Nick and Pete take a stand on video review, predict the rest of the Conference Finals and discuss the Buffalo Sabres new head coach.
The DTFR Duo honors Ted Lindsay, addresses a potential outdoor game hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes, talk John Tavares’ “welcome” back to Long Island, can’t figure out the Ottawa Senators coaching change circus and more.
The Edmonton Oilers fired their president of hockey operations and General Manager, Peter Chiarelli (April 2015-January 2019). The club officially made the announcement after the DTFR Duo finished recording this week’s episode.
There won’t be a 2020 World Cup of Hockey and there were a few milestones to go along with a bunch of minor trades made this week.
Connor McDavid‘s two assists helped the Edmonton Oilers beat the Boston Bruins, 3-2, in overtime Thursday night in Edmonton’s home opener at Rogers Place since starting 2018-19 regular season over in Sweden against the New Jersey Devils and journeying the long road back.
Leon Draisaitl scored the game-winning goal 37 seconds into overtime to oust the Bruins, while Cam Talbot (3-2-0) made 27 saves on 29 shots faced for a .931 save percentage to go along with the victory.
Boston netminder, Jaroslav Halak (2-0-1), turned aside 19 shots out of 22 shots against for an .864 SV% in the loss (Halak’s first of the season).
The Bruins are now 4-2-1 (9 points) and tied for 2nd place in the Atlantic Division on points, but are technically situated 3rd in the division standings, thanks to the Montreal Canadiens having a game-in-hand on Boston.
The B’s fell to 1-2-1 on the road so far this season, recording a 7-0 loss on Oct. 3rd in Washington, a 4-0 win on Oct. 4th in Buffalo and a 5-2 loss on Oct. 17th in Calgary in addition to Thursday’s overtime loss to the Oilers. Of their four road games thus far, three of them have been the home opener for their opponent.
Edmonton jumped to 5th in the Pacific Division standings with a 3-2-0 (6 points) record in five games played. The Oilers have two games-in-hand over the Vegas Golden Knights (who also have 6 points on the season), therefore maintaining the tiebreaker for now.
In addition to being happy about the win, Edmonton was just as happy to return home after playing a preseason matchup with the German club, Kölner Haie (DEL), then starting the regular season against New Jersey in Sweden and being on the road ever since.
Bruins bench boss, Bruce Cassidy, kept Jake DeBrusk on the second line right wing with David Krejci, but inserted Danton Heinen back into the lineup to the left of the Czech center, demoting Joakim Nordstrom to the fourth line left wing slot.
Boston blue liner, Kevan Miller, left Thursday’s game in the third period with an upper body injury and did not return to action– this, after Matt Benning caught Backes up high with a shoulder to the chin of No. 42 in black-and-gold, causing concerns among the Bruins brass in the first period given Backes’ concussion history.
Backes would return to action, unlike Miller.
Entering the first intermission, the score was tied, 0-0. Shots on goal were 12-5 in favor of the Bruins, while the Oilers led in blocked shots (8-5), giveaways (7-4) and face-off win percentage (63-37). Boston led in hits (12-11) and takeaways were even (3-3). Both teams were 0/1 on the special teams advantage.
Oilers defender, Kris Russell, tripped up Marchand 6:18 into the second period and gave the Bruins their second power play of the night. Boston failed to convert, yet again, on the man advantage and play continued at even strength.
Matt Grzelcyk received the puck from Heinen and sent a pristine cross-ice pass to Krejci (1) for the Bruins second line center’s first goal of the season– and the first goal of the night for either team– to give Boston a 1-0 lead at 11:17.
Grzelcyck (3) and Heinen (1) were tabbed with the assists on Krejci’s goal.
After recording zero points in the first four games and being scratched for the matchup in Calgary, Heinen earned his first point of the season in the form of an assist on Krejci’s tally.
Not to be outdone, Edmonton responded quickly with a first of their own.
Yamamoto (1) led a fast break-in for the Oilers on a long transition pass from Larsson in his own defensive zone to the rookie forward at the blue line and got past Bruins defender, Charlie McAvoy, to go high-glove side past Halak and tie the game, 1-1.
Larsson (1) and Russell (1) had the assists on Yamamoto’s first career NHL goal at 13:24 of the second period.
Shortly thereafter, Edmonton announced Benning would not return to the night’s action with an injury and Marchand even briefly went down the tunnel for Boston in some discomfort before returning to play.
Through 40 minutes of gameplay, the game was tied, 1-1, and the Bruins were leading in shots on goal, 19-15 (despite being outshot, 10-7, in the second period). Boston also held onto the lead in blocked shots (12-11) and takeaways (8-7), while Edmonton had an advantage in giveaways (14-10), hits (21-17) and face-off win% (58-42).
After two periods, the Oilers were 0/1 on the power play and the Bruins were 0/2.
McAvoy was guilty of holding the stick of No. 97 in orange-and-blue and was subsequently dealt a minor penalty at 6:31 of the third period.
McDavid bounced an errant indirect pass off the endboards, giving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2) a prime carom to pounce on and score the power play goal that gave Edmonton a 2-1 lead at 7:33.
The Oilers captain, McDavid (6), and Oscar Klefbom (2) had the assists on the go-ahead goal, but it wasn’t enough offense to secure the deal just yet.
