Tag Archives: Schenn

January 7 – Day 92 – Hutts; Holtbeast; hockey in D.C.

The NFL is out of the way, so it’s time to load up on Sunday hockey!

It’s a Sunday schedule full of matinees, as six of the 10 games are scheduled before 7 p.m. The action begins at 1 p.m. with a pair of contests (New Jersey at the New York Islanders and Buffalo at Philadelphia [SN]), followed by three more (Edmonton at Chicago [NHLN/TVAS], San Jose at Winnipeg and St. Louis at Washington [SN1]) two hours later. Florida at Columbus cleans up the day games at 5 p.m. to clear the way for the two tilts (Vancouver at Montréal [RDS/SN] and Tampa Bay at Detroit) slated for the usual 7 p.m. starting time. Boston pays a visit to Pittsburgh (NBCSN) at 7:30 p.m., while the New York Rangers at Vegas (SN360) closes out the evening at 9:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Dallas and Los Angeles.

There’s three games being contested between teams currently in playoff position today, but the one that strikes my fancy most is happening in the American capital! Off to Capital One Arena!

 

Don’t tell anybody, but this is only the second time all season that we’ve featured the Blues away from Scottrade Center. The first instance was a 5-4 overtime victory in Pittsburgh on Opening Day, but I’m sure the Caps are hoping for a better showing than their Metro rivals.

Of course, the biggest question for the past month has been which version of the 26-16-2 Blues is going to show up to play? Will it be the club that beat the Western Conference-leading Golden Knights 2-1 Thursday, or the squad that got schooled 6-3 yesterday in Philadelphia?

Before yesterday’s loss, it seemed St. Louis was on the upswing. After all, it had won its previous three games – all of which were against teams currently in playoff position – by allowing a total of only five goals against.

And then 18-13-2 G Jake Allen got a chance to play.

Even though he’s still among the top-10 in wins, Allen has been pretty miserable for the last month. He’s posted a 1-7-0 record over his past eight starts on a .907 save percentage and 3 GAA, well below his sliding .911 and 2.64 season marks.

As you might expect, he was the one in net for yesterday’s debacle against F Brayden Schenn‘s – who’s +20 is (t)fourth-best in the NHL – former club.

For that reason, Allen has lost his starting job to 8-3-0 G Carter Hutton for the time being, and the team is playing with much more confidence because of it. Hutton has been solid since assuming his new, albeit temporary role, posting a .94 save percentage and 1.62 GAA in his past three starts to elevate his season numbers to a .947 save percentage and 1.64 GAA – both of which are the best in the league among qualified netminders.

Hutton will face a tough task today against the W Alex Ovechkin-led, Metropolitan Division-leading 25-13-3 Capitals.

Washington is about en fuego as possible right now, as it has posted an 11-2-2 record since the beginning of December – and that run includes a four-game Western road trip.

Though Ovechkin’s (t)league-leading 26 goals certainly aren’t hurting the situation, the Caps have actually been finding their wins with solid work in the defensive zone. Washington has allowed only 36 goals against since December 1, the fourth-fewest in the league.

This has been far from a banner year for 23-8-1 G Braden Holtby. Though his win total – which is second-highest in the league – would indicate otherwise, he’s only managed a .917 save percentage and 2.68 GAA on the season, and those numbers have actually been hurt over this run of success by the Caps. Even though he’s finding wins, Holtby has managed only a .913 save percentage and 2.78 GAA since December 1.

Instead, the former Vezina and current Jennings Trophy-winner is getting the benefit of a stellar offense, which has scored a seventh-best 51 goals since December 1, and a defensive corps that is doing everything in its power to lessen his workload. Through those combined efforts, Washington has allowed only 475 shots to reach its net since the start of last month (31.7 per game), the sixth-fewest in the NHL in that time.

Defensively, the Capitals are led by fourth line RW Alex Chiasson (averaging a takeaway-per-game since December 1), defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Brooks Orpik (both averaging two blocks-per-game over their past 15 contests) and second line RW Tom Wilson (3.07 hits per game since the start of last month).

This is the first of two times these clubs will square off this season barring a meeting in the Stanley Cup Finals. Just like last year, the Capitals will make their trip to St. Louis late in the season, but with this campaign’s meeting scheduled for April 2, there should be little chance of either side resting too many players for the postseason.

With Hutton in goal, the Blues have been winners of late, but Washington has been an unstoppable force itself. I think the Caps win today with the benefit of home ice and their four days of rest compared to St. Louis’ 23 hours.


The Colorado Avalanche absolutely dominated yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Minnesota Wild 7-2 at Pepsi Center.

It seems retiring RW Milan Hejduk‘s number got everyone excited to score, because a total of 11 Avs found their way onto the scorecard with either a goal or an assist. The first was W Gabriel Bourque (F Colin Wilson and F Tyson Jost), who scored his first goal of the season at the 7:38 mark of the first period. D Patrik Nemeth (Third Star of the Game F Nathan MacKinnon and Second Star RW Mikko Rantanen) followed that goal up 10:38 later with a slap shot to set the score at 2-0, but C Eric Staal (D Jonas Brodin and W Jason Zucker) pulled the Wild back within a one-goal deficit on a wrist shot with 33 seconds remaining before the first intermission.

The game-winning goal was buried 8:03 into the second period courtesy of First Star F Carl Soderberg (F Alexander Kerfoot). After a skirmish between LW Marcus Foligno and LW A.J. Greer that was a result of F Matt Cullen slashing D Erik Johnson, Colorado earned its first real power play opportunity of the night (it had a 12 second man-advantage in the first frame) at the 6:41 mark.

Minnesota’s F Daniel Winnik nearly scored a shorthanded wrister from the right face-off circle, but he found the crossbar. The ricochet from that shot landed right on Soderberg’s stick, and he set Kerfoot up to drive the puck into the Avs’ offensive zone. He ended up along the left boards at the goal line with nowhere to go… except centering a pass to Soderberg, who was waiting at the corner of G Devan Dubnyk‘s crease. Before the netminder could react to what was happening, Soderberg’s elevated snap shot was past his blocker and in the twine.

But the Avs weren’t done just yet. Rantanen (LW Gabriel Landeskog and MacKinnon) set the score at 4-1 with 3:41 remaining in the second frame, which would have held had Staal (Zucker and D Ryan Suter) not scored another tally with 38 seconds remaining before the intermission.

The Avalanche truly took command of this contest in a chippy third period that featured 18 of the game’s 32 penalty minutes. Zucker’s interference against Rantanen 4:29 into the frame proved to be the first infraction that cost Minnesota, as Soderberg (W Nail Yakupov and Kerfoot) buried a snapper with the man-advantage 44 seconds later to set the score at 5-2. Later, Dubnyk took exception to Kerfoot’s goalkeeper interference to earn not one but two roughing penalties, served by F Tyler Ennis and F Joel Eriksson Ek. In the resulting five-on-four, MacKinnon (D Samuel Girard and Rantanen) buried a wrister to chase Dubnyk and give Colorado its third insurance tally at the 7:17 mark, followed by Jost (Wilson and Bourque) setting the the 7-2 final score with 2:14 remaining on the clock.

G Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 34-of-36 shots faced (.944 save percentage), leaving the loss to Dubnyk, who saved 26-of-32 (.813). G Alex Stalock assumed Dubnyk’s crease after MacKinnon’s goal, and he saved five-of-six (.833) in the remaining 12:43 of action for no decision.

Colorado’s victory in the DtFR Game of the Day gives home teams in the series a 52-29-11 record that is 24 points superior to that of the roadies.

January 6 – Day 91 – Hej baby

With the NHL’s bye weeks starting up tomorrow, there’s lots of action for us to take in today!

Making today even more amazing, the league has scheduled two matinee games for our enjoyment. The first involves St. Louis at Philadelphia (SN) at 1 p.m., followed two hours later by Edmonton at Dallas. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. has three contests for us (Carolina at Boston, Vancouver at Toronto [CBC/NHLN/SN] and Tampa Bay at Ottawa [CITY/SN1/TVAS]), while the New York Rangers at Arizona waits until 8 p.m. to drop the puck. Minnesota visits Colorado at 9 p.m., with Anaheim at Calgary (CBC/SN) trailing an hour later and Nashville at Los Angeles closing the evening off at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Though there’s more than a few stellar matchups on tap today, three caught my eye before even the first puck was dropped on the season.

