Tag Archives: Ross Trophy

November 7 – Day 35 – The day Western Canadians aren’t so friendly

It’s Tuesday in the NHL, so you know what that means: lots of games to be watched!

In total, there’s nine games on tonight’s schedule, starting with six (Washington at Buffalo [NBCSN], St. Louis at New Jersey, Edmonton at the New York Islanders [TVAS], Arizona at Pittsburgh, Florida at Carolina and Nashville at Columbus) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. Vegas at Montréal (RDS/TSN2) waits half an hour after those games begin before dropping the puck, followed by Vancouver at Calgary at 9 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Anaheim (NBCSN) – finds its start at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s action. All times Eastern.

What a slate of games! Just about every contest has a compelling reason to watch:

  • Edmonton at New York: For four seasons, F Ryan Strome called the Big Apple home. After an offseason trade, he’s wearing different shades of blue and orange.
  • Arizona at Pittsburgh: As assistant coach with the Penguins, Rick Tocchet won two-consecutive Stanley Cups. Now he’s trying to find a similar magic as the Coyotes’ head coach.
  • Nashville at Columbus: There’s few motivations stronger than playing against the team that cut you. Just ask LW Scott Hartnell.
  • Vancouver at Calgary: Ever since the Flames moved to Alberta, games against the Canucks have been circled in red.
  • Los Angeles at Anaheim: Round One of the Freeway Face-off goes down tonight on The Pond!

Somehow, the Flames have escaped being featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series for the past 34 days. With a rivalry game tonight, that number will not grow to 35.

 

Ever since the Flames’ first trip to Vancouver on February 1, 1981 representing the city of Calgary, the lore surrounding this rivalry has only grown by the game.

This matchup is far more than a simple Pacific Division rivalry. It’s a contest between coastal and midwest living; a battle between political parties; a war for the Art Ross Trophy.

If a hockey game could determine which way of life is superior, it would seem Calgary’s way of living has won out in the past. In all, the Flames, since moving to southern Alberta, have earned a 113-77-26-13 regular season record against their arch-nemeses that is further supported by their 21-17 postseason record.

In total, these clubs have met in the postseason seven times since 1982, with the Flames winning all but two of those series – including the last two. Their most recent playoff meeting occurred in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and was highlighted by Game 2’s 132 penalty minutes. D Deryk Engelland, now a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, was the primary on-ice offender in the fight, but the league eventually ruled that Flames Head Coach Bob Hartley played an even bigger role and fined him $50 thousand. Calgary won the series in six games.

That being said, the turn of the millennium was a positive one for the Canucks. They won seven-straight season series against Calgary starting with the 2007-’08 campaign – including sweeping the Flames 5-0-0 in 2013-’14. But, all good things must come to an end as the Flames have since regained an advantage and won the last three season series.

To make things even more exciting, this is also a fairly important early meeting between these clubs in regards to the Pacific Division, and even the Western Conference. Both squads have already earned 16 points in the standings to join the three-way tie for third place in the division and their also in a seven-way tie for fifth in the conference.

Technically, since the 7-5-2 Canucks have won only one game via shootout compared to the 8-6-0 Flames’ two, Vancouver is the superior team in the standings. As such, they currently occupy the West’s first wild card – an envious position only a month into the season, to be sure.

When things are going Vancouver’s way, it’s been one of the best in the league at preventing its opposition from finding the back of 4-4-2 G Jacob Markstrom‘s net. Though his .918 save percentage is far from being worth writing home to Gavle, Sweden about, he’s managed a 2.3 GAA that is sixth-best in the NHL among goaltenders with at least seven starts.

Of course, it doesn’t seem he’ll be writing home about tonight’s game anyways, as he lost 3-2 at home to the Red Wings last night. Instead, hockey sense leads me to believe 3-1-0 G Anders Nilsson will earn his fifth start of the season tonight. Though he’s had limited time, Nilsson has arguably been the stronger of the two netminders, as his .943 save percentage and 1.89 GAA are both second-best in the league among netminders with at least four starts.

Regardless of who starts, the Cancuks are going to rely on their solid defense to keep things under control. Whether it’s D Alex Biega, RW Derek Dorsett and D Erik Gudbranson‘s combined 80 hits or D Michael Del Zotto‘s 2.2 blocks-per-game – or, more likely, a sum of those parts – the Canucks are among the league’s best at keeping shots off their netminder, allowing a fourth-best 29.5 per game.

Meanwhile, everything seems to be coming up spades for the Flames of late, as they’re winners of their last three games, all against stiff Metropolitan competition.

The key to this winning streak: solid play in the defensive zone. Since October 29, Calgary has allowed only six goals in three games – the third-fewest in the NHL in that stretch.

That’s all the result of the incredible play by 8-5-0 G Mike Smith.

Yes, the same Smith that posted a rough 19-26-9 record in Arizona last year.

He’s been one of the top-three goaltenders in the NHL for the past nine days, as a .943 save percentage and 1.92 GAA earned him a perfect 3-0-0 record over that stretch. For the season, Smith has managed a solid .931 save percentage and 2.32 GAA to be in the discussion for top-10 goaltenders of the campaign so far.

Perhaps the key to Smith finding success is playing for a new team. During his first season with the Coyotes (who then represented simply the city of Phoenix from their arena in Glendale instead of the entire state of Arizona) in 2011-’12, Smith earned a 38-18-10 record on a .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA for easily the best performance of his 12-season career.

For those Flames fans wondering, Smith is under contract through next season. Do with that information as you see fit.

These clubs have already met once this season, playing to a 5-2 Flames victory at Rogers Arena on October 14. LW Johnny Gaudreau, D Mark Giordano, D Dougie Hamilton, D Travis Hamonic and C Sean Monahan all registered goals for Calgary, while only RW Brock Boeser and Dorsett could find the scorecard for the Canucks.

Though the score of their last meeting may not indicate it, this game has a grind-it-out, defensive style written all over it. These types of games are my favorite without featuring a rivalry. Throw in the animosity and the fact that the Flames have already earned a win in the series away from the Scotiabank Saddledome, and this should be a nasty tilt. I like the Flames to hold on and win since the Canucks played last night, but we should be in for a thriller.


Thanks in large part to a three-goal explosion in the first period, the Winnipeg Jets beat the Dallas Stars 4-1 at the American Airlines Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Winnipeg found success in Texas. After all, the arena is not only sponsored by the world’s largest airline, but also nicknamed The Hangar.

Whether that had anything to do with this game or not, the Jets didn’t take long to take control, as they had a one-goal lead after only 26 seconds of play courtesy of a C Mark Scheifele (First Star of the Game RW Blake Wheeler and LW Kyle Connor) wrist shot. With his fourth power play goal of the year (seventh overall), RW Patrik Laine (Wheeler and Scheifele) doubled Winnipeg’s advantage 4:46 later. Finally, only 57 seconds before heading to the dressing room for first intermission, Connor (Wheeler) scored a wrister to set the score at 3-0.

If not for F Bryan Little‘s hi-sticking penalty against C Jason Spezza, maybe Second Star G Connor Hellebuyck could have earned his first shutout of the season. Instead, Third Star LW Jamie Benn (D John Klingberg and RW Alexander Radulov) buried a backhanded shot 4:13 into the second period to pull the Stars back within a 3-1 deficit.

