Tag Archives: Sharp

December 2 – Day 59 – My exes used to live in Texas

Welcome to another Saturday in the NHL. With everybody else watching the college football conference championships, that leaves more hockey for you and me.

Oh, that’s not how television works?

While I get that figured out, the first Saturday of December brings with it a big bag of presents from the NHL, as there’s a dozen games on today’s schedule. The action starts at 1 p.m. with Boston at Philadelphia (SN), followed by the only other matinee of the day: St. Louis at Minnesota at 6 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time is chock-full of action with six games (Toronto at Vancouver [CBC/CITY], Detroit at Montréal [SN/TVAS], San Jose at Tampa Bay, Buffalo at Pittsburgh [NHLN], Columbus at Washington and Florida at Carolina) slated to drop the puck, with two more (New Jersey at Arizona and Anaheim at Nashville) in tow an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the start of Chicago at Dallas, while tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Calgary – will get underway 60 minutes after. All times Eastern.

What a collection of games! All but two matchups are between teams separated by eight points or less in the standings. As for our Game of the Day, I had a few picked out at the start of season…

  • Boston at Philadelphia: Ever since the Flyers beat the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals to become the first expansion team to win a title, these clubs have not gotten along.
  • St. Louis at Minnesota: Speaking of playoff rematches, this one was far more recent – as in, last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals, recent.
  • Detroit at Montréal: To keep the Stanley Cup theme going, no clubs have hoisted the trophy more than these two Original Six teams.
  • Anaheim at Nashville: The Ducks and Predators squared off in a gritty, nasty seven-game series for the right to represent the Western Conference in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
  • Chicago at Dallas: F Patrick Sharp‘s two tenures with the Blackhawks was divided by two seasons spent with the Stars. Tonight marks his first trip back to Texas since moving back to the Windy City.
  • Edmonton at Calgary: In this rivalry, the teams don’t only represent only themselves, but also a stark feud between two Albertan cities.

Let me say it again for everybody in the back: What. A slate. Of games.

This is a tough pick today, because I don’t like featuring the same teams all the time (*cough* take a hint NBC and NHL *cough*). That being said, the contest that attracts my attention the most is taking place in the Lone Star State.

 

For those concerned, I’m not drawn to this game simply because of the Sharp story, though I suppose it is one worth noting.

After being a third-round pick by Philadelphia in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Sharp was traded to the Blackhawks during the 2005-’06. He would proceed to play 10 seasons in Chicago, scoring 511 points – including 239 goals – over 679 games en route to three Stanley Cup championships.

As seems to be the case following many championship seasons nowadays, Chicago faced some serious salary cap issues after the 2014-’15 season, which led to Sharp and D Stephen Johns getting shipped to Dallas in exchange for D Trevor Daley and C Ryan Garbutt.

Sharp spent the last two seasons with the Stars, but they only really got one good season out of him. During the 2015-’16 campaign, the forward provided 20-35-55 totals to help get Dallas back to the playoffs for only the second time since the 2007-’08 season when the Stars were Western Conference finalists.

Unfortunately, Sharp’s second season with the club was nowhere near as good as his first. Limited to a measly 48 games, he provided Dallas only 18 points and a -22 rating as the Stars failed to earn a postseason berth. Though I’m not going to argue that Sharp is the reason the Stars struggled last year (*cough* G Kari Lehtonen and G Antti Niemi *cough*), he was not renewed for this season, allowing him to return to his beloved Blackhawks on a one-year contract.

So far, Sharp has been rather uninspiring from Chicago’s third line, as he’s managed only 3-4-7 totals playing alongside young studs F Alex DeBrincat (11-8-19) and F Ryan Hartman (4-9-13). Considering he’ll turn 36-years-old before you hang up your 2018 calendar, his recent bodies of work might force him to consider the dreaded “R” word once this campaign is through.

In the meantime, he’ll try to help his 12-9-4 Hawks get back into the Western Conference playoff picture.

Figuring out why Chicago is on the outside looking in is a difficult task. After all, they back up a ninth-ranked offense (3.16 goals-per-game) with an even better defense (2.68 goals against-per-game) that’s ranked fifth-best in the NHL.

One of my biggest complaints with the Blackhawks is their incredibly unsuccessful power play. Converting only 17.1 percent of their man-advantage opportunities, the Hawks are tied with San Jose for the eighth-worst extra-man attack in the NHL.