  • St. Louis at Philadelphia: The Blues and Flyers swapped C Jori Lehtera and F Brayden Schenn this summer. Considering Schenn has posted 17-25-42 totals this season compared to Lehtera’s 0-2-2, I’d say the winner of the trade is self-evident.
  • Minnesota at Colorado: Tonight at the Pepsi Center, RW Milan Hejduk‘s 23 is being lifted to the rafters to reside with five other Avalanche greats.
  • Anaheim at Calgary: There’s no love lost here: this is a rematch from the Western Conference’s first round that the Flames would rather forget.

It might surprise you, but one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now is actually the Colorado Avalanche. Let’s see if they can keep this positive energy rolling for Hejduk’s special night.

 

What an exciting day for the Avalanche franchise. There are few former members of the Avs more deserving of this honor, to the point that your favorite humble hockey blog predicted tonight’s festivities over two years ago.

Selected by Québec in the fourth round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft from the Czech Republic, Hejduk made his NHL debut on opening day of the 1998-’99 season. It wasn’t an overly impressive rookie season for Hejduk (though he was named to the All-Rookie Team), posting only 14-34-48 totals and finishing a distant third behind teammate C Chris Drury in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy, but Hejduk would have the last laugh of a far superior career.

Some players experience a sophomore slump, but Hejduk was quite the opposite. He started the 1999-’00 season with a bang by scoring the first goal in the history of the Pepsi Center, and that campaign ended up being the fourth-best of his career, as he posted 36-36-72 totals that became his baseline for almost every season until 2007-’08.

Hejduk’s third season is probably the one he remembers the fondest, as that’s the year Colorado hoisted the Stanley Cup. The Czech continued his growth at the professional level to reach the 40-goal plateau for the first time en route to his second-consecutive appearance at the All-Star Game (which the Avalanche hosted), and he earned 79 points to help the Avs to a 52-16-10-4 record good enough for the Presidents’ Trophy. He followed that effort up with a 7-16-23 performance in the postseason – second-best behind C Joe Sakic – that included the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Western Quarterfinals in a 2-1 victory over the Canucks.

Short of the Stanley Cup, the biggest achievement of Hejduk’s career was winning the 2003 Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy after scoring a career-high 50 goals. He had a two-goal advantage on runner-up LW Markus Naslund, and a whopping 21 more that the Avs’ second-best goalscorer that season, C Peter Forsberg, with whom he shared the now discontinued NHL Plus-Minus Award that season after they both posted a franchise-best +52.

Hejduk is far and away the longest tenured player in the history of the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise, as he played 1020 regular season games over 14 seasons with the burgundy and blue, not to mention another 112 playoff contests. Over those 1020 games, he registered 375 goals and 805 points – both the fourth-most in in team history – and a fifth-most 430 assists.

Hejduk’s 23 will be Colorado’s first retired number since D Adam Foote‘s 52 was raised to the rafters on November 2, 2013. Hejduk joins D Ray Bourque, Foote, Forsberg, G Patrick Roy and Sakic – and I guess technically C Wayne Gretzky too, though the closest he came to playing in Denver was his 18 games with St. Louis in 1996.

For those that believe these types of trends can predict the future, Colorado has a 4-1-0 record and a +7 total goal differential in games when it retires a number, so Minnesota should be worried about its chances tonight.

Of course, this Avs team – which has a 21-16-3 record that is good enough for 10th in the Western Conference, two points behind Minnesota in the second wildcard spot – is nowhere near the caliber of those Hejduk played for in years past. However, that’s not to say this squad can’t find success. In fact, Colorado enters tonight’s game riding a four-game winning streak and having earned a 6-1-1 record over its past eight games, which is the third-best mark in the NHL since December 18.

How have the Avs been finding this success? Where to start?

Let’s start with the offense, which has scored 27 goals since December 18 to rank (t)fifth-best in the NHL in that time. The first line has been nigh unstoppable during this run, as both F Nathan MacKinnon (2-9-11 totals) and RW Mikko Rantanen (5-6-11) are headlining the teams scoring, and LW Gabriel Landeskog is only a step behind with his 3-4-7 effort.

But Colorado hasn’t only successful on the offensive end; the defense – even with G Semyon Varlamov nursing a lower-body injury – has played exceptionally, allowing only 15 goals against, the (t)fifth-fewest since December 18.

Varlamov was playing well before he went down on January 2, as he’d posted a .931 save percentage and 2.14 GAA in his six last starts. But G Jonathan Bernier has been even better, earning an incredible .965 save percentage and 1.2 GAA since starting New Year’s Eve’s game against the Islanders. Bernier is coming off a 34-save shutout against the Blue Jackets Thursday.

As for Minnesota, it is quietly in the second wildcard position with a 22-16-3 record. The Wild have also been playing well lately, as they’ve won four of their past five contests.

The Wild’s offense has come alive during this run, as they’ve scored 19 goals since December 27 to rank (t)second-best in the league since then. F Mikael Granlund is finally starting to look like he did last year when he posted career-high 26-43-69 totals. He started slow in 2017 to post only 11-16-27 totals, but he’s managed a 4-4-8 effort from the second line over his last five games to lead his team’s surge. D Jared Spurgeon has also performed well, posting 1-5-6 totals over this run.

Tonight’s meeting marks the second in the four-game series between the Avalanche and Wild. Game 1 took place in St. Paul on November 24, with Minnesota winning 3-2 on a shootout.

Considering the festivities of the evening and the fact that the Avs could surge into playoff position with a victory tonight (Anaheim would need to lose in regulation to Calgary for that to happen), this should should be an excellent game. Considering how well Colorado has played of late, I think it is capable of beating the Wild.


Only a day after being shutout 4-0, the Pittsburgh Penguins used their good luck in the DtFR Game of the Day series to beat the New York Islanders 4-0 at Barclays Center yesterday.

While it was an evenly contested first period between the Pens and Isles (they combined for 21 total shots on goal), Pittsburgh absolutely dominated the Brooklynites in the second by scoring three goals.

The first belonged to Third Star of the Game RW Daniel Sprong (First Star C Sidney Crosby and F Dominik Simon), scoring his first NHL goal since November 6, 2015 with a wrist shot 41 seconds into the frame for what proved to be the game-winner.

Crosby did most of the leg work on the goal, stealing the puck off LW Andrew Ladd‘s stick along the boards in the Islanders’ offensive zone. The Captain then screamed up the ice towards G Jaroslav Halak‘s crease with Sprong to his right, setting up a two-on-one play against D Nick Leddy. Once Halak committed to saving a shot from Crosby, he crossed a pass to Sprong, allowing him to easily bury his wrister into a gaping cage.

F Evgeni Malkin (Crosby and RW Phil Kessel) doubled Pittsburgh’s advantage with a power play snap shot 2:49 later, followed by Crosby (Sprong and Simon) setting the score at 3-0 with 4:10 remaining in the frame.

Sprong’s night wasn’t through with his game-winner. He tacked on his own insurance goal (D Justin Schultz and Crosby) with 6:32 remaining in regulation to set the 4-0 final score.

Second Star G Tristan Jarry saved all 31 shots he faced to earn the second shutout victory of his young NHL career, while Halak – who saved 34-of-38 (.895 save percentage) – was forced to take the loss.

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are starting to find some mojo. They’ve earned points in three-consecutive games to pull within 22 points of the 51-29-11 hosts.

December 27 – Day 81 – Back in business

Is that what summer was like? No hockey for three days was terrible!

Let’s get back into the swing of things tonight with 11 games to watch. As it usually does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with five games (Ottawa at Boston [TVAS], Detroit at New Jersey, Buffalo at the New York Islanders, Columbus at Pittsburgh, Carolina at Montréal [RDS/TSN2]), followed by four more (Nashville at St. Louis, Dallas at Minnesota, Edmonton at Winnipeg [SN] and Washington at the New York Rangers [NBCSN]) an hour later. Arizona at Colorado drops the puck at 9 p.m., and tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at Anaheim – gets underway an hour after to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

As usual, I have a headline for more than a few of the games being played tonight.

  • Ottawa at Boston: Few things are more fun than a playoff rematch. The Sens won the first round matchup in six games.
  • Columbus at Pittsburgh: A rivalry and a first round rematch? Sign us up!
  • Nashville at St. Louis: Another playoff rematch, but this one took place in the Western Semifinals. The Predators won 4-2.
  • Edmonton at Winnipeg: An old-timey rivalry is renewed with the coming of age of RW Patrik Laine and C Connor McDavid.
  • Washington at New York: Rivalries are all the rage tonight, because yet another one is taking place in the Big Apple.

