage lasted 6:10 before Third Star F Craig Smith (Josi) leveled the game, but C Mark Scheifele (F Jack Roslovic and LW Kyle Connor) returned the advantage to the Jets and provided a brace (Second Star C Paul Stastny and RW Blake Wheeler) by the 14:23 mark – all in the span of 1:42.

The Preds saw Winnipeg’s two-straight goals and matched them with two of their own. Only 44 seconds after Scheifele’s second goal, C Kyle Turris (W Viktor Arvidsson and Josi) pulled Nashville back within a 3-2 deficit, followed by D Mattias Ekholm (F Calle Jarnkrok and Josi) leveling the game with a power play snap shot with 2:54 remaining in the frame. W Nikolaj Ehlers (RW Patrik Laine and D Ben Chiarot) scored the final goal of the period 33 seconds after Ekholm’s marker, setting the score at 4-3 going into the intermission.

Winnipeg earned its second two-goal lead of the night at the exact midway point of the third period when Stastny (Ehlers and Laine) scored a wrister – his first goal as a Jet – but the Preds proved they are more than capable of staging even the biggest of comebacks. Only 55 seconds after Stastny’s goal, Smith (D Yannick Weber) pulled Nashville back within a goal with a wrister, followed by F Ryan Johansen (Arvidsson and Josi) burying a wrister to level the game at 5-5 with 6:03 remaining in regulation.

Just like Stastny made his presence known with his new team, W Ryan Hartman (Josi) also built some serious rapport with his new squad by providing the game-winning goal with one minute remaining on the clock.

A player hanging out near the crease almost always yields a positive result. That proved to be the case in this instance, as Hartman was able to redirect Josi’s initial slap shot from the left face-off dot – that G Connor Hellebuyck moved towards in attempt to make a save – into the gaping cage after it crossed through the crease untouched.

The most points Josi had scored in any game all season before last night was two, and he’s a major reason no team in the NHL wants to play the Predators right now. If he continues playing like this in the playoffs, there’s little doubt that his club will be well on its way to its second-consecutive Stanley Cup Final.

G Pekka Rinne earned the victory after saving 34-of-39 shots faced (.872 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hellebuyck, who saved 26-of-32 (.813).

For the fourth straight day in the DtFR Game of the Day, a road team has earned at least a point. As such, the 74-47-19 hosts now have only an 18-point advantage on the visitors in the series.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Weeks 12 & 13

With New Years and the GLI preventing me from posting last week (and being out of town this weekend pushing this yet another day back) I’ll be combining the past two weeks of action, because I make the rules here and you all just have to deal with it. So there.

Skater of the Week(s): Mikko Rantanen

Though the big Finn was overshadowed slightly by teammate Nathan MacKinnon by two points over this stretch, Rantanen’s 10 points in six games are still nothing to scoff at. An even split of five goals (one on the power play) and five assists (also one power play tally) to go with a ridiculous +9 rating over the six games put the 21-year old at 41 points in 41 games and dug him out of a -8 +/- hole to put him at a +1 on the season.

If Rantanen can continue producing at a point-a-game rate to go along with the incredible numbers MacKinnon is putting up, he may well lead the Avs (and my fantasy team) right into the playoffs.

Tendy of the Week(s): Tuukka Rask

(Special mentions to Jimmy Howard, Connor Hellebuyck, Jonathan Bernier and Ben Bishop, who all posted one more win than Rask over this span and all had terrific numbers of their own, as well.)

The Bruins are scorching hot right now and Rask is a huge part of that. The man with two Us and two Ks truly was too good over these past two weeks, posting wins in all three of his starts with a scarcely believable .974 save percentage and 0.67 GAA to his credit, along with a shutout (duh) for good measure.

Boston is never going to run down Tampa for the division’s top spot without some sort of extinction-level event befalling the Lightning, but with three games in hand over third place Toronto and the Grand Canyon between them and fourth place, the Bs look to be fairly comfortable in their push towards the playoffs. If Rask carries this play into the postseason, everyone should be scared.

Game of the Week(s): Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…………

Okay, so, admittedly I did not watch a lot of hockey over the past 14 or so days. I can tell you that Michigan vs Michigan State in the consolation game of the GLI was a lot of fun, and the Winter Classic looked like it was a barnburner. Also the Jackets and Panthers went eight rounds into the shootout Sunday night, a game that I was originally supposed to attend (you’re welcome, friend who I gave the tickets to), and all five goals scored were gross.

