The DTFR Duo runs through some Tampa Bay Lightning franchise records, Conor McGregor reactions, hands out more awards, fixes the NHL and takes a look at how things are shaping up in the Pacific Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, the Vegas Golden Knights (32-25-5, 69 points, 3rd in the Pacific Division) have 20 games remaining in the 2018-19 regular season.
These aren’t your father’s Golden Knights, as production is down from their inaugural season in just their 2nd season of existence.
Though Marc-Andre Fleury (29-18-5 record, 2.60 goals against average, .908 save percentage in 52 games played) remains Vegas’ starter on an almost nightly basis, backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban (3-6-0, 2.76 GAA, .912 SV% in 10 GP) has struggled to carry his own weight.
Stastny and Pacioretty themselves have joined Reilly Smith and others throughout the lineup on the injured reserve or out of playing action for various points of the season.
While the Pacific Division title might be out of reach for Vegas this season, a divisional spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs is all but assured as long as the floor doesn’t fallout from underneath Gerard Gallant and his players.
Of note, the Arizona Coyotes are emerging once again with a late season push for the playoffs– and this time around, they’re doing it without their starting goaltender, Antti Raanta (out for the season due to injury).
Plus the Vancouver Canucks are still in contention and, well, that’s about it, realistically among Pacific Division teams that still have a chance for the last divisional spot and/or a Western Conference wild card berth.
Anyway, back to the Golden Knights.
Here’s a look at the latest Vegas forecast– keeping in mind there are many variables that can and will effect the final outcome, such as injuries and/or being called up, assigned, traded, lucky or unlucky.
This forecast is just an educated guess. It’s a glimpse of what could be or could’ve been by the end of the regular season.
As always, my degree is in communication– not math– and hockey is naturally steeped in context and holistic unpredictability. Nothing can account for sheer puck luck, the odd bounce or a blown call.
If a player reaches the expected outcome, they’ve met expectations. If said player exceeds the forecasted stats, they’ve exceeded expectations (naturally). Of course, if a player does not perform, then they did not live up to expectations.
On a game-to-game basis, whatever’s on the scoresheet can indicate general trends that can be further broken down into an educated forecast.
At best, it’s a guess. At worst, well, it doesn’t really matter– it’s not like Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee is reading this and making his roster decisions based on what’s here, right?
If he is, I’d like a job, please. Thanks.
Vegas Golden Knights Forecast Through 62 Games (20 Games Remaining)
Among forwards, Vegas’ consistent first line last season of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Smith hasn’t had as much consistent luck and skill this season.
Though Smith has battled injury this season, Marchessault remains one of the Golden Knights most consistent performers expected to lead his team in goals (25) and points (54) with 25-29–54 expected totals.
Now what about Karlsson?
Good question, what about him? Things haven’t gone exactly as planned in terms of capitalizing on his breakout season last season with a new contract in the offseason and higher expectations for this season.
Karlsson’s bridge, one-year, extension last summer coming off the backs of a 43-goal season has only managed 18 goals thus far– including four goals in the last 22 games for the Golden Knights.
Given his current trend, Karlsson is expected to amass 21-23–44 totals. He’d be tied with Pacioretty for 2nd place in expected goals (21) and 3rd in expected points (44) on the roster, but nowhere near the emergent star in the making that he was last season.
While he very well could bounce back– similar to Smith in nature, following a good-year, bad-year, good-year, bad-year pattern– the phrase “what have you done for me yesterday” won’t help him in his next contract negotiation this summer unless McPhee gives him the benefit of the doubt.
Meanwhile, Alex Tuch is expected to finish the season with a career-high 20-33–53 expected totals.
That’s comforting to hear for a team that needs to rely on secondary scoring in the midst of a recession in primary production.
Tuch is expected to lead in assists (33), followed by Smith (30) and Marchessault (29), while Marchessault is destined to lead in points (54) over Tuch (53) and Karlsson (44).
On defense, Vegas’ blue line will finish off the season being led by Shea Theodore (11-21–32 expected totals), followed by Colin Miller (30 expected points) and Nate Schmidt (25 expected points despite missing the first 20 games of the season while serving a suspension for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug).
