Tag Archives: Rielly

March 28 – Day 168 – Expect another close one

Only four games are on today’s schedule, but there’s at least a couple stellar matchups to be seen!

First up is Florida at Toronto (SN/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Washington (NBCSN). Finally, our co-nightcaps – Arizona at Vegas and Philadelphia at Colorado – drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the night’s action. All times Eastern.

Originally, I had marked the Rangers-Capitals game as a potential featured matchup, but their rivalry has nothing on the importance of tonight’s showdown in Ontario. To Hogtown!

 

 

 

 

 

As you’d expect from a team that’s been in playoff position for basically the entire season, the 45-24-7 Maple Leafs have been a tough out lately. They’ve posted a solid 6-2-0 record over their past eight showings, due in large part to sporting the second-best attack in both the Eastern Conference and the NHL in that time.

Toronto has been as close to unstoppable as a team can get with its 4.13 goals per game since March 10. A total of five players have averaged at least a point per game over that stretch, but none have been as impressive as LW James van Riemsdyk and his 8-3-11 totals in eight outings, improving his season numbers to 34-18-52.

There’s little to argue considering van Riemsdyk has personally scored 24.2 percent of the Leafs’ last 33 goals, but his effort has been even more impressive considering the almost constant carousel of linemates he’s had to play with. In total, JVR has gotten on the scorecard with goals or assists from a total of six different forwards in his past eight games (three different forwards on the power play and five at even-strength).

In particular, van Riemsdyk has gelled especially well with C Tyler Bozak and F Mitch Marner – two of the players joining him in averaging at least a point per game since March 10. Even with a seemingly revolving door at the right wing position, Bozak has been van Riemsdyk’s constant center and has three primary assists to prove it. Meanwhile, Marner has also found success when he’s added to the mix on the power play, adding three more assists of his own.

In total, van Riemsdyk, Marner (2-9-11 totals since March 10, 20-45-65 overall), D Morgan Rielly (0-10-10 since March 10, 6-42-48 overall), Bozak (1-7-8 since March 10, 11-30-41 overall) and C Auston Matthews (1-2-3 in his three games since returning from injury, 29-24-53 overall) make up Toronto’s most consistent scoring threats during this run.

If two men can will their team to the playoffs, it has to be the 39-28-7 Panthers’ starting goaltender 15-10-2 Roberto Luongo and backup 20-13-5 James Reimer. Since March 19, Florida has posted a 4-1-0 record, and Luongo and Reimer have been a big part of it.

Florida’s goaltending is the focus tonight, and for good reason: without them, the Panthers would yield so many goals to that elite Toronto offense. After all, Florida’s defense has allowed an average of 31.2 opposing shots on goal during this five-game run, good enough for only (t)14th-best in the NHL in that time.

However, Luongo and Reimer have played marvelously despite that adversity, combining to allow only 1.6 goals against per game since March 19, the best mark in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the NHL in that time.

In his past two starts, Luongo has managed an impressive .95 save percentage and 1.51 GAA, marks eclipsed only by Reimer’s .958 save percentage and 1.33 GAA in his past three outings.

With lowly Ottawa on the schedule tomorrow night, Luongo will be in the crease this evening looking to improve his .927 season save percentage and associated 2.55 GAA.

The Panthers have so much more to gain from a victory tonight than the Leafs do its not even funny.

As things stand going into tonight’s action, the Devils have a three-point advantage on the Panthers for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card. With tonight’s tilt being one of the two games in hand Florida has on Jersey, the Panthers have to earn at least one point (two would obviously be preferable) to maintain control of their own destiny.

Meanwhile, Toronto is just sitting back and twiddling its fingers in anticipation of the playoffs. After all, the Bruins have all but locked up home ice in the first round considering they have a game in hand to go with their eight-point lead on the Leafs for second place, and Toronto has a 12-point advantage on tonight’s opponent for third. At this point, the Maple Leafs’ main goal is getting healthy and staying focused on their goal of advancing to the second round for the first time since 2004.

This has been a close matchup all season, to the point that even though the Panthers have two victories to the Leafs’ one, the clubs have earned an equal four points in tilts against each other.

Game 1 between these sides occurred way back on November 22 at BB&T Center. Led by F Nick Bjugstad, who scored Florida’s lone regulation goal as well as the game-winner in the shootout, the Panthers won that game 2-1.

Games 2 and 3 took place within a week of each other. Toronto hosted the first of those on February 20, winning 1-0 on the back of 35-20-5 G Frederik Andersen‘s 40-save performance and van Riemsdyk’s first period goal. Seven days later, the Maple Leafs and Panthers were back at it in Sunrise, where Florida took a 3-2 victory courtesy of C Jared McCann‘s overtime game-winner.

Florida has proven it can hang with the mighty Leafs so far this season, but can it perform in light of the added pressure of this playoff run? I’m leaning towards Toronto taking two points tonight, but this might be yet another matchup between these clubs that requires more than 60 minutes.


It took overtime, but the St. Louis Blues snapped the San Jose Sharks’ eight-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Scottrade Center.

This game was all about the Blues responding to adversity, as they did not lead for a single second until scoring their game-winning goal.

That adversity started 6:26 into the game when LW Evander Kane (F Melker Karlsson and D Brent Burns) buried a wrist shot to give the Sharks a 1-0 advantage. Though it didn’t respond immediately, St. Louis did eventually find its leveling goal 11:17 later courtesy of an C Oskar Sundqvist (D Colton Parayko and Second Star of the Game D Vince Dunn) wrister.

With D Joel Edmundson in the penalty box for hooking RW Timo Meier at the 6:21 mark of the second period, San Jose reclaimed a one-goal advantage when F Joe Pavelski (Burns) potted a power play tip-in after only 46 seconds with the man-advantage. However, First Star RW Vladimir Tarasenko (F Brayden Schenn and D Alex Pietrangelo) was able to return the favor with 7:57 remaining in the frame, scoring a power play wrister 58 seconds after Meier tripped him to earn a seat of his own in the sin bin. Tarasenko’s marker leveled the game once again at 2-2.

Both defenses performed incredibly in the third period. St. Louis limited the Sharks to only seven shots on goal, while San Jose allowed only nine Blues attempts. Between those 16 offerings, none got by G Jake Allen or G Aaron Dell, meaning the tilt advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

Tarasenko (F Vladimir Sobotka) needed just over half the overtime period – three seconds more, to be precise – to find the game-winner for the Notes.

The play started with a face-off at the dot to Dell’s right. Though Pavelski was able to win the draw with a little help from W Mikkel Boedker, who proceeded to take the puck into the trapezoid behind his goal, an efficient forecheck by Sobotka resulted in him ending up with possession and moving towards the right post. Having attacked the trapezoid to help Sobotka win the puck, Tarasenko was busy getting above the goal line and setting up shop outside the crease near the left goal post, meaning all Sobotka had to do was backhand a quick pass through the crease to Tarasenko to set him up for an easy wrister to win the game, the Blues’ fourth overtime victory in their past six outings.

Allen earned the victory after saving 22-of-24 shots faced (.917 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Dell, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

Hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series have now earned points in six-consecutive tilts, not to mention winning four in a row. As such, home teams now have a 94-53-21 record that is 39 points better than the roadies’.

