Tag Archives: Schneider

February 15 – Day 127 – Dust devils

Buckle up for a Thursday full of hockey! Between the NHL and the Olympics, there’s a total of 15 games going down today!

With the playoff bracket set for the women’s Olympic tournament, it’s all about the men’s action in PyeongChang today. Opening up our day’s action at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time are two Group A games: the Czech Republic vs. South Korea and Switzerland vs. Canada.

Back home in North America, the NHL is enjoying another busy Thursday. As usual, the action begins at 7 p.m. with a trio of tilts (Carolina at New Jersey, the New York Rangers at the New York Islanders and Los Angeles at Pittsburgh [TVAS/SN1]), followed half an hour later by two more (Buffalo at Ottawa [RDS2] and Detroit at Tampa Bay). A pair of games drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Calgary at Nashville and Washington at Minnesota), while Anaheim at Chicago waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Next up is Montréal at Arizona (RDS) at 9 p.m., trailed an hour later by Edmonton at Vegas (SN1) and Vancouver at San Jose at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Returning our attention to South Korea, the American men are taking on Slovakia at 10:10 p.m., followed by the OAR against Slovenia at 2:40 a.m. Friday morning – both in Group B play. All times Eastern.

As usual, it’s a stellar slate of hockey games. Beyond the Olympic group play, two NHL rivalries drew my attention when the schedule was released this summer.

  • New York at New York: Earlier in the season, the Battle of New York looked like it was going to be a big deal. Maybe next year.
  • Buffalo at Ottawa: The same was said in the preseason about this rivalry featuring a team that had qualified for the Eastern Finals and another that looked to be improving. Maybe next year.

However, don’t read too much into that and think no important games are going on in the NHL tonight. As for the most important, look no further than the fixture atop the league’s schedule.

 

27-21-9 Carolina enters tonight’s game riding a three-game winning streak and four-game point streak that has propelled it into the second wildcard. However, that winning streak comes with a slight asterisk: those wins came against Vancouver, Colorado and Los Angeles – three teams not currently in playoff position.

That being said, the Hurricanes didn’t make their own schedule, they just have to play teams as they come up. And play them they have, as the Canes have been the stingiest team in the NHL since February 6, allowing only 1.75 goals against per game in that time.

As might be expected, 17-7-3 G Cam Ward has been a major part of that success, as he’s been in net for three of Carolina’s last four games. In those three starts, he’s posted an impressive .933 save percentage and 1.95 GAA to improve his season numbers to .912 and 2.6.

With the Islanders heading to Raleigh to square off against the Hurricanes tomorrow, it remains to be seen if Ward will be in net tonight or if he’ll go tomorrow. Personally, I’m pegging 10-14-6 G Scott Darling to draw the start tonight given the potency of New York’s attack. Though he only has an .894 save percentage and 2.99 GAA on the season, he will have the benefit of a stellar defense playing in front of him whichever night he’s in net.

One of the Hurricanes’ most exciting defensemen of late has been D Haydn Fleury, the 21-year-old flying all over the ice causing havoc. Though he has only played in Carolina’s last two games, he leads the team in hits-per-game (3.5) and blocks-per-game since (2.5) February 6. C Victor Rask has also been impressive during this four-game streak, as he leads the team with nine takeaways in that time.

Between the efforts of Fleury, Rask and the entire Carolina defense, the Hurricanes have allowed an average of only 28 shots against per game, the sixth-best in the NHL since February 6.

The last time we featured the Devils was also their last showing. Tuesday’s 5-4 come-from-behind shootout victory in Philadelphia snapped Jersey’s four-game losing skid that featured it losing to the likes of Ottawa and Columbus – two teams on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.

The only reason New Jersey was able to stop the bleeding is because its offense was able to keep up with the Flyers, but that’s not to say the Devils are scoring with the best of teams right now. Since February 6, Jersey has averaged only 2.6 goals per game – the (t)seventh-fewest in the NHL in that time.

Of course, if there’s one thing a struggling offense doesn’t mix well with, it’s a porous defensive end. Between a defense that has allowed a (t)12th-worst 33.8 shots against per game over its last five games or 11-7-2 G Keith Kinkaid not being 17-11-6 G Cory Schneider, the Devils are having to pay their scoreboard operator overtime lately considering they’re allowing a second-worst 4.6 goals against per game since February 6.

With no game tomorrow and Schneider likely not ready to make his return tonight, Kinkaid is all but certain to be in net this evening. As stated Tuesday, he’s struggled mightily since assuming starting duties while Schneider is recovering from his groin injury, posting a save percentage (.869) and GAA (4.8) in his last four starts that is well below his season marks of a .891 save percentage and 3.31 GAA.

Even though we’re two weeks past the All-Star Break, the NHL’s officially unofficial midway point of the season, this is surprisingly the first meeting of the season between the Canes and Devils. However, just as soon as the four-game season series gets started, it’ll be finished: these clubs will tangle for the second time only three days from now in Raleigh, followed by another game at PNC Arena on March 2 and their final meeting of the season on March 27.

Though the Devils were able to find the win column Tuesday, it’s hard to imagine an evening where they’re able to beat another surging team. I think the Canes are more than capable of earning two points in the standings today, and doing it in regulation would earn them a promotion into the East’s top wild card.


With a 2-1 victory against Team USA in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Kwandong Hockey Centre, the Canadian women swept Group A play to earn the top seed in the Olympic knockout tournament.

The best scoring opportunity of the first period belonged to Team Canada with 3:15 remaining in the frame. In fact, the opportunity was so good, the puck actually found the back of G Maddie Rooney’s net. However, the play had been ruled dead before the Canadian would-be scorer even struck her shot due to the international rule that restricts all activity by the opposition in a goaltender’s crease, leaving the score tied a 0-0.

F Meghan Agosta (F Natalie Spooner and F Brianne Jenner) broke the scoreless draw at the 7:18 mark of the second period. With D Megan Keller in the penalty box, that left the slot unprotected following a backward centering pass from Spooner from the goal line. Agosta took advantage to flip a wrist shot past Rooney.

Even though the play appeared to be offside, F Sarah Nurse (D Jocelyne Larocque) doubled Canada’s advantage with 5:04 remaining in the period by flinging a wrister from along the left boards over Rooney’s right shoulder. Team USA had an opportunity to pull back within a goal with 3:52 remaining in the frame with a penalty shot, but F Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s backhander was blocked by G Genevieve Lacasse.

Only 23 seconds into the third period, Team USA finally found its first goal of the game when F Kendall Coyne (F Brianna Decker) split two Canadian defensewomen to beat Lacasse five-hole.

Canada thought it had reclaimed a two-goal advantage with 9:08 remaining in regulation, but Haley Irwin used her skate instead of her stick to beat Rooney. The goal was taken off the board, returning the score to 2-1.

That revoked tally didn’t ultimately prove to matter, as the Americans could not find it in them to level the game in the remaining time.

Lacasse earned the victory after saving 44-of-45 shots faced (.978 save percentage), leaving the loss to Rooney, who saved 21-of-23 (.913).

With Canada technically being listed as the home team in yesterday’s game, its victory snapped a three-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the 69-41-17 hosts now have a 24-point advantage over the visitors.

February 13 – Day 125 – Battle of the Turnpikes

That adventure to Asia yesterday was excellent, but there’s more hockey to be watched today.

At 7:10 a.m. Eastern time this morning, the Team USA women took on the OAR in Group A play. Needing a regulation victory to keep pace with the Canadians, the Americans shutout OAR 5-0.

Meanwhile, the NHL is still going strong in North America. Today’s action begins at 7 p.m. with six games (Calgary at Boston [TVAS], Tampa Bay at Buffalo, Columbus at the New York Islanders, New Jersey at Philadelphia, Ottawa at Pittsburgh [RDS] and Los Angeles at Carolina), followed half an hour later by Anaheim at Detroit. Next up is a pair of tilts (St. Louis at Nashville and the New York Rangers at Minnesota) at 8 p.m., trailed by Washington at Winnipeg 30 minutes later. The final wave of games starts at 10 p.m. when Chicago visits Vegas, with tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at San Jose – dropping the puck only half an hour after. All times Eastern.

Back in South Korea, Group B of the women’s tournament will complete play this evening when Sweden takes on Switzerland at 10:10 p.m., followed by the unified Koreans vs. Japan at 2:40 a.m. Wednesday morning. All times Eastern.

