Tag Archives: Ritchie

2018 Offseason Preview: Anaheim Ducks

The theme of aquatic birds continues in DtFR’s offseason preview series, as it’s time to tackle the Anaheim Ducks’ priorities regarding their pending free agents.

Featuring a playoff roster with an average age of 28.5-years-old, logic would indicate the Ducks are in their prime. However, even though they’ve qualified for the postseason for six-straight seasons, they’ve failed to advance beyond the first round in half of those appearances – including a four-game sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks this April.

One of the biggest concerns about this Anaheim club is it plays an old-fashioned, grind-it-out style that simply doesn’t mesh well against the increasingly quicker and technically-sound opponents.

In simpler terms, the Ducks need to get younger and faster.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

One of the easiest ways to get younger is with a solid draft class, and Anaheim will have that opportunity with the 23rd-overall selection.

If one of the mock drafts I’ve compiled (all of which are available at Elite Prospects) are correct, I’d bet on General Manager Bob Murray selecting D Alexander Alexeyev (Red Deer Rebels), C Ryan McLeod (Mississauga Steelheads), D Rasmus Sandin (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) or D Bode Wilde (USNTDP) with his first round selection.

If there’s one thing the Ducks’ scouts know, it’s definitely defense. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are all solid blueliners 26-years-old or younger that will service this organization for years to come, and I’d only expect Alexeyev, Sandin or Wilde to join the group if they’re deemed truly worthy.

That’s what makes McLeod such an attractive option. Even though the 18-year-old is all but ensured at least one more season with the Steelheads, Anaheim’s deep defense gives it the opportunity to invest in restocking its attack.

McLeod had a breakout season in 2017-18, registering 26-44-70 totals in 68 games played (1.03 points per game), followed by 2-3-5 marks in his six postseason appearances. If he can take command of the club following the potential departure of brother F Michael McLeod (12th-overall pick by New Jersey in 2016) and lead Mississauga on a deep playoff run, Anaheim could happen into a stellar young forward.

Pending free agents

Let’s tackle Anaheim’s easiest position first: goaltending. G John Gibson and G Ryan Miller are both under contract for one more season, so the Ducks will likely make no moves in this department. The most important note here is making sure Murray reserves money on the back burner for Gibson next summer (he’ll be an RFA, for those that care about those sorts of things). He currently has a touch over $9 million in cap space this season and a whopping $23 million to play with in 2019-20.

Along the blue line, D Kevin Bieksa (UFA), D Brandon Montour (RFA) and D Andy Welinski (RFA) are all looking for jobs, but I’d argue that only Montour is truly worth a big-time contract.

Montour’s 20:28 time on ice per game was fourth on the team, and the same can be said for his .4 points per game. At 24-years-old, he’ll be worth every penny of any contract he receives to play an imposing presence as a top-four defenseman.

Having just turned 37-years-old Saturday following a 0-8-8, -13 season in 59 games played, it’s hard to see a way Bieksa returns to Anaheim for a fourth season. That makes signing Welinski –  the Ducks’ third-round pick in 2011 – to a low-cost, two-way contract all the easier to swallow.

Instead, the toughest decisions for Anaheim will be made in the forwards room. RW J.T. Brown, W Jason Chimera, C Derek Grant, W Ondrej Kase, F Chris Kelly, LW Nick Ritchie and F Antoine Vermette are all looking for contracts this summer, with all but Kase and Ritchie being of the UFA variety.

Regardless of type, Kase is by far the most important free agent on Anaheim’s plate this summer. He reached the 20-goal plateau in his second season in the NHL, and he needed only 66 games to do it. He may not compare to RW Teemu Selanne (I mean, the Finnish Flash did score 76 goals in his rookie season compared to Kase’s five), but I believe he’s fully ready to climb into a top-six position with F Rickard Rakell to lead this Ducks team when F Ryan Kesler and C Ryan Getzlaf depart.

In a similar fashion, fellow 22-year-old Ritchie should also receive a fresh deal to keep him in Orange County. While not quite the scorer Kase is (he managed only 10-17-27 totals in 76 games played this season), Ritchie is an excellent third-liner that still has more than enough time to develop into a real weapon from his position. Get him a bridge deal for a cap hit under $1.25 million and move on.

Anaheim’s most important UFA is Grant, a player that provided 12-12-24 totals in 66 appearances this season from his position on the fourth line. Coming off a one-year, $650 thousand deal, he’ll likely sign for cheap to give the Ducks four solid centers.

The rest of the UFAs (Brown – 27, Chimera – 39, Kelly – 37, Vermette – 35) either don’t fit with the “get younger” plan or simply aren’t worth the money (looking at you, Brown). Anaheim can either promote a forward from its organization (I like pending RFA F Kalle Kossila) or acquire another from outside to fill its 13th forward position.

April 4 – Day 175 – Which team will Wild Wing pull for?

There’s not much happening in the world of hockey tonight, as there’s only three games on the schedule in anticipation of an important busy weekend.

First up is Ottawa at Buffalo (SN1/SN360/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by Chicago at St. Louis (NBCSN). Finally, Minnesota visits Anaheim (SN1/SN360) at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

In terms of percentages, there’s rivalries galore tonight. That will play an especially important role in Missouri, as there’s nothing more the Blackhawks want to do than spoil St. Louis’ playoff push.

However, the tilt that deserves the most attention this evening is taking place on the West Coast between two teams that, though they may not be rivals, are hoping to meet in the Western Conference Finals.

 

You’re hard pressed to find a hotter team in the Pacific Division than 41-25-13 Anaheim, currently the Western Conference’s first wild card. The Ducks have posted a 7-1-1 record over their past nine games to keep pace with the Kings in the race for third place in the Pacific.

As would be expected by a team with such an impressive record over the last three weeks, there’s been little Anaheim has done wrong during this run. With five skaters having scored at least six points in their last nine games, the Ducks’ offense is averaging an impressive 3.22 goals per game since March 14 to rank 12th-best in the NHL in that time.

However, the Ducks’ attack has paled in comparison to their effort on the defensive end. Led by D Francois Beauchemin (1.6 blocks per game since March 14), C Ryan Getzlaf (13 takeaways in his last eight games) and D Josh Manson (3.6 hits per game during this run), Anaheim has allowed only 30.22 shots against per game since March 14, the eighth-lowest mark in the NHL in that span.

A major note concerning Anaheim’s defense this evening is the absence of D Cam Fowler, who took a strong hit from W Blake Comeau along the boards in Sunday’s game against Colorado. He’d been averaging two blocks per game during the Ducks’ impressive streak and will leave a sizable hole for whoever fills his spot on the blue line.

That being said, it’s not like 31-18-7 G John Gibson has needed all that much help to find success. Having posted a .926 save percentage and 2.43 GAA for the entire season, his defense playing so well in front of him lately has helped him manage an even better .936 save percentage and 1.9 GAA in his last nine starts.

Between Gibson and his defense, Anaheim has allowed only 2.11 goals against per game since March 14, the third-best mark in the NHL over the past three weeks.

Unfortunately, Gibson was another victim of the Avalanche on Sunday, and his upper-body injury is going to make him unavailable for at least tonight’s game. That puts 9-6-6 G Ryan Miller, who completed the 4-3 overtime victory against the Avs, in the spotlight for the undetermined future. Miller has managed a .925 save percentage and 2.51 GAA for the season.

Based on those marks being comparable to Gibson’s and the defense the Ducks have been playing lately, I’d assume it will be business as usual on The Pond this evening provided Fowler’s replacement can perform half as well as he usually does.

