Tag Archives: Ryan O’Reilly

Down the Frozen River Podcast #75- Captain’s Practice (with Cap’n Cornelius)

Nick and Colby are joined by the Cap’n this week as the trio discuss the Vegas Golden Knights home opener, bad starts for the Arizona Coyotes, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks, as well as other thoughts around the league. The New York Islanders really need an arena and the Carolina Hurricanes really need some fans.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Sabres’ Early Struggles Lead to Questions

Bad habits die hard, as the Buffalo Sabres have had another bad start to the season. And because of those slow starts, the team gets in a hole at the beginning of the season so deep that they can never battle back and salvage the campaign.

The Sabres are 0-2-1 through the first three games, and the past two games against the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils have seen them give up a total of 12 goals. One of the biggest problems is that Buffalo is giving up a great deal of odd-man rushes. In the New Jersey game, odd-man rushes cost the Sabres four goals against.

But it is not just odd-man rushes. A lot of the goals against are because of the sloppy play in the Sabres’ own end and turnovers in key areas. Phil Housley, the Sabres’ new head coach, says the team needs to work harder and the results will come.

As if the defense is the only group struggling, Buffalo’s offense has also had its short comings. The Sabres have only had one line producing goals this season. Evander Kane has four goals, Jason Pominville has two goals and Jack Eichel has one goal. Big name players like Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo have been snack bitten thus far. O’Reilly has been basically invisible through three games and Sam Reinhart has looked lost playing his original center position.

Last year, the Sabres finished with the best power play in the league. Well, that was last year folks, as this year the Sabres are currently 16th with a lousy 15 percent success-rate early in the season. That’s not the worst part though, as the Sabres have given up four shorthanded goals already this season. That is the same amount the club gave up all of last season.

The team doesn’t have many excuses for the bad play. They don’t have many injuries, with just Zach Bogosian being the only serious loss to the team. So why is this team struggling so badly already? Sabres fans are looking for answers and if the squad continues to play the way it is, the loyal fan base will look for change.

Most of the Sabres’ struggles are because this team is weak-minded. They don’t handle adversity well at all. For example, when the Sabres were down 2-0 against the Devils, Kane found a goal to cut the lead to one. But, that positive momentum didn’t last a two full minutes as the Devils responded with goal of their own, and then found a fourth minutes later. Housley put it best when he stated the team doesn’t have push back when the game needs it or they face adversity. With a young team, learning to win is a hard thing to teach, but they need to show more fight if they want to be in more games.

The next issue has a lot to do with the goaltending, but Robin Lehner is not entirely to blame for this struggle. The fan base is used to having star and franchise goals, as the Sabres were lucky to have two elite goalies play for their organization in Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller. Lehner is not one of those goalies: he is a tweener until the next franchise goalie comes along.

Lehner has been left out to dry for the two games he’s played this season. This is a goalie who posted a .920 save percentage last year and bailed the team out of a lot of games. His main weakness is the shootout, as he has yet to find a win in the shootout in his three seasons as a Sabre. He struggles to even make one save, but – again -it’s not just his fault as his team also forgets to score in shootout.

It’s easy to blame the coach and his system. Housley wants to play a five-man attack and wants the team to play with speed. This is part of the issue as the team doesn’t have a lot of speed with the exceptions of Eichel and Kane. Learning the new five-man attack is taking some time and, without the correct cycle, is leading to those odd-man rushes going the other way.

It looks bad right now, but I would like to remind people that last year the Nashville Predators struggled to start the season. They started their first 10 games 3-5-2 under Housley’s defensive system. That being said, things need to change for the Sabres because Jason Botterill has a plan and I’m sure could find a way to make moves to better this team.

The league is getting younger and the youth movement is on. It’s only a matter of time before the youngsters of Alex Nylander, Brendan Ghule and Linus Ullmark get a spot in the NHL. Players like Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges are going to move on and the youth will get a chance to wake this team up.

The Sabres are heading west as they have San Jose tonight at 10:30 p.m. EDT. They have had luck against this team over past few years, and they need to get on the right path on this trip with other games against LA, Anaheim and Vegas. If they could take 2 or 3 out of 4 games, the fans will calm down and they could start getting out of the big hole.

Buffalo Sabres 2017-2018 Season Preview

Buffalo Sabres

33-37-12, 78 points, 8th in Atlantic (‘16-‘17)

Key Additions: Viktor Antipin, Nathan BeaulieuSeth GriffithChad JohnsonJacob JosefsonJason PominvilleBenoit PouliotMarco Scandella, Phil Housley (Coach), Jason Botterill (GM)

Key Subtractions: Tyler Ennis (Traded to Minnesota), Marcus Foligno (Traded to Minnesota), Dmitry Kulikov (Signed with Winnipeg), Dan Bylsma (Fired), Tim Murray (Fired)

Unsigned: Cody Franson

Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres had a busy offseason to say the least, as both General Manager Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Byslma were fired following the club’s sixth-straight season missing the playoffs. The search for a new GM led Owner Terry Pegula to former player Jason Botterill, who continued the trend of hiring former players by offering former Sabres great Phil Housley his first NHL head coaching job. Housley was an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators for the past four seasons, helping to lead the club to its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. This was a smart move to hire a former blue liner to lead the team, as he should bring Buffalo a smooth-skating team that allows the defensemen, Rasmus Ristolainen in particular, to carry the puck up ice similar to Nashville’s style.

The Sabres have struggled defensively for years now, so it was no surprise that Botterill’s first goal was to fix that issue. He started by signing KHL free agent defenseman Viktor Antipin, but didn’t stop there: he also acquired Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal for a 3rd round pick. Botterill still saw the need for a top pair defenseman, so he traded Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and a 3rd round pick to the Minnesota Wild for Marco Scandella, fan-favorite Jason Pominville and a 4th round pick.

Although Botterill addressed the Sabres’ defensive issues early in summer, he didn’t neglect his other positions. Among his most important additions are Benoit Pouliot, Chad Johnson and Jacob Josefson.

All in all, the Sabres’ offseason look pretty solid. They didn’t go out and overspend on any major free agents.

That being said, they still have a big hole among their top 6 forwards. Specifically, the need for a left wing is paramount, and it has top prospects Justin Bailey, Nicholas Baptiste and Alexander Nylander all itching for the chance to play with the big boys. I personally believe Nylander stands the best chance. He is a natural left wing and has added some needed muscle this offseason. A solid camp from him could see him playing on the left with Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly.

Offseason Grade: B+

Overall, the Sabres had a tremendous offseason and I think the fans will see a better product on the ice this season. With a healthy Eichel and strong defense, I think the Sabres should be a playoff team.

2017 NHL Expansion Draft: Protected Lists

30 of the NHL’s 31 teams submitted their protected lists on Saturday by 5 p.m. ET. The protected lists were made public at 10:30 a.m. ET (originally scheduled for 10 a.m.) on Sunday. Additionally, the available lists of players to choose from were released.