Here’s just a few of the games that are drawing my eye:

  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Battle of the Turnpikes is even more important when these teams are battling for playoff positioning!
  • Ottawa at Pittsburgh: It’s a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals from a season ago!
  • Anaheim at Detroit: Back when the Red Wings were in the Western Conference, this was quite the nasty rivalry.
  • St. Louis at Nashville: Another playoff rematch, this one from the Western Semifinals.
  • Sweden vs. Switzerland: Which team will win Group B of the women’s Olympic tournament? This game will determine just that.
  • Korea vs. Japan: The unified hosts are still looking for their first win. Is this the night?

Of all of those, there’s two games that stand out the most. Let’s make the trip to Broad Street to a big battle in the Metropolitan Division.

 

Starting with the visiting 27-20-8 Devils, who are currently the top wild card in the Eastern Conference, we find a team that has had a rough go of things lately. In its past four games, New Jersey has failed to register even one point in the standings, losing the tilts by a combined 19-9 score.

The biggest difference between these Devils and the club that exploded into the playoff picture at the beginning of the season is the fact that 17-11-6 G Cory Schneider is occupying a seat in the press box instead of the Jersey crease.

While he’s been out with a groin injury, that’s also meant the Devils haven’t had his .913 season save percentage and 2.79 GAA at their disposal, and that’s been a major problem. While 10-7-2 G Keith Kinkaid has been impressive in his sporadic time this season, assuming starting duties in Schneider’s stead since he went down has not been a success. Kinkaid has started three of Jersey’s four games, posting a measly .863 save percentage and 5.29 GAA for an 0-3-0 record in that time.

However, Kinkaid doesn’t have to shoulder all of the blame, as his defense has not been doing him many favors. Even with F Blake Coleman (3.3 hits per game since February 6), D Andy Greene (2.5 blocks per game in his last four showings) and C Pavel Zacha‘s (team-leading three takeaways over this run) trying their hardest, New Jersey has allowed a 12th-worst 33.5 shots against per game in its last four, well above their its season average of 31.6.

Between Kinkaid and his defense, New Jersey has allowed an average of 4.75 goals per game since February 6, the second-worst effort in the league in that time.

Making matters even worse, the Devils’ offense has also struggled mightily of late, scoring a second-worst 2.25 goals per game since February 6.

What had made Jersey’s attack so successful earlier in the season was, among other things, the involvement of blueliner Will Butcher (2-28-30 season totals) on the offensive end. Whether it’s him paying more attention to the defensive end with Schneider out or simply an unfortunate scoring slump, Butcher has only provided one assist over the past four games – well off his pace of registering .55 points per game.

But he’s not the only one in a slump. Only four Devils have registered more than one point in their last four games, led by F Taylor Hall (3-3-6 since February 6, 21-36-57 overall) and W Kyle Palmieri (3-1-4 since February 6, 13-11-24 overall) averaging at least a point per game from the first line. Butcher can only earn assists when his forwards find the back of the net, so that puts the pressure on Hall, LW Miles Wood (15-9-24 totals) and Palmieri to complete plays.

Meanwhile, the 28-19-9 Flyers are among the hottest teams in the league right now having posted a four-game winning streak and five-game point streak, and they’ve ridden that energy into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Over this point streak, the most impressive facets of Philadelphia’s success has easily been 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 7-7-2 G Michal Neuvirth.

Elliott has started three of Philly’s last five games, earning a 2-0-0 record with a .916 save percentage and 2.21 GAA. The reason he doesn’t have the same number of results as starts is because he suffered a lower-body injury February 10 during the shootout in Arizona.

Enter Neuvirth, who became the first goaltender in NHL history to win a shootout after entering midway (per Craig Morgan of NHL.com) and has since assumed starting responsibilities while Elliott has been on the mend. Unlike Kinkaid, who’s been thrust into a similar situation, Neuvirth has performed phenomenally in his three appearances, posting an incredible .978 save percentage for an unbelievable .72 GAA, improving his season marks to a .917 save percentage and 2.5 GAA.

As a result of Neuvirth’s – who’ll be in net tonight – amazing performance, the Flyers have allowed an average of only 2.2 goals against per game since February 3, the (t)third-best effort in the NHL in that time.

Though the season series between these clubs began only a month ago, this is their fourth and final (barring a playoff matchup) meeting of the year. The Flyers took the opening two tilts, winning January 13 in New Jersey 5-3 (C Sean Couturier took First Star honors with a two-goal, three point night) and January 20 in Philly 3-1 (D Shayne Gostisbehere was the First Star). However, a 4-3 home victory by the Devils on February 1 (C Nico Hischier provided the game-winning goal with 1:27 remaining in regulation) has set them up with an opportunity to tie the series with a regulation win tonight.

Considering the Flyers are one of, if not the hottest team in the league, it’s hard to pick against them. Jersey’s offense will need to come alive for the Devils to even have a chance at earning a point tonight.


The Team Canada women dominated Finland in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 4-1 at Kwandong Hockey Centre.

The Canadians needed only 35 seconds to take a 1-0 lead. Meghan Agosta (Melodie Daoust) took credit for that tally, her first of the tournament. Canada found its winner 16:36 later, as Marie-Philip Poulin intercepted an errant Finnish pass and proceeded to tuck a backhanded shot underneath the crossbar. The play happened so quickly that the officials actually revoked the tally after their initial look, but video review proved that the captain had successfully beaten G Noora Raty.

Two goals were scored in the second period, and once again they both belonged to the team in black sweaters. Daoust (Laura Fortino and Agosta) registered the first at the 8:19 mark of the frame, followed 10:07 later by Jillian Saulnier’s (Rebecca Johnston) first Olympic goal.

Finland finally got on the scoreboard at the 7:17 mark of the third period with a tally from Riikka Valila (Susanna Tapani and Michelle Karvinen), but the comeback effort was too little, too late to make any real impact on this game.

G Shannon Szabados earned the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (.957 save percentage), leaving the loss to Raty, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).

With Canada wearing its colored uniforms, it was officially the road team in this morning’s tilt. That means the roadies in the DtFR Game of the Day series have pulled within 23 points of the 68-41-16 hosts.

February 8 – Day 120 – Fire and brimstone

Welcome to the best day of the hockey work week!

Like it usually does, the action begins at 7 p.m. this evening with three games (the New York Islanders at Buffalo [TVAS], Calgary at New Jersey and Montréal at Philadelphia [RDS/TSN2]), followed half an hour later by two more (Nashville at Ottawa [RDS2] and Vancouver at Tampa Bay). Another pair of fixtures (Colorado at St. Louis and Arizona at Minnesota) find their starts at 8 p.m., while Dallas at Chicago waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at San Jose (SN360) – drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Two games were circled on my calendar…

  • Nashville at Ottawa: C Kyle Turris called Ottawa home for seven years, but that all changed in November when he was traded to Nashville.
  • Vegas at San Jose: I circled this one to celebrate the return of F Ryan Carpenter to The Tank, but I think the standings will be a bigger deal in this contest.

We just featured the Predators yesterday, so we’re not going to follow them east. Additionally, we just featured the Golden Knights two days ago and we’re not going to hop on their flight west.

Instead, I say we head to Newark to check in on a Devils team that has been a bit streaky of late as they square off against the Kings of the Streak, the Calgary Flames.

 

The 27-17-8 Devils are holding on to third place in the Metropolitan Division, but they’re certainly not making life easy on themselves of late. Jersey is only 2-2-0 in its last four home games (including a loss to the Red Wings) and 3-5-0 overall in its last eight contests (including a loss in Ottawa).

However, it we just look at what has happened since the All-Star Break, it seems the Devils were just running a little bit low on steam. Before Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Senators, the Devils had won all three of their first games since resuming play.

The reason for Jersey’s return to form lies squarely on its defense, which has been playing incredibly over its last four games. Led by the efforts of F Blake Coleman (3.5 hits per game since January 30) and D Andy Greene (2.5 blocks per game during this run), the Devils have allowed only 25.25 shots against per game since the All-Star Break, the best mark in the league.

As a result, that stellar play has made 17-11-6 G Cory Schneider‘s groin injury far less noticeable. While he’s been gone, 10-5-2 G Keith Kinkaid has assumed starting duties. Though he’s only posted an .899 save percentage in his last four starts, the fact that his defense is playing so marvelously has kept his GAA at 2.59, good enough to earn him three victories.

Currently in 10th place in the Western Conference (well, technically a three-way tie for ninth, but the Flames’ 53 games played are one more than Colorado’s and two fewer than Anaheim’s), 27-18-8 Calgary has all but assumed the title of the NHL’s streakiest team. Since their well-documented seven-game winning streak, the Flames proceeded to lose six-straight games – albeit four required extra time.

