Nick, Cap’n and Pete recap the last two weeks of trades and first few days of free agency 2K19.
In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.
In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.
P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)
The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.
Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”
Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.
Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.
Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.
Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.
For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.
Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.
Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.
Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.
In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.
Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.
Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?
Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th
4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2
4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*
4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*
4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*
P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)
The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.
Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.
There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.
Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.
Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.
Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.
In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.
For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.
The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.
But this time around feels different.
San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.
Regular season outcomes:
4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th
4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2
4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*
4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*
4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*
C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)
A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.
It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.
For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).
Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.
Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.
Oh. Again. Never mind.
While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.
In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.
Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.
This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?
Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.
On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.
Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.
But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.
Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.
As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.
Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.
Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.
It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th
4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2
4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2
4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*
4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*
4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*
C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)
After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.
This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.
Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.
Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.
In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).
Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.
Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.
Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.
However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.
The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.
This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.
Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.
Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).
Don’t try to mess with what’s working.
Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.
Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.
For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.
Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.
Regular season outcomes:
1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th
4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3
4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2
4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*
4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*
4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*
Brad Marchand‘s 14th career game-winning overtime goal clinched a, 2-1, victory for the Boston Bruins over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.
Following the game, the Bruins partied like it was *1998 (it was Boston’s first win on home ice against the Avalanche since March 30, 1998– a, 4-1, victory for the B’s).
Jaroslav Halak (14-9-4 record, 2.44 goals against average, .921 save percentage in 29 games played) made 35 saves on 36 shots against for a .921 SV% in the overtime win for the Bruins.
Semyon Varlamov (13-13-8, 2.91 GAA, .906 SV% in 35 GP) stopped 33 out of 35 shots faced for a .906 SV% in the overtime loss for Colorado.
The Bruins improve to 31-17-8 (70 points) on the season and move ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for 3rd place in the Atlantic Division, while the Avalanche fell to 22-22-11 (55 points) and remain 6th in the Central Division (tied in points with the Chicago Blackhawks, but ahead in the standings thanks to having a game in-hand on Chicago).
Boston leads Montreal by one point in the standings for the final divisional spot in the Atlantic. Colorado is four points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Prior to Sunday’s matinee, the Bruins hosted the Los Angeles Kings for a Saturday afternoon matchup. Boston defeated the Kings, 5-4, in overtime thanks to an overtime game-winning power play goal from Patrice Bergeron (20) at 2:34 of the overtime period.
Bergeron was honored prior to the game with gifts– including the traditional “Silver Stick”– and a ceremony for having played in his 1,000th career regular season game on Tuesday against the New York Islanders.
Tuukka Rask (17-8-4 , 2.36 GAA, .922 SV% in 30 GP) made 25 saves on 29 shots against in the win for Boston.
Almost midway through the opening frame, Heinen got a stick up high on Erik Johnson and received a two-minute minor penalty at 9:54. The Avalanche didn’t convert on the ensuing power play.
Almost five minutes later, Gabriel Landeskog tripped Heinen and presented Boston with their first power play opportunity of the afternoon at 16:19 of the first period.
While on the power play, Torey Krug hooked Matt Calvert in effort to disrupt a shorthanded chance by Colorado. Krug was assessed an infraction and went to the box at 17:27, leaving both teams even strength at 4-on-4 for about 52 seconds before the Avs had an abbreviated power play.
Late in the first period, Nathan MacKinnon (29) roofed a shot over Halak’s glove from close range to give Colorado the first lead of the night, 1-0, at 19:27.
Landeskog (28) and J.T. Compher (11) collected the assist’s on MacKinnon’s goal as the Avalanche took the, 1-0, lead into the first intermission.
After one period, Colorado led in shots on goal (12-7), takeaways (5-3), giveaways (6-4) and hits (10-9), while Boston led in blocked shots (5-4). Both teams were 50-50 in face-off win percentage, while the Avs were 0/2 on the power play and the B’s were 0/1.
John Moore (3) tied the game, 1-1, as Bergeron acted as a screen in front of Varlamov at 3:40 of the second period. Moore fired a shot off the far post and in as McAvoy (13) and Marchand (44) picked up the assists and the Bruins tied the game.