But if I’m being honest, I simply haven’t watched enough to make a solid pick this time around. So, tell you what, the game of the week is whatever you want it to be! Yeah, how about that? That’s me giving back to you, the reader.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

David Savard was fined $5,000 for Paul Bunyon-ing Vincent Trocheck, a move that Cap’n Cornelius would probably deem the most solid defensive play he’s seen out of Savard all season.

Dan Girardi blocked a Martin Frk shot with his head, which is definitely not recommended, but luckily had all concussion tests come back negative and is only listed as day-to-day. In Girardi’s defense, at least half of the time Frk lets a shot go, even he doesn’t know exactly where it’s going (a point Red Wings’ color analyst Mickey Redmond made himself after the play occurred). For those unfamiliar with Frk, I can tell you that he almost certainly has one of the hardest shots you will ever witness. Living in northwest Ohio, I’ve had multiple opportunities to watch him in action over the past few years when he spent time with Toledo of the ECHL, and even his wrist shot hits the boards with a sound unlike anything you’ll hear from 99 percent of other players. Maybe work on keeping them down, Marty.

Patrice Bergeron had himself a four-goal game, which I assume was just to remind all of us that he’s still the best hockey player that no one ever remembers exists.

Glen Gulutzan had a meltdown for the ages at Flames practice, highlighted by heaving his stick into the stratosphere. No one has seen the stick land yet, and I assume it has simply joined Jose Bautista’s bat on its eternal journey through the cosmos.

Speaking of the Flames, the team is reportedly looking to release Jaromir Jagr, in a move that would likely put them on a level of heel heat that would rival Vince McMahon post-Montreal Screwjob (Bonus points to any reader that actually understands that reference).

Nazem Kadri fought Joe Thornton (bad idea) and apparently thought ripping some of Jumbo’s beard out would cause Joe to lose some of his strength (decent theory, story of Samson and whatnot). It did not cause him to lose his strength, though, so a bad day for Kadri there.

The Oilers nabbed goaltender Al Montoya from the Habs in exchange for a conditional 4th round pick, in a move that could be titled “Two dumpster fires exchange things in attempt to convince livid fanbases that improvements are being made.”

January 6 – Day 91 – Hej baby

With the NHL’s bye weeks starting up tomorrow, there’s lots of action for us to take in today!

Making today even more amazing, the league has scheduled two matinee games for our enjoyment. The first involves St. Louis at Philadelphia (SN) at 1 p.m., followed two hours later by Edmonton at Dallas. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. has three contests for us (Carolina at Boston, Vancouver at Toronto [CBC/NHLN/SN] and Tampa Bay at Ottawa [CITY/SN1/TVAS]), while the New York Rangers at Arizona waits until 8 p.m. to drop the puck. Minnesota visits Colorado at 9 p.m., with Anaheim at Calgary (CBC/SN) trailing an hour later and Nashville at Los Angeles closing the evening off at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Though there’s more than a few stellar matchups on tap today, three caught my eye before even the first puck was dropped on the season.

  • St. Louis at Philadelphia: The Blues and Flyers swapped C Jori Lehtera and F Brayden Schenn this summer. Considering Schenn has posted 17-25-42 totals this season compared to Lehtera’s 0-2-2, I’d say the winner of the trade is self-evident.
  • Minnesota at Colorado: Tonight at the Pepsi Center, RW Milan Hejduk‘s 23 is being lifted to the rafters to reside with five other Avalanche greats.
  • Anaheim at Calgary: There’s no love lost here: this is a rematch from the Western Conference’s first round that the Flames would rather forget.

It might surprise you, but one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now is actually the Colorado Avalanche. Let’s see if they can keep this positive energy rolling for Hejduk’s special night.

 

What an exciting day for the Avalanche franchise. There are few former members of the Avs more deserving of this honor, to the point that your favorite humble hockey blog predicted tonight’s festivities over two years ago.

Selected by Québec in the fourth round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft from the Czech Republic, Hejduk made his NHL debut on opening day of the 1998-’99 season. It wasn’t an overly impressive rookie season for Hejduk (though he was named to the All-Rookie Team), posting only 14-34-48 totals and finishing a distant third behind teammate C Chris Drury in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy, but Hejduk would have the last laugh of a far superior career.