Of all of these excellent matchups, only one can be our Game of the Day. Considering the Blues and Predators are playing for the Central Division lead, there’s no place I’d rather be than the Gateway City!

 

Let me know if we’ve come back from a holiday break with this matchup before…

Oh wait, this is exactly the game we came back to after the one-day break for American Thanksgiving. The Blues and Predators opened their four-game season series at Scottrade Center last month, but it was the visiting Preds that took two points after posting a two-goal shutout victory (way to go, G Pekka Rinne).

Since these teams are separated by only a point in the standings, I’d expect a similar contest today.

The biggest story line surrounding the 23-13-2 Blues is still F Jaden Schwartz‘ ankle injury, and that won’t change until he returns in mid- or late-January. With 14-21-35 totals before he went down with a right ankle injury, he still leads the team with a +23 that is second-best in the NHL.

Fortunately for St. Louis, it knows how to play on both ends of the ice. Allowing only 2.47 goals against-per-game, the Notes play the fourth-best defense in the league. Led by the efforts of D Joel Edmundson (87 blocks, [t]fourth-most in the league), W Dmitrij Jaskin (89 hits), D Colton Parayko and F Brayden Schenn (27 takeaways apiece), St. Louis allows an average of only 30.24 shots to reach 18-10-2 G Jake Allen, the sixth-fewest in the NHL.

Schenn in particular has been absolutely stellar, as he’s been able to turn his 27 takeaways into 17 goals ([t]seventh-most in the league) and 40 points([t]10th-most in the NHL) for a +21 rating (third-best in the league). It’s amazing that a player that joined the team only half a year ago has been such a dominant force, and I think it’s safe to say he’s been the Blues’ most valuable player so far.

Of course, it’s hard to look too bad with RW Vladimir Tarasenko as a linemate. The Russian has posted 15-21-36 totals this season alongside his new best friend to earn a +16 rating that is eighth-best in the NHL. Tarasenko immediately moved to the top line following Schwartz’ injury, but struggled to find much rhythm with C Paul Stastny (whose 32nd birthday is today). Perhaps it’s no surprise St. Louis beat Vancouver 3-1 before the holiday break by promoting Schenn to the top line to play with Tarasenko!

Anyways, back to the defensive zone. Anyone that is lucky enough to get by Schenn and the Blues’ defense still has to deal with Allen, whose 18 wins are the (t)fourth-most in the league. He’s posted a .913 save percentage and 2.55 GAA in 31 appearances, which are the (t)19th- and and 10th-best efforts, respectively, among the 32 goalies with at least 14 starts.

Of course, if we’re comparing goaltenders, 21-9-5 Nashville takes the cake with 18-6-3 Rinne. Though he’s one of the three other netminders tied with Allen at 18 wins, Rinne has earned his success in large part by his own accord. He’s posted a .923 save percentage and 2.49 GAA that are both among the top nine efforts in the NHL, and his three shutouts are (t)second-most as well.

Rinne’s excellent play is a major reason Head Coach Peter Laviolette‘s game plan works. Knowing their goaltender can stop basically everything that comes his way, Nashville’s defensive corps – led by Mattias Ekholm (6-15-21 totals), Roman Josi (7-14-21) and P.K. Subban (7-18-25) – is able to contribute extensively on the offensive end of the rink. In fact, the Predators’ defensive corps has combined for 87 points, which is only three points short of Tampa’s league-leading blue line.

They bolster an already impressive group of forwards – headlined by F Filip Forsberg (15-18-33 totals) and second-liner W Kevin Fiala (10-16-26) – that averages 3.23 goals-per-game, the sixth-most in the league.

Fiala in particular was on fire leading up to the holiday break. Before being held off the scorecard against Dallas on December 23, he had been riding a nine-game point streak that included eight goals. He has an unfortunate connection to tonight’s arena after breaking his femur and rupturing an artery in his left thigh during the playoffs last year, and after being held pointless in his first return to St. Louis last month, I’m sure he’d like to finally put the injury behind him by earning a point tonight.

As pointed out by Jim Thomas, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s new Blues reporter, the Notes are one of two teams to have already played their 38th game this season – two more than the median (thank your third grade teacher for knowing what that means!) 36 played by nine clubs. This three-day break was especially important for them, and we’ll probably see a well rested and much improved St. Louis team because of it. As such, I think the Blues can find a way to beat the Predators this evening.

December 16 – Day 73 – Central showdown

With 11 games on today’s schedule, odds are good that your favorite club is in action today. Make sure to head to the rink!

The day’s action finds an early 2 p.m. start when Edmonton visits Minnesota, and the New York Rangers at Boston cleans up the matinee slate at 5 p.m. Five contests (Winnipeg at St. Louis [CITY], Montréal at Ottawa [CBC/NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Los Angeles at the New York Islanders, Dallas at Philadelphia and Columbus at Carolina) drop the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed by two more (Pittsburgh at Arizona and Anaheim at Washington) an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of Tampa Bay at Colorado, while tonight’s nightcap – Nashville at Calgary (CBC/SN) – waits until 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Two games stuck out to me at the beginning of the season…

  • New York at Boston: There’s nothing more fun than an Original Six matchup between two playoff hopefuls, right?
  • Montréal at Ottawa: Not only will this have the usual energy of a Habs-Sens rivalry game, but it’s also the NHL 100 Classic, which is being played at TD Place Stadium Lansdowne Park, home of the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks.

However, it’s just too hard to ignore today’s action in Missouri, where the second and third-place teams in the Central Division are beginning a home-and-home series.

 

Considering the Jets’ seventh-ranked offense last season, I don’t know if Winnipeg earning a 18-9-5 record qualifies as a surprise or not, but they’re certainly not complaining about third place in the Central Division.

That offense has only improved this campaign, as the Jets have managed an intimidating 3.34 goals to rank fourth-best in the NHL behind the Bolts, Isles and Knights.

That solid effort has been headlined by Winnipeg’s first line, specifically C Mark Scheifele (14-21-35 totals) and RW Blake Wheeler (8-30-38). They’ve formed a fantastic partnership this season, as they’ve both earned a point on 24 of the Jets’ 107 goals on the year (22.4 percent).

If the Jets’ offense is scary, their dominant power play is straight up deadly. Led by Wheeler’s team-leading 16 points on the man-advantage, the Manitobans have converted 26.31 percent of their opponent’s penalties into goals, a rate that trails only Tampa and Nashville.

Wheeler might be the primary play maker on special teams, but its his partner RW Patrik Laine that has been the most frightening in that situation to opposing goaltenders (4-2-0 G Carter Hutton, in today’s case). He’s buried nine power play goals already this season, which is tied with F Filip Forsberg for most in the NHL.

Given the unenviable task of trying to slow the Jets down is 21-10-2 St. Louis, a team currently in second place in the division even though it is riding a two-game losing skid.

After being the class of the Western Conference for the first two months of the season, the Blues have caught the dreaded injury bug this week. Though the previously mentioned Hutton is back after his short stint on injured reserve, D Jay Bouwmeester, D Alex Pietrangelo and F Jaden Schwartz have replaced him.

Bouwmeester missing is certainly an issue in the defensive end, but Head Coach Mike Yeo seems to be struggling to find a solution for Pietrangelo and Schwartz missing on the offensive end. They’ve combined for 58 points – including 21 goals – to help the Blues manage 3.12 goals-per-game (the [t]eighth-best effort in the NHL) on the season.

However, during this two-game skid while these players are on the mend, the Notes have scored only one goal from third liner F Patrik Berglund. With neither likely to return until January, this offense will need to adjust to RW Vladimir Tarasenko on the top line and W Dmitrij Jaskin in a top-six position. If they cannot, I wouldn’t be surprised to see F Brayden Schenn elevated to the top-line center position to reunite with the Russian sniper.

With these teams tangling once again tomorrow, let’s treat this preview as one for this weekend’s series. As such, I expect these teams to both earn victories at their home arenas.