Pastrnak (8) scored on the short side of Talbot on a one-timer snap shot and tied the game, 2-2, at 11:26 of the third period. Marchand (10) and McAvoy (5) had the assists for Boston.
Just over a minute later, tempers were tested as McDavid failed to convert on a scoring chance and sought to take out a little frustration on Wagner while returning to the bench. Wagner sought retaliation and found Ryan Strome before everyone on the ice was involved in a minor scrum.
Edmonton’s Milan Lucic and Strome received minor penalties for roughing, while Boston forwards Wagner and Nordstrom each earned two minutes for roughing as well. All penalties were matching at 12:31 of the third period so the action remained 5-on-5.
Shortly after the gaggle of players in the penalty box were freed, Tobias Rieder took a trip to the sin bin– coincidentally– for tripping Backes at 14:37.
Boston did not score on the ensuing power play.
After regulation, the game was tied, 2-2, with Boston leading in shots on goal (29-21) and outshooting the Oilers, 10-6, in the third period. Edmonton held onto the advantage in blocked shots (17-14), takeaways (12-9), giveaways (17-14) and hits (34-29). Face-off win% was even (50-50) after 60 minutes and Edmonton was 1/2 on the power play. The Bruins were 0/3 on the skater advantage.
Marchand turned over the puck in the neutral zone to McDavid who found Leon Draisaitl (2) for the prompt conversion on the scoreboard and game-winning goal 37 seconds in to overtime. McDavid (7) recorded his second assist of the night on the goal and Edmonton walked away with the, 3-2, victory in their home opener.
The Bruins accrued one giveaway in overtime– and a costly one at that– while the Oilers notched a shot on goal and one hit to add to their game totals. Edmonton also finished the night with the slight advantage in face-off win% (52-48).
Among other stats…
Boston captain, Zdeno Chara, played in his 900th game for the Bruins Thursday night, becoming just the sixth player in franchise history to do so. Ray Bourque (1,518 games played for Boston), Johnny Bucyk (1,436), current General Manager Don Sweeney (1,052), Wayne Cashman (1,027) and current teammate Patrice Bergeron (970) are the others.
Ryan Donato, David Backes and Chris Wagner finished the night each as minus-one, while Wagner led the Bruins in hits with eight. Noel Acciari, Sean Kuraly and Kevan Miller were the next closest with three hits each.
Miller led in blocked shots with three, while fellow defenders John Moore and Charlie McAvoy, as well as forward, Patrice Bergeron each had two.
Brad Marchand led the way for Boston in shots on goal with four, while his linemates (Bergeron and Pastrnak) were the next closest with three shots on net apiece.
Darnell Nurse and Evan Bouchard were each a minus-two for Edmonton, while Larsson and Lucic each recorded seven hits. Larsson and Russell led the Oilers in blocked shots with four apiece and Nugent-Hopkins led his teammates in shots on goal with four.
Boston and Edmonton split their season series with the Bruins going 1-0-1 in two games against the Oilers. The B’s take on the Vancouver Canucks Saturday night at Rogers Arena before paying a visit to the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 23rd.
The Boston Bruins defeated the Edmonton Oilers, 4-1, Thursday night at TD Garden on the backs of a strong effort in goal from backup goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, and their first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
Connor McDavid opened the game’s scoring before Pastrnak tied it and Marchand gave Boston their first lead of the night shortly thereafter. Joakim Nordstrom provided the insurance goal for the Bruins and Patrice Bergeron added the empty net goal late in the third period.
Halak made 25 saves on 26 shots against for a .992 save percentage in the win, while Edmonton netminder, Cam Talbot, stopped 28 out of 31 shots faced for a .903 SV% in the loss.
Boston improved to 3-1-0 (6 points) on the season and held onto 2nd place in the Atlantic Division. Edmonton is 0-2-0 (0 points) and sits last (8th) in the Pacific Division.
Milan Lucic made his 3rd annual visit to the Hub since the former Bruins winger and 2011 Stanley Cup champion was traded to the Los Angeles Kings at the 2015 NHL Draft before signing with the Oilers on July 1, 2016. There were a few Lucic No. 27 Oilers jerseys in the crowd along with throwback sweaters to his days in Boston among the fans, as seen on television.
Boston is set to take on the Detroit Red Wings (0-2-2, 2 points) Saturday afternoon on home ice for a 3 o’clock ET puck drop. The B’s moved up the start time so as not to interrupt fans across the New England region’s experience of Game 1 between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros in the ALCS at Fenway Park.
The Bruins are facing the Oilers twice in a matter of eight days this season, as Boston begins their Western Canada road trip in Calgary, Alberta on Wednesday, October 17th against the Flames before traveling to Edmonton on the 18th and Vancouver on the 20th to face the Canucks. The B’s wrap up their four-game road trip (including three in Western Canada) after visiting the Ottawa Senators on October 23rd.
Thursday night’s action kicked off with a couple of changes made to Bruce Cassidy‘s lineup for the Bruins. After being a healthy scratch for Monday’s win against the Senators, Nordstrom was back in the lineup– this time around on the second line to the left of David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
DeBrusk was placed on his off-wing on the right side, while Ryan Donato was scratched.