However, it seems the Flames are back on the upswing, as they swept the Blackhawks in a home-and-home series. Even more in their favor, the Flames have traveled exceptionally well lately, posting a 5-0-1 record in their last six games away from the Saddledome.

But let’s keep our comparisons constant: How have the Flames fared since the All-Star Break?

Considering Calgary has only posted a 2-2-0 record since the break, I suppose the answer is simply “average,” if not arguably worse.

The most glaring hole in the Flames’ play since resuming play has been on the defensive end, where they’ve allowed a 12th-worst 32.5 shots against per game and (t)fourth-worst goals against per game in that time.

The defensive effort is basically a given at this point in the season. Calgary has averaged 32.1 shots against per game for its entire campaign, 22-15-6 G Mike Smith is seeing no more work lately than he’s seen all season.

However, that means that the biggest decline in the defensive end actually belongs to him. Having averaged a .922 save percentage and 2.5 GAA for the season, Smith has not been impressive in his last four starts, managing only an .888 save percentage and 3.7 GAA.

With that in mind and the fact that the Flames play in Madison Square Garden tomorrow night, Smith will take the night off this evening and cede his crease to 4-1-2 G David Rittich, who’s posted a .926 save percentage and 2.23 GAA in eight appearances this season.

Fortunately for Rittich, he has two things going for him in tonight’s game. The first is, thanks to Schneider being out, Jersey is pulling back to play stellar defensive hockey, meaning he may see fewer shots this evening.

The second is his own offense is pretty handy with the puck, able to score with regularity to earn him wins.

Since the All-Star Break, Calgary has posted a (t)12th-best 3.25 goals-per-game. That success is thanks in large part to LW Johnny Gaudreau (2-3-5 totals since the break, 17-45-62 overall), D T.J. Brodie (0-5-5, 3-22-25 overall), C Sean Monahan (3-1-4, 25-22-47 overall) and D Dougie Hamilton (1-3-4, 9-18-27 overall). All four have averaged at least a point per game in their last four showings, and they’ll need to continue their success tonight against a stingy Jersey defense for a chance to win their third-straight game.

The Flames have already hosted the Devils this season, and the fans in attendance at the Saddledome were treated to a heck of a game. The November 5 contest went back-and-forth before reaching the end of regulation with a 4-4 tie. That eventually forced a shootout that LW Matthew Tkachuk won in the final round, earning the Flames the bonus point.

For me, this game boils down to which goaltender can perform better. Can Rittich do his best Smith impression tonight, or will it be Kinkaid that makes the few saves his defense requires him to make? I’m leaning towards the Kinkaid option as being the more probable.

However, that pick does come with a caveat: if Calgary can force overtime, I think the Flames’ offense can earn the bonus point.


After a seven-round shootout, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally knocked off the Nashville Predators 3-2 at Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Let me be the first to say that if we get a Stanley Cup Finals between these teams, we’ll all be glued to our televisions for every second. This game had everything: goals, solid defense, superb goaltending… all the things you want in the final round of a championship.

As for the goal scoring, that started with 3:54 remaining in the first period when Second Star of the Game LW James van Riemsdyk (RW Connor Brown and D Travis Dermott) buried a slap shot to give the Maple Leafs a one-goal lead.

Goal number 2 also belonged to Toronto, but this one was a shorthanded wrist shot struck by RW Kasperi Kapanen (F Dominic Moore and D Ron Hainsey) 9:38 into the second frame. Facing a 2-0 hole, the Predators finally found their scoring prowess with 1:50 remaining before the second period. C Colton Sissons (LW Pontus Aberg and D Ryan Ellis) took credit for the late period charge, burying a snap shot.

Whatever motivational speech Head Coach Peter Laviolette gave in the dressing room obviously worked, because the Predators leveled the game only 25 seconds after returning to the ice when W Viktor Arvidsson scored an unassisted wrister.

Arvidsson’s game-tying effort proved to be the final goal scored in regulation, and none were added to the total in five minutes of three-on-three overtime. That forced every hockey fan’s favorite thing: the shootout.

As home team, Toronto had the option of going first or second. Head Coach Mike Babcock elected to go first.

  1. C Auston Matthews usually seems like a good first choice in these shootout situations, but not when he’s squaring off against Third Star G Pekka Rinne. The Finn made the save.
  2. That provided Turris an opportunity to give the Preds an advantage, but he sent his shot wide of the net.
  3. F William Nylander apparently saw what Turris did and liked it, because he also didn’t force Rinne to make a save.
  4. Once again Nashville was provided with a major opportunity, but W Kevin Fiala‘s snap shot was saved by First Star G Frederik Andersen to keep the shootout tied at zero.
  5. Finally, someone found a goal! C Tyler Bozak scored in the third and final round, setting up a miss-and-lose situation for the visiting Preds.
  6. Ellis apparently likes these situations where his club is trailing, because he duplicated his success from regulation to even the shootout and force sudden death.
  7. F Mitch Marner was the fourth Leafs shooter to approach Rinne’s goal, but he found the same fate as Matthews: saved by the Finn.
  8. F Craig Smith tried to get a little too fancy for his own good, as Andersen was able to make the save on his backhanded shot.
  9. Get in line, F Patrick Marleau. You’re not the first to get stopped by Rinne today.
  10. Another Predators backhander – this one from D Roman Josi. Another Andersen save.
  11. Rinne just wasn’t a very nice house guest, was he? Brown’s snapper was also saved by the visiting netminder.
  12. In the same turn, Andersen wasn’t exactly a benevolent host. F Ryan Johansen tried to beat him with a backhander (Nashville’s third in a row), but the former Duck was more than up to the challenge.
  13. Apparently, van Riemsdyk saw that it was almost his bedtime, so he decided to do something about it. He beat Rinne to set up a miss-and-lose situation for the Preds.
  14. Though Arvidsson was the one that got this game into the shootout, he couldn’t extend it as his snapper was saved by Andersen.

Andersen earned the victory after saving 44-of-46 shots faced (.957 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Rinne, who saved 30-of-32 (.938).

The 67-38-15 home teams are flexing their muscles in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’ve now won seven of the past eight games. Toronto’s shootout victory gives the hosts a 28-point lead over the roadies in the series.

December 30 – Day 84 – Seeing red

In preparation for New Year’s Eve tomorrow, the NHL has elected to schedule a light slate of games this Saturday.

Only half a dozen contests will be played this evening, starting with three (Boston at Ottawa [SN], Montréal at Florida [CBC/CITY/TVAS] and New Jersey at Washington) at 7 p.m. Two more games (Carolina at St. Louis and Minnesota at Nashville) drop the puck an hour later, while Los Angeles at Vancouver (CBC/SN) – tonight’s nightcap – waits until 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Two of today’s contests have caught my eye…

  • Boston at Ottawa: It’s a rematch of one of last year’s Eastern Conference First Round matchups. The Sens won the series in six games.
  • New Jersey at Washington: Not only is this an important Metropolitan matchup, but F Marcus Johansson is also making his first return to the American capital after seven seasons with the Caps.

Considering the Senators have been a bit of a disappointment (that’s probably putting things lightly) this year, I think we have to make the trip to D.C.

 

Johansson’s presence in the NHL began during the 2009 Entry Draft when the Capitals selected him with the 24th-overall pick on the heels of a 3-2-5 performance in the 2008 IIHF World U18 Championships.

Though he didn’t immediately join the Caps, instead playing one more season with Färjestad BK in Sweden’s top league and posting 10-10-20 totals in 42 games played, he did eventually carve out a spot for himself on Washington’s roster during the 2010-’11 season, his first in North America.

Johansson posted rather unimpressive 13-14-27 totals during that rookie season, but it’s safe to say he’s improved with every season he spent in a Capitals sweater. With the exception of the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 season, Johansson earned a minimum of 44 points in each of the next six seasons he spent in Washington. No campaign was better than last year’s, as he established new career-highs in goals (24) and points (58). He also earned valuable playoff experience, playing in 69 postseason games for 9-21-30 totals.

Unfortunately for the Capitals, they faced some well-documented salary cap issues this offseason, and that forced them to make at least one move that would probably hurt their hockey team. Johansson proved to be one of those tough decisions, as General Manager Brian MacLellan opted to dump the forward’s remaining two-year, $4.58 million-per contract within the division in exchange for two 2018 draft picks.