Some players experience a sophomore slump, but Hejduk was quite the opposite. He started the 1999-’00 season with a bang by scoring the first goal in the history of the Pepsi Center, and that campaign ended up being the fourth-best of his career, as he posted 36-36-72 totals that became his baseline for almost every season until 2007-’08.

Hejduk’s third season is probably the one he remembers the fondest, as that’s the year Colorado hoisted the Stanley Cup. The Czech continued his growth at the professional level to reach the 40-goal plateau for the first time en route to his second-consecutive appearance at the All-Star Game (which the Avalanche hosted), and he earned 79 points to help the Avs to a 52-16-10-4 record good enough for the Presidents’ Trophy. He followed that effort up with a 7-16-23 performance in the postseason – second-best behind C Joe Sakic – that included the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Western Quarterfinals in a 2-1 victory over the Canucks.

Short of the Stanley Cup, the biggest achievement of Hejduk’s career was winning the 2003 Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy after scoring a career-high 50 goals. He had a two-goal advantage on runner-up LW Markus Naslund, and a whopping 21 more that the Avs’ second-best goalscorer that season, C Peter Forsberg, with whom he shared the now discontinued NHL Plus-Minus Award that season after they both posted a franchise-best +52.

Hejduk is far and away the longest tenured player in the history of the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise, as he played 1020 regular season games over 14 seasons with the burgundy and blue, not to mention another 112 playoff contests. Over those 1020 games, he registered 375 goals and 805 points – both the fourth-most in in team history – and a fifth-most 430 assists.

Hejduk’s 23 will be Colorado’s first retired number since D Adam Foote‘s 52 was raised to the rafters on November 2, 2013. Hejduk joins D Ray Bourque, Foote, Forsberg, G Patrick Roy and Sakic – and I guess technically C Wayne Gretzky too, though the closest he came to playing in Denver was his 18 games with St. Louis in 1996.

For those that believe these types of trends can predict the future, Colorado has a 4-1-0 record and a +7 total goal differential in games when it retires a number, so Minnesota should be worried about its chances tonight.

Of course, this Avs team – which has a 21-16-3 record that is good enough for 10th in the Western Conference, two points behind Minnesota in the second wildcard spot – is nowhere near the caliber of those Hejduk played for in years past. However, that’s not to say this squad can’t find success. In fact, Colorado enters tonight’s game riding a four-game winning streak and having earned a 6-1-1 record over its past eight games, which is the third-best mark in the NHL since December 18.

How have the Avs been finding this success? Where to start?

Let’s start with the offense, which has scored 27 goals since December 18 to rank (t)fifth-best in the NHL in that time. The first line has been nigh unstoppable during this run, as both F Nathan MacKinnon (2-9-11 totals) and RW Mikko Rantanen (5-6-11) are headlining the teams scoring, and LW Gabriel Landeskog is only a step behind with his 3-4-7 effort.

But Colorado hasn’t only successful on the offensive end; the defense – even with G Semyon Varlamov nursing a lower-body injury – has played exceptionally, allowing only 15 goals against, the (t)fifth-fewest since December 18.

Varlamov was playing well before he went down on January 2, as he’d posted a .931 save percentage and 2.14 GAA in his six last starts. But G Jonathan Bernier has been even better, earning an incredible .965 save percentage and 1.2 GAA since starting New Year’s Eve’s game against the Islanders. Bernier is coming off a 34-save shutout against the Blue Jackets Thursday.

As for Minnesota, it is quietly in the second wildcard position with a 22-16-3 record. The Wild have also been playing well lately, as they’ve won four of their past five contests.

The Wild’s offense has come alive during this run, as they’ve scored 19 goals since December 27 to rank (t)second-best in the league since then. F Mikael Granlund is finally starting to look like he did last year when he posted career-high 26-43-69 totals. He started slow in 2017 to post only 11-16-27 totals, but he’s managed a 4-4-8 effort from the second line over his last five games to lead his team’s surge. D Jared Spurgeon has also performed well, posting 1-5-6 totals over this run.

Tonight’s meeting marks the second in the four-game series between the Avalanche and Wild. Game 1 took place in St. Paul on November 24, with Minnesota winning 3-2 on a shootout.

Considering the festivities of the evening and the fact that the Avs could surge into playoff position with a victory tonight (Anaheim would need to lose in regulation to Calgary for that to happen), this should should be an excellent game. Considering how well Colorado has played of late, I think it is capable of beating the Wild.