This struggle has led Head Coach Joel Quenneville to try some crazy units to resolve his club’s problem. As of Friday’s practice, DeBrincat, D Gustav Forsling, D Duncan Keith, RW Richard Panik and C Jonathan Toews made up Chicago’s top power play team, with F Artem Anisimov, D Cody Franson, F Patrick Kane, W Brandon Saad and F Nick Schmaltz taking second-team duties.

Let’s see, what’s weird about Chicago’s first unit? Oh, maybe that there’s a rookie earning solid power play minutes alongside two defensemen… or maybe that Kane isn’t on the unit…

Like I said, crazy things.

One thing I really like about putting Anisimov, Kane and Schmaltz on the same unit is that it puts Kane in what I’m considering the “joker” position. Take into account that all seven of Anisimov’s power play points are goals (the most on the team), while all five of Schmaltz’ are assists – that makes them a logical pair.

Meanwhile, Showtime has earned a team-leading nine points this season with the man-advantage, but only two of them have been goals. Of course, with 295 career regular season goals to his name, Kane is far from a “pass first” player. Putting Kane with Anisimov and Schmaltz, he’s able to take on the role of goal-scorer or join Schmaltz as another play-maker.

If I’m an opposing goaltender, in this case G Ben Bishop, that versatility is a very scary threat.

Meanwhile, things seem like they’re going 14-10-1 Dallas’ way. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak, including a 4-3 overtime victory over these Blackhawks Thursday night (more on that later).

We came into the season celebrating what the Stars’ offense could be capable of with LW Jamie Benn, RW Alexander Radulov and F Tyler Seguin combining to form an ultimate super-line. Instead, the story of late has been Dallas’ defense, which has allowed only seven goals since November 24, the (t)second-fewest in that time span.

12-7-0 Bishop has been solid over this run – he’s managed a .925 save percentage in these last three games – but I’ve been much more impressed with the defensive corps playing in front of him.

Behind the unexpected leadership of D Greg Pateryn – who’s thrown eight hits and blocked seven shots during this run – from the second defensive pair, Dallas’ D- corps has allowed only 94 shots to reach Bishop in the past week, the third-fewest in the NHL.

What makes this game especially fun – you know, beyond the Blackhawks trying to get past Dallas for fourth place in the Central Division – is that it’s a rematch of Thursday’s matchup. In that game, F Mattias Janmark scored two goals – including the game-winner – to earn the Stars a 4-3 overtime victory against the Hawks at the United Center. Something tells me Chicago would like to return the favor of sending the home fans at the American Airlines Center away unhappy.

That being said, I’m leaning towards the Stars taking this contest with their excellent defense.


The Los Angeles Kings showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the St. Louis Blues 4-1 at Scottrade Center.

In fact, the Kings were so on top of their game that they registered their game-winning goal before a full seven minutes had ticked off the clock. First Star of the Game F Tyler Toffoli (C Nick Shore and LW Tanner Pearson) opened the scoring with a wrist shot 1:43 after the opening puck drop, followed 4:29 later by Third Star C Anze Kopitar‘s (F Alex Iafallo and D Jake Muzzin) fourth game-clincher of the year.

The play that led to Kopitar’s goal stretched the entire length of the rink. Muzzin started with the puck in his own defensive zone and fed a quick pass to Kopitar at the red line. Once he established the offensive zone, Kopitar dished to Iafallo along the right boards, who fired a snap shot towards G Carter Hutton. Hutts made the save with his pads, but the rebound bounced right to the Slovenian, who deftly pocketed his wrister in the back of the net.

St. Louis finally got on its shiny new scoreboard with 4:43 remaining in the second period courtesy of a power play deflection from F Patrik Berglund (D Colton Parayko and D Vince Dunn), his first goal of the season. Unfortunately for the Notes, that positive momentum was erased 3:39 later when F Adrian Kempe (D Alec Martinez and D Drew Doughty) set the score at 3-1 going into the second intermission.

Only one goal was struck in the third period, but it was enough to signal defeat to the home fans. Toffoli (Pearson and Muzzin) scored his second goal of the game with a deflection 9:06 before the end of regulation, setting the 4-1 final score.

Second Star G Darcy Kuemper earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hutton, who saved 18-of-21 (.857) before being pulled in favor of G Jake Allen for the third period. Allen saved six-of-seven (857) for no decision.

