Tag Archives: Sabres

October 21 – Day 18 – Time to right the ship

In the words of Sir Elton John, “Saturday night’s alright for fighting.” If there’s a lyric that better describes hockey, I have yet to hear it.

To take it a step further, Saturday afternoon must not be too bad either, as Nashville visits the New York Rangers (SN) at 12:30 p.m. and Philadelphia hosts Edmonton half an hour later. After the matinees are complete, five contests (Buffalo at Boston, Toronto at Ottawa [CBC/CITY/TVAS], Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay, San Jose at the New York Islanders and Los Angeles at Columbus) find their start at the usual time of 7 p.m., followed by Florida at Washington (NBCSN) 30 minutes after. Carolina makes its yearly visit to Dallas at 8 p.m., with Chicago at Arizona waiting an hour before dropping the puck. The stroke of 10 p.m. brings with it the start of Minnesota at Calgary (CBC), half an hour before tonight’s nightcap: St. Louis at Vegas. All times Eastern.

It’s nights like these that are hard to pick just one game to focus on, as there’s a good reason to watch at least half of them. Here’s a few that stick out to me…

  • Buffalo at Boston: Rivalry night in Beantown is always a worthwhile experience.
  • Toronto at Ottawa: Speaking of rivalries, the Battle of Ontario is another good one.
  • Chicago at Arizona: Don’t tell anybody, but D Connor Murphy played his first four NHL seasons with the Coyotes.
  • St. Louis at Vegas: W Chris Thorburn was one of Vegas’ expansion draft selections, but he ended up signing with the Blues instead.

Since we haven’t had the opportunity to feature the Bruins or the Sabres yet this season, what better way to make up for our transgression than by focusing on their rivalry tonight?

 

Let’s just put things simply: both these clubs have much higher aspirations for their seasons than the first two-and-a-half weeks have indicated.

The 1-5-2 Sabres have especially had a tough run of things, as they’re currently riding a two game losing skid after falling in overtime to Vegas on Tuesday and losing outright to Vancouver last night.

Since the Bruins don’t play for a city that starts with a ‘V’, maybe Buffalo has a chance this evening.

Averaging .8 points-per-game after his first two seasons in the NHL, C Jack Eichel was expected to lead the Sabres to one of the best offensive efforts in the league. Instead, Buffalo’s attack has averaged a (t)fourth-worst 2.5 goals-per-game effort, forcing the Sabres to be discussed in the same breath as the likes of Arizona.

Unless we’re talking about logo and sweater designs at a franchise’s debut, it’s rarely good to be compared to the Coyotes.

Though I threw Eichel under the bus, the Sabres’ struggles are certainly no fault of their first line. In fact, if not for the production of Eichel, LW Evander Kane and RW Jason Pominville, Buffalo might as well not have an offense at all. All three are averaging at least 1.13 points-per-game this season and they combine for 12 of the Sabres’ 20 goals. While it is nice to know that one line is capable of producing 60 percent of a team’s offense, I’ll bet the house that Head Coach Phil Housley would love for F Ryan O’Reilly‘s line to find their form sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, little has gone well on the Sabres’ defensive end either. Due at least in part to Buffalo’s 49.9 face-off winning percentage (11th-worst in the league), neither G Chad Johnson nor G Robin Lehner can claim a GAA under three. Lehner has certainly been the superior of the two netminders so far with his .9 save percentage and 3.14 GAA, and he’s likely to be tonight’s starter since Johnson was responsible for last night’s 4-2 loss to the Canucks.

If anything has gone well so far for the Sabres, it’s certainly been their penalty kill. Successfully rejecting 83.3 percent of opposing power plays, Buffalo ties for eighth-best in the NHL. Defensemen Josh Gorges and Jake McCabe have played exceptionally when shorthanded, as both have five shot blocks to their credit in that situation. But there’s an asterisk next to Gorges’ name: he’s hit that total in only four games played as compared to McCabe’s eight.

Alright, that’s enough laying into one team. Time to take on the 3-3-0 Bruins.

There’s little to complain about on the Bruins’ offensive end. Averaging 3.33 goals-per-game, Boston is tied for the ninth-best offense in the NHL. It’s been the LW Brad Marchand show so far this season, as his 4-5-9 totals are easily among the top-25 performances in the league so far.

Then again, that was before C Patrice Bergeron returned to action from his lower body injury. In only one game played against Vancouver on Thursday, the 32-year-old managed one goal and three assists for a four-point night, tying him for sixth-most points on the team with players that have five more games played.

Regarding Bergeron, I have two guesses: (1) he’s one of those guys that’s good at his job, and (2) last season’s not-so-great 53 points could be eclipsed rather easily.

Whether it’s Bergeron or Marchand leading the charge, the Bruins’ power play is one of the most intimidating in the league. Boston has found success on eight-of-27 extra-man opportunities for a fourth-best 29.6 percent success rate, including C David Krejci‘s team-leading four power play points.

Of course, for an offense to be clicking along as well as the Bruins’ has been and the club only have a .500 record, there might be a problem on the other end of the ice.

That problem’s name is G Tuukka Rask. Though he’s certainly been one of, if not the league’s best netminder since his debut in the 2007-’08 season (his .922 career save percentage is tied for best in the NHL since then among goalies with at least 50 starts, and his 2.25 career GAA is second-best in that group), he’s struggled mightily in his four starts to open this campaign, managing an ugly .882 save percentage and 3.3 GAA.

Could it simply be that he’s getting sprayed with pucks every time he takes to the crease? Unfortunately, not really. He’s seen an average of only 25.5 shots-per-game so far this season, which is right in line with the (t)fourth-best 29.2 shots allowed by the Bruins’ defense per game.

It’s a fact Bruins fans may not want to admit, but Rask has only seen his save percentage drop since his .93 performance in the 2013-’14 season, with the lone exception of last year when he matched his .915 effort from the 2015-’16 campaign.

This drop in play began at the same time Rask started seeing 50-60 starts per season, which hearkens back to a statement I’ve made countless times about the Bruins’ goaltender: you can only work a mule so much. He’s been overworked for the past four seasons to the point that his play is suffering. Hopefully with G Anton Khudobin in the picture, Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will be able to relieve some of the pressure off his starter so he can rediscover his true form before his best playing days are behind him. If not, the Bruins are in a deeper hole than even the most dire of pessimists could have predicted.

Of course, all that writing may have been for naught with Rask currently listed as day-to-day with a concussion after a collision with rookie F Anders Bjork Wednesday. Expect Khudobin and his .927 save percentage to start this evening.

The Sabres are just waiting for a breakout game, but they have yet to earn it. I truly do believe in their offense, but I have concerns about the defense going up against an elite scoring club in Boston. Though the TD Garden hasn’t exactly been friendly to its residents for the past few years, I expect the Bruins to win this game by dominating the scoreboard.


For the second-straight night, the DtFR Game of the Day required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. This time, it was First Star of the Game W Alex Ovechkin scoring the overtime winner for the Washington Capitals to beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3.

Featuring four total goals, the third period was absolutely wild. It was set up by a two-goal second period, as both F Darren Helm and W Andre Burakovsky (D Dmitry Orlov and W Tom Wilson) found goals to set the score at one-all. Helm’s wrist shot at the 4:31 mark of the frame was particularly noteworthy, as it was his first shorthanded goal since April 9, 2015.