Only a day after being shutout 4-0, the Pittsburgh Penguins used their good luck in the DtFR Game of the Day series to beat the New York Islanders 4-0 at Barclays Center yesterday.

While it was an evenly contested first period between the Pens and Isles (they combined for 21 total shots on goal), Pittsburgh absolutely dominated the Brooklynites in the second by scoring three goals.

The first belonged to Third Star of the Game RW Daniel Sprong (First Star C Sidney Crosby and F Dominik Simon), scoring his first NHL goal since November 6, 2015 with a wrist shot 41 seconds into the frame for what proved to be the game-winner.

Crosby did most of the leg work on the goal, stealing the puck off LW Andrew Ladd‘s stick along the boards in the Islanders’ offensive zone. The Captain then screamed up the ice towards G Jaroslav Halak‘s crease with Sprong to his right, setting up a two-on-one play against D Nick Leddy. Once Halak committed to saving a shot from Crosby, he crossed a pass to Sprong, allowing him to easily bury his wrister into a gaping cage.

F Evgeni Malkin (Crosby and RW Phil Kessel) doubled Pittsburgh’s advantage with a power play snap shot 2:49 later, followed by Crosby (Sprong and Simon) setting the score at 3-0 with 4:10 remaining in the frame.

Sprong’s night wasn’t through with his game-winner. He tacked on his own insurance goal (D Justin Schultz and Crosby) with 6:32 remaining in regulation to set the 4-0 final score.

Second Star G Tristan Jarry saved all 31 shots he faced to earn the second shutout victory of his young NHL career, while Halak – who saved 34-of-38 (.895 save percentage) – was forced to take the loss.

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are starting to find some mojo. They’ve earned points in three-consecutive games to pull within 22 points of the 51-29-11 hosts.

December 3 – Day 60 – Make it a Dallas double

I don’t mean to be a Negative Nancy, but Sundays during football season can be a real struggle for a hockey blogger.

The problem is the league doesn’t schedule too many games while they have major competition. The NHL is used to working with the NBA (heck, 11 arenas are used by both leagues, and Carolina’s PNC Arena is also N.C. State’s home court), but the NFL has a special talent for attracting everyone’s attention (just ask your preacher!).

Oh well, there’s only 10 more Sundays until the Super Bowl, then it’ll all be behind us. Thanks for reading my tangent.

Anyways, there’s four games on today’s schedule, starting with a pair (Los Angeles at Chicago [NHLN] and Ottawa at Winnipeg [SN/TVAS]) at 7 p.m. Tonight’s co-nightcaps (Arizona at Vegas and Dallas at Colorado) don’t wait long to drop the puck, as they’re slated to get underway an hour later at 8 p.m. All times Eastern.

Folks, we have a problem: since I try my hardest to not repeat teams within the span of two or three days, that technically would leave us with only two games to choose from tonight.

Except, the Senators-Jets and Coyotes-Golden Knights games don’t look like they’ll be very… good. At least 12 points separate the competing clubs in both these matchups.

Therefore, it looks like we’re going to have to break my rule, but are we going to watch the Kings-Blackhawks rivalry or what looks to be the most competitive game of the day according to the standings?

 

I just don’t have it in me to feature Chicago for the 11th time this season – especially while it sits outside playoff position. Maybe Probably next Sunday, Hawks fans.

Like I said yesterday, a big part of 15-10-1 Dallas’ four-game winning streak is its success on the defensive end. Since November 24 (a.k.a. since American Thanksgiving), the Stars have allowed only nine goals against, the (t)third-fewest in the NHL in that time.

Let’s jump a little deeper into this topic and talk about Dallas’ penalty kill.

For the entire season, the Stars have already stopped 84.2 percent of opposing power plays to be ranked (t)fourth-best in the NHL, but they’ve been even better over this four-game run by killing 86.7 percent of penalties (the [t]sixth-best effort since November 24).

Even though G Ben Bishop‘s .882 save percentage while the Stars have been shorthanded since American Thanksgiving has been only average, he’s been aided by the stellar play of D Greg Pateryn, who leads the team during this run with four shorthanded blocks, and the entire kill team. With the Avalanche converting only 19.8 percent of their power plays for the season (15th-best in the NHL), the Stars should be able to keep Colorado’s special teams contained.