Los Angeles’ road victory snaps a six-game winning streak by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but the visitors still trail the 33-20-6 hosts by 15 points.

October 27 – Day 24 – They’re at it again

Thank goodness that work is finally done for the week. Time to sit back and take in the weekend’s hockey!

The weekend starts early in Vegas, as a 3 p.m. local start time against Colorado (TVAS) means a 6 p.m. puck drop on the East Coast. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it two contests (Ottawa at New Jersey [RDS2] and Winnipeg at Columbus), followed by St. Louis at Carolina half an hour later. Nashville pays a visit to Chicago (NHLN/TVAS) at 8:30 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Dallas at Calgary (SN360) – waiting until 9 p.m. to get underway.

All times Eastern unless otherwise noted.

I was going to complain about featuring the second Nashville at Chicago matchup of a season that is not even a month old, but upon remembering how competitive and entertaining their first meeting was, there’s no other choice! To the Windy City we go!

 

Now, with this being the second time in two weeks that this matchup has been featured, I’m sure I don’t need to rehash how the Predators swept the Hawks in four games by a combined score of 13-3 that included two shutouts. I’m sure I also don’t need to go over how the eighth-seeded Preds went on to win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

Oh, I guess I just did anyways. As a fan of one of Chicago’s rivals, I guess I simply couldn’t help myself.

Whether or not that playoff elimination still motivates the Blackhawks against Nashville (I’d bet the house it does), we have more current data to help us preview and predict this game.

For starters, we know that the Hawks needed overtime to secure a 2-1 victory at the United Center the last time these squads met on October 14. You can read a slightly more in-depth recap here, but the main thing to know is, with the help of LW Scott Hartnell and D P.K. Subban, F Filip Forsberg got Nashville on the board late in the second period before F Patrick Sharp (F John Hayden and D Cody Franson) leveled the game in the closing six minutes of regulation and W Brandon Saad (F Patrick Kane and D Duncan Keith) cleaned things up in overtime.

If only everything in life was as simple as a one-sentence game recap.

That low scoring affair proved to be a sign of things to come, as both teams have scored only a total of nine goals in four games played since departing the United Center that Saturday night, tying them for the fourth-lowest goal production in that time span.

For Chicago, the downturn in scoring has been no fault of Kane’s. Showtime has averaged a point-per-game in those four games, including three goals. The Predators have also had their own offensive standouts in Forsberg and D Roman Josi, as both have 2-3-5 totals since October 15.

Instead, Chicago and Nashville have continued their strong defensive efforts to find wins.

The Predators in particular have been studs at keeping opponents off the scoreboard of late. In the past two weeks, they’ve allowed only seven goals against in four games, an effort that’s overshadowed only by Tampa Bay’s 10 goals against in six games played in the same stretch of time.

It’s no secret how good Smashville’s defense is, but D Alexei Emelin has been playing at another level since his last visit to Chicago. He’s blocked two shots-per-game to lead the team while also averaging 3.3 hits-per-contest. Through his bold leadership while D Ryan Ellis is recovering from an offseason knee surgery, the Predators have allowed only 29.8 shots against-per-game for the entire season, the fourth-best mark in the NHL.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s (t)eighth-best 2.6 goals against-per-game is due to the play of only one man: G Corey Crawford. Never before has Crawford posted a season save percentage over .93 percent, but he’s currently in possession of a .936 save rate that is second only to G Jonathan Quick‘s unbelievable .944. Considering the Blackhawks’ defense allows a 35.6 shots against-per-game that is second-worst in the league, Crawford being at the top of his game may be an integral piece to the success of this team both tonight and for the remainder of the campaign.

Even though the Blackhawks have a decent 3-1-1 record at home this season – including their victory over Nashville – I’m actually leaning towards the Preds taking this game. Thanks to Emelin, Nashville looks like it’s finally clicking without Ellis and will be a tough out for a Chicago team struggling to score.


In yesterday’s preview, I predicted a barn-burner would go the Senators’ way. In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Ottawa Senators beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 at the Canadian Tire Centre.

There’s no better way to start a game than with three unanswered goals in the first period. That’s exactly what Ottawa did, starting with D Dion Phaneuf‘s (C Filip Chlapik and F Chris DiDomenico) power play slap shot only 91 seconds into the game (what D Brandon Manning was doing slashing DiDomenico only 36 seconds into the game, I’ll never know). D Mark Borowiecki (F Mike Hoffman and First Star of the Game C Jean-Gabriel Pageau) scored his first goal of the season 8:19 later to give Ottawa a 2-0 lead, followed by Pageau (Third Star D Erik Karlsson) burying one of his patented shorthanded wrist shots with 6:32 remaining in the frame to further extend the Sens’ advantage.