MacKinnon was penalized for holding at 6:18 of the second period and was followed to the penalty box almost 30 seconds later by Carl Soderberg after Soderberg interfered with McAvoy at 7:45.
Boston had 34 seconds of a two-skater power play advantage before, but couldn’t convert on either opportunity.
Moore sent an odd puck bounce off the curved glass next to the Bruins bench and into the net behind Varlamov, but it was immediately waved off as “no goal” with 24.1 seconds remaining in the second period.
Through 40 minutes of action, the game was tied, 1-1, on the scoreboard, but the Avalanche maintained the advantage in shots on goal, 24-22– despite being outshot by Boston, 15-12, in the second period alone.
Entering the third period, Colorado led in takeaways (10-6), giveaways (7-5) and hits (19-16), while the B’s led in face-off win% (56-44). Both teams had 10 blocked shots aside as the Avs were 0/2 and the Bruins were 0/3 on the power play.
A string of hooking penalties kicked things off in the third period with Kuraly hooking Samuel Girard at 7:16, followed by Krug hooking Matt Nieto at 9:53. Finally, Colorado’s Tyson Barrie hooked Bergeron at 10:08 of the third period.
Neither team capitalized on the special teams play.
Late in the final frame of regulation, Sheldon Dries was penalized for holding Krug at 17:45 and the Bruins went on the power play. Despite forging a couple shots at the net, Boston couldn’t buy a power play goal.
As time expired on regulation, the Avalanche led in shots on goal, 34-31, and the score remained tied, 1-1.
Boston led in blocked shots (18-12), hits (28-21) and face-off win% (53-47) after 60 minutes of play, while Colorado led in takeaways (13-8) and giveaways (11-10).
No penalties were called in the overtime period, meaning the Avs finished 0/4 and the B’s finished 0/5 on the skater advantage Sunday afternoon.
For the 5th time in the last seven games, Boston was heading for extra hockey.
Cassidy started Kuraly, Moore and McAvoy in overtime. Marchand, Bergeron and Krug ended overtime.
Just past the four-minute mark of the five-minute 3-on-3 overtime period, Marchand (21) unleashed a wrist shot from about the face-off circle to Varlamov’s left side and sent the puck off an Avalanche defender and into the twine.
Bergeron (31) and Krug (34) notched the assists on Marchand’s game-winning goal at 4:03 of overtime.
Marchand’s goal sealed the deal on a, 2-1, win for Boston, leaving the Bruins with a 6-6 record in overtime this season. Colorado fell to 1-10 in overtime.
The Avalanche finished the day leading in shots on goal (36-35) and giveaways (11-10), while the B’s led in blocked shots (18-12), hits (29-21) and face-off win% (53-47).
With the win, the Bruins are now 4-0-1 in the month of February and 7-0-0 in matinee games this season.
Boston takes on the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday at TD Garden before heading out for a western road trip, starting next Friday (Feb. 15th) in Anaheim, swinging through Los Angeles on Feb. 16th, San Jose on Feb. 18th, Vegas on Feb. 20th and finally St. Louis on Feb. 23rd.
The Bruins improved to 11-3-4 in their last 18 games. Cassidy is now one win shy of his 100th behind the bench for Boston.
Auston Matthews signed an extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs. What does this mean for the Leafs? Alex Stalock, Jordan Martinook and Pheonix Copley all signed extensions with their clubs, as Tuukka Rask became the winningest goaltender in Boston Bruins history, Alex Ovechkin became the highest scoring Russian-born NHL player and Paul Maurice reached 1,500 games behind the bench as a head coach.
The DTFR Duo also reviewed all 31 NHL teams as buyers and/or sellers at the 2019 trade deadline.
Nick and Connor talk the latest trades, Torts drama (and latest record), Casey DeSmith’s extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as a tribute to the careers of Rick Nash and Josh Gorges who both announced their retirement this week.
Additionally, what’s up with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues this season and why can’t they just pick a side? Plus, it’s time to hand out awards for being slightly more than halfway through the 2018-19 regular season. #FlamingNotToFlamingHot
It’s the first full week of 2019! What better way to celebrate than with some hockey?