So far, Johansson has not yielded the return New Jersey General Manager Ray Shero was expecting when he traded for him. He’s managed only 5-3-8 totals so far this season, but he’s been limited to only 19 games played. That puts his points-per-game at .42, which is barely better than his .39 points-per-game rookie season. After spending four mid-December games in the press box nursing an ankle injury, he’s regained his spot on the second line (and second power play unit, for that matter) and will be expected to begin converting more opportunities with linemates W Kyle Palmieri (5-7-12) and C Travis Zajac (2-0-2) sooner than later.

Of course, even though they’d prefer more production out of him, it’s not like the 22-9-6 Devils are really hurting for offense. The Metropolitan Division leaders have managed an impressive 3.14 goals-per-game to rank (t)seventh-best in the NHL this season, and they’ve been even better since December 12, scoring 29 goals (second-most) during their eight-game point streak (3.63 per game).

During this dominating run Jersey is on, no two players have been a more dominating force than F Brian Boyle (5-4-9 since December 12; 10-6-16 overall) and F Taylor Hall (3-4-7; 12-24-36 overall), both of whom are averaging more than a point-per-game since mid-December. Boyle’s success is especially exciting given not only his health concerns coming into the season, but also his position as the third line center.

One of the major reasons for the Devils’ stellar attack is they don’t miss on too many power play opportunities. Over their past eight games, the Devils have converted 28.6 percent of their man-advantages – the (t)third-best rate in the NHL – which is even better than their (t)eighth-ranked 21.4 percent conversion rate on the season.

If 23-13-3 Washington, the second place team in the Metro, wants a chance of beating the Devils, it’ll need to successfully employ a solid penalty kill or try its hardest to stay out of the penalty box. The latter will probably be the better game plan, because the Caps’ 80.1 percent kill rate is the 11th-worst in the NHL.

But don’t read that as the Caps being a bad team defensively, because that’s erroneously far from the truth. On the season, Washington has allowed a 14th-best 2.82 goals against-per-game, but that number has dropped to 2.38 since December 12 while the Capitals have earned points in seven of eight games.

Though the Capitals employ the reigning William M. Jennings Trophy winner, I’d argue that Washington’s defensive success has less to do with 21-8-0 G Braden Holtby (even though he has the second-most wins in the league) and more to do with the impeccable efforts of late by RW Alex Chiasson, D Dmitry Orlov and D Brooks Orpik, who’ve respectively posted eight takeaways, 15 blocks and 26 hits since December 12.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have W Alex Ovechkin playing on the same team either. Sometimes the best defense is stellar offense, and Ovi has provided that throughout his career. This season is no exception, as his 24 goals are tied for the most in the league.

Of note, Jersey did play last night to a 4-3 overtime loss against the Sabres at The Rock. That loss snapped a five-game winning streak for both the club and 17-6-5 G Cory Schneider (his 17 wins are the [t]eighth-most in the NHL). Since he was in net last night, I’d expect 5-3-1 G Keith Kinkaid, who’s lost his last two games, to assume starting duties this evening.

Another important note is that these teams have already met once this season, and that game went the Capitals’ way. On October 13, Washington descended upon New Jersey and dominated the Devils to a 5-2 win, thanks in large part to a four-point night by C Nicklas Backstrom.

But who takes the two points tonight? I’m leaning towards the Devils. Even though they’re playing on the road, I’m concerned that Washington’s inability to stay out of the penalty box (the Caps’ 136 times shorthanded is eighth-most in the league) will bite it in the butt. Look for Jersey to exact revenge for October 13’s home defeat.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 at the Honda Center.

Though the score doesn’t indicate it, Anaheim absolutely dominated this game, as it out-shot the Flames 41-23. That was especially true in the first period, as the Ducks managed to fire a whopping 20 shots on goal compared to Calgary’s five. Third Star of the Game G Mike Smith was up for the task for most of that onslaught, but First Star D Cam Fowler (Second Star C Ryan Getzlaf and F Rickard Rakell) was able to sneak a backhanded shot past him at the 3:48 mark to give Anaheim an early lead.

Calgary’s best frame was easily the second, as it out-shot the Ducks 11-8. As a result, W Micheal Ferland (D Matt Bartkowski and Smith) was able to level the game with a snap shot with 8:05 remaining in the period.

With that pesky long change out of the way, the Ducks resumed their command of the game in the third period, and that control was only heightened when LW Matthew Tkachuk made the mistake of sending a puck over the glass to earn himself a seat in the penalty box. However, he was held out of action for only seven seconds, as Rakell (Getzlaf and W Jakob Silfverberg) was able to use the man-advantage to score a game-winning power play wrist shot at the 2:17 mark.

If tic-tac-goals are among your favorite things, you’ll like this tally. After Getzlaf won the face-off at the right dot in his attacking zone, C Adam Henrique tapped the puck back to Fowler at the point. The defenseman sent the biscuit back towards the crease to Silfverberg, who tapped back towards the slot to Getzlaf in a centering attempt. However, instead of taking the obvious snapper, the captain instead elected to shove the puck towards the left face-off circle to the waiting Rakell, who one-timed a wrister over a diving Smith.

G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 22-of-23 shots faced (.957 save percentage), leaving the unfortunate loss to Smith, who saved 39-of-41 (.951).

Mark it down as another win for the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have a 47-27-10 record that is exactly 20 points better than the visitors’.

December 21 – Day 78 – Battle of the Hudson River

Hopefully your Christmas shopping is done, because there’s too much good hockey on tonight for you to miss.

As is normal for a weekday, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. when four games (Winnipeg at Boston, the New York Rangers at New Jersey, Anaheim at the New York Islanders and Columbus at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS]) drop the puck, followed by Ottawa at Tampa Bay (RDS) half an hour later. The next game up is Carolina at Nashville at 8 p.m., while Chicago at Dallas finds its start 30 minutes after. St. Louis at Edmonton gets underway at 9 p.m., and tonight’s co-nightcaps – Colorado at Los Angeles and Vancouver at San Jose – will close things out at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Before the season had even started, I’d circled these games on my schedule:

  • New York at New Jersey: It’s the Battle of the Hudson River, not to mention positioning in the Metropolitan Division!
  • Columbus at Pittsburgh: Speaking of the Metro, this is the first time this season these rivals from the first round last year’s playoffs will meet up.

The Hawks-Stars contest will also be a stellar one, but we feature those teams an awful lot. I think we’re going to stay in the Metropolitan Division today and take in the action in the Garden State.

 

It’s not even 2018 yet, but the season series between these teams is already halfway done. These clubs split the two previous games played at Madison Square Garden, with the Devils winning the first 3-2 on October 14, and the Rangers exacting revenge December 9 to win 5-2.

19-13-3 New York enters this game the hotter of the two teams, as it is currently riding a three-game winning streak that includes a 4-2 victory over Los Angeles. That game took place on December 15, and since then the Blueshirts have been among the league’s best, scoring the (t)third-most goals (11) and allowing the (t)third-fewest (five) to climb into the top wildcard spot.

The defensive prowess is very easy to identify, because it’s the same man leading the charge as it’s been everyday since the 2005-’06 season. 17-8-2 G Henrik Lundqvist has looked like King Henrik circa 2011-’12 of late, as he’s posted a .955 save percentage and 1.64 GAA over his past three games. This incredible performance has elevated his season numbers to a .92 save percentage and 2.58 GAA, both of which are among the top-10 efforts among the 31 goaltenders with at least 16 starts this season.

On the offensive end, the Rangers have gotten back to spreading the puck around to make themselves one of the most versatile and unpredictable teams in the league, one of my favorite characteristics of this club. During this run, C David Desharnais (0-3-3), W Michael Grabner (2-1-3), F Kevin Hayes (2-1-3) and W Mats Zuccarello (1-2-3) have all averaged a point-per-game, with eight more players having two points to their credit. If that doesn’t frighten 14-6-4 G Cory Schneider, I don’t know what does.

Speaking of Schneider, his 19-9-5 Devils are also riding a four-game point streak that starts with a victory over the Kings. Starting with that game on December 12, Jersey has earned a 3-0-1 record to hold on to its second place spot in the Metro.

Just like their counterparts from Manhattan, the Devils have found a solid groove on both sides of the ice. Since the Kings game, Jersey has scored 16 goals ([t]fourth-most in the NHL) and allowed only eight ([t]fifth-fewest).

Schneider has been solid during this run with a .925 save percentage and 1.98 GAA, but I’ve been much more with his defense that has allowed only 107 shots against over the past four games, the fifth-fewest in the NHL in that time. D Andy Greene (eight blocks), F Taylor Hall (six takeaways) and D John Moore (11 hits) have been stellar of late, as they lead the team in their respective statistics over these four contests.