In net, Fleury looks like he’s bound to break under the weight of all the minutes he’s been playing and will play this season. A 2.74 expected GAA and .909 expected SV% is not starting goaltender material, unless we’re talking about Sergei Bobrovsky with the Columbus Blue Jackets or something.
But it’s not like Gallant can really count on his current backup to offset some of Fleury’s load. Subban’s expected 2.70 GAA and .912 SV% isn’t tremendous either.
If anything, it’s an indication that McPhee could help bolster his team with the acquisition of an extra goaltender by the trade deadline.
Someone like Ryan Miller, 38-years-old, could help steal some crucial points for the Golden Knights down the stretch if the San Jose Sharks aren’t already in the process of completing a trade for the goaltender with the Anaheim Ducks.
Growing pains are a fact of life– especially in sports– and Vegas is going through puberty already in its 2nd season. This season’s been full of highs, lows and awkward phases that hopefully will end in a glow up.
Otherwise we’ll all be looking back at this season shaking our heads at how it could pull off that much denim or something back in the day.
The St. Louis Blues just keep on winning (11 straight, to be exact). Can they win it all? The Tampa Bay Lightning are not Stanley Cup favorites according to Nick– nobody is! Did the Edmonton Oilers win a trade? Cory Schneider won a game! and other milestones from the last week, as well as whatever happened in the Boston Bruins vs San Jose Sharks game on Monday.
Did you think I’d forgotten? We still need a Game of the Week! Let’s take a look at this edition’s options:
|NHL SCHEDULE: February 11-17|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, February 11|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||Washington||4-6|
|10 p.m.||San Jose||Vancouver||7-2|
|Tuesday, February 12|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Buffalo Sabres||1-3|
|7:30 p.m.||Calgary||Tampa Bay||3-6|
|8 p.m.||New Jersey||St. Louis||3-8|
|8 p.m.||New York Rangers||Winnipeg Jets||3-4|
|Wednesday, February 13|
|Thursday, February 14|
|7 p.m.||Calgary||Florida||2-3 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Columbus Blue Jackets||3-0|
|7:30 p.m.||Dallas||Tampa Bay||0-6|
|8:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Chicago||2-5|
|9 p.m.||St. Louis||Arizona||4-0|
|10:30 p.m.||Vancouver||Los Angeles||4-3 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||Washington||San Jose||5-1|
|Friday, February 15|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Buffalo Sabres||6-2|
|8:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Minnesota||5-4 (OT)|
|Saturday, February 16|
|1 p.m.||Detroit||Philadelphia||5-6 (OT)|
|3 p.m.||St. Louis||Colorado||3-0|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||Winnipeg||4-3 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||Tampa Bay||0-3|
|7 p.m.||Edmonton Oilers||New York Islanders||2-5|
|10 p.m.||Vancouver||San Jose||2-3|
|10:30 p.m.||Boston||Los Angeles||4-2|
|Sunday, February 17|
|12:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||Pittsburgh Penguins||NBC, SN, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||St. Louis||Minnesota||NBC, SN|
|6 p.m.||Buffalo||New Jersey|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||Florida||RDS, SN|
With the trade deadline looming just around the corner, it’s been another exciting week in the NHL. After all, another edition of the Battle of the Keystone State was waged on Monday, followed the next day by two more rivalries featuring Arizona, Boston, Chicago and Vegas.
Tuesday also saw the Blue Jackets and Capitals reignite last season’s First Round playoff bout, with Columbus winning 3-0 in what just might be a preview of another playoff series to come this April.
As for the biggest player homecoming on this week’s calendar, that title belongs to F Chris Wagner of the Boston Bruins. Wagner spent four seasons with the Ducks (2014-18), appearing in 133 games and registering 12-12-24 totals. He was shipped to the Islanders at last season’s trade deadline before signing with the Atlantic Division’s current second-best team – not to mention his hometown club – this offseason. His Bruins beat Anaheim 3-0 on Friday.
Today is Hockey Day in America, but DtFR is holding off on the celebration until this evening before the Capitals-Ducks game to take in D Scott Niedermayer‘s jersey retirement ceremony.
Niedermayer may have only spent five seasons in Anaheim, but there’s no doubt he plays an integral role in the Ducks’ history. He joined the then Mighty Ducks in 2005-06 after 13 seasons and three Stanley Cups in New Jersey, signing as an unrestricted free agent to a four-year, $27 million contract to join forces with RW Teemu Selanne, F Andy McDonald and brother F Rob Niedermayer and serve as their captain.