Here’s this week’s slate of games:
|NHL SCHEDULE: January 7-13|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, January 7|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Philadelphia||3-0|
|10:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||San Jose||1-3|
|Tuesday, January 8|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Buffalo||1-5|
|7 p.m.||Carolina Hurricanes||New York Islanders||4-3|
|7:30 p.m.||Columbus||Tampa Bay||0-4|
|8 p.m.||Dallas||St. Louis||3-1|
|10 p.m.||New York Rangers||Vegas Golden Knights||2-4|
|10:30 p.m.||Edmonton||San Jose||2-7|
|Wednesday, January 9|
|8 p.m.||Nashville Predators||Chicago Blackhawks||NBCSN, SN360, TVAS|
|Thursday, January 10|
|7 p.m.||Washington||Boston||ESPN+, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||New Jersey|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||New York Rangers|
|7:30 p.m.||Carolina||Tampa Bay|
|8 p.m.||Montréal||St. Louis||RDS, TSN2|
|10 p.m.||San Jose||Vegas||ESPN+|
|10:30 p.m.||Ottawa||Los Angeles||RDS|
|Friday, January 11|
|10 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Anaheim||ESPN+, SN360|
|Saturday, January 12|
|1 p.m.||Philadelphia||New Jersey||NHLN, SN|
|1 p.m.||New York Rangers||New York Islanders||ESPN+|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Buffalo|
|7 p.m.||Boston Bruins||Toronto Maple Leafs||CBC, CITY, NHLN, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Colorado||Montréal||SN, TVAS|
|9 p.m.||St. Louis||Dallas|
|10 p.m.||Ottawa||San Jose||CBC, SN1, TVAS|
|10:30 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Los Angeles|
|Sunday, January 13|
|6 p.m.||New York Rangers||Columbus Blue Jackets||NHLN|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay Lightning||New York Islanders||ESPN+|
Among the week’s biggest games are the usual suspects of rivalries, playoff rematches and player returns.
In the rivalry department, the Battle of California reignited Monday when the Kings visited San Jose, followed a day later by Philadelphia at Washington and an Original Six showdown between the Canadiens and Red Wings. The Battle of New York will be waged twice this week, starting in Manhattan tomorrow night and heading to Brooklyn Saturday afternoon. Also taking place Saturday is the Battle of the Turnpikes between Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as another Original Six fixture featuring Boston and Toronto.
As for rematches from last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Thursday will see Winnipeg make a return to Minnesota in a rematch of the Western Quarterfinals, and a Western Semifinals rematch between San Jose and Vegas. The previously mentioned Bruins-Maple Leafs tilt on Saturday is a rematch of the Eastern Quarterfinals, as is Columbus at Washington on the same day.
Making his first trip back to Raleigh since being traded to Buffalo this summer, no player’s homecoming is bigger than Jeff Skinner‘s this week. Drafted seventh overall in 2010, Skinner was a member of the Hurricanes for eight seasons before joining Jack Eichel‘s Sabres. While a Cane, Skinner won the organization’s first Calder Trophy and was named the youngest All-Star in North American professional sports history – both in 2011.
Also making a major homecoming trip is Tanner Pearson, now a member of the Penguins after a mid-season trade ended his six-season tenure in Los Angeles.
However, the game that excites me the most is going down tonight when the Colorado Avalanche make the trip north into Alberta to take on the Calgary Flames.
For much of the season so far, 20-15-8 Colorado – the West’s top wild card – was one of the scariest opponents in the league for any team. They boast a dominant top line and a top-five power play (the Avs’ 26.5 percent conversion rate is second-best in the conference).
However, that has not been the case for the past three weeks, as Colorado has racked up only a lowly 1-5-2 record in its last eight appearances (including regulation losses to Arizona, Chicago and Los Angeles – all also-rans in the Western Conference), causing them to give up third place in the Central Division to Dallas.
Averaging three goals per game during this run, the offense is still clicking at a good enough pace that the Avalanche should not be struggling – at least not to this extent. Instead, it has been Colorado’s goaltending that has really dropped the ball.