Behind a three-point night from First Star of the Game F Brian Boyle, the New Jersey Devils beat the Dallas Stars 5-2 at the Prudential Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Jersey didn’t waste much time in finding its first goal, as D Steven Santini (F Brian Gibbons) tucked a slap shot into the net only 4:28 into the game. That early lead didn’t last long though, because C Martin Hanzal (F Tyler Seguin and D Esa Lindell) leveled the game only 2:14 later with a power play wrist shot. The Devils would regain the lead with 54 seconds remaining before intermission on a tip-in from F Blake Coleman (D Andy Greene and Gibbons), setting the score at 2-1.

The exchange of goals carried into the second period, as RW Alexander Radulov (F Mattias Janmark and Lindell) leveled the game for the Stars at the 8:09 mark, but Boyle (D Will Butcher and C Pavel Zacha) was able to bury what proved to be a game-winning power play wrister with 3:21 remaining in the frame to return a 3-2 lead to the Devils.

The penalty that set up Boyle’s opportunity was a D Stephen Johns hi stick against LW Miles Wood that was so egregious, it earned him a double minor and four minutes in the penalty box. With only nine seconds remaining on the infraction, Butcher ripped a clapper from the blue line at G Kari Lehtonen. The netminder was able to deflect the puck, but Boyle – who was camping out in front of the crease – collected the rebound and elevate a wrister into the back of the net, the 100th goal of his career.

Third Star RW Nick Lappin (W Jimmy Hayes and Boyle) and Boyle tacked on insurance goals in the second half of the third period to ensure a Devils victory.

Second Star G Cory Schneider earned the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lehtonen, who saved 21-of-25 (.84).

New Jersey’s home victory snapped a three-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, hosts in the series have now earned a 40-24-9 record that is 14 points superior to that of the roadies.

December 12 – Day 69 – For the Presidents’ Trophy

Given what day this is of the season and the number of games on today’s schedule, there’s only one thing that can be said:

You know what, I’ll let you figure it out.

Anyways, there’s nine contests on the slate for today, beginning with five (Ottawa at Buffalo [RDS], Los Angeles at New Jersey, Toronto at Philadelphia [TVAS], Colorado at Washington and Edmonton at Columbus) at the usual 7 p.m. start time. Next up are the two 8 p.m. games (Tampa Bay at St. Louis [NBCSN] and Calgary at Minnesota), followed by Florida at Chicago (SN) half an hour later. Finally, Carolina makes its first annual trip to Vegas at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

There were two games I had circled at the beginning of the season…

  • Ottawa at Buffalo: It’s rivalry night in the Queen City between the Eastern Conference’s two worst teams! Get excited Upstate!
  • Carolina at Vegas: For a combined three days, C Marcus Kruger and D Trevor van Riemsdyk were Golden Knights. Does this count as a homecoming?

… but they pale in comparison to tonight’s action in the Gateway to the West.

 

What a gauntlet the league-leading 21-6-2 Lightning have faced of late. It was only Saturday that they escaped with an overtime victory against an impressive Jets squad that plays a similar style to them.

There’s no denying how dominant the Bolts have been through their first 29 games, and that’s especially apparent when they have the puck on their own sticks. Tampa averages 3.75 goals-per-game to lead the league, thanks in large part to the incredible efforts of its top line. RW Nikita Kucherov (20-21-41 totals), F Vladislav Namestnikov (12-15-27) and C Steven Stamkos (12-30-42) have been nothing short of incredible, and it doesn’t hurt that they have F Brayden Point (12-14-26) and company backing them on the second line.

As I pointed out this weekend, this offense is also acting as the Lightning’s best defense, because it’s keeping pucks off 19-4-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy – not that he needs much help, as his .93 season save percentage and 2.24 GAA are both among the top four performances of any goaltender in the league with at least nine starts.

But we discussed all this this weekend. Let’s talk about Tampa’s special teams, which – as you would probably guess – are among the best in the NHL.

The Lightning are the league’s deadliest when they have the man-advantage, as they convert a 28.44 percent of opposing penalties into goals, a mark that is over two percent better than Nashville’s second-best effort.

Just as they do at even strength, Kucherov, Namestnikov and Stamkos have led the charge on the power play with their combined 46 extra-man points. Makhail Sergachev has also made his presence known on the Bolts’ second unit, as he’s managed 2-8-10 totals – the fourth-best effort on the team.

Perhaps one of Tampa’s biggest weaknesses is when it is on the penalty kill. If that is the case the rest of the league should be alarmed, because the Lightning successfully defend 82.6 percent of their infractions to rank eighth-best in the NHL. Vasilevskiy in particular has performed spectacularly when his club is shorthanded, managing a .924 save percentage against the power play to rank (t)fourth-best among the 32 goaltenders with at least 14 starts.

Before we jump into talking about the 21-8-2 Blues, it needs to be noted that they’ll be without three players this evening. In addition to D Jay Bouwmeester missing tonight’s game to rest an injury, F Jaden Schwartz and D Alex Pietrangelo are both on injured reserve with respective ankle and lower body injuries suffered blocking shots.

It certainly wouldn’t be without reason if the Notes’ offense struggles with these injuries, as they average a 3.29 goals-per-game average that ranks sixth-best in the league.

On that end, the biggest injury is certainly to Schwartz, who is posting career-best 12-21-35 totals. In his place, RW Vladimir Tarasenko moves up onto the top line with F Vladimir Sobotka and Vladimir C Paul Stastny. While Schwartz is a tough act to follow, there’s little reason to believe Tarasenko won’t thrive in that role, as his 14-19-33 performance from playing on the second line is already the third-best on the team. Instead, I’ll be interested to see if F Brayden Schenn, St. Louis’ leading scorer with a 16-37-37 effort, can turn W Dmitrij Jaskin (4-7-11) into a real scoring threat while filling in for Tarasenko.

Of course, this offense is not simply reliant on spectacular play from its forwards. Pietrangelo is also very active in the attacking zone, as his 7-16-23 totals are not only the most among St. Louis blueliners, but also the fourth-best marks on the entire team. In fact, Pietrangelo ranks fifth in defensive scoring across the league, behind only the likes of Drew Doughty, John Klingberg, Kris Letang and Nick Leddy (for what its worth, the Blue Notes’ captain has scored more goals than any of those players).

Fortunately for St. Louis, it has just the player to slide into his role as the top two-way defenseman on the team: D Colton Parayko. Currently owning 3-14-17 marks, the third-year player has put his arguable sophomore slump behind him and is well on his way to surpassing his solid 9-24-33 rookie performance. Should he continue on his current pace, Parayko is on track to post 8-37-45 totals that would exceed Pietrangelo’s effort in his third year in the league (yes, that was the lockout season – we’re going off points-per-game in this instance).

As far as defense, not much should change for the team that features the reigning Second Star of the Week in 17-6-2 G Jake Allen. Allen is riding a four-game winning streak and has not lost in regulation since December 1 against the Kings, posting a .939 save percentage over the five games since then. As long as the Blues don’t see a significant drop in its defense that has allowed an average of only 29.45 shots against-per-game (the third-fewest in the NHL), Allen should be able to keep his end of the ice under control.

Now, what makes this contest extremely exciting is that the winner will take the lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy. Both are tied at 44 points currently, but the Bolts do own a “games played” tiebreaker, having laced up their skates two fewer times than St. Louis. Considering the Lightning already beat the Blues 2-1 on October 14, St. Louis will no doubt want to exact revenge on home ice.

As for if that actually happens, I’m having a tough time making that prediction. With their injuries, I’m concerned the Blues’ lackluster special teams will take too much of a hit this evening, so I think Tampa Bay will come away with the road victory.


The New York Islanders exploded out of the gates to beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 at the Barclays Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It took New York only 2:36 of action before it had the lead. That’s when Third Star of the Game F Brock Nelson (RW Cal Clutterbuck and W Jason Chimera) buried a wrist shot to set the score at 1-0.

That advantage doubled to two goals 36 seconds into the second period when Second Star LW Andrew Ladd (D Calvin de Haan and RW Jordan Eberle) scored what proved to be a game-winning wrister.

When facing a goaltender of the likes of G Braden Holtby, quick passes become a necessity. That’s exactly what provided Ladd the opportunity for his eighth goal of the season. de Haan collected a drop pass from Eberle at the blue line and began crashing towards the goal line. But, instead of throwing a wrist shot on Holtby from an angle with low odds of success, he instead slid a centering pass across the crease to Ladd, who was camping out near the left goal post. Before the netminder could slide across his crease, Ladd had already buried his wrister.

Only 58 seconds after the Isles’ goal horn had been quieted, C John Tavares (F Josh Bailey and F Anders Lee) brought it back to life with a wrister to chase Holtby and set the score at 3-0.