Of note for the Stars is that Bishop will probably not draw the start this evening having led Dallas to a 3-2 shootout victory last night against the Blackhawks. Instead, 2-3-1 G Kari Lehtonen and his .897 save percentage will probably earn his sixth start of the season.

Speaking of the 12-10-2 Avs, it seems like the wheels are starting to come off like many prediccted this preseason. Since trading F Matt Duchene on November 5, the Avs have earned a measly 4-5-2 record that falls squarely at the feet of the offense, which has managed only 33 goals in 11 games played (the [t]10th-fewest in the league in that time).

What’s frustrating about this slump for the Avs is they know they’re capable of so much more. After all, Colorado does average an eighth-best 3.17 goals-per-game.

The problem is that all of Colorado’s depth scoring has absolutely disappeared since making the trip to Stockholm, Sweden. Even though rookie F Alexander Kerfoot (5-6-11 since November 5), suspended LW Gabriel Landeskog (5-4-9 since then) and F Nathan MacKinnon (5-11-16 in that time) have all performed spectacularly in the past month, the biggest contributors behind them are two defensemen with a combined 13 points.

You might try to argue that this is what happens when a team trades away a former third-overall pick that has scored 430 points in his career, but the fact of the matter is Duchene provided only 4-6-10 totals before being shipped from the state capital of Colorado to the national capital of Canada, only the fourth-best effort on the squad at the time.

Instead, I point to RW Mikko Rantanen‘s drop-off as a reason for the Avalanche’s decline. In his opening 13 games of the season, Rantanen managed 5-7-12 totals – including a whopping eight power play points evenly split between goals and assists.

Though he’s still producing points on the top line with MacKinnon and W Nail Yakupov, only two of his eight points in the past 11 games have been goals, with both of them coming with the man-advantage. While I don’t think it will be a cure-all for Colorado, the sooner Rantanen rediscovers his scoring touch, the sooner it will get back to improving on last year’s debacle of a 22-56-4 season.

Regardless of depth scoring, we should also probably have a discussion about how averaging three goals-per-game for nearly a month isn’t enough to earn Colorado more wins, but I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.

Considering defense has been the backbone of the Stars’ recent run of success, I have a hard time believing they’ll allow the Avs offense much room to operate tonight.


By winning yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at the American Airlines Center 3-2 after a shootout, the Dallas Stars have beaten the Chicago Blackhawks twice in three days.

It seems both planes traveling from O’Hare International Airport to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport chose to play Annie as their in-flight entertainment, because the theme of “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” seemed to be on the minds of both clubs.

RW Alexander Radulov (F Tyler Seguin and LW Jamie Benn) got the exchange of goals started 5:57 into the game when he buried a power play wrist shot, but the Blackhawks leveled the game at one-all only 2:34 later courtesy of D Cody Franson‘s (F Ryan Hartman and D Duncan Keith) first goal of the season.

Scoring subsided until 7:45 remained in the second period; that’s when C Radek Faksa (LW Remi Elie and F Tyler Pitlick) bagged a snap shot to return a one-goal advantage to Dallas. Though it took them a little bit longer to tie the game, W Brandon Saad (D Connor Murphy and C Jonathan Toews) was able to set the score at 2-2 with 41 seconds remaining before the second intermission. Ironically, the Annie theme involved even season goal counts, as both Faksa and Saad registered their 10th goals of their campaigns.

Neither squad could break the tie with the remaining 20 minutes of regulation, nor could Chicago or Dallas take advantage of five minutes of three-on-three overtime. Since somebody has to win, the game advanced into the shootout.

  1. As hosts, the Stars elected to shoot first. Head Coach Ken Hitchcock sent Radulov onto the ice, who proceeded to beat G Anton Forsberg.
  2. In attempts to hold serve, Head Coach Joel Quenneville deployed Toews, but Bishop was there to save the wrister.
  3. Next up for Dallas was Seguin, who matched Radulov’s effort to force a miss-and-lose situation for the Hawks.
  4. There’s few on Chicago’s roster more clutch than F Patrick Kane, but his snapper fell victim to the same fate as Toews’: saved by Bishop.

Bishop earned the victory after saving 32-of-34 shots faced (.941 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Forsberg, who saved 33-of-35 (.943).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have been absolutely rolling of late, as they’ve won 14 of the past 19 matchups. As such, their 34-20-6 record is 16 points better than the roadies’.