Tag Archives: San Jose

December 10 – Day 67 – Scoring is hard

After an action-packed Saturday, the NHL is pulling reigns back a bit this evening, as it has scheduled only four games to be played tonight.

In fact, most of that action starts at the same time, as three (Arizona at Chicago, Buffalo at St. Louis and Edmonton at Toronto [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) of the four contests drop the puck at 7 p.m. The last matchup of the night – Minnesota at San Jose – waits until 9 p.m. before getting underway. All times Eastern.

Originally, I was planning on commemorating D Niklas Hjalmarsson‘s first return to Chicago since being traded this offseason, but that is difficult to do while he is on injured reserve (I guess we’ll have to wait until next season). Instead, we’ll make the trip out to The Tank for what should be the best game of the night between the Sharks and Wild.

 

To put things lightly, life could be easier for both of these clubs. Let’s start with the 16-10-2 Sharks, who are scrapping with the 16-12-2 Flames and 15-12-4 Canucks for third place – not to mention trailing an expansion team for home ice in the playoffs –  in the Pacific Division.

The main thing San Jose has in its favor is an incredible defense. Allowing only 2.28 goals against-per-game, the Sharks are the second-best in the NHL in the statistic, which atones for the sins of their anemic offense that manages a fourth-worst 2.67 goals-per-game.

The primary way the Sharks are finding their defensive success is by keeping pucks off 11-7-1 G Martin Jones. San Jose has limited its goaltenders’ workloads to only 29.32 shots against-per-game (the second-fewest in the NHL). That effort has been spearheaded by D Justin Braun‘s 2.03 blocks-per-game, D Brent Burns‘ team-leading 33 takeaways and D Brenden Dillon‘s 2.85 hits-per-game.

But it’s not like Jones needs all that much help. He’s posted a .91 season save percentage and 2.41 GAA this year to rank (t)12th- and sixth-best, respectively, among the 37 netminders with at least 10 starts.

That all being said, it looks like San Jose is having a dream season in comparison to the Wild, who have yet to find consistent traction and officially jump into the Western Conference’s playoff picture.

Of course, Minnesota does not have the privilege of playing in the less intense Pacific Division, but that’s no excuse for an offense that manages only 2.92 goals-per-game, the 14th-fewest in the league.

The Wild have a real problem with creating depth scoring. There’s no doubt that second line C Eric Staal (10-13-23 totals) and first-liner W Jason Zucker (14-10-24) have been impressive, but F Mikael Granlund ranks third on the team in points with only 6-11-17 totals a year removed from his incredible 26-43-69 effort.

Until Minnesota can figure out a way to get Granlund back to form, I feel they’re going to continue to struggle. It’s for that reason that I think the Sharks are going to come away with the victory today.


No amount of hype could prepare us for such a competitive matchup in the DtFR Game of the Day, but the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to hold on for a 4-3 overtime victory at Amalie Arena over the Winnipeg Jets.

With the obvious exception of overtime, both clubs managed a goal-per-period to create an exciting, turbulent environment. That mood found its start at the 1:23 mark of the first period when F Andrew Copp (F Adam Lowry and F Brandon Tanev) buried a wrist shot to give Winnipeg an early lead. That advantage lasted until 63 seconds remained in the frame when F Yanni Gourde (First Star of the Game F Brayden Point and F Tyler Johnson) scored a power play tip-in to level the game at one-all.

Tampa Bay carried that positive energy into the second period, and finally earned its first lead of the night when Third Star D Mikhail Sergachev (Johnson and W Ondrej Palat) scored a wrister with 3:41 remaining in the frame. The game was once again leveled 1:23 later courtesy of a tip-in from birthday boy LW Kyle Connor (D Josh Morrissey and RW Blake Wheeler), setting the score at 2-2 going into the second period. Considering it was his 21st birthday, I’ll bet more than a few of his teammates bought him a beer after the game to celebrate.

The Bolts scored goals on both sides of the first intermission, so it is only logical that the Jets would match that effort around the second. Winnipeg took a 3-2 lead at the 7:02 mark of the frame courtesy of a wrister from Second Star W Nikolaj Ehlers (D Jacob Trouba and RW Patrik Laine), but the score was once again tied 1:49 later on a RW Nikita Kucherov (D Jake Dotchin and C Steven Stamkos) wrister. After that quick scoring spurt, both defenses clamped down to allow only a combined 14 shots in the third period.

For such a competitive game, it’s a surprise overtime didn’t last longer. However, Point (D Anton Stralman) was able to score a backhanded shot only 36 seconds into three-on-three play to earn Tampa the overtime victory.

Point’s goal was a result of some brilliant agility and puck control. After receiving Stalman’s pass at the red line, he deked around F Bryan Little to set up a one-on-one with G Connor Hellebuyck. Not content to simply fire a wrister at the netminder, he patiently waited and pulled the puck across the crease from Hellebuyck’s left to right before flipping a backhander between the goalie’s right arm and leg and into the back of the net.

G Andrei Vasilevskiy earned the victory after saving 17-of-20 shots faced (.85 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Hellebuyck, who saved 24-of-28 (.857).

This contest was the fourth-consecutive in the DtFR Game of the Day that required more than 60 minutes to determine a victor. With the hosts winning, they extend their record in the series to 38-22-7, 16 points better than the away sides.

DtFR Overtime: Where’s the Star Power?

Welcome to DtFR Overtime, where somebody on the most recent podcast offers some deeper thoughts on one of the points of discussion.

Today’s subject: Star power and the absence of it.

We all know the list of current NHL stars: LW Jamie Benn, D Brent Burns, C Sidney Crosby, G Braden Holtby, F Patrick Kane, D Erik Karlsson, G Henrik Lundqvist, C Auston Matthews, C Connor McDavid, W Alex Ovechkin, G Carey Price, G Jonathan Quick, C Steven Stamkos, D P.K. Subban, RW Vladimir Tarasenko, C John Tavares

OK, I think you get the idea.

But how important are these stars really? I mean, of the skaters listed above, they play an average of only 21 minutes – or barely over a third of a game.

While the top NHL teams put a strong value on depth scoring, I would argue that, over the course of a season, it is necessary for Team X’s star to be the best player on the ice for that team to have success.

It sounds basic, right?

It is, but even the clubs that seem to be built to withstand the unfortunately inevitable scoring droughts from its top players are struggling this season.

My first example is the 12-11-5 Chicago Blackhawks, a club that currently sits in 12th place in the Western Conference and is at risk of missing the postsesaon for the first time since the 2007-’08 campaign.

I brought up Kane in the list of stars earlier, but his team-leading 10-17-27 totals are not the reason Chicago finds itself on the outside looking in. Instead, this star-laden team is struggling to find leadership from its captain.

Getting outplayed by rookie F Alex DeBrincat‘s 11-9-20 effort, C Jonathan Toews has only 8-11-19 totals to his credit and is on track for the worst offensive production of his professional career. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Blackhawks have an 11-2-2 record when Toews finds his way onto the scorecard, but a 1-9-3 record when he doesn’t.

That was fun, especially for a fan of a Central Division team that hasn’t worn a lick of red since the 1997-’98 season. Let’s head east and examine another city where it looks like the local club is in an even more dire situation

Welcome to Ottawa, the national capital of Canada.  Expectations were high after forcing a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series with Pittsburgh back in May, but all the 9-11-6 Sens, who currently sit third-to-last in the conference, have done this season is disappoint.