Another team playing some spectacular hockey of late are the 44-25-10 Wild, the Central Division’s third place club. Minnesota has posted a 5-1-3 record over its past nine showings, including wins over Vegas and Nashville.

Both the Golden Knights and Predators are certainly capable of lighting up a scoreboard, yet they combined for only three goals in their losses to Minnesota. That’s been a normal occurrence for the Wild during this run, as they’ve allowed only 1.89 goals against per game since March 16, the (t)best mark in the league in that time.

Minnesota’s incredible defense has been a major reason for that success, as it has allowed only 28.33 shots against per game during this run – the third-lowest average in the NHL since March 16. Whether it’s been D Jonas Brodin (two blocks per game since March 16), LW Marcus Foligno (2.6 hits per game during this run) or W Jason Zucker (eight takeaways in his past nine games), the Wild excel at making life extremely difficult on opposing attacks.

Just like Anaheim, Minnesota will also be missing a vital part of its defense for the extended future. D Ryan Suter is out indefinitely with a fractured fibula suffered in Dallas Saturday night. D Carson Soucy made his NHL debut filling in for Suter in the Wild’s first game without him (a 3-0 win over the Oilers), firing three shots and throwing two hits in 15:26 of play on the third pair.

Part of the reason the Wild aren’t in terrible shape without Suter is because they have 34-15-7 G Devan Dubnyk manning the pipes. Though this campaign has been far from the 2015 Masterton-winner’s best – he has a .918 save percentage and 2.52 GAA on the season – Dubnyk has been exemplary when it matters most. In his last seven starts, Dubnyk has managed a .939 save percentage and 1.68 GAA, and he’ll be called upon tonight to stop a hungry Anaheim attack.

With the Wild making the trip into Los Angeles tomorrow night, there were questions whether Dubnyk or 10-10-3 G Alex Stalock, would be in net this evening. According to Michael Russo of The Athletic yesterday at 6 p.m. Eastern, Dubnyk has been confirmed as tonight’s starter.

Not only have the Wild already clinched a spot in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they need only one point in their remaining three games (or one St. Louis loss of any variety in its last three games) to be locked into third place in the Central Division.

That 5-7-2 record was a long time ago, wasn’t it Minnesota?

If only the future were so certain for the Ducks. Currently the Western Conference’s first wild card, there’s still a chance Anaheim could miss the postseason altogether.

Of course, two points tonight can make the Ducks’ footing a little more certain, as they would jump Los Angeles for third place in the Pacific Division with only two games to play for both clubs.

Both of the first two meetings between these sides were so close, they required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner.

Game 1 took place on December 8 at The Pond, where the Wild claimed a 3-2 overtime victory (D Mathew Dumba scored the game-winner). However, Minnesota couldn’t successfully defend home ice when the Ducks came to St. Paul on February 17, as Anaheim stole a 3-2 shootout win (LW Nick Ritchie claimed First Star honors for ending the 11-round shootout).

The fact that the Ducks have an offense that is playing slightly better lately paired with home ice advantage leads me to thinking Anaheim should earn two points tonight. However, as well as Minnesota’s defense has been performing, it just might be able to force overtime to lock in its playoff position.


Led by First Star of the Game G Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s 33-save shutout, the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Boston Bruins 4-0 at Amalie Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Between Tampa’s defense holding the Bruins to only eight shots on goal and G Tuukka Rask saving all 17 shots the Bolts managed to send his way, this game had the looks of a tight affair after the first period ended scoreless.

That all changed in the second period, as Tampa registered three of its four goals in the span of 9:26, starting with F Brayden Point‘s (RW Nikita Kucherov and Second Star D Braydon Coburn) game-winning wrist shot at the 5:01 mark.

Kucherov deserves a lot of credit for setting up this goal, as the way he skated circles around LW Brad Marchand and C Patrice Bergeron to get the puck into the offensive zone would probably be a suitable audition for hockey’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters. Once Kucherov reached the left face-off circle, he flung a pass across the zone to Point, who proceeded to rip his wrister from above the right face-off circle. Though it was a long distance, Point’s dart to the far post sneaked under Rask’s right arm and into the back of the net.

But the Lightning were far from done with that tally. D Victor Hedman (Coburn and Third Star RW Ryan Callahan) doubled Tampa Bay’s advantage 5:58 later with a slap shot, followed by LW Chris Kunitz‘ (Callahan and D Dan Girardi) wrister setting the score at 3-0 with 5:33 remaining in the frame.

Even though the Bruins out-shot the Bolts 12-3 in the third period, F J.T. Miller was the only player to score in the final frame. He buried his unassisted snap shot 2:34 into the period to set the 4-0 final score.

While Vasilevskiy was busy earning his eighth shutout of the season, Rask saved 32-of-36 shots faced in the loss (.889 save percentage).

With Tampa’s victory at Amalie Arena, the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a 100-54-21 record that is 48 points better than the roadies’.

March 20 – Day 160 – Stars upon thars

Get ready for a wild Tuesday of hockey! 11 games are on tonight’s schedule!

The action finds its start at 7 p.m. tonight with four tilts (Pittsburgh at the New York Islanders [SN/TVAS], Columbus at the New York Rangers, Dallas at Washington and Edmonton at Carolina), followed half an hour later by three more (Florida at Ottawa [RDS], Philadelphia at Detroit [NBCSN] and Toronto at Tampa Bay). Los Angeles at Winnipeg is next up at 8 p.m., while Colorado at Chicago waits 30 minutes before dropping the puck. 10 p.m. marks the beginning of Vancouver at Vegas, leaving New Jersey at San Jose (NHLN/SN1) as tonight’s nightcap since it drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

A couple of the games I’d tagged on my calendar include…

  • Pittsburgh at New York: It’s rivalry night in Brooklyn! Though the Isles’ playoff chances have been all but officially pronounced dead, there’s still fun to be had in playing spoiler.
  • Philadelphia at Detroit: Tonight marks G Petr Mrazek‘s first return to the Motor City since being traded. With a 72-58-20 record over six seasons with the Wings, it remains to be seen how warm a welcome he’ll receive.

However, the game I’m most intrigued by is taking place in the nation’s capital between two teams in desperate need of points for totally different reasons. To the District of Columbia we go!

 

The 38-27-8 Stars are completing a six-game road trip tonight, and they’re still looking for their first victory since departing Big D March 9 after beating Anaheim.

This 0-3-2 skid has resulted in Dallas giving up the first wild card position it possessed almost all season – as well as the second wild card position it got forced into – leaving it on the outside looking into the playoff picture as things currently stand.

Defense is certainly not the reason for the Stars’ recent struggles. Led by D Stephen Johns and RW Brett Ritchie (both averaging four hits per game since March 11), C Radek Faksa (four takeaways in his last five showings) and D Greg Pateryn (2.2 blocks over this losing skid), Dallas has allowed only 27.6 shots against per game during this road trip – the fourth-lowest average in the NHL since March 11.

Instead, I’ve been most disappointed with the play of 12-10-3 G Kari Lehtonen, who has started three and earned the result in four of Dallas’ last five games and will be seeing even more time in net considering the lower body injury to 26-17-5 G Ben Bishop against the Jets on Sunday. Though Lehtonen has been decent all season with a .913 save percentage (slightly behind Bishop’s .916) and 2.46 GAA (slightly better than the starter’s 2.49), his .87 save percentage and 3.67 GAA in these last four showings has been anything but inspiring.

After pairing the efforts of Lehtonen and his defense, the Stars have allowed a whopping 3.8 goals per game since March 11, the seventh-highest average in the league in that time.