February 5 – Day 117 – Quack attack

In your sporadic Trade Deadline countdown, we’re three weeks away from February 26. It may not seem like it strictly going off completed transactions, but head coaches and general managers around the league are already well into their plans for the final push of the regular season.

As for today’s action, there’s four games on the schedule this evening starting with two tilts (Anaheim at Toronto and Nashville at the New York Islanders [SN/TVAS]) at 7 p.m. Next up is the New York Rangers at Dallas (NHLN) at 8:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Tampa Bay at Edmonton. All times Eastern.

Maybe it’s just me, but the choice for today’s DtFR Game of the Day is obvious: we’re off to Ontario!

 

Sometimes, the energy a team needs to win can be found in its goaltender making some incredible saves.

Enter Exhibit “A,” as well as Exhibit “B”: the Atlantic Division’s third-best team, the 30-19-5 Toronto Maple Leafs. Behind the solid efforts of both of their goaltenders, the Leafs have won four of their last five games.

Let’s start with the most obvious example in tonight’s presumed starter, 25-15-4 G Frederik Andersen. Currently occupying fifth place in the league’s wins list, he’s started three of Toronto’s last five games and performed brilliantly, posting an impressive .946 save percentage and 1.68 GAA in those showings.

But it hasn’t just been Andersen. 5-4-0 G Curtis McElhinney has also been exemplary of late, posting a .985 save percentage and .5 GAA in his two starts since January 24, joining Andersen in splitting consecutive shutouts on January 31 (Andersen saved all 28 Islanders shots) and February 1 (McElhinney saved all 25 Rangers shots). Andersen’s shutout was his fourth of the season, the (t)fourth-most of any goaltender in the NHL this season.

As a result of Andersen and McElhinney’s play, Toronto has allowed a third-best 1.4 goals-per-game since January 24 even though it has yielded an average of 31.8 shots against per game – the 15th-worst mark in the NHL in that time.

But with no disrespect to Andersen, goaltending usually isn’t exactly the first thing thought of when discussing the Maple Leafs. Instead, the mind is typically drawn to Toronto’s explosive offense, and that corps has definitely been worthy of attention of late as well, as they’ve averaged a fifth-best 3.4 goals per game since January 24.

In total, four Leafs currently on the team are averaging at least a point per game (rookie D Justin Holl technically still qualifies with two goals in two games played, but he was sent back to the Marlies on Saturday), but the greatest of those lately has undoubtedly been C Nazem Kadri with his 3-3-6 totals in his last five tilts to improve his season numbers to 17-14-31.

He’s joined by F William Nylander (1-4-5), D Jake Gardiner (0-5-5) and D Morgan Rielly (0-1-1 in one game played) in his consistent offensive production. Kadri and Gardiner in particular have gelled well of late, as the defenseman has provided the secondary assist on the center’s last two goals.

25-18-10 Anaheim makes its annual trip to Ontario as the 11th-best team in the Western Conference, trailing Minnesota for the second wild card by only one point. The Ducks have posted a 3-1-1 record over their past five games (the last three of which have been in the midst of a five-game road trip), and they owe much of that success to… their offense?

That’s right, the usually defensive-minded Ducks are staying afloat with an offense that has averaged three goals per game since January 23, the (t)11th-best effort in the league in that time.

Of course, Anaheim’s success has to be linked to the blue line somehow, and we need look no further than D Cam Fowler. He’s posted an impressive seven assists (all but one of them secondary apples) in his last five games to lead the team in points over this run and elevate his season totals to 6-17-23.

Of course, assists aren’t assists without goalscorers, and that’s where F Rickard Rakell and C Adam Henrique come into play. They join Fowler in averaging at least a point per game with their respective 2-4-6 and 4-1-5 efforts since January 23.

I’ve been especially impressed with the chemistry between Fowler and Rakell of late. Fowler has had a hand in all six of Rakell’s points, and they show no sign of slowing down any time soon. The Maple Leafs will need to be on high alert when numbers 4 and 67 are both on the ice together, or else their shift might end with the puck behind Andersen.

As far as the Ducks’ defensive end, there’s usually no one more important to acknowledge than 18-14-5 G John Gibson, especially since his .922 season save percentage is (t)ninth-best in the league. However, he’s expected to miss his third-straight game with a lower body injury, meaning ex-Sabre 6-3-5 G Ryan Miller will get the nod against his former rivals.

Way back on the first day of November, the Maple Leafs made their annual trip to The Pond. With a two-point game from First Star F Patrick Marleau that included scoring the game-winning goal, Toronto beat the Ducks 3-1.

Of note in that matchup, Fowler was unavailable for the Ducks. His presence will be a major reason Anaheim has a better shot in this game, but I’m still leading towards Toronto’s offense outpacing the visiting Ducks’ attack to earn two points.


Only one club showed up to play in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, and unfortunately for the home fans at PNC Arena, it wasn’t their team as the Carolina Hurricanes lost 3-1 to the San Jose Sharks.

What should make this loss by the Hurricanes even more frustrating for Head Coach Bill Peters is that the Sharks, hailing from California, were playing this game at 10 a.m. Pacific time. If any team should have been playing this game half asleep, it should have been them – especially considering San Jose is in the midst of a five-game road trip.

Instead, San Jose took the lead only 4:06 into the game courtesy of a W Timo Meier (RW Joonas Donskoi and First Star of the Game D Brent Burns) snap shot. Though W Sebastian Aho (F Jordan Staal) was able to level the game with 2:02 remaining in the first period, it was the next tally that proved to be the most important of the match – and not only because it ended up being the game-winner.

Carolina would have certainly been happy taking a 1-1 tie into the first intermission, but Second Star C Chris Tierney (F Melker Karlsson and W Mikkel Boedker) had other plans. Karlsson set him up with a centering pass from the right corner, but it was Tierney’s patience that really created the score. With no red sweaters around him but G Cam Ward‘s only three feet away, Tierney faked to his forehand to pull the goaltender away from his post before returning to the backhand to beat Ward’s left skate. That marker set the score at 2-1 going into the break and took all the energy out of Carolina.

2:03 into the second period, Burns (RW Joel Ward and D Joakim Ryan) scored an insurance slap shot to finish off the sleepy Canes.

G Aaron Dell earned the victory after saving 29-of-30 shots faced (.967 save percentage), leaving the loss to Ward, who saved 23-of-26 (.885).

San Jose’s road victory is the first in the DtFR Game of the Day since Vegas’ January 30 win. That pulls the visitors in the series back within 23 points of the 64-38-15 hosts.

WHL Draft-Eligible Players to Watch

The Western Hockey League had a banner year in the 2017 NHL Draft. Not only was Nolan Patrick in the conversation to go number one overall from the beginning of the 2016-17 season until draft day (ultimately being taken second overall by the Flyers), but three of the first ten picks came from the league and the league had seven total first round picks.

For comparison, the Ontario Hockey League, which tends to get a lot more publicity because of its geographic location, only had one player taken in the top ten picks and had just five players taken in the first round.  WHL alumnus Kailer Yamamoto, taken with the 22nd pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, has managed to stick with the Edmonton Oilers out of camp though the question remains whether he will stay past the 9-game mark, burning a year off his entry-level contract in the process.