Whatever Head Coach Dave Hakstol screamed during the intermission certainly worked, because the Flyers were able to respond with two goals of their own in the second period. RW Jakub Voracek (Second Star C Sean Couturier and D Ivan Provorov) finally stashed his first goal of the season with 5:30 remaining in the second period, followed by F Travis Konecny (D Radko Gudas) only 53 seconds later to pull Philly back within a 3-2 deficit. Much to the delight of the home fans, RW Mark Stone (F Ryan Dzingel and Karlsson) was able to bury a backhanded shot with 2:23 remaining in the period to reclaim a two-goal advantage for the Senators going into the second intermission.

With 9:27 remaining in regulation, F Tom Pyatt (C Nate Thompson and Pageau) scored what proved to be a very important goal. Though Pageau earned the hockey assist, this breakaway goal was almost entirely set up by Thompson. After receiving Pageau’s pass at his own blue line, Thompson immediately connected with Pyatt in the neutral zone, who was screaming up the far boards towards G Michal Neuvirth. With no help, D Shayne Gostisbehere was forced to eliminate the passing lane between Pyatt and Thompson, leaving the forward in a one-on-one situation with the netminder. Pyatt didn’t miss on that opportunity, beating Neuvirth with a pinger off the right post

Pyatt’s tally ended up converting from a brace into the game-winner due to the tremendous comeback effort by the Flyers. With 4:42 remaining in regulation, Provorov (Konecny and Couturier) buried a slapper on G Craig Anderson to pull Philadelphia back within a 5-3 deficit. The comeback became even more realistic when Couturier (Gostisbehere and Voracek) scored a deflection to set the score at 5-4 with 106 seconds remaining before the final horn. But, even with Neuvirth pulled for the extra attacker, the Flyers could not find a leveling goal.

Anderson earned the victory after saving 36-of-40 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the loss to Neuvirth, who saved 23-of-28 (.821).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are a win away from the business week streak, as they’ve won the last four games. That elevates their record to 14-6-4, which is a solid 10 points better than the visitors.

December 27 – Day 73 – Pacific Powerhouses

The worst thing about Christmas is that there was no hockey for three days. The world can be so cruel.

Fortunately, the NHL makes it all better by scheduling 10 games this evening, starting with four contests (Pittsburgh at New Jersey [TVAS], Washington at the New York Islanders, Ottawa at the New York Rangers [RDS2] and Boston at Columbus [SN]) at 7 p.m. and Buffalo at Detroit half an hour later. Minnesota at Nashville drops the puck at 8 p.m., with Winnipeg at Chicago waiting 30 minutes. Another wave of games gets underway at 9 p.m. (Calgary at Colorado and Dallas at Arizona), followed an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: San Jose at Anaheim (SN). All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Washington at New York: It’s rivalry night in the Barclays Center!
  • San Jose at Anaheim: Same goes for the Honda Center!

Sorry Isles fans, but the biggest game of the night is happening on The Pond, and we’d be remiss to not give it our attention!

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The Sharks return from Christmas break riding a two-game winning streak with a 21-12-1 record, the best mark in the Pacific Division. They’ve found that success on an impressive defense and great goaltending that have combined to allow only 75 goals, tying for the fourth-fewest in the league.

Only two goalies have taken a turn between the pipes for San Jose this season, and most of the time it is 18-11-1 Martin Jones. He’s earned that record on a .919 save percentage and 2.08 GAA – the (t)17th and eighth-best marks, respectively, among netminders with 15 or more appearances this season.

I’ve said it multiple times this season, but most of Jones’ success this season has been a direct result of the impressive play of the blueline in front of him. Led by Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s impressive 63 blocks, the Sharks have allowed only an average of 26.2 shots to reach Jones’ crease per game, the second-lowest average in the NHL. Justin Braun, Brent Burns and Paul Martin have also been very important in this effort as well.

This success has carried into the penalty kill, where San Jose ties for ninth-best with a 83.5% kill rate. Braun has truly been on his game when down a man, as his 15 shorthanded blocks are the best on the team.