With 9-5-3 G Philipp Grubauer earning the start last night in Winnipeg (Colorado lost 7-4, for those keeping track at home), it seems likely that 11-8-5 G Semyon Varlamov will get the nod this evening. If that’s the case, he’ll surely have full intention of playing closer to the .912 save percentage and 2.8 GAA he’s managed for the season and not the .891 and 2.97 marks he’s posted in his last two starts.
Of course, even those numbers are improvements over Grubauer’s. In the former Capital’s last six starts, he’s managed only an .87 save percentage and 3.94 GAA – only slightly worse than the .895 and 3.29 he’s shown for the entire season. With numbers like those and the fact that 0-2-0 G Pavel Francouz looked fairly solid in his NHL debut this season (he managed a .943 save percentage and 1.96 GAA in 61 minutes), it’s a wonder the Czech hasn’t had the opportunity to join the Avs full-time if it would mean Varlamov could take more games off.
What makes these recent goaltending numbers so frustrating is the fact that Colorado has been playing some solid defense during this stretch of games. In the Avs’ last eight games, they’ve allowed only 29.75 shots against per game – the ninth-lowest mark in the NHL since December 21. W Gabriel Bourque and C Sheldon Dries (both with 2.3 hits per game since December 21), W Matt Calvert (seven takeaways during this stretch) and D Erik Johnson (2.4 blocks per game in his past eight outings) have all played major roles in that success, but they’ll be pushed to the limit tonight when facing the Flames’ imposing attack.
Speaking of those high-flying Flames, they currently boast the Western Conference’s top record with a 27-13-4 mark – a performance that’s even more intimidating when we keep in mind they have at least one game in hand on the Pacific Division’s two other best teams.
Tonight’s tilt will be the Flames’ first back in Calgary after a four-game Eastern road trip that saw them earn six of eight possible points. In fact, Calgary enters tonight’s game on an impressive 5-1-1 run in its past seven showings, including wins over solid Western foes in San Jose and Winnipeg.
Leading that charge is the Flames’ previously mentioned offense, which has few rivals in the NHL lately. Averaging 4.29 goals per game since December 27, Calgary’s attack is ranked fourth in the league and second in the conference in that time.
An outstanding five skaters are averaging at least a point per game during this run, but none are as intimidating as LW Johnny Gaudreau. With 10-6-16 totals in his past seven games (that’s 1.43 goals and 2.29 points per game), he’s elevated his season marks to 26-38-64, good enough for fourth, (t)fifth and (t)eighth in the NHL in points, goals and assists respectively.
Joining Gaudreau in averaging at least a point per game during this seven game stretch are C Sean Monahan (2-12-14 totals), F Elias Lindholm (3-8-11), LW Matthew Tkachuk (3-5-8) and D Noah Hanifin (0-7-7).
Perhaps the most impressive facet of Calgary’s attack is that the Flames are scoring almost all of their goals at even strength, having converted only four of their last 28 power play opportunities (14.3 percent, 12th-worst in the NHL since December 27. While Head Coach Bill Peters would surely like to see his special teams perform better, the fact that the Flames have scored 21 of their last 30 goals (70 percent) at even strength surely makes that an easier pill to swallow.
A potent attack taking on a slumping goaltending corps is usually a recipe for disaster, but the fact that Colorado boasts a solid offense of its own is what makes this tilt interesting. If the Avalanche want any chance of pulling off the upset, F Nathan MacKinnon, RW Mikko Rantanen and co. will need to do their best to beat 15-4-3 G David Rittich to keep up with the Flames. If they can’t, this could get ugly early.
The Colorado Avalanche’s first line was more prominent than the Boston Bruins’ first line in Wednesday night’s, 6-3, loss for Boston as the two top-line superpowers collided at Pepsi Center in Denver.
Mikko Rantanen (1-2–3 totals), Nathan MacKinnon (1-1–2) and Gabriel Landeskog (1-0–1) combined for six points on the night for Colorado, while Boston’s David Pastrnak (1-1–2), Patrice Bergeron (0-1–1) and Brad Marchand (0-0–0, minus-1) combined for three points.