Everything else remained the same as Monday’s lineup with the exception of Halak getting the nod in net with Tuukka Rask expected to play Saturday and the bulk of the Western Canada road trip.
McDavid (1) scored his first goal of the season after being held scoreless in Sweden against the New Jersey Devils for Edmonton’s season opener as part of the NHL Global Series this season.
Ty Rattie sent McDavid a backhand pass on a spin-o-rama up the ice, where McDavid then burst into nearly the speed of sound, turning on his jets into the offensive zone and beating Halak with a quick release that snuck through the Bruins netminder’s five-hole while Halak was slow to react.
Rattie (1) and Darnell Nurse (1) had the assists on McDavid’s goal at 3:43 of the first period and the Oilers grabbed on to the 1-0 lead.
It wouldn’t be for long, though, as Edmonton defender, Adam Larsson, interfered with Nordstrom’s ability to play the puck at 8:12 of the opening frame and sent the Bruins onto their first power play of the night.
Just 68 seconds into the skater advantage, David Pastrnak (4) scored a highlight reel goal– and early candidate for goal of the season– and tied the game, 1-1, at 9:20 of the first period. Matt Grzelcyk (1) worked the puck to Pastrnak for his first assist of the season.
After receiving the puck from Grzelcyk, Pastrnak juked the puck through his own legs– pulling it to his backhand, before deking Talbot out of his mind– forcing the Oilers netminder to butterfly– then quietly sneaked the puck past Talbot’s short side on the backhand.
On the ensuing power play, Anders Bjork sent the puck from halfway down the boards in the offensive zone back to the point, where the Bruins defense went d-to-d and across the ice to Marchand (1) waiting in the low slot for the power play goal.
Grzelcyk (2) picked up his second assist of the night and Bergeron (3) was credited with the secondary helper on Marchand’s goal at 14:37 and Boston had their first lead of the night, 2-1.
The Bruins wouldn’t look back.
Less than a minute later, Joakim Nordstrom entered the zone on a rush with David Krejci, sending a pass over to the Bruins playmaker who was skating down the right side with Nordstrom moving up the middle towards the goal.
Krejci slid the puck back to Nordstrom (1) for a one-timed wrist shot past Talbot and Boston had a two-goal lead, 3-1, at 15:13 of the first period. Krejci (2) had the only assist on the goal after Nordstrom originally turned the puck over and created a rush.
While shorthanded, Marchand broke free and drew a slashing penalty on a breakaway that nearly resulted in a goal at 17:19, canceling Edmonton’s power play opportunity and instead resulting in an abbreviated period of 4-on-4 action.
Oscar Klefbom was the guilty party and served his two minutes in the box while both teams failed to generate any scoring in the ensuing 4-on-4 play and shortlived power play for Boston.
After 20 minutes of action, the Bruins led 3-1 and were outshooting the Oilers, 15-11. Edmonton led in blocked shots (4-0), giveaways (2-0) and hits (11-9), while both teams were even in takeaways (4-4) and face-off win percentage (50-50). Boston was 2/3 on the power play and Edmonton was 0/1 entering the first intermission.
Tempers flared early in the second period when Kevan Miller and Khaira squared off and exchanged fisticuffs 3:33 into the second frame.
The ruckus simmered down as the period went on, despite one more crescendo as Sean Kuraly checked Edmonton blue liner Matt Benning hard enough into the glass to force the entire pane to fall out. Credit to the TD Garden ice crew, it was fixed in minutes and play resumed without much interruption.
Danton Heinen tripped up Connor McDavid at 18:24 of the second period, but the Oilers power play would carry over into the start of the third period.
Through two periods, Boston held onto their 3-1 lead and was outshooting Edmonton, 22-17. The Oilers led in blocked shots (6-4) and hits (22-13), while the Bruins had the advantage in takeaways (13-8) and face-off win% (55-45). Edmonton was 0/2 on the power play after 40 minutes and the B’s were 2/3.
Boston had a bit of a scare in the third period, as McDavid forced a pass to Rattie, who then sent the puck to Nugent-Hopkins in the low slot. From close range Nugent-Hopkins rang the iron, then the rubber biscuit rolled on edge across the goal line but just wouldn’t go in as Zdeno Chara guided it out of the crease at the last second.
Jesse Puljujarvi got a stick up high on Pastrnak midway through the third, but the Bruins failed to convert on the power play.
With 2:19 remaining in regulation, Oilers head coach Todd McLellan pulled Talbot for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as Boston worked the puck out of their own zone, first with Brandon Carlo missing an empty net opportunity, then with Bergeron (5) successfully connecting on the gaping twine at 19:25 of the third period.
Bergeron secured a 4-1 victory for the Bruins as time expired and one more scrum ensued.
Boston finished the night with an advantage in shots on goal (32-26), blocked shots (11-8) and face-off win% (62-38), while Edmonton led in giveaways (11-10) and hits (27-21). The Oilers finished 0/2 on the power play, while Boston ended up .500 on the night going 2/4 on the skater advantage.
Among other stats…
Chris Wagner led the Bruins in hits with four, while Moore had three from the blue line. Kuraly led the team in shots on goal with six shots fired on Talbot. Bergeron finished the night second in shots on goal for the black-and-gold with four, while Marchand, Pastrnak and Wagner each had three.