Of course, he hasn’t gotten much help from his offense either. With the exception of BFFs LW Jamie Benn (3-3-6 totals since March 11) and F Tyler Seguin (2-3-5 over this run) on the top line, Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has struggled to find any consistent attack out of his team, as it has averaged only 2.4 goals per game during this road trip – (t)eighth-worst in the NHL since March 11.

In other words, Lehtonen is setting games up so that the offense has to summit Mount Everest on a nightly basis, and they’re only making it 18 thousand feet up – well short of the 29 thousand foot summit.

Unfortunately for Dallas, the 41-24-7 Capitals’ offense has been gelling lately, which is a major reason that they have posted a 4-1-0 record over their last five showings.

With a team that’s averaging 4.2 goals per game over its last five showings (the [t]third-best mark in the league since March 10), it’s no surprise there’s more than a few Capitals averaging at least a point per game over this run.

In total, six players – five of which are healthy (F Evgeny Kuznetsov missed the last game with an injury to his left arm and is not likely to dress this evening) – are averaging a point per game since March 10, but none have been as impressive as C Nicklas Backstrom.

The Swedish center has been dominant lately, made evident by his 3-5-8 totals in his last five showings to average 1.6 points per game. Having spent almost the entire season on the second line, the 30-year-old continues to be one of the most underrated play-makers in the game, as four of his five most recent assists have been secondary even-strength apples.

Surprisingly, his promotion to the top line against Philadelphia on Sunday to rejoin W Alex Ovechkin did not see the instantaneous success many expected. Predictions were that Backstrom would resume setting Ovechkin up for multiple scoring chances just like in seasons past, but the only play they converted together was helpers on a D John Carlson third period marker.

Of course, that’s not to say Backstrom and Ovechkin have no chemistry at all, it’s just that their time playing together this season has been limited to the power play. Of Backstrom’s last eight points, three have occurred with the man-advantage, including providing the secondary assist on Ovechkin’s second goal of the game against Winnipeg.

Perhaps tonight, after a bit more practice to rediscover each other’s grooves during five-on-five play, they can light up the scoreboard like they want to.

Joining Backstrom in averaging a point per game since March 10 include Kuznetsov (1-6-7), Ovechkin (3-3-6), Carlson (2-4-6), D Dmitry Orlov (1-4-5) and RW Alex Chiasson (1-2-3 in two games played).

With only a two-point advantage on Pittsburgh for the Metropolitan Division crown, every point the Capitals can earn over their last 10 games is priceless. Fortunately for the Caps, Pittsburgh has played just as many games as them and Washington has what seems to be a weaker schedule to close out the season with only three tilts against current playoff teams to the Pens’ five.

Playing in the same division as Presidents’ Trophy-leading Nashville, division titles are the furthest things from the Stars’ minds. Instead, they need to buckle down and win some games to stay within reach of Anaheim, which leads Dallas by two points, for the second wild card.

If the past is any indicator, the Capitals have a slight upper hand in this game given their performance at American Airlines Center on December 19. After both teams scored a goal apiece in all three periods to force overtime, W Andre Burakovsky took First Star honors by scoring the final goal in a 4-3 Washington win, his second tally and third point of the night.

The Caps’ attack is not going to think twice about taking advantage of Lehtonen’s recent struggles. Expect Washington to come away with at least a three-goal victory.


There was a little bit of everything in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 in overtime at Xcel Energy Center.

The first period almost ended with the same score it started with, but LW Tanner Pearson (W Dustin Brown and First Star of the Game D Drew Doughty) apparently wasn’t interested in that. He buried a snap shot with 1:13 remaining in the frame to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead.

That advantage doubled to 2-0 at the 6:21 mark of the second period courtesy of a power play tip-in from Second Star F Jeff Carter (D Jake Muzzin and Doughty). The Wild finally found their response 5:47 after Carter’s tally courtesy of a LW Zach Parise (RW Nino Niederreiter and D Ryan Murphy) wrist shot, and Third Star C Eric Staal (D Ryan Suter and D Mathew Dumba) sneaked a snapper past G Jonathan Quick with 56 seconds remaining in the frame to level the game at 2-2

After trailing in this game for 20:17, Minnesota finally earned its first lead with 2:31 remaining in regulation when C Joel Eriksson Ek (W Jason Zucker and F Charlie Coyle) scored a wrister to set the score at 3-2. With the Kings backs against the wall and in desperate need of points, Head Coach John Stevens was forced to pull Quick with 1:37 remaining on the clock. Los Angeles did not waste its extra attacker, as Brown (Doughty and C Anze Kopitar) buried a tip-in with 47 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 3-3.

Just like the theme had been for most of the night, the game-winning delayed until the waning minutes of overtime before showing itself. With only 34 separating this tilt from the dreaded shootout, F Adrian Kempe collected a clear by Quick from behind his net and drove the length of the ice until he was right on G Devan Dubnyk‘s doorstep. However, instead of attempting a shot from such close range, he slid a pass backwards through the slot to a trailing Carter, who ripped a wrister top shelf over Dubnyk’s right shoulder to win the game for the Kings.

Quick earned the victory after saving 24-of-27 shots faced (.889 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Dubnyk, who saved 26-of-30 (.867).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have saved their best for the end of the season, as tonight’s victory gave them points in nine of the last 10 games. As such, the 88-52-20 hosts in the series now have only a 33-point advantage over the visitors.

March 18 – Day 158 – This might be one of those weird games…

With eight games on the schedule this Sunday, surely it’s possible to find a game for everybody to watch.

The day’s action finds its start at 3 p.m. with Detroit at Colorado, followed an hour later by Calgary at Vegas (SN360). 5 p.m. is a major starting time today, as three tilts (Edmonton at Tampa Bay, Carolina at the New York Islanders and Washington at Philadelphia [NHLN]) will get underway then. Another pair of matchups (St. Louis at Chicago [NBCSN] and Dallas at Winnipeg [SN/TVAS]) drop the puck at 7:30 p.m., with New Jersey at Anaheim closing the night out 90 minutes later. All times Eastern.

There’s a few rivalries on tap today, and the return of a former player as well.

  • Detroit at Colorado: Man, the Avs and Wings played some serious games in the late 90s, didn’t they?
  • Washington at Philadelphia: Both of these teams are in desperate need of two points, but only one is going to come away from this contest happy.
  • St. Louis at Chicago: Somehow, today is only the Blues’ first visit to Chicago all season. A win is a must to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
  • New Jersey at Anaheim: After joining the Ducks’ organization since being drafted 106th-overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, D Sami Vatanen was shipped to the Devils in late November.

In addition to the Vatanen story, both the Devils and Ducks are in brutal fistfights to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.  That alone is reason enough to take in that game!

 

Though they’ve certainly experienced their ups and downs this season, the 37-26-8 Devils are playing some solid hockey right now (look no further than yesterday’s 3-0 shutout victory at Staples Center).

In fact, New Jersey has posted an impressive 4-1-0 record over its last five games, and it’s all because of some stellar play on the offensive end.

The Devils have featured some of my favorite rookies this season, and it’s been their play paired with the equally stellar contributions of some of the league’s most respected veterans that have been behind an offense that has averaged a second-best 4.2 goals per game since March 6.

Over the past five games, no Devil has played quite like reigning number one-overall pick C Nico Hischier, who’s managed 3-2-5 totals to inflate his season marks to 16-30-46 – the second-best on a team that also features a fellow by the name of F Taylor Hall (31-45-76).