To be fair, Karlsson at least has the excuse of an injury to partially explain his slump. The hard part in figuring out Karlsson’s 1-16-17 effort is that he’s mostly on track from a points-per-game standpoint. Given he missed the Sens’ first five games, his .81 points-per-game is, while not exemplary by his standards, still a solid output.

Unfortunately, this is where points can distract from goals. You probably noticed he only had one tally to his credit, which is where I think his team needs him most.

The 14-10-2 Sharks are facing a similar situation with their star defenseman Burns, who has managed only 1-11-12 totals in 26 games a year after posting 29-47-76 numbers to win the Norris Trophy. As such, San Jose does not have the solid footing in the standings it would like, as the Sharks are holding onto their second wild card position by winning only a games-played tiebreaker.

Now, I’m not going to sit here on my couch and pontificate about how to score a goal in the NHL against the 30-something best goaltenders in the world. I mean, I live in the South and can barely keep my skates underneath me the entire time I’m at the rink. But, I am going to say that Karlsson’s .05 goals-per-game for the season and Burns’ .04 is – you guessed it – the worst performances of their careers.

Last year, Karlsson scored 17 of the Sens’ 212 regular season goals. That may only be eight percent of the total, but Ottawa earned a 12-3-3 record when he personally put a goal on the scoreboard, including a perfect 2-0-0 record in the postseason. Similarly, Burns’ career-high 29 goals earned the Sharks an 18-7-1 record last season, though it might be of bigger note that Edmonton did not allow him to find the back of the net in their six-game first round matchup, the Sharks’ only playoff series of the 2017 postseason.

Now, don’t read this as all doom-and-gloom for these respective squads. All of these teams can get right back into the playoff discussion (yes, even Ottawa thanks to a weak Atlantic Division) or better cement their position in the tournament if their biggest players can simply rediscover their mojo.

Take for example Montréal, where as recently as two weeks ago it looked like the 13-13-3 Canadiens had never seen, much less used hockey sticks before. Then Price came back from his lower-body injury, and the Habs look better than ever.

Of course, things weren’t exactly peachy in Québec before Price took time off. In his 11 appearances before retreating to the press box, Price had managed only an .877 season save percentage and 3.77 GAA to earn a 3-7-1 record, forcing Habs fans and bloggers alike to wonder when exactly this injury occurred.

But since Price’s return on November 25, Price and the Habs have been almost unbeatable, as they’ve won five of their last six games with him in net. The goaltender himself has been extremely successful as well, as he’s posted a .94 save percentage and 1.67 GAA in that time.

But the turnaround hasn’t been simply in the defensive end. Even the offense is gelling now that its true leader is back (Sorry LW Max Pacioretty, but this is Price’s team. You’re captain by technicality), as success breeds success and positive energy. Since Price’s return, Montréal’s offense has managed a whopping 4.5 goals-per-game, highlighted by Saturday’s 10-1 shellacking of the Red Wings. Even taking out that major outlier, the Habs’ 3.4 goals-per-game is much better than the 2.32 goals-per-game they’d managed before Price’s return. This surge has propelled the Canadiens from sixth place in the Atlantic Division into third – a playoff spot.

Since we’re on the topic of Montréal and its stars and I already brought up Pacioretty, we might as well discuss my concerns over this team. Pacioretty is struggling something fierce right now. He’s only managed 8-8-16 totals so far this season, and is on pace for his worst professional season since his first two years with the Habs.

Unfortunately for Canadiens fans, this scoring skid is not limited to just this season. I don’t need to remind them of the magic disappearing act he performed in the playoffs against the Rangers, managing only a lone assist. In fact, since March 14 of last campaign, he’s managed only 10-14-24 totals in games that count (aka everything but the preseason).

While I belittled the letter Pacioretty wears on his sweater, he is still one of the leaders on this team. For the Habs to sustain this recent success, Pacioretty is going to need to snap out of his slump – even if it means he has to become a play-maker before resuming a goalscorer role.

Another team that has had more struggles than it would like is the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions. While they’ve had trouble finding depth scoring and are now facing even bigger goaltending issues than they had before, the 15-11-3 Penguins have held onto a playoff position for most of the year.

Now, the operative word here is ‘most.’ There was a point in late November when the Penguins had fallen outside the playoff picture, and – as you might guess from the other examples – I would pin a lot of the club’s struggles on Crosby.

It is very hard to point at a player that is contributing a point-per-game on the season and say he is not doing enough for his team. After all, isn’t this the same team that supposedly embodies the speed-based future of the sport while also trotting out RW Ryan Reaves onto the ice every game? Why can’t his lousy 1-2-3 totals be the problem?

And yet, it’s hard to ignore that Pittsburgh’s slump aligned almost perfectly with Crosby’s goal-scoring slump. Between October 21 and November 22, Crosby managed only 1-6-7 totals in 15 games, which led the Penguins to earning only a 6-7-2 record in that time.

You might say that 6-7-2 isn’t a terrible run while one of the league’s top players is on the schneid, and I’d agree if that team wasn’t in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. The Penguins also have the luxury of employing RW Phil Kessel and F Evgeni Malkin, who were able to keep the team mostly afloat with their combined 10-18-28 effort.

If that stat does nothing other than stress the importance of Crosby to his team, I don’t know what does. The fact that the Penguins were losing, or at least treading water, while two players created nearly 30 goals in 15 games is unbelievable.

Anyways, Crosby has rediscovered his scoring ways since then, and the Pens are all the better for it. Starting with November 24, the captain has earned 6-6-12 totals that are closer to what fans expect from him. As such, the Penguins have found their way back into the win column, earning a 4-2-0 record in spite of G Matthew Murray missing Pittsburgh’s last three games with a lower-body injury.

Of course, the Penguins are doing a great job of poking a hole in my argument by falling from third in the division back into the second wild card spot while Murray is healing, but I’m still going to hold firm that G Tristan Jarry has earned a 3-1-0 record filling in not because of his solid .926 season save percentage (though that doesn’t hurt), but because Crosby has scored a goal in every game but – you guessed it – Jarry’s one regulation loss.

Confidence – which I am led to believe is the word people are actually looking for when they discuss momentum in sports (I mean, “momentum” is technically mass x velocity, so the momentum of a sports team cannot change without either a plane or a player transaction) – is like hitting in baseball: it’s a contagious thing.

Star players are not star players simply because they can score or stop goals no one else can. Stars are stars because they can make those plays and make the athletes associated with them feel like they too can contribute to the ultimate goal and find wins and success.

Stars are leaders.

And that’s why stars have to perform their best. That’s why they have to have the best numbers on their team. It’s not to belittle the third and fourth liners, but it’s their success that should drive a team to achieve more.

Success breeds success.

In that same train of thought, leaders can’t create success from the rest of their team while they themselves are struggling to find their groove. Stars are stars because they find that motivation to excel within themselves, and then use that flame to light the others’ torches.

You might have noticed the thread that connects all of the players called out in this column: Toews, Karlsson, Burns, Pacioretty and Crosby are all captains. These players have been selected by their coaches and peers based not only on their undoubted skills, but also on their work-ethic and leadership abilities. They were honored with that distinction, so it is time for them to step up and serve the letter and crest on the front of their sweaters and get/keep their squads on track.

These teams are capable of winning; it just takes a little input from a star.

December 4 – Day 61 – They’re currently in line for the postseason, but…

For the second day in a row, the NHL has scheduled only four games in a row. While a limited schedule makes it easier to keep an eye on everything, it does make it a slow night for our fantasy teams, doesn’t it?