The Capitals finally got on the scoreboard at the 8:23 mark of the third period courtesy of D Dmitry Orlov (F Chandler Stephenson and F Jay Beagle), but they couldn’t claw any further back into the game before the end of regulation.

First Star G Jaroslav Halak earned the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (.969 save percentage), leaving the loss to Holtby, who saved nine-of-12 (.75) before being pulled following Tavares’ tally. G Philipp Grubauer saved all 17 shots he faced for no decision.

New York’s regulation win is the first in six games in the DtFR Game of the Day series, snapping a five-game run of contests requiring more than 60 minutes. Hosts in the series now own a 39-22-8 record that is 17 points better than the roadies’ efforts.

December 1 – Day 58 – Stingy division leaders

It’s the first Friday of December, so you know what that means!

Actually, if you know anything about the first of December, please let me know. Because I’ve got nothin’.

Anyways, the NHL has hidden eight games behind the first door of your Advent calendar, and four of them (Pittsburgh at Buffalo [SN/TVAS], Ottawa at the New York Islanders [RDS], Carolina at the New York Rangers and Anaheim at Columbus) will drop the puck at 7 p.m. San Jose at Florida will follow suit half an hour later, followed by two tilts (Los Angeles at St. Louis and Vegas at Winnipeg) at 8 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – New Jersey at Colorado – is slated to start at 9 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s three good games on the schedule today, but only one can earn the right of being today’s featured matchup. That honor belongs to the tilt in Mound City between the Western Conference’s current division leaders.

 

 

 

 

 

If you were so lucky to predict either of these teams to be in the position they’re currently in during your preseason podcast, you deserve a cookie.

 

 

 

Excuse me, I was just finishing my cookie.

Things are going even better than anyone within the 17-7-1 Blues organization could have expected coming into this year. St. Louis had been on a steady decline since it’s division-winning 2014-’15 season, falling to second in ’15-’16 and third last year. However, the combination of Head Coach Mike Yeo in his first full campaign at the helm and new Blue F Brayden Schenn has elevated the club to the top of the Western Conference and second in the entire NHL.

But we talked about the Blues’ fifth-ranked offense last week when they were featured against the Predators (St. Louis averages 3.36 goals-per-game). It’s time to show some love to the players at the other end of the ice, who have combined to allow only 2.64 goals against-per-game, the fifth-best effort in the league.

No discussion about defensive zone play can begin without acknowledging the goaltender, but 13-6-1 G Jake Allen might actually be the Notes’ defensive low-point. Though he’s had better years (he posted a career-high .92 save percentage in 2015-’16) based on what he’s shown so far to earn his starting role, his .907 season save percentage and 2.77 GAA are nothing to write home to New Brunswick about. Among the 26 goaltenders with at least 14 starts, Allen ranks ninth- and 11th-worst, respectively.

Instead, St. Louis’ claim to fame in its own zone is its defense, headlined by none other than D Alex Pietrangelo, a candidate for the Norris Trophy (according to our very own Jordan Dettrow) who leads the team in takeaways. In fact, the captain’s 23 takeaways are the second-most by any defenseman in the league, trailing only D Brent Burns – a player I’m sure Pietro has no complaints being compared to.

I know we weren’t going to talk offense, but Pietrangelo has made a good habit of turning his takeaways into goals. His 7-13-20 totals are fourth on the team and second-most by any defenseman in the NHL.

But it’s not just him. D Joel Edmundson, who’s blossomed into a solid offensive threat himself since the Blues traded D Kevin Shattenkirk in February (his six goals are [t]third-most in the league by a blueliner this season), is also among the best shot-blockers in the NHL, averaging 2.6 blocks-per-game. Add in W Dmitrij Jaskin‘s team-leading 2.8 hits-per-game, and you have an entire club fully committed to shutting down the opposition.

Generally speaking, teams fire more shots on goal when they’re losing (you know, they’re trying to do that scoring thing). Considering the Blues’ record, it’s a safe assumption that the teams they’re playing are spending more time trailing in a game than leading. That’s no more apparent than looking at the league’s worst offenders in the shots against-per-game statistic, as six of the worst 10 teams in the stat are currently in playoff position, including the league-leading Lightning.

But that’s what makes this St. Louis defense so spectacular. Even though opposing offenses are throwing everything they have the Blues’ way, St. Louis allows only 30.1 shots against-per-game, the (t)fifth-best effort in the NHL.

Before we talk about the 15-8-3 Kings, there’s one more note to be made about the Notes. Since they play tomorrow afternoon in St. Paul, it would seem likely that 4-1-0 G Carter Hutton will draw either tonight or tomorrow’s start. Los Angeles is probably hoping the Wild have to deal with him, because Hutton’s .946 season save percentage and 1.59 GAA make Allen’s efforts look like child’s play.

Even though we’ve spent all this time talking about the Blues’ defensive effort, don’t think for a minute that their defensive zone is the stronger of the two in tonight’s game. With the exception of the Sharks, Los Angeles has sported the stingiest of defenses this year, as they’ve allowed only 2.27 goals against-per-game.

While Allen isn’t necessarily the headliner in Missouri, there’s no doubting who people pay to see when they go to the Staples Center.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Wait, Kobe Bryant?

Maybe in days gone by, but now it’s 12-8-1 G Jonathan Quick‘s house (shots fired, Ball family). Though he entered a bit of a rough patch in November when he lost six-straight games, Quick’s .929 season save percentage and 2.27 GAA are still fifth- and fourth-best, respectively, among the 34 goaltenders with at least 10 starts to their credit.

Of course, just like the Blues may not trot their starter out tonight, Quick may only be seen on the bench tonight. Los Angeles is on the second-half of back-to-back games tonight, as they beat the Capitals in Washington 5-2 yesterday with Quick in net. It would seem likely that Head Coach John Stevens will give the nod to 3-0-2 G Darcy Kuemper. Similar to Hutton, Kuemper’s .937 save percentage and 1.84 GAA are both superior to Quick’s season effort, but with a much smaller sample size.

With two teams going at it that don’t like to give up goals, I’m led to believe the superior of the two offenses will be what determines the outcome. Since St. Louis’ 3.36 goals-per-game is superior to LA’s 2.92, I’m leaning toward the Blues.


Three unanswered third period goals is all the Minnesota Wild needed to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 at Xcel Energy Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

With the exception of F Mikael Granlund‘s (D Mike Reilly and W Jason Zucker) wrist shot for the Wild with 2:59 remaining in the second period, every goal in this contest was struck in the third period.

The ice seemed to be tilted Vegas’ way at the start of the final frame, as D Brayden McNabb (W Stefan Matteau) and F Jon Marchessault (C William Karlsson) both scored in the opening 4:39 to give the Golden Knights a 2-1 advantage.

That advantage didn’t last long though. Only 48 seconds after Marchessault’s tally, D Jonas Brodin (F Daniel Winnik and F Charlie Coyle) scored his second goal of the season at the 5:27 mark with a deflection to level the score at two-all.

After that, this game was almost all Minnesota. Vegas managed only nine shots on net in the third period while Second Star of the Game C Eric Staal was busy scoring the final two goals of the contest. His first, assisted by Third Star D Matt Dumba with 7:55 remaining in regulation, proved to be the game-winner.

Take notes young blueliners: solid stick work at the point can turn into fast points. Trying to simply clear the puck out of his defensive zone, F Tomas Nosek gave the puck away to Dumba waiting at the right point. The defenseman worked his way along the wall back towards the goal until he reached the top of the face-off circle, where he ripped a wrist shot at G Malcolm Subban. The puck never reached Subban due to a D Deryk Engelland block, but the deflection dropped right in front of the crease near the waiting Staal, who slid his wrister into a gaping net before Subban could get back in position.

Trailing by only a goal late in regulation, Head Coach Gerard Gallant pulled Subban with 1:27 remaining on the clock. It took Staal 1:21 to achieve his goal, but his unassisted backhanded shot found the back of the net with six ticks remaining on the clock to set the 4-2 final score.

First Star G Devan Dubnyk earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the loss to Subban, who stopped 28-of-31 (.903).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series simply cannot be stopped. Since American Thanksgiving, homers have won six-straight to elevate their record to 33-19-6, which is 17 points better than the roadies’ record.