Semyon Varlamov (6-5-2 with a .926 save percentage and 2.32 goals against average in 13 games played) made 20 saves on 23 shots against for an .870 SV% in the win for the Avs, while Jaroslav Halak (6-2-2, .932 SV%, 2.16 GAA in 12 GP) made 19 saves on 25 shots faced for a .760 SV% in the loss for the B’s.
Boston maintained 3rd place in the Atlantic Division with a 10-6-2 record (22 points) on the season, while Colorado improved to 4th place in the Central Division with a 9-6-3 (21 points) record.
The Bruins had been on a two-game winning streak coming off of a 5-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and a 4-1 win on Sunday against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Head coach, Bruce Cassidy, kept the same lineup from the weekend for Boston, but with the added advantage of Tuukka Rask back with the team as a backup goaltender Wednesday night in his return from a personal leave of absence.
Rask will get the start against the Dallas Stars on Friday or Arizona Coyotes on Saturday.
Defenseman, Jakub Zboril, was recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) the other day as Dan Vladar was sent back down to Providence.
Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and Urho Vaakanainen may join the team at some point on the road trip, but did not make the initial journey to Colorado on Tuesday. Fellow injured blue liner, Kevan Miller traveled with the team to Denver, but is aiming to return on the road in Detroit against the Red Wings on Nov. 21st.
Wednesday night’s scratches for Boston were as follows: Carlo (upper body), Noel Acciari (healthy scratch), Vaakanainen (concussion), Zboril (healthy scratch), McAvoy (concussion) and Miller (hand).
The Battle of the Best First Lines began with Gabriel Landeskog (12) striking first at 10:16 of the first period as the Bruins couldn’t clear the puck out of their zone.
Zdeno Chara‘s turnover led to Mikko Rantanen finding Joakim Nordstrom out of position and sending Landeskog a pass without pressure for the snipe and a 1-0 lead for Colorado. Rantanen (12) had the only assist on Landeskog’s goal.
Avalanche defender, Mark Barberio, was guilty of cross checking Bruins forward, David Backes, at 14:50 of the first period and received a minor penalty– sending Boston on their first power play of the night.
Late in the ensuing power play, David Krejci worked a slap pass from the face-off circle on Varlamov’s right side along the dasher to David Pastrnak (17) in the low slot for the redirection and power play goal that tied the game, 1-1.
Backes (1) tipped the puck in the midst of Krejci’s (14) pass to Pastrnak, thereby lending the Three Davids to collect all of the possible points on the goal (Backes and Krejci the assists and Pastrnak the goal) at 16:43.
Moments later, on a turnover, turned breakaway opportunity, Jake DeBrusk (6) capitalized on an unassisted effort by getting Varlamov to commit and roof the puck into the the twine at 19:20 of the first period– giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
As both teams entered the dressing room for the first intermission, the B’s led in shots on goal (10-7) and on the scoreboard, 2-1. Boston also led in shot attempts that hit the post, 4-0, as well as hits, 8-4. Colorado had the advantage in takeaways (2-1), giveaways (3-1) and face-off win percentage (92-8) after the first period.
Both teams had three blocked shots each and the Bruins were 1/1 on the power play after one period. The Avs had yet to see time on the skater advantage.
DeBrusk (7) scored his second goal of the night (and first on the power play) after Grzelcyk kept the play alive in the offensive zone, completing a pass to Bergeron for the bumper back to Pastrnak who then one-timed a shot from the point that redirected off DeBrusk in front of Varlamov to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead.
Pastrnak (8) and Bergeron (17) were credited with the primary and secondary assists at 3:05 of the second period.
Pastrnak later hooked Barberio at 7:52 of the middle frame and the Bruins were shorthanded as a result for the first time in the action Wednesday night.
The Avalanche matched Boston’s puck moving efforts on their first power play of the evening with Tyson Barrie working the puck to MacKinnon for a cross-ice pass to Rantanen.
The young Colorado forward then snapped a shot past Halak’s blocker side to make it a one-goal game on the power play.
Ranatnen’s (7) goal at 8:47 of the second period was assisted by MacKinnon (14) and Barrie (14) and gave the Avs a distinct swing in momentum for the rest of the period.
With Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, unable to return to the game having sustained a lower body injury in the first period, Colorado pounced on the already weakened Boston blue line.
This, even after Nikita Zadorov had a brief visit to the penalty box for interfering with Bruins forward, Chris Wagner at 9:14. Colorado killed off Zadorov’s minor infraction with ease and kept the momentum going, leading in just about every statistical category by the end of the period.
Late in the second period, Bergeron hooked Rantanen who then embellished the infraction and received an unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty himself and the teams would see 4-on-4 action at 19:11 of the second period.
Both teams would start the third a skater short for a little over a minute into the final frame.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Colorado Avalanche looked more and more like the complete 60-minute game playing style team that they have been so far this season and the Boston Bruins were looking like they were on the brink of collapse.
Boston still led the game, 3-2, entering the second intermission, but shots on goal were even, 14-14, with the Avs leading, 7-4, in the second period alone. The Bruins led in blocked shots (10-6), but the Avalanche led in everything else including, takeaways (6-5), giveaways (5-1), hits (13-10) and face-off win% (69-31).
Colorado was 1/1 on the power play, while Boston was 2/3 with the extra skater.
Early in the third period, Matt Calvert (2) converted on his second goal of the season after following up with the original play and crashing the net for a haphazardly taken backhand spin-o-rama that eyes set for the twine after a wacky bounce resulted off of Halak.
Calvert’s goal was unassisted at 2:11 of the third period and tied the game, 3-3.
From there, it was all Avalanche as the Bruins tumbled down the mountain that is the immense comeback capability of Colorado.
MacKinnon (12) added a goal of his own with a wrist shot that beat Halak cleanly from about the blue line on a rush into the attacking zone, giving the Avs their 2nd lead of the night, 4-3, at 9:02.
Rantanen (22) and Ian Cole (5) had the assists on what would become MacKinnon’s game-winning goal.
Krejci was guilty of holing Tyson Jost at 13:40 of the third period and with one second remaining on the ensuing power play, Jost (3) made the Bruins pay as former Bruin, Carl Soderberg, initially swiped at the puck through the legs of the Boston netminder, leaving the puck sitting at the goal line behind Halak, whereby Jost tapped it into the empty net.
With about three minutes remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker. Jared Bednar’s Avalanche were too much for the Bruins to handle, narrowly missing the empty net goal if it weren’t for Krejci’s heroics by the time the loose puck reached the crease on one empty net attempt.
However, while in the offensive zone on a last-ditch effort, Bergeron hooked his stick around MacKinnon and was penalized with a two-minute minor infraction at 18:57.
The Avalanche completed the hat trick on the power play with their third power play goal of the night on the ensuing skater advantage when Kerfoot (8) tipped a blast from Soderberg past Halak at 19:45 of the third period.
Soderberg (6) and Girard (8) had the assists on the goal and Colorado secured the 6-3 win as time expired.
At the final horn, the Avs led in shots on goal (25-23), giveaways (6-2), hits (22-15) and face-off win% (59-41), while the B’s led in blocked shots (20-18). Colorado was 3/3 on the power play and the Bruins were 2/3 on the skater advantage.
The Avalanche outscored Boston, 10-3, in their two meetings last season.
Boston is now 0-1-0 to begin a four-game road trip that swings through Dallas (Nov. 16th), Arizona (Nov. 17th) and Detroit (Nov. 21st)– after Wednesday night’s loss in Denver– before heading back home for a Black Friday (Nov. 23rd) matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pekka Rinne signed a two-year extension, John Stevens and Joel Quenneville were fired, Willie Desjardin’s back and there’s a new guy in Chicago (Jeremy Colliton), Philadelphia Flyers goaltending is in the news again, people in Ottawa are fired up about Uber, Lou Lamoriello reached 2,400 games as a GM as the New York Islanders lead the Metropolitan Division and is Halloween the new Thanksgiving? Nick and Connor discuss.
John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron both had hat tricks in the last week, so Nick and Connor discuss hat trick ethics and more, since celebrations are hot topics these days. Also, everything else that happened in the first week of regular season action.