What’s really nice about tonight’s slate is that all four games have a different starting time, which should hopefully ensure that there’s at least one contest being actively played from 7 p.m. – when San Jose makes its yearly visit to Washington (NHLN) – until Philadelphia at Calgary, which drops the puck at 9 p.m., wraps up around midnight. Starting between those games are the New York Islanders at Florida at 7:30 p.m., followed by Boston at Nashville (SN/TVAS) half an hour later. All times Eastern.

The only game I had circled on my calendar since the start of the season is taking place in the Saddledome, as G Brian Elliott is making his return to Calgary – his home for the 2016-’17 season – but I can’t say that matchup gets me all that excited. Instead, I think we need to wander towards The Capital of the Free World.

 

Though both these clubs currently occupy playoff positions, I wouldn’t go so far as to assume they are two of the top 16 teams in the NHL.

I find that especially apparent with tonight’s visitors, the 14-9-2 Sharks. Even though they’re in third place in the Pacific Division, they sport an offense that manages a third-worst 2.56 goals-per-game, putting them in the same conversation as Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Buffalo, Detroit and Philadelphia in terms of offensive inefficiency – all teams currently sitting on the outside looking in at the tournament for the Stanley Cup if it started today.

Of course, having a winning record with an offense as bad as San Jose’s makes the defense look really, really good. In fact, it’s because the Sharks allow only 2.24 goals against-per-game (second in the NHL) that this team is able to thrive.

A major player in that effort is 10-6-1 G Martin Jones, who has managed a solid .926 season save percentage for a 2.23 GAA to rank sixth and fourth, respectively, in those statistics among the 34 goaltenders with at least 10 starts to their names.

But it’s not simply Jones. The Sharks’ physical defense has also been among the league’s strongest, allowing only 29.7 shots against-per-game to rank second-best in the NHL. Stand-out skaters include D Justin Braun (2.2 blocks-per-game), F Logan Couture (team-leading 27 takeaways) and D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits-per-game), but it’s the entire team’s commitment to excellence in their own zone that really makes this San Jose team a tough out.

Meanwhile, the best word to explain the 15-11-1 Capitals is “average” (we’ll be generous and not tack on any adverbs). Gone are the days of dominating both ends of the ice, as Washington manages the (t)13th-fewest goals (2.89 per game) while allowing the 12th-most against (3.07 per game).

If anyone is going to take the blame for Washington’s struggles, it’s not going to be its stars. W Alex Ovechkin has been stellar this season with his league leading 19 goals (ok, he’s tied for the with Tampa’s RW Nikita Kucherov), while F Evgeny Kuznetsov has been equally stellar on the second line with his 9-20-29 totals.

14-6-0 G Braden Holtby has also been solid, posting a .919 save percentage for a 2.63 GAA to rank (t)12th and 11th, respectively, among the group of 34 netminders mentioned when we discussed Jones.

Instead, what seems to be holding the club back is simply the absence of yesteryear’s stars, specifically those on the blueline. With the exception of D John Carlson and his stellar 2-18-20 totals, there are no defensemen contributing on the offensive end anymore.

Though D Kevin Shattenkirk has moved on to the Big Apple, I think the major reason for this decline is the departure of D Karl Alzner to Montréal. No, Alzner was never a major offensive threat: he managed only 19-98-117 totals in his nine seasons with the Caps (.2 points per game, 13 per campaign). But it’s the fact that Alzner can dominate the defensive zone almost single-handedly that allowed the offense – and his defensive partner – the freedom and versatility to take chances when they had the puck on offense.

Should the Capitals desire to hold on to their playoff spot, I bet they’ll find a way to bring in another solid defenseman of Alzner’s mold. Until then, the Caps are a living example of what can happen when you overpay too many players.

Apparently below average is enough to get by in the Eastern Conference right now, because Washington currently occupies seventh place in the conference and the second wild card position. That being said, I think Washington’s offense has enough in it to get past the Sharks’ vaunted defense and earn two points tonight.


The Dallas Stars didn’t skip a beat playing in back-to-back DtFR Game of the Days, as they beat the Colorado Avalanche 7-2 at the Pepsi Center.

Though it took him a moment to get going, the first period ended up being dominated by First Star of the Game F Tyler Seguin, who buried an unassisted backhanded shot with 5:16 remaining in the frame, followed 4:26 later (RW Alexander Radulov and Third Star D John Klingberg) by a tip-in to set the score at 2-0 going into the first intermission.

In my preview for this game, I commented on RW Mikko Rantanen scoring fewer goals since making the trip to Stockholm, Sweden. He apparently read the column (thanks for reading, Mikko), as he scored a wrist shot (F Nathan MacKinnon) 39 seconds into the second period to pull Colorado back within a goal.

C Jason Spezza (C Devin Shore and Klingberg) returned the two-goal advantage to the Stars 6:09 later with what proved to be the game-winning tally. For a contest clincher, it was far from an incredible marker, but more a reward for good work in the defensive zone. D Erik Johnson and Shore battled along the boards for a solid five seconds before the center was able to move the puck back to Klingberg in the left corner. When the defenseman returned the pass, Shore was off to the races, screaming up the boards before sliding a centering pass to Spezza, who redirected a the puck through G Jonathan Bernier‘s five-hole.

Another player I brought up in my preview was D Greg Pateryn, though it was for his efforts on the other end of the ice. This evening, he was rewarded for his hard work with his first goal of the season (Radulov and LW Jamie Benn), a slap shot scored at the 7:52 mark of the second period to set the score at 4-1. W Blake Comeau (W Matthew Nieto and F Carl Soderberg) was able to net a wrister with 7:15 remaining in the frame, but it proved to be the Avalanche’s final goal of the night.

Second Star RW Brett Ritchie (LW Curtis McKenzie), Shore and Ritchie (C Radek Faksa and D Esa Lindell) again for a second time provided the Stars’ three insurance goals in the final frame to set the 7-2 final score.

G Kari Lehtonen earned the victory after saving 25-of-27 shots faced (.926 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bernier, who saved five-of-nine (.556). Bernier was replaced by G Semyon Varlamov following Pateryn’s goal, who saved 16-of-18 (.889) for no decision.

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series seem to be finding their groove again, as they’ve earned points in three-consecutive games. That being said, they’ll need quite a few more wins to catch up with the 34-21-6 hosts, who lead the series by 14 points.

November 20 – Day 48 – Where’s the offense?

We’re only three days away from the all-important American Thanksgiving holiday! Every team (well, maybe not Arizona and Buffalo) will be working to pack as many points into these days as possible, which should make for some exciting action.

Said action is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. with three games (Columbus at Buffalo [SN1], Arizona at Toronto and Calgary at Washington [TVAS]), followed by a pair (Winnipeg at Nashville and New Jersey at Minnesota) an hour later. Finally, tonight’s nightcap featuring Anaheim at San Jose (SN) will drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Separated by only a point in the Pacific Division standings, there’s no way we’re missing a rivalry game pitting NorCal against SoCal. Off to the SAP Center with us!

 

Two teams undoubtedly working to maximize their points this week are the 9-7-3 Ducks and the 10-8-0 Sharks, as both are currently on the outside of the top-eight in the Western Conference.

Even though it’s currently riding a two-game winning streak, Anaheim’s offense has left much to be desired this season, as it ranks 11th-worst in the NHL by averaging only 2.84 goals-per-game. Of course, what should we expect from a team that is playing Derek Grant as its top-line center?