As for the offense, the story revolves around the awakening of the beast known as F Brian Boyle, a former Ranger of five years. Making me regret leaving him on my fantasy team’s bench, he’s exploded over his past four games to earn 3-4-7 totals from his bottom-six position. After starting the season on injured reserve after being diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, the fact that Boyle, who just celebrated his 33rd birthday on Monday, is even on the ice is momentous and worthy of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. If he can continue this success, he’d be on pace for the best year of his career – which I’d say would make him a lock for the award, not to mention put the Devils in contention for some other important pieces of hardware.

Unfortunately, one team has to lose this game; the question is which one? New York has struggled on the road this season, earning only a 5-7-0 record. Unless at least half of the 16,514 people packed into the Prudential Center this evening are wearing blue, I think the Devils will continue their winning streak.


Led in large part by Second Star of the Game G Joonas Korpisalo, the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 at Nationwide Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Jackets took advantage of their familiar surroundings in the first period to jump out to a 2-0 lead. The first of those goals was scored by C Lukas Sedlak (LW Matt Calvert) with 7:03 remaining in the frame, followed 5:48 later by an unassisted wrist shot by First Star D Seth Jones.

D Jake Gardiner (F William Nylander) finally got the Maple Leafs on the board at the 4:26 mark of the second frame, but LW James van Riemsdyk made a mistake 4:42 later that proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back: he was caught tripping D Jack Johnson, which set up Columbus’ second power play opportunity of the contest. With 9:40 remaining in the frame, F Pierre-Luc Dubois (Third Star RW Cam Atkinson and Jones) did some gritty work in G Curtis McElhinney‘s crease to score what proved to be the Jackets’ game-winning goal.

C Alexander Wennberg (Atkinson and F Boone Jenner) tacked on an insurance goal with 8:09 remaining in regulation to set the score at 4-1. It was actually a fairly important tally, as F Mitch Marner (Gardiner and C Tyler Bozak) managed to pull Toronto back within a two goal deficit with 2:57 remaining on the clock. Had the Leafs only trailed by one, who knows what could have happened with McElhinney pulled.

As mentioned before, Korpisalo was an absolute stud in this contest. He saved 39-of-41 shots faced (.951 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to McElhinney, who saved a more than respectable 33-of-37 (.892).

It’s been the week of the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as the 44-25-9 hosts have won five of the last six contests. Last night’s win gave them a perfect 20-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

December 18 – Day 75 – Henrique The Rock

There are good Mondays in the NHL, and there are bad Mondays in the NHL.

This is one of the bad ones, as there’s only five games on the schedule for our viewing pleasure. Three of tonight’s contests (Columbus at Boston [SN/TVAS], Anaheim at New Jersey and Los Angeles at Philadelphia [NHLN]) drop the puck at 7 p.m., while the evening’s co-nightcaps – Pittsburgh at Colorado and San Jose at Edmonton – will get underway at 9 p.m. All times Eastern.

Who would’ve guessed it, but I already have notes on a couple of today’s games.

  • Anaheim at New Jersey: C Adam Henrique had been a member of the Devils’ organization since 2008. After being traded at the end of last month, he’ll make his first-ever trip to the Prudential Center as a member of the road squad.
  • San Jose at Edmonton: The Western Quarterfinals might have been eight months ago, but that won’t dull the Sharks’ desire to exact revenge on the Oil for eliminating them at The Tank.

It’s been a while since we’ve watched a Ducks game. Let’s see if Henrique gets a warm welcome.

 

Selected in the third round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the Devils’ organization is the only professional hockey team Henrique has ever known. After completing his fourth and final season with the Windsor Spitfires, he reported to the capital of New York at the start of the 2010-’11 season before earning his first NHL experience on April 11, 2011.

Henrique would retain his spot on the senior roster for most of the 2011-’12 season, and has not seen the AHL since the 2012-’13 campaign. In all, Henrique played 455 games over eight seasons with New Jersey, managing decent 122-135-257 totals over that time to average .56 points-per-game.

But even a decent résumé could not save him from being traded at the end of November. With 14 points to his name over his first 24 games played this season, he was shipped to Anaheim to help the Ducks with their injury-laden offense (W Patrick Eaves, F Ryan Kesler, F Mike Liambas, W Corey Perry and LW Nick Ritchie are all currently on injured reserve). I’m sure the Devils had been happy with how he’d been playing this year, but with him under contract for only one more season following this one and the opportunity to snag D Sami Vatanen through the 2019-’20 season and a potential draft pick sitting on the table, this was a no-brainer for Devils General Manager Ray Shero.

Since trading for Henrique, Anaheim has earned a 3-1-4 record to improve its season mark to 14-11-8, which is good enough for 11th place in the Western Conference. The Ducks have played especially good of late, as they’ve earned points in seven-consecutive contests.

However, even by adding Henrique to the Ducks’ second line, the true core of this team is its incredible effort on the defensive end, which has allowed a (t)fifth-lowest 18 goals since November 30.

Led by D Francois Beauchemin‘s 2.62 blocks-per-game and F Chris Wagner‘s 3.62 hits-per-game since the end of November, the Ducks’ defense has been a decent presence, allowing only 256 shots against – the 10th-fewest in the NHL. However, when he’s been on the ice – as he will be tonight – 3-0-4 G Ryan Miller has been the true star. He’s started only two games since Henrique’s arrival, but he’s earned three points in those efforts with his dominant .969 save percentage and .96 GAA to elevate his season numbers to a .945 save percentage and 1.74 GAA. On the season, Miller is second-best in both statistics among the 64 netminders with at least four starts.

Given the unenviable task of trying to give Miller his first regulation loss of the season are the 18-9-5 Devils, the second-place team in the Metropolitan Division. Similar to Anaheim, New Jersey has also turned into a defensive team since trading for Vatanen, as it has allowed only 22 goals since his arrival – the 13th-fewest in the NHL.

Just like Anaheim, even though 13-6-4 Cory Schneider has had some excellent assistance from F Brian Gibbons (10 takeaways), D Andy Greene (2.5 blocks-per-game) and D Steven Santini (3.4 hits-per-game) during this run, he’s been the true stud on the defensive end. Since November 30, he’s posted a .932 save percentage and 1.99 GAA to earn nine points in the standings and elevate his season numbers to a .921 save percentage and 2.58 GAA, both top-10 efforts among the 31 goaltenders with at least 16 starts.

In a defensive matchup like this, it’s going to boil down to which offense can impose its will better. Considering Jersey’s offense has been stronger both since the trade and on the season as a whole, I’d bank on the Devils earning two points at home tonight – no matter how strong a fight Miller puts up.


On the back of First Star of the Game F Patrick Kane‘s two-goal performance, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 4-1 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one goal apiece was struck in the first two periods, and they both belonged to Kane. The first period’s marker – a Kane (F Nick Schmaltz and F Artem Anisimov) slap shot – was struck with 9:04 remaining in the frame. Showtime (D Jordan Oesterle and D Duncan Keith) scored again with 4:24 remaining in the second period with a wrist shot that proved to be the game-winner.

Coming off the bench, Kane was simply fortunate to be the beneficiary of a stellar Oesterle pass that crossed both blue lines. That pass, which extended well beyond 50 feet, set Kane up for a one-on-one scenario against G Alex Stalock, and he took advantage to beat the backup’s five hole to the left post.

Thanks to Third Star RW Ryan Hartman‘s unassisted wrister 1:41 into the third period, the Hawks earned themselves a three-goal advantage, but D Mathew Dumba (D Ryan Suter and F Charlie Coyle) was able to pull the Wild back within a two-goal deficit 4:15 later. That’s as close as Minnesota could get however, and F Tommy Wingels set the 4-1 final score with an unassisted shorthanded backhanded shot with four minutes remaining in the game.

Second Star G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 27-of-28 shots faced (.964 save percentage), leaving the loss to Stalock, who saved 42-of-45 (.933).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have rediscovered their winning ways, as Chicago’s victory was the hosts’ third-straight. That has improved the homers’ record in the series to 42-24-9, 18 points better than the visitors.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 2

Player of the Week: Jaden Schwartz

Calm down, Lightning fans, you’ll get your turn.