Playing host this evening are the 17-12-6 Ducks, the third-best team in the Pacific Division. The offense has led the Ducks‘ charge so far this season, scoring 95 goals – the 12th-most in the NHL.

Hockey’s version of the Ryan brothers has found far more success than their football counterparts. Captain Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler have 28 points to their credit to co-lead the team. Tag on Rickard Rakell‘s team-high 14 goals, and you have a potent Anaheim offense.

The Ducks‘ success has been almost entirely due to their power play. Successful on 24.3% attempts, Anaheim is tops in the Western Conference, and second-best in the league as a whole. Who to lead that charge than Kesler? He has 14 power play points, not to mention his seven man-advantage goals, for tops in the Ducks‘ clubhouse.

This is the second time we’ve featured this matchup this season, and this series is already three games deep going into this evening. The last time this matchup was featured was also the last time these teams saw each other, a 3-2 Ducks victory on the Pond 18 days ago. Anaheim leads the season series 2-0-1.

Some players to keep an eye on include Anaheim‘s Getzlaf (24 assists [tied for third-most in the league]) and San Jose‘s Jones (18 wins [tied for second-most in the NHL] on a 2.08 GAA [eighth-best in the league], as well as two shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]).

Even though it’s the Sharks with the winning streak, it’s hard to pick against the Ducks given their recent success against their rivals. I expect another good game on The Pond between these clubs.

Hockey Birthday

  • Mickey Redmond (1947-) – This right wing only played nine seasons, but he won two Stanley Cups during his time in Montréal. That being said, he spent more of his career in Detroit.
  • Bryan Smolinski (1971-) – The 21st-overall selection in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by Boston, this center played 1056 games over his career. He spent most of his career in Los Angeles, where he notched 191 of his 651 career points.
  • Jay Pandolfo (1974-) – This left wing was the 32nd-overall pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey, he won two Stanley Cup titles – both with the Devils.
  • Fernando Pisani (1976-) – A right wing drafted by Edmonton in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, he would have been a lifetime Oiler if not for a season spent in Chicago.
  • Patrick Sharp (1981-) – Although drafted in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Philadelphia, this left wing is playing his second season in Dallas. He is a three-time Stanley Cup winner, all with Chicago.
  • Paul Stastny (1985-) – The 44th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, was this center to Colorado. He played eight seasons in Denver before moving to St. Louis in 2014.

Dallas at St. Louis – Game 4 – Eakin’s overtime winner levels the series for the Stars

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First Star of the Game Cody Eakin’s first goal of the playoffs was a big one, as the Stars beat the Blues 3-2 in overtime to level the series at two-all.

Neither team was able to capitalize of their lone man-advantage in the frame, but Vladimir Tarasenko did find the back of the net with a wrister at the 10:17 mark, assisted by Jaden Schwartz.  Schwartz completed a steal by Carl Gunnarsson along the near boards in Dallas‘ offensive zone and was able to find Tarasenko already streaking towards Third Star of the Game Kari Lehtonen’s net.  The winger collected the pass near center ice with no defensemen in his path, allowing him to advance between the dots before going five hole on Lehtonen.

In addition to leading on the scoreboard, the Blues also owned the face-off dot (61%), blocks (three to one), giveaways (none to three) and hits (16 to 10).

Radek Faksa leveled the game 4:05 into the second period, with an assist from… Joel Edmundson (that’s a joke, just in case you were wondering). Edmundson was trying to find a teammate in the neutral zone, but Faksa easily intercepted that pass to advance on Brian Elliott’s crease and score on his five hole.

16 seconds after Faksa’s goal, David Backes found himself in the penalty box for tripping Mattias Janmark.  It proved to be costly, as 53 seconds later Patrick Sharp scored the Stars‘ first power play goal of the series with a quick wrister past Elliott’s right skate.  He was set up by Jamie Benn (his eighth helper of the playoffs) and Jason Spezza.  John Klingberg passed the puck along the blue line to Spezza, who found Benn along the far side of the goal line.  Benn was forced to the top of the crease, but he found a crashing Sharp to take the lead.

Backes earned himself another trip to the penalty box at the 11:11 mark, but he took Kris Russell with him this team, as both were charged with penalties (roughing and slashing, respectively).  The four-on-four circumstances lasted only 1:27 before the Notes earned a four-on-three when Eakin took a seat for slashing Schwartz.