While the Western Hockey League was typically known for a more physical and defensive-minded style of play than the junior leagues back east, as hockey has evolved, so too has the WHL. The league that gave us Cam Neely, Marian Hossa, Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Byfuglien continues to churn out quality defensemen like Seth Jones, Ivan Provorov and Morgan Rielly, but it has also produced players like Tyler Johnson, Nino Niederreiter, and Yamamoto who don’t necessarily fit the WHL’s rough and tumble image.

NHL scouts are working day-in and day-out to find the next player that can be a difference-maker for their franchise, seeing 6-7 games a week. More and more they are also looking at advanced stats to supplement their knowledge base and provide them additional data points, though the data at the junior level isn’t always of a consistently high quality.  By the time the season is over, these scouts will have spent enough time with the players to better understand their personalities off-ice in addition to recognizing a player from a passing glance at his skating stride.

So, what players should you be paying attention to now that the 2017-2018 WHL season is underway? Who are the players making a name for themselves out West that might have their name called by your favorite team next June?  While the WHL isn’t likely to repeat last year’s draft performance, there are still some players to pay attention to as the year progresses.  Defensemen Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs is clearly at the top of this WHL draft class, and is a possible top 10 in the NHL Draft.  Smith is a bit on the small side, but moves the puck well and is always thinking a step ahead of the play.  What sets him apart is his hockey sense.  Smith has come out of the gates strong with 12 points in his first 11 games.

Outside of Smith, there are a few other players who might be first round material. They include Jett Woo of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Riley Sutter of the Everett Silvertips, and Alexander Alexeyev of the Red Deer Rebels. Woo is another defenseman who already is close to the playing weight he’ll need to be to compete at the next level and he’s a sound positional player.  He’s very competitive and plays a physical game.  Like Smith, he’s putting up good numbers to start the season with 9 points including an impressive 4 goals in his first 10 games of the season.  He’s also a right-handed shot, which could help his stock.

Sutter is a big right wing at 6’3” and 205 pounds. The last name, no doubt, looks familiar to you and, yes, he is from that Sutter family.  Specifically, he is the son of Ron Sutter.  What was interesting, in speaking with one scout, was that Riley’s personality and playing style don’t necessarily match the expectations you might have based on his size and family name.  He is a quiet, cerebral player who knows where to be on the ice and by the time the game is over you look down and notice that he’s had one of the best games of any of the players on the ice.  In the early going, he has 11 points in 12 games including a team-leading seven goals.  I’m hoping to get a chance to see Sutter play in person later this month.

Alexeyev is another right-handed defenseman, but he has the size that neither Smith nor Woo have at this point, standing 6’3” tall. He has an incredibly accurate point shot and, like Woo, he’s right handed.  The biggest concern with the talented rearguard is how he comes back from a knee injury that required surgery and cost him half of the 2016-17 season.  Further complicating things, an upper body injury has cost him several games this season, but when he has been healthy, he’s managed 3 assists in 4 games played.  It will be interesting to see if his draft stock slips if injury keeps him off the ice for a substantial period of time.

It is still very early in the junior season and teams and players are still figuring things out. Beyond the four players I mentioned above, there are others who may seemingly come out of nowhere.  Last year’s initial Central Scouting rankings didn’t have Cody Glass going in the first round, let alone the top 10.  As the season progresses, I will be looking to see other players that emerge as NHL talents and to see how Smith, Woo, Sutter and Alexeyev perform.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 23

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writers are Connor Keith and Nick Lanciani.

 

 

 

 

 

Ottawa Senators at Boston Bruins – Game 6

By: Nick Lanciani

The Ottawa Senators came back in Game 6 to eliminate the Boston Bruins from 2017 Stanley Cup Playoff competition with a 3-2 victory in overtime on road ice at TD Garden on Sunday. Clarke MacArthur had the game-winning power play goal to end the series.

Third Star of the game and Senator’s goaltender, Craig Anderson, made 28 saves on 30 shots faced for a .933 save percentage in the win, while Boston’s Tuukka Rask made 26 saves on 29 shots against for an .897 SV% in the loss.

After killing off three consecutive delay of game penalties for sending the puck over the glass, the Bruins had their first power play opportunity of the afternoon after Ottawa forward, Mark Stone, tripped Sean Kuraly as he was exiting the defensive zone.

On the ensuing power play, Brad Marchand faked a shot and slid a pass over to Drew Stafford (2) who went high with a slap shot, beating Anderson on the blocker side, to give Boston a 1-0 lead at 18:13 of the 1st period. Marchand (2) and Charlie McAvoy (3) recorded the assists on Stafford’s goal.

In an incredible display of goaltending, Rask denied Stone on a breakaway and follow up shot with about 15 seconds left in the period after David Pastrnak failed to connect on a pass to a mid-line change Bruins defense.

McAvoy was sent to the box early in the 2nd period for tripping Senators forward, Tommy Wingels in a manner similar to how Ottawa defenseman, Chris Wideman, injured Bruins forward, David Krejci in Game 5 with a knee-on-knee collision. Wideman’s play was not penalized, unlike McAvoy’s.

While on the power play, Bobby Ryan (4) tied the game, 1-1, 3:26 into the 2nd period on a redirected slap shot from Derick Brassard. Brassard (5) and Erik Karlsson (6) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Ryan’s power play goal.

Past the halfway mark in the 2nd period, Kyle Turris (1) received a pass from Ryan Dzingel and unleashed an absolute laser of a wrist shot that found the back of the net. Dzingel (1) had the only assist on Turris’s goal, which made it 2-1 Ottawa.

Trailing 2-1 early in the 3rd period, Boston caught Ottawa in a slow line change, which resulted in a quick rush from Colin Miller to Marchand, who fired a shot at Anderson, producing a rebound. Patrice Bergeron (2) was on the doorstep and scored on the rebound from the left side of the crease, having tapped the trickling puck into the twine while Anderson sprawled to recover.

Marchand (3) and Miller (1) were given the helpers on the play and the Bruins tied the game, 2-2.

For the fourth time in the series, overtime was necessary to determine a game winner.

Pastrnak was sent to the box for tying up MacArthur on a Senators rush with 14:06 to go in the overtime period.

MacArthur (2) ended the series on the ensuing power play, scoring Ottawa’s second power play goal of the afternoon at 6:30 of overtime. Ryan (3) and Brassard (6) notched the assists on the game winning goal.

Sunday’s game marked the first time in Senators franchise history that they were involved in four overtime games in a playoff series. Additionally, all six games in the series were decided by one goal.

Per the NHL’s PR department, 17 out of 41 First Round games (41.5%) have required overtime in this year’s postseason, which ties the record for an opening round. In 2013, 17 out of 47 games (36.2%) required overtime in the Conference Quarterfinals.

Of note, Ottawa had three shots on goal in the 3rd period, while Boston recorded 12 shots on net in the last twenty minutes of regulation. In overtime, the Senators had six shots on goal, while the Bruins failed to record a shot on net.

The Senators advance to the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and will face the New York Rangers at the Canadian Tire Centre in Games 1 and 2, as Ottawa will have home ice in the series.

The first contest of the series will take place Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern time. American viewers can watch the game on CNBC, while Canadian residents will be serviced by both CBC and TVAS.