Even though Dallas fired a total of 23 shots in the final two periods, they could not sneak another goal past Hellebuyck. That fact became especially painful with 13 seconds remaining in the game, as Scheifele (Wheeler and D Jacob Trouba) slung a shorthanded snap shot from the blue line into an empty net to set the 4-1 final score.

Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 33-of-34 shots faced (.971 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Ben Bishop, who saved 22-of-25 (.88).

Impressively, road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have won five of the last seven games to pull within four points of the 18-13-4 hosts.

November 3 – Day 31 – Campbell Bowl rematch

This had better be an exciting weekend of hockey, because Friday’s slate of games is extremely light. The action doesn’t start until 9 p.m. Eastern time when New Jersey visits Edmonton (NHLN/SN/TVAS), which is followed an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Nashville at Anaheim.

There’s little more fun to feature than a rematch of last season’s playoffs, and that’s exactly what we get at the Honda Center this evening.

 

Who can forget last May’s thrilling Conference Finals series between these clubs? Even though C Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks were the lone Western Conference team to escape Bridgestone Arena’s crazy atmosphere with a victory last postseason (a 3-2 overtime win in Game 4 to level the series at two-apiece), they could do nothing to break through G Pekka Rinne only two days later at the Honda Center, and even less to stop C Colton Sissons‘ Game 6 hat trick to send the Preds to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final.

And even though that was last season, don’t think for even one minute that the Ducks aren’t interested in exacting a little revenge against Nashville for stealing home ice away from them.

If 6-5-1 Anaheim wants to do that, it’ll need to improve on October’s limited chemistry. So far, the Ducks have struggled to find a good rhythm due to D Kevin Bieksa, W Patrick Eaves, D Cam Fowler, Getzlaf and F Ryan Kesler all being on injured reserve.

Yes, you read that correctly: all five of those players are injured right now. With the exception of Eaves, who was a trade deadline acquisition last February, all of those players have been staples of the Ducks’ lineup since at least the 2015-’16 season.

Getzlaf’s absence is certainly the most notable, as he’s been a member of the club since its Mighty Ducks days. If you put much stock in Hockey Reference’s point shares statistic, Getzlaf has been responsible for an average of 7.6 points in the standings per season since his 2005-’06 debut (to compare, Anaheim’s leading skater in point shares last season was Fowler, who individually accounted for 8.3 of the Ducks’ 105 points). Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Anaheim is only 2-3-1 when Getzlaf is not in the lineup this year.

Want something a little bit more tangible? Getzlaf has scored .95 points-per-game for his entire career. Considering Anaheim has managed only one goal in three of the four contests he’s missed, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to assume the captain could have provided a spark in at least one of those games.

Meanwhile, the Predators have had an even poorer start to the season with fewer excuses than the Ducks. C Nick Bonino and D Ryan Ellis are both on injured reserve, but I don’t think that’s the main source of Nashville’s problems.

Instead, I point to an anemic offense that has only managed 2.33 goals-per-game on 29 shots-per-game, both rates that are third-worst in the NHL.

Scoring was all W Viktor Arvidsson and F Ryan Johansen could do last season, as both registered an impressive 61 points to lead Nashville’s attack (Arvidsson won the goals-scored tiebreaker with his 31-30-61 totals). This year, they’ve combined for only 11 points – a total C Steven Stamkos and his 24 points are laughing at from atop the Art Ross Trophy leader board.

Last season, shooting the puck like it was going out of style was a patented trademark of this Predators club, as they fired 31.2 shots-per-game to rank sixth in the statistic. Considering Arvidsson leads the team in shots (he’s fired 43 in 12 games played), I’d bank on his .07 shooting percentage back towards last season’s 12.6 percent sooner than later.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that F Filip Forsberg, who has fired 32 shots this season to rank third on the team, is leading the squad with his 8-5-13 totals (yes, he’s rocking a wildly impressive .25 shooting percentage). I expect that if more Predators follow his lead – followed by linemates converging on the crease like a basketball team grabbing at a rebound – and fire the puck more often, Nashville should start seeing improvements.

Neither of these clubs are bad teams, they’re just not playing well right now. With the Predators riding a two-game losing skid right now and the Ducks being at home, I like Anaheim to pull this game out and earn two points.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Washington Capitals held on to beat the New York Islanders 4-3 at Capital One Arena.

With both clubs scoring at least one goal each period, Washington won this game in the first period, in one school of thought, by tickling the twine twice. The Caps were the first to get on the board courtesy of D Taylor Chorney‘s (F Chandler Stephenson and First Star of the Game C Lars Eller) first goal of the season, struck 5:55 into the contest. The Islanders’ Sandwich Line answered the goal 7:06 later when C John Tavares (Second Star F Anders Lee and F Josh Bailey) buried a power play wrist shot. The final goal of the period belonged to Eller (Stephenson and D Madison Bowey), who scored a slap shot with 3:41 remaining before the first intermission to set the score at 2-1.

With another power play tally – this time by Lee (Bailey and C Mathew Barzal) – with 3:42 remaining in the second period, New York once again leveled the game, but this tie lasted even less time than the first as RW Alex Chiasson (Third Star D John Carlson and F Jay Beagle) buried a slapper only 12 seconds later to reclaim a 3-2 advantage for Washington.

Another new period, another opportunity for the Islanders to level the game. With his second goal of the night, Lee (D Thomas Hickey and Tavares) forced another tie seven minutes into the third period.

The game remained at three-all until only 3:21 remained in regulation. That’s when Eller (RW Tom Wilson and Carlson) scored his game-winning snap shot. Thanks to a quick leading pass into the neutral zone from Carlson to set up a breakaway opportunity for the Capitals, Eller had a clear shot from the top of the right face-off circle on G Jaroslav Halak. With that opportunity, he fired a snapper glove-side to beat the netminder to the near post.

Though the Sandwich Line took two more shifts to try to level the game in the remaining time, they could not beat G Braden Holtby to force overtime.

If the NHL gave out four stars, this game’s would absolutely be Holtby. Though he did give up three goals, he saved 35-of-38 shots faced (.921 save percentage) to earn the victory. That left the loss to Halak, who saved 15-of-19 (.789).

The Capitals’ home victory snapped a two-game winning streak by visiting teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, giving hosts a 17-10-4 record that is eight points better than the visitors’.

March 31 – Day 163 – Keeping it in Alberta

Welcome to the penultimate Friday in the NHL’s regular season. Unless you’re a fan of one of the 16 teams heading for the playoffs, there’s not much hockey left to be watched so make sure to catch the rest of this season’s games!

Tonight’s festivities start with Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers (SN) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by New Jersey at the New York Islanders. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Columbus at Chicago,  with two more (St. Louis at Colorado and San Jose at Calgary) getting underway at the top of the hour. Two contests – Los Angeles at Vancouver (SN360) and Washington at Arizona – share the role of nightcap and get started at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Pittsburgh at New York: Not only is it a rematch of last year’s Eastern Quarterfinals, but the Blueshirts could pull within four points of third place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • Columbus at Chicago: Two of the three best teams in the league? Yes please.
  • San Jose at Calgary: Thanks to the Sharks‘ loss last night, the Flames are only three points out of third place in the Pacific Division.