I could have easily chosen either of the dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in Tampa, who have been going Harlem Globetrotters on every team they’ve come into contact with, but I think Schwartz deserves some props. The diminutive Blues winger has always been a very good under-the-radar guy, usually playing 2nd fiddle to his linemate Vladimir Tarasenko. But Schwartz made the headlines this week, with a hat trick against the Blackhawks on Wednesday, followed up the next night with another goal against Colorado, and finished off with an assist against Vegas Saturday night (more on that game later). All in all, a 4-goal, 5-point week in 3 games is more than enough to earn Schwartz this completely meaningless nomination.

Team of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning

Alright, we good, Bolts fans? We square? Cool.

The Lightning have looked borderline immortal so far this season, with a 7-1-1 record bolstered by this week’s 3-0-1 stretch. But it’s not just that near-flawless week putting them here, it’s how they did it. Tampa’s 3 victories came by a combined score of 12-3 (granted, a big part of that percentage was the 7-1 sha-lacking they put on Pittsburgh), and if not for a sweet little backhand move by Kyle Palmieri in the 3rd round of the shootout in New Jersey (oh, more on that game later, too), the Bolts could have walked away with a perfect week.

Game(s) of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning 4 @ New Jersey Devils 5 (SO), Tuesday October 17th & St. Louis Blues 2 @ Vegas Golden Knights 3 (OT), Saturday October 21st

It simply wasn’t possible to leave either of these games out.

First up, we had the current Team of the Week squaring off with the former Team of the Week, in a battle of two of the league’s hottest clubs. What we got was 72 total shots on goal, 35 hits, 9 power plays (resulting in 3 goals), and a whole mess of fun. The game started with Cory Schneider making a terrific paddle-down save on Brayden Point just moments into the action, and just a few minutes later Drew Stafford let a seemingly harmless wrister go from the right wing boards that eluded a rusty Peter Budaj (his first game action since the preseason) and gave the Devils the 1-0 lead. Budaj would settle down a bit in the next few minutes making a few quality stops, eventually leading to his team tying the game, and taking the lead just minutes later, on the strength of goals from Vladislav Namestnikov and Ondrej Palat. It would be short-lived, though, as just 4 minutes later a top shelf power play rocket from Palmieri would even the score, and Brian Gibbons would follow suit in the final minute of the period to send New Jersey to the room with the lead.

Things settled down on the scoreboard for most of the 2nd period, although both goaltenders were still busy. Finally with just under 6 minutes to play Kucherov would fire a rocket directly from Russia with love and even the score, before linemate Stamkos would give the Lightning the 4-3 lead in the closing minutes of the 2nd. Tampa did their best to lock the game down the rest of the way, but finally with just over 4 minutes remaining Stafford would bury his own rebound to cap off a gorgeous passing play, score his 2nd of the night, and send it to overtime. A relatively tame 3-on-3 period would send it to the shootout, where Palmieri’s nifty mitts would deposit the only biscuit of the frame and send the Jersey faithful home happy.

Now onto a Saturday night in Vegas, where the upstart Golden Knights would look to make history by being the first franchise to ever start its inaugural season with 6 wins in 7 games.

Things weren’t looking great for the Golden Knights early on, as the Blues peppered young Malcolm Subban mercilessly in the opening frame, St. Louis eventually holding an 18-4 shot advantage when the period came to a close. But Subban managed to limit the damage to only a lone Magnus Paajarvi tally and get his team into the dressing room only down 1-0. Vegas would feed off of the strong play of their goaltender, and reward him in the 2nd period with power play tallies from both Reilly Smith and Colin Miller, and they’d take a 2-1 lead into the 3rd period.

Unfortunately for Vegas, just past the midway point of the 3rd period Subban would appear to strain his groin kicking out his right pad for a save, and would have to be helped from the ice, leaving the task of surviving the continued St. Louis onslaught to another youngster, former Blue Jackets prospect Oscar Dansk. Unfortunately for the young Swede, the first shot he faced would be an Alex Pietrangelo one-time bomb from the high slot with just over 5 minutes to play, drawing the game even once again on a shot that no goaltender could be expected to do anything about. The Blues would do everything in their power to get the winning goal past Dansk in the closing minutes, including a Schwartz tip that got behind the Vegas netminder but went wide of the net with just 8 seconds on the clock, but the youngster held the fort and took the game to extra time.

Overtime brought another golden opportunity for Schwartz, who found himself with all alone in the slot with a clear lane to shoot, only to be bested by the right leg of Dansk. Then Brendan Leipsic would jump on a turnover to break in all alone, but Jake Allen met his backhand with a flash of the leather to keep the game going. But just over a minute later, and with less than 30 seconds left, Smith would jump on a loose puck, glide into the St. Louis zone, and float a beautiful pass to a streaking William ‘Wild Bill’ Karlsson who ripped a one-timer over the two-pad stack of Allen to send the building into bedlam and the Golden Knights into the history books.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Despite their apparent ability to win with anyone wearing goalie pads in net (I could see a Twitter campaign for this being a hit), Vegas’ injury situation is no laughing matter. Marc-Andre Fleury is still dealing with the effects of a concussion (which as we know really doesn’t have a set recovery time), and Subban is out for at least a month. The goaltending duties now fall on Dansk and Maxime Lagace for the foreseeable future. If there’s any consolation to be found in this for the Golden Knights, it’s that they’ve had tremendous success with injury replacements so far. Subban played very well in Fleury’s absence, and Alex Tuch (who was called up to replace the injured Jon Marchessault) has 2 goals and 3 points in his first 3 games with the club.

Roman Polak has signed a 1 year deal with the Maple Leafs, in what was almost certainly just a plot to further shorten the useful lifespan of Steve Dangle’s heart.

Potential big-money bet: Does Montreal fire Claude Julien and replace him with Michel Therrien?

Side bet: Does Therrien walk into that press conference to Eric Bischoff’s “I’m Back” entrance music?

Side-side bet: Over/under on amount of sticks Carey Price destroys before Montreal’s next victory.

If you haven’t seen/heard/read any of Ed Olczyk‘s comments from his return to broadcasting (both on Wednesday in St. Louis for the NBCSN broadcast or Thursday in Chicago to call the Hawks/Oilers game) while in between chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer, please do yourself a favor and go find them. Truly inspiring stuff from one of the best in the business, and the standing ovations he received at both games are enough to give anyone chills.

On a somewhat related topic, Brian Boyle also made his return to action, this time on ice in a full-contact practice on Sunday. Boyle has been battling a form of cancer that attacks bone marrow, but cleared the final ‘hurdle’ in his treatment regimen to be able to get back on the ice with his teammates. Once he and his coaches feel he is fully into game shape, we should see the big man out of Boston College going back to work.

October 13 – Day 10 – Sold their souls to the Jersey Devil

Sorry, no obscure celebrity references in the title today. Hopefully you came for the references and stayed for the hockey previews.

Friday has a few fun games on the roster, starting with two (Washington at New Jersey and the New York Rangers at Columbus [NHLN/SN1/TVAS]) at 7 p.m. Another pair of contests (Anaheim at Colorado and Ottawa at Calgary) drop the puck at 9 p.m., followed by tonight’s nightcap, Detroit at Vegas, 90 minutes later. All times Eastern.

It’s unfortunate that New Jersey and Vegas weren’t squaring off tonight, as two undefeated clubs tangling would have been a fun sight. Instead, we have to choose between one or the other, and since we’ve already featured the Golden Knights twice this season, it looks like it’s off to Newark with us!

 

Anyone who pegged the New Jersey Devils to start the season a perfect 3-0-0, please stand up.

OK, now all of you sit down, because I think most of you are liars.

A season removed from the third-worst offense in the league, the Devils have absolutely exploded to start this campaign, as they average 5.33 goals-per-game to rank second-best in the NHL.

While it’d be fun to assume that the reason for Jersey’s improvement is the addition of C Nico Hischier (0-1-1 totals), the top-overall pick in this season’s NHL Entry Draft, much of the offense has actually come from W Jesper Bratt, a Swedish 19-year-old that was a sixth-rounder from the Class of 2016.

Bratt (3-3-6) has been absolutely outstanding to begin his rookie career, as he currently averages a goal and an assist per game. It’s an elite group to be a member of, as only Washington’s D Christian Djoos can make a similar claim – though he’s played in only one game.

Additionally, a total of only six players currently average two points-per-game, and it is quite a group. Bratt and Djoos are currently sharing company with the likes of Detroit’s D Mike Green, Buffalo’s LW Evander Kane and Washington’s C Evgeny Kuznetsov and W Alex Ovechkin.

Not too shabby, as all are established names in his league.