November 24 – Day 51 – Fastest guns in the West

While I’m sure yesterday’s break was enjoyed by hockey players and fans alike, I think I’m safe in assuming that we’ve been looking forward to resuming play today since the end of Wednesday’s games in Southern California.

Making up for yesterday’s lost time, the NHL has scheduled a whopping 14 games scheduled over the course of eight hours. The action starts at 1 p.m. when Pittsburgh visits Boston (NBC), followed three hours later by a trio of contests (Winnipeg at Anaheim, Colorado at Minnesota and the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [SN]). Tampa Bay at Washington (NHLN) drops the puck at 5 p.m. and San Jose at Vegas finishes up the matinee slate an hour after. The normal starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it a four-game set (Edmonton at Buffalo, Vancouver at New Jersey, Detroit at the New York Rangers and Ottawa at Columbus [RDS]), with Toronto at Carolina waiting half an hour before dropping the puck. Nashville visits St. Louis (TVAS) at 8 p.m., with tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Arizona and Calgary at Dallas – cleaning up the festivities 60 minutes later. All times Eastern.

Let’s see what games I had circled on my calendar…

  • Detroit at New York: Nothing gets me in the holiday spirit like a nasty, old-fashioned Original Six rivalry.
  • Toronto at Carolina: The man, the myth, the legend D Ron Hainsey is back in Raleigh for the first time since being shipped to Pittsburgh at last season’s trade deadline, taking on a Hurricanes team he played with for four seasons.
  • Nashville at St. Louis: If last year’s Western Semifinals matchup is any indicator, this game has a chance of getting nasty.
  • Calgary at Dallas: While this game should be exciting in and of itself, the real treat is happening pregame when RW Jere Lehtinen‘s 26 is retired to the American Airline Center’s rafters.

It’s been a while since we’ve featured either the Blues or Predators. What better way to kick start the second third of the season than a contest between two of the top three teams in the Western Conference?

 

For those that can’t remember all the way back to the last week of April and the first week of May, this was a physical playoff series between these two clubs. In six games, both squads combined to throw 365 total hits, or 60.8 hits-per-game. While I wouldn’t argue that it’s the reason the Predators were able to win the series 4-2, they did technically out-hit the Blues 184-181.

Of course, one of the major motives for the violence – beyond being Central Division rivals, of course – was W Kevin Fiala breaking his leg as a result of one of those hits, a check from D Robert Bortuzzo in Game 1 at Scottrade Center.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, given the extra motivation to avenge their fallen comrade, the Preds were able to claim the only road victory of the series in that game. Though the next five games never had goal-differentials of more than two goals (barring F Calle Jarnkrok‘s empty-netter with a minute remaining in Game 6), Nashville’s imposing home advantage at Bridgestone Arena was enough to earn it a ticket to the Western Conference Finals and, ultimately, the Stanley Cup Finals.

Big hits like those during last year’s playoff series usually imply an active and effective defense. While I have no doubt in the of this year’s blue line, the 13-6-2 Predators of the 2017-’18 season seem to have a much better handle of the game when they are controlling things offensively.

That has been made no more evident than during the three-game winning streak they’re currently riding, as the Predators’ 12 goals are the (t)second-most in the NHL since November 18. While that’s a problem in-and-of itself for the Blues, figuring out who is scoring the goals is another issue entirely.

During this three-game winning streak, the only staple in Nashville’s production has been D P.K. Subban, who has provided five assists since November 18 to lead the team in points. As for who he’s assisting, your guess is as good as 12-5-1 G Jake Allen‘s. 10 different skaters have scored goals in this trio of contests, with only D Mattias Ekholm and F Filip Forsberg scoring more than one.

If St. Louis is going to pick only one forward to stop tonight, they’d probably be best off eliminating Forsberg. Not only has he scored a team-high 11 goals on the season, but he’s also tacked on another dozen assists for a club-leading 23 points.

Unfortunately for the Notes, Forsberg is a tough man to keep under wraps, because he does most of his work while Nashville has the man-advantage. Seven of his goals and 12 of his points have come on the power play, and as such the Preds’ 25.3 percent success rate with the extra man is the third best in the NHL. With St. Louis managing a below-average penalty kill (its 78.6 percent kill rate is [t]11th-worst in the NHL) Forsberg could be well on his way to adding to his season totals tonight if F Brayden Schenn and F Vladimir Sobotka can’t stay out of the penalty box.

Of course, Forsberg and the Predators aren’t going to show up in St. Louis and simply be handed two points, as they are going up against a team that is riding a three-game winning streak of its own: the Western Conference-leading 16-5-1 Blues.

As you’d expect from a squad in their position in the table, it’s hard to find too many issues with the Blues game (ok, beyond the penalty kill). After all, they rank fifth best in the NHL in both goals-for (3.45 per game) and goals-against (2.64 per game) on the season.

That being said – and with no disrespect to Allen’s .909 save percentage and 2.74 GAA for the season – offense has been the name of the game during this little winning streak the Notes have going. In the past three games, the Blues have managed an impressive 16 goals that is (t)second-most in the league since November 16. In fact, considering most teams have played four games in that span, St. Louis’ 5.33 goals-per-game effort has actually been the best performance in the league for the second half of the month.

Now, before we go any further, it should probably be mentioned that two of the Blues’ last three games were played against a struggling 8-12-2 Oilers team that was never known for their defense even in last year’s return to the postseason. St. Louis won both games by a combined score of 12-4, but the biggest takeaways from those games (beyond four points, obviously) was the positive momentum, rhythm and confidence built by seeing what this team is truly capable of.

Whether we’re looking at just this three-game run or the entire season, there’s few names on the Blues’ offense that shine like Schenn and F Jaden Schwartz. While Schwartz has been truly spectacular on the season as a whole with his 11-19-30 totals (he’s on pace for 41 goals and 112 points), first-year Note Schenn has been stealing most of the headlines of late. In only his past three games, the former Flyer has earned 5-3-8 totals to lead the team and bolster his season marks to 10-20-30. Schenn is currently riding an eight-game point streak that includes seven goals.

Of course, this all ignores that RW Vladimir Tarasenko – the third member of St. Louis’ first line – is also on this team, the man who effectively carried the Blues’ entire offense on his back only a season ago with his 39-36-75 totals.

It’s the very fact that he’s not the lone goal provider that is making this Blues team so dangerous. With his linemates scoring like there’s no tomorrow, a potent second line of Sobotka, Paul Stastny and Alex Steen backing them up and a defensive corps that includes the likes of Joel Edmundson (6-2-8 totals), Colton Parayko (2-8-10) and Alex Pietrangelo (7-13-20), Tarasenko is able to settle into his original role as the Notes’ goal-sniper extraordinaire. Considering his 12.1 shooting percentage is (t)second-best in the league among players with at least 85 shots on goal, I’d say he’s gotten back into the swing of things rather nicely.

And if there’s one thing 12-3-2 G Pekka Rinne doesn’t want to see tonight, it’s Tarasenko lining up one of his deadly wrist shots with the option to pass to an equally potent forward. In addition to his dozen goals on the season, Tarasenko has also assisted on 14 other St. Louis tallies, making that top line one of the most intimidating in the conference, if not the entire league.

With two extremely talented offenses going at it, it would seem likely that the better defense should be able to come out on top after everything is all said and done. If I’m right in that prediction, it should be the Blues that see their winning streak continue, as their 2.64 goals against-per-game is lower than Nashville’s 2.9.

October 4 – Opening Day – Let’s get this show on the road

You know when you go to a Mexican restaurant and they bring you chips and salsa? That’s great, but what you’re really looking forward to is what you ordered: those sizzling fajitas or a burrito stuffed to the max.

That’s exactly what the first day of the regular season is like. Preseason was fun, but now it’s time to feast.

As has been NHL custom since the 2014-’15 season, the league will open play with four contests this evening. The festivities officially begins at 7 p.m. when Toronto visits Winnipeg (SN and TVAS) in a matchup of the top two picks from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, followed an hour later by St. Louis at Pittsburgh (NBCSN) for the Penguins’ banner raising ceremony. Round two finds its start at 10 p.m. with Calgary at Edmonton (SN and TVAS), trailed half an hour later by Philadelphia at San Jose (NBCSN). All times eastern.

In Season One of the “Game of the Day” series, we featured only one game. Last year, that number exploded to include all four opening day contests.

This season, let’s rein things in a bit and focus on one game per nation. Canada, you’re up first!