I’d love to watch the Hawks and Jackets square off, but it doesn’t have major playoff implications – and that’s what we’re all about this time of year. As much as I dislike repeating teams on back-to-back nights, it looks like we have to catch the Sharks‘ plane to Calgary for another important Pacific tilt.

 

If the Sharks can be happy about anything right now, it’s that today is the final day in what has been a dreadful March for them. Their 6-9-0 mark is tied with Arizona for the sixth-worst record in the month, and being compared to Coyotes in anything is usually a sign of trouble.

What makes the recent struggles an even harder pill to swallow is that it is spoiling an overall solid regular season. When the final game in February was played, San Jose was not only leading the Pacific Division by five points, but also trailed Minnesota by only seven points for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Thirty days later, the 43-27-7 Sharks sit alone in third place in the division, and four teams separate them from home ice throughout the conference playoffs. It leaves a club and fan base that entered the season on a quest to hoist its first Stanley Cup wondering if they can even escape what will be a very trying quarterfinals matchup against the Ducks, Flames, Oilers or possibly even the Blackhawks.

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s been an nearly all-inclusive collapse (defense notwithstanding) by the Sharks that has resulted in their horrendous run over the past 15 games.

Since 33-32-6 Martin Jones was in net last night, I’d assume 10-6-1 Aaron Dell will start in goal tonight (of course, I tabbed Dell to start yesterday and I was wrong, so who knows?). Dell has actually been a solid backup all season, as his .928 save percentage and 2.09 GAA are not only better than Jones’ effort, but also rank (t)third and fourth-best in the league among the 56 netminders with at least 16 appearances.

Whether we get that Dell or the Dell that has seen his save percentage drop to .915 in March remains to be seen, but you can plan on Justin Braun and San Jose‘s defense playing as strong as ever.

All season the goal has been to keep pucks off Dell and Jones’ crease as much as possible, and they’ve done an excellent job in achieving just that. All year, they’ve allowed only 27.5 shots-against per game – the third-best rate in the league – and they’ve actually been slightly better of late, allowing only 27.1 per game in March.

No Shark deserves more credit for that than Braun. He’s been the defensive stalwart of the club all year, and it shows in his team-leading 154 shot blocks. Another that has done well defensively is Joe Thornton, but he does his work before the opposition even thinks about firing at the net. He leads the squad in takeaways with 64 (tied for eighth-most in the league), including 13 this month.

The goaltending issues have proven to be especially detrimental to San Jose‘s penalty kill. Since it has been only an average effort on the season as a whole (80.8% kill rate is 15th-worst in the NHL), taking away the luxury of a usually-reliable backstop has dropped the Sharks to ninth-worst in March, neutralizing only 78% of their infractions. Dell has saved only 85% of the power play shots that have come his way this month, the 14th-worst effort among the 38 goalies with at least six March appearances.

Special teams seem to be a struggle for Peter DeBoer’s squad this year, as his power play has actually been worse than his penalty kill. The Sharks rank seventh-worst on the season with their 17.1% success rate with the man-advantage.

It’s surprising that San Jose has been so poor, mostly because they have one weapon few can match: Brent Burns. The offensive-minded blueliner has notched 24 points on the power play this campaign, which ties for 16th-most in the NHL.

Perhaps the Sharks‘ mojo has relocated itself to Cowtown. Currently in possession of a 43-30-4 record and the West’s first wild card, the Flames have earned a 15-4-1 record since February 15. That ties Columbus for the best mark in that time, though I’d argue the Flames have been better with one fewer game played.

I may actually be on to something regarding San Jose‘s mojo, as Brian Elliott has been fantastic during this run. After a rocky start to the season, he’s reclaimed the starting job in Calgary and made it his own. Since mid-February, he’s earned a .933 save percentage and a 1.97 GAA, the fourth and fifth-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 33 goalies with at least nine appearances in that time.

Tonight is the fourth of five games between these clubs this season, and the Flames have the opportunity to clinch the series victory with a win tonight. They’ve gone 2-1-0 so far against San Jose, including the last time they met on January 11. It was a closely contested affair, but Dougie Hamilton scored with 2:19 remaining in regulation to earn a 3-2 win for the Flames in the Saddledome.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Johnny Gaudreau (42 assists for 59 points [both lead the team]) and Mark Giordano (176 blocks for a+22 [both lead the team]) & San Jose‘s Burns (73 points [eighth-most in the league]) and Jones (33 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

It’s hard to argue with recent success. Vegas has marked the Flames a -130 favorite to win tonight. Just like I said yesterday, the Sharks‘ rebound has to start in the crease. While Calgary certainly doesn’t pose the offensive threat the Oilers did a night ago, the Flames‘ confidence should be enough to get past whichever goaltender DeBoer decides to go with.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bud MacPherson (1927-1988) – For seven seasons MacPherson roamed along Montréal‘s blueline, and he was rewarded with one All-Star Game and the 1953 Stanley Cup.
  • Gordie Howe (1928-2016) – There’s no discussion: this right wing is one of the greatest players the world has ever seen. Named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 – seven years before his last season in the league – he played in 23 All-Star Games over 26 NHL seasons (all but one with Detroit) and won both the Hart Memorial and Art Ross Trophies six times apiece, not to mention his four Stanley Cups.
  • Bob Pulford (1936-) – Another Hall of Famer, this left wing played all but two seasons of his 16-year career in Toronto. He won four Stanley Cups in the process, including three-straight from 1962-’64.
  • Bill Hicke (1938-2005) – Spending most of his time in Montréal, this right wing played 13 seasons in the NHL. The three-time All-Star was good for almost as many penalty minutes as points contributed, but that didn’t stop him from being a two-time Stanley Cup champion.
  • Gilles Gilbert (1949-) – Selected by the North Stars 25th-overall in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft, this goaltender played 416 games over his 14-year career. Spending most of his time in Boston, he earned a 192-143-60 record before hanging up his pads.
  • Tom Barrasso (1965-) – Buffalo selected this goaltender fifth-overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, but he played a majority of his career for the Penguins. He played well for both clubs, as he earned the 1984 Calder Memorial and Vezina Trophies and the 1985 William M. Jennings Trophy with the Sabres and back-to-back Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh.
  • Pavel Bure (1971-) – Though only selected in the sixth round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by Vancouver (his longest-tenured club), this right wing had a highly successful career. In addition to six All-Star Game appearances, he won two Maurice Richard Trophies and the 1992 Calder. All of that added up to a Hall of Fame induction in 2012.
  • Michael Ryder (1980-) – Montréal selected this right wing in the eighth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his 11 seasons. That being said, he was wearing the crest of the arch-rival Bruins when he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup.
  • David Clarkson (1984-) – A longtime right wing for the Devils, this Toronto-native played 10 seasons in the NHL. He could’ve been playing his 11th this year with Columbus, but he was denied the opportunity to practice with the club due to failing his physical.
  • Steve Bernier (1985-) – The 16th-overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, this right wing has played 633 games over 11 seasons in the league. His longest -tenured club is New Jersey, with whom he scored 28 goals for 65 points.
  • Jakob Chychrun (1998-) – This rookie defenseman was the 16th-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by Arizona. He shows promise on the offensive end of the ice, as he’s provided 19 points already this year, the third-most among Coyotes blueliners.