Grant is in the position he’s in due to the Ducks’ roster being absolutely devastated by injuries. RW Jared Boll, W Patrick Eaves, C Ryan Getzlaf, W Ondrej Kase and F Ryan Kesler are all on injured reserve, which has thrust immense pressure on F Rickard Rakell and W Corey Perry to keep Head Coach Randy Carlyle‘s machine running as smooth as possible. All things considered, they’ve both performed very well, as Rakell has scored a team-high seven goals (7-9-16 totals), thanks in large part to Perry’s club-leading 11 assists (3-11-14).

They’ve also received decent backup from second-liner F Andrew Cogliano, who provides .58 points-per-game, but it gets harder and harder to find depth scoring when young players like Grant, LW Nick Ritchie, F Kevin Roy and W Logan Shaw are being thrust onto the senior team.

Even though they’re performing with varying degrees of success, the youngsters have managed only 8-13-21 totals in their 57 man games (.37 points-per-game), playing predominantly in the bottom-six positions formerly occupied by those that have been promoted to the top lines. It’s hard to fault them for Anaheim’s struggles, but it’s equally hard to imagine the Ducks having much success until the end of December when Getzlaf and Kesler should be able to return to the ice.

Making a difficult situation even tougher, Anaheim has to square off against a Sharks team that plays defense extremely well, as San Jose leads the league in both shots against (28.2 per game) and goals against (2.28 per game).

Of course, that leaves the Sharks’ offense to blame for them also sitting on the outside of the current playoff picture. Even with the incredible secret weapon named D Brent Burns at their disposal, Head Coach Peter DeBoer’s club has managed only 2.44 goals-per-game, the fourth-worst effort in the NHL.

Unfortunately for San Jose, they don’t have the excuse of a long list of injuries like Anaheim, as it’s only been confirmed that F Joe Pavelski has not been playing at 100 percent. Instead, everyone not named F Logan Couture – who has managed .83 points-per-game –  has simply struggled to start the season.

Probably the best statistic to showcase the Sharks’ lack of rhythm can be found within the leader board for their clubhouse Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (if this trophy exists, it has to be called the Patrick Marleau Award). With his 10-5-15 totals, Couture is easily leading the race, but W Joonas Donskoi is in second place with only five goals to his name. In fact, only 13 different players have found the back of the net this season for San Jose, only a year removed from 26 different players scoring at least one goal.

One of the most obvious players still looking for his groove is last year’s Norris Trophy winner. After posting career-high 29-47-76 totals last year, Burns has yet to find the back of the net on any of his 75 shots on goal. It has become painfully obvious how important the versatility of Burns is to this team, so the sooner he can find his rhythm, the better the Sharks’ chances of getting into the tournament

Rivalry games have a way of bringing out the best in any team, regardless of how well or how poor it’s been playing lately. That being said, I’m still leaning towards G Martin Jones and the Sharks beating Anaheim since D John Gibson made 50 saves in yesterday’s victory over the Panthers.


After chasing G Jonathan Quick 11:22 into the game, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The reason Quick was pulled shortly after the midway point of the first period is because he allowed Vegas to score three unanswered goals on only nine shots faced (.667 save percentage).

The first of those was struck only 55 seconds into the contest courtesy of a wrist shot by First Star of the Game William Karlsson (Reilly Smith). The Golden Knights’ advantage was doubled to two goals at the 9:21 mark by Second Star Cody Eakin (Brendan Leipsic), followed only 2:01 later by Karlsson’s (Smith) second tally of the night, a wrister that proved to be the game-winner.

This goal was all due to a careless mistake by Quick while he was playing behind his own net. Intending to dish the puck to D Derek Forbort in the right corner, the goaltender fanned on the pass and left it unattended in the trapezoid. Before he could decide whether to repossess the puck or get back to his crease, Smith took control of the situation and centered a pass to Karlsson at the right post, who played it with his right skate to slide it behind his left leg to the blade of his stick and into the net – no matter how hard D Drew Doughty tried to keep the puck from crossing the goal line.

After Quick was replaced by backup G Darcy Kuemper, the Knights did not find the back of the net again while he was in the crease. Solidifying the defensive end was a major boost to the Kings’ morale, because Trevor Lewis (Alex Iafallo) finally got them on the board at the 8:35 mark of the second period.

That positive momentum carried into the third period, and Los Angeles finally sneaked a second goal past Third Star G Maxime Lagace with 8:15 remaining in regulation: a wrister by Tanner Pearson to set the score at 3-2.

Since they were unable to beat Lagace a third time with only five skaters, the Kings pulled Kuemper late in the third period for an extra attacker. It was then, with 62 seconds remaining before the final horn, that Alex Tuch (Eakin) scored the last goal of the game on an empty net to set the 4-2 final score.

Lagace earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (.931 save percentage), and Kuemper finished the night saving all 30 shots he faced in 47:23 of play for no decision.

The Golden Knights’ home victory is the third-straight and sixth in the past seven days by hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The homers now have an impressive 26-17-5 record that is 10 points better than the visitors.

November 16 – Day 44 – Defense is a Boughner

Fantasy hockey players, consider this your alert: with a dozen games on the schedule, there’s tons of points to be earned tonight!

Like they do most nights, the festivities begin at 7 p.m. when two games (New Jersey at Toronto and Carolina at the New York Islanders), followed half an hour later by three more (Arizona at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Pittsburgh at Ottawa [RDS2] and Dallas at Tampa Bay). 8 p.m. marks the start of two contests (Nashville at Minnesota and Philadelphia at Winnipeg) with another pair (Washington at Colorado and St. Louis at Edmonton) waiting an hour before getting underway. Vegas at Vancouver gets green-lit at 10 p.m. and tonight’s nightcaps – Boston at Los Angeles (SN) and Florida at San Jose – close things out half an hour later. All times Eastern.

There’s quite a few games that have caught my eye this evening. That list includes:

  • Pittsburgh at Ottawa: It’s the first of three rematches of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Dallas at Tampa Bay: Welcome home G Ben Bishop; welcome home.
  • Vegas at Vancouver: D Luca Sbisa called British Columbia home for three seasons, but he’s traded his Vancouver digs for a pad in Sin City.
  • Florida at San Jose: For the last two years, Bob Boughner was an assistant coach for Head Coach Peter DeBoer in San Jose. Tonight, he’ll square off against him as the 15th head coach in Panthers history.

It’s a tough selection among those four, but I have a great way to determine which game is the DtFR Game of the Day: we’ve featured 30 of 31 NHL teams in the series so far, but the one club that escapes us is the Panthers. It’s time to resolve that today.

 

I don’t think you really understand how happy it makes me each year to say we’ve featured every club at least once in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Of course, the Panthers haven’t exactly done themselves any favors with 14 points in the standings…

Regardless of Florida’s current situation, there’s no doubt of Boughner’s ability as a coach. He’s been a head man before, even if his experience wasn’t in the NHL. For eight total seasons (two four-year terms) he was the skipper his hometown OHL team, the Windsor Spitfires. In particular, his first stint with the club was certainly noteworthy. After missing the playoffs in 2006-’07, his first season coaching the organization, he built the Spitfires into a team capable of winning back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2009 and ’10.

Of course, what can you expect from a team that featured the likes of D Ryan Ellis, D Cam Fowler, G Philipp Grubauer, F Taylor Hall, F Adam Henrique, RW Zack Kassian and F Austin Watson?