Eighty-five seconds after the second intermission ended, the flurry of third period goals began when F Jay Beagle (RW Alex Chiasson) scored a shorthanded wrister to give the Capitals the lead. It was a lead that lasted only 3:59 though, as Second Star F Tomas Tatar (F Dylan Larkin and D Mike Green) leveled the contest with a tip-in. Scoring subsided until Tatar (F Henrik Zetterberg and D Niklas Kronwall) buried his second of the game, a power play snap shot, with 7:15 remaining in regulation to take a 3-2 lead for the Red Wings.

Detroit almost managed to earn the victory, but Larkin’s delay of game penalty for sending the puck over the glass set up a power play opportunity for the Capitals. Held off the scorecard in his last game played, F T.J. Oshie (Burakovsky and C Evgeny Kuznetsov) was sure to take advantage, scoring his wrister with 61 seconds remaining in regulation to level the game at three-all.

The Red Wings apparently didn’t learn their lesson when Oshie forced overtime. 68 seconds into three-on-three play, D Trevor Daley earned himself a seat in the penalty box for tripping Ovechkin. Ovi didn’t seem to like that very much, as he ended the game only 48 later with a game-winning slap shot from his usual spot in the face-off circle to Third Star G Petr Mrazek‘s right, assisted by C Nicklas Backstrom and D John Carlson.

G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 34-of-37 shots faced (.919 save percentage), forcing Mrazek to take the overtime loss, saving 37-of-41 (.902).

Not only was this the second-straight overtime game, but it was also a second-straight victory for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors now trail the 10-5-3 home teams by only five points.

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.

Colby’s Corner Top five Players Poised to Breakout

A new season starts today, so it’s time for me to jump in and tell you five players to keep an eye out for as they could have breakout seasons. I didn’t limit myself to just rookies; I was also looking for players who could fill some big shoes or become a standout on their team.

First up,

  1. Oliver Bjorkstrand

This one may surprise a few, but after a strong preseason performance, Bjorkstrand could really step up this season and have a big role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a highly rated prospect, I believe Jacket fans have been waiting for him to show up in a big way.

Bjorkstrand only has 38 games played over the past two seasons, recording 10 goals and 11 assists in that time. I remember watching him play in World Juniors a few years ago and he had the ability to take over a game and control his team’s offensive flow. If he can provide that for the Jackets, this would give them another weapon with a nice scoring touch. Bjorkstrand could be a name that you hear more of this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 10-15 goals with another 10-20 assists.

Next up,

  1. Matthew Tkachuk

I have been a huge fan of Tkachuk for a long time – if you have listened to podcasts you know this. Tkachuk had a solid rookie season, recording 13 goals and 35 assists. If that’s what you get from a 6th Overall pick in his first year, you are not going to complain if you are the Calgary Flames. Tkachuk’s physical game and willingness to get into dirty areas allowed him to find some extra points this past season.

Last season in four playoff games, Tkachuk was held pointless and I think that left a bitter taste in his mouth. If he used that as a motivator in his offseason, than he should come back as an even better player. Not to mention the Flames signed the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal. Jagr can show Tkachuk how to use his big body to his advantage and give him other tips to have a great season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 30-40 assists.

Next up,

  1. Alexander DeBrincat

Rookie Alert: Alex DeBrincat makes my list as a player that could be the next Artemi Panarin in the Chicago Blackhawks organization. DeBrincat has been one of the best junior players over the past few seasons trying to crack the Hawks roster, and has finally done that this season. Yes, he is a rookie – and a small one at that – but he has proven he knows were the net is. DeBrincat has scored over 100 points in three-straight OHL seasons, including his final year with the Erie Otters when he finished with 65 goals and 62 assists for a 127 points.

The argument that it won’t convert over is nonsense as junior players like Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are finding goals in this league. Another reason he is so high on my list is the opportunity he could have to play with some of the best players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. If he can learn from either of them, this kid could become a star in no time.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 35-45 assists.

Next up,

  1. Jake Guentzel

Now you can say Jake Guentzel is already a star from his Stanley Cup-winning performance last season. I agree, but I think he can play even better than he was in the playoffs. Guentzel had 13 goals and 8 assists in 25 playoff games last spring. It was a performance so strong that he deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy – only have it ripped from him by Sidney Crosby. We haven’t seen Guentzel in playoff form for a whole season, but this is that season.

Thinking about Guentzel, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin all performing in top form has me believing this team could be looking at a three-peat without question, as they are probably the favorite in the East again. Guentzel’s scoring touch and being on the same page and line as Crosby could see his numbers sky rocket and he could be an even bigger star in Pittsburgh.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Finally,

  1. Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel will look to keep pace with fellow 2015 first-rounder Connor McDavid‘s scoring this year after missing the start of last season with a high ankle sprain. In addition to ruining Jack’s chance to shine for all 82 games, his injury was also a major contributor to the Buffalo Sabres’ slow start that potentially cost them their first postseason appearance since 2011. And the fact that Eichel had to watch his buddies Auston Matthews and McDavid in the playoffs last season was surely his motivator this offseason. Just watching a few preseason games, Jack looks faster and smoother this than he did last year.

Eichel was very open about how he missed out on  a $1 million bonus for his points-per-game percentage last season. Jack had 57 points in 61 games played, but he hovered around one point-per-game for most of the season before finishing the season in a slump to fall short of his goal. After signing an 8-year, $10 million AAV Tuesday and with the potential to assume captaincy of this Sabres team and lead them to the playoffs, I bet Eichel will earn every cent of his bonus this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

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.

NHL Schedule Analysis

Welcome to Down the Frozen River’s first-ever attempt at offering some schedule analysis of the upcoming NHL season.

I know what you’re thinking: these types of columns are usually associated with the NFL and not the NHL – or any other league, for that matter, where all teams play at least once per season. But when and where different clubs appear on the  schedule can still play a big role in a team’s success. An important home stand or an ill-timed extended road trip can determine if a club is a buyer or seller at the trade deadline, make or break a squad’s chances for playoff qualification in March or affect seeding in April.

For starters, I’d like to explain how I approach the season. Maybe it’s my varying degrees of affection for the NFL (the only other Big Four league in the United States that uses bye weeks), but I view a campaign in thirds.

Thirds?

Yes, thirds. They may not be perfect thirds, but each section takes on its own characteristics. Take a look at how the NFL arranges its 16-game, 17-week season. For example, during the 2017 season, the NFL’s byes will begin in Week 5 and extend to Week 11, effectively cutting the season into approximate thirds: (1) Weeks 1-4 featuring no byes, (2) Weeks 5-11 and (3) Weeks 12-17 (Week 12 corresponds with American Thanksgiving and the following Sunday/Monday, just to put things in perspective).

Now lets take that approach to the 2017-’18 NHL season, a campaign featuring 82 games for each of its 31 clubs. With the regular season beginning October 4, most teams will play approximately 21 games before American Thanksgiving, another 41 before the trade deadline and 20 to close out the season.

Pretty close to thirds, right? Well, maybe it’s fourths but the middle two are combined… Whatever. My degree isn’t in math.

But regardless of what they are, what do they mean?

Well, if you buy into the stat that teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving qualify for the postseason over 75 percent of the time, that proves how important a quick start can be. If nothing else, it is certainly an early barometer of which teams are good and which should already be making plans for the 2018-’19 campaign.

Speaking of plans, that leads us to the second part of the season. It involves Christmas Break, the Winter Classic, bye weeks (more on those in a minute) and, of course, the All-Star Weekend in Tampa. Those are all fun and exciting, but most important are the transactions between clubs at this time, as contenders try to shore up chinks in their armor and the lesser clubs (*cough* Colorado *cough*) prepare for the future. This almost ho-hum, business-as-usual state of play is status quo for most of the season, which makes sense why this section is double the games of the other two phases of the year.