Thanks to Second Star of the Game Cam Talbot‘s 38-save effort, Edmonton was able to best the Sharks 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to improve into second place in the Pacific Division.

Though Talbot had a strong night, it didn’t start off the best way. He allowed Jannik Hansen (Paul Martin) to score only his eighth goal of the season 1:01 into play to allow the Sharks to take an early lead. Fortunately for him, Third Star Patrick Maroon (First Star Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) provided a game-tying goal 9:21 later. Though Zack Kassian was sent off the ice for hooking birthday boy Marc-Edouard Vlasic with 3:24 remaining in the period, McDavid (Oscar Klefbom and Drake Caggiula) was able to score a shorthanded backhander only 52 seconds later to give the Oil a 2-1 lead it would not yield.

Maroon (Kris Russell) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal 7:51 into the third period with a tip-in. It became the winner with 6:01 remaining in regulation when Joe Pavelski (Vlasic and Hansen) scored a tip-in of his own, but the Sharks were unable to find another tally before the final horn.

Talbot earned the victory after saving 38-of-40 shots faced (95%), leaving the loss to Jones, who saved 19-of-22 (86.4%).

We’re all squared up once again in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as both home and away teams in the series have an identical 189 points. Road sides still have more wins with their 83-59-23 record.

March 20 – Day 152 – Who’s going to win? Boston Orr Toronto?

Another Monday, another week in the greatest hockey league in the world.

There’s five games on the schedule this evening, starting with two (Boston at Toronto [TVAS] and Buffalo at Detroit [NBCSN]) at 7:30 p.m. and another – Arizona at Nashville – half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of San Jose at Dallas, with tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Edmonton – getting under way 30 minutes later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Boston at Toronto: Not only is it an Original Six matchup, but it’s also an integral contest in the fight for third place in the Atlantic.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: Nothing makes a rivalry better than both teams fighting for playoff position.

Hopefully you haven’t had your fill of Atlantic hockey yet, because tonight’s offering at the Air Canada Centre is too big to ignore.

 

 

 

 

 

So, as things stand in the Atlantic after the weekend series between the Canadiens and Senators, Boston trails second-place Ottawa by only four points and both have played 71 games (of course, the inactive Senators are going to end up with a game-in-hand after tonight’s contest).

That’s the good news for the Bruins. The bad news? They lead Toronto by an even slimmer three points – and the Maple Leafs still have a game in hand.

Boston goes to battle this evening with a 38-27-6 record, thanks in large part to its defense and goaltending. The Bruins have played solidly on both ends of the ice, but I’m most impressed by the fact that they’ve allowed only 186 goals, which ties for 11th-fewest in the NHL.

That effort always starts with the goaltender, and 33-17-4 Tuukka Rask has been a darned good one over the past eight years. With his .912 season save percentage and 2.32 GAA, he ranks (t)25th and 10th-best, respectively, among the 38 goalies with at least 28 appearances.

Although that save percentage is in line to be his worst since playing full time with Boston‘s senior team, he’s been bailed out multiple times this year by one of the better defensive units in the league. Led by the 238 evenly-distributed shot blocks by Captain Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid, the Bruins‘ blueline has allowed only 26.6 shots-per-game to reach Rask’s crease, the second-best rate in the entire league.

Pair a good defense with a good goaltender, and – what do you know – you get a great power play. In fact, Boston‘s 85.4% kill rate is second-best in the league. This has been when Rask has truly shined this season, as he’s faced the (t)11th-most power play shots this season, but has saved 89.4% of them. That ties Devan Dubnyk – the probable winner of the 2017 Vezina Trophy – for the seventh-best mark in the NHL.

Special-team success continues for the Bruins when they earn the man-advantage. The three-headed attack of Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak (all of whom have 21 power play points) has converted 20.8% of man-advantages into goals, the 10th-best mark in the league. Of those three, Pastrnak has been the most impressive, as he’s buried nine extra-man goals.

Of course, it’s not as if the Leafs are the only teams applying pressure. Toronto is also in a heated race for the second wild card spot, as it leads the Islanders by only a point. To apply even more pressure, this game against the Bruins is Toronto‘s game-in-hand on New York. Since the Isles would win the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker if things came to that, Toronto needs this win in the most desperate way.

The Maple Leafs have their offense to thank for their 32-23-15 record, as they’ve managed to produce 211 goals in 70 games – the sixth-highest rate in hockey.

My, what youth can do for an organization. Last season, Toronto accounted for only 192 goals – the third-fewest in the NHL. Enter Auston Matthews, and everything has changed. The rookie has been unstoppable, and it shows in his team-leading 56 points. Even more impressive? 32 of those points have been goals, another total where he leads the squad.

Where Toronto has been truly unstoppable is the power play. They convert 23.6% of their opportunities into goals – the best in the league. To compare, Anaheim had the best power play in the league last year and converted 23.1%.

Yes, these Leafs are better than last year’s Ducks. For those wondering, the tank is over. The Maple Leafs are back.

While you’d be correct in assuming a rookie is the cause of the success, you’d be wrong to guess it’s Matthews’ doing. He’s been good, but the power play has actually been William Nylander‘s personal project this year. He’s registered a team-leading 23 man-advantage points, even though it’s Nazem Kadri who’s scored the most goals on the power play with 11 to his credit.

Toronto is even good on the penalty kill. It refuses to yield a goal on 83.3% of opposing power plays, the ninth-best mark in the league. Frederik Andersen – another added player for this season –  deserves the credit for much of that success, as he’s faced the second-most power play shots in the league, yet yielded a goal only 10.9% of the time, which ties Mike Condon for the eighth-best mark in the NHL.

If there’s one team the Bruins have dreaded playing this year, I’d venture to guess it’s the Maple Leafs. Three times they’ve gone to battle with Toronto, and three times they’ve fallen in regulation. In total, the Leafs have scored 14 goals against Boston, including six on February 4 the last time these clubs met.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [second-most in the NHL] for 79 points [tied for third-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (four shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and Matthews (32 goals [tied for ninth-most in the league]).

Given the fact that tonight’s game is taking place at the Air Canada Centre and the Leafs‘ success against the Bruins this season, I’m very surprised Vegas has marked this contest at +110. I think Toronto wins its fourth-straight against the Bruins tonight.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bobby Orr (1948-) – There are few that have accomplished as much in their career as this defenseman. Although he played only a dozen seasons (most of those with Boston), this Hall-of-Famer was an eight-time James Norris Memorial Trophy winner, seven-time All Star, three-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner and two-time winner of the Art Ross, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup.
  • Sergei Kostitsyn (1987-) – Montréal selected this left wing in the seventh round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, but he actually played more of his 353 career games in the league with Nashville. Last appearing in the NHL in the 2012-’13 season, he registered 176 points over six seasons.

When these clubs met in Ottawa Saturday, they needed a shootout to determine the winner. In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, Montréal hosted the Senators to a 4-1 victory.

Only 28 seconds into the game, the Canadiens had a one-goal lead thanks to a Second Star of the Game Tomas Plekanec (Andrei Markov and First Star Paul Byron) backhanded shot. Tom Pyatt (Mike Hoffman and Jean-Gabriel Pageau) leveled the game 4:08 later, but Jordie Benn‘s (Nathan Beaulieu and Alexander Radulov) slap shot with 2:15 remaining in the frame proved to be the game-winning goal for the Habs.