 

Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs – Game 6

By: Connor Keith

On the backs of Braden Holtby and Marcus Johansson, the Capitals beat in overtime Toronto 2-1 at the Air Canada Centre Sunday night to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the third-straight year.

Only 6:31 of extra time was required before Washington made its move. The play started in the far face-off circle in front of Frederik Andersen. Evgeny Kuznetsov won the scrum by kicking the puck back to John Carlson at the far point. The defenseman shoved the puck down the far boards to Justin Williams, who fired a shot a slap shot from the top of the face-off circle. That attempt never reached the waiting netminder because it was intercepted by Johansson, who redirected the puck beyond his reach to the near post.

It’s only fitting this contest went to overtime, as all but Game 4 of this series required post-regulation hockey to determine a winner. In fact, overtime has been a theme throughout the 2017 playoffs so far. In addition to being the first time the Caps played five overtime games in a single playoff series, this was the 18th match to require extra time – an NHL record for a single round.

This game was a true goaltending treat. No matter how hard each offense tried, it simply could not register a goal. In all, the Capitals fired 36 shots at Andersen (94.4%) and Toronto 37 at Holtby (97.4%) over the course of the game, but they both answered the bell on all but three combined times.

Both regulation tallies were struck in the third period. The scoreless draw survived 47:45 before being snapped by Auston Matthews (Morgan Rielly and Zach Hyman) with a wrist shot from the slot. The Maple Leafs didn’t get to celebrate their lead long though, as Johansson (Lars Eller and Brooks Orpik) buried a wrister of his own only 5:06 later to level the knot at one-all and force the eventual overtime.

Much of the reason neither club could find a goal for so long was due to the very disciplined play by both sides.  Only five penalties were recorded in the entire game to yield what proved to be effectively one power play – an opportunity for Washington due to William Nylander holding Nicklas Backstrom.

Technically, the Leafs did earn a man-advantage in the first period when Johansson was caught holding Nylander, but Tyler Bozak‘s hi-stick against Carlson negated that power play only 22 seconds into the opportunity.

Nazem Kadri and T.J. Oshie were sent to the box simultaneously for roughing with 47 seconds remaining in regulation for the final two infractions.

With their victory, the Capitals will host the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon Center for Games 1 and 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup. It will be their second-straight meeting in the second round and their fourth since the turn of the millennium.

Game 1 drops the puck at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday. Residents of the United States can watch the game on NBCSN, while interested Canadians will be serviced by both SN and TVAS.

This will be the 10th time the Capitals and Penguins have squared off in the postseason, but it’s been a lopsided affair in the past. Pittsburgh has won all but one of the previous series and has advanced to the next round six straight times at the Caps’ expense. Washington’s only time besting the Pens was in the 1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, winning four games to two, before falling in the conference semifinals to the New York Rangers, the eventual Stanley Cup Champions.

March 9 – Day 141 – Talk about a playoff push

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hockey Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 2 – Day 106 – Can Yeo save the Blues?

It’s a busy day in the NHL, so let’s jump right into tonight’s schedule. Montréal at Philadelphia (RDS) gets the action started at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by two more contests (the New York Rangers at Buffalo [NBCSN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Tampa Bay [RDS2]). 8 p.m. marks the start of Edmonton at Nashville, with Winnipeg at Dallas waiting 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Two games (Chicago at Arizona and Toronto at St. Louis) drop the puck at 9 p.m., followed an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: San Jose at Vancouver.

Tonight’s game in St. Louis is the first for Mike Yeo in charge of the Blues. Let’s see if he can get the severely under-performing club back in shape.

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After taking the 2010-’11 season off, Ken Hitchcock took command of the Notes on November 6, 2011. Since then, St. Louis has done nothing but succeed, finishing no worse than second place in the division over the past five years and qualifying for the Western Semifinals twice.

Unfortunately for Hitch, the Blues aren’t on the right track towards making that a six-season streak. Even with one of the best scorers in the game, they haven’t found anywhere near the success they did a season ago. Nothing makes that point clearer than looking back at February 2 a year ago when they were featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

And that’s not even bringing up the goaltending situation. In fact, that’s almost certainly what cost Hitchcock his job yesterday, as Jim Corsi was also relieved of his duties.

While it’s not the way Doug Armstrong envisioned it happening, Hitchcock was never going to coach the Blues beyond this season. That’s what is making this transition so easy. Yeo was hired last summer as a coach-in-waiting, effectively securing him from the other 29 30 other teams (don’t forget, somebody has to lead Vegas!) that might have been interested in his talents.

Even the goaltending coaching change was easy. Corsi is being replaced by Martin Brodeur and Ty Conklin, two former NHL netminders that were already employed by the club, with 787 wins, 1481 games and three Stanley Cups between them. Conklin was already working with the netminders as a goalie development coach, and is now joined by Assistant GM Brodeur, one of the greatest netminders of all-time.

It’s Yeo’s second stint as a head coach. He was last seen leading the Wild, and he certainly found his share of success. After his first season when Minnesota finished fourth in the five-team Northwest Division, he qualified the Wild for the Stanley Cup playoffs three-straight times. Unfortunately for him, his club managed to run into Chicago each of those postseasons.

In case you haven’t heard, Chicago is pretty darn good. The Blackhawks refused to allow the Wild to advance any further in those three campaigns – winning the Stanley Cup twice in that span – which makes assessing Yeo’s playoff coaching abilities harder than it seems on the surface.

Yeo takes command of a 24-21-5 Blues team that currently sits in fourth place in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference. As stated earlier, the blame rests almost entirely on the Blues‘ goaltending, which has allowed 156 goals  and ties for fourth-most in the NHL.

17-13-3 Jake Allen has been the man between the pipes more often than not for St. Louis. His record doesn’t show that he’s been struggling, but his .895 save percentage and 2.87 GAA, which rank 43rd and 35th-worst, respectively, against the other 45 netminders with at least 18 appearances, tells the entire story.

Those who like stats a lot know that a horrendous save percentage with a slightly better GAA can usually be attributed to the defense. That remains the case in St. Louis, where the blueline allows only 27.6 shots-per-game to reach Allen’s net – tying for the fifth-best effort in the league. Alex Pietrangelo deserves a lot of the credit, as his 96 shot blocks are not only tops on the team, but also 19th-best in the entire league.

Interestingly, it’s been Allen that elevates his game on the penalty kill, as his .887 save percentage is 15th-best in the league. That’s led the Blues to a 82.8% kill rate, which ties for 10th-best in the NHL. Defensively, Pietrangelo remains the leader with his 23 shorthanded shot blocks.

Another aspect of the game where the Blues are right on schedule is their power play. Successful on 22.1% of attempts, it ranks eighth-best in the NHL, thanks in large part to both Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko, who both have a team-leading 18 power play points. Surprisingly, it’s actually been Shattenkirk that has buried the most goals with the man-advantage, as his seven are one more than Tarasenko’s.

With eighth-place Calgary dormant for the night, St. Louis can get their comeback started and potentially finished all in one game. A victory tonight would pull them into a tie with the Flames at 55 points-apiece, but the Blues will have only 51 games played, two fewer than Calgary.

The Maple Leafs make their lone visit to St. Louis of the year with a 23-16-9 record, good enough for fourth place in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference. Although they’re a solid team, the reason the Leafs haven’t cemented themselves into a playoff position is their defense, the weaker of the two facets of their game. Toronto has allowed 133 goals, which ties for 20th-most in the league.