Then comes the final push. With the exception of the playoffs, this is some of the most exciting hockey of the season – night in, night out. Almost every game matters not only for playoff qualification and seeding, but also for fully integrating those deadline acquisitions before April 7,  the final day of the regular season, comes to a close.

Having more or less games in comparison to the rest of the league in any of the three sections can have its positives and negatives, but they’re impossible to predict given the unpredictability of hot or cold streaks, injuries and even the weather issues the league has had to deal with the past few years.

Another thing to keep in mind is the still relatively new change to the schedule: the addition of bye weeks. Making their debut only a season ago, the league has done a little tweaking to when each teams’ breaks occur on the calendar.

Last year, the first bye weeks began as early as New Year’s Day when the Islanders and Penguins began their five- and seven-day breaks, respectively, but Anaheim – the last club to take its 2017 hiatus – did not complete its vacation until early March.

What resulted was just over two months of action where fans had to keep track of which clubs had already taken their breaks and which hadn’t and trying to calculate how that affected the standings.

Sound like too much effort? Don’t worry, the league thought so too. This year, all bye weeks will take place in the span of two weeks in January, just before the All-Star Break.

I’m intrigued by this decision. With last year’s setup, the volume of games in a given week did not seem to change enough to be noticeable – which is good. Everybody wants to watch games all the time. But as I mentioned before, 2017’s situation required media, fans and teams to stay on top of which sides had or had not taken their week off.

Although condensing the bye week-schedule resolves that problem, it may also create a lull in the season only two weeks after Christmas Break and a week before the All-Star Break by having only 15 teams active at a time, potentially making January an overall anemic month. We’ll have to wait and see if that is the case, but if my prediction proves correct the NHL might have to find a happy medium between the two formats.

Perhaps the original reason the league condensed the bye week schedule was to account for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, but that is no longer the case as the NHL has elected not to release its players to their national federations for the February 10-25 tournament. Though some players have said they intend to participate in the tournament regardless of the NHL’s decision to abstain (whether they actually do or not remains to be seen), everyone’s favorite international tournament will certainly have a different flair – especially involving the rosters of usual favorites: Canada and the USA.

The last final major date on the calendar is always the previously hinted at trade deadline. This year, the deadline is scheduled for February 26 at the usual 3 p.m. Eastern time. Like most Mondays, the schedule is fairly light that evening with only five contests taking place (Washington at Columbus, Philadelphia at Montréal, Toronto at Tampa Bay, Vancouver at Colorado and  Vegas at Los Angeles).

After last year’s Cody McLeod episode that featured him fighting and scoring against the Avalanche only a day after being being traded from that very team (he didn’t even leave Denver, instead meeting up with the Predators when they arrived in town), I’m looking forward to even more excitement at this deadline.

For those that enjoy the days where every team is in action, I regret to inform you that the addition of Vegas has made that impossible. Instead, you’ll have to settle for dates that feature 15 contests and leave one club inactive.

Five such days exist this season: October 7 (first Saturday of the season), November 22 (day before American Thanksgiving), December 23 (day before Christmas Eve), January 25 (day before the All-Star Break) and April 7. On those dates, don’t expect to catch Boston, St. Louis, Calgary, Los Angeles or Pittsburgh – respectively – as they’ll be just as glued to their televisions as you will be, taking in all the day’s action.

ANAHEIM DUCKS – Campbell Cup runner-up, 105 points

Don’t tell anybody, but the Ducks have won the Pacific Division for five straight seasons. The main reason? An impressive 29-8-4 record at the Pond last season. But don’t let that distract you from a blemish growing in the Ducks’ armor: the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead they’re only 17-15-9 outside Orange County. That road trip to end November just so happens to occur right after Edmonton finishes a five-game home stand, meaning Anaheim may be forced to hold serve within the Pacific Division in an uncomfortable position.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (November 7-19)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 25-December 5)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. New Jersey, at Calgary, at Winnipeg, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Colorado, vs. Minnesota, vs. Dallas and at Arizona

ARIZONA COYOTES – 28th, 70 points

Remember in high school when the football team’s weakest opponent always aligned with homecoming? Keep that in mind when you realize that the Coyotes get to help the Golden Knights open T-Mobile Arena. Also keep in mind Arizona was 12-24-5 away from home last year.

BYE WEEK: January 7-11 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 17 days (February 15-March 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in nine days (March 21-29)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Buffalo, at Carolina, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, at Vegas, at Los Angeles, vs. St. Louis, at Calgary, at Vancouver and vs. Anaheim

BOSTON BRUINS – eliminated in first round, 95 points

Usually, rivalry series are supposed to take place over the course of an entire season. Instead, the NHL has elected to schedule all four matchups of one of its premier rivalries in the span of seven weeks, including three meetings in eight days. The Bruins should be relatively happy though, as they’ll get their bye week to prepare for their first visit to the Bell Centre and the Canadiens will have games in Washington and Brooklyn the night before their January 20 and March 3 matchups, respectively, while the Bruins get the nights off.

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (February 17-25)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (February 27-March 10)

LAST 10 GAMES: at St. Louis, at Dallas, at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Florida, at Philadelphia, at Tampa Bay, at Florida and vs. Ottawa

BUFFALO SABRES – 26th, 78 points

Some teams simply struggle on the road. The Sabres were one of those squads last year, amassing only a 13-22-6 record away from Upstate New York. Though a four-game trip in early December doesn’t seem too taxing on the surface, Buffalo will be hard pressed to come back with more than two points as it’ll visit Pittsburgh (December 2), Colorado (December 5), Chicago (December 8) and St. Louis (December 10) before returning home to host Ottawa.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (December 2-10)

BYE WEEK: January 12-17 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (March 10-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Arizona, vs. Montréal, at NY Rangers, at Toronto, vs. Detroit, at Nashville, at Toronto, vs. Ottawa, at Tampa Bay and at Florida

CALGARY FLAMES – eliminated in first round, 94 points

If only one team from the Western Conference gives up its playoff spot this season, I’d bet the house on it being the Flames. Last year’s side had an unimpressive 24-17-0 home record, including a 4-7-0 start over the first two months at the Saddledome. In a cruel bit of irony, the Flames’ longest home stand begins the last weekend of October, so Glen Gulutzan will need to get his troops in order in a hurry to avoid another backwards-step season similar to 2015-16.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 27-November 13)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 15-25)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, vs. Columbus, vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Winnipeg and vs. Vegas

CAROLINA HURRICANES – 21st, 87 points

In terms of off-season moves, last year’s Predators are this year’s Hurricanes. And, just like last year, everyone will be watching the Canes’ first few games to see if their new additions will be an immediate success. Carolina will certainly be put to the test in those contests, as their opening five matchups are against Minnesota (October 7), Columbus (October 10), Winnipeg (October 14), Edmonton (October 17) and Calgary (October 19). As long as Carolina can head to its sixth game in Dallas with at least five points on the table, I have no doubt the squad can come together and be a real threat in the Metropolitan Division.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (December 5-15)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 15 days (January 30-February 13)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Ottawa, vs. Ottawa, at New Jersey, at Washington, vs. NY Rangers, at Florida, at Philadelphia and vs. Tampa Bay

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – Central Division Champion, 109 points

The Blackhawks have not missed the playoffs since 2008, and I don’t expect that to change this year. That being said, they’ll be tested early and often this year, starting with their first eight games – all against 2017 postseason clubs. In particular, Chicago will have October 14 circled on its calendar, as it represents an opportunity for the Hawks to avenge getting swept by the Predators in April.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 14 days (December 21-January 3)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (January 10-24)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. St. Louis, vs. Colorado, vs. Vancouver, at NY Islanders, vs. San Jose, vs. Winnipeg, at Colorado, at St. Louis, vs. St. Louis and at Winnipeg