Byron (Third Star Brendan Gallagher and Shea Weber) and Beaulieu (Andrew Shaw and Phillip Danault) provided the two insurance goals in the third period.

Carey Price saved 30-of-31 shots faced (96.8%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Craig Anderson, who saved 33-of-37 (89.2%).

Montréal‘s victory is the first by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series since Tuesday, and it pulls hosts within three points of the 78-54-22 series visitors.

February 10 – Day 114 – Should the Blackhawks be scared of Winnipeg?

It’s not often I say this, but today is not a great day for hockey – no matter how hard Hall of Fame coach Bob Johnson tries to convince us otherwise.

There’s only two games on the schedule today, and they’re both snoozers. Both Tampa Bay at Minnesota (NBCSN/TVAS) and Chicago at Winnipeg drop the puck at 8 p.m. eastern this evening.

Of the two, I expect the contest in Manitoba to be the better tonight since it’s a divisional matchup, so off to Canada we go!

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This is the fifth game in 33-17-5 Chicago‘s six-game road trip leading up to their bye week, but that doesn’t seem to be bothering them too much. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak that has propelled them to the second-best mark in the Western Conference. The reason they’ve been so good? Their offense has managed 154 goals in 55 games, which ties for the 10th-best rate in the league.

Remember how Patrick Kane won the Hart Memorial Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award and the Art Ross Trophy last season for absolutely annihilating the NHL with 106 points? He may not be reaching that number again this year, but he’s still leading the pack for the Hawks. His 53 points are the most on the club. However, it’s not him scoring the puck this campaign. Instead, he’s leaving that responsibility to Marian Hossa, who’s 19 tallies are tops in Chicago (sorry Wade Megan, we’re only counting NHL goals).

The main issue for the Blackhawks continues to be their penalty kill, which ranks fourth-worst in the league and stops only 76.7% of opposing power plays. One of the few bright spots has been the play of Niklas Hjalmarsson, who has blocked 27 shots when facing the man-advantage.

Playing host this evening are the 25-27-4 Jets, who currently occupy fifth-place in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference, due in part to their two-game losing skid. The biggest struggle in Winnipeg this season is on the defensive end, as the Jets have allowed 175 goals against – the most in the NHL.

17-13-1 Connor Hellebuyck has gotten most of the starts this season, and for good reason: he has the best save percentage and GAA in Winnipeg. Saving .909 percent of pucks for a 2.78 GAA, he stacks up (t)30th and 32nd in the league against the 47 other netminders with at least 17 appearances.

That being said, it’s been 4-4-0 Ondrej Pavelec that Paul Maurice has charged with manning the crease for the past four games, even though his .888 save percentage and 3.55 GAA are the worst marks by Jets goalies. It’ll be interesting to see who Maurice decides to give the nod against Chicago‘s solid offense.

Unfortunately, the troubles don’t stop there for Winnipeg. Even though Dustin Byfuglien has a decent 95 shot blocks to his credit to lead the squad (ties for 33rd-most in the NHL), the Jets allow 30.7 shots to reach Hellebuyck’s crease per game, the (t)12th-worst rate in the league.

Pair a poor defense with poor goaltending, and you get a miserable penalty kill. That’s the situation Winnipeg finds itself in, as it’s 76.6% kill rate in third-worst in the NHL. Fortunately for the Jets, they do have Toby Enstrom managing the defensive special team with his team-leading 22 shorthanded blocks.

The Blackhawks just got the monkey off their back in Minnesota, beating the Wild for the first time in nine games Wednesday. Now they turn their attention to the Jets, an unusual team that seems to genuinely look forward to playing the Hawks. Winnipeg has already won the first four contests between the clubs by a combined score of 14-5. They last met in Chicago on January 26, where the Jets won 5-3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.925 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] for a 2.31 GAA [ninth-best in the league]) should he play, Duncan Keith (34 assists [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and Kane (36 assists [tied for third-most in the league] among 53 points [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) & Winnipeg‘s Mark Scheifele (25 goals among 53 points [both tied for seventh-most in the league]).

This is a tough game to pick. Chicago is the obvious choice given their winning streak and overall superior play, but they are on the tail end of a long road trip. Winnipeg has home ice, and of course has won the last four games against the Hawks in convincing fashion. I wouldn’t bet on this game, but I’ll take the Jets to try to complete the season sweep.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bud Poile (1924-2005) – This right win played for every Original Six team but Montréal, but he spent most of his days in a Toronto sweater. His most memorable season was in 1946-’47, when he won the Stanley Cup. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990 as a Builder.
  • Randy Velischek (1962-) – The 53rd-overall pick in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft by the North Stars, this defenseman played most of his career in New Jersey. His 1984-’85 campaign in Minnesota was probably his best, as he notched 13 points while only allowing six goals.
  • Peter Popovic (1968-) – Selected by Montréal in the fifth-round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played 485 games over eight seasons in the league – most of which with the Canadiens. His 1995-’96 season was his best, marking a +21 with 14 points to his credit.
  • Mike Ribeiro (1980-) – Currently in his third season in Nashville, this center was selected 45th-overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal. He’s most known for his six seasons in Dallas.
  • Jakub Kindl (1987-) – The 19th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Detroit, this defenseman is in his first full season with the Panthers after getting traded from the Red Wings last year.

Three coaching changes: three winning debuts. Bruce Cassidy pushed the right buttons last night in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Boston bested the Sharks 6-3.

Third Star of the Game David Backes (Torey Krug and David Krejci) got things started quickly, burying a slap shot only 52 seconds into the game to give the Bruins an early lead. It only lasted 6:59 though, as ex-Bruin Joe Thornton (Tomas Hertl) scored his wrister to level the game. The next two goals belonged to the home team. First Star Patrice Bergeron (Backes and Brandon Carlo) took his turn first by scoring a tip-in with 4:08 remaining in the period, followed 1:39 later by Second Star David Pastrnak‘s (Bergeron) power play slap shot to set the score at 3-1 going into the first intermission.

Justin Braun (Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau) did his best Backes impression to pull the Sharks within a tally only 1:08 after resuming play, but Boston‘s offense was more than up to the task. With 6:56 remaining in the second period, Tim Schaller (Riley Nash and Dominic Moore) scored the eventual game-winning goal, followed 6:07 later by Pastrnak’s (Bergeron and Brad Marchand) second power play goal of the game, which set the score at 5-2 going into the second intermission.

With 2:37 remaining in the game, Timo Meier (Joel Ward and Hertl) scored a wrister for his third tally of the season, but even that goal didn’t go unanswered. With exactly 30 seconds remaining in the game Marchand (Bergeron and Backes) tacked on one final goal for the Bruins.

Tuukka Rask earns the victory after saving 23-of-26 shots faced (88.5%), while Aaron Dell takes the loss, saving 18-of-20 (90%). He replaced Martin Jones, who’d saved only nine-of-12 (75%), after the first intermission. Jones earned no decision.

Boston‘s win is the second in three days by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series to improve the hosts’ record to 61-37-18, 10 points better than the roadies.