21-10-8 Frederik Andersen has started all but eight games for the Leafs, and for good reason. His .919 save percentage and 2.61 GAA are (t)13th and 22nd-best in the NHL, respectively, among the 42 goalies with 20 or more appearances to their credit.

If he had a better defense playing in front of him, Andersen would probably be a lot better. Toronto‘s bluelines allow 32.1 shots against-per-game, the sixth-highest (read: worst) rate in the league. Nikita Zaitsev has tried his hardest to build a solid defensive corps with his team-leading 81 shot blocks to his credit, but only him, Roman Polak and the injured Morgan Rielly have more than 60 blocks on their season-resumes. If I’m Lou Lamoriello, I’m looking around for a solid top-four defenseman this month before the trade deadline for the playoff push.

Interestingly, Toronto‘s defensive deficiencies are nonexistent when they’re facing a power play. Led by Polak’s 24 shorthanded blocks, the Leafs have successfully nullified 84.9% of opposing man-advantages, the third-best rate in the NHL.

The Maple Leafs‘ own power play has also been daunting. It’s a two-headed beast, consisting of William Nylander and James van Riemsdyk who both lead the team with 15 power play points. Toronto is home to the second-best man-advantage in the league, successful on 23.6% of attempts. Although Nylander and van Riemsdyk have been impressive, the man scoring most of those extra-man goals has been Nazem Kadri, who has 10 power play goals to his credit.

Although they sit outside the playoff bubble right now, a single point in the standings paired with a Philadelphia regulation loss would earn the Leafs the second wildcard, if only for a night. Two points for Toronto and a Philly overtime or shootout loss would also do the trick.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (49 points [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (three shutouts [tied for seventh-most in the league] among 21 wins [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and Auston Matthews (23 goals [tied for sixth-most in the league]).

The main issue with the Blues is their last line of defense; their goaltending. I don’t know a lot about being a goalie, but I get the vibe it’s a highly technical position that isn’t going to be resolved in 48 hours. Vegas has marked St. Louis a -120 favorite, but I don’t like those odds. If you’re a gambler, I recommend betting on the Leafs tonight.

Hockey Birthday

  • Kjell Dahlin (1963-) – Drafted in the fourth round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played only three seasons with Montréal, the club that picked him. It was an incredible rookie season, as he notched 71 points en route to the 1986 Stanley Cup. Due to injuries, he was never able to replicate that success and was out of the league after the 1987-’88 season.
  • Arturs Irbe (1967-) – This goalie might have only been drafted in the 10th round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by the North Stars, but he was able to turn that selection into a 13-year career. The two-time All Star spent most of his career in Carolina.
  • Todd Bertuzzi (1975-) – The Islanders picked this right wing 23rd-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career in Vancouver. By the time he retired, the two-time All Star notched 770 points to go with his 1478 penalty minutes.
  • Jordin Tootoo (1983-) – A fourth-round pick by Nashville in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing has appeared in almost every season since 2003. He’s currently a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Just like I predicted, Calgary was able to best the Wild 5-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The two tallies in the first period both belonged to the Flames, meaning they were in possession of their winner for quite a while. Alex Chiasson (Sam Bennett and Kris Versteeg) takes credit for Calgary‘s first goal, a deflection 4:26 after the initial puck drop. 3:43 later, First Star of the Game Sean Monahan (Johnny Gaudreau and Troy Brouwer) provided the winner with a power play wrister.

Minnesota‘s lone goal of the game was struck in the second period, courtesy of Jason Zucker (Mikael Granlund) with 7:20 remaining in the frame.

Monahan (Dennis Wideman and T.J. Brodie), Third Star Deryk Engelland (Matt Stajan) and Michael Ferland (Engelland) take credit for the three insurance goals in the final period.

Second Star Brian Elliott earns the victory after saving 28-of-29 shots faced (96.6%), leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved only 31-of-36 (86.1%).

Calgary‘s win is the third-straight for the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. It improves the hosts’ records to 57-35-16, nine points better than the roadies.

January 13 – Day 90 – Ready for an Original Six game?

It’s finally Friday, so sit back and watch some hockey after that stressful business week. The action gets started at 7 p.m. with two games (Toronto at the New York Rangers and Chicago at Washington [NHLN]), followed half an hour later by two more (the New York Islanders at Florida and Buffalo at Carolina). Columbus at Tampa Bay (SN/TVAS) drops the puck at 8 p.m., trailed an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps (New Jersey at Calgary and Winnipeg at Arizona).

Short list:

  • Toronto at New York: It’s another Original Six game this evening, this one taking place at Madison Square Garden.
  • New York at Florida: Last postseason, the Islanders upset Florida in the Eastern Quarterfinals before falling to Tampa Bay.

Don’t tell anybody, but Toronto is only four points out of playoff position, and tonight’s game in the Big Apple will be a good test to see if they’re capable of acting  on the opportunity.

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The Leafs make their lone trip of the season to Manhattan with an 18-13-8 record. The main problem for Toronto has been their defense and goaltending, which has allowed 111 goals against – only the 15th-fewest in the league.

With the exception of six games, 17-9-7 Frederik Andersen has always been the man in charge of the crease for the Maple Leafs this season. So far, he’s saved .918 percent of shots faced for a 2.69 GAA, which ties for 18th and 27th-best among the 44 goalies with 17 or more appearances.

While Andersen has been far from impressive, he can’t shoulder the entire blame. The Leafs have allowed an average of 32.6 shots-per-game to reach Andersen’s crease, tied for the fourth-worst in the league. Morgan Rielly has given all he can and more to Toronto, as he leads the club with 67 shot blocks.

If the Leafs truly want to make a playoff push, I’d expect them to be active at the trade deadline to bring in a quality defenseman.

Although the Leafs have tied for the seventh-best effort on the penalty kill with a 83.6% kill rate (led by Roman Polak‘s 16 short-handed blocks), percentages can be deceiving. Toronto averages 11:35 penalty minutes per game, the second-highest in the NHL, and Andersen has struggled mightily. He’s allowed 19 power play goals to slip past him, which ties for the seventh-most in the league.

Fortunately, Toronto has been very successful on the power play. Led by William Nylander and his 15 power play points, the Maple Leafs bury the puck 22.4% of the time with the man-advantage, the seventh-best rate in the league. Nazem Kadri has been the one responsible for most of those situational goals, with eight to his credit (tied for the fourth-most in the NHL).

You know you’re in a tough division when you’re riding a two-game winning streak and have the fifth-best point percentage in the NHL, yet you’re still only in a wild card spot. That’s the position the 28-13-1 Rangers find themselves in, although that can change with a win tonight, as they could take advantage of Pittsburgh‘s two-game losing skid and jump into third place in the division. As they have been all season, they’ll be led by their dominant offense that has accounted for a league-leading 144 points.

Although it’s more than a two-headed assault, the main pair getting a lot of the praise right now in New York are Kevin Hayes and Derek Stepan, both of whom have an impressive 31 points to their credit. Of course, they’ve mostly been facilitators. The striker on this team is still Michael Grabner with his 19 tallies.