St. Louis converted on that infraction when Paul Stastny scored his first goal of the playoffs, a tip-in on Tarasenko’s initial shot to level the game at two-all.  He was also assisted by Alexander Steen.  Steen took a pass from Tarasenko near the blue line, but quickly returned the puck back to his possession outside the near face-off circle.  Tarasenko fired a wrister right at Stastny’s stick at the top of the crease, which he angled just the right way to get the puck over Lehtonen.

Alex Goligoski sent the Blues right back to the playoffs at the 13:55 mark when he hooked Patrik Berglund, but Steen returned the ice to four-on-four after only 24 seconds when he interfered with Faksa’s advance on the puck.  Dallas was unable to convert on their end of the 24 second power play when Goligoski returned to the ice.

Although an exciting second period, this game certainly needed a third, as the score was two-all after 40 minutes.  St. Louis continued to lead the game in face-off wins (53%), blocks (four to three) and hits (25 to 19).

Unlike the first two periods, there were no goals or penalties committed in the final 20 minutes.  Elliott and Lehtonen deserve credit for forcing overtime, as they both saved all seven shots they faced.  Through regulation, St. Louis continued to lead in face-offs (56%), blocks (seven to four), giveaways (four to six) and hits (34 to 30).

Only 2:58 into overtime, Eakin scored the winner with his first goal of the postseason, assisted by Sharp and Benn.  Benn collected a pass at his defensive blue line and advanced the puck to center ice before passing to Sharp along the far boards.  Eakin received a cross-ice pass at the near face-off dot, which he wristed over Elliott’s glove shoulder to level the series at two-all.

Lehtonen earns the win after saving 24 of the 26 shots he faced (92.3%), while Elliott takes the overtime loss after saving 25 of 28 (89.3%).

With the win, the Stars reclaim home ice for the now effectively three game series.  The important Game 5 will occur Saturday at 1 p.m. eastern in the American Airlines Center, and may be viewed on NBC, SN or TVAS.

February 11 – Day 119 – Oduya and Sharp return to the United Center

All it took was a goal from Second Star of the Game Kevin Hayes at the 8:34 mark of the first period for the New York Rangers to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the Blueshirts made sure to tack on two more goals just for good measure to win 3-0.

Hayes was assisted by Tanner Glass and Third Star Keith Yandle (his 25th helper of the season).  The 1-0 lead held through not only the first intermission, but also the second.

New York‘s first insurance goal wasn’t until the 4:21 mark of the third, scored by Dominic Moore, who was assisted by Derek Stepan (his 14th helper of the season).  Jesper Fast completed the evening’s scoring with only 1:31 remaining, scoring his eighth goal of the season on the empty net.

First Star Henrik Lundqvist earns the win after saving all 34 shots faced, while Marc-Andre Fleury takes the loss after saving only 19 of 21 (90.5%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 53-26-10, favoring the home squad by 36 points over the roadies.

It’s a busy Thursday, with nine games on tap.  The action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern with three games (Los Angeles at the New York Islanders, Buffalo at Philadelphia and Anaheim at Columbus), followed half an hour later by Colorado at Ottawa.  8 p.m. eastern brings with it the beginning of two games in the Central Division (Washington at Minnesota and Boston at Winnipeg), followed 30 minutes later by Dallas at Chicago.  Toronto at Edmonton drops the puck at 9 p.m. eastern, and this evening’s nightcap, Calgary at San Jose, starts at 10:30 p.m. eastern.

Two of tomorrow’s games are divisional rivalries (Dallas at Chicago and Calgary at San Jose), and another set of two games are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Los Angeles at New York and Dallas at Chicago).

In addition to qualifying for both groups, the DallasChicago is also specials since it is first return of the return of Johnny Oduya and Patrick Sharp to the United Center since joining the Stars this off-season.

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This will be Dallas‘ seventh time featured in the Game of the Day series, and they own a 4-0-2 record in such games.  Their most recent was a 4-3 overtime loss in San Jose on January 16.  Chicago leads the league in times being featured, as this will be their 16th.  They own a 9-5-1 record in those games, with their most recent being a 2-0 victory over the Blues on January 24.

Johnny Oduya spent four seasons (219 games) with Chicago after being traded from Winnipeg at the 2012 deadline.  By far his best season scoring with the team was the 2013-’14 season where he scored 16 points (three goals and 13 assists) along with his 114 blocks (second-most of his Blackhawks career).