COLORADO AVALANCHE – 30th, 48 points

If only the schedule was the only thing holding the Avalanche back from finding success. Instead, their last five games represent a gimme two points for Chicago (March 30), Anaheim (April 1), Los Angeles (April 2), San Jose (April 5) and St. Louis (April 7) – all teams that will be finalizing either a qualification push or establishing their seeding.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (December 27-January 6)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (January 22-February 3)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Chicago, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Vegas, at Vegas, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Chicago, at Anaheim, at Los Angeles, at San Jose and vs. St. Louis

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – eliminated in first round, 108 points

After last year’s dominant performance at the midway point of the season, Columbus won’t be taking any by surprise this campaign – especially with Artemi Panarin, 2016’s Calder Memorial Trophy winner, on the squad. The Jackets face an interesting schedule that doesn’t feature an extended West Coast trip in exchange for any home stand of much worth – their longest stay in Ohio is a measly nine days early in the season with only four games played. But, should this squad keep last year’s positive energy rolling through the summer and cash in on their frequent flyer miles, they could be the most prepared of any for a lengthy postseason and all the travel associated with it.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in nine days (October 19-27)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Three games in five days – 2x (November 2-6; March 27-31)

BYE WEEK: January 13-17 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Boston, at NY Rangers, vs. Florida, vs. St. Louis, at Edmonton, at Calgary, at Vancouver, vs. Detroit, vs. Pittsburgh and at Nashville

DALLAS STARS – 24th, 79 points

A season ago, Dallas was a horrendous 12-24-5 away from the American Airlines Center. That’s what makes a potential late-season playoff push daunting, as the end of March has the Stars departing the Lone Star State for an Eastern road trip that also bizarrely includes a visit to Winnipeg in the middle. As if the travel wasn’t scary enough, all five of the Eastern opponents qualified for the playoffs last year, so Dallas would be very wise to take advantage of a fairly easy October schedule (includes Vegas, Detroit, Colorado twice, Arizona twice and Vancouver) to pad themselves some points in the standings ahead of time.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 16 days (December 29-January 13)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (March 11- 20)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Winnipeg, at Washington, vs. Boston, vs. Vancouver, vs. Philadelphia, at Minnesota, vs. Minnesota, at San Jose, at Anaheim and at Los Angeles

DETROIT RED WINGS – 25th, 79 points

Without even acknowledging the Red Wings’ roster troubles, they’re going to be hard pressed to get back into the playoffs this year given their extended trip away from Little Caesars Arena (that’s still weird to type) at the trade deadline. Between February 25 and March 18, Hockeytown will come to life only once when the Wings host Vegas on March 8. That contest splits what could have been a 10-game, 22-day road trip against steep competition into perfect halves, just for the Wings to get back on a plane to Columbus for another road game the next day.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (November 11-22)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days – 2x (February 25-March 6; March 9-18)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, vs. Washington, at Toronto, at Montréal, vs. Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Ottawa, at Columbus, vs. Montréal and vs. NY Islanders

EDMONTON OILERS – eliminated in second round, 103 points

As if the Oilers weren’t already poised for greatness, their schedule is arranged in a way that they should be competing for the top seed in the Western Conference. Edmonton has three five-game home stands spread throughout its schedule, including one right after the Oil’s six-day bye week that also includes the All-Star Weekend. Add in the fact that their longest road trip is behind them by Thanksgiving and you find a team prepared for anything or anyone that makes the mistake of wandering into Rogers Place.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (November 18-26)

BYE WEEK: January 14-19 (six days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Carolina, at Ottawa, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Anaheim, vs. Columbus, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Minnesota, vs. Vegas and vs. Vancouver

FLORIDA PANTHERS – 23rd, 81 points

Florida opens up its season with a home-and-home series against Governor’s Cup rival Tampa Bay before hosting St. Louis and visiting Pittsburgh. It’s a tough start to what many expect to be another disappointing season for the Panthers, especially giving their awful 19-19-3 record in Sunrise a season ago.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days – 2x (December 11-19; February 12-20)

BYE WEEK: January 13-18 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (February 22-March 4)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Columbus, vs. Arizona, at NY Islanders, at Toronto, at Ottawa, at Boston, vs. Carolina, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston and vs. Buffalo

LOS ANGELES KINGS – 22nd, 86 points

Especially for a club that missed out on the playoffs last year, there is nothing more exciting than seeing the Avalanche twice in the last 17 days of the season. Add in the fact that the Kings also drew Arizona in that stretch and the Kings could be a well-rested club in the first round of the playoffs – if they qualify.

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 12 days (February 9-20)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (March 1-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, at Colorado, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary, vs. Arizona, at Anaheim, vs. Colorado, vs. Minnesota and vs. Dallas

MINNESOTA WILD – eliminated in first round, 106 points

On the fifth day of Christmas, the Scheduler gave to Minny… a tough, nine-game stretch!

Yes, I’m pretty proud of that.

In all seriousness, the Wild are certainly going to be looking forward to the three-day holiday break, as it will signal an end to the nine-game run of playing against eight playoff teams from a season ago. The gauntlet starts on December 8 in Anaheim, followed by a contest in San Jose on December 10 before returning home to host Calgary (December 12), Toronto (December 14) and Edmonton (December 16). The Wild take back to the road to play the Blackhawks (December 17), Senators (December 19), Panthers (Decmber 22) and Lightning (December 23) before hanging up their skates in exhaustion for a few days.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (October 24-November 4)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (December 17-23)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Los Angeles, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, at Nashville, vs. Dallas, at Dallas, vs. Edmonton, at Anaheim, at Los Angeles and at San Jose

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS – Atlantic Division champion, 103 points

March is looking like its going to be a taxing month on the Canadiens, a club that could lose control of a division its won twice in the past three seasons. After the Habs close out their season two-and-a-half month series with rival Boston on March 3, they’ll have to clean up a six-game road trip that involves visits to Tampa (March 10) and Columbus (March 12), host the Penguins (March 15), travel to Toronto (March 17), Pittsburgh (March 21) and Buffalo (March 23), host the Capitals (March 24) and travel to Pittsburgh again (March 31). That’s quite a gauntlet for an aging defense.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (November 7-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 15 days (December 16-December 30)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Florida, at Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Washington, vs. Detroit, at Pittsburgh, vs. New Jersey, vs. Winnipeg, at Detroit and at Toronto

NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Campbell Cup winner, 94 points

Now that the Predators have cemented themselves as one of the big players in the NHL, they’ll need to back up last year’s postseason performance with a big target on their backs. That’ll be no more apparent than in their last 10 games (see below). With the exception of Florida, all of those clubs could be fighting for a playoff spot, making Nashville’s efforts to improve its seeding a difficult affair.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (November 1-7)

BYE WEEK: January 10-15 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in eight days (January 16-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, vs. Minnesota, vs. San Jose, vs. Buffalo, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at Washington and vs. Columbus

NEW JERSEY DEVILS – 27th, 70 points

Sometimes the scheduler has a cruel way of making a team a whipping post. That is the Devils’ fate over their last dozen games of the season. It’ll be no surprise that Jersey is solidly out of playoff contention by that time, but they’ll be squaring off with at least 10 teams (they play the Penguins twice) potentially in desperate need of two points to solidify a playoff spot or seed, which will make a tough season even harder for Jersey fans. Keep your heads up though, folks! Hopefully Nico Hischier can lead you back to the Promise Land!