Despite not engaging in any extracurricular activity, Milan Lucic managed six hits on the night for Edmonton. Leon Draisaitl and Klefbom were non-factors in the 60-minute effort as they both finished the night as a minus-2.
Meanwhile, McDavid led his team in shots on goal with four, while Nugent-Hopkins and Klefbom had three shots apiece.
We see it every year. There is always one fan-base screaming TANK… TANK…TANK…
All NHL programs have had their weak moments. Times when fans question management and coaches; times when players request trades or refuse to renew contracts; times when teams literally couldn’t buy a win if they wanted to. So what is the response to these moments? General managers have one of two decisions to make: Get to work and fix the problem now, or sit back and warm your hands over the dumpster fire that will continue.
Serious problems within organizations don’t simply go way. Sure every team faces a slump every now and again, but I’m talking about real, legitimate issues. Maybe it’s a coach that doesn’t fit, a lack of roster depth, or internal conflicts among players. These are the types of concerns that management must deal with if they expect to be contenders, or just have a winning season for that matter.
So what is the solution? In order to answer that, take a look at how the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Rangers attempted to right their ship. Both methods can be classified as tanking, but there is definitely a right way to do it.
So tanking… It should never be the goal to lose a hockey game, plain and simple. Even if a team is in the toilet, they should respect the sport of hockey enough to go out and give their best effort. Even from a management perspective, don’t think that they are trying to lose games intentionally. It is more so the fact that by making the decision to do nothing, they are prolonging their problems, which leads to tank mode. The best example of this is the historically bad run of the Edmonton Oilers.
Most people may not realize this, but from 2009-’10 to ’15-’16, this organization did not have a winning season. Yes, their drought really was that long. Seven season’s worth of pain and agony for their fan-base, which unfortunately has picked right back up this year. First-overall pick after first-overall pick and they could not do anything right.
Their “saviors” include Taylor Hall (gone, New Jersey Devils), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov (gone, Colorado Avalanche), and Connor McDavid. Two of those four were completely useless for them and really only McDavid plays like a true first-overall draft pick. Their method of tanking was so extreme because they solely depended on lottery draft picks to revive their club. In the 2012-’13 season, they didn’t make a single trade to receive additional draft picks in return. The last time they traded for a first-rounder? The ’14-’15 season when they shipped David Perron to the Penguins. During the 15-16 season, the Oilers made two terrible deals for poor the situation that they were in. They sent three draft picks (2nd, 3rd, and 5th) to the Rangers for Cam Talbot. Granted, he’s had a couple good seasons for them, but he’s now 30 years old and his GAA has crept over 3.00 this season. The worst deal though? They sent a first-round and second-round pick to the Islanders for… *Drum Roll*… Griffin Reinhart. That 16th-overall pick turned into rookie sensation Mathew Barzal, who is currently leading the Calder Trophy race. If I haven’t caused Edmonton fans enough pain, Reinhart isn’t even on their roster anymore.
Big deals involving big names need to happen. Key players need to go when the time is right and when their stock is at its highest. You obviously want to keep the guys with franchise tags, but others need to be put on the trading block. It may hurt in the short-run, but you can quickly build a pile of prospects and picks to assure that the future is bright. Growing pains are something that all organizations will inevitably go through, but sitting around and waiting for your first-overall pick to come should never be the answer.
The New York Rangers are not the type of organization to watch problems and twiddle their thumbs. Although typically a playoff team, this season they found themselves in an interesting situation. They have had a roller coaster of a year, with moments of promise, but during the second half of the season, they have been in a state of decline. An aging goaltender and a lack of scoring has them searching for answers. Their management decided it was time for a rebuild and I believe they are in the process of doing it the right way.
They could have chosen to simply tank and pick up a lottery draft pick, but instead, management went into fire sale mode. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that a team currently sitting seventh from the bottom of the NHL couldn’t creep down into a lottery pick, but why wait to make necessary changes? Over the course of the year, the Rangers have completed nine trades. They have racked up a total of seven draft picks, including three first-round selections (Arizona – 2017, Boston – 2018, and Tampa Bay – 2018). Their recent transactions show they may be pulling out of the playoff race for this season, but plan to reload for the immediate future.
Some people are scratching their heads as to why Jeff Gorton decided to give up both Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline. Mixing in Michael Grabner and J.T. Miller, those are some heavy names to throw around in trade deals, especially considering McDonagh was taking care of captain duties for the Rangers. The casual fan must realize that these types of deals are necessary and, honestly, if it all pans out for them, the Rangers will have won their deadline deals. The goal for the Bruins and the Lightning is to win a Stanley Cup. Anything short of this, they just gave up coveted draft picks for players that may or may not help them in the future. Particularly, if Nash, a soon-to-be free agent, leaves Boston, the Rangers will have received three players and two draft picks for a guy that was likely to walk on them.
The New York Rangers took a chance, a shot in the dark you may call it. They did give away quality players, but their “tank” will be nothing close to the miserable years the Edmonton Oilers experienced. If their scouting and recruiting staff can pick the right guys, they could be a contender once again in two or three years. With some space in their salary cap, they could pick up another player or two in free agency that will help turn things around. Even just next season, with the additions of prospects like Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek, and Yegor Rykov, they could see big improvements.