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have veterans like F Brian Boyle (2-3-5 totals over his last five games) and C Travis Zajac (3-1-4 since March 6) – not to mention fellow rookie phenom D Will Butcher (averaging an assist-per-game for his last five showings) – helping to share the load. After hitting a bit of a slump in January, this offense has rediscovered its form lately in anticipation of a playoff surge.

Another vital component to these winning ways has been the stellar play of 19-9-2 G Keith Kinkaid. Taking responsibility for all of the Devils’ last four wins (despite a defense that has allowed an 11th-worst 34.6 shots against since March 6), he’s posted an impressive .94 save percentage and 2.21 GAA in those starts to increase his season marks to a .909 save percentage and 2.85 GAA.

However, since Kinkaid earned yesterday’s shutout victory over the Kings, it would seem likely Head Coach John Hynes will give usual starter 17-14-6 G Cory Schneider the nod tonight (it is his birthday, after all) on the tail end of the back-to-back, especially considering the only reason the backup has been getting the starts lately is because he’s been the hot hand. Schneider has earned a .912 save percentage and 2.81 GAA on the season, but has posted an abysmal 0-8-2 record in his last 10 starts going back to December 29 having allowed no fewer than three goals in any of those games.

Between Kinkaid and Schneider, the Devils have allowed only 2.4 goals against per game since March 6, the seventh-best mark in the NHL in that time.

So we can compare apples to apples, let’s see how 36-24-12 Anaheim has performed over its last five games. Though the Ducks are currently riding a two-game winning streak, they were riding a three-game losing skid beforehand, meaning Anaheim is 2-3-0 in its last five showings.

Just like offense is the reason the Devils are winning lately, offense – or the lack thereof – is the reason the Ducks have not been as successful lately as they would like. Even with C Ryan Getzlaf averaging a point per game during this run with 1-4-5 totals (10-42-52 on the season), Anaheim is averaging only 2.4 goals per game since March 8, the (t)sixth-fewest in the NHL in that time.

What makes those offensive struggles even more frustrating is the fact that Anaheim’s defense and goaltending gives it a chance to win every night. Led by D Cam Fowler (1.8 blocks per game since March 8), W Ondrej Kase (averaging a takeaway per game in his last five showings) and LW Nick Ritchie (three hits per game over this run), the Ducks’ defense has allowed only 30 shots against per game since March 8 – the 12th-best mark in the NHL. With that lighter workload, 27-17-6 G John Gibson has sparkled, posting a .911 save percentage and 2.54 GAA in his last four starts for a .926 save percentage and 2.47 GAA on the season as a whole.

Mix those things together, and you get a Ducks team that has allowed only 2.4 goals against per game since March 8 – the (t)sixth-lowest mark in the NHL in that time.

With New Jersey currently in a playoff spot, this game has to mean more for the Ducks, right? With the Kings being inactive tonight, anything better than a regulation loss propels Anaheim into third place in the Pacific Division. However, the very fact that the Kings are not playing tonight is also to the Ducks’ detriment, as Los Angeles will have a game on hand on Anaheim coming out of the weekend (that game in hand is the Kings’ tilt in Minnesota tomorrow).

With a five-point edge on the ninth-place Panthers, the potential to fall out of the playoffs has relaxed ever so slightly for second wildcard New Jersey (but remember, the Panthers still have two games in hand). However, there’s still more than enough time for Jersey to climb the table, as a win tonight would propel it into at least the first wild card, with the chance for third place in the Metropolitan Division should the Flyers fall to Washington.

The Ducks made their yearly trip to New Jersey way back on December 18, but it wasn’t exactly an enjoyable trip to the Garden State as they were treated to a 5-3 loss. RW Stefan Noesen led the way for the Devils in that contest, as he scored two third period goals – including the game-winner – to earn First Star of the Game honors.

This has the potential to be one of those weird games. We have an excellent offense in the Devils going up against a solid defense and goaltender, while Anaheim’s struggling attack gets the benefit of squaring off against slumping competition in Jersey’s defensive zone. Considering the Devils just played yesterday, I suppose Anaheim has the upper hand tonight, but this game might just boil down to which team scores last.


Behind a shutout from First Star of the Game G Tuukka Rask, the Boston Bruins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 at Amalie Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Rask was obviously solid in this game considering he saved all 23 shots that came his way, but I would argue the most impressive part about that statistic is his defense limiting the Bolts to so few attempts.

After all, Tampa was trailing for 56:53 of this game, as that’s when Third Star RW David Pastrnak (Second Star D Torey Krug and D Adam McQuaid) scored the game-winning goal. After ending up with the puck following a scrum along the boards between F Tommy Wingels and two Bolts, McQuaid tapped a pass along the blue line to Krug. The Michigander proceeded to center a pass to Pastrnak, who drove towards G Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s right post before backhanding a shot into the back of the net.

Boston’s lead expanded to two goals with 9:06 remaining in the first period when F David Backes (Krug and LW Brad Marchand) buried a power play wrist shot.

With D Mikhail Sergachev getting sent to the penalty box for hi-sticking RW Brian Gionta with 7:37 remaining in the second period, F Riley Nash (W Rick Nash and Krug) completed the game’s scoring with a power play wrister only 10 seconds later, setting the 3-0 final score.

Vasilevskiy takes the loss after saving 24-of-27 shots faced (.889 save percentage).

There’s no stopping road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series lately, as they’ve posted eight-straight games where they earned at least a point. As such, the 87-52-19 hosts’ advantage in the series has been trimmed to 32 points.

January 21 – Day 106 – I-5 has never been rougher

Now that all the byes are done, we have one last week of action before the All-Star Break starts on Friday. Let’s mash as much hockey into these five days as possible!

We have a nice sampling of five games on tap today. The first, Philadelphia at Washington (NBC/TVAS), drops the puck at 12:30 p.m. Vegas at Carolina is next up at 6 p.m., followed two hours later by Vancouver at Winnipeg (SN). 9 p.m. marks the start of San Jose at Anaheim, while the New York Rangers at Los Angeles (SN1) – tonight’s nightcap – waits until 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

There’s nothing more fun than rivalry games, and we have two on today’s schedule: Philly at Washington and San Jose at Anaheim. Of those, I have higher expectations for the contest in California, so it’s off to The Pond with us!

 

The 25-14-6 Sharks enter this rivalry game having won four of their last five contests and – as a result – in second place in the Pacific Division.

Even though San Jose hasn’t exactly been the shining example of offensive efficiency by averaging an 11th-worst 2.78 goals-per-game for the entire season, scoring has been the trendy thing of late inside the Sharks’ dressing room. Since January 13, the Sharks have averaged 3.4 goals per game, the eighth-best mark in the NHL in that time.

This has been far from a banner year for D Brent Burns, but he’s been a big reason for the San Jose goal-explosion. He’s managed only .82 points per game this season (a decline from his last two campaigns), but this five-game stretch has seen him post a team-leading seven assists.

However, not all passes are created equal: someone has to score for Burns’ passes for them to become assists. Lately, that man has been Joe Thornton, who’s been just as good as Burns during this run. Jumbo Joe has posted solid 4-2-6 totals since January 13 to improve his season effort to 12-21-33 marks, the second-highest point total on the squad.

Of note, 11-3-2 G Aaron Dell started yesterday’s 2-1 home victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, with 14-11-4 G Martin Jones being listed day-to-day, Dell will complete the back-to-back with another start today. Dell’s 2.18 GAA and .928 save percentage are fourth and (t)fifth-best in the league, so there is very little drop-off between him and Jones.

G Troy Grosenick, who has a 5-7-2 record with the Barracuda in the AHL, will serve as the Sharks’ backup.