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (December 15-29)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 14 days (March 10-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, at Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Carolina, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. NY Islanders, at Montréal, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Toronto and at Washington


NEW YORK ISLANDERS – 17th, 94 points

A year ago, the Islanders missed out on a playoff spot by only a point even though they ended their campaign on a six-game winning streak. The main reason? A slow, 8-10-4 start to the season (specifically a 1-6-1 road record through November) that eventually cost Jack Capuano his job. Surely Doug Weight is aware of this, so I expect him to have his club prepared for their California trip a week into the season. If the Isles aren’t up to snuff, Garth Snow may start fielding calls early.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (October 11-19)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (December 16-27)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Chicago, vs. Florida, at Ottawa, vs. Toronto, at New Jersey, vs. Philadelphia, vs. NY Rangers and at Detroit

NEW YORK RANGERS – eliminated in second round, 102 points

There’s some mean scheduling going on in the Metropolitan Division this season, and that is no more apparent than with the Rangers. The Blueshirts play their last regular season game at Madison Square Garden on March 30, a full eight days before their season finale in Philadelphia. Then again, is any team better prepared to complete its playoff push wearing white than New York? Last season, the Rangers won an impressive 27 games beyond the shores of Manhattan – three more than Chicago, the second-best road team. Making the four-game road trip even less frightening, the Rangers will still be able to sleep in their own beds for at least six of those nights as two of the games are against Jersey and the Islanders.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (October 14-26)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (March 31-April 7)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Columbus, at Philadelphia, vs. Buffalo, vs. Washington, at Washington, vs. Tampa Bay, at Carolina, at New Jersey, at NY Islanders and at Philadelphia

OTTAWA SENATORS – Prince of Wales Trophy runner-up, 98 points

And the winner of the second annual bye week lottery is… the Ottawa Senators! For being runner-up for the Prince of Wales Trophy a season ago, the Sens earned the longest bye week of any club in the league by at least a day. The vacation will be especially useful for the Senators, as they’ll be able to effectively prepare for their imposing five games before the All-Star Break: vs. St. Louis, vs. Toronto, at Minnesota, at St. Louis and vs. Boston.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (October 17-26)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 14 days (November 29-December 12)

BYE WEEK: January 11-17 (seven days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Carolina, at Carolina, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Florida, at Detroit, vs. Winnipeg, at Buffalo, at Pittsburgh and at Boston

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – 19th, 88 points

It seems someone within the Flyers organization offended the schedule maker in the last year, because they have the unfortunate predicament of starting the season on a four-game Western road trip, culminating with a visit to Bridgestone Arena against the current owners of the Campbell Cup, the Nashville Predators. But every cloud has a silver lining, and Philly’s is twofold: not only is that (tied for) the club’s longest road trip, but they also come home to a nice long home stand.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (October 4-10)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 11 days (October 14-24)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Washington, at Detroit, vs. NY Rangers, at Pittsburgh, at Dallas, at Colorado, vs. Boston, at NY Islanders, vs. Carolina and vs. NY Rangers

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – Stanley Cup Champion, 111 points

At this point, I think the Penguins are only concerned with what day the Stanley Cup Finals begin. For those wanting to dig a little bit deeper, we need to look no further than Pittsburgh’s first five games of the season against clubs with playoff aspirations, including one that may or may not feel as if it was robbed of a goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals (*hint* they definitely were).

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 28-November 4)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (December 2-11)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, vs. New Jersey, vs. Philadelphia, at Detroit, at New Jersey, vs. Montréal, vs. Washington, at Columbus and vs. Ottawa

SAN JOSE SHARKS – eliminated in first round, 99 points

The Sharks have home stands aplenty throughout their schedule – but the best one may not be the one you’re thinking of. Sure, they get to spend the first half of March in the Bay Area and play six games, but I expect Brent Burns‘ club is licking its chops even more about its opening five games. Over the first two weeks of the season, San Jose hosts Philly, LA, Buffalo, the Islanders and Montréal – four teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs and one that fell in the first round. If the Sharks can find their rhythm early, they can carry that momentum into their Eastern road swing and try to stake their claim in the Pacific Division.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (October 20-28)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (February 27-March 12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. New Jersey, vs. Vegas, vs. Calgary, at Chicago, at St. Louis, at Nashville, at Vegas, vs. Dallas, vs. Colorado and vs. Minnesota

ST. LOUIS BLUES – eliminated in second round, 99 points

The Blues’ biggest games every year are against Chicago, and 2018 will be no different. This year the matchup earns added importance as the series is backlogged in the season schedule. Game 80 for both teams will take place at Scottrade Center (soon to be the Artist Venue Formerly Known as Scottrade Center), followed only two days later by another contest at the United Center. Given the fact that first and second place in the Central Division has been separated by an average of only 2.75 points over the last four seasons, first round home ice – and maybe even a banner – could be on the line.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 11 days (November 21-December 1)

BYE WEEK: January 10-15 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in 10 days (March 3-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Boston, vs. Vancouver, at Columbus, vs. San Jose, at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Washington, vs. Chicago, at Chicago and at Colorado

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – 18th, 94th

As exciting as hosting the All-Star festivities is, there’s always one negative repercussion that sometimes gets overlooked: the extended time away from home. To allow arena staff and the NHL to prepare a venue for the event – and then return it to its original state – the Lightning will have to make two four-game road trips, before and after the event. That being said, they’ll be handsomely compensated for their time away from Amalie Arena with a long eight-game home stand for almost the entirety of March. But don’t mark those as wins yet, Bolts fans: six of those eight teams qualified for the playoffs last year.

BYE WEEK: January 12-17 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Eight games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 18 days (March 3-20)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at NY Islanders, at New Jersey, vs. Arizona, at Boston, at NY Rangers, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, vs. Buffalo and at Carolina

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – eliminated in first round, 95 points

Remember last season when the Maple Leafs finally clinched their playoff spot in their penultimate game? That may be a bit harder to do this year as Toronto has only 18 contests following the trade deadline, tied with Anaheim for the lowest total over that stretch of time. Instead, Mike Babcock’s club will have to get their work done early this year with 23 games before Thanksgiving. Given Auston Matthews‘ four-goal debut a season ago, something tells me that won’t be too big a task.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 12 days (December 20-31)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (January 2-16)

BYE WEEK: January 11-15 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Tampa Bay, at Nashville, vs. Detroit, vs. Buffalo, vs. Florida, at NY Islanders, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, at New Jersey and vs. Montréal

VANCOUVER CANUCKS – 29th, 69 points

Last season, Vancouver went a measly 12-26-3 away from Rogers
Arena, the second-worst road record in the league. That’s what makes January so frightening for the Canucks, even if their bye week occurs in the middle of their seven-game road trip. If Vancouver can survive that and is still in the playoff hunt at the end of March, it has a tough five-game home stand that should either more than properly prepare it for the playoffs or allow the squad to set up their April 8 tee times early.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days – 2x (October 26-November 6; January 23-February 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 16 days (January 6-21)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vegas, at Chicago, at St. Louis, at Dallas, vs. Anaheim, vs. Edmonton, vs. Columbus, vs. Vegas, vs. Arizona and at Edmonton

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

What better way to build quick interest in the NHL’s newest market than by having not one seven-game home stand in its debut season, but two? The first should certainly be the more exciting of the two, as four of the Golden Knights’ seven opponents failed to make the playoffs a season ago. The better Vegas capitalizes on this …ahem… golden opportunity, the better its chance of achieving the club’s primary on-the-ice objective: finishing ahead of Colorado.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 10-27)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (January 30-February 8)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Vancouver, at San Jose, at Colorado, vs. Colorado, vs. Arizona, vs. St. Louis, vs. San Jose, at Vancouver, at Edmonton and at Calgary

WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Presidents’ Trophy winner, 118 points

Washington’s roster may have taken a hit, but that doesn’t mean the Capitals’ goal has changed. The first four games on their schedule should give us a good impression of what to expect from them this year, as they’ll visit Ottawa, host Montréal, travel to Tampa Bay and host Pittsburgh – four quality sides in seven days that also have their eyes on the postseason.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (November 30-December 8)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (December 19-27)

BYE WEEK: January 13-17 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Dallas, at Detroit, at Montréal, at NY Rangers, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Carolina, at Pittsburgh, at St. Louis, vs. Nashville and vs. New Jersey

WINNIPEG JETS – 20th, 87 points

After the All-Star festivities in Tampa have died down, make sure to turn your attention to Manitoba where Patrik Laine and the Jets could dominate the month of February. The club that missed the playoffs by only seven points a season ago will play 12 games before the trade deadline, the first 10 of which will be at The Phone Booth. If Winnipeg can’t improve on last year’s 22-18-1 home record over that stretch, it could signal an early end for the Jets’ quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

BYE WEEK: January 14-19 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: 10 games in 22 days (January 30-February 20)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (March 4-13)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Los Angeles, vs. Anaheim, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, at Chicago, at Toronto, at Ottawa, at Montréal, vs. Calgary and vs. Chicago

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round– May 9

Unknown-6New York Rangers Logo

 

 

 

 

Ottawa Senators at New York Rangers – Game 6

It’s been a decade, but the Ottawa Senators are back in the Eastern Conference Final coming off a 4-2 victory against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. Erik Karlsson had the game winning goal and Craig Anderson made 37 saves on 39 shots faced in the win for a .949 save percentage, while Henrik Lundqvist racked up 22 saves on 25 shots against for an .880 SV% in the loss.

Ottawa defeated New York in six games and will face the winner of Wednesday night’s Game 7 action between the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the next round.

Mike Hoffman (4) kicked things off with the game’s first goal under five minutes into the 1st period. Hoffman tipped in a shot from the point and completely changed the direction of the puck past a stunned Lundqvist on the glove side. Karlsson (11) and Clarke MacArthur (3) had the assists on Hoffman’s goal.

The Senators made it a two-goal lead at 14:44 of the 1st period on a wrist shot goal from Mark Stone (4). In keeping with the night’s trend, Stone’s twine seeking missle found the back of the net past Lundqvist’s glove side. MacArthur (4) and Chris Wideman (3) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Stone’s goal.

After trailing 2-0 in the 1st period, New York was eager to respond in the 2nd period and get on the scoreboard.

Former Senator – turned Ranger as a result of this offseason’s one-for-one trade for Derick BrassardMika Zibanejad (2) scored on a breakaway that was set up by Mats Zuccarello (3), with the other assist going to Nick Holden (2) at 13:32 of the 2nd period. Zibanejad made it a one-goal game as the Rangers now trailed, 2-1 with less than seven minutes to go in the second frame.

It would not remain a one-goal game for long, however, as the Senators were quick to respond on a rush after both teams swapped chances at each end of the ice. Bobby Ryan skated in towards the left side of the goal before dropping a no-look backhand pass to Erik Karlsson (2) who pocketed his 2nd goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs on the short side of Lundqvist. Ryan (5) and Anderson (1) had the assists on the goal that made it, 3-1 Ottawa.

Just 53 seconds into the 3rd period Chris Kreider (3) made it a one-goal game once again with Zibanejad (7) and Brendan Smith (4) collecting the helpers. It wouldn’t be until 19 minutes later in the final period of regulation until the scoreboard would read something other than 3-2.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau (7)– undeniably the star of the series, aside from Karlsson’s Conn Smythe worthy postseason run so far– fired home the empty net goal at 19:53 of the 3rd period, sealing a 4-2 win for Ottawa in both Game 6 and in the series. Stone (2) had the lone assist on the goal.

The Senators advanced to their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2007 (the same year they made their one and only Stanley Cup Final appearance). Tuesday night’s victory also marked the third time in franchise history (2003, 2007) that the Sens have made the third round of the postseason.

This will be Ottawa head coach, Guy Boucher’s first Eastern Conference Final appearance since his days as the Tampa Bay Lightning head coach in a thrilling seven game series in 2011 against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins that postseason. Boucher is looking to redeem his one-win-away from a trip to the Stanley Cup Final coupon, pending an opponent that is to be determined.

Pittsburgh visits Washington on Wednesday night for a Game 7 matchup to determine who will face the Senators in the 2017 Eastern Conference Final. The winner of the Pittsburgh-Washington series will have home ice in the next round of the playoffs.

Wednesday night is chock full of Game 7 action for your viewing pleasure with Pittsburgh at Washington beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET and Edmonton at Anaheim at 10:00 p.m. ET. Both games can be viewed on NBCSN throughout the United States and on TVAS in Canada. Additionally, CBC will broadcast the Penguins-Capitals game while SN takes over for Oilers-Ducks.

On a positive note (if you’re not emotional right now, sorry, Rangers fans), NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced during the 1st intermission that the 10th edition of the league’s Winter Classic will feature the Rangers and the Buffalo Sabres at Citi Field on January 1, 2018.

April 6 – Day 169 – Pacific pandemonium

Buckle up for a wild Thursday.

There’s a dozen games on tap this evening, starting with four (Ottawa at Boston [NBCSN/RDS], Pittsburgh at New Jersey [SN360], the New York Islanders at Carolina and Winnipeg at Columbus) at 7 p.m. and another two (Tampa Bay at Toronto [TVAS] and St. Louis at Florida) half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Nashville at Dallas, with Minnesota at Colorado waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. A pair of contests (Vancouver at Arizona and Chicago at Anaheim [NBCSN]) see their start at 10 p.m., with our co-nightcaps – Calgary at Los Angeles (SN360) and Edmonton at San Jose – dropping the puck half an hour later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Ottawa at Boston: These clubs are tied at 94 points apiece for second and third place in the Atlantic Division.
  • Tampa Bay at Toronto: Tampa‘s postseason dreams are still alive, but they’ll be dashed with a loss this evening.
  • Chicago at Anaheim: Chicago has already clinched home ice throughout the Western Conference playoffs, but the Ducks still have some work to do within the Pacific Division.
  • Edmonton at San Jose: Speaking of the Pacific, these squads are tied at 97 points apiece for second and third place.

Of that list, the two tie-breaking games certainly stand out among the rest. It’s a tough choice between them, and I don’t think there’s really a wrong answer.

But…

Since Montréal has already clinched the Atlantic and both the Oilers and Sharks can still win their division, we have to turn our attention to The Tank for this episode Pacific Pandemonium!

 

No, not pandamonium. Pandemonium.

Though, come to think of it, that is a good representation of what is going on out West.

The top three teams in the Pacific are all over each other, and each still has a chance to advance into first place in the group. In fact, this panda .gif is so accurate, it even shows the fourth-place Flames leaving the tussle, as they’re already locked into one of the wild cards.

To continue with our panda metaphor, the bear at the bottom of the pile is certainly the 45-28-7 Sharks. Though tied with Edmonton on points, they’ve played one more game to put them in third place. Should they fall tonight, whether it be in regulation or extra-time, they will be unable to claim the top seed in the division.

The reason they’ve fallen from grace is their 1-8-0 record over the second half of March. As pointed out the last time we featured San Jose, it led the Pacific by five points at the beginning of the month. Now, the Sharks are simply fighting for home ice in the first round.