This is the moral of the story and the lesson that fans must learn. If rosters get blown up the right way, things do work themselves out in the end. By keeping players around to “stay competitive,” you’re left with a mediocre team that has no shot at winning the Stanley Cup. When it comes to this business, that should be the only goal. Playing for a playoff spot or to finish above 0.500 isn’t going to help an organization in the long run. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but with that in mind, management must do whatever it takes to have a chance at a championship, even if that opportunity is down the road.
Skater of the Week: Brad Marchand
The league’s premiere super-pest tallied two goals and five assists in four contests this week, made arguably more impressive by the fact that he started the week being held scoreless against Dallas before recording three consecutive multi-point games to close the week. Burning arch-rival Montreal for a goal and assist in the first meeting, then adding two helpers in the rematch, together with a three-point night against the Islanders, the former unheralded third round pick continues to prove all the critics wrong, as he’s currently on pace to shatter his breakout 85-point performance from last season.
Marchand’s 48 points in 37 games is good for 16th in league scoring, having played no less than seven-fewer games than any player ahead of him, and his performance over the last seven days is good for this award.
Tendy of the Week: Jonathan Bernier
Bernier’s NHL career has been a well-documented roller coaster of epic proportions, and the former 11th-overall pick has often seen the ‘Bust’ label floating near his name. But he seems to have really found a home with the upstart Avs this season.
In three starts this week, Bernier faced a ridiculous 110 shots and turned aside 105 of them to pick up three victories. On Monday he stopped 33-of-34 to down the Ducks, on Saturday he stifled 27-of-28 against the Rangers, and even when he gave up three to the Sharks, he managed a .938 save percentage on 48 shots faced. Of the Avs’ strengths, the defense is not high on the list.
Bernier is still shaking off some shaky performances earlier in the year, but in 21 appearances his 13-7-1 record, 2.61 GAA and .919 save percentage are more than respectable behind the run-and-gun Avs. If he continues this sort of play, the Avs could potentially use Semyon Varlamov as trade bait to solidify their D-corps come the deadline.
Game of the Week: Washington Capitals 3 @ New Jersey Devils 4 (OT), Thursday January 18th, 2018
A showdown between the top 2 teams in the stacked Metropolitan Division lived up to the hype, delivering seven goals, 51 shots, 48 hits, and 36 penalty minutes.
Drew Stafford would get things rolling 8:01 into the game, taking advantage of a misplay at the blueline by Dmitry Orlov to flee the zone and receive a breakout pass courtesy of Marcus Johansson, fighting off the back-checking Devante Smith-Pelly and going forehand-backhand-roof on Braden Holtby to give the Devils the early lead. Brett Connolly, who was stifled on a golden opportunity just seconds after the Stafford goal, would get his revenge and even the score at the 12:10 mark, pouncing on a long wrister from T.J. Oshie that deflected off of the skate of Jersey d-man Will Butcher right to his tape and burying it past Keith Kinkaid to give us a 1-1 game after one.
The second saw both the scoring and intensity ramp up, started off by Devils captain Andy Greene (playing in his 750th game) scoring on an almost-identical play to the Connolly goal, this time a Taylor Hall effort from the left point deflecting off the stick of Matt Niskanen and coming right to Greene who was just able to squeeze the shot between the left arm and torso of a sliding Holtby to regain the Jersey lead 3:33 into the frame. Then at the 8:33 mark came some shenanigans. Tom Wilson laid a hammering hit on Brian Gibbons along the boards in the neutral zone, leading Brian Boyle to come to the defense of his teammate and earn himself a misconduct and extra minor for instigating. I could go on a tangent about clean hits leading to fights (Gibbons himself appeared to try to wave off Boyle as he approached Wilson), but I’ll save that for another day.
Further into the secnd we go, and the Devils capitalize (see what I did there?) on another breakout pass, this time with Miles Wood sneaking behind the Washington defense and receiving some airmail from Sami Vatanen before getting one through five-hole of Holtby to give New Jersey the 3-1 edge at the 10:55 mark. But just 14 seconds later Dmitry Orlov would collect a long rebound off the boards and spanked the ‘Made In Slovakia’ lettering right off of the puck as it screamed past Kinkaid into the back of the net, sending us into the final frame with a 3-2 Devils lead after some strong netminding by Holtby in the closing stages of the middle frame.
Kinkaid and the Devils would hold the fort for most of the third, but finally with just 3:48 remaining it would be Connolly (who had himself a very good game, I might add) who collected a terrific Evgeny Kuznetsov feed from below the goal line and slid the puck right underneath the left pad of Kinkaid to knot the score at three and send the game to overtime (though not before Kinkaid would shake off a ‘Nisk-cannon’ to the noggin that removed his mask in the dying seconds).
The crowd at ‘The Rock’ would have little to fret over, though, as just 34 seconds into the extra frame it would be Taylor Hall receiving a chip pass from Sami Vatanen, before giving himself a second chip pass to get around Kuznetsov and streaking in on Holtby, roofing a quick wrister over the glove hand and sending the Jersey-faithful into a frenzy.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
The Golden Knights are, at the time of this writing, the #1 team in the NHL. I don’t actually have anything clever prepared for this, I just wanted to say it out loud.