The Vegas Golden Knights will now spend the next few days constructing their roster, with the full reveal set for Wednesday night during the NHL Awards Ceremony at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

To recap, here’s all of the protected players:

Anaheim Ducks

Forwards: Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Antoine Vermette

Defensemen: Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm

Goaltender: John Gibson

Arizona Coyotes

Forwards: Nick Cousins, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook, Tobias Rieder

Defensemen: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Connor Murphy, Luke Schenn

Goaltender: Chad Johnson

Boston Bruins

Forwards: David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Riley Nash, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller

Goaltender: Tuukka Rask

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards: Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Evander Kane, Johan Larsson, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo

Defensemen: Nathan Beaulieu, Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen

Goaltender: Robin Lehner

Calgary Flames

Forwards: Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferlund, Michael Frolik, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar, Sean Monahan

Defensemen: T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton

Goaltender: Mike Smith

Carolina Hurricanes

Forwards: Phillip Di Giuseppe, Elias Lindholm, Brock McGinn, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen

Defensemen: Trevor Carrick, Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy

Goaltender: Scott Darling

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards: Artem Anisimov, Ryan Hartman, Marian Hossa, Tomas Jurco, Patrick Kane, Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews

Defensemen: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook

Goaltender: Corey Crawford

Colorado Avalanche

Forwards: Sven Andrighetto, Blake Comeau, Matt Duchene, Rocco Grimaldi, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Nieto

Defensemen: Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Nikita Zadorov

Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov

Columbus Blue Jackets

Forwards: Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad, Alexander Wennberg

Defensemen: Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard

Goaltender: Sergei Bobrovsky

Dallas Stars

Forwards: Jamie Benn, Radek Faksa, Valeri Nichushkin, Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza

Defensemen: Stephen Johns, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell

Goaltender: Ben Bishop

Detroit Red Wings

Forwards: Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Henrik Zetterberg

Defensemen: Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Nick Jensen

Goaltender: Jimmy Howard

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards: Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu, Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Defensemen: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera

Goaltender: Cam Talbot

Florida Panthers

Forwards: Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck

Defensemen: Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk, Keith Yandle

Goaltender: James Reimer

Los Angeles Kings

Forwards: Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli

Defensemen: Drew Doughty, Derek Forbort, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin

Goaltender: Jonathan Quick

Minnesota Wild

Forwards: Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Jason Zucker

Defensemen: Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter

Goaltender: Devan Dubnyk

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards: Paul Byron, Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, Andrew Shaw

Defensemen: Jordie Benn, Jeff Petry, Shea Weber

Goaltender: Carey Price

Nashville Predators

Forwards: Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Johansen

Defensemen: Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban

Goaltender: Pekka Rinne

New Jersey Devils

Forwards: Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac

Defensemen: Andy Greene, John Moore, Mirco Mueller, Damon Severson

Goaltender: Cory Schneider

New York Islanders

Forwards: Andrew Ladd, Anders Lee, John Tavares

Defensemen: Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock

Goaltender: Thomas Greiss

New York Rangers

Forwards: Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello

Defensemen: Nick Holden, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal

Goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist

Ottawa Senators

Forwards: Derick Brassard, Ryan Dzingel, Mike Hoffman, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris

Defensemen: Cody Ceci, Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf

Goaltender: Craig Anderson

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards: Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Claude Giroux, Scott Laughton, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek

Defensemen: Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning

Goaltender: Anthony Stolarz

Pittsburgh Penguins

Forwards: Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin

Defensemen: Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz

Goaltender: Matt Murray

San Jose Sharks

Forwards: Ryan Carpenter, Logan Couture, Jannik Hansen, Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Chris Tierney

Defensemen: Justin Braun, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Goaltender: Martin Jones

St. Louis Blues

Forwards: Patrik Berglund, Ryan Reaves, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko

Defensemen: Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson, Alex Pietrangelo

Goaltender: Jake Allen

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards: Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos

Defensemen: Braydon Coburn, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman

Goaltender: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards: Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Josh Leivo, Matt Martin, James van Riemsdyk

Defensemen: Connor Carrick, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly

Goaltender: Frederik Andersen

Vancouver Canucks

Forwards: Sven Baertschi, Loui Eriksson, Markus Granlund, Bo Horvat, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter

Defensemen: Alexander Edler, Erik Gudbranson, Christopher Tanev

Goaltender: Jacob Markstrom

Washington Capitals

Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson

Defensemen: John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov

Goaltender: Braden Holtby

Winnipeg Jets

Forwards: Joel Armia, Andrew Copp, Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler

Defensemen: Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba

Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck

2017 Mock Draft: The First Round

2017_NHL_Entry_Draft_logo
NHL Entry Draft logos via NHL

The time has come for my annual prediction of how the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft will go. This year’s draft class is overall weaker than years past, but comes with a difficult choice for the New Jersey Devils, as they hold the 1st overall pick. The talk surrounding Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier is reminiscent of the Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin days leading up to the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles.

With that in mind, let’s see how many picks I get wrong (it’s an annual tradition!)– this year’s draft is being held in Chicago.

New Jersey Devils Logo1) New Jersey Devils –> C Nolan Patrick, Brandon (WHL)

A gifted center, Nolan Patrick’s status as the long-time coming predicted 1st overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft should not be affected by his injury shortened season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Patrick is a 6’2″, 199-pound gifted two-way player that can not only contribute in goals and assists, but brings some size down the middle for the Devils.

Philadelphia Flyers Logo2) Philadelphia Flyers –> C Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)

If New Jersey doesn’t take Nolan Patrick 1st overall, then the Flyers shouldn’t really have any complaints, because either Nico Hischier or Patrick is quite the impressive steal for the 2.4% longshots at the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft. Hischier stands tall at 6’2″, 179 pounds, and had 38-48-86 totals with the Halifax Mooseheads in 57 games this season en route to being named the CHL’s Rookie of the Year.

Unknown-23) Dallas Stars –> C Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor (OHL)                

Gabriel Vilardi was part of this year’s Memorial Cup champion, the Windsor Spitfires, and amassed 29-32-61 totals in 49 games played this season. He’s a two-way center that remains composed in all situations while utilizing unparalleled hands and finesse in this year’s draft. Vilardi would be quite the addition to Dallas’s prospect pool at 6’3″, 203 pounds and only 17-years-old (until August 16th, that is).

Unknown-14) Colorado Avalanche –> D Miro Heiskanen, HIFK (Finland)

One can assume that the Avalanche are bound to be trading a bunch of forwards for forwards this offseason (at least), but more important than having an offense is having a defense and an offense (which Colorado has had one in recent years and I’ll give you a hint– it hasn’t been a defense). Miro Heiskanen is a 6’1″, 172-pound two-way defenseman that had five goals and five assists (10 points) in 37 games with HIFK this season and is just part one of many moves towards turning things around at Pepsi Center.

imgres-25) Vancouver Canucks –> C Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (HS-MN)

The Vancouver Canucks can begin to start thinking about their long term approach to the end of the Sedin era by assuring themselves of a strong presence down the middle. Casey Mittelstadt brings that strong presence at center by virtue of his 6’1″, 201-pound frame and tremendous skill. There’s a reason why he was named this year’s Mr. Hockey in the state of Minnesota. Mittelstadt had 21-43-64 totals in 25 games with Eden Prairie and 13-17-30 totals in 24 games with the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) this season.

vegas_golden_knights_logo6) Vegas Golden Knights –> C Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)

For their first draft selection in franchise history, the Vegas Golden Knights are bound to select perhaps the most tactically smart playmaker of the draft in Cody Glass. The 6’2″, 178-pound, right-handed center had 32 goals and 62 assists (94 points– T-7th in the WHL) and is sure to fit right in with the Golden Knights roster and longterm plans. Vegas would be wise to let him play coming out of the draft, since Glass is perhaps the most NHL ready player besides Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

Unknown-37) Arizona Coyotes –> D Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)

The Arizona Coyotes have been stockpiling forwards (if you can believe it) in recent drafts, so this year seems to be the right time to snag a puck moving defenseman that’s committed to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst next season. Cale Makar had 24 goals and 51 assists (75 points) in 54 games with the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League this season– a 20-point improvement in as many games compared to last season.