Named a First Team All-Star for the second consecutive season and finishing second in Norris Trophy voting behind D Nicklas Lidstrom, Niedermayer and his 13-50-63 totals was just the addition the Mighty Ducks needed on their blue line to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2003’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final – you know, the one where Niedermayer’s Devils beat Anaheim in Game 7. Despite qualifying as the six seed, the Mighty Ducks took advantage of a wildly unpredictable Western Conference playoff to advance all the way to the Conference Finals before falling in five games to Edmonton.
For a champion like Niedermayer, falling short in the Conference Finals was unacceptable, as he elevated his game to even better 15-54-69 totals during the 2006-07 season to notch career-highs in all three statistics as well as propel the Ducks (the new and less-mighty edition) all the way to the West’s second seed.
Though that impressive effort was good enough to earn Niedermayer his third-consecutive First Team All-Star selection, he still had his eye on a fourth Stanley Cup. Despite registering only 3-8-11 marks in the Ducks’ 21 postseason games (second-best among Ducks defensemen despite playing two more games than D Chris Pronger), Niedermayer’s two game-winners (one was the series-clincher against Vancouver in double-overtime, the other the overtime winner in Game 1 of the Western Finals) and his power play goal to force overtime against the Red Wings in Game 5 of the Conference Finals was enough to win him the Conn Smythe Trophy and Anaheim’s first title in any sport since the Angels’ 2002 World Series win. The Ducks’ lone Stanley Cup is still the city’s most recent title.
The remaining three years of Niedermayer’s tenure in Anaheim paled in comparison to his first two. The Ducks didn’t make it past the Conference Semifinals in 2008 or 2009 (in fact, they lost in the first round the season after winning the Stanley Cup) and failed to qualify for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs; Niedermayer didn’t win anymore hardware, nor did he reach the 60-point plateau again.
However, Niedermayer’s mission when he signed with Anaheim had been accomplished. He’d won his fourth title without the help of his dominant Devils teammates, and he’d helped his brother earn his first ring. He’d helped the Ducks to a then franchise-record 48 wins
And it is for that championship and his career-defining seasons that the Hall of Famer is being honored tonight. Having already seen his No. 27 hoisted to the Prudential Center rafters, he’ll receive that same recognition tonight at Honda Center.
Unfortunately for the Ducks faithful, The Pond’s good vibes might find a quick end after Niedermayer’s ceremony. After all, the 22-27-9 Anaheim Ducks are riding an infamous 3-16-4 skid that dates all the way back to December 18. This torrid run has seen the Ducks drop all the way from a playoff position to fourth-to-last in the NHL, earning Randy Carlyle an early offseason.
It comes as no surprise that a squad that has struggled as much as the Ducks is finding almost no success in any phase of the game. Anaheim’s offense has ranked dead last in the NHL since December 18, accounting for only 1.52 goals per game in that time – a full six-tenths of a goal worse than Dallas.
Of course, even when the Ducks were having success earlier in the season, offense was in no way their game. They were averaging only 2.57 goals per game through their first 35 outings – a mark that would rank 29th among teams’ current season averages.
Instead, the biggest reason for this decline is the breakdown on the defensive end. In their past 23 games, the Ducks have allowed an average of 3.7 goals per game, the second-worst mark in the NHL in that time (fellow Pacific Division member Edmonton’s 3.92 goals against per game takes credit for worst in the league since December 18). However, only one facet of the defense is truly at fault.
Whether it is 1-1-0 G Kevin Boyle or 4-2-1 G Ryan Miller that receives the nod tonight (17-19-8 G John Gibson and 0-5-0 G Chad Johnson are both on injured reserve with respective back and head injuries) is still unknown.
Despite his rookie status behind a porous defense (more on that in a moment), Boyle has been far from the problem for the Ducks lately, as he boasts a .955 save percentage and 1.51 GAA for his short, three-game NHL career. Meanwhile, Miller has only recently been cleared to resume action. If he were to take to the crease tonight, it would be his first appearance since December 9 – a 6-5 shootout home victory over the New Jersey Devils that he did not finish.
For what it’s worth, Miller is riding a personal two-game win streak and three-game point streak.