Winning two CHL championships is a good way to get noticed by the big kids in the hockey business, and Boughner was hired as an assistant coach to Scott Arniel with the Blue Jackets in 2010-’11 before returning to Windsor a year later.

His second four-year stint with the Spitfires was nowhere near as good as his first (given, winning back-to-back titles is a tough act to replicate), as he only qualified Windsor for the OHL playoffs two times – both times falling in the first round.

Following 2014-’15’s failure to reach the postseason, Boughner returned to the NHL as an assistant coach for DeBoer in San Jose, working primarily with D Brent Burns and the defense. The Sharks found much success in Boughner’s two years with the club, as they qualified for their first-ever Stanley Cup Finals in 2016.

And that brings us to present day. Since being hired as the Panthers head coach on June 12, he’s led the club to a not-so-great 6-9-2 record that – as I indicated in my season preview – I blame almost entirely on General Manager Dale Tallon.

As the saying goes, “If it walks like a duck, flies like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” Well, these Panthers are definitely no Anaheim Ducks. Even though I’m sure Boughner – a former defenseman with 10 seasons of NHL experience – is telling his blueliners all his tips and tricks, Florida is the worst defense in the NHL as measured by shots against-per-game, as their 36.6 is 1.1 more than second-worst New Jersey.

Given the obnoxious number of shots it allows, perhaps it’s no surprise Florida has registered the sixth-fewest blocks so far this season. I usually hold D Aaron Ekblad in high esteem, but as one of, if not the best defenseman on this team, his 1.5 blocks-per-game are definitely not cutting it.

Even D Andy Greene, who plays for a nominally better defense in Jersey, has managed 2.1 blocks-per-game this year. Good leaders lead by example, and Ekblad needs to do that if he wants any chance of a positive future for this Panthers organization – especially since he’s locked in with this team until the end of the 2024-’25 season.

Maybe the Panthers are a more violent team; maybe that’s how they are trying to play defense. Guess again, because Florida’s 320 hits are fifth-fewest in the NHL.

Making matters worse, F Derek MacKenzie, whose 37 hits lead the team, is currently listed as day-to-day and it is uncertain if he’ll be able to return to the ice for the first time since getting injured early in Saturday’s game against the Devils. If he’s not ready to play and D Alex Petrovic is still banished to the press box with his team-leading three hits-per-game, F Micheal Haley and his 1.8 hits-per-game would take over as the Panthers’ primary muscle.

What all of this means is 3-3-1 G Roberto Luongo should probably be commended for his .919 save percentage and 3.09 GAA. He’s doing the best he can to provide the league’s (t)ninth-best offense a chance every night he takes to the crease.

Last thing about the Panthers before we talk Sharks real quick: that offense, though. Jonathan Huberdeau (7-14-21 totals) and Vincent Trocheck (8-10-18) are absolute studs, as they’ve racked up all those points on separate lines. Snoozing on Florida’s offense is a recipe for disaster, and G Martin Jones would be wise to treat every attack from the top-two lines just like he would against the other team in the Sunshine State.

That’s actually as good a transition as any, because 10-6-0 San Jose makes a living out of rejecting even the best of offenses, allowing a league-leading 2.25 goals against-per-game.

Perhaps Boughner can use the Sharks’ defense – the same defense he helped build – as a teaching tool for his club, because there’s few blue lines in the league better than San Jose’s. Though 8-4-0 Jones has been solid with his .925 save percentage, it’s the fact that D Justin Braun (2.4 blocks-per-game), D Brenden Dillon (3.1 hits-per-game) and co. have allowed only 28.8 shots against-per-game that has earned the Sharks third place in the Pacific Division.

In my opinion, one of the best indicators of a really good defense is finding success with a man in the penalty box. The Sharks pass that test with flying colors (I can only assume those colors are teal and orange), as their 88.5 percent kill rate is second-best in the NHL. Considering the Panthers’ power play is (t)12th-worst in the league, they shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping those numbers up tonight.

Florida’s offense squares up rather nicely with San Jose’s defense, and the Sharks’ sixth-worst attack might find it in them to struggle against the Panthers’ defense. If that proves to be the case, I give the edge to San Jose since it’s playing at home and it has Jones at its disposal.


With a third period hat trick by First Star of the Game F Artem Anisimov, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the New York Rangers 6-3 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Anisimov’s (F Patrick Kane and Second Star F Nick Schmaltz) first goal of the game wasn’t struck until the 1:07 mark of the third period, leaving him only 18:53 to complete his performance. After F John Hayden (D Cody Franson and D Duncan Keith) set the score at 3-1 46 seconds after Anisimov’s first goal, the Russian struck again (Franson and Schmaltz) at the 5:14 mark with a power play wrist shot.

Since his second goal proved to be the game-winner, I suppose we’ll let it be the most important of Anisimov’s night, but his tip-in with 3:48 remaining in regulation (Schmaltz and RW Richard Panik) to send headgear flying has to earn silver. That tally set the score at 5-3 and was followed 2:18 later by C Jonathan Toews‘ (Panik and D Brent Seabrook) fifth marker of the season to set the 6-3 final on an empty net.

Making tonight’s win even sweeter for the Hawks, it technically counts as a come-from-behind victory due to C Mika Zibanejad‘s (F Chris Kreider and W Pavel Buchnevich) wrister 9:58 into the first period. He gave the Rangers a one-goal advantage that lasted 29:10 before Third Star W Alex DeBrincat (Panik and Keith) sneaked a wrister past G Henrik Lundqvist with 52 seconds remaining in the second period to level the game.

The Blueshirts also put up a strong fight in the middle of the final frame, as they scored two goals between Anisimov’s second and third. F Kevin Hayes (W Mats Zuccarello and W Rick Nash) takes credit for the first at the 7:08 mark with a wrister, followed 4:48 later by an unassisted Nash backhanded shot to set the score at 4-3 in favor of Chicago. Momentum was certainly on New York’s side at that moment, but the fact that the Hawks’ defense allowed only nine shots on goal in both the second and third periods put a halt to that positive energy rather quickly.

G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (.893 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lundqvist, who saved 30-of-34 (.882). King Henrik was lifted after Anisimov’s second goal in favor of G Ondrej Pavelec, who completed the game saving seven-of-eight (.875) for no decision.

Not only is this the second-straight 6-3 score in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but it’s also the third-straight victory by the now 23-16-5 home teams who now have a six-point advantage over the roadies.

November 12 – Day 40 – Battle of California

It’s amazing to think this is already the 40th day of NHL action. It feels like the Toronto-Winnipeg game to start the season was just a week or two ago.

While I figure out where the days have gone, take a look at today’s four-game schedule. The action begins – as it does most nights – at 7 p.m. as two contests (New Jersey at Chicago and Edmonton at Washington [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) drop the puck, followed by Tampa Bay at Anaheim an hour later. Finally, San Jose at Los Angeles finds its start at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

There’s few things that get me as excited as a good rivalry game, and that’s especially true when it’s the only game featuring two teams in the top-half of the league, so it looks like we’re headed for the Staples Center for the second time in  four days.

 

 

 

 

 

In the same strain as the rivalries between the 49ers and Rams, the Chargers and Raiders, the Dodgers and Giants and the Earthquakes and Galaxy, the animosity between these clubs began by simply being linked geographically – but it has blossomed into something even fiercer over time.