A couple of high-profile injuries struck this week, with Edmonton losing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a hand injury for at least a month, and the Rangers losing Kevin Shattenkirk to a meniscus tear, an injury that could sideline the defenseman for quite some time.
The Senators have supposedly made it their #1 organizational goal to re-sign Erik Karlsson. I’m not sure how much money it will take to keep him with a franchise that doesn’t appear to be set up for major success any time soon, but if anyone has any suggestions for convoluted schemes to marry into his family, I’m all ears.
Dustin Brown was fined (but not suspended) for brutally cross-checking a helpless Justin Schultz face-first into the boards, in a move the Department of Player Safety referred to as “We have no idea who this Andrew Cogliano person you speak of is, and we’re not sure what two-game suspension you could be referring to.”
The Colorado Avalanche have won nine consecutive games, which might be the only thing less people would have bet on at the beginning of the year than Vegas spending time at #1 in the league.
Rene Rancourt has announced that he will retire from his position as the Bruins’ longtime anthem singer. Personally, I never actually thought he was that good of a singer, but his showmanship has always been absolutely second-to-none, and anyone legendary enough to be referenced in a Dropkick Murphy’s song gets a pass in my book, so congrats to Rene on an incredible career and best of luck in retirement.
Finally, I’ll close on two sombering notes. First, I extend my sincerest condolences to Matthew Murray and his family, as the Pittsburgh goaltender has taken a leave of absence from the team to mourn the passing of his father, and I’ll repeat the sentiment to the family of USA Hockey executive and two-time Olympian Jim Johannson, who passed Sunday morning at just 53 years of age.
The Original Trio reunite for a very fun-filled podcast. The Carolina Hurricanes were sold, Jaromir Jagr is soon to be unsigned, All-Star Rosters were scrutinized, US and Canada men’s national teams were analyzed and more in this action packed episode. #HealthBeforeHockey
While Peter is out enjoying a trip to see some hockey games in person, I’m filling in with a recap of the past week’s NHL action.
Player of the Week: Blake Wheeler
Wheeler has been the definition of streaky, of late, but this week was the good side of the coin. He broke a four-game pointless drought last Monday against Minnesota, getting one goal and two assists.
After being held without a point against Colorado, he put in another three-point performance (all assists) against Vegas.
But he would save his best for Sunday against the Ottawa Senators. In a game that saw the Jets beat the Senators 5-0, Wheeler had a point on all but one of the goals, putting up one goal and three assists. He had a beautiful cross ice pass to set up Mark Scheifele on the first goal of the night and the Jets never looked back tallying three of their goals on the power play.
Wheeler has passed Steven Stamkos to take the league lead in assists with 28 and has helped power the Jets to the top of the Western Conference, something few expected as the season began.
Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings
Just when it looked like the Kings might be fading after a hot start, they went 4-0 this week and moved six points ahead of the second-place Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division, exactly as the media expected before the season began, right? The Kings won the first three of those games by three goals each.
After one period of play in their Tuesday game in Detroit, the Kings found themselves down 1-0, but Dustin Brown, who has had a heck of a comeback season, evened it up at 1 and Anze Kopitar then put them ahead 2-1 before the second period was over. LA would add two more in the third on goals from Adrian Kempe and Kopitar’s second of the night.
Next up for the Kings was another road game against the Caps. Again, the Kings gave up an early lead on a goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Marian Gaborik would even it up, only for Kuznetsov to get a second goal. Jonny Brodzinski would tie it again and nine seconds later Jussi Jokinen would put the Kings ahead. After that, it was all Kings.
The Kings continued their road trip Friday with a visit to play the St. Louis Blues, one of the best teams in the league to this point in the season. This time the Kings got the early lead on a Tyler Toffoli tally. Kopitar would then bang home a rebound to make it 2-0. Before it was over, Kempe and Toffoli would add goals and the Kings would win 4-1 despite being outshot 40-28 on a stellar performance by backup goaltender, Darcy Kuemper.
The Kings finished their week and their road trip in Chicago on Sunday. Through two periods the game was scoreless. Christian Folin finally put the Kings up with just over 10 minutes left in the game. Then things got a little weird with just over two minutes left in the game. First, Brown would get an empty net goal. Then the Hawks would answer on a goal from Jonathan Toews with 1:46 left to end Quick’s shutout bid. But Kopitar would put the final nail in the coffin with 51.5 seconds left in the game with a final empty net goal.
As long as the Kings continue to get these types of performances from Brown, Kopitar and solid goaltending, they will have a very good chance to lock down the Pacific Division.
Game of the Week: Edmonton Oilers 7 @ Calgary Flames 5, Saturday, December 2, 2017
One of the first NHL games I can remember watching on TV was Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers against Lanny McDonald’s Flames. This game was a throwback to that era when goalies for some reason spent much of their time standing up and, consequently, watching pucks go past them. This is the type of game you hope to see with all of the offensive talent on these two teams and the reason you stay up to watch the late game on Hockey Night in Canada if you live in the Eastern Time Zone.
Connor McDavid skated around the Flames zone early and his persistence led to Jesse Puljujarvi cashing in on the rebound. The Oilers then had what looked like their second goal of the night from Patrick Maroon taken off the board as the goal was kicked. Eric Gryba then set up Puljujarvi for his second of the night on a redirection of Gryba’s point shot.