As you might expect, the Blueshirts‘ power play is no slouch. In fact, they’re third best in the league, successful on 23.2% of their opportunities. Ryan McDonagh has been at the forefront of that effort with nine power play points, but hasn’t been the one scoring the goals. That duty has been shared by Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Vesey, all of whom have four power play goals.

Even the penalty kill has been impressive, refusing to yield to the opposition’s man-advantage 83% of the time, the 10th-best effort in the league. Kevin Klein gets to take a lot of responsibility for that ranking, as his 16 shorthanded blocks are tops on the club.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Grabner (+22 [fifth-best in the NHL]), Nick Holden (+20 [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Henrik Lundqvist (18 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (17 wins [10th-most in the league]) and Auston Matthews (21 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has put a -137 next to the Rangers‘ name to indicate they’re the favorites this evening. It’s hard to argue with, given their success regardless of who they’re playing. Until Toronto can put together a full game on a regular basis, they will not be able to stand up to talented teams like New York.

Hockey Birthday

  • Art Ross (1886-1964) – It’s nearly impossible to fully summarize all Ross did. The defenseman won two Stanley Cups as a player, and tacked on an additional three as a coach or general manager for Boston. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949, and the yearly award for the season’s leading scorer is named in his honor.
  • Cesare Maniago (1939-) – This goaltender played 568 games over 15 seasons in the NHL, mostly with the North Stars. He completed his career with a 190-257-97 record on a 3.27 GAA.
  • Kelly Hrudey (1961-) – Another netminder, the Islanders drafted Hrudey 38th-overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. That being said, he spent most of his 15 seasons in Los Angeles en route to a 271-265-88 career record.
  • Nikolai Khabibulin (1973-) – Drafted in the ninth round of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by the original Jets, this goaltender would’ve been a steal 100 picks earlier. The Bulin Wall finished his 18-season career with a 333-334-97 record, four All Star selections and a 2004 Stanley Cup title while in Tampa Bay.
  • Sergei Brylin (1974-) – The 42nd-overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft played his entire career with the club that drafted him – New Jersey. During that time, he notched 308 points to win three Stanley Cups.
  • Marc Staal (1987-) – The middle Staal brother was the 12th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers, and that’s where he’s played every since. Over his entire career, he’s notched a +40.
  • Connor McDavid (1997-) – In only 88 career games, the first pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton has already notched 96 points. There’s no ifs about it: he will be the next superior player, if he’s not already.
  • Ivan Provorov (1997-) – The seventh-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by Philadelphia, this defenseman has finally joined the Flyers this season. He’s made quite the impact, tying Shayne Gostisbehere with 19 points for most by a Philly blueliner.

Talk about an evening of comebacks. First, Third Star of the Game Taylor Hall made his return to Edmonton. Then, the Oilers scored a game-tying goal with 7:24 remaining in regulation to force overtime, which they used to beat the Devils 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The lone goal of the first period belonged to Travis Zajac (Kyle Palmieri and Michael Cammalleri) and the visiting Devils. He tipped-in his shot with 1:54 remaining in the frame to put New Jersey ahead going into intermission.

Edmonton pulled the game back even almost immediately after returning to the ice. 16 seconds after the initial puck drop, Andrej Sekera (Second Star Leon Draisaitl and Adam Larsson) scored a snapper to tie the game at one-all. That draw lasted until 51 seconds remained in the second period, when Steven Santini (Hall and P.A. Parenteau) scored the first goal of his career. Once again, Jersey took a one-goal lead into the dressing room.

As stated before, the Oilers tied the game with 7:24 remaining in regulation off a wrister from First Star Patrick Maroon (Draisaitl and McDavid). Neither side was able to break the knot, so the game advanced into three-on-three overtime.

Only 1:50 into the five-minute period, Draisaitl (McDavid and Oscar Klefbom) ended the game in the home club’s favor with an impressive slap shot, his 16th goal of the season.

Cam Talbot earned the victory after saving 16-of-18 shots faced (88.9%), leaving the loss to Cory Schneider, who saved 31-of-34 (91.2%).

The Oilers‘ victory is the second-straight by a home club in the DtFR Game of the Day series, improving the hosts’ record to 49-29-14, 10 points better than the visitors.

December 19 – Day 68 – Carlyle Cup

It’s a’ight though, the NHL has you covered with five games to take your mind off going back to work. The action begins at 7 p.m. with two contests (Nashville at Philadelphia [TVAS] and Detroit at Carolina), followed half an hour later by Anaheim at Toronto. Edmonton visits St. Louis at 8 p.m., and tonight’s contest – Calgary at Arizona – drops thee puck an hour after that.

We’ve featured tons of players returning to their old home arenas this season, but tonight the focus is the man behind Anaheim‘s bench: Head Coach Randy Carlyle.

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Carlyle’s first stint with the Ducks began before the 2005 season, followed only a season later by Anaheim‘s first Stanley Cup victory. He held onto the job until November 30, 2011 when Bob Murray pulled the plug after a 7-13-4 start.

He was only unemployed a little over three months before accepting the job in Toronto on March 2, 2012. He took over a 29-28-7 Leafs team that was only five points out of a playoff position, but he failed to spark the turnaround necessary to get the Leafs into the postseason.

Carlyle managed that turnaround only a season later, qualifying his club for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in nine seasons. With a 4-1 lead in Game 7, the Leafs got within 10 minutes of advancing to the Eastern Semifinals, but the Bruins stormed back by scoring three goals in the final 10:42 of the third period to force overtime – including two goals in the final 1:22 – and then Patrice Bergeron sealed the victory to eliminate Toronto from contention.

Since then, Carlyle’s club amassed a 59-52-11 before he was relieved of his duties on January 6, 2015. After a year and a half out of the game, he’s back where it all began to head the Ducks to a 16-11-5 record, good for second place in the Pacific Division. His team has found that success with a solid offense that has notched 90 goals already this season, the eighth-most in the league.

It’s been all about the Ryans for the Ducks so far this year, as both Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler have 27 points to their credit to co-lead the squad. That being said, it’s been Rickard Rakell who has arguably been most impressive, as he has lit the lamp 14 times to lead the team, and in only 21 games.

Much of that success is due to an impressive man-advantage. Anaheim is tied for the second-best power play in the league, finding success on 24.3% of their attempts. Kesler has truly been dominant with the extra man, as his 13 power play points and seven power play goals are both best on the squad.

Carlyle’s ex-club wishes they were having such success. After a hot start to the season, the Leafs have regressed to where most expected them to be: seventh place in the Atlantic Division. At 12-11-7, Toronto has struggled more on their defensive end having allowed 86 scores for the 11th-highest goals-against average in the NHL.

12-7-6 Frederik Andersen (yes, Ducks fans. That Frederik Andersen.) has been in net for all but seven of Toronto‘s games, and has earned a .919 save percentage and 2.63 GAA – the (t)18th and 25th-best effort, respectively, among the 43 goaltenders with 13 or more appearances.

While Lou Lamoriello was certainly expecting more from Andersen when he traded for him, the goaltender cannot shoulder all the blame as his blueline allows a whopping 32.3 shots-per-game to reach his crease, the fourth-highest rate in the game. With his team-leading 52 blocks, Morgan Rielly has done all he can to help his goalie out, but he and Nikita Zaitsev are the only two defensemen who have more than 40 shot blocks to their credit. Andersen has already proven in the past that he is a capable goalie when he is not overworked, so Toronto‘s next step in their rebuild should be to improve their defensive corps.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Getzlaf (24 assists [second-most in the NHL]) and Rakell (14 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]) & Toronto‘s Auston Matthews (14 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]).