Another integral part to the Devils’ early success has been free agent signing D Will Butcher. Another rookie, he’s managed to provide five assists – three of which were on the power play – to fully integrate himself into New Jersey’s attack from the blue line.

Why the Avalanche didn’t want Butcher in their system is beyond me. Maybe General Manager Joe Sakic thought he accidentally happened into his Hobey Baker Award.

Turns out he was wrong in that assessment.

As a result of Butcher’s play on the man-advantage, Jersey has seen a massive improvement on its power play. Last season, the Devils converted 17.5 percent of opponents’ penalties into goals, but this year is a totally different ball game (err… puck game). New Jersey has found success in four-of-13 opportunities for a 30.8 percent conversion rate, the fifth-best in the NHL.

Unfortunately, numbers like Bratt’s and Butcher’s are tough to maintain even for RW Jaromir Jagr, much less two rookies. Both skaters will return to Earth eventually, so G Cory Schneider will need to continue his bounce-back season. Having played all three of the Devils’ games so far, he’s managed a .948 save percentage and a 2.00 GAA to rank among the top-10 goalies in the league.

In the red corner, the Capitals enter this game on a two-game losing skid (most recent of which was Wednesday’s 3-2 home defeat at the hands of the Penguins).

As I stated in Wednesday’s preview, Washington is playing far better than its offseason would have indicated. In particular, the Caps’ power play has been very good, as they’ve already registered three goals in 13 extra-man opportunities.

One of Washington’s best play makers, C Nicklas Backstrom has been at the front of the man-advantage surge. He’s already registered three power play assists in four games. One of his favorite goal scorers to set up has been F T.J. Oshie, who has scored two man-advantage goals of his own. Considering New Jersey is playing the eighth-worst penalty kill to start the season, they’d be wise to keep RW Stefan Noesen under control.

Additionally, RW Tom Wilson will make his season debut this evening. He was suspended for the first four games of the season for boarding St. Louis’ LW Samuel Blais in their preseason game on October 1. Wilson has already served two suspensions this season after serving a first during the preseason, so he’ll be walking on eggshells with Head Coach Barry Trotz and the Department of Player Safety. If the former first-rounder cannot clean up his game in his contract year, he may struggle to find a job that pays the way he wants it

If Wilson shows any signs of timidity, I’d guess the Devils won’t hesitate to jump on him.

Considering all the momentum is on New Jersey’s side right now, I’m leaning towards the Devils taking this game. That being said, Vegas is leaning towards the Capitals taking this one, favoring them in the -140 range.


After allowing the Dallas Stars to score the first goal, the Nashville Predators buried four unanswered tallies to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Bridgestone Arena.

Dallas’ lone goal of the night was struck 8:04 into the contest courtesy of LW Jamie Benn (C Jason Spezza and D John Klingberg), who used a power play wrist shot to pot his first marker of the season. The Stars held onto that lead throughout the opening period and into the first intermission.

It took only 3:27 of action after returning to the ice for First Star rookie D Samuel Girard (D P.K. Subban and W Cody McLeod) to find his first goal of his NHL career. That slap shot leveled the game at one-all, allowing Second Star F Filip Forsberg‘s (Girard and F Ryan Johansen) power play wrister 2:54 later to be what proved to be the game-winner.

There’s nothing like a revenge goal with the cherry on top being that it ended up the winner. 5:12 into the second period, Spezza was sent to the penalty box for tripping Forsberg, the eventual goalscorer.  The play started when Forsberg entered the offensive zone along the near boards. Under pressure from two Stars penalty killers, he was forced to retreat back towards the point before passing to Girard on the opposite side of the zone. The youngster advanced towards G Ben Bishop‘s crease before firing a slap shot from the face-off circle to the netminder’s stick side. Bishop was forced to make a diving save but was unable to contain the rebound, leaving him vulnerable to Forsberg’s elevated wrister.

W Viktor Arvidsson (Forsberg) and Subban tacked on braces in the third period to cement the Preds’ second-straight victory.

Third Star G Pekka Rinne earned the victory after saving 30-of-31 shots faced (.968), leaving the loss to Bishop, who saved 27-of-30 (.9).

The DtFR Game of the Day series has certainly favored the 6-3-1 home teams so far, as they now have a four-point advantage over the visitors following tonight’s win.

New Jersey Devils 2017-’18 Season Preview

New Jersey Devils

28-40-14, 70 points, last in the Eastern Conference

Additions: F Brian Boyle, C Nico Hischier, F Marcus Johansson, W Drew Stafford

Subtractions: W Beau Bennett (signed with STL), F Mike Cammalleri (signed with LAK), W Patrik Elias (retired), F Jacob Josefson (signed with BUF), D Jonathon Merrill (drafted by VGK), W Devante Smith-Pelly (signed with WSH)

Offseason Analysis: Ignoring the lockout-shortened seasons of 1994-’95 and 2012-‘13, last year’s 70-point effort was the Devils’ worst campaign since 1988-’89. That ensuing draft, New Jersey selected future four-time All-Star RW Bill Guerin, who eventually contributed 11 points in the Devils’ 1995 run to the Stanley Cup – including an assist on C Neal Broten’s Cup-clinching goal.

Especially in light of recent draft standouts at the center position (think Jack EichelAuston Matthews, Connor McDavid, etc.), General Manager Ray Shero is hoping last year’s struggles that allowed him to draft Hischier with the first overall pick will yield similar results in the near future as he works to rebuild the club back to the level of success it’s experienced for most of the past three decades.

The speedy Swiss 18-year-old brings 38-48-86 totals from his time with QMJHL side Halifax last year, but he alone won’t be enough to significantly improve the third-worst offense in the league. That’s where former first-rounder Johansson and his career-high 24-34-58 totals from a season ago with the Capitals comes into play. Since both C Jesper Boqvist and W Fabian Zetterlund – the Devils’ second and third selections in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft – are expected to spend at least one more season in their native Sweden, it’ll be up to them to spearhead any attacking improvements for Head Coach John Hynes’ club alongside Taylor Hall (20-33-53) and Kyle Palmieri (26-27-53), last season’s co-leaders in points for the team.

Since the addition of 2017 Hobey Baker Award winner D Will Butcher on August 27, the situation along Jersey’s blue line could be evolving even though the Devils did little more than draft D Reilly Walsh with their second third-round pick, but it remains to be seen if Butcher will join Captain Andy Greene and co. on the senior team or if he’ll be assigned to Binghamton on AHL assignment.

Of note in this situation are the contracts, or lack thereof, of two Devils defensemen of the same mold: 26-year-old John Moore (12-10-22) and 23-year-old Damon Severson (3-28-31). Moore will be an unrestricted free agent following this season, while Severson is currently a restricted free agent. Should the Devils be unable to agree to terms with Severson – which would seem unlikely, given their almost $18 million in cap space – Butcher would be a lock to make Jersey’s 23-man roster, if not earn regular playing time. And in the predictable case Severson remains with the Devils, Butcher would almost certainly be an improvement over D Dalton Prout, who is eligible to be demoted to the AHL without hitting the waiver wire.

The same two goaltenders return from last year, and Cory Schneider – co-winner of the 2011 William M. Jennings Trophy – will be expected to return to his previous form. For his entire NHL career, Schneider has managed a .922 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, but those numbers fell to .908 and 2.82 last season. In large part, that may have been due to his defense allowing 31.4 shots to reach his crease per game (tied for ninth-worst in the NHL), but he cannot expect that to change given the Devils’ inactivity in changing personnel along the blue line. If New Jersey plans to end its rebuild now (*hint* it shouldn’t), it will have to fall on Schneider to shore up the defensive end.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect Devils fans to witness immediate progress noticeable in a final score. Instead, they should be looking for improved fundamentals from all skaters, a rebound season for Schneider and another solid entry draft to shore up the defensive corps. Rasmus Dahlin or Jared McIsaac, anyone?

Offseason Grade: B

Make no doubt about it: the Devils are in full rebuild mode and would be unwise to believe they are retooled enough to emerge from the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season. But, they have made many of the right steps in improving their forward corps with talented youths and could begin making their resurgence in a few years if they stick with #TheProcess.

March 10 – Day 142 – PETA made me change this title

Now that the week’s work is done, it’s time to settle in for a little hockey action. Tonight’s festivities start at 7 p.m. with Buffalo at Columbus, followed half an hour later by two more games (Chicago at Detroit [NHLN/SN] and Minnesota at Florida). Anaheim at St. Louis drops the puck at 8 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Pittsburgh at Edmonton (TVAS) – dropping the puck an hour after. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Chicago at Detroit: Everybody loves a little bit of Original Six action, right?
  • Pittsburgh at Edmonton: Justin Schultz joined the Penguins at last season’s trade deadline after four seasons with the Oilers.