Unknown-28) Buffalo Sabres –> C Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)

At 6’6″, 215 pounds, Michael Rasmussen is exactly what the Sabres need to compliment the already sized up centers of Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly. Sheer intimidation could be one thing Buffalo banks on in the near future, thanks to their Goliath centers, but don’t let that be the only thing. Rasmussen has silky hands and had 32-23-55 totals with the Tri-City Americans this season in the Western Hockey League.

Unknown9) Detroit Red Wings –> RW Owen Tippett, Mississauga (OHL)

Owen Tippett has been drawing comparisons to Phil Kessel (no, not necessarily because he’s a hot dogs and hamburgers guy– though we haven’t asked him– but rather, because Mike Morreale of NHL.com says so). The 6’0″, 200-pound, right winger had 44 goals and 31 assists (75 points) in 60 games with the Mississauga Steelheads and is a natural sniper.

Florida_Panthers_logo_201610) Florida Panthers –> C Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Republic)

Martin Necas is a versatile center that can create space for the puck and generate offense with his playmaking mindset. The right-handed shot had seven goals and eight assists (15 points) in 41 games with Brno this season. Florida shouldn’t be too concerned with his 6’0″, 167-pound frame, considering they’ve got a good mix of forwards to balance things out while Necas works on adding some muscle to his game.

Unknown-311) Los Angeles Kings –> C Elias Pettersson, Timra (SWE-2)

After missing out on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings fired their now former head coach (Darryl Sutter) and general manager (Dean Lombardi) and immediately replaced them with John Stevens behind the bench and Rob Blake as GM, so trying to predict who they’ll draft is difficult based on recent history. However, Elias Pettersson (19-22-41 totals in 43 games with Timra) might just happen to fall into their hands at 11th overall. He’ll need a year of seasoning before appearing in the Kings lineup.

download.png12) Carolina Hurricanes –> D Timothy Liljegren, Rogle (Sweden)

After a bout with mononucleosis in November, Timothy Liljegren wasn’t fully able to rebound this season with Rogle BK, however his skating remains unparalleled as one of the better defensemen of the draft. Liljegren can join the rush and pinch in from the point when needed in the offensive zone and scouts have yet to see the full potential impact of his style of play. Given the uncertainty surrounding Carolina’s money-puck strategy and how it will affect their blue line, drafting Liljegren might provide some security.

Unknown-413) Winnipeg Jets –> C/LW Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)

Klim Kostin missed a lot of time thanks to a shoulder injury, but that shouldn’t stop the Winnipeg Jets from taking a chance on what might be the best Russian forward in the draft. Puck possession is Kostin’s middle name and his 6’3″, 196-pound frame certainly must have something to do with that. The Jets could use him down the middle or restructure their wingers around the Kostin model, albeit acknowledging Blake Wheeler‘s size and existence already in Winnipeg.

Unknown-314) Tampa Bay Lightning –> D Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL)       

Steve Yzerman may continue to be a master of the salary cap (in terms of carefully maneuvering around large contracts, drafting and developing talent on a consistent basis and the like), but he’s got some critical thinking to do this offseason, what with pending RFAs galore and the Vegas expansion draft. Juuso Valimaki might be just enough to help relieve some of that pressure, having been one of the best defensemen of the WHL this season and amassing 19-42-61 totals in 60 games played.
download.png15) New York Islanders –> C Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound (OHL)

Offensively skilled, Nick Suzuki isn’t the biggest player (5’11”, 183 pounds), but he is one of the best power play specialists in this year’s draft– notching 14 power play goals for the Owen Sound Attack this season. Suzuki had 96 points alone (45 goals, 51 assists) in 65 games and would be an upgrade for the Islanders in more ways than one.

Unknown-416) Calgary Flames –> LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (Sweden)

Kristian Vesalainen is a 6’3″, 207-pound power forward that might be able to muster his way to a new arena for the Calgary Flames. Jokes aside, Vesalainen would be a solid draft pick by Calgary for his physical prowess and goal scoring ability. In the Battle of Alberta, the Flames could select their very own Milan Lucic, but with more of a two-way element to his game.

Unknown17) Toronto Maple Leafs –> D Nicolas Hague, Mississauga (OHL)

How could the Toronto Maple Leafs get any better than they already are with a lineup full of kids? Answer: they could draft Nicolas Hague. Toronto’s got a plethora of players waiting to insert themselves into their mix of forwards that it wouldn’t hurt them to give a little more attention to their blue line for a bit. Hague is a monstrous 6’6″, 215-pound, shutdown defenseman that can also contribute on the power play. He had 18-28-46 totals in 65 games with the Mississauga Steelheads this season.

Unknown-718) Boston Bruins –> C Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCHC)

It seems unusual to say, but the Boston Bruins have a little something on the horizon to start thinking about– what will the team look like after Patrice Bergeron (and David Krejci)? Boston GM Don Sweeney has a recent history of opting for college players and could select center Ryan Poehling with the future in mind. The 6’2″, 183-pound, playmaker has great vision and puck protection and had 7-6-13 totals in 35 games with St. Cloud State this season. Additionally, Poehling’s got intelligence (both on and off the ice) as he graduated a year early from high school and just tuned 18 on January 3rd.

Unknown19) San Jose Sharks –> D Callan Foote, Kelowna (WHL)

The San Jose Sharks have some big names to re-sign this offseason, including Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Naturally, while one might think the Sharks should use this draft to find their eventual replacements, San Jose is already in a good spot regarding forwards. Their blue line, however, could use someone like the 6’4″, 212-pound, likeness of Callan Foote. He had six goals and 51 assists (57 points) in 71 games this season and is sure to follow in the foot(e)steps of his father, Adam Foote.

imgres-120) St. Louis Blues –> LW Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)

A 30-goal-scorer in 52 games played with Sioux City this season, Eeli Tolvanen brings just about every offensive element the St. Louis Blues are looking for in a forward. He can shoot from just about anywhere on the ice– at any time too. Quick with his feet, Tolvanen can snipe an impressive shot. Don’t let his 5’10”, 170-pound setup fool you, this winger is ready to become even better at Boston College in the fall. After a couple of seasons of losing vital veteran forwards, the Blues get a chance for redemption by bringing in a goalscorer that could soon be skating on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko.

download.png21) New York Rangers –> LW Jason Robertson, Kingston (OHL)

In 68 games with the Kingston Frontenacs this season, Jason Robertson (6’2″, 192 pounds) had 42 goals and 39 assists for 81 points. He knows what to do with the puck and with the unwavering uncertainty of Rick Nash‘s longevity, along with the legitimacy of Jimmy Vesey and others as impact players when you need them the most (like in the playoffs, for example), Robertson is a risk worth taking. He’s only a risk because his skating game could use some improvement.

Unknown-522) Edmonton Oilers –> C Lias Andersson, HV71 (Sweden)

Lias Andersson is a mobile two-way forward that matches grit with nifty hands that generate scoring chances, as evidenced by his 9-10-19 totals in 42 games played with HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League this season. At 5’11”, 198 pounds, Andersson is the right fit for the Edmonton Oilers lineup, where he can increase his offensive skill by learning from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, while taking a page or two from Milan Lucic in the physical game. Additionally, his father, Niklas Andersson, is currently a scout for the Los Angeles Kings and played in 164 career NHL games.