While San Jose was busy knocking off the Pens, the 22-16-9 Ducks, who currently sit in 11th place in the Western Conference and two points behind the second wild card, had the luxury of being dormant during yesterday’s action-packed Saturday schedule.

The story surrounding the Ducks since their bye week has been the return of their star forwards – and duly so. However, since January 13, the Ducks have posted a 3-1-0 record on the back of their defense that has allowed a 10th-best 2.25 goals against-per-game in that time.

Whether it’s the leadership of D Josh Manson‘s 2.3 blocks per game or LW Nick Ritchie‘s four hits per game since January 13, the defensive zone has been a stronghold lately for the Ducks. Anaheim has allowed an average of only 27.75 shots against per game over its last four contests (the sixth-best mark in the NHL in that time), making life very easy for 16-13-5 G John Gibson.

Of course, what else should we expect from Manson? After all, his +20 rating on the season is the eighth-best in the entire NHL.

Anyways, speaking of Gibson, he’s riding a three-game winning streak thanks to the impressive work of his defensive corps. In his last three starts, he’s managed a .927 save percentage and 2.01 GAA, pulling his season numbers up to .923 and 2.59.

The Ducks and Sharks were scheduled for a four-game regular season series this year, but there was an odd quirk with how the games were arranged: the first two contests took place in San Jose, while the remaining two (tonight and February 11) will be played at Honda Center. Both games in The Tank required a shootout to determine a victor, with the Sharks claiming the first meeting 2-1 on November 4 and the Ducks taking the second 3-2 only 16 days later.

In what has the potential to be a very nasty, physical matchup, the better defense should end up with two points to their credit following the final horn. Considering how the Ducks have been performing lately and the fact that they are playing at home after a day off, I’m leaning towards Anaheim being that winning team tonight.


With a 2-1 shootout victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Winnipeg Jets snapped the Calgary Flames’ seven-game winning streak.

D T.J. Brodie (RW Troy Brouwer) seems to have a knack for scoring against the Jets, because he provided the Flames’ lone regulation goal. He registered his fifth point against the Jets of the season by burying a wrist shot 8:17 into the game for the Flames’ lone goal of regulation.

Winnipeg found its leveling goal with 9:13 remaining in the second period. F Mathieu Perreault (F Bryan Little and First Star of the Game W Nikolaj Ehlers) sneaked a tip-in past Second Star G Mike Smith, tying the game at 1-1.

In the remaining 29:13 of regulation, neither the Flames nor the Jets could find another goal. Both defenses performed solidly, as neither allowed more than nine shots on goal in the third period. Similarly, only a combined five shots on goal were registered in the five minutes of three-on-three overtime. With none tickling the twine, the contest advanced into the shootout.

As the home team, the Flames elected to shoot second…

  1. That sent Little to center ice first, and he did not disappoint. He beat Smith to give Winnipeg an early 1-0 lead in the shootout.
  2. C Mark Jankowski was called on to level the shootout for the Flames, but he sent his shot wide of Third Star G Connor Hellebuyck‘s net.
  3. Still with a 1-0 advantage, RW Patrik Laine tried to force a miss-and-lose situation for the Flames. However, his backhanded shot was saved by Smith.
  4. C Sean Monahan performed better than Jankowski, but only because his wrister was saved by Hellebuyck.
  5. A goal is all the Jets needed to end the game, and F Blake Wheeler did just that to earn Winnipeg the bonus point.

Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 30-of-31 shots faced (.968 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Smith, who saved 34-of-35 (.971).

In addition to snapping Calgary’s seven-game winning streak, the Jets’ road victory also snapped a four-game winning streak by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day. The 59-34-13 hosts now have 23-point advantage over the visitors.

December 31 – Day 85 – Power play pandemonium

It’s the last games of 2017! Everybody panic!

For those intending to cram as much hockey as they can into their remaining time this year, the NHL has you covered with eight games being played throughout the day. The action begins at 3:30 p.m. when Toronto visits Vegas (SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Arizona at Anaheim. The final matinee of the day involves Tampa Bay at Columbus at 6 p.m., while a pair of contests (Winnipeg at Edmonton [SN] and Pittsburgh at Detroit) will drop the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. Two more games (the New York Islanders at Colorado and San Jose at Dallas) get underway at 8 p.m., and tonight’s nightcap – Chicago at Calgary (SN360) – cleans up the year’s matchups at 9 p.m. All times Eastern.

As you might expect, there’s a few of those games that have stuck out to me for quite a while.

  • Winnipeg at Edmonton: The return of a rivalry of days gone by should be even better tonight since these clubs just met up last week.
  • Pittsburgh at Detroit: The rivalry of the late 2000s is renewed and C Riley Sheahan makes his first return to Motown after spending the first seven years of his career there.
  • Chicago at Calgary: Southern Albertans welcome back F Lance Bouma this evening, who played his first six seasons with the Flames.

However, no matter how fun those games might be, I’m not comfortable with them being the final we feature in the year 2017. Instead, I want to make a trip to Texas for what could prove to be a very important game come April.

 

For those questioning my claim to the potential importance of this game, allow me to explain. While the 20-11-4 Sharks are currently holding on to third place in the Pacific Division, it is increasingly looking like C Ryan Getzlaf‘s return to the Ducks is enough to pull the team together.

If we follow that strain of thought far enough, I’m led to believe Anaheim can surpass San Jose for the final division qualifier. If that happens, it puts the Sharks in contention with the 21-15-3 Stars for the two wild card positions. If we continue to play out this hypothetical situation, the fact that this is the lone matchup between these clubs in Dallas means the result of this contest could be a potential tiebreaker if the Sharks and Stars end the season with the same point total.

Of the two, the Sharks certainly enter tonight’s matchup on a better hot streak. They’ve won their last three games and have a 6-2-2 record over their last 10.

What has really stuck out over this three-game winning streak is the Sharks’ dominance on the power play. Since December 21, San Jose has converted 38.5 percent of its man-advantages, far and away the best effort in the league in that time.

This success is entirely due to the dominance by the Sharks’ top unit, which consists of D Brent Burns, F Tomas Hertl, RW Kevin Labanc, F Joe Pavelski and C Joe Thornton. All five have earned at least two power play points, and both Hertl and Thornton have scored two power play goals.

Meanwhile, Dallas has earned points in seven of its last nine games, including victories over the Blues, Islanders, Predators and Rangers – all current playoff teams. What makes this game fun is the Stars have also found their success of late on the power play, as their 22.2 percent conversion rate since December 11 is (t)seventh-best in the NHL.

Similar to San Jose, it’s been the Stars’ top power play unit that provided most of the firepower. That unit, which consists of LW Jamie Benn, F Mattias Janmark, D John Klingberg, RW Brett Ritchie and F Tyler Seguin, has scored four of Dallas’ last six power play goals. Klingberg and Seguin in particular have been noteworthy, as they both have four power play points in their last nine games played, and half of Seguin’s have been goals.

In a game featuring two red-hot power plays, this contest is going to boil down to which penalty kill can provide more stops. If that proves to be the case, the Sharks are a lock for two points, because their 86 percent kill rate on the season is second-best in the league.


The Washington Capitals took it to the New Jersey Devils in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat them 5-2 at Capital One Arena.

Washington wasted no time in taking a lead in this contest, as RW Tom Wilson (Second Star of the Game D Christian Djoos and First Star D John Carlson) scored a snap shot only 2:26 into the contest. That advantage doubled to 2-0 8:43 later courtesy of a Djoos (C Nicklas Backstrom and Third Star W Alex Ovechkin) wrist shot. The period didn’t totally belong to the Caps though, as D John Moore (C Travis Zajac and F Marcus Johansson) was able to bury a snapper with 2:25 remaining in the frame to pull Jersey back within a tally.