Patrick Sharp also left the Hawks for the Stars this season, although he did it by virtue of off-season trade.  During his 10 year, 679 game career in Chicago, he scored 511 points (239 goals and 272 assists), with his best season occurring in the 2013-’14 season, where he scored 34 goals (tied for second-most of his Hawks career) and 44 assists (most of his Hawks career) for 78 points.  That campaign also tied his career high of 27 blocks in a one season.

So far this season, Oduya has had one of his best seasons in years.  He already has 15 points to his credit, as well as 102 blocks.  Sharp has also had a slight resurgence, as his 16G-24A-40P line trails his entire last season by only three assists.

Their new squad, the 34-15-5 Dallas Stars, currently sit in second place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference, trailing Chicago by three points.  They play the best offense in the league, and they’ve needed it since they give up the 11th- most.

Thanks in part to Tyler Seguin’s 207 attempts, the Stars have fired a whopping 1753 shots, of which 9.9% have found the back of the net for 176 goals, most in the league.  Much of that success has been a result of the fifth-best power play in the league, as the Stars have connected on 21.18% of attempts for 36 goals (led by Jamie Benn’s 12 extra-man tallies).  The offensive success on the power play has come at a price, as Dallas has given up nine short-handed goals, five more than the league average.

The defense has been a little less successful, as even though they’ve only allowed 1560 shots (thanks in part to Oduya’s 102 blocks) to reach 20-10-5 Antti Niemi and co., they’ve saved only 90.8% for 147 goals against, 11th-most in the league.  That position almost directly relates to their penalty kill, which also ranks 11th-worst.  They’ve killed 79.75% for 32 extra-man goals against, but that is slightly counteracted by Dallas‘ seven short-handed goals.

The Stars last played on Tuesday, a 4-3 overtime victory in Minnesota.  A win tonight not only expands their lead over St. Louis for second place in the division to six points, but it also draws the Stars within a point of the division and conference leading Blackhawks.

The 36-17-4 Chicago Blackhawks lead both the Central Division and the Western Conference by three points, and trail only the Washington Capitals by six points for the Presidents’ Trophy.  The Hawks are in their position for a reason, as they play a top-five offense paired with a top-10 D.

Led by Patrick Kane’s 198 shots, the Hawks have fired a whopping 1760 shots so far this season, of which 9% have found the back of the net for 159 goals (led by Kane’s 32 tallies), third-most in the league.  Part of the reason for Chicago‘s offensive success has been their efforts on the power play.  The Hawks‘ 20.23% success rate ranks ninth-best in the league, and has earned them 35 extra-man goals.

Unlike Dallas, Chicago hasn’t needed their offense to cover for the other end of the ice.  Even with Trevor van Riemsdyk’s team-leading 103 blocks, the Blackhawks have allowed 1732 shots to reach 31-13-2 Corey Crawford and co., of which they’ve saved 92.7% for only 130 goals against, sixth-fewest in the league.  Probably the worst aspect of Chicago‘s game has been their penalty kill, and even that ranks 11th-best in the league.  So far this season, the Hawks have killed 82.17% for 28 extra-man goals against.  When taking Chicago‘s offensive efforts on the kill into account, it gets a little better, as the Hawks have seven shorties to their credit.

Chicago‘s most recent game was Tuesday, a 2-0 loss to the Sharks on home ice.  A win tonight over the Stars expands Chicago‘s lead in the division and conference to five points, and has the potential to put them only four points back from Washington for the Presidents’ Trophy.

The Blackhawks and Stars have only played once this season, with the Stars winning 4-0 on home ice.  These teams will meet again in five days at the United Center.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Chicago‘s Crawford (seven shutouts [leads the league], 31 wins [second-most in the league], .931 save percentage [fourth-best in the league] and 2.1 GAA [sixth-best in the league]), Kane (76 points [leads the league], 32 goals [leads the league], 44 assists [second-most in the league] and +22 [tied for fourth-best in the league]) and Artemi Panarin (52 points [tied for seventh-most in the league] and 34 assists [tied for seventh-most in the league]) & Dallas‘ Benn (61 points [second-most in the league] and 28 goals [tied for third-most in the league]), John Klingberg (35 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Seguin (28 goals [tied for third-most in the league] and 58 points [fourth-most in the league]).

Given Dallas‘ defensive play so far this season, it is tough for me to pick against the Blackhawks.  I expect Chicago to avenge their loss from earlier this year.