January 22 – Day 99 – We’re seeing orange

It’s our last Sunday of action before the All-Star break, and six different games will be played before the day is through. The action starts at 12:30 p.m. with the New York Rangers at Detroit (NBC), followed by Boston at Pittsburgh at 3 p.m. (NHLN/SN) and Columbus at Ottawa (RDS2) at 5 p.m. Philadelphia at the New York Islanders drops the puck at 6 p.m., followed 90 minutes later by Vancouver at Chicago (NHLN/SN). Finally, Nashville at Minnesota drops the puck at 8 p.m. as the last game of the day. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New York at Detroit: Everybody loves an Original Six rivalry, right?
  • Boston at Pittsburgh: NFL fans can treat this as a preview for the SteelersPatriots AFC Championship game.
  • Philadelphia at New York: Doug Weight hasn’t lost a game since taking over as coach.
  • Vancouver at Chicago: Back when the Canucks were one of the big players in the Western Conference, their series against the Blackhawks was must watch TV.

The Eastern Conference is so tight that the Islanders, currently sitting in last place, could pull within three points of the second wild card with a victory tonight. Let’s head back to Brooklyn to see if the Isles are truly pulling something together.

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It’s been two-and-a-half weeks since the 22-19-6 Flyers have been featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series. They’ve had a tough go of it during that span, including their current three-game losing skid. Due to those mistakes, Philadelphia currently finds themselves in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and ninth in the conference, a point behind Toronto for the second wild card. The main reason? Goaltending. It’s allowed 148 goals in 47 games, which ties for the third-worst rate in the league.

As has been the case since the 2013-14 season after he was traded to Philadelphia, 14-15-6 Steve Mason has been the goalie of choice on Broad Street. Unfortunately, his .897 save percentage and 2.95 GAA are (t)41st and (t)37th in the league against 46 other goalies with at least 17 appearances.

Mason has to take full responsibility too, as his defense is doing all they can. Led by rookie Ivan Provorov‘s 92 shot blocks, the Flyers‘ blueline has allowed only 28.9 shots-per-game to reach Mason’s crease, the eighth-fewest in the league.

As expected, that issue continues to rear its ugly head on the penalty kill, where the Flyers‘ 80% kill rate ties for 10th-worst in the NHL. Philly has been shorthanded 145 times – the 14th-fewest in the league – but Mason’s .853 save percentage against the power play is 34th-worst.

The Flyers cover up for that deficiency by excelling on their own power plays. Successful on 21.8% of attempts, they rank ninth-best in the league. Captain Claude Giroux has been an important facet of that effort with his 21 power play points, but Brayden Schenn has been the most has been the most powerful goalscorer, with 11 man-advantage tallies.

As stated before, 19-17-8 New York is certainly down, but in no way out of the playoff discussion. Much of the issue this season for the Islanders has been their offense, which has managed 126 goals so far this season – the 15th-fewest in the league.

Captain John Tavares has been at the head of that effort with his 36 points. Impressively, most of those points have been goals, and those 19 tallies are also tops in Brooklyn.

The real offensive issue has been the Isles‘ inability to capitalize on prime opportunities. Converting only 14.6% of power plays into goals, New York is fifth-worst in the league with the man-advantage. Nick Leddy and Tavares have done all they can to help the cause with their co-leading 10 power play points, and Anders Lee joins the captain with five extra-man goals.

The penalty kill has also been a big issue for New York. Just like Philadelphia, the Islanders have stopped only 80% of opposing power plays to tie for the 10th-worst effort in the NHL. Calvin de Haan can’t take the blame for the team’s failures, as his 22 shorthanded shot blocks not only lead the team, but also tie for 15th-most in the league.

These squads have only met up one time previously this season, with the Flyers winning 3-2 in a shootout in early November on the same surface they’ll be playing on tonight. New York‘s goaltender that night was Jaroslav Halak, the veteran with 11 seasons of experience that currently finds himself playing in the AHL after clearing waivers.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Thomas Greiss (.927 save percentage [sixth-best in the league]) and Philadelphia‘s Jakub Voracek (41 points on 150 shots [both lead the team]).

Vegas has picked New York to win tonight’s game with a -125 line. Personally, I like Philadelphia, based solely on their offensive and power play efficiency. Tonight could be the night they get out of their funk and return to winning ways.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bill Durnan (1916-1972) – This Canadiens-lifer may have only been in net for seven seasons, but they were some incredible campaigns. Not only did he win two Stanley Cups, he was also a three-time All Star and six-time Vezina winner, all adding up to a 1964 Hall of Fame induction.
  • Elmer Lach (1918-2015) – Another player that spent his entire career in Montréal, this center played in just as many All Star games as he won Stanley Cups: three. The Hall of Famer was also the 1945 Hart and 1948 Ross winner over the course of his 14-season career.
  • J.C. Tremblay (1939-1994) – This blueliner hoisted the Stanley Cup five times during his 13 seasons in the NHL, all with – you guessed it – Montréal. He also played in seven All Star games between his NHL and WHA careers.
  • Serge Savard (1946-) – It seems if you want to play for the Canadiens, you should be born today, as this blueliner spent all but two of his 17 seasons in Montréal. As far as he’s concerned, seven Stanley Cups, four All Star selections, the 1969 Smythe and 1979 Masterton all adds up to a Hall of Fame induction.
  • Mike Bossy (1957-) – Yet another decorated player, this right wing was drafted 15th-overall by the Islanders in the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft, where he played all 10 years of his career. He was a member of those infamous New York squads that won the Stanley Cup four-straight times, and also took home his share of personal accolades, including seven All Star selections, three Byng trophies, the 1978 Calder and the 1982 Smythe. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
  • David Vyborny (1975-) – Drafted 33rd-overall by Columbus in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played all his seven NHL seasons with the Jackets. By the time he left for the Czech Extraliga, he’d notched 317 points.
  • Ben Eager (1984-) – Although picked 23rd-overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Phoenix, this left wing never suited up for the Coyotes. Instead, he spent most of his nine-year career in Chicago, where he was a member of the 2010 Stanley Cup team.

It took a shootout, but the Senators won last night’s edition of the Battle of Ontario 3-2 in the DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one tally was struck in the first period, and it belonged to the victorious visitors. Bobby Ryan (Marc Methot and Chris Neil) is the guilty party with his slap shot with 5:58 remaining in the frame.

Similarly, there was only one goal in the second period, but this one counted for the Leafs. Tyler Bozak (James van Riemsdyk and Second Star of the Game Nazem Kadri) takes credit with his power play snapper at the 7:31 mark of the frame.

Seven minutes into the third period, Matt Martin (Jake Gardiner and Kadri) scored to give the Maple Leafs a 2-1 lead, a lead they almost turned into a victory. Instead, Third Star Mike Hoffman (Erik Karlsson and Dion Phaneuf) buried his power play slap shot with 1:11 remaining in regulation to force three-on-three overtime.

Since neither club could find a winner in those five minutes, we were treated to a shootout. As the home team, Toronto elected to go first.