The goal that proved to be the game-winner was struck at the 7:01 mark of the second period by Carlson (Backstrom and Ovechkin). With C Pavel Zacha in the penalty box for holding Djoos at the 5:34 mark, the Capitals went to work on their first power play opportunity of the night. With half a minute remaining before he was released, Backstrom centered a pass to Carlson from behind G Cory Schneider‘s cage. The blueliner took the pass above the right face-off circle and fired a screaming slap shot into the back of the net.

But the Capitals weren’t done yet. 4:25 into the third period, they set the score at 4-1 on a D Matt Niskanen (W Devante Smith-Pelly and Ovechkin) wrister. The Devils’ comeback effort reached a peak 4:35 later when Zajac (Johansson and D Sami Vatanen) scored a tip-in, but they couldn’t sneak another shot past G Braden Holtby. Jersey was definitely put to bed when Backstrom (Carlson) scored on an empty net with 41 seconds remaining in regulation to set the 5-2 final score.

Holtby earned the victory after saving 25-of-27 shots faced (.926 save percentage), leaving the loss to Schneider, who saved 30-of-34 (.882).

Another DtFR Game of the Day, another home victory. The 48-27-10 hosts have now won two-straight in the series to expand their lead over visitors to 22 points.

December 18 – Day 75 – Henrique The Rock

There are good Mondays in the NHL, and there are bad Mondays in the NHL.

This is one of the bad ones, as there’s only five games on the schedule for our viewing pleasure. Three of tonight’s contests (Columbus at Boston [SN/TVAS], Anaheim at New Jersey and Los Angeles at Philadelphia [NHLN]) drop the puck at 7 p.m., while the evening’s co-nightcaps – Pittsburgh at Colorado and San Jose at Edmonton – will get underway at 9 p.m. All times Eastern.

Who would’ve guessed it, but I already have notes on a couple of today’s games.

  • Anaheim at New Jersey: C Adam Henrique had been a member of the Devils’ organization since 2008. After being traded at the end of last month, he’ll make his first-ever trip to the Prudential Center as a member of the road squad.
  • San Jose at Edmonton: The Western Quarterfinals might have been eight months ago, but that won’t dull the Sharks’ desire to exact revenge on the Oil for eliminating them at The Tank.

It’s been a while since we’ve watched a Ducks game. Let’s see if Henrique gets a warm welcome.

 

Selected in the third round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the Devils’ organization is the only professional hockey team Henrique has ever known. After completing his fourth and final season with the Windsor Spitfires, he reported to the capital of New York at the start of the 2010-’11 season before earning his first NHL experience on April 11, 2011.

Henrique would retain his spot on the senior roster for most of the 2011-’12 season, and has not seen the AHL since the 2012-’13 campaign. In all, Henrique played 455 games over eight seasons with New Jersey, managing decent 122-135-257 totals over that time to average .56 points-per-game.

But even a decent résumé could not save him from being traded at the end of November. With 14 points to his name over his first 24 games played this season, he was shipped to Anaheim to help the Ducks with their injury-laden offense (W Patrick Eaves, F Ryan Kesler, F Mike Liambas, W Corey Perry and LW Nick Ritchie are all currently on injured reserve). I’m sure the Devils had been happy with how he’d been playing this year, but with him under contract for only one more season following this one and the opportunity to snag D Sami Vatanen through the 2019-’20 season and a potential draft pick sitting on the table, this was a no-brainer for Devils General Manager Ray Shero.

Since trading for Henrique, Anaheim has earned a 3-1-4 record to improve its season mark to 14-11-8, which is good enough for 11th place in the Western Conference. The Ducks have played especially good of late, as they’ve earned points in seven-consecutive contests.

However, even by adding Henrique to the Ducks’ second line, the true core of this team is its incredible effort on the defensive end, which has allowed a (t)fifth-lowest 18 goals since November 30.

Led by D Francois Beauchemin‘s 2.62 blocks-per-game and F Chris Wagner‘s 3.62 hits-per-game since the end of November, the Ducks’ defense has been a decent presence, allowing only 256 shots against – the 10th-fewest in the NHL. However, when he’s been on the ice – as he will be tonight – 3-0-4 G Ryan Miller has been the true star. He’s started only two games since Henrique’s arrival, but he’s earned three points in those efforts with his dominant .969 save percentage and .96 GAA to elevate his season numbers to a .945 save percentage and 1.74 GAA. On the season, Miller is second-best in both statistics among the 64 netminders with at least four starts.

Given the unenviable task of trying to give Miller his first regulation loss of the season are the 18-9-5 Devils, the second-place team in the Metropolitan Division. Similar to Anaheim, New Jersey has also turned into a defensive team since trading for Vatanen, as it has allowed only 22 goals since his arrival – the 13th-fewest in the NHL.

Just like Anaheim, even though 13-6-4 Cory Schneider has had some excellent assistance from F Brian Gibbons (10 takeaways), D Andy Greene (2.5 blocks-per-game) and D Steven Santini (3.4 hits-per-game) during this run, he’s been the true stud on the defensive end. Since November 30, he’s posted a .932 save percentage and 1.99 GAA to earn nine points in the standings and elevate his season numbers to a .921 save percentage and 2.58 GAA, both top-10 efforts among the 31 goaltenders with at least 16 starts.

In a defensive matchup like this, it’s going to boil down to which offense can impose its will better. Considering Jersey’s offense has been stronger both since the trade and on the season as a whole, I’d bank on the Devils earning two points at home tonight – no matter how strong a fight Miller puts up.


On the back of First Star of the Game F Patrick Kane‘s two-goal performance, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 4-1 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one goal apiece was struck in the first two periods, and they both belonged to Kane. The first period’s marker – a Kane (F Nick Schmaltz and F Artem Anisimov) slap shot – was struck with 9:04 remaining in the frame. Showtime (D Jordan Oesterle and D Duncan Keith) scored again with 4:24 remaining in the second period with a wrist shot that proved to be the game-winner.

Coming off the bench, Kane was simply fortunate to be the beneficiary of a stellar Oesterle pass that crossed both blue lines. That pass, which extended well beyond 50 feet, set Kane up for a one-on-one scenario against G Alex Stalock, and he took advantage to beat the backup’s five hole to the left post.

Thanks to Third Star RW Ryan Hartman‘s unassisted wrister 1:41 into the third period, the Hawks earned themselves a three-goal advantage, but D Mathew Dumba (D Ryan Suter and F Charlie Coyle) was able to pull the Wild back within a two-goal deficit 4:15 later. That’s as close as Minnesota could get however, and F Tommy Wingels set the 4-1 final score with an unassisted shorthanded backhanded shot with four minutes remaining in the game.

Second Star G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 27-of-28 shots faced (.964 save percentage), leaving the loss to Stalock, who saved 42-of-45 (.933).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have rediscovered their winning ways, as Chicago’s victory was the hosts’ third-straight. That has improved the homers’ record in the series to 42-24-9, 18 points better than the visitors.

November 20 – Day 48 – Where’s the offense?

We’re only three days away from the all-important American Thanksgiving holiday! Every team (well, maybe not Arizona and Buffalo) will be working to pack as many points into these days as possible, which should make for some exciting action.

Said action is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. with three games (Columbus at Buffalo [SN1], Arizona at Toronto and Calgary at Washington [TVAS]), followed by a pair (Winnipeg at Nashville and New Jersey at Minnesota) an hour later. Finally, tonight’s nightcap featuring Anaheim at San Jose (SN) will drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Separated by only a point in the Pacific Division standings, there’s no way we’re missing a rivalry game pitting NorCal against SoCal. Off to the SAP Center with us!