That article went on bemoaning the Sharks and their play of late. Somebody in San Jose‘s front office must have read it, because things have certainly changed since the beginning of April.

San Jose enters tonight’s game on a two-game winning streak (their first since March 12-14), and it’s all because 35-22-6 Martin Jones rediscovered his game. Over the second half of March, Jones posted an atrocious .862 save percentage and 3.85 GAA. Simply put, you’re not going to win many games that way.

Jones’ goaltending coach is Johan Hedberg, himself a former NHL goaltender.  Undoubtedly, Hedberg probably also went through tough patches like Jones did. Whatever he said or did with Jones has obviously worked, as the Sharks have their number one goalie back.

Jones hasn’t been just good in these last two games, he’s been great. He’s posted an incredible .969 save percentage and averaged only one goal-allowed, both numbers that are near the top of the league to start the month.

One of the best tests of a goalie is his performance against the power play, especially when the penalty kill in front of him manages only an average 80.9% kill rate on the campaign. Of all the goaltenders to have faced at least eight power play shots in the past four days, Jones is one of only six to have saved all of them.

There is still one remnant from the losing skid, though it’s no surprise given the Sharks‘ season success rate of only 16.7% on the power play that ties for sixth-worst in the NHL. San Jose has converted neither of its extra-man opportunities this month even though both Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski – the Sharks‘ best players on the man-advantage – have not missed any time.

With a game-in-hand on the Pacific-leading Ducks, 44-26-9 Edmonton still has its sights set on hoisting its first Division Champion banner since 1992. They can make a strong step in that direction with a win tonight.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Oilers did just that (win, that is), as they’ve earned a 9-2-0 record in their past 11 games – the third-best record in the league in that time.

The only thing better than Edmonton‘s record is its propensity for scoring the puck. 44 Oilers goals have been struck since March 14, the most in the league since then. I probably don’t need to tell you who’s behind most of those tallies, but would I be doing my job if I didn’t?

Simply put, Connor McDavid is really, really good at hockey. He’s registered 20 points in his past 11 games to pace the league since mid-March. What is truly impressive about McDavid’s late-season surge is that he’s calling his number more often. He’s only notched 29 goals on the season, a surprisingly low total since he’s effectively locked up his first Art Ross Trophy. But lately? He’s buried six of those tallies in the last 11 contests, a run that is matched by line-mate Patrick Maroon to co-lead the squad.

The Oil‘s offensive dominance continues on the power play, where it has converted an impressive 28.9% to rank sixth-best in the league since mid-March. McDavid is joined on this attack by Leon Draisaitl and Milan Lucic, as they’ve all notched five man-advantage points in the past 24 days. Lucic has been especially impressive during this run, as four of his points have been goals, which ties for the second-highest total in the NHL in that time.

Edmonton‘s penalty kill has also been excellent of late, as it’s properly defended and neutralized 85.7% of its infractions to tie for the sixth-best mark in the league since mid-March. Andrej Sekera deserves a lot of the credit for that success, as he’s blocked eight shots on the penalty kill in the past 11 games, which ties for second-most in the league.

The Oilers own a one-point lead in the series between these clubs this season, thanks to forcing overtime they first ran into the Sharks on December 23. These clubs last met March 30 in Edmonton, where the Oil bested San Jose 3-2 thanks to Maroon’s two-goal night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (75 points [eighth-most in the league] on 47 assists [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), McDavid (66 assists for 95 points [both lead the league] and a +25 [10th-best in the NHL]) and Cam Talbot (40 wins [third-most in the league], including seven shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL]) & San Jose‘s Burns (74 points [ninth-most in the league]) and Jones (35 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

I’m surprised: Vegas favors the Sharks to win tonight on a -125 line. While Jones’ resurgence have helped to cool my doubts about San Jose going into the playoffs, I still don’t think it’s enough to fend off the Oilers‘ dominant offense.

Hockey Birthday

  • Connie Broden (1932-2013) – This center did the unthinkable by the standards of today’s game: he played only six regular season games in the NHL – all with the Canadiens – and scored only three points, but he hoisted two Stanley Cups. Talk about an effective career!
  • Michel Larocque (1952-1992) – This goaltender was selected sixth-overall by Montréal in the 1972 NHL Amateur Draft, and that’s where he played most of his 11 seasons. Amassing a career 160-89-45 record, he won four Vezina Trophies and the 1979 Stanley Cup.
  • Olaf Kolzig (1970-) – The only South African to play in the NHL to date, this goaltender was the 19th-overall pick by Washington in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. All but one of his 17 seasons were spent with the Capitals, and he won the 2000 Vezina and 2006 King Clancy Memorial Trophies and played in two All-Star Games before retiring.
  • Hal Gill (1975-) – Another player to spend most of his career with the club that drafted him, this defenseman was selected by Boston in the eighth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He hoisted his lone Stanley Cup as a member of the Penguins‘ 2009 squad.
  • Ville Nieminen (1977-) – This NHL journeyman was picked by Colorado 78th-overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. In only seven seasons, he played with seven different clubs, but before being shipped off from the Avalanche, he helped them to the 2001 Stanley Cup.
  • Travis Moen (1982-) – Calgary selected this left wing in the fifth round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, but he never played a game with the Flames. Instead, he spent half of his 12-year career in Montréal. Another Stanley Cup winner, he was a member of the 2007 Ducks.
  • Clarke MacArthur (1985-) – Buffalo selected this left wing 74th-overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s in his fourth season with the Senators. Due to suffering a concussion during training camp, he finally made his season debut Tuesday.

With a two-goal shutout victory over the Rangers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, I present you your 2016-’17 regular season champion, the back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals!

With four prominent skaters healing up in the press box, the Rangers entered this contest over-matched. That being said, they managed to keep the Capitals off the board until only 5:11 remained in the second period. Alex Ovechkin (Second Star of the Game Evgeny Kuznetsov and Third Star Marcus Johansson) took advantage of a Brendan Smith holding penalty to score a deflected power play goal.

That was the only tally Washington managed before the second intermission, meaning the game’s lone insurance goal was struck in the third period. It came off Kuznetsov’s (Johansson and Justin Williams) stick, a wrist shot 5:42 into the frame.

First Star Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving all 24 shots he faced, leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 23-of-25 (92%).

With the final playoff pushes seeing their last breaths, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series are truly taking advantage of their home-ice advantage. They’ve improved their records in the series to 87-59-25 (seven points better than the road teams) by winning six of the last seven games.

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 31 – Day 163 – Keeping it in Alberta

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

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

Short list:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hockey Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 26 – Day 158 – Mats point

There’s only one more day before you have to go back to work. Make it worth it.

I assume that doing so requires hockey, so you have five games to choose from. Today’s action starts at 12:30 p.m. with Minnesota at Detroit (NBC), followed by Dallas at New Jersey at 5 p.m. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (NBCSN), followed an hour later by Vancouver at Winnipeg (SN). Finally, tonight’s nightcap drops the puck at 9 p.m. with the New York Rangers at AnaheimAll times eastern.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at Pittsburgh: If anything can spark a late playoff push for the Flyers, it’d be a victory in the Battle for the Keystone State.
  • New York at Anaheim: Seeing as Brandon Pirri only played nine regular season games with the Ducks last year, it’s hardly a momentous return. Yet, this contest promises to be the best of the day.

Since the FlyersPenguins rivalry’s zest is diminishing outside the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, let’s feature the Big Apple for the third-straight day.

 

Games between Eastern and Western Conference opponents are always weird this time of year. Sometimes both teams can be fighting for their playoff lives or scrapping for a better seed, while other teams are simply playing one of the remaining fixtures on their increasingly unimportant schedule.