Given Anaheim‘s proclivity to score is matched with Toronto‘s willingness to concede, I’m liking the Ducks to earn Carlyle a win in his old stomping grounds. Of course, that’s all provided Matthews doesn’t try to screw up another one of my predictions.

Hockey Birthday

  • Doug Harvey (1924-1989) – 14 of Harvey’s 19 seasons were spent in Montréal, and he was not your average defenseman. A 13-time All Star, he hoisted six Stanley Cups with his seven Norris Trophies. He capped his career in 1973 when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Habs also retired his number two in 1985.
  • Eric Weinrich (1966-) – Another defenseman, Weinrich was drafted 32nd-overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey. He ended up playing 1157 games over 17 seasons with eight different teams. He spent most of his time in Chicago.
  • Matt Stajan (1983-) – A second-round pick by Toronto in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, this center is in the midst of his eighth season with Calgary. So far in his career, he’s notched 390 points, including 139 goals.

It wasn’t the walk in Central Park I expected it to be for the Rangers, but they were able to defeat New Jersey 3-2 in the shootout in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Not a single score was struck until 24:37 had passed. Helped by a Marc Staal delay of game penalty, P.A. Parenteau (Kyle Palmieri and Damon Severson) got the Devils on the board with a power play tip-in. It was the lone goal of the second period.

8:10 into the final frame, the Rangers leveled when Chris Kreider (Mats Zuccarello and Brady Skjei) buried a snap shot. With 9:28 remaining in regulation, the Devils again stole the lead when Miles Wood (Adam Henrique and Palmieri) buried a snapper of his own, but the Blueshirts once again leveled, this time via Derek Stepan (Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Klein) with only 73 seconds to spare in regulation.

As neither team was able to break the tie in that time nor the five minute three-on-three overtime period, the game advanced to the shootout, where the Rangers elected to go first.

  1. Zuccarello made good on that decision when he scored, putting New York up 1-0.
  2. Parenteau tried to counter, but failed. His shot was saved by First Star of the Game Henrik Lundqvist.
  3. Jimmy Vesey was up next, but his attempt was rejected by Second Star Cory Schneider.
  4. Taylor Hall was called on next for the Devils, but his shot met the same fate Parenteau’s did.
  5. With the opportunity to win the game, Stepan tried to do too much and blatantly missed the net, leaving the door open for Jersey.
  6. Michael Cammalleri took advantage by beating Lundqvist to force the shootout to extra frames.
  7. Kevin Hayes must perform well under pressure, as he handled sudden death with ease. He improved the Rangers‘ shootout score to 2-1 to force the Devils into a miss-and-lose situation.
  8. Unfortunately, Severson did just that, failing to put his shot on frame.

Lundqvist earned his second win in as many nights by saving 29-of-31 shots faced (93.5%), leaving the shootout loss to Scheider, saving 25-of-27 (92.6%).

Not only was it our second-straight shootout contest, but it was the first home winner in the DtFR Game of the Day series since last Sunday. The home squads now have a 37-22-11, favoring them over the roadies by seven points.

November 19 – Day 38 – The rivalry that predates the NHL

Saturdays aren’t just for college football. They also offer tons of hockey.

Tampa Bay at Philadelphia (SN) get things started at 1 p.m., followed three hours later by New Jersey at Los Angeles. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it five contests (Edmonton at Dallas [CITY], Winnipeg at Boston [SN], Pittsburgh at Buffalo, Toronto at Montréal [CBC/NHLN/TVAS] and Florida at Ottawa [SN1/TVAS2]), with three more dropping the puck an hour later (San Jose at Arizona, Nashville at St. Louis and Colorado at Minnesota). Chicago at Vancouver (CBC/SN) acts as this evening’s nightcap, getting underway at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Montréal: They might have faced each other more than any other teams in the NHL, but that never takes away from another game played.
  • Chicago at Vancouver: Another rivalry… well, kind of. When the Canucks were having a little more success, they had a knack for running into the Blackhawks for three straight postseasons. It created some very contested regular season games.

It’s been over a week since we’ve been to eastern Canada, so let’s head up to the Bell Centre.

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The rivalry between these sides predates any of us, hearkening back to tensions between the English and French immigrants to Canada. It has only evolved over the years, including the formation of the NHL and the Leafs, multiple expansions, Toronto departing for the Campbell Conference and finally rejoining the Canadiens in the same division.

This year’s Maple Leafs enter with an 8-6-3 record. The offense has been incredible for Toronto this year, but it has been absolutely horrendous defense and goaltending that has held them back from greatness by allowing 58 goals, the second-most in the league.

Frederik Andersen has started in net 15 times this season for a 8-4-3 record. To get there, he’s set a .907 save percentage for a 3.16 GAA, the 15th and sixth-worst effort in the NHL among goaltenders with at least eight appearances.

While those numbers leave much to be desired – especially after a 2.3 GAA a season ago – not all of the responsibility rests on Andersen’s shoulders. Even with Morgan Rielly‘s team-leading 35 blocks, the Leafs‘ defense has allowed 33.9 shots against per game, the worst rate in the league.

Interestingly, Toronto‘s penalty kill does not suffer the same fate of their even-strength defense. Only eight power play goals have been scored on the Maple Leafs for a 84.6% kill rate, the 10th-best in the NHL.

Last season, the Leafs‘ power play was second-worst in the league. A year later, they rank 10th-best, successful on 21.3% of attempts. 20-year-old William Nylander has been a big part of that turnaround, as he has seven extra-man points to his credit, including three power play goals to lead the club.

Hosting them this evening are the 13-3-2 Montréal Canadiens. Even though they’ve only earned one point in their last three games, the Habs are still the best team in the NHL, due in part to their strong offense.

The Canadiens‘ 58 goals are the third-most in the league, and much of that success has involved Alex Galchenyuk‘s stick. He has a team-leading 18 points to his credit to average a point-per-game.

Most of those points are assists though. Defenseman Shea Weber has been the man completing Galchenyuk’s plays, scoring seven goals already this season to lead his club.

As you’d expect, that offensive success has carried to the power play. Successful on 23.1% of attempts, the Habs rank sixth-best in the league with the man-advantage. Weber takes the charge on the power play too, with seven extra-man points to his credit.

These two have already met up once this season, with the Habs taking a 2-1 victory on this surface. It’s been a while since the Leafs have beaten Montréal, as the Habs are riding an 10-game winning streak against one of their biggest rivals.

That’s not to mention “recent” playoff results either. The Habs have swept the Leafs 8-0 in their last two postseason meetings, but those were in 1978 and ’79.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Montréal‘s Galchenyuk (18 points [tied for seventh-most in the NHL] for a +11 [tied for seventh-best in the league), Carey Price (10 wins [tied for most in the NHL] on a .948 save percentage [second-best in the league] and 1.63 GAA [third-best in the NHL], good for two shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Weber (+15 [tied for second-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Matt Martin (76 hits [leads the team]), Rielly (35 blocks and 10 assists [both lead the team]) and James van Riemsdyk (17 points on eight goals [both lead the team]).