43-30-9, 95 points, 4th in the Central Division
2nd Wild Card in the West, lost in First Round to NSH 4-2
Subtractions: G Jonathan Bernier (signed with DET), F Blake Comeau (signed with DAL), F Felix Girard (signed with the Manitoba Moose, AHL), D Jesse Graham (signed with Utica Comets, AHL), F Rocco Grimaldi (signed with NSH), G Andrew Hammond (signed with MIN), D Brooks Orpik (acquired from WSH, bought out, then signed with WSH), F Nail Yakupov (signed, KHL)
Offseason Analysis: Now that Erik Karlsson has been traded from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has had one of the best offseasons. Kidding aside, the Senators lottery protected their 2018 1st round pick in the three-team Matt Duchene trade, meaning the Avalanche have Ottawa’s 2019 1st round pick in addition to their own.
The #LoseForHughes watch has begun.
But as for Colorado’s offseason, things have gone swimmingly as Sakic’s roster made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2014. Blake Comeau’s 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 79 games in 2017-18 have departed for Dallas. In his top-nine forward role, Sakic replaced the 32-year-old Comeau with 28-year-old, Matt Calvert.
Calvert had 9-15–24 totals in 69 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and is looking to turn things around in health and in offensive production as a top-nine forward.
While Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen look to continue leading the team in production, Alexander Kerfoot seeks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump on the second line.
On defense, Sakic knows time is on his side.
Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie have made an effective pairing with Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson contesting for more ice time. Girard had an impressive rookie debut with three goals and 17 assists (20 points) in 68 games played, while Barrie and Johnson played veteran roles– anchoring the blue line for the Avs.
Patrik Nemeth proved to be a smart pickup off waivers from the Stars last season as a bottom-pair defender, so it was an easy decision to re-sign with the NHL’s hottest up-and-coming team from a 48-point season in 2016-17 to a 95-point effort (and playoff berth) in 2017-18.
To complete his top-six defensemen on the depth chart, Sakic signed 29-year-old durable defender, Ian Cole, to a three-year contract worth a friendly $4.250 million per season.
Cole had 20 points in 67 games with the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins last season and is looking to prove that he’s more than just a flash in the pan at this point in his career.
A two-time Cup winner with the Penguins, Cole is in the midst of his prime and brings a competitive edge to the Avs in his quiet stability.
In goal, Semyon Varlamov has some competition for the starting job– if he can stay healthy– as Philipp Grubauer was acquired at the draft in June and signed to a three-year extension at a cap friendly $3.333 million per season.
Grubauer, 26, dropped the first two games of the Washington Capitals postseason run in April while Braden Holtby was figuring himself out, but managed a 15-10-3 record in 35 games played in the 2017-18 regular season as Washington’s backup. He also had a 2.35 goals against average and .923 save percentage in his most games played in a season since reaching the NHL during the 2012-13 season.
Varlamov, 30, managed to play in 51 games last season, despite injuries, and amassed a 24-16-6 record to go along with a 2.68 GAA and .916 SV%. Last season was much better than his 6-17-0 record in 24 games played in 2016-17, in which Varlamov had a career-worst 3.38 GAA and .898 SV%.
With one-year remaining on his contract at $5.900 million a season, Varlamov’s reached a make-or-break point in his career, let alone his time in the Mile High City. Grubauer is the way of the foreseeable future and a little healthy competition never hurt anyone for the starting job.
Sure Jonathan Bernier’s moved on to the Detroit Red Wings, but Colorado has one of the most sought after goalies that was on the slim trade market among options in the crease.
Offseason Grade: B-
The Avalanche had some needs and they filled them. In accordance with hockey logic, Colorado shouldn’t be as good as they were last season this season, but for the first time in at least a few years it appears they’ve found a reliable goaltender.
As MacKinnon continues to emerge and the kids grow into their own, Sakic’s roster looks set to make some waves in the coming years– at least as a spoiler (they took Nashville to six games before being eliminated after all), if not something more.
Despite acquiring Brooks Orpik only to buy him out as some sort of larger scheme the Capitals secretly wanted all along to sign him to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, Colorado didn’t make a bad choice this offseason. It’s just the beginning of making themselves an attractive free agent destination once again.