Of course, the weirdest situation of all is the one we have tonight, when one club has little to nothing to gain from an inter-conference matchup since they are effectively locked into their playoff position, while the other is still fighting for the best of four spots available.

Tonight, the 46-25-4 Rangers own the role of the “little to gain, little to lose” character. They trail Pittsburgh by seven points for third place in the Metropolitan Division, and a dozen points separate them from the second wildcard.

This may be a weird metaphor, but I imagine New York as a retired elderly gentleman, sitting in a rocker in his screened-in porch. He does not care if it is hot and the bugs are out – he has a fan and the screen keeps the bugs away. He does not care if it rains – he will stay dry and appreciate the ambiance of the rain shower. He does as he wishes and prepares for the next thing he knows he has on his to-do list.

If that doesn’t give away that I live in the South, I don’t know what does.

For those wondering, the next thing for the Rangers to do is gel in anticipation of the playoffs. Of course, they’ve shown they can do that already this year – especially on offense, as their 235 goals is tied with Minnesota for the third-highest total in the NHL.

Mats Zuccarello has been on an absolute tear of late. If it weren’t for his pointless effort at New Jersey on Tuesday, the wing would be riding a seven-game point streak, including two games with two points. In fact, he’s been so impressive that he’s taken over New York‘s clubhouse points lead from J.T. Miller.

Of course, it would be unwise to ignore Michael Grabner. Though he hasn’t buried a goal since March 13, he still leads the squad with his 27 tallies. His lead has certainly slimmed during his dry spell, as he has only one more marker than Chris Kreider.

Much of the reason for Zuccarello’s surge has been his success on the power play. Since his hot streak has began, the Rangers‘ 29.4% power play ranks third-best in the NHL, and he’s been at the forefront of it all. The wing has earned four of his points with the man-advantage in this run, including two goals (both are the highest totals on the team during this stretch).

The one thing the Blueshirts have not been able to figure out all season has been their penalty kill. No matter what Alain Vigneault does, he cannot get his club to do any better than its 79.6% season kill rate – the eighth-worst in the league, and second-worst among clubs currently in playoff position.

Meanwhile, any result from tonight’s game can drastically effect 40-23-11 Anaheim‘s postseason. Currently, the Ducks are in a three-way tie with both Edmonton and San Jose atop the Pacific Division, and the Ducks win the games-played tiebreaker with their game-in-hand.

Since the Oilers and Sharks are both inactive this evening, that un-played contest takes place tonight and provides the opportunity to either take a true lead or drop the Anaheim to second place in the Pacific behind San Jose (the Ducks lead the season series against Edmonton 2-1-1, but have fewer regulation+overtime victories than the Sharks).

Defense is the name of the game on The Pond, as the Ducks have allowed only 179 goals against, which ties for third-fewest in the league. Usually, the crease has belonged to 23-16-8 John Gibson, but he’s been fighting a lower body injury for two weeks.

Instead, it’s presumed the Ducks will turn to 17-7-3 Jonathan Bernier, who currently has them riding a three-game winning streak. Since Gibson went down, Bernier has been in net for all of Anaheim‘s games and has allowed only nine goals against – tied for the fewest in the league in that time among the 14 goaltenders with six or more appearances. In addition, his .947 save percentage and 1.48 GAA over that stretch is second-best and tops in the NHL, respectively, among those 14 aforementioned netminders.

Part of the reason Bernier has been able to find such success is because his defense has stepped up to make his job easier on him. While Anaheim‘s blueline has been good for the entire season (their 29.5 shots-against-average is ninth-best in the NHL), they’ve allowed only 169 total shots to reach Bernier since Gibson went down, the lowest mark in the league.

Hampus Lindholm is certainly deserving of much praise for those solid results, but he’s joined by an unlikely aide: center Ryan Getzlaf. Both skaters have blocked 13 shots apiece since Gibson’s injury, and they’re joined by six others that have blocked at least five or more shots in that time. The entire squad is buying in and sacrificing their bodies for the greater good of the club, and their efforts are paying off in the win column.

More on Getzlaf: he actually has blocked the most shots all season among Western Conference forwards, and the third-most overall. Add in the fact that he has 55 takeaways this year, and we just might have ourselves a Frank J. Selke Trophy candidate.

Making the defense’s performance even more impressive, it has been put under additional strain to perform by the Ducks‘ power play. Instead of taking advantage of teams when they’re shorthanded, Anaheim has scored only one power play goal in the past two weeks for a 4.8% success rate – the second-worst mark in the NHL.

Though he leads the club in power play goals (seven) and co-leads in power play points (18, tied with Corey Perry), Ryan Kesler has not buried a goal with the man-advantage since December 4. That’s almost four months ago! If the Ducks are not careful, this man-advantage slump will, not can, bite them in the butt.

The Ducks made their annual trip to Madison Square Garden on February 7, but it was a visit they’d sooner forget. Between Grabner’s two-goal third period performance and Henrik Lundqvist‘s 43-save effort, it was all Anaheim could to do avoid a four-goal shutout by notching only one tally.

Some players to keep an eye on during tonight’s game include Anaheim‘s Getzlaf (48 assists [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and New York‘s Lundqvist (30 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]).

Anaheim is marked as a -140 favorite to win tonight, which is actually the narrowest line I’ve found in a quick search. The matchup tonight is simple: can the Ducks‘ defense shut down Zuccarello? If they can, they’re on their way to two points. If not, their remaining seven games just got even more important than they already were.

Hockey Birthday

  • Roger Leger (1919-1965) – A Quebec-native is never happier than when he’s playing for the Canadiens. That’s what this defenseman got to do for four of his five seasons in the league, though he must be one of the few Habs during the Original Six Era to retire without winning a Stanley Cup.
  • Ulf Samuelsson (1964-) – In comparison, this longtime Whalers defenseman played in the NHL for 16 seasons and twice hoisted the most coveted trophy in sports – though not with Hartford, of course. Instead, he was a member of both Penguins squads that etched their names into the Stanley Cup in the early 90s.
  • Michael Peca (1974-) – Selected by Vancouver 40th-overall in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, this center is similar to Samuelsson in the sense that he won one trophy twice, but it was the Selke Trophy instead of the Stanley Cup. Playing most of his 14-year career with Buffalo, he notched 217 points while wearing the blue-and-gold.
  • Jimmy Howard (1984-) – This goaltender was selected by Detroit with the 64th-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he’s played each and every one of his 396 career games in the league. In total, he’s earned a 197-121-54 record and made one All-Star Game appearance.

Every once in a while, a player refuses to lose a particular game. In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, that player was First Star of the Game Riley Nash, who scored both Bruins goals to lead them to a 2-1 victory over the Islanders.

What seemed to spur Nash was Third Star John Tavares‘ (Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson) snap shot with 9:55 remaining in the first period. It proved to be New York‘s lone goal of the game, but that was all the spark Nash needed. He buried an unassisted wrist shot only 36 seconds later to tie the game at one-all.

The draw held until the 4:12 mark of the third period when Nash (Dominic Moore) scored only his seventh tally of the season and sixth game-winner of his NHL career on a snapper.

Not all heroes wear capes, as Nash’s solid effort ended Boston‘s four-game losing skid and moved it into the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference.

Second Star Anton Khudobin earned the victory after saving 18-of-19 shots faced (94.7%), leaving the loss to Thomas Greiss, who saved 16-of-18 (88.9%).

It’s a perplexing situation, but road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a combined 81-56-23 record, which is three points better than the series’ hosts.