Not only is Schultz’ return to northern Alberta worthy of watching, this should be an exemplary contest. To Rogers Place we go!

 

A University of Wisconsin product, this defenseman was selected 43rd-overall by Anaheim in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, but the two parties were unable to reach a contract after he decided to forgo his senior year.

Similar to Jimmy Vesey this offseason, Schultz was able to be courted as a free agent by the entire league and, well, when Wayne Gretzky shows up at your door asking you to don the blue-and-orange of Edmonton, you usually do what he says.

I mean, I would.

If the 2012-’13 lockout helped anybody as far as their playing ability is concerned, it would have to be the rookies. Shultz happened to be one of those youngsters to begin his professional career during that time, so he was assigned to the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton‘s AHL affiliate) where he was able to acclimate his game to that of the pros without holding back the Oil – as if they needed help in that department those days. In fact, he was so impressive during his time playing AAA hockey that he won the Eddie Shore Award, which is awarded annually to the AHL’s top defenseman.

Whether it was the initial plan before the lockout or not, that has been the only time Schultz has spent in the AHL during his career. When the Oilers opened their season on January 20, 2013, he experienced his first career NHL game and played nearly 21 minutes.

That was the beginning of a 248 game-career in Edmonton that spanned four seasons. Known for his offensive contributions from the blueline, Schultz truly shined brightest for the Oil during his sophomore season when he scored 11 goals for 33 points.

He could not maintain that success though, and his numbers dipped from 2014-’16. That prompted Peter Chiarelli to ship the defenseman to Pittsburgh for a third-round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft (the Oilers selected Filip Berglund, who has yet to depart for the NHL from Sweden).

To put it simply, whichever scout suggested to Jim Rutherford to make that trade deserves a hefty raise if he hasn’t received one already. Schultz scored eight points in his 18 regular season games with the Penguins, only two short of his total over 45 games in Edmonton in 2015-16. He added on another four assists en route to the Stanley Cup, including three on the road in San Jose and Tampa Bay.

After considering free agency over the offseason, he returned to the Steel City for this season – and the Penguins are glad to have him. He’s having a career year, already notching 12 goals (career high) for 45 points (career high by a dozen points) and notching his first positive +/- since entering the NHL. In fact, that +28 is seventh-best in the league.

He only signed a one-year contract with the Pens this year, so he’ll once again be a free agent this offseason. Something tells me he’ll be making more than $1.4 million on his next contract regardless of if he’s wearing black-and-gold or any other colors.

Pittsburgh will probably be very interested in retaining him. It may be simply coincidence, but Schultz is riding a three-game goal streak while the Pens are also enjoying a three-game winning streak. While Pittsburgh is not undefeated when he buries the puck, it’s pretty close – the Penguins are 11-2-0 when the blueliner finds the back of the net, and 11-1-0 on his multi-point nights.

Speaking of goal-scoring, that’s beyond a shadow of a doubt the way Pittsburgh has earned their 41-16-8 record – and that’s not intended to be a Maddenism. The Pens have managed 228 goals this year, the most in the league.

Just like it’s been since the 2006-’07 season, the offensive juggernaut that is the Pittsburgh Penguins has been headlined by the dynamic duo of Captain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, both of whom have 70 points to their credit. Arguably, Malkin has had the better season given the fact that he’s achieved that total on one-fewer game than Crosby, but Sid the Kid (he’s still under 30-years-old, he keeps the nickname a little longer) has the goals –  34, in fact – three more than Malkin to pace the squad.

As you’d expect from an offense of that caliber, Pittsburgh‘s power play cannot be taken lightly. Led by Phil Kessel‘s 27 man-advantage points, the Pens have converted 23.1% of their power plays – the third-best mark in the NHL. Crosby is still the one completing most of those plays though, as his 11 power play goals is one more than Malkin’s total to lead the club.

It’s a battle of strength vs. strength tonight, as the 35-23-8 Oilers are building a reputation for being one of the better defensive teams in the NHL. Edmonton ties for ninth-fewest in goals allowed, with only 170 pucks sneaking past Cam Talbot.

Remember last season when we though Chiarelli was an idiot for trading for Talbot? Yeah, that seems to be working out now for Edmonton, as he has a 33-19-7 record on a .919 save percentage and 2.4 GAA – the (t)eighth and 10th-best marks, respectively, in the league among the 35 netminders with at least 30 appearances this year.

Those numbers aren’t a major step up from last season, but the reason the Oil is finding so much more success is because the defense playing in front of Talbot has vastly improved. Last year, Edmonton‘s defense allowed 31.1 shots to reach his crease per game, the (t)fourth-highest rate in the league. This year, that number is down to 29.6, the (t)ninth-lowest. The addition of Kris Russell, who has really focused on his defensive play this season, has played a huge part in that improvement, as he leads the team with 153 shot blocks.

When the Oilers have everything under control, they’re a solid team. Put a skater in the penalty box, and all heck breaks loose. The youth on the blueline truly shows when Edmonton is forced to the penalty kill, as the Oilers‘ 79.2% penalty kill rate is eighth-worst in the NHL. Old Man Russell (he’s older than eight of the 11 defenseman that have skated for the Oilers this season) has tried his hardest with his 28 shorthanded shot blocks, but he could use more help from other experienced defensemen like Andrej Sekera.

What Edmonton gives up on the penalty kill, it gets back on the power play. Successful on 21.1% of attempts, the Oilers tie for the eighth-best attack in the NHL with the man-advantage. Leon Draisaitl has been the star of that effort with 20 power play points, as he also leads the team with his 10 extra-man goals.

As is the case with most East-West matchups this late into the season, tonight’s host has already made it’s annual visit to the opposite arena. It was not a good trip for the Oilers though, as they fell 4-3 on November 8 due to a Conor Sheary winner with 102 seconds remaining in regulation.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s Connor McDavid (52 assists for 74 points [both most in the NHL]) and Talbot (33 wins [fourth-most in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (34 goals [most in the league] for 70 points [tied for second-most in the NHL]), Malkin (70 points [tied for second-most in the league] on 31 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Matthew Murray (.923 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the league]) and Schultz (+28 [seventh-best in the NHL]).

Vegas has given Edmonton a +100 line for tonight’s game, which means they favor the Penguins. I have to agree with them, as Pittsburgh‘s strength is stronger than Edmonton‘s, and I think the Pens‘ penalty kill will be able to keep the Oil‘s power play in check.

As far as Schultz is concerned, he may not receive a special welcome from Edmontonians, but I get the impression he’ll want to prove Chiarelli and the Oilers made a poor decision trading him a season ago.

Hockey Birthday

  • Tuukka Rask (1987-) – Although selected 21st-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, this goaltender has played each and every one of his 383 career games with the Bruins. Winner of the 2014 Vezina Trophy, he has a career 198-119-47 record on a .923 save percentage and 2.24 GAA, both of which tie with Cory Schneider for best in the NHL among goalies with at least 200 appearances since the 2007-’08 season.

Led by First Star of the Game Tyler Bozak‘s two-point contribution, Toronto bested the Flyers 4-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It goes down as a come-from-behind victory for the Maple Leafs, as Wayne Simmonds (Second Star Shayne Gostisbehere and Claude Giroux) scored a power play slap shot 6:09 into the contest to give Philadelphia a 1-0 lead. William Nylander (Jake Gardiner and Connor Brown) pulled Toronto even with a power play goal of his own, a wrist shot 7:48 later. The one-all score held into the first intermission.

Only one goal was struck in the second frame, and that’s where the First Star comes into play. Bozak buried his unassisted snap shot 9:28 into the period to give the Leafs a lead they would not yield the rest of the night.

With 6:16 remaining in regulation, Mitch Marner (Morgan Rielly and Bozak) scored a power play wrister for an insurance goal-turned-winner. Gostisbehere (Valtteri Filppula and Jakub Voracek) pulled Philly back within a goal 3:48 later, but an unassisted Nazem Kadri wrister on an empty net with a minute remaining in regulation ended any chance of the Flyers completing a comeback.

Third Star Frederik Andersen earned the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (94.7%), leaving the loss to Michal Neuvirth, who saved 29-of-32 (90.625%).

Toronto‘s home victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, and pulls hosts within two points of the series’ 72-50-22 visitors.