As mentioned before, what makes the youngster’s solid stats even more impressive is he’s getting absolutely no help from his skaters. Since December 18, Anaheim has allowed a whopping 32.91 shots against per game – the seventh-worst mark in the league in that time.
Making the trip to Orange County are the 32-19-7 Washington Capitals, the Metropolitan Division’s second-best team.
In their last six games, the Caps have managed a solid record of 4-1-1 – more than good enough to hold on to their current position in the standings against the middling Metro teams. In particular, this surge has been spearheaded by Washington’s dominant offense, which has been rattling off 3.67 goals per game since February 5 – the (t)seventh-best mark in the league in that time.
Leading this attack has been none other than Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Capitals’ top-line center. In his past six outings, Kuznetsov has registered dominant 5-6-11 totals, including an amazing 2-2-4 performance against the Ducks’ arch-rivals in D.C. on Monday. On the season, Kuznetsov now has 15-39-54 marks in 52 appearances.
Washington has also boasted a decent effort on the defensive end, allowing only three goals per game during this six-game run – the (t)12th-best mark in the NHL in that time. Despite managing only a .908 save percentage and 2.99 GAA for the season, 20-14-4 G Braden Holtby has been on a tear lately, boasting a .917 save percentage and 2.51 GAA for his last four starts.
It’s hard to see a way the Ducks escape with a win tonight. Washington has been rolling lately, and the Ducks offense in particular simply do not have an answer for the Caps’ attack. Unless C Ryan Getzlaf can add at least four points to his total tonight, Washington should pull back within three points of New York for the Metro lead.
Nick and Connor recap and react to the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship so far, review the latest suspensions and injuries, look to the future of the NHL in 2019 and beyond, discuss 2019 All-Star Game captains, Jake Guentzel’s new extension and Jim Lites’ quotes on Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
More on the Arizona Coyotes latest debacle with Seattle expansion looming, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith did something never done before, the Calgary Flames rise in the Western Conference and the St. Louis Blues dismal season. Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks made a few moves– signing Murray to an extension, claiming Chad Johnson off waivers and a minor trade.
Plus, Nick and Connor review the last 15 years of first round picks by the Pittsburgh Penguins and do a deep dive on their future and what it might look like.
The Original Trio reunites to talk recent trades, recent coaching changes, the Buffalo Sabres current winning streak, a haphazard review of the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers, as well as a look at the division standings as of American Thanksgiving.
Craig Berube is now in charge behind the bench of the St. Louis Blues and Ken Hitchcock is back from retirement to coach the Oilers after Mike Yeo and Todd McLellan were both fired respectively from their clubs.
Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a star in Buffalo as the team rises in the standings– can the Sabres keep this up? Will Dahlin get some votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year and does Phil Housley deserve credit for the team’s turnaround?
It’s time for another DtFR Game of the Week!
First and foremost, let’s take a look at all the games I neglected earlier this week:
|NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 15-21|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, October 15|
|7:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||Toronto||1-4|
|Tuesday, October 16|
|7 p.m.||Dallas||New Jersey||0-3|
|7 p.m.||Colorado||New York Rangers||2-3 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||Florida||Philadelphia||5-6 (SO)|
|7 p.m.||Vancouver||Pittsburgh||3-2 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Carolina||Tampa Bay||2-4|
|8 p.m.||Edmonton||Winnipeg||5-4 (OT)|
|Wednesday, October 17|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Montréal||2-3|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Washington||3-4 (OT)|
|10 p.m.||New York Islanders||Anaheim||1-4|
|Thursday, October 18|
|7 p.m.||Colorado||New Jersey||5-3|
|7:30 p.m.||Detroit||Tampa Bay||1-3|
|9 p.m.||Boston||Edmonton||2-3 (OT)|
|10:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Los Angeles||7-2|
|10:30 p.m.||Buffalo||San Jose||1-5|
|Friday, October 19|
|7 p.m.||Florida||Washington||6-5 (SO)|
|saturday, October 20|
|1 p.m.||New Jersey||Philadelphia||2-5|
|3:30 p.m.||Buffalo||Los Angeles||5-1|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Toronto||4-1|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||Ottawa||3-4 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Detroit||Florida||4-3 (OT)|
|8 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Minnesota||4-5 (OT)|
|10 p.m.||Boston||Vancouver||1-2 (OT)|
|10:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||San Jose||1-4|
|SunDay, October 21|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Chicago||NHLN, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Calgary||New York Rangers||SN1|
This schedule was a little bit fuller than last week’s offerings, as there’s a solid 44 games I had to choose from as compared to last week’s 42.