One of the best fertilizers in growing a rivalry is playoff series, and these teams have met up four times in the past seven postseasons. Even though San Jose has gone 14-11 in the playoffs against the Kings, they have each won two series apiece against one another.

Go figure.

The most recent of those playoff meetings was in the First Round of the 2016 Western Conference Playoffs, and the Sharks showed absolutely no mercy. On the back of an eight-point performance by D Brent Burns and five goals from F Joe Pavelski, San Jose cruised to a 4-1 series victory en route to its first-ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Of course, that success against the Kings shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise considering how the regular season series played out: the Sharks won three of their five meetings against Los Angeles that season to snap a three-year streak of the Kings winning the season series, and has since built on that success by also winning last season’s Battle of California.

Unfortunately for San Jose, its quest for a three-peat in the series did not start as planned, as C Anze Kopitar‘s 2-1-3 night led the Kings to a 4-1 victory over the Sharks at the SAP Center on October 7.

If the 9-6-0 Sharks want to get back on track and earn their first win of the season against the Kings, they’ll need to get back to playing the elite defense that they’ve been known for this year. San Jose is home to the best goals against-per-game in the NHL, allowing only 2.33 tallies.

7-4-0 G Martin Jones certainly deserves some credit, as his .922 save percentage and 2.24 GAA is certainly nothing to scoff at and has easily earned him recognition as a top-10 goaltender so far. Then again, it’s not too hard to be a good netminder behind a defense that allows only 28.9 shots against-per-game, the second-best in the NHL. Whether it’s the nasty, physical effort of D Brenden Dillon – who averages 3.2 hits-per-game – or D Justin Braun and his 2.3 blocks-per-game, San Jose has held 10 of its 15 opponents to two goals or less.

Of note for the Sharks is their 5-0 victory last night against the Canucks. In addition to proving my point about their defense, it’s also important to acknowledge that 2-2-0 G Aaron Dell was in net, meaning that Jones will be rested and ready for the Kings.

If any team is going to be afraid of the Sharks’ defense, it’s definitely not the 11-3-2 Kings, because they also have an elite weapon in their defensive zone that has led them to a (t)second-best 2.44 goals against-per-game.

That weapon’s name is G Jonathan Quick, who has managed an incredible .932 save percentage and 2.29 GAA en route to a 9-3-1 record. Only G Corey Crawford has a superior save percentage than Quick, and it doesn’t look like American is slowing down anytime soon. Considering the Sharks manage only 2.73 goals-per-game, scoring is going to be at a premium anytime Quick is involved.

The Sharks played yesterday, but the fact that they saved Jones for this game speaks loudly about how seriously they take this matchup. This should be an excellent defensive contest that ends in two points for the home team and its seventh-ranked offense.


Though they needed a shootout, the Nashville Predators have finally exacted revenge against the Pittsburgh Penguins for defeating them in the Stanley Cup Finals by beating them 5-4 at Bridgestone Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day

One of the major events of the first period was W Conor Sheary getting caught holding D Matt Irwin‘s stick to earn two minutes in the penalty box, but it was not the Predators that took advantage of the odd-man advantage. Instead, W Bryan Rust (D Kris Letang) scored a shorthanded wrist shot with 8:02 remaining before the first intermission for the lone goal of the frame.

Almost all of Nashville’s offense was struck in the second period, as it scored three of its four regulation goals in the span of 3:28. The first belonged to First Star of the Game C Kyle Turris (W Miikka Salomaki), who buried a snap shot 2:01 into the frame to level the game at one-all. D P.K. Subban (Third Star F Filip Forsberg and W Viktor Arvidsson) followed that up 1:51 later with a power play slap shot, and Second Star F Craig Smith (Forsberg and F Ryan Johansen) potted a power play goal of his own at the 5:29 mark to give the Preds a 3-1 advantage.

The period didn’t entirely favor the Preds though. RW Phil Kessel (F Evgeni Malkin and Letang) pulled the Penguins back within a goal with 7:33 remaining in the second frame with a solid wrister.

Thanks to F Jake Guentzel‘s (D Justin Schultz) backhanded shot 2:27 into the third period, Pittsburgh tied the game at 3-3, but that score didn’t last long. Only 2:19 after Guentzel’s goal hit the scoreboard, C Calle Jarnkrok (Turris and Smith) returned a 4-3 lead to the Predators. The final goal of regulation belonged to D Brian Dumoulin (Sheary and Kessel), a snapper struck 7:43 into the third frame to once again tie the game.

Since neither side could find a tie-breaking goal in three-on-three overtime (even though Nashville had a 21 second power play due to Malkin tripping D Roman Josi), this tilt required the shootout to declare a winner.

  • Head Coach Peter Laviolette decided to give Turris, the Predators’ first goal scorer of the night, the opportunity to open the shootout. Turris proceeded to rip a shot over the crossbar.
  • Fresh off a seat in the penalty box, Malkin was Head Coach Mike Sullivan‘s first choice for Pittsburgh. The Russian performed slightly better than Turris since his wrister was at least on frame, but G Pekka Rinne was there to make the save.
  • Thank goodness for W Kevin Fiala, the Predators’ second shooter. He opened up the tiebreaker scoring by beating G Tristan Jarry with some slick stick handling.
  • Never one to be shown up (even though he didn’t register much more than five shots on goal in 22:39 of play), C Sidney Crosby matched Fiala’s goal with one of his own to level the shootout.
  • Nashville’s third – and ultimately final – shooter proved to be Forsberg. The forward made perfect use of his second shootout opportunity of the season to score his second shootout goal.
  • Forsberg’s tally set up a miss-and-lose situation for the Pens, so they sent out the obvious choice in this situation: Letang, who completely missed the net with his shot. It seems Kessel was ordering a hot dog at the time… or something.

Rinne earned the victory after saving 26-of-30 shots on goal (.867 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Jarry, who saved 24-of-28 (.857) and is still in search of his first NHL win after three starts.

With the Preds’ home victory, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a 20-15-5 record that is two points better than the visitors.

November 9 – Day 37 – The best in the business

It’s your favorite day to head to your local rink! It’s Thirsty Thursday! May all of our readers – of legal age, of course – enjoy a responsibly fun-filled night at the game!

Alright, I’ll stop impersonating your dad now.

With seven games on the schedule this evening, there’s a decent selection of NHL action to choose from. Two of those contests (Edmonton at New Jersey and Chicago at Philadelphia [TVAS]) drop the puck at 7 p.m., half an hour before Minnesota at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). 8 p.m. marks the start of Arizona at St. Louis, followed by Detroit at Calgary an hour later. Finally, the West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. when Vancouver pays a visit to Anaheim, followed 30 minutes later by tonight’s nightcap: Tampa Bay at Los Angeles (SN). All times Eastern.

Before the season started, I had the Lightning’s annual trip to Hollywood circled for the simple fact that G Peter Budaj could be squaring off against the team he started 51 games for last season. Backup Budaj is in fact starting this evening, but it’s because both clubs hold solid early season leads in their divisions that this a must-watch matchup.

 

 

 

 

 

The 12-2-2 Lightning have been the talk of the town since many pundits have pinned them as Stanley Cup favorites, and they haven’t disappointed. In that same strain, they face a tough task this weekend as they tour the Golden State, but the trip is already off to a great start after Tampa beat the Sharks 5-1 in The Tank last night.

Since G Andrei Vasilevskiy earned his 12th victory of the season last night, Budaj is in line for his third start of the season. With only a 0-1-1 record, he’s still looking for his 2016-’17 groove.