  1. If anything is alluding rookie Auston Matthews, it’s the shootout. His shot was saved by Mike Condon, lowering his shootout shot percentage to 16.7%.
  2. Ryan pounced on that opportunity for the Senators, burying his shot for a 1-0 lead.
  3. Mitch Marner answered the call for Toronto to level 1-1.
  4. Kyle Turris was next up for the Sens, but his shot was saved by Frederik Andersen.
  5. Next up for the Leafs was van Riemsdyk, but it seemed as if it simply wasn’t his night in the shootout as he blatantly missed the net.
  6. With an opportunity to clinch the bonus point, Karlsson attack Andersen’s net, but the goalie was up to the pressure and made the save.
  7. Bozak ended up being the final Leaf to take his turn, but his shot met the same fate as Matthews’: saved by Condon.
  8. First Star Tom Pyatt provided the winner. Making it more impressive, it was the first shootout goal of his NHL career in three attempts.

Condon earns the victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (93.9%), leaving the shootout loss to Andersen, saving 25-of-27 (92.6%).

Ottawa‘s victory is the second-straight in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which now stands in favor of the hosts by only four points with a 52-34-15 record.

January 6 – Day 83 – Surging Canucks

You did it. You made through your first week back to work after the long holiday. You deserve some hockey.

Fortunately, the NHL has you covered with six contests this evening, starting with two at 7:30 p.m. (Toronto at New Jersey and Nashville at Florida [TVAS]) and Carolina at Chicago (NHLN) an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the puck drop of the New York Islanders at Colorado, followed 60 minutes later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Calgary at Vancouver and Arizona at Anaheim.

Short list:

  • Carolina at Chicago: Teuvo Teravainen played 115 games over three seasons in the United Center. Tonight, he wears white facing off against his old club.
  • Calgary at Vancouver: It’s rivalry night in British Columbia!

As badly as I want to feature the Hurricanes for the first time this season, Teravainen is not enough to pull me away from the rivalry taking place this evening in the ever-tightening Pacific Division.

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The Flames relocating from Atlanta to Cowtown in 1980 fulfilled a rivalry that needed only Canada’s best arena to be made complete: a hockey rink. The Rocky Mountains used to be the only thing separating these differing  cultural and political hubs of Western Canada, but the NHL has joined Calgary and Vancouver with the opportunity to claim superiority in the most definitive way possible.

Both all-time and as of late, Calgary has had the upper-hand in this matchup. In all regular and postseason meetings, the Flames have a 132-93-26-13 record against the rival Canucks, including a 111-76-26-13 record during the regular season.

Seven times these clubs have met up in the playoffs, and almost every time it has gone the Flames‘ way. Most recently, Calgary won their 2015 Western Conference Quarterfinals series in six games to improve their postseason-series record against the Canucks to 5-2.

Calgary enters tonight’s game on a two-game winning streak and with a 21-17-2 record, good enough for fourth place in the Pacific Division and, more importantly, seventh in the Western Conference. They’ve found that by playing a steady offense, scoring 107 goals – tied for 15th-most in the league.

Fourth-year player Johnny Gaudreau has been at the head of that effort, notching 26 points for the highest mark on the club. He beats Mikael Backlund by a lone point, but the center has something the left wing hasn’t: a dozen goals, the most on the squad by two tallies.

Part of that offensive success is due to a solid power play. The Flames are 10th-best with the man-advantage, burying 20.7% of their attempts. Gaudreau continues his excellent season in this department, with 10 power play points. Similarly, Backlund’s five extra-man goals is also still tops on the team.

Don’t overlook the Canucks this season. Blessed (#blessed?) with a weak Western Conference, 19-18-3 Vancouver sits only a point out of playoff position, thanks in part to their current five-game winning streak. What’s held them back so far this season has been some slightly leaky defense and goaltending that has allowed 115 goals, tying them for sixth-most tallies given up.

Although he’s seen only six more starts than Jacob Markstrom, 11-10-1 Ryan Miller has been the netminder of choice in Vancouver. In 23 starts, he’s notched a .912 save percentage and 2.65 GAA, the 29th-best effort in the league compared to the 47 other goalies with a dozen or more appearances.

While those numbers are far from exemplary, Miller can’t take full responsibility for the Canucks‘ struggles. The defense playing in front of him hasn’t given him much help, allowing 30.5 shots-per-game to reach his crease – tied for the 11th-highest average. It’s not that Vancouver doesn’t have good defensemen. In fact, Alexander Edler, Ben Hutton and Luca Sbisa all tie for the team lead in shot blocks, with 61 to their credit (Edler has been especially impressive, playing only 26 games compared to Hutton and Sbisa’s 40 appearances), tying them for 58th in the league.

Instead, it’s been the other three skaters that haven’t contributed. Combined, Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin have blocked only 64 shots. Chris Tanev gets a pass, as tonight’s game will be only his 18th of the season. When he’s on the ice, Vancouver has an 11-4-2 record.

Now that Edler and Tanev are back on the ice, Vancouver hopes to improve their lackluster penalty kill that ranks 10th-worst after neutralizing only 80.3% of opposing power plays. Even after missing so many games, Edler’s 16 shorthanded blocks are still best on the team by a wide margin.

If I’m Vancouver, I’m more concerned about my power play, or lack thereof. The Canucks are fourth-worst in the NHL with the man-advantage, potting only 13.9% of their opportunities. Both Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin have eight power play points to the their names, which is just fine. It’s the fact that who’s scoring the goals – Loui Eriksson, D. Sedin and Brandon Sutter – are predictable. Combined, their 11 power play goals account for 65% of the man-advantage tallies. More skaters need to take responsibility for lighting the lamp, and in doing so, they’ll help increase the numbers of their established scoring stars.

These clubs have already met twice this season, and Calgary already has a slight 1-0-1 advantage. They most recently met two days before Christmas at the Saddledome, where the Flames 4-1. Tonight’s game is the first-half of a home-and-home series that completes tomorrow night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Chad Johnson (three shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) should he play and Vancouver‘s Bo Horvat (12 goals among 27 points [both lead the team]).

Vegas has given a slight edge to the Flames, putting a +102 next to Vancouver‘s name. I’m going to side with Vegas on this one. Even if the Canucks‘ defense starts to buckle down and prevent Calgary from finding any rhythm, the Flames‘ defense should still be able to prevent their rivals from scoring.

Hockey Birthday:

  • Dickie Moore (1931-2015) – You know you’re good when you have won the Stanley Cup six times. That’s the case with this Hall-of-Fame left wing, who also has just as many All Star selections. A 12 season-alumnus of Montréal, the Art Ross Trophy collected dust on his mantle, as he won it two-straight seasons with a combined 180 points.
  • Scott Ferguson (1973-) – Although undrafted, this defenseman played in seven NHL seasons before calling it quits. Most of that time was with Edmonton, the team that gave him a chance out of juniors. He ended up playing in 201 games for the Oilers, earning 288 penalty minutes.
  • Richard Zednik (1976-) – A 10th-round pick by Washington in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing proved to have a very good career given his draft position. Although he played seven seasons with the Capitals, he played most his 745 games with Montréal. He notched 379 points before he took his sweater off the last time.
  • Adam Burish (1983-) – Drafted in the ninth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, this right wing played a nine-year career. Spending most of his time with the club that drafted him, he was finally rewarded in 2010 with a Stanley Cup.