While there were certainly some worthy candidates in terms of rivalries (Detroit at Montréal, Edmonton at Winnipeg, New York at Washington, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Montréal at Ottawa all took place this week) and player returns (D Marc Methot made his first trip back to Ottawa since being selected during the Vegas expansion draft and later traded to the Stars, four former Blackhawks – five if you include RW Marian Hossa – returned to the Madhouse on Madison as members of the Coyotes and C Tyler Bozak wore white in Toronto for the first time in his career playing for St. Louis), one game sticks out above all the rest even though I’m more concerned about what will be hanging above the ice than what will be taking place on it.
Without a doubt, the Ducks are having one of the better and more unexpected starts to the season. Meanwhile, the Sabres are trying their hardest to keep pace with the rest of the white-hot Atlantic Division that enters the day with five teams in playoff position (an extremely important accolade in October, to be sure).
But what really drew me to tonight’s tilt is the pregame festivities involving LW Paul Kariya, as his No. 9 is going to be retired and sent where it belongs – hanging above the Honda Center ice opposite RW Teemu Selanne‘s No. 8.
The fourth-overall pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Kariya joined the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim just in time for the 1994-95 season (well, if it had started on time, that is), signing a three-year deal on August 31, 1994.
Though the Mighty Ducks struggled before Selanne was brought on board via trade during the 1995-96 season, that’s not to say Kariya – who just celebrated his 44th birthday on Tuesday – was playing poorly. He posted 18-21-39 totals his 47-game debut season, earning a spot on the All-Rookie Team and finishing third in Calder voting behind Quebec’s C Peter Forsberg and Washington’s G Jim Carey.
Oh yeah, speaking of that 1995-96 campaign, Kariya’s second season ended with him boasting career-best numbers in goals (50, three of which were overtime game-winners – an Anaheim single-season record) and points (108) after a full 82-game schedule. That dominant performance earned him his first of three First All-Star Team accolades, his first of back-to-back Lady Byng Trophies and his first of seven appearances at the All-Star Game.
I guess he never heard of the sophomore slump.
Named the Mighty Ducks’ third captain in franchise history during the offseason (a title he held for a franchise-record eight years), Kariya barely missed a second-straight season hitting the 100-point plateau in 1996-97 as a result of missing 13 games with an upper-body injury and unrelated concussion, but a 44-55-99 performance in 69 games played qualifies as the best season of his career on a points-per-game standpoint. The 1.43 points per game he managed narrowly beats out his 1.41 in 1997-98 – another season hampered by concussion, as well as a contract dispute that lasted into December, limiting him to only 22 games played. Additionally, his +36 for the 1996-97 campaign is still an Anaheim single-season record.
Of course, the most important mark about the 1996-97 season for Kariya is not only his dazzling performance, but also the fact that Anaheim qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Mighty Ducks fought past the Phoenix Coyotes in seven games before getting swept by the eventual champion Red Wings in the second round of their postseason debut. Kariya posted 7-6-13 marks in those 11 games, including the overtime game-winning goal in Game 6 against Phoenix that forced Game 7.
To be certain, the most productive years of Kariya’s career were his first seven campaigns. In all, he played 442 regular season games for the Mighty Ducks from 1995-2001, managing 243-288-531 totals to average 1.2 points per game – not to mention his 8-9-17 marks in 14 career playoff games to that point.
However, that’s not to say the captain still wasn’t a guiding hand on his team. Kariya managed 57-81-138 totals in his final two seasons with the Mighty Ducks, and he led Anaheim all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002-03 where his squad lost a hard-fought, seven-game series to the New Jersey Devils.
That Game 7 proved to be Kariya’s last with Anaheim, as he and Selanne both headed for the supposedly greener pastures of Denver (the Avs, of course, fell in the second round in Kariya and Selanne’s only season with the club) for the 2003-04 season. Kariya played five more seasons after that – two with Nashville and three with St. Louis – before retiring during the 2011 offseason as a result of the six concussions he sustained over the course of his 16-year, 15-season professional career.