Perhaps he’ll find it tonight in the Staples Center, as he hasn’t been the same since departing the Kings organization. Last season in Los Angeles after being called up from the AHL following G Jonathan Quick‘s lower-body injury that had him sidelined for four-and-a-half months, Budaj managed an impressive .917 save percentage and 2.12 GAA to keep the Kings within reach of the playoffs. Though Los Angeles failed to qualify, it was certainly no fault of Budaj’s.

Considering how well Budaj had performed, the Kings elected to “sell high” and trade him to Tampa Bay for G Ben Bishop (now with the Stars) and a 2017 fifth-round pick on February 26, just in time for last season’s trade deadline. In his six starts since then, he’s managed only an .885 save percentage and 3.16 GAA, an effort far inferior to how he performed in La-La-Land.

Though I suppose it’s possible he left his mojo in his Staples Center locker, it’s more likely he’s a goaltender that simply needs regular playing time to maintain his rhythm. Unfortunately for him, he plays behind a 23-year-old netminder that has posted a .928 save percentage and 2.41 GAA to be among the league’s top-10 goalies. Until Vasilevskiy’s performance drops (which isn’t all that likely), Budaj will simply need to adjust to riding the pine more than he’d like unless he’d prefer to earn ice time with another team after being traded, waived or – in a worst-case scenario – in Syracuse.

Of course, all this talk about who’s in goal is borderline ridiculous considering how good Tampa Bay’s offense is. Sure, the Bolts allow a sixth-fewest 2.63 goals against-per-game, but that effort is more than eclipsed by an offense that is the best in the NHL by scoring 3.94 goals-per-game.

There’s no doubt that a large majority of this attack is coming from the Bolts’ top line of Vladislav Namestnikov (7-10-17 totals), Steven Stamkos (7-21-28) and Nikita Kucherov (15-11-26). Tampa has already buried 63 goals this season, and over 46 percent of those tallies have come off the sticks of these three players.

Making Kucherov’s goal total even more impressive is he’s not doing it by peppering his opposing goaltender. Instead he’s being selective with his opportunities, and he’s been rewarded with a 24.2 shooting percentage on 62 attempts that is the best in the NHL among players who have fired the puck at least 40 times.

Before we move on to the Kings, don’t think for a minute that Namestnikov is included on this line simply to feed pucks to Stamkos and Kucherov. He’s just as potent with the puck on his stick, and that was no more apparent than last night when he scored the last two goals of the game.

If any team poses a threat to the Lightning attack, it’s the 11-2-2 Kings. Led by 9-2-1 Quick, Los Angeles has played the best defensive hockey in the NHL by allowing only 2.27 goals against-per-game.

Considering the Kings’ defense allows a 13th-most 32.5 shots against-per-game, almost all of Los Angeles’ success is the result of stellar play by Quick. The 31-year-old has been nearly unbeatable this year in 12 starts, as he’s stopped 93.7 percent of the nearly 400 shots he’s faced this season for a 2.06 GAA. Only Chicago’s G Corey Crawford can claim better numbers in net, but Quick has a superior record – and at the end of the day, those three numbers are the ones that matter most.

Choosing a winner in this game is tough, because even though I’m more than convinced that the Lightning are the superior team, the Kings do have the benefit of having yesterday off and not having to travel from Northern California. That being said, I have faith that Tampa Bay’s defense can find a way to slow down the Kings’ eighth-best offense to extends its winning streak to three games.


With three goals in the first period, the New York Rangers beat the Boston Bruins 4-2 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

A total of four goals were struck in the first period before an empty second frame. W Pavel Buchnevich (D Ryan McDonagh and W Michael Grabner) got the scoring started 9:53 into the contest with a high-cheese wrist shot, but the Rangers’ lead lasted only 21 seconds before a RW David Pastrnak (Third Star of the Game C Patrice Bergeron and F Anders Bjork) wrister through First Star G Henrik Lundqvist‘s five-hole leveled the game.

It’s remarkable enough that the Blueshirts’ next two goals were struck within 29 seconds of each other, but the fact that they were both scored by Second Star LW Jimmy Vesey is truly extraordinary. Assisted by Buchnevich and C Mika Zibanejad, Vesey buried a wrister with 5:19 remaining in the frame to reclaim the lead for New York.

Vesey’s second goal proved to be the game-winner. The goal-scoring  sequence started when C David Desharnais reset the play from below the goal line to D Kevin Shattenkirk at the top of the right face-off circle. Shattenkirk slung his wrister just wide of the net, but Vesey was able to clean up the mess and beat G Tuukka Rask‘s left skate to the near post.

Though they fired 13 shots at Lundqvist in the second period, the Bruins could not make a dent in New York’s Vesey’s two-goal lead. Instead, Boston couldn’t find its second goal until the 6:44 mark of the final frame when Bergeron (Pastrnak and D Torey Krug) scored a wrister. The Bruins continued to apply the pressure for the remainder of frame by duplicating their second period 13-shot attack, but they couldn’t sneak another goal past King Henrik. They eventually had to pull Rask for an extra attacker, and that’s when W Rick Nash (McDonagh) registered the final goal of the game with eight seconds before the final horn.

Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the loss to Rask, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

The Rangers’ home victory snaps a two-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, hosts in the series now have a 19-14-4 record that is four points better than the visitors’.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 4

Player of the Week: Josh Bailey

This award almost went to Bailey’s captain John Tavares, who himself had a 3-goal 5-point week, but his output couldn’t quite match that of Bailey, who tallied 7 points (all of them assists) during the Islanders’ 3-game stretch. The versatile Islanders forward started off the week with a trio of apples against Vegas on Monday night, before adding 2 apiece Thursday in Washington and Sunday against the Avs.

But, quite more impressively, Bailey’s scoring stretch goes beyond this week’s 3 games. In fact, it triples that.

Yes, to find the last time Josh Bailey was held off of a scoresheet, you have to travel all the way back to October 14th against the Sharks. 10 games ago. Registering 2 goals and 14 assists in the 9 games since, once could argue that Bailey is possibly the hottest player in the league that doesn’t play for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Team of the Week: New York Rangers

This was another tight vote, as the San Jose Sharks almost got the nod here. But I’m going to give it to the Rangers based on the fact that they needed this hot streak more than fish need water. After a mostly-miserable October where nothing seemed to go right, the Rangers rolled into MSG to face Vegas on All-Hallows Eve, looking to banish the ghouls that were haunting them. (It physically pained me to write that.)

Fresh off a loss in the ‘Battle to Decide Who is the Least Worst’ in Montreal, the Blueshirts battled their way to a 6-4 victory over the Golden Knights and get their feet back under them, at least for the time being. Faced with the daunting task of taking on the scorching hot Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night (in Tampa’s barn), the Rangers pulled off the upset, allowing just 1 goal against the hottest offense in the league, and vanquished the home team on the strength of a J.T. Miller goal just 1:19 into overtime. Two nights later it would be Kevin Shattenkirk spoiling another Florida foe’s party, as his OT goal would lift the Rangers to their 3rd consecutive win, and directly into this prestigious award.

Now, doubling your season victory total in one week isn’t necessarily something to brag about, but the Rangers desperately needed a week like this to at least drag them back into something resembling contention. We’ve still got a lot of season to go, but digging yourself too big a hole early on can prove fatal when the season reaches crunch time.