 

Unknown-323) Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota Wild) –> C Shane Bowers, Waterloo (USHL)

The Coyotes have two 1st round picks in this year’s draft and they’d be smart to take a forward with their second pick. Luckily, Shane Bowers is just the player for Arizona. The Boston University-bound center scored 22 goals and had 29 assists (51 points) in 60 games for Waterloo this season. The 6’1″, 183-pound forward models his game after Jonathan Toews, which wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Coyotes to have in their prospect pool with a clear need for a stable, solid, two-way center.

Columbus Blue Jackets Logo24) Columbus Blue Jackets –> RW Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane (WHL)

At 5’8″ and 153 pounds, Kailer Yamamoto is not a player to overlook. Why? Because he scored 42 goals and had 57 assists for 99 points (6th in the WHL in scoring) in 65 games with Spokane this season. Yamamoto is relentless on the puck and has hands beyond his years, as well as speed and skill that make him quite the threat on the ice.

Unknown-125) Montreal Canadiens –> LW Maxime Comtois, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

After acquiring Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason, the Montreal Canadiens have made great strides at improving their group of forwards. But with the uncertainty of everything panning out as planned, why not add to the plan? Maxime Comtois is versatile and ready to take the next step in his professional career with the right guidance (*ahem* Claude Julien‘s system). Best inserted on the wing, Comtois had 22-29-51 totals in 64 games with Victoriaville this season. The 6’2″, 200-pound forward could play center if the Canadiens see it fit.

 

imgres26) Chicago Blackhawks –> D Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Finland)

Chicago is bound to have a tough offseason in a non-Cup year for the first time in a while, it seems, what with the Expansion Draft, as well as the salary cap working against their favor. While the Blackhawks may have to deal a top-4 defenseman or part of their core group of forwards (without getting too crazy, mind you, we’re not talking a trade involving Patrick Kane), Chicago can rest assured that Urho Vaakanainen is their defenseman of the future. The 6’1″, 185-pound blue liner is good at 1) getting the puck out of the zone and 2) playing his game– and a physical one at that.

 

imgres-127) St. Louis Blues (from Washington Capitals) –> D Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

An offensive-minded defenseman with a right-shot, Conor Timmins fits the bill for the St. Louis Blues. At 6’1″ and 185 pounds, Timmins can rush the ice as a two-way defenseman who contributed 61 points (seven goals, 54 assists) for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 67 games this season. Think Colton Parayko, but not, because this guy’s name is Conor Timmins and he doesn’t already play for the Blues.

Unknown-628) Ottawa Senators –> C Josh Norris, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

A product of the United States National Team Development Program, Josh Norris had 23-28-51 totals in 52 games played this season. The 6’1″, 192-pound center could contribute to the Senators organization in a manner similar to how Colin White has been implemented into the roster. Who knows, he might be worth it, Ottawa.

Unknown-229) Dallas Stars (from Anaheim Ducks) –> RW Kole Lind, Kelowna (WHL)

Tremendous hockey sense and intelligence are part of Kole Lind’s game. A natural playmaker, Lind was also known to produce goals of his own for the Kelowna Rockets this season, amassing 30-57-87 totals in 70 games played. The 6’1″, 178-pound right winger could be a solid fit alongside the likes of Jamie Benn and Seguin in Dallas.

Unknown30) Nashville Predators –> C Robert Thomas, London (OHL)

Hey look it’s Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty! Again, I’m only kidding. This Robert Thomas of the London Knights had 16-50-66 totals in 66 games this season as a two-way forward. A noted playmaker, Thomas reads and reacts to the play before him beyond his years and will need some time to really come into his own at the NHL level. Yet, the Nashville Predators can afford to take their time carefully crafting the almost 6′, 188-pound, center in their system that’s produced the likes of Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg and many more in recent years.

 

pittsburgh_penguins_logo31) Pittsburgh Penguins –> D Henri Jokiharju, Portland (WHL)

It took Henri Jokiharju a few months to really transition to the North American style of the game, but for this offensively focused defenseman, that wasn’t a big deal. He can get the puck out of his own zone with ease– not just with crisp passes, but also due to his incredible stride and speed in the transition department. Jokiharju (6’0″, 180 pounds) had nine goals and 39 assists (48 points) in 71 games for the Portland Winterhawks this season.

Other top potential 1st round prospects that should easily be 2nd round picks if they’re not taken in Round 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft:

G Jake Oettinger, Boston University (Hockey East)

LW Isaac Ratcliffe, Guelph (OHL)

D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)

D Erik Brannstrom, HV71 (Sweden)

LW Filip Chytil, Zlin (Czech Republic)

C Aleksei Heponiemi, Swift Current (WHL)

G Michael DiPietro, Windsor (OHL)

LW Matthew Strome, Hamilton (OHL)

C Antoine Morand, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

LW Tyler Steenbergen, Swift Current (WHL)

So there you have it. This is how I see the 1st round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft shaking out. Be sure to tune in next Friday night (that’s one week from now) to watch your favorite team pick a teenager and hope for the best. I’ll be at work that night, so no spoilers, please. Let me believe I got more than two picks right for once.

April 3 – Day 166 – One more! For Queen Elizabeth!

Seven more days of the regular season remain, making this the last Monday of the NHL year. I know it’s difficult, but enjoy it as best as you can.

To help you do that, there’s three games on the schedule tonight. A pair of those (Toronto at Buffalo [NHLN/SN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Detroit [RDS2]) drop the puck at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Montréal at Florida (RDS) – tonight’s early nightcap. All times eastern.

Since none of these games are matchups of playoff teams, what better contest to watch than the Battle for the Queen Elizabeth Way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though divided by a national border, the fact that these towns are separated by only 89 miles/145 kilometers has yielded quite the rivalry. That hatred has only increased this season as both the Maple Leafs and Sabres are returning to form and promise to be strong clubs next season and for years to come.

The future has come early in Toronto, as the Maple Leafs have a 38-24-15 record that is good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division. Winners of their past three games, the Leafs have been especially good since March 16, as they’ve gone 7-1-1 since then, which ties for the fourth-best run in the league in that time.

Just like it’s been all season, the reason for Toronto‘s success over this run has been its incredible offense. The Leafs have scored 32 goals since mid-March, a total that ties for second-most in the league in that time.

The man behind this attack? Exactly who it’s been all year: rookie phenom Auston Matthews. Not only has the kid scored seven goals for 11 points in the last nine games, but he’s also tied at 38 with Nikita Kucherov for third-most tallies all season.

It goes without saying, but this Leaf is absolutely special. He is the number one reason Toronto is currently in playoff position going to be in the playoffs, and potentially could be reasons two and three as well.

Reason four just might be Toronto‘s power play. Converting 30.4% of  their opportunities of late, the Maple Leafs‘ man-advantage has been fourth-best in the NHL since March 16. While Matthews has been effective during this specific stretch (he’s scored three power play goals for four points in his last nine games), fellow rookie William Nylander has been the true stud on the man-advantage. He’s notched 25 points with the extra man all season, nine of which have been tallies off his stick, to lead all first-year players.

To complete our perfunctory list, reason number five has to be Toronto‘s penalty kill. Thanks in large part to 32-15-14 Frederik Andersen and his .897 power play save percentage (fourth best in the league among the 37 netminders with at least 32 appearances), the Maple Leafs have rejected 83% of opposing man-advantages to rank eighth-best in the NHL.