Having been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last summer, there are few awards left to be bestowed upon Karyia (provided he doesn’t get involved in coaching or management). However, this one will surely elicit quite the response from one of the greatest to have ever worn the eggplant and jade.
Of course, once the ceremony is complete, there’s still a hockey game to be played. Both of tonight’s squads were in action last night, with Buffalo besting Los Angeles 5-1 at Staples Center and Anaheim falling in Vegas 3-1.
The 4-4-0 Sabres entered today’s action in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, but only one point behind Ottawa for fifth place in the Atlantic Division and the second wild card.
Gotta love early season standings.
Perhaps the brightest spot for Buffalo so far this season has been the outstanding play of 2-0-0 G Linus Ullmark, who has allowed only one goal in his two starts and boasts a .982 save percentage and .5 GAA that is best in the league among netminders with at least 33 minutes played.
While his emergence as a potential star is an encouraging sign for a franchise that has missed the playoffs for seven-straight seasons, the fact that he was the goalie in net for Buffalo yesterday up the road in Tinseltown has all signs pointing towards 2-4-0 G Carter Hutton manning the posts this evening.
Whether he’s being compared to Ullmark or his performance last season, Hutton is already drawing the ire of Upstate New Yorkers. Having signed a three-year, $2.75 million AAV contract this summer after posting a dominating .931 save percentage and 2.09 GAA with the St. Louis Blues last season, Hutton has managed only a .906 save percentage and 3.27 GAA so far this year.
Considering his offense has averaged only 2.25 goals per game thus far into the season (the fifth-worst mark in the NHL despite F Jeff Skinner‘s hat trick yesterday), Hutton is going to need to improve in a hurry if the Sabres want to stay in playoff contention much longer.
That being said, it should be acknowledged that Buffalo hasn’t exactly played incredible defense in front of Hutton. The Sabres’ 32.63 shots against-per-game is 12th-worst in the league, and that number climbs to 33.67 when Hutton is in net.
Considering former defenseman Phil Housley is the team’s head coach and the fact that the organization took D Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick, surely that number has to improve sooner or later? Right?
Consider me a doubter of Housley’s until it does.
One final note I have about the Sabres is in regard to their special teams. It was only a few seasons ago that Buffalo’s power play – led by C Jack Eichel – was among the most dangerous in the league. However, that has not been the case this season, as the Sabres’ 13.3 percent success rate with the man-advantage has been eighth-worst in the league through the first few weeks of the season. The penalty kill has also struggled, as Buffalo’s 69.2 kill percentage is third-worst in the NHL.
The Sabres have a lot of problems to figure out, but the best way to fix the special teams while they’re still on the road just might be to avoid the penalty box all together.
Did you hear that, RW Kyle Okposo? Stay out of trouble!
As for tonight’s hosts, the 5-2-1 Ducks have yet to see too many troubles so far this season, as they’re leading the division despite many fans and pundits pegging San Jose and Vegas as the Pacific’s powerhouses.
But how are they doing it?
Just like Buffalo, Anaheim’s best player to start the season has been none other than its goaltender, 4-2-1 G John Gibson. The 2016 Jennings Trophy winner (o.k., he shared it with G Frederik Andersen, now of the Toronto Maple Leafs) has been dynamite right out of the gates this season, as he has a solid .949 save percentage and 1.91 GAA to show for his first seven starts of the season.
However, to continue the comparisons to Buffalo, Gibson was also in net last night against the Golden Knights, so it looks like it could be none other than 1-0-0 G Ryan Miller, the winner of the 2010 Vezina Trophy, manning the crease this evening against his former club.
Though he is clearly the backup in Anaheim, Miller is in no way any easier to score upon than Gibson. With two appearances so far this year, Miller has a .946 save percentage and 1.51 GAA – all this despite a Ducks defense that allows an average of 37 shots against per game, the worst in the NHL.
Despite the backups being the logical starters tonight, this game has all the makings of a goaltending duel considering the struggles of both offenses and defenses. If that is the case, I’ll certainly take the Ducks to successfully honor Kariya and earn two points tonight. Miller is undoubtedly better than Hutton this year, and he has the benefit of special teams that will easily dominate the Sabres.