Happy Sunday to you. As you might guess, us here at Down the Frozen River encourage you to sit back and watch some hockey.
The action starts at 5 p.m. with two matinee games (Boston at Carolina and Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN360[), followed an hour later by Philadelphia at Columbus. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it a pair of contests (Nashville at Chicago and Edmonton at Ottawa [SN/TVAS]), with tonight’s nightcap – Minnesota at Anaheim (NBCSN) – waiting 60 minutes before dropping the puck. All times eastern.
- Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh: It took seven games for the Penguins to advance past the Lightning to the Stanley Cup finals a season ago.
- Minnesota at Anaheim: Bruce Boudreau makes his return to the Pond.
It’s been a while since we’ve made our way out to the Honda Center, and today’s contest should be fantastic. To Anaheim!
Let’s start with Boudreau getting fired from Washington on November 28, 2011, his first head coaching gig in the NHL. He had led the Capitals to four-straight Southeast Division titles, but no playoff success. It’s a theme that follows Gabby, so much that he should probably take up a career in soccer. He’s very successful in the regular season, but never got Washington past the Eastern Semifinals.
He never had a chance to collect on unemployment, as only two days later he had traversed the country to Orange County to take over as the Ducks‘ skipper, the quickest turnaround for a coach in NHL history. Barring that initial 2011-’12 season when he was hired, Boudreau got all his Ducks in a row and returned them to glory once again. Starting with the 2012-’13 season, he again went four-straight years with a division title.
Uh oh, we’ve seen that before…
Unfortunately for Anaheim and Boudreau, even though they made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2015, they made zero trips to the Stanley Cup Finals – not to mention the most important piece of hardware the the league.
Making matters worse, all the Ducks‘ season-ending games were on the very surface they’re playing tonight. Four straight years the Ducks hosted a Game 7 at the Honda Center, and four-straight years they cleaned our their lockers the next morning.
Bob Murray, Anaheim‘s GM, ain’t about that life, so two days later Boudreau was again on the job search. That’s how he wound up in the State of Hockey, where he is well on his way to creating another dominant team. Recently, they were involved in the fabled game against Columbus (who would’ve thought that phrase would exist five years ago?) that featured two teams with 12-game or better winning streaks. The Wild simply hope he can keep that success up into the postseason.
Boudreau and his 24-9-5 Wild have full command of second place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. They’ve been able to find that success by playing some phenomenal goaltending, allowing only 82 goals so far this season, the second-fewest in the NHL.
20-7-3 Devan Dubnyk has done more than his share to get Minnesota into their current position. He has a season .939 save percentage and 1.82 GAA, easily the best effort in the league.
Dubnyk’s play has been beyond impressive since his defense has done little to help him out. Even with Jared Spurgeon‘s team-leading 68 blocks, the Wild have allowed 30.7 shots to reach their netminder per game, the 11th-highest average in the league.
Even without the help, Dubnyk keeps pucks out of his net regardless of the circumstances. Minnesota is the home of the fifth-best penalty kill in the NHL, preventing 85.5% of opposing power plays to score. Spurgeon is joined by Mikael Granlund for the mark of best shorthanded defenseman, as both have 10 penalty kill blocks to their credit.
Playing host this evening are the 21-12-8 Ducks, the second-best club in the Pacific Division. Winners of their last three games, and point-earners in their last seven, they’ve found that success on an impressive offense that has already scored 110 goals this season, the 13th-highest total in the league.
Ryan Kesler has been the man in charge of the offense, notching 34 points in 41 games. That being said, the man striking fear in goaltenders across the Pacific is Rickard Rakell, the proud owner of 16 goals in only 30 games. He hasn’t netted a puck yet this calendar year, which should worry Dubnyk.
Much of that success has been on the back of an intimidating power play. The Ducks score on 22.7% of their opportunities, the fourth-best mark in the NHL. Kesler has been just as productive on the man-advantage as he is at even-strength. He’s notched 15 power play points so far this season, just short of his entire point total. Seven of those points have been power play goals, the highest total in Anaheim.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (25 assists [most on the team]), Kesler (34 points [most on the team]), Rakell (16 goals [most on the team]), Nick Ritchie (133 hits [most on the team]), Jakob Silfverberg (+12 [best on the team]) and Sami Vatanen (74 blocks [most on the team]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (1.82 GAA on a .939 save percentage [both lead the NHL], including five shutouts [tied for most in the league] for 20 wins [tied for second-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+20 [tied for seventh-best in the league]), Mikko Koivu (+20 [tied for seventh-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+21 [tied for fifth-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+23 [tied for the NHL lead]) and Jason Zucker (+23 [tied for the league lead]).
I like Anaheim to win tonight’s very competitive match, even if I don’t have statistics to back my claims. Anaheim is rolling right now with their seven-game point streak. Pair that with some home cooking on The Pond, and I see a Ducks winner no matter how good Minnesota is.
Thanks to First Star of the Game Mark Letestu‘s overtime slap shot, the Oilers were able to escape New Jersey with a 2-1 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
The game’s first goal actually belonged to the Devils, compliments of a backhander from Third Star Miles Wood (Travis Zajac and Steven Santini) at the 9:44 mark of the first period. New Jersey‘s lead lasted a full 33:49 before Edmonton pulled even.
With his first goal of his career, rookie Matthew Benning (Andrej Sekera and Anton Lander) takes credit for that game-tying tally. As neither team was able to breakthrough for a winning goal in regulation, this game advanced into three-on-three overtime.
Letestu (Oscar Klefbom and Connor McDavid) struck with 61 seconds remaining before a shootout with a fantastic slap shot. He was aided by a Zajac slashing penalty against McDavid that forced a four-on-three power play.
Cam Talbot earns the victory after saving 19-of-20 shots faced (95%), leaving the loss to Second Star Cory Schneider, who saved 41-of-43 (95.3%).
Edmonton‘s road victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 47-26-14 in favor of the hosts. Home teams lead the visitors by 13 points.