Don’t tell anybody, but that lone regulation loss Toronto has suffered recently came at the hands of the 32-34-12 Sabres, the second-worst team in the Atlantic. Unfortunately, that win is one of only four the Sabres have earned in their past seven games.

You’ve got to score to win, and that’s been Buffalo‘s main struggle of late. Although Jack Eichel has averaged a point-per-game over this stretch (including three goals) to lead the team, he and Ryan O’Reilly (six points) have been the only two forwards really contributing to the attack lately.

Of course, that’s looking at the offense as a whole. When you start breaking things down, you find Buffalo‘s problem truly lies in even-strength play, as its power play has been the best in the league since mid-March.

Yes, even better than Washington‘s vaunted attack.

The Sabres have converted 46.7% of their man-advantage opportunities in the last two weeks, and it is on this assault where more of the team has participated. 15 different players have contributed at least a point on even-strength play since March 17, compared to 10 on the power play in that time.

Five more players were involved? Great! Bottom line, it means the Sabres are scoring!

True, but unfortunately it’s not that easy. Buffalo has spent a combined 22:16 on the man-advantage over 15 opportunities in its past seven games. Both those totals are the lowest in the league over that stretch. That means much of the team has effectively wasted the remaining (approximately) 400 minutes they’ve played, as they’ve only scored nine goals during five-on-five play, or a goal every 44 minutes.

One goal per 44 minutes of even-strength play does not win hockey games. If that’s not apparent by Buffalo‘s recent record, I don’t know what is.

Fortunately, the Sabres have remained competitive due to performing the opposite special team as well as they execute the power play. 22-24-8 Robin Lehner deserves much of the credit for that success, as his .926 power play save percentage ranks sixth-best in the NHL among the 39 goalies with at least four appearances since March 17.

Though the Sabres will miss the postseason for the sixth-straight season, this is an important game for Buffalo. Due to their two-game winning streak against Toronto, the Sabres have tied the season series against the Maple Leafs at 2-2-0, making this contest a true rubber match.

They last squared off on March 25 at the KeyBank Center – the same site of tonight’s game – where the Sabres won 5-2 on Eichel’s two-goal, three-point night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Lehner (.921 save percentage [tied for ninth-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (32 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league], including four shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), Jake Gardiner (+26 [10th-best in the league]) and Matthews (38 points [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Uh oh, that’s not good for the home team. Vegas has marked this game with a +140 line, meaning the odds-makers favor the Leafs. Unfortunately for the Sabres, so do I. While both clubs are almost evenly matched on special teams, the Toronto‘s offense is far superior at even-strength, which is where they should earn the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ray Getliffe (1914-2008) – Though originally a Bruin, this forward spent most of his 10-year career in Montréal. A two-time Stanley Cup champion, he hoisted the trophy once with both clubs.
  • Bernie Parent (1945-) – Another player to start his career in Boston, this Hall-of-Fame goaltender played most of his 13 NHL seasons with the Flyers. He was a five-time All Star and won two Conn Smythes, Vezinas and – most importantly – Stanley Cups.
  • Brent Gilchrist (1967-) – Drafted by Montréal 79th-overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing  played 15 seasons in the league – most of which with the Stars organization. He hoisted his lone Stanley Cup in 1998 with the Red Wings.
  • Shawn Bates (1975-) – The Boston-theme continues with this center, as the Bruins selected him in the fourth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He actually spent most of his 10-year career with the Islanders, with whom he notched 170 of his 198 career points.
  • Stephen Weiss (1983-) – The fourth-overall selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, this center spent all but two of his 13 seasons with the Panthers. He notched 423 points before hanging up his skates, including 156 goals.

The Predators had the chance to not only clinch their postseason berth with a victory, but also surpass the Blues for third place in the Central Division. Instead, St. Louis beat Nashville 4-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

St. Louis didn’t wait long to get on the board, courtesy of a Vladimir Tarasenko (Jaden Schwartz and First Star of the Game David Perron) wrist shot 5:22 after the initial puck drop. Ryan Johansen (Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban) and the Preds responded exactly six minutes later to tie the game at one-all with a power play wrister, the score that held into the first intermission.

Alex Steen (Perron) provided the game-winner early in the second period. He buried a wrister only 55 seconds after resuming play from the first intermission, followed only 5:52 later by a Perron (Alex Pietrangelo) wrister. Those tallies set the score at 3-1, which held into the second intermission.

The lone score of the third belonged to Third Star Joel Edmundson, an unassisted wrister 8:11 into the frame.

Second Star Jake Allen saved 35-of-36 shots faced (97.2%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Juuse Saros, who saved 21-of-25 (84%).

Nashville did qualify for the playoffs yesterday by virtue of Arizona beating ninth-place Los Angeles.

For four straight days now, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have earned two points in the standings. Within the series, that has given hosts a 85-58-25 record, five points better than the roadies.

March 17 – Day 149 – Killing two birds with one stone, even though there’s only one bird team here

In preparation for Saturday’s action there’s not too many games happening tonight – four, to be exact. Half of those contests drop the puck at 7 p.m. (Florida at the New York Rangers [NHLN/TVAS] and New Jersey at Pittsburgh [SN360]), followed two hours later by Dallas at Calgary. Finally, Buffalo visits Anaheim at 10 p.m. to complete the night’s festivities. All times eastern.

Unfortunately, the action this evening, in addition to not being high-volume, is not expected to be exceptionally noteworthy. Since it’s been a while since we’ve featured either Anaheim or Buffalo, let’s kill two birds with one stone and catch their matchup at the Honda Center.

 

This season has not treated the 28-31-12 Sabres how they would’ve liked. Many fans came into the campaign dreaming of making the playoffs, but with the club currently sitting in 14th-place in the Eastern Conference, it seems those dreams will be dashed for the sixth year in a row.

Much of the reason for that is an offense that has managed only 177 goals in 71 games, which ties for the seventh-worst rate in the league. Of course, much of that is due to Jack Eichel‘s lower body injury suffered in a practice only a day before Buffalo‘s season got underway. Even though he’s missed 22 games this year, he still leads the team in points with 48, but Buffalonians can only dream of what he could have done playing a full 82-game season.

Another players who’s missed considerable time but has still produced is Evander Kane. He’s had to sit out a dozen contests, but his 25 goals still top the squad.

Believe it or not, the season’s injury list actually continues. In total, the top four forwards (Eichel, Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and the currently injured Kyle Okposo) have all missed a combined 41 games. With Kane and O’Reilly both playing on the top line, it’s proven difficult for the Sabres to maintain consistency and build chemistry.

But when Buffalo fights through the injuries and manages to put a quality roster on the ice, it’s more than proven what it’s capable of. That’s no more apparent than when the Sabres take to the power play, as their 23.4% success rate is second-best in the league. Rasmus Ristolainen, coincidentally one of the big-names on the Sabres‘ roster that hasn’t missed a game yet this year, has been at the head of that attack with his 24 man-advantage points.

Ristolainen has made a hobby of setting up linemates, as most of those are assists. Instead, it’s Matt Moulson who has scored the most power play goals on the team, with 10 to his credit.

Unfortunately, special teams giveth, and special teams taketh away. As great as the Sabres have been on the power play, they’ve been equally terrible on the penalty kill. Buffalo defends only 76.4% of its penalties, the second-worst rate in the league even though Josh Gorges has done all he can with his 34 shorthanded shot blocks (11th-most in the NHL).