Montréal enters with a -170 advantage, and they’ve deserved it with their play so far this season. Given the potency of their offense paired with Toronto‘s struggling defense, it should be the Canadiens‘ 11th-straight victory over the Leafs.

Hockey Birthday

  • Dennis Hull (1944-) – The Silver Jet was a left wing, playing 14 seasons. Most of those were with Chicago, where he scored 298 goals.
  • Reggie Lemelin (1954-) – Lemelin played 15 NHL seasons, most of which were with the Flames organization. The goaltender won the Jennings Trophy in the 1989-’90 season, allowing only 108 goals in 43 games.
  • Petr Sykora (1976-) – The 18th-overall selection in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey, the right wing played in six Stanley Cup Finals, winning one with the 2000 Devils and another with the 2009 Penguins.
  • Patrick Kane (1988-) – He was the first pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and I’d say he was worth it. Kane has won three Stanley Cups in his time with Chicago, not to mention a Calder, Hart, Lindsay, Ross and Smythe as well.

In our fourth overtime game in the last seven days, Pittsburgh bested the rival Islanders 3-2.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it belonged to the visiting Penguins. Sidney Crosby (First Star of the Game Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz) took advantage of a Brock Nelson charging penalty to bury a power play snapper with 4:41 remaining in the frame.

New York struck back only 1:51 after returning from intermission. With Evgeni Malkin getting caught for roughing, Nelson (Ryan Strome and John Tavares) capitalized on the man-advantage to score a wrister. Only 43 seconds later, Second Star Anthony Beauvillier won a one-on-one matchup with Matthew Murray with a wrister to give New York a 2-1 lead. That lead didn’t hold until the second intermission though, as Trevor Daley (Phil Kessel and Kunitz) scored a slap shot with 6:05 remaining to level the score at two-all. That tie held not only to the intermission, but to the end of regulation to force three-on-three overtime.

84 seconds was all it took for Letang (Crosby) to end overtime with a wrist shot and earn the victory.

Murray earned the victory after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (90.9%), forcing Jaroslav Halak to take the overtime loss, saving 32-of-35 (91.4%).

With that result, the DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 23-12-5, favoring the home teams by 11 points over the roadies.

November 11 – Day 30 – Flyers bring the air to Air Canada Centre

For the first time in a while, we have a busy Friday schedule – something I think we can all enjoy. Per usual, the action gets started at 7 p.m. (New Jersey at Buffalo and Philadelphia at Toronto [TVAS]) with Los Angeles at Ottawa (RDS) trailing half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Washington at Chicago and tonight’s co-nightcaps, Winnipeg at Colorado and Dallas at Edmonton, get underway at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Lauri Korpikoski might be making his first return to Edmonton, the city he represented a season ago, but I’m more interested in the FlyersLeafs game.

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6-6-2 Philly enters the contest on a two-game win-less skid, most recently falling 3-2 in a shootout to Detroit. The Flyers are a strong offensive team, but almost out of necessity as they’ve given up the second-most tallies in the league.

The fault lies nowhere along the blue line. The Flyers‘ defense allows only 27.5 shots to make it to the cage per game, led by Radko Gudas‘ 22-block efforts.

No, the goals against rest solely on the goaltending. Be it Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth (they’ve both started seven games apiece) in net, they’ve combined for a measly .875 save percentage and 3.39 GAA.

As expected, the goaltending struggles have extended into the penalty kill. Only 79.1% of opposing extra-man opportunities have been nullified by the Flyers, which ranks ninth-worst.

To put things bluntly, it is these two players holding this squad back. Many fans thought Neuvirth, who turned 28 in March, could continue to improve and potentially take over the starting job, but it appears last season was simply a break from his usual performance. It will be interesting to see if they try to work the trade market to bolster the back-end of a strong skating team.

The best way to accent how good Philadelphia has been on offense is their power play. They’ve been successful on 28.3% of attempts, the second-best rate in the league. Claude Giroux has led the way on the extra-man opportunities, notching nine points with six assists. Completing the plays has been Wayne Simmonds, who has buried four power play goals.

Hosting them this evening are the 5-5-3 Toronto Maple Leafs. They’re another team that has struggled to keep the opposition from burying the puck at will.

Frederik Andersen has a 5-3-3 record, which is almost impressive given the fact that he has a season .897 save percentage and 3.41 GAA. What gives him a little bit of a pass in comparison to Mason and Neuvirth is that Toronto does not have anywhere near the defense playing in front of him.

The defense allows 33.3 shots against per game, and only Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev and more than 20 blocks, with 28 and 22 respectively. Based on what Andersen was able to achieve last season in Anaheim with a good defense, Toronto would be wise to make a concerted effort to build up their blue line as they try to climb the table in the future.

Surprisingly, the Maple Leafs are capable of shoring up the defense when they want to, but apparently for only two minutes at a time. Their penalty kill ranks ninth-best in the NHL, an impressive stat given their play at even-strength.

One facet of the Maple Leafs offense that has worked particularly well has been their power play. Led by William Nylander‘s seven power play points on three goals, Toronto has been successful on 22.9% of their extra-man opportunities to rank seventh-best.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Philadelphia‘s Giroux (11 assists [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) and Jakub Voracek (15 points [tied for eighth-most in the league]) & Toronto‘s Nylander (eight assists, half of which were on the power play, and three power play goals for 12 points [all lead the team]).

Vegas has picked the Leafs to win with a -103 line, but I think Philly walks away with the victory in this one. Since neither team can keep the puck out of their own net, the Flyers offense should be able to best Nylander and Auston Matthews‘ efforts.

Hockey Birthday

  • Harry Lumley (1926-1998) – Apple Cheeks (seriously, that was his nickname!) played 803 games over his 16 seasons. Most of his time was spent in Detroit‘s net, where he earned a 163-105-56 record and won the 1950 Stanley Cup.

Just as I expected, Dallas took advantage of a Calgary team that has struggled to keep points off the board to earn a 4-2 victory in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

Korpikoski (Radek Faksa) struck the first goal for the Stars on a snap shot with 7:29 remaining in the first period. That lead doubled 3:04 later when First Star of the Game Jamie Benn (John Klingberg and Faksa) buried a backhand. It was the final goal of the first period, so Dallas took a two-goal shutout lead into the dressing room for first intermission.

Calgary returned with a vengeance in the second frame, scoring both their goals within 3:31 of returning to the ice. Second Star Johnny Gaudreau (Third Star Brett Kulak and Sean Monahan) takes credit for both goals, the first struck 1:33 into the period. 1:58 later, he (Kulak and Michael Frolik) tied the game at two-all with a tip-in goal, the final tally of the second period.

Benn’s (Tyler Seguin and Antoine Roussel) power play wrister 7:20 into the final period proved to be the game-winning goal. Dallas‘ lone insurance goal was an empty-netter courtesy of Roussel (Justin Dowling) with 54 seconds remaining in regulation.

Kari Lehtonen earns the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (93.5%), leaving the loss to Brian Elliott, who saved 18-of-21 (85.7%).

Dallas‘ victory is only the second by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series in the last six days. It pulls the roadies within seven points of the home squads, but the homers still have a 18-11-3 record.