 

Given the Battle of Alberta happening later tonight, picking Canada’s featured game was a tough decision. There is no shame in wanting to watch a hard-fought rivalry C Connor McDavid and the Oilers dominate their first game of the season.

Unfortunately, that pales in comparison to the opportunity to take in the first of only two meetings of the season between RW Patrik Laine and C Auston Matthews.

There’s no doubt these offenses are capable of scoring. The Leafs registered 251 goals last season to rank fifth-best in the league, and Winnipeg trailed them by only two tallies to tie Columbus for sixth-most markers.

Of course, a lot of that offense came from each club’s respective first-round pick last year. Reigning Calder-winner Matthews buried all four goals in his NHL debut against the Senators en route to a 40-29-69 season. Not to be outdone too much, Laine – who finished in second in Calder voting last year – got his 36-28-64 rookie campaign kick-started with a power play goal and an assist on C Mathieu Perreault‘s game-tying goal in his first NHL game.

For those keeping score, Laine was the only one to win his first game in the big leagues. Then again, Matthews beat Laine to the playoffs… Suffice to say, these guys are good at their jobs.

With all that in mind, I’m most focused on Winnipeg’s net this evening for G Steve Mason‘s debut. While I am of the opinion that Mason is a minor improvement over last year’s starter G Connor Hellebuyck (seriously, emphasis on “minor” – to the point of being negligible), tonight may not be the best to prove that claim. In his only game against the Leafs last year, Mason – then a member of the Flyers – allowed six goals, including four in the third period. Of particular note was D Martin Marincin‘s tally to tie the game at three-all, his lone goal of the season and only the third of his career.

Yeah, that probably left a bad taste in Mason’s mouth when he heard that.

While making improvements in net is probably a good idea in the next couple years for General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff (all three current goalie contracts will be off the books by the 2019 offseason), he would also be wise to work on his defense that allowed an 11th-worst 31 shots against-per-game last year.

Then again, maybe all the Jets needed was a year of experience and an offseason of training. We’ll know if that’s the case based on the performance of another player entering his second season: D Josh Morrissey. At the ripe age of 21, he registered a +6 rating and a team-leading 139 blocks last season. If he can continue to grow into the shutdown blueliner he hinted at last year – and, if we get really greedy, improve on his 20 points (there’s few better to learn from than D Dustin Byfuglien) – maybe Winnipeg isn’t as far off the mark as we think.

Until then, Mason will have to be on top of his game to keep the Jets alive in this game – and ultimately the season.

 

As if the action in Manitoba wasn’t fun enough, there’s also the Penguins’ banner raising ceremony to take in. For Pittsburgh supporters, this is a joyous night; for most other hockey fans, it’ll be a night they’re glad to put behind them.

And even after the festivities are complete, fans are going to be treated to quite a hockey game featuring two of the most consistent teams of the past dozen years. The Penguins have qualified for the postseason for the last 11 years – three of which ended with them hoisting the Stanley Cup – for the longest active streak in the league, trailed by the Blues’ fourth-best six-straight playoff appearances.

If there’s one Blue Note ready to play this game, I’d peg newcomer F Brayden Schenn. He’s making his first club-debut since 2011-’12, and the team he was traded from has nurtured a special hatred in him for the black-and-gold.

The former Flyer has been brought into the St. Louis fold to generate more points for an offense that featured only three 50+ point scorers a season ago (RW Vladimir Tarasenko, F Jaden Schwartz and F Alex Steen). Schenn is a talented former first-rounder capable of playing either center or left wing that is coming off a 25-30-55 season, and it looks like he’ll center the second line for Schwartz and W Dmitrij Jaskin to start the season.

Beyond the usual culprits of C Sidney Crosby, RW Phil Kessel and C Evgeni Malkin, one Penguin to keep an eye on this evening is RW Ryan Reaves.  No, he probably won’t score a goal tonight – or maybe even a point at all – but I’m more interested in seeing if he has it in him to bring the muscle against former teammates of seven seasons. And if he does, who does he hit? Who hits back?

Seeing LW Cody McLeod‘s response to playing the Avalanche last season after being traded to Nashville, I have my suspicions on the topic: let’s just say I expect St. Louis’ new enforcer, RW Chris Thorburn, to be dressed this evening.


At least eight points are to be had this evening for these eight teams in action, and I expect Toronto, Pittsburgh, Edmonton and San Jose to be at the top of their respective divisions after all the action is complete.

St. Louis Blues 2017-’18 Season Preview

St. Louis Blues

46-29-7, 99 points, third in the Central Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Nashville

Additions: W Beau Bennett, D Nate Prosser, F Brayden Schenn, C Oskar Sundqvist, W Chris Thorburn

Subtractions: LW Kenny Agostino (signed with BOS), C Jori Lehtera (traded to PHI), W David Perron (drafted by VGK), RW Ty Rattie (signed with EDM), RW Ryan Reaves (traded to PIT), W Nail Yakupov (signed with COL)

Offseason Analysis: The Blues’ biggest struggle last season was finding offensive production from someone not named Vladimir Tarasenko, the right wing that led his team with 75 points – 20 more than second-best F Jaden Schwartz.

Enter Flyer-turned-Note Schenn.

The fifth-overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft has improved almost every season of his career. Starting with his rookie campaign in 2011-’12, Schenn has averaged .58 points-per-game, including .72 points-per-game for the past two seasons even though he played for the ninth-worst offense in the NHL during that time.

For those wanting more moves, you’ll have your wish next offseason when eight NHL contracts will expire. Until then, St. Louis is putting almost the exact same product on the ice as it did at last season’s end. Since that’s the case, the Blues’ goal of a seventh-straight playoff appearance will require a return to form from a few offensive pieces that had down years last season – particularly C Paul Stastny (18-22-40 totals), who has yet to match his career .8 points-per-game in a Blues sweater.

Of course, the main reason Stastny struggled to post numbers similar to his 10-39-49 totals from 2015-’16 was a lower-body injury suffered in March that forced him out of action for the last 10 games of the regular season and most of the Minnesota series. And he wasn’t the only one to face extended time off the ice, as a February ACL injury landed F Robby Fabbri on injured reserve. It was a disappointing halt to an excellent season for Fabbri, who had posted 11-18-29 totals in 51 games before going down.

Of course, it is these injuries that provided 21-year-old Ivan Barbashev his opportunity to explode onto the scene. In only 30 games, Barbashev was able to notch 12 points and helped the Blues close the season on a 12-2-2 run. It seems a safe assumption that he’s earned his way onto the Blues’ starting roster – at least until December when Patrik Berglund should return from his shoulder surgery.

Another task facing the Blues is identifying their new two-way defenseman, a role Kevin Shattenkirk filled for the past seven seasons. In the 20 regular season games following Shattenkirk’s trade to Washington, Captain Alex Pietrangelo more than stepped into that role by notching 5-13-18 totals for .9 points-per-game, far superior to the .5 points-per-game rate he managed in his opening 60 games.

With four assists in 11 playoff contests, Pietrangelo didn’t necessarily disappear from the scoresheet during the postseason, but his offensive contributions from the blue line were dwarfed by those of Joel Edmundson (3-3-6 totals) and Colton Parayko (2-3-5 totals). Drafted in 2012, 24-year-old Parayko has long been tapped as Shattenkirk’s replacement – especially given that he’s posted two consecutive 33+ point NHL seasons – but the Blues are cautiously hoping last April was Edmundson’s (another 24-year-old) coming-out party.

Will that dream pan out? Probably not. Edmundson has only managed 31 total points in two years of regular and postseason NHL play. But, if it somehow proves to be true, it will be hard to argue that St. Louis’ Edmundson (who’s playing for a contract this year, by the way), Parayko and Pietrangelo form one of the most dynamic defensive corps in the league.

Another interesting transition for this club is employing Thorburn as their new enforcer. For seven seasons, Reaves was charged with protecting the likes of Pietrangelo, Alex Steen and Tarasenko, but he’s looking after Pittsburgh’s stars now. With the likes of Duncan Keith still roaming the division, Thorburn – himself a four-year Central veteran – will need to assert himself early to protect St. Louis’ elite players.

Offseason Grade: B-

For the room it had on its roster (read: not much), St. Louis made a great addition in Schenn that should make a noticeable improvement on the offensive end.