Mikael Backlund then forced a turnover on the penalty kill that set up Michael Frolik for a short-handed goal to pull the Flames within one goal. But the Oilers scored again before the first period ended to go up 3-1. In the second period, Mark Letestu scored on a short-handed breakaway to expand Edmonton’s lead. Gryba made another shot from the point which was tipped in, this time by Milan Lucic, to go up 5-1.
As the third period started, Mike Smith was replaced in net by David Rittich. Unfortunately for the Flames, Rittich bungled a handoff behind the net and the Oilers capitalized to go up 6-1. One might assume this is where the Flames might call it a night. But Sam Bennett made a tough angle shot to get the score to 6-2. Next, Micheal Ferland notched a power play goal to bring the Flames within three goals. Bennett added a second goal on a 2-on-1 where he took the puck top shelf. Suddenly the score was 6-4 with a lot of time left in the game. Johnny Gaudreau then made another tough angled shot off a stretch pass, taking advantage of young Oilers netminder, Laurent Brossoit. The impossible seemed possible with the score 6-5. But Brossoit would make a key save on Gaudreau on a two-on-one to prevent the tying goal.
With 1:01 left, the Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tried to center a pass, but it bounced into the net off T.J. Brodie’s stick to salt away the win for Edmonton by a final of 7-5. While the Flames couldn’t quite finish their comeback, it was the sort of game that reminded you why the Battle of Alberta was once such a big deal.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
Trade Rumors seem to be starting earlier than normal and we have already seen one blockbuster and several smaller trades.
This past week saw Anaheim and New Jersey make a significant hockey trade if not a true blockbuster. The Ducks sent right-handed defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional pick to the Devils in exchange for Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a third round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. The move was a much-needed improvement on the back end for the Devils, who are one of the surprises of the early season. As for the Ducks, with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler still out, Henrique can help at center and, when they return, he can provide forward depth.
Who is next?
Well, the name that seemed to be coming up repeatedly during the past week was Pittsburgh’s Ian Cole. The left-handed defenseman was a healthy scratch and several sources had stated that his relationship with Mike Sullivan had been rocky, leading the Pens to consider a trade. However, their asking price may be higher than what a willing buyer will give them for Cole—Pittsburgh is still seeking an improvement at center for their third line after Riley Sheahan has failed to impress. Toronto is a destination that has been mentioned with Tyler Bozak falling out of favor and the Leafs wanting to upgrade their defense, but to this point nothing seems imminent.
The Edmonton Oilers have also been frequently mentioned in trade rumors. While Ryan Nugent-Hopkins name has probably been mentioned the most, more recently the Oilers have been mentioned in connection with smaller trades that might see them shipping out the likes of Pat Maroon. It is hard to see how Maroon would produce the sort of return that might get the Oilers back into contention in the Western Conference.
Another name that has been brought up repeatedly is Evander Kane. Buffalo is one of the few teams clearly out of the hunt at this early date, but it seems most likely they will wait until the deadline to move Kane when they might extract the highest possible return for the wing, who will be a free agent this summer.
There have been a lot of rumors swirling in recent weeks about the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Edmonton Oilers. Jackets GM, Jarmo Kekalainen, was recently at the Oilers-Devils game. Oilers GM, Peter Chiarelli, was at the Jackets-Sabres game on Monday. Darren Dreger went on TSN 1050 in Toronto yesterday and had this to say:
“But things have changed a little bit. So let’s go back to the draft in Chicago. I know Columbus was willing to consider a top pick for Ryan Murray. Now they want player-for-player, and they’re in the market for a center. Is it Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of Edmonton. Who might it be. Right now Nuge is playing great hockey for the Oilers, so I don’t think they’re interested in parting with him. But my sense is the asking price – if it’s Ryan Murray, or for most defenseman that the Oilers have some interest in – is still too high.”
Last night, the Oilers got absolutely hammered in St. Louis, losing to the Blues by a final score of 8-3. It is the second time in the last week they have lost to St. Louis, having lost 4-1 on November 16. In between, they managed another blowout loss to Dallas, 6-3. While Cam Talbot isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire with a 5-on-5 save percentage of 91.2 percent, he’s also faced more shots against 5-on-5 than all but two other goalies—Frederik Andersen and Andrei Vasilevskiy – not to mention facing the fifth-most high-danger chances against in the league.
No doubt, Edmonton is currently having some bad luck. The luck stat, PDO, has them third from the bottom with 96.67 percent combined shooting and save percentage. Their shooting percentage is particularly noteworthy because they are shooting an abysmal 5.8 percent. This is particularly interesting given that their expected goals for is top-five in the league. This means they are not just getting shots, they are getting quality shots and for whatever reason they are not going in to this point.
So, what we know about the Oilers is that they are doing a good job in the offensive zone though they have been unlucky, and they are letting opponents get too many shots on net, which may be asking too much of Cam Talbot. If they were going to try and salvage this season, the fix has to be on defense. Darnell Nurse has finally started to look like the player that people hoped he could be. Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson have struggled a bit. But the biggest problem is still Kris Russell. It should be no surprise that Russell is their worst defenseman when you look at Corsi For Percentage as that has been a problem for Russell for a long time.