Even with that effort, 19-22-8 Robin Lehner has still faced 255 shots against when his club is shorthanded, the third-most in the league. He saves a more-than-respectable .886 of those, but has not been rewarded with improved defensive play in front of him. Until Buffalo can improve on that defensive effort, it will not be a true Cup-contender. We will have to wait and see what Tim Murray has planned for the offseason.

Hosting the Sabres this evening are the 37-23-10 Ducks, winners of their past two games that currently occupy second place in the Pacific Division. Defense is the name of the game in Anaheim, as the Ducks have allowed only 173 goals against this season, which ties for the sixth-lowest total in the league.

At the core of that defense is 23-16-8 John Gibson, Anaheim‘s first-year starter. He’s done admirably in his new position, but recently suffered a lower body injury. In his stead, the Ducks are expected to start 14-7-2 Jonathan Bernier, whose .913 season save percentage and 2.62 GAA rank 29th-best in the league among the 60 netminders with at least a dozen appearances.

Randy Carlyle and Bob Murray prescribe to a decent philosophy: an under-worked good goalie becomes a great goaltender. That’s where Cam Fowler‘s group comes into play. Thanks in part to Fowler’s team-leading 118 shot blocks, the Ducks allow only 29.6 shots to reach Gibson’s (now Bernier’s) crease per game, the ninth-lowest average in the league.

The solid defensive effort continues when Anaheim is forced to defend a penalty. 85.1% of the time the Ducks are forced into a shorthanded situation, they do not yield a goal, which ties for the third-best rate in the NHL. Just like he is at even-strength, Fowler is very responsible for the Ducks‘ penalty kill success as he has a team-leading 24 shorthanded blocks.

With only 24 days remaining on the NHL calendar for the regular season, it’s not a surprise that this is the last time the Ducks and Sabres will meet this year. The Ducks visited Buffalo on February 9 and exploded for a 5-2 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (44 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Buffalo‘s Ristolainen (38 assists and 154 blocks [both lead the team]).

A -210 line is never a good sign for the road team, and it’s definitely discouraging me from picking against the Ducks. Not only are they on The Pond, where they’ve won all but 11 of their contests, but they also have a defense that can cover for an injured goaltender (Exhibits A and B: the last two games). Anaheim should have another two points after tonight’s game is complete.

Hockey Birthday

  • Craig Ramsay (1951-) – This longtime Sabres left wing saved his best for the last season of his career. Selected by Buffalo 19th-overall in the 1971 NHL Amateur Draft, he retired immediately after winning the 1985 Frank J. Selke Trophy.
  • Andrew Ference (1979-) – Pittsburgh may have selected this defenseman in the eighth round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s spent most of his career with Boston. He was a member of the Bruins‘ 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team, and also earned the 2014 King Clancy Memorial Trophy.
  • Ryan Parent (1987-) – It simply never panned out for this defenseman, the 18th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Nashville. He played 106 career games in the league – 102 with Philadelphia – and only had three points to show for it.
  • Bobby Ryan (1987-) – Anaheim selected this left wing second-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent the first six years of his career. Since 2013, he’s called Ottawa home, where he’s registered 182 points.
  • Ryan White (1988-) – This center was selected 66th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal, and that’s where he’s spent a majority of his eight-year career. That being said, he currently plays for the Wild after being traded from the Coyotes at this season’s deadline.

If I had to guess, the best way to break the resolve of a team is by by scoring four unanswered goals in a period. The Maple Leafs did just that to best Tampa Bay with a five-goal shutout in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Since Third Star of the Game Roman Polak (Tyler Bozak) was the first Leaf to score a goal – a slap shot 9:19 into the game – he gets to take credit for the game-winning tally. It’s a special statistic for a defenseman, as this is only the sixth of his 11-year career, and his first of the season.

Where Toronto truly won the game was in the second period. In the span of 13:17, Second Star Morgan Rielly (Nazem Kadri and Alexey Marchenko), Matt Martin (Matt Hunwick and Nikita Soshnikov), Connor Brown (Leo Komarov and William Nylander) and James van Riemsdyk (Rielly and Mitch Marner) all scored to set the score at the 5-0 final.

Frederik Andersen earned his First Star award in the final 40 minutes of the game. The Lightning fired a total of 26 shots in the second and third frames, but Andersen did not let a single one by to earn his fourth shutout of the season.

In all, Andersen saved all 33 shots he faced for the victory, while Andrei Vasilevskiy takes the loss after saving 11-of-15 (73.3%) shots faced. He was replaced following Brown’s power play goal (the score read 4-0 then) by Peter Budaj, who saved five-of-six (83.3%) for no decision.

For two days in a row now, the 76-53-22 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have scored five goals en route to a victory. Those offensive explosions has given the visitors in the series a three-point advantage on the hosts.

November 3 – Day 22 – What does QEW mean to you?

Thursdays are usually busy days, and today is no exception. We’ve got a dozen games to choose from, starting with four at 7 p.m. (Philadelphia at the New York Islanders, Toronto at Buffalo, Edmonton at the New York Rangers [SN360] and Winnipeg at Washington). Three more follow 30 minutes later (New Jersey at Florida, Boston at Tampa Bay and Vancouver at Ottawa [RDS]), and another pair of contests drop the puck at 8:30 p.m. (St. Louis at Dallas and Colorado at Chicago).  10 p.m. brings with it the beginning of Nashville at Arizona, and the final two games share nightcap responsibilities half an hour later: Pittsburgh at Los Angeles and Calgary at San Jose (SN360). All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Buffalo: It’s the first installment of the season in the Battle of the Queen Elizabeth Way!
  • St. Louis at Dallas: The Blues and Stars met up last May for seven games, four of which were won by the Notes to send them to the Western Conference Finals.

I’m drawn to both, so we’re just going to assume the answer is in the standings. Since the Atlantic rivals are separated by only a point, we’ll head to KeyBank Center.

UnknownUnknown-2

 

 

 


 

 

The Maple Leafs and Sabres have played 206 times in their history prior to this evening, with Buffalo having a 115-73-18 advantage all-time – an impressive record for a team with no Stanley Cups to their record against a 13-time champion (shh, we don’t need to talk about how none of those titles have come since Buffalo entered the league in 1970).

They’ve met one time in the playoffs. It was the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals, a series the Sabres won handily in five games before falling to Dallas in the Stanley Cup Finals.

But it’s not the past meetings or playoff history that makes this rivalry interesting. It’s how far apart, or really how close, these teams are geographically. Center ice between both teams’ home arenas is less than 90 miles apart, allowing either fan-base to easily commute to the other arena. Expect a lot of Leafs fans in the stands tonight.

Those Leafs enter tonight’s game with a 3-4-3 record. While their offense, led by youngsters Auston Matthews (10 points) and William Nylander (11 points), has certainly been strong, they have been held back by their defense and goaltending.

Frederik Andersen has started eight of Toronto‘s 10 games, but he has only saved 89.1% of the shots he’s faced for 3.46 GAA – not what the Leafs expected when they traded a first round pick to Anaheim for him.

Hosting them this evening will be the 4-3-2 Sabres, a team that has allowed only 21 goals this season – five fewer than the league average.