 

Two teams undoubtedly working to maximize their points this week are the 9-7-3 Ducks and the 10-8-0 Sharks, as both are currently on the outside of the top-eight in the Western Conference.

Even though it’s currently riding a two-game winning streak, Anaheim’s offense has left much to be desired this season, as it ranks 11th-worst in the NHL by averaging only 2.84 goals-per-game. Of course, what should we expect from a team that is playing Derek Grant as its top-line center?

Grant is in the position he’s in due to the Ducks’ roster being absolutely devastated by injuries. RW Jared Boll, W Patrick Eaves, C Ryan Getzlaf, W Ondrej Kase and F Ryan Kesler are all on injured reserve, which has thrust immense pressure on F Rickard Rakell and W Corey Perry to keep Head Coach Randy Carlyle‘s machine running as smooth as possible. All things considered, they’ve both performed very well, as Rakell has scored a team-high seven goals (7-9-16 totals), thanks in large part to Perry’s club-leading 11 assists (3-11-14).

They’ve also received decent backup from second-liner F Andrew Cogliano, who provides .58 points-per-game, but it gets harder and harder to find depth scoring when young players like Grant, LW Nick Ritchie, F Kevin Roy and W Logan Shaw are being thrust onto the senior team.

Even though they’re performing with varying degrees of success, the youngsters have managed only 8-13-21 totals in their 57 man games (.37 points-per-game), playing predominantly in the bottom-six positions formerly occupied by those that have been promoted to the top lines. It’s hard to fault them for Anaheim’s struggles, but it’s equally hard to imagine the Ducks having much success until the end of December when Getzlaf and Kesler should be able to return to the ice.

Making a difficult situation even tougher, Anaheim has to square off against a Sharks team that plays defense extremely well, as San Jose leads the league in both shots against (28.2 per game) and goals against (2.28 per game).

Of course, that leaves the Sharks’ offense to blame for them also sitting on the outside of the current playoff picture. Even with the incredible secret weapon named D Brent Burns at their disposal, Head Coach Peter DeBoer’s club has managed only 2.44 goals-per-game, the fourth-worst effort in the NHL.

Unfortunately for San Jose, they don’t have the excuse of a long list of injuries like Anaheim, as it’s only been confirmed that F Joe Pavelski has not been playing at 100 percent. Instead, everyone not named F Logan Couture – who has managed .83 points-per-game –  has simply struggled to start the season.

Probably the best statistic to showcase the Sharks’ lack of rhythm can be found within the leader board for their clubhouse Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (if this trophy exists, it has to be called the Patrick Marleau Award). With his 10-5-15 totals, Couture is easily leading the race, but W Joonas Donskoi is in second place with only five goals to his name. In fact, only 13 different players have found the back of the net this season for San Jose, only a year removed from 26 different players scoring at least one goal.

One of the most obvious players still looking for his groove is last year’s Norris Trophy winner. After posting career-high 29-47-76 totals last year, Burns has yet to find the back of the net on any of his 75 shots on goal. It has become painfully obvious how important the versatility of Burns is to this team, so the sooner he can find his rhythm, the better the Sharks’ chances of getting into the tournament

Rivalry games have a way of bringing out the best in any team, regardless of how well or how poor it’s been playing lately. That being said, I’m still leaning towards G Martin Jones and the Sharks beating Anaheim since D John Gibson made 50 saves in yesterday’s victory over the Panthers.


After chasing G Jonathan Quick 11:22 into the game, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The reason Quick was pulled shortly after the midway point of the first period is because he allowed Vegas to score three unanswered goals on only nine shots faced (.667 save percentage).

The first of those was struck only 55 seconds into the contest courtesy of a wrist shot by First Star of the Game William Karlsson (Reilly Smith). The Golden Knights’ advantage was doubled to two goals at the 9:21 mark by Second Star Cody Eakin (Brendan Leipsic), followed only 2:01 later by Karlsson’s (Smith) second tally of the night, a wrister that proved to be the game-winner.

This goal was all due to a careless mistake by Quick while he was playing behind his own net. Intending to dish the puck to D Derek Forbort in the right corner, the goaltender fanned on the pass and left it unattended in the trapezoid. Before he could decide whether to repossess the puck or get back to his crease, Smith took control of the situation and centered a pass to Karlsson at the right post, who played it with his right skate to slide it behind his left leg to the blade of his stick and into the net – no matter how hard D Drew Doughty tried to keep the puck from crossing the goal line.

After Quick was replaced by backup G Darcy Kuemper, the Knights did not find the back of the net again while he was in the crease. Solidifying the defensive end was a major boost to the Kings’ morale, because Trevor Lewis (Alex Iafallo) finally got them on the board at the 8:35 mark of the second period.

That positive momentum carried into the third period, and Los Angeles finally sneaked a second goal past Third Star G Maxime Lagace with 8:15 remaining in regulation: a wrister by Tanner Pearson to set the score at 3-2.

Since they were unable to beat Lagace a third time with only five skaters, the Kings pulled Kuemper late in the third period for an extra attacker. It was then, with 62 seconds remaining before the final horn, that Alex Tuch (Eakin) scored the last goal of the game on an empty net to set the 4-2 final score.

Lagace earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (.931 save percentage), and Kuemper finished the night saving all 30 shots he faced in 47:23 of play for no decision.

The Golden Knights’ home victory is the third-straight and sixth in the past seven days by hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The homers now have an impressive 26-17-5 record that is 10 points better than the visitors.

November 13 – Day 41 – Lookin’ for the Promised Land

Everybody makes a big deal about Fridays that are the 13th day of a month. Since Monday is everybody’s most-dreaded day of the week, shouldn’t Monday the 13th be the unluckiest day of the year?

Think about it and get back to me.

With two games on tonight’s schedule, there’s four teams hoping I’m wrong in my assessment. The first of those – Dallas at Carolina (TVAS) – is scheduled for 7 p.m., followed by St. Louis at Calgary two hours later. All times Eastern.

We could feature a game between two teams that are already in decent position in the league table, but I’m actually more interested in the Stars-Hurricanes game if for no other reason than to say we’ve finally featured Carolina in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

 

It’s time for me to back up the heaps of praise I poured on the Hurricanes this offseason.

As ridiculous as it sounds, the real reason for my confidence in Raleigh’s 2017-’18 team goes way back to the 2015-’16 season. In March of that year, the Canes went on a quietly solid 6-2-6 run that actually ranked 10th-best in the league. Whether by F Jordan Staal‘s gritty physical play (he averaged 2.4 hits-per-game that month) or D Jaccob Slavin‘s 1.8 blocks-per-game in March, that squad played solid team defense to keep shots off G Cam Ward and earn points in six-straight games.

The Canes pulled within four points of the then-second wild card Bruins (Philadelphia eventually qualified as the eighth seed), but that momentum died and they could not improve from 10th-place in the Eastern Conference. While surely disappointing at the time, the young Hurricanes showed promise for the future.

If that comeback story sounds familiar, it’s because the Hurricanes did almost the exact same thing last year. During March of the 2016-’17 campaign, Carolina was even better than it was the previous campaign, going an incredible 10-2-5 to lay claim to the best record of the month.

What makes this surge different than the one the year before is that it was absolutely driven by the offense. The Canes scored 54 goals in the month of March, six more than both Chicago and Pittsburgh (for those wondering, doing anything offensively better than the Blackhawks or Penguins – much less both – is a very good sign). F Jeff Skinner was the primary impetus behind that attack, as he registered 12-5-17 totals – and not a one of them occurred on the power play.