But are the Blues a playoff team? I feel pretty confident saying they are. Do they make it to the Western Finals for the second time in three years or – God save me – qualify for the Stanley Cup Finals? Many of the pieces are still there, but there are more than a few talented teams in the mix. Then again, this team has proven in the past that when it’s hot, it’s en fuego. If the Notes are riding one of those highs in April, there’s no telling how far they could go.

March 9 – Day 141 – Talk about a playoff push

What happens when you mix one of the best days of the week with one of the greatest sports and leagues in the world? I don’t know the answer, but it probably looks something like hockey on a Thursday night.

The New York Rangers at Carolina gets things started at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by two more games (Philadelphia at Toronto [NHLN/TVAS] and Minnesota at Tampa Bay). Anaheim at Chicago drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., trailed by a trio of contests (New Jersey at Colorado, Montréal at Calgary [RDS] and Ottawa at Arizona [RDS2]) 30 minutes later. The final wave of games drop the puck at 10 p.m. with the New York Islanders at Vancouver, followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Nashville at Los Angeles (SN360) and Washington at San JoseAll times eastern.

While tonight’s action features three matchups between teams currently qualifying for a playoff position, the contest my attention is drawn to most is between two teams currently on the outside looking in.

 

Only eight of the 16 Eastern Conference clubs earn the opportunity to compete beyond the regular season for the Stanley Cup. While that means half the teams move on, the other half are sentenced to their couches to watch the postseason move on without them.

Currently, both of tonight’s squads find themselves in that second set of teams – on the outside of the playoff picture peering in. Even more frustrating for them, they aren’t missing the mark by much. Both have their sights set on the Islanders‘ 73-point mark, which eludes either team by less than four points.

29-22-14 Toronto certainly has the best shot of surpassing New York for that playoff spot, as they are only a point out of eighth-place in the Eastern Conference. While they probably won’t admit it externally, the Maple Leafs are well ahead of schedule in terms of returning to the top of the hockey landscape, and they have their imposing offense to thank for that.

Yet it’s been its defense that has prevented Toronto from maintaining a playoff position. The Leafs have allowed 187 goals against in 65 games – the eighth-worst rate in the NHL. 25-14-13 Frederik Andersen has been in net for most of those goals, even though his season .916 save percentage is tied for 13th-best in the league among the 37 netminders with at least 27 appearances.

That’s because his 2.72 GAA is only 28th in the league in that same group. That’s where the defense comes into play – or apparently not, as the Leafs‘ blueliners allow 32.6 shots to reach Andersen’s crease per night – the third-highest rate in the league.

As is the case with the entire Toronto roster, it’s a young defensive corps that should hopefully improve with time, but in the meantime Nikita Zaitsev, himself a rookie at 25-years-old, will be expected to continue his impressive play. He leads the group with 116 shot blocks, the most on the team.

Even though defense may not be the club’s strong-suit, don’t just assume that the Maple Leafs are always pushovers. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as Toronto is home to the ninth-best penalty kill in the league, successful on 83.5% of disadvantages. Roman Polak has been front-and-center when the Leafs have a man in the sin bin, as his 30 shorthanded shot blocks are most on the team – as are his 24 shorthanded hits.

The penalty kill is bordering on great and trying to catch up to an exemplary power play. Led by rookie William Nylander‘s 20 power play points, Toronto has scored on 22.9% of their man-advantages – the third-best rate in the NHL. Nylander has been good, but it’s Nazem Kadri that opposing goalies have to keep an eye on – he has a team-leading 11 power play goals, which ties for sixth-most in the league.

Although they have two more wins than the Leafs, the 31-26-8 Flyers are actually in worse shape than tonight’s opposition in terms of catching up to the Isles (those extra-time losses sure add up), as New York has a three-point lead on 10th-place Philadelphia.

Philly‘s reason for falling out of postseason contention is the exact opposite of Toronto‘s. Instead, the Flyers struggle to consistently get on the scoreboard, as they’ve managed only 164 goals this season – the ninth-lowest total in the league.

At the start of the season, there were few offenses more potent than that of high-flying Philadelphia. While they certainly had their slump, it seems Jakub Voracek and his team-leading 53 points is trying to get things back to what they were. Over their past five games, the Flyers have averaged three goals-per-game, which rivals Chicago‘s seventh-best rate on the season.

While it may be a much smaller sample size, any time a team can be mentioned in the same breath as the Blackhawks, they’re usually doing something right.

Two of those goals belonged to Wayne Simmonds, who will be extremely important in the Flyers‘ playoff push. He’s managed 27 markers already this year, eight more than second-place Brayden Schenn. Should Simmonds continue on his current pace, he should manage 34 games by the time the season ends – the highest total of his nine-year career.

In the previous two games between these clubs, it’s been all about the home-ice advantage as both teams have won a game in their colored sweaters and, arguably more importantly, lost in regulation in their road whites. They last met in Philly on January 26, where the Flyers won 2-1, but the Leafs handily won 6-3 when they last hosted Philadelphia on November 11.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Philadelphia‘s Voracek (36 assists for 53 points [both lead the team]) and Toronto‘s Auston Matthews (31 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]).

With the recent meetings in mind, it’s hard to pick against Toronto tonight, especially when Vegas has already marked the Leafs a -138 favorite. The Leafs have full control of the special teams play in almost every game they play, and I have full faith in their offense to dominate Philadelphia‘s blueline.

Hockey Birthday

  • Harry Neale (1937-) – After seven years of WHA coaching experience, Neale transitioned to the NHL in 1978, a year before the merger. Predominantly spending his time with the Canucks, he led Vancouver to a 142-189-76 record and three-straight playoff appearances.
  • Paul MacLean (1958-) – St. Louis may have selected this French right wing in the seventh round of the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, but he spent most of his career with the Jets. He earned his lone All-Star appearance in 1985 during a 101 point season, by far the best effort of his career. After more than three seasons as the Senators‘ head coach, he’s in his second year as an assistant coach in Anaheim. Also, he and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid are probably really good friends, if not twins.
  • Phil Housley (1964-) – This Hall of Fame defenseman was selected by Buffalo with the sixth-overall pick in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft. He certainly did not disappoint, as he ended up being a seven-time All-Star with 1232 points over his 21 seasons.
  • Radek Dvorak (1977-) – The 10th-overall pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, this right wing spent most of his 18-year career, albeit over two stints, with the club that selected him. His best season was by far his 2000-’01 campaign with the Rangers when he accounted for 67 points, including 31 goals (both career highs).
  • Brent Burns (1985-) – There were a few good players selected before the 20th-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but I’d venture to say that at least 15 scouts whiffed on Burns. Somehow only a two-time All-Star, the six-year Shark has accounted for 490 points over his 13-year career, and he doesn’t look like he’s stopping anytime soon.
  • Colin Greening (1986-) – Ottawa selected this forward in the seventh round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he’s spent most of his career. He has yet to make his NHL debut this season, but he was last seen during the 2015-’16 campaign for Toronto.
  • Morgan Rielly (1994-) – Speaking of the Maple Leafs, they selected this defenseman fifth-overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He’s accounted for 114 points and a -70 over his four year career. Also, I’m five weeks older than him. Pick the more successful of us, I dare you.

There’s no other word than disrespectful to describe how Boston took advantage of the Red Wings in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. With four unanswered goals in the first period, the Bruins won 6-1.

The scoring onslaught began with 8:53 remaining in the first period. First Star of the Game David Krejci (Drew Stafford and Third Star Zdeno Chara) took credit for the opening tally with a wrist shot, followed 61 seconds later by a Second Star Brad Marchand (David Pastrnak and Chara) wrister – the eventual game-winner. Stafford buried his fifth tally of the season with 6:28 remaining in the frame, and Krejci notched his second of the contest 15 seconds before the period came to a close.

Marchand (Colin Miller) set the score at 5-0 with 3:05 remaining in the second period before Tuukka Rask finally ceded a goal. Niklas Kronwall (Mike Green and Dylan Larkin) is the lucky Red Wing, as his club could not find the back of the net again the rest of the night.

Pastrnak (Krejci) notched the finally tally of the game 34 seconds into the third period to set the 6-1 final score.

Rask earned the victory after saving 26-of-27 shots faced (96.3%), leaving the loss to Jared Coreau. He saved five-of-eight (62.5%) before getting pulled after Stafford’s tally. He was replaced by Petr Mrazek, who saved 18-of-21 (85.7%) for no decision.

Boston‘s win is the third in four days for the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That victory pulls them within four points of the 72-49-22 visitors.