In six starts, Robin Lehner is the proud owner of a .921 save percentage for a 2.34 GAA. Further improving those numbers is the fact that his defenders are keeping shots off his net. Led by Josh Gorges‘ 20 blocks, Buffalo‘s goaltending has only faced 272 shots, 10 fewer than the league average.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Buffalo‘s Ryan O’Reilly (eight points [leads the team]) and Rasmus Ristolainen (seven assists [leads the team]) & Toronto‘s Matthews (six goals [tied for third-most in the league]) and Nylander (seven assists [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]).

At -120, Vegas favors Buffalo in tonight’s game, as does history: the Sabres have a 70-27-6 record against the Leafs in the Queen City, far superior to their 45-46-12 record in Toronto. I think the Sabres‘ defense is up to the task of beating Toronto‘s youngsters, and their forwards are more than capable of putting some pucks in the back of the net to secure the victory.


Yesterday’s Game of the Day wasn’t a close one, as the Penguins scored their game winner in only 10:24 to eventually win 5-1 over the Ducks.

Three goals were struck in the first period, beginning with Evgeni Malkin‘s (Phil Kessel and Chris Kunitz) slap shot 7:41 after the initial puck drop. 2:43 later, Matt Cullen (Tom Sestito and Eric Fehr) scored a slap shot of his own to give the Penguins a two-goal lead. Anaheim trimmed the differential back to one with 4:11 remaining in the opening frame on the power play when Third Star of the Game Cam Fowler (Sami Vatanen and Ryan Kesler) scored on another slap shot, setting the score at 2-1 going into the dressing room.

Pittsburgh‘s first insurance goal was the lone score of the second period. Bryan Rust (Nick Bonino and First Star Kris Letang) scored his first goal of the season with a backhander with 3:18 remaining in the frame.

The Pens struck quickly to open the final period, as Letang (Justin Schultz) scored a power play goal only 1:27 after resuming play. 5:47 later, Patric Hornqvist (Second Star Sidney Crosby and Carl Hagelin) stuck gold with a wrister to notch the Penguins‘ final tally.

Matt Murray returns in style by saving 32-of-33 (97%) shots faced to earn his first victory of the season, while John Gibson takes the loss after saving 29-of-34 (85.3%). Jonathan Bernier entered the game for the final 8:40, but was not forced to make a save.

Pittsburgh‘s road victory pulls the visitors within four points of the home squads, but the homers still have a 13-8-3 record in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

January 26 – Day 108 – Lehner’s Sabres to Sens Town!

With two goals in the second period, the Detroit Red Wings were able to beat the New York Islanders in Brooklyn 4-2 in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

After Second Star of the Game Brock Nelson hooked Dylan Larkin, Brad Richards fired a power play goal after an assist from Pavel Datsyuk (his 18th helper of the season).  The Wings held the one-goal lead for only 5:36 though, as Nelson scored his 19th tally of the season off an assist from John Tavares to level the score, which held into the intermission.

Third Star Justin Abdelkader was responsible for Detroit‘s second goal of the night at the 13:29 mark, after assists from Henrik Zetterberg (his 24th helper of the season) and Larkin.  1:11 later, the Wings had their game-winner courtesy of First Star Danny DeKeyser.  Detroit‘s 3-1 lead held into the second intermission.

The Islanders tried to stage a comeback with a score at the 15:12 mark of the third, compliments of Mikhail Grabovski (his seventh tally of the season), assisted by Matt Martin and Brian Strait, but they could not manage to level the score.  The Wings‘ final goal of the evening was an empty netter from Luke Glendening, assisted by Darren Helm (his ninth helper of the season) and Kyle Quincey.

Petr Mrazek’s record improves to 18-9-4 after saving 27 of 29 (93.1%), while Jaroslav Halak’s falls to 12-9-4, saving 22 of 25 (88%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 48-21-9, favoring the home squad by 38 points over the roadies.  Detroit‘s win was the first for the road squad in six games for our series.

It’s a busy Tuesday in the greatest hockey league in the world!  The action starts at 7 p.m. eastern with two games (Anaheim at Boston [TVAS] and New Jersey at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by four more (Chicago at Carolina [NBCSN/SN1], Columbus at Montréal [RDS], Buffalo at Ottawa [BELL TV/RDS2] and Toronto at Florida).  Arizona at Winnipeg drops the puck at 8 p.m. eastern, followed by the co-nightcaps (Nashville at Vancouver and Colorado at San Jose [NBCSN/SN1]) at 10 p.m. eastern.

A third of tonight’s games are divisional rivalries (New Jersey at Pittsburgh, Buffalo at Ottawa and Toronto at Florida), and only one, Colorado at San Jose, is between current playoff contenders.  Tonight also marks the first return of Bobby Farnham to Pittsburgh, David Legwand and Robin Lehner to Ottawa and Brad Boyes to Florida.

Given how long he spent in the Canadian capital and that he should be starting this evening, lets give the nod to Lehner and the Sabres.

Buffalo Sabres LogoUnknown-2

 

 

 

 

 

Tonight marks Buffalo‘s third appearance in the Game of the Day series, a series in which they have yet to earn a point.  Their most recent game under our observation was a 2-1 loss in Colorado on Wednesday.  The Senators have been featured seven times before tonight, and own a 2-4-1 record in such games.  Their most recent was a 4-1 loss in Anaheim on January 13.

Legwand and Lehner both joined the Sabres from the Senators this offseason in return for the New York Islanders‘ first-round pick (which Ottawa ultimately used to draft Colin White, who at the time, had yet to take the ice for Boston College).  Together, they’ve played a total of 49 games for the Sabres, but the organization is optimistic for Lehner’s future.

So far this season, Lehner has started all four games he’s played, but he has yet to even get the Sabres to overtime (0-3-0 record), giving up eight goals in the process  (.934 save percentage).  During his five-season, 86-game career in Ottawa, he earned a 30-36-13 record with a .914 save percentage.  He is expected to start tonight’s game for Buffalo against his old team.

The 19-26-4 Buffalo Sabres are currently last in the Atlantic Division, and second-to-last in the Eastern Conference and NHL, leading only Columbus, and only by a point at that.  Although their position in the standings would not indicate it, their defense is actually on par with the league average (as measured by goals against), but their offense is absolutely horrendous and is the main reason the squad is considering tanking instead of making a playoff push.  You can read a more in-depth analysis of their game on Wednesday’s post.

The Sabres are currently riding a three-game losing skid, with their most recent being a 6-3 loss in Madison Square Garden last night.  A win tonight does have the chance to move Buffalo past Toronto in the standings, but at this point, Sabres fans might prefer to avoid winning as much as possible in hopes of a Jamie McGinn-Jack Eichel-Auston Matthews line.

The 23-20-6 Ottawa Senators are currently sitting in sixth-place in the Atlantic Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference, three points out of a playoff spot.  To get them to that spot, they play one of the better offenses in the league, but the reason the Sens aren’t in the playoffs right now is due to their atrocious defense.

Even with Erik Karlsson’s team-leading 136 shots, the Sens have only fired 1382 shots this season, of which a solid 9.6% have found the back of the net for 137 goals (led by Mike Hoffman’s 22 tallies), sixth-most in the league.  Interestingly, those numbers have not relied on the special teams, as Ottawa has only connected on 18.24% (technically below league average) for 27 power play goals, led by Hoffman’s six.  They’ve also only given up two short-handed goals.

The defense is entirely to blame for Ottawa being out of the playoffs right now.  Even with Karlsson’s team-leading 99 blocks, Ottawa has allowed a whopping 1623 shots to reach 20-14-4 Craig Anderson and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.4% for 152 goals against, second-most in the league.  Part of that defense is the penalty kill, which has only killed 75.63% of opposing power plays for 39 extra-man goals against.  The only saving grace of the penalty kill has been the 10 (yes, 10) shorties to their credit, led by Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s five.