Game of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning 8 @ Florida Panthers 5, Monday October 30th

How could it not be? Seriously. Look at the score. That’s silly. Plus the intrastate rivalry, there was a fight, Andrei Vasilevskiy tied a league record for wins in October, it was just dumb and that’s what made it great.

“Oh, but what about…”

No! You’re wrong! My article, my rules, silliness wins.

News, Notes, and Nonsense:

I’m officially done making jokes about the Vegas goaltending situation, because at this point I might actually be like 3rd or 4th on their depth chart.

Habs goaltender Charlie Lindgren has been a rare bright spot for the team this year, as he has now gone 4-0 as an NHL starter and racked up his 1st career shutout with a 38-save effort to blank the Blackhawks in the United Center. Not bad, kid. Not bad.

Brian Boyle returned to game action this week, promptly telling cancer where it can shove it.

A bunch of guys squirted each other with water bottles and the league fined them for it, which can be filed under both the news and nonsense parts of this section.

Alright, let me just check and see if I missed anything as I was putting this together on Sunday evening and *opens Twitter* OH DEAR LORD WHAT HAPPENED?!?

So…apparently Matt Duchene is a Senator…and, Kyle Turris is a Pred…and both of those teams’ futures now belong to Joe Sakic. Huh…

October 30 – Day 27 – I Left My Heart in San Francisco

How do we do this Monday thing during the summer without hockey to watch after work? Maybe that’s why so many people take summer vacations.

I suppose that’s a question we’ll solve another day. In the meantime, there’s a total of eight contests on the schedule today, starting with three (Vegas at the New York Islanders, Arizona at Philadelphia and Boston at Columbus [SN]) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time and two more (Montréal at Ottawa [RDS/TSN2] and Tampa Bay at Florida) half an hour later. In a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference, Los Angeles visits St. Louis at 8 p.m., followed by Dallas at Vancouver two hours later and tonight’s nightcap – Toronto at San Jose – at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

What a slate of games! Beyond the note associated with the Kings-Blues game, there’s also two rivalry games to be played tonight that should produce some thrilling action.

All that being said, there’s one occurrence that simply cannot be missed this evening: the return of F Patrick Marleau to San Jose.

 

 

 

 

 

Time to take the WABAC Machine to Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Penn. on June 21, 1997, the location and date of that year’s NHL Entry Draft.

It was here that Marleau’s 19-season tenure with the Sharks began, as the Seattle Thunderbird was selected second-overall by former General Manager Dean Lombardi. It proved to be an excellent match, as Marleau owns many of the Sharks’ franchise records, including games played (1493), goals (508), even-strength goals (331), power play goals (160), short-handed goals (17), game-winning goals (98) and points (1082), among others.

Talk about a career.

Though Marleau’s 2005-’06 season was his best as measured by his career-high 86 points, it’d be hard to argue that his 2009-’10 effort, at 30-years-old, wasn’t his most impressive. It was that season that he scored 44 goals – better than a goal every-other game – in the regular season followed by eight more in the playoffs to lead the Sharks to their second-ever appearance in the Western Conference Finals, where they were swept by Chicago.

Along with other playoff shortcomings, that is the main blemish on Marleau’s impressive career: he’s never hoisted any NHL hardware besides the Campbell Bowl in 2016. His best accolades from the league are his three All-Star Game appearances.

When General Manager Doug Wilson elected not to resign the forward, who turned 38-years-old this September, Marleau made sure to choose a team that could resolve that issue for him, leading him to Toronto.

Though currently third in a stacked Atlantic Division, they sky is the limit for the 7-4-0 Maple Leafs this season, due in large part to their unbelievable offense.

Yes, Atlantic-rival Tampa Bay may prove to be a more complete team in the long run, but it’s hard to beat a team that boasts a league-best 4.09 goals per game.

Of course, what should we expect from an attack headed by C Auston Matthews? The reigning Calder Trophy winner, who posted 40-29-69 totals in his rookie season, is suffering no sophomore slump this year as he’s already scored eight goals for 15 points (both [t]fourth-most in the league).

For those wondering who was selected with the first-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, they need to look no further than the 5-5-0 Sharks’ top-line center. That’s right: Joe Thornton. After being traded from Boston in late November, 2005, the top-two picks of the 1997 draft played on the same team for the next 12 years.

Though it hasn’t exactly been the best of starts for the Sharks this season, they certainly have postseason aspirations of their own, hoping to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third-consecutive campaign.

Even though San Jose still touts offensive weapons of the likes of F Logan Couture and Thornton, the Sharks are at their best when playing a defensive game. Having allowed an average of only 29.8 shots-per-game to reach G Martin Jones (fifth-fewest in the NHL), the Sharks allow only 2.6 goals against-per-game, the seventh-best mark in the league.

That defense is co-led by two of the best defensemen in the NHL: Justin Braun and Brent Burns. Burns’ reputation is certainly cemented in his offensive contributions, but he’s also been very busy along his own blue line by blocking 2.1 shots-per-game and registering nine takeaways already this season (the most of any defenseman). Braun has also been very effective on San Jose’s second D-pair, but with his own style. He prefers to play a very physical game and has registered 3.2 blocks-per-game to go with his 21 blocks in 10 games played.

Marleau should receive an extremely favorable response from devoted Sharks fans before they lend their support to their teal-clad club. Since this game features strength-on-strength, I like the Sharks to win this game due to their offense being better than Toronto’s defense.


The Winnipeg Jets showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 7-1 at Bell MTS Place.

We featured this game on the chance Penguins G Casey DeSmith would earn the first start of his NHL career. Though it was instead G Matthew Murray that started his second game in as many days, DeSmith did eventually earn his first NHL appearance after Murray allowed four goals on nine shots against (.556 save percentage).

Murray didn’t even last an entire period of play, as all four of his goals against were struck in 18:07 of action. First up was C Andrew Copp (F Shawn Matthias and D Toby Enstrom), who buried his first goal of the season only 1:20 into the game.

Assisted by Second Star of the Game C Mark Scheifele and LW Kyle Connor, RW Blake Wheeler buried what proved to be the game-winning goal with 6:02 remaining in the period.

Though the play started in Winnipeg’s defensive zone, it didn’t stay there long thanks to an untimely turnover by D Zach Trotman. Connor was quick to take possession of the loose puck and passed to Scheifele through the neutral zone to set up a two-on-one attack for the Jets. Once D Ian Cole committed to preventing a shot from Scheifele, the center passed to Wheeler in slot, who buried a low wrist shot through Murray’s five-hole.

Wheeler (Matthias and Scheifele) continued applying the pressure 3:46 later, setting the score at 3-0, followed by RW Joel Armia (F Matt Hendricks) burying a wrister with 113 seconds remaining in the first period to chase Murray.

Not to leave DeSmith out from being scored on in the first period, Wheeler (Connor) scored a backhanded shot only 11 seconds after the netminder’s NHL debut to complete his first-frame hat trick. As you might expect, he took home First Star honors for his effort.

Though F Evgeni Malkin (RW Phil Kessel and D Kris Letang) was able to score a power play deflection with 2:58 remaining in the second period, it did little to brighten the Penguins’ spirits – especially since Scheifele (Wheeler and D Dustin Byfuglien) and LW Brendan Lemieux (D Tyler Myers and Armia) were able to score a goal apiece in the third frame to set the 7-1 final score.

Third Star G Connor Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (.969 save percentage), leaving Murray the loss.

Winnipeg’s win was its first in the DtFR Game of the Day series this season and helped the 15-8-4 home teams reclaim an eight-point advantage over the roadies.

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.