Once again, the playoffs were not in the cards for Carolina. Even though they climbed into 10th-place in the Eastern Conference and trailed – who would have guessed it – the Bruins by only four points for the second wild card, the Hurricanes could not find any success in April and ended the 2016-’17 season the same way they have since 2009-’10: watching the first round on TV.

The optimism remained as strong as ever though. This still young team has now performed brilliantly in crunch time of the NHL season two years in a row, showcasing both ends of the ice. Add in the fact that Skinner, Slavin, Staal and even Ward  are all still members of this year’s club (Ward and RW Justin Williams are the only two Canes still remaining on the team from their 2006 Stanley Cup season), and Carolina seemed poised to take the next step as a franchise and return to the postseason.

That’s what inspired General Manager Ron Francis to acquire talents like G Scott Darling, D Trevor van Riemsdyk and Williams this offseason. Surely adding these solid players – who between them have five Stanley Cup rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy – would lead Carolina to the Promised Land!

As it turns out, the 6-5-4 Hurricanes have done just what they’ve done in previous seasons: get off to a slow start that necessitates those late-season pushes. For a season of excitement, 13th-place in the Eastern Conference was not exactly in the Canes’ plan.

It certainly has not been a lack of effort on the defensive end that has held Carolina back. Staal (2.3 hits-per-game) and Slavin (2.3 blocks-per-game) are still as busy as ever, and have led the Hurricanes to allowing only 29.2 shots against-per-game, the best effort in the conference and third-best in the NHL.

Instead, it’s Head Coach Bill Peters’ offense that is holding the Hurricanes back from glory. Even with Williams (2-11-13 totals) and Skinner (8-2-10) leading the way, Carolina has managed only 2.67 goals-per-game, the ninth-fewest in the league.

That all being said, perhaps the Canes are starting to turn a corner. After a rough October, Carolina is 2-1-2 in the month of November and has earned points in its last four games, including a 3-1 victory in Columbus Friday and a 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks Saturday. LW Brock McGinn in particular has been on fire during this run, as he’s supplied four of the Canes’ 10 goals since November 4 from the third line.

Another team looking to make a return to the playoffs this season is the 9-7-0 Stars, and they’re off to a much better start in achieving their goal considering they occupy seventh in the Western Conference after 16 games played.

I know I say it every time we talk about Dallas, but it still feels so weird to think about: the Stars are winning on the efforts of their defense.

*shivers*

Told you it’s weird.

The Stars have allowed only 28.8 shots to reach 7-4-0 G Ben Bishop, which is tied for the fewest in the entire league. Though his play has not indicated it’s necessary, keeping a solid netminder with a .914 season save percentage under-worked sounds like an excellent way to earn two points most nights you strap on the skates.

Whether it’s been the work of fourth-liner RW Brett Ritchie and his 2.6 hits-per-game or D John Klingberg‘s 1.8 blocks-per-game, that work in the defensive zone may prove important tonight. After the completion of tonight’s game, the Stars board a plane for Sunrise, Fla. (ok, they’re probably going to fly into Miami) for a Tuesday night tilt with the Panthers.

What that means for tonight’s game is Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has to choose which game to start backup G Kari Lehtonen, who has a 2-3-0 record on a .914 save percentage and 2.4 GAA. Considering the Panthers’ offense scores a solid 3.31 goals-per-game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lehtonen take on the Canes tonight, especially since he beat Carolina in both meetings last season.

With two teams playing some of the best defense around, this game is going to boil down to who has the better offense. Since that is the case, I’m going to bet on forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin every time. Dallas should win tonight.


With two goals in the third period, the San Jose Sharks pulled off the 2-1 comeback victory against the Los Angeles Kings in the Staples Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

If not for D Tim Heed‘s hooking penalty against F Tyler Toffoli at the 7:49 mark of the first period, perhaps the Kings never would have found their lone goal. Instead, W Dustin Brown (C Anze Kopitar and D Drew Doughty) took advantage of the man-advantage only 41 seconds later to give Los Angeles a lead it would hold for nearly 40 minutes.

Though the Sharks fired 19 shots at Second Star G Jonathan Quick through the first two periods, they didn’t find their first goal of the game until the 5:42 mark of the third period. F Melker Karlsson (F Tomas Hertl and F Logan Couture) took credit for breaking through Quick’s defenses with a wrist shot to level the game at one-all.

With 7:10 remaining in regulation, fourth-liner RW Joel Ward (F Barclay Goodrow and D Joakim Ryan) scored the third-and-final goal of the night with his left skate. Caught in the corner by Doughty and F Brooks Laich, Ward shoved a pass up the far boards to Ryan at the point that he returned back down the boards to Goodrow, who was near the left face-off circle. The forward than tried to snap a pass to W Timo Meier on the opposite side of Quick’s crease, but it was intercepted by Ward’s skate and redirected right into the net.

First Star G Martin Jones earned the victory after saving 26-of-27 shots faced (.963 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 31-of-33 (.939).

The Sharks’ road win is a big one in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as it pulls the 21-17-3 road teams even with the 20-16-5 hosts.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 14

 

Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks – Game 2

With a 5-3 victory at the Honda Center Sunday, Anaheim leveled its Western Finals series against the Predators at 1-1.

Three goals is all the Predators needed to beat Anaheim in Game 1. In Game 2, both clubs had already reached that mark by the 30:41 mark.

First it was the Predators with a two-goal surge. Ryan Johansen (Third Star of the Game Viktor Arvidsson and Roman Josi) was the first to score, burying a wrist shot 4:18 into the contest. James Neal (Johansen and Mattias Ekholm) followed that up 4:14 later with a backhanded power play shot to set the score at 2-0.

Next up was an Anaheim attack, though it was split in half by the first intermission. Second Star Sami Vatanen (Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler) got the Ducks on the board with one minute remaining in the first period, followed by Jakob Silfverberg (Rickard Rakell and Cam Fowler) only 39 seconds into the middle frame.

Vatanen’s marker was a special one not only because it leveled the game at two-all and was his first postseason goal since last year’s series with the Preds, but also because it was the Ducks’ first power play goal in their last 22 attempts.

The Predators once again took the lead 7:59 into the second period thanks to a Filip Forsberg (Arvidsson) wrap-around offering, but First Star Ondrej Kase (Shea Theodore and Josh Manson) leveled the game at three-all only 2:42 later.

Neither John Gibson (.909 save percentage) nor Pekka Rinne (.846 save percentage) would yield a goal in the third period, which proved to be a major problem for Nashville considering Nick Ritchie‘s (Getzlaf and Brandon Montour) tally with 2:53 remaining in the second period.

The play started when Montour passed from the near point of his defensive zone to Getzlaf at center ice. The captain one-touched his bank pass off the near boards to the eventual goalscorer, who took possession in the face-off circle to Rinne’s right. Ritchie ripped an impressive snap shot over the goaltender’s stick shoulder for what proved to be the youngster’s second game-winning playoff goal of his career.

Through Rinne was pulled for the extra attacker with 2:08 remaining in regulation, the Predators still couldn’t manage a goal to level the game. Antoine Vermette (Getzlaf and Fowler) made sure to make Rinne pay for vacating his post by burying a wrister with 44 seconds remaining to ensure the Ducks’ victory.

After a four hour flight to Nashville (yet six hours according to a clock due to time zones), Game 3 in the now best-of-five will be played Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at Bridgestone Arena. Though American viewers are limited to NBCSN, Canada is being serviced by CBC, SN and TVAS.