Meanwhile, Columbus’ struggles have been finding a center who can play with Artemi Panarin. An early experiment with Alex Wennberg failed when Wennberg became too passive. There was no chemistry with team captain, Nick Foligno, who only converted to a center out of necessity. While Pierre-Luc Dubois has shown some promise in recent games on a line with Panarin and Josh Anderson, the Jackets may not want to rush Dubois and may want insurance in case he hits the dreaded “wall” later in the season. This is a team that is near the top of its division, a division that includes the Stanley Cup champs, despite not playing its best hockey and it is clear that management feels with an addition that the team can contend for a Cup this season.
Meanwhile, the Jackets top defensive pair of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones has been out of this world. With John Tortorella loosening the reigns and allowing Jones and Werenski to “rove” in the offensive zone, the dynamic duo has already accounted for 7 goals. You shouldn’t be shocked to learn that their possession stats are also quite good. What has been a surprise, has been the play of young Markus Nutivaara. In just his second season, the 2015 seventh round pick of the Jackets has suddenly contributed offensively the way that Tortorella had hoped that he would, putting up 7 points and solid possession numbers.
On the other hand, David Savard and Jack Johnson have struggled and it isn’t the much maligned Johnson who has struggled the most, it has been Savard. Tortorella finally had seen enough and scratched Savard last week against the Rangers. Savard was back in against Buffalo on Monday and both he and Johnson were significantly better. If that pair can get back to playing at the level they did last season, the Jackets have a better shot of making it deep into the playoffs. Don’t listen to rumors from out-of-town reporters that throw around Savard’s name. It seems highly unlikely a team weak in depth on the right side is going to give up on Savard just because of some early-season woes.
The one regular defenseman I haven’t yet mentioned is Ryan Murray, who has spent the season paired with Nutivaara. As has been the case for most of Murray’s career, his role on that pair has been to be the “responsible defenseman” freeing up Nutivaara to roam in the offensive zone. He’s quietly excelled in this unheralded role, managing a positive Relative Corsi, but, more interestingly, the highest expected goals for percentage of any Blue Jackets defenseman.
The Jackets are blessed to have a seventh defenseman who is ready to take on a regular role. Gabriel Carlsson played for the Jackets during their playoff series against the Penguins and showed some promise playing a similar role to what Murray is currently playing. And, while he still needs some work, Carlsson’s possession numbers aren’t bad in the limited minutes he’s been given. The problem is that Carlsson won’t crack the lineup as long as the other six defenseman are on the roster and the AHL isn’t going to give Carlsson the development he needs at this stage, though it is a fine temporary solution to get him playing time.
Additionally, both Johnson and Murray will be free agents in the off-season. Murray is still a restricted free agent, but after taking a bridge deal on his last contract, he’ll be looking to get some real money this summer. Meanwhile, the Jackets have another prospect in Vladislav Gavrikov who will be in Russia through the end of his current contract in the summer of 2019, but will then likely be looking to make the jump to the NHL. With the Jackets re-signing Cam Atkinson and looking ahead to extending Werenski and potentially Sergei Bobrovsky in the summer of 2019, they may not be able to commit to Murray long-term.
Enter the Oilers and frequent trade rumor candidate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins is having a great season from a production standpoint, despite finding his line mates changing with some frequency. He’s on a pace to have his best season to date with 17 points including 8 goals through 21 games. That’s roughly a 30-goal pace and nearly 70 points. On the flip side, his possession stats are not particularly stellar. He has a negative Relative Corsi For Percentage and Relative Expected Goals For Percentage. I do have to wonder how much of that is based on the line mates he is playing with to this point in the season. He’s spent the most time out there with Milan Lucic (who has lost a step) and Ryan Strome. At times they have had him out there with Lucic and Zack Kassian. All of those players are negative possession players. Kassian has only 3 points, all assists, to this point in the season.
With Leon Draisaitl counting $8.5 million against the cap and Connor McDavid’s new deal with a $12.5 million annual cap hit kicking in next year, it has been clear for a while that Nugent-Hopkins was the odd man out. Paying $6 million for your third line center or playing an $8.5 million center as a wing is not exactly the best use of resources when McDavid is already getting $12.5 million against the cap. Using Nugent-Hopkins to land a defenseman to round out the top 4 and send Kris Russell down to anchor the bottom pair would be a wise move for the Oilers, but one they need to pull off sooner than later if they have any hope of making the playoffs this spring. While I think there is a good argument that the deal should be one-for-one given Nugent-Hopkins’ $6 million cap hit, I think it is likely the Oilers want something more and that may be the hardest part for the Jackets. I’d keep Sonny Milano or Boone Jenner in mind as a possible second piece in a deal. Milano might fit the Oilers’ game plan better than he fits with Torts’ system. Jenner is another possible cap casualty for the Jackets who is going to be coming off his bridge deal this summer.
While a deal makes sense for both sides and both sides seem to be investigating the possibility, that doesn’t mean it gets done. The Jackets hold the cards here in the respect that they are near the top of the standings and don’t need to make a move right now, particularly as long as Dubois and Panarin are playing well together. If this deal doesn’t happen, there will be other options for the Jackets. I’ll look at some of those options in my next column, barring a trade in the meantime.