With two goals in the third period, the Oilers were able to escape Boston with a 4-3 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

They got off to a hot start, capped by First Star of the Game Patrick Maroon‘s (Third Star Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) wrister that lit the lamp only 1:08 into the game. That lead lasted only 6:08 before Colin Miller (Austin Czarnik and Torey Krug) leveled the score with a slap shot.

They remained tied until 9:17 remained in the second period. Second Star Patrice Bergeron (David Pastrnak and Kevan Miller) is charged with breaking the draw with a solid snap shot. Just like earlier, that lead did not last long. Maroon (Eric Gryba and McDavid) waited only 3:26 before burying another wrister, once again knotting the game at two-all.

That was the first of three-straight goals by the Oilers. 14 seconds into the final period, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Matthew Benning) gave Edmonton a 3-2 lead, followed 8:48 later by Maroon’s hat-trick and eventual game-clinching shot. Edmonton tried their hardest to let the Bruins back into the game, sending both Gryba and Benoit Pouliot to the penalty box to give Boston a five-on-three power play, but David Krejci (Bergeron and Brad Marchand) could only manage one goal on the opportunity.

Cam Talbot earns the victory after saving 33-of-36 shots faced (91.7%), leaving the loss to Tuukka Rask, who saved 21-of-25 (84%).

Edmonton‘s victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 46-26-13 in favor of the home sides, who have a 12 point lead over the road sides.

January 3 – Day 80 – Remember Weber

It’s back to normal in the NHL with seven contests going down this evening. The action starts at 7 p.m. with four games (New Jersey at Carolina, Buffalo at the New York Rangers [NBCSN], Toronto at Washington [TVAS] and Edmonton at Columbus), followed half an hour later by Winnipeg at Tampa Bay. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Montréal at Nashville (RDS), with tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at San Jose (NBCSN) – waiting until 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Nashville: Shea Weber played 11 seasons in the Music City, but he was traded this offseason to the Canadiens.
  • Los Angeles at San Jose: Another edition of the Battle for California.

It seems like every time the Kings and Sharks meet up, another big matchup takes place the same night. Tonight is no different.

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Do you remember when you moved for the first time? You’d lived your entire life in the same town around a lot of the same people. Everything was familiar. You could walk to your friend’s house blindfolded.

Welcome to the life of Weber. He was drafted 49th overall by the Predators in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, and by the 2006-’07 he had a full-time locker in Nashville‘s dressing room.

Since then, he was named captain before the 2010-’11 season and made four trips to the All-Star game (well, three trips and one in Bridgestone Arena, the Predators‘ home surface). He earned those accolades by twice leading the Preds in assists, points and blocks (2012-’13 and ’13-’14).

While he only minutely regressed following those impressive seasons, he was traded to Montréal this summer in exchange for P.K. Subban. Assuming an alternate captain role with his new club, he’s continued to be one of the best offensive blueliners in the NHL. His nine goals are most on the team and tied for second-most in the league, and his blocks are tops in the Habs‘ dressing room.

One part of his game he’s vastly improved since joining the Habs has been his +/- effort. Regardless of how much stock you put in the statistic, it’s easy to say a positive number is certainly more desired. During Weber’s most successful scoring seasons, he was sacrificing his play on the defensive end to the point he gave up more goals than he created. Nowadays in Montréal, he’s maintaining his offensive production while still keeping a +16 rating, the second-best mark of his career.

Weber and the Habs come to Athens of the South with a 22-9-6 record, the best mark in the Atlantic Division. They’ve found that success by playing some impressive defense, allowing only 85 goals so far this season – the fifth-best mark in the league.

Manning the crease for most of the season has been 18-5-4 Carey Price, the netminder whose .93 save percentage and 2.07 GAA ranks fourth and seventh-best in the NHL.

It’s a scary combination for opposing offenses when you pair a solid defense with an exemplary goaltender, and that’s the situation the Preds are in this evening. The Habs allow an average of only 29.8 shots-per-game to reach Price’s net, the 12th-lowest average in the league. Weber’s 78 blocks leads the club, but a total of three defensemen have 64 or more shot blocks to their credit.

Playing host this evening are the 16-14-6 Predators, the fifth-best team in the Central Division. Nashville‘s offense has plagued them this season, managing only 101 goals, tying them for 15th-fewest in the NHL.

Ryan Johansen has been involved in 27 of those scores for the clubhouse scoring lead, but James Neal has buried the most goals at 14. Neal’s effort ties him for 20th in the league, but the Predators have struggled to find scoring beyond him, Viktor Arvidsson and Mike Fisher. Those three skaters combine for 34 tallies, over a third of the Preds‘ goals.

If only the Predators had more power play opportunities, as that is when they are most effective. Successful on 20.3% of their man-advantages, Nashville is 10th-best in the league in that situation. Who else to lead that effort than the great facilitator Johansen? His 13 power play points are tops on the club. One of his line-mates with the extra man is Fisher, whose five man-advantage goals leads the Preds.

Some players to keep an eye on include Montréal‘s Price (18 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league] on a .93 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] and a 2.07 GAA [seventh-best in the league], including two shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and Nashville‘s Johansen (27 points, including 20 assists [both lead the team]).

Vegas gives a slight edge – -115, to be exact – to the home team, but I’m not very comfortable with that prediction. The Predators are going to be unable to break through Price, and the Habs are no joke offensively. I expect Montréal to get out of Nashville with two points.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bobby Hull (1939-) – The Golden Jet’s career spanned 23 seasons (most with Chicago), and all he did was win trophies. The Hall of Famer was a 12-time All Star, winning the Ross Trophy thrice, the Hart twice, the 1965 Byng and the 1961 Stanley Cup. His number nine has been retired by both Arizona (the new home of the original Jets) and Chicago.
  • Cory Cross (1971-) – Most players selected in the now-extinct Supplemental Draft never saw an NHL arena. This defenseman wasn’t most players, playing half his dozen seasons in Tampa Bay.
  • Reto Berra (1987-) – Drafted by St. Louis in the fourth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, this goaltender has made 64 appearances over his three-season career, most of which in Colorado.
  • Matt Frattin (1988-) – Another fourth round selection, Toronto selected this right wing from North Dakota in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Although he’s played most his games with the Leafs, he’s currently under contract with Stockton.

A dominant third period performance by First Star of the Game Vladimir Tarsenko gave St. Louis a 4-1 victory in the 2017 Winter Classic, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one goal was scored in the first period, and it was the Blackhawks‘ lone tally. Michal Kempny (Artemi Panarin and Third Star Duncan Keith) takes credit with his slap shot only 62 seconds into the game.

The same goes for the second period, but it was the Blues that earned the goal. Patrik Berglund‘s (Jay Bouwmeester and Alexander Steen) wrister at the 7:45 mark leveled the score at one-all.

St. Louis broke the draw with 7:55 remaining in regulation, courtesy of Tarasenko’s (Robby Fabbri) tip-in goal. Only 1:53 later, Tarasenko (Jori Lehtera and Fabbri) struck again for the Notes‘ first insurance tally. Steen sealed the game with 74 seconds remaining by burying a wrister into Chicago‘s empty net.

Second Star Jake Allen earns the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (95.7%), while Corey Crawford takes the loss, saving 31-of-34 (91.2%).

St. Louis‘ victory at Busch Stadium is the second straight for home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, setting the season record at 46-24-12, 17 points better than the visitors.