Just like Buffalo, Ottawa‘s most recent game was against the Rangers, but the Sens won their game at home on Sunday with a three-game shutout.  A win this evening has the potential to move Ottawa into the “First Team Out” position in the Eastern Conference, but they will need Montréal and Pittsburgh to both lose for that to happen.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Buffalo‘s Evander Kane (147 shots and 107 hits [both lead the team]), Ryan O’Reilly (40 points, of which 17 are goals, with 10 being at even-strength and seven being on the power play [all lead the team]) and Sam Reinhart (three game-winning goals [leads the team]) & Ottawa‘s Anderson (20 wins [eighth-most in the league] and three shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the league]), Hoffman (22 goals [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and Karlsson (41 assists [second-most in the league] and 51 points [fourth-most in the league]).

I’m picking Ottawa to win this one, mostly because they won’t be as worried about their defense doing their best impression of Swiss cheese since Buffalo‘s offense usually can’t hit the broad side of a barn.  Lehner’s record should fall to 0-4-0.

January 20 – Day 102 – We ain’t talking about no auto shop

Thanks to a two-goal third period to seal the deal, the Boston Bruins have won their third in a row after beating the Canadiens 4-1 in Montréal in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

The only goal of the first period occurred at the 13:08 mark, courtesy of Max Talbot, his second of the season.

The Habs leveled the score at one-all 8:48 after resuming play with Third Star of the Game Mark Barberio’s first goal of the season, assisted by P.K. Subban (his 30th helper of the season) and David Desharnais, but the Bruins were able to take the lead again 3:11 before the second intermission with First Star Patrice Bergeron’s game-winner (his 18th goal of the season), assisted by David Pastrnak and Dennis Seidenberg.

Boston scored their first insurance goal of the evening at the 12:14 mark of the final period, scored by Pastrnak (his fourth tally of the season) and assisted by Zac Rinaldo and Joe Morrow.  The final goal was an empty netter from Brad Marchand, assisted by Loui Eriksson (his 23rd helper of the season), setting the score at the 4-1 final.

Second Star Tuukka Rask improves his record to 16-13-4 after saving 38 of 39 (97.4%), while Mike Condon’s falls to 12-12-4 after saving only 20 of 23 (87%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 43-20-9, favoring the home squad by 31 points over the roadies.

A busy Tuesday schedule makes way for a light Wednesday, as their are only three games taking place today.  The action gets started at 8 p.m. eastern when St. Louis visits their old friends in Detroit (NBCSN/TVAS/SN), followed two hours later by Buffalo at Colorado (BELL TV).  This evening’s nightcap drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. eastern, when Minnesota visits Anaheim (NBCSN/SN).

There are no division rivalries being played tonight, and St. Louis at Detroit represents the only matchup between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs.

While the BluesRed Wings game would be fun for a variety of reasons (Speaking of, I have not featured the Red Wings enough this season… We’ll consider that a note for another day), I’m attracted to another game tonight, as Buffalo visits the Mile High City with a couple of old friends.

Buffalo Sabres LogoColorado Avalanche Logo

 

 

 

 

 

Tonight’s game will only be Buffalo‘s second appearance in the Game of the Day series, with their only other showing being a 4-3 loss in Pittsburgh on October 29.  Colorado has been featured twice before tonight, and own a 1-1-0 record in the series.  Their most recent game with our attention was 6-3 loss in Chicago on January 10.

With the Sabres visiting Colorado this evening, Jamie McGinn and Ryan O’Reilly will be making their first appearances in the Pepsi Center since being traded during the 2015 Entry Draft.

McGinn spent a total of 162 games over four seasons with the Avs, with his best season by far being his 2013-’14 campaign in which he scored 38 points (evenly split between assists and goals) and helped Colorado to their first division title in 11 years, although they could not advance beyond the first round after a 4-3 overtime loss to Minnesota on home ice.

O’Reilly had a longer career in Colorado, playing 427 games over six seasons.  Similar to McGinn, O’Reilly’s best season was the division championship campaign, where he scored 28 goals and 36 assists for 64 points with a 13.9% season shooting percentage, his best to date, although he has the potential to best that stat with a current 15.6% this season.  That strong shooting percentage is what he’s used to lead his team in scoring, with 17 goals to his credit.

The 19-23-4 Buffalo Sabres currently sit in seventh place in the Atlantic Division and 14th in the Eastern Conference.  Their success has been found on the defensive end, although they are still below-average in that end.

Even with Josh Gorges’ team-leading 98 blocks, Buffalo has allowed 1372 shots to reach 12-12-2 Chad Johnson and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.8% for 120 goals against, 13th-most in the league.  The first step in improving this defense should be to beef up the penalty kill, as the special teams have only killed 79.28% of opposing power plays for 23 goals against (four below the league average).

The offense has been the main thing holding the Sabres back this season.  Led by Jack Eichel’s 143 shots, Buffalo has fired the puck 1368 times, of which only 7.7% have found the back of the net for 106 goals (led by O’Reilly’s 17 tallies), fourth-fewest in the league.  Although the offense as a whole has not found much success, the Sabres‘ power play has still been strong, scoring on 20.41% of opportunities for 30 goals (led by O’Reilly’s seven tallies).

The Sabres are currently riding two-game win streak, with their most recent being a 2-1 victory in Arizona on Monday.  A win tonight might do more harm than good at this point in the season, as it will take a miracle for Buffalo to qualify for the playoffs.

The 23-21-3 Colorado Avalanche currently occupy fifth place in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference, good enough to qualify them for the second wild card position.  The Avs play one of the top-five offenses in the league, but have not been able put their opponents away due also having a bottom-ten defense.

Even with Nathan MacKinnon’s 157 shots, Colorado has fired the puck only 1337 times, of which 9.8% have found the back of the net for 131 goals (led by Matt Duchene’s 22 tallies), fifth-most in the NHL.  Colorado‘s power play is slightly better than Buffalo‘s, as they’ve scored on 20.89% of opportunities for 33 goals (led by Jarome Iginla’s seven extra-man tallies).  That stat does come with a qualifier though, as the Avs have given up five shorthanded goals this season, two more than the league average.

As good as the offense has been, it’s a shame Colorado hasn’t done much to improve the blue line.  Although Francois Beauchemin has 143 blocks to his credit, 1454 shots have made their way to 16-12-3 Semyon Varlamov and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.5% for 130 goals against, seventh-most in the league.  The shining spot for this defense has been their penalty kill, as not only have they killed 80.54% for 29 power play goals against, but they’ve also scored four shorthanded goals, led by Blake Comeau’s two.

The Avalanche won their most recent game 2-1 in Winnipeg on Monday.  A Colorado win has the potential to pull them within a game of Minnesota for the first wild card spot, but a regulation loss allows Vancouver to take their spot in the second wild card position.

Some players to watch include Buffalo‘s O’Reilly (39 points, including 17 goals, 10 of which were at even-strength, with the remaining seven being power play tallies [all lead the team]) and Colorado‘s Duchene (22 goals [tied for sixth-most in the league]).

Based on standings alone, you’d like to think the Avs would win this game regardless of location, but that defense does not leave me with a good taste in my mouth.  I think I’ll pick Colorado, but I believe it will be a nail-biter.