Tag Archives: Shattenkirk

December 8 – Day 65 – James Neal loves gold

Welcome to your favorite day of the work week: Friday. Time to settle in for a weekend of online Christmas shopping while watching hockey.

There’s a small, but solid, selection of five games to watch this evening, starting with two (Columbus at New Jersey and the New York Rangers at Washington [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) at 7 p.m., followed by Vegas at Nashville at 8 p.m. and Buffalo at Chicago half an hour later. Finally, this evening’s nightcap, Minnesota at Anaheim (SN1), drops the puck at 10 p.m. to close the night out. All times Eastern.

I had two of these games circled on my calendar at the start of the season…

  • New York at Washington: Not only is this a rivalry game in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division, but it’s also F Paul Carey and D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s first trip back to the capital since signing with the Blueshirts this offseason.
  • Vegas at Nashville: Welcome back to Music City, W James Neal!

…but I’m also very interested in Columbus and Jersey’s rematch of a game that happened only three days ago.

Here’s what we’ll do: if you want a preview of the Jackets-Devils game, go here (you should also probably read the recap of that game here). Otherwise, we’re going to feature a different game instead.

 

 

 

We haven’t featured either of these clubs yet this December, and there’s no time like the present.

The Golden Knights enter this game with a solid 17-9-1 record that is good enough for second place in the Pacific Division. Much of that success has been due to their imposing offense, which has managed a Western Conference-leading 3.44 goals-per-game.

There are few on the Knights’ roster that has had a bigger part of those goals than Neal, whose 21 points-per-game are tied for third-most on the squad. Of those 21 points, 13 of them have been goals – a total that is only one short of C William Karlsson‘s team-leading 14 mark.

What makes Neal a surprise is that Head Coach Gerard Gallant is getting even more than he expected when the Knights drafted him out of Nashville. For his career, he’s managed only .72 points per game, of which he’s directly produced .38 goals per game.  Assuming he plays a full 82-game season, that would translate into 31-28-59 totals, well above his 23-18-41 marks from last season.

This season, Neal is on pace for 39-25-64 totals, which would go down as his best season since his 40-41-81 effort in 2011-’12 with the Penguins.

Trying to slow Neal and co. down this evening are the 18-7-3 Predators, who are also second place in their division. They’ve found their success by playing some solid defense.

Of course, it’s hard to fail with 16-4-2 G Pekka Rinne as your goaltender. He’s managed a solid .92 save percentage and a 2.38 GAA to rank sixth-best in both statistics among all goaltenders with at least eight starts.

While I wouldn’t exactly say the Predators’ defense puts a major effort towards keeping pucks off Rinne (Nashville allows a seventh-worst 32.57 shots against per game), their strength is truly shown on the offensive end. Defensemen Mattias Ekholm (6-12-18 totals), Roman Josi (6-13-19) and P.K. Subban (4-14-18) are all among the league’s top 19 blueliners in points, and Nashville’s top pair of Ekholm and Josi are both in the top 10 in goals scored by defensemen.

With strength squaring off against strength, this game will likely come down to which team wins the battle in Nashville’s offensive/Vegas’ defensive end. Considering the Preds’ offense, which ranks eighth in the league (3.17 goals-per-game), is going against the 11th-worst defense (3.11 goals against-per-game), I’m leaning towards the hosts taking this contest.


Though the New York Islanders were able to level the game after trailing by two goals with five minutes remaining to force overtime, the Pittsburgh Penguins held on to win 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Much of this game’s action took place in the third period, but it was set up by the two goals that were struck in the opening two frames. F Jake Guentzel (D Kris Letang and F Evgeni Malkin) scored a power play tip-in with 7:43 remaining in the first period, followed by RW Jordan Eberle (D Ryan Pulock and D Nick Leddy) burying a wrist shot at the 5:53 mark of the second to level the game at one-all.

Just like the first period belonged to Pittsburgh and the second to New York, the first half of the third period belonged to the Pens while the Isles took the second half.

RW Phil Kessel (Letang and C Sidney Crosby) got the frame started with a power play snap shot at the 7:29 mark to return a one-goal lead to the Pens, followed 32 seconds later by Second Star of the Game C Riley Sheahan (LW Carl Hagelin) scoring his second goal of the season.

Then it was New York’s turn to play. Third Star C Mathew Barzal (D Scott Mayfield and C Casey Cizikas) started the Isles’ comeback with 4:53 remaining in regulation by burying a wrister, but it was F Brock Nelson‘s (LW Andrew Ladd and D Thomas Hickey) wrister with 70 seconds left on the clock that forced three-on-three overtime.

Confidence was certainly on the Islanders’ side at the end of regulation, but the short break before overtime allowed Head Coach Mike Sullivan an opportunity to regroup his troops. Whatever pep talk he gave obviously worked, because First Star D Matt Hunwick (W Bryan Rust) was able to end the game at the 1:29 mark with a gritty wrister.

There was nothing sexy about Hunwick’s goal, but it was certainly a nice reward for doing some dirty work in the slot. The defenseman was the one to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but he handed possession off to Rust once he was across the blue line. Once the [position] reached G Jaroslav Halak‘s goal, he tried to drag the puck across the crease for a backhander, but it was stopped by a combination of pads and defensive sticks.

Since Halak was unable to cover up the puck, it trickled towards Hunwick – who had been camping out waiting for such an opportunity – and before the netminder could react, the defenseman had tapped his wrister past Halak’s right skate and into the net.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Halak, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).

For the first time this month, the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have won consecutive games. As such, they now own a 37-22-6 record that is 16 points superior to that of the visitors.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 1 – Day 58 – Stingy division leaders

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Excuse me, I was just finishing my cookie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Wait, Kobe Bryant?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 17 – Day 45 – It’s the Rick Nash/Torts game

Hopefully you’re not interested in going to a hockey game this evening if you live on the West Coast, because there’s not a single game happening in the NHL west of the Wabash River.

Now that you’re done looking up where the Wabash River is, I regret to inform you tonight’s limited geography in the NHL is largely due to only two games being on schedule. The first is set to start at 7 p.m. and will feature the New York Rangers at Columbus (NHLN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Buffalo at Detroit (SN360) acting as our early nightcap. All times Eastern.

The limited selection of contests also makes it difficult on me to choose today’s DtFR Game of the Day, because I try not to feature teams multiple times in the same week. That being said, the action in Ohio is going to be far more interesting, so it looks like we’ll watch the Rangers for the third time in the past 10 days.

 

I’m the author, so I get to make the rules: We’ve done enough talking about the 9-8-2 Rangers of late, so let’s dig into the 11-7-1 Blue Jackets, a team that hasn’t been featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series since October 25.

Columbus is quietly camping out in third place in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division, trailing both New Jersey and Pittsburgh by only two points.

As you’d expect from a team that features the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, the Jackets play one of the best defenses in the league as measured by goals against-per-game. They’re seventh best in the statistic, to be precise, allowing only 2.63 goals against each time they lace up their skates.

A major part of that is the exemplary play of 10-4-1 G Sergei Bobrovsky. So far in 15 starts, he’s managed a .928 save percentage and 2.16 GAA that is pedestrian by his 2016-’17 standards (.931 and 2.06), but is still good enough to rank him in the top-six in his position among those with at least seven starts.

His GAA in particular is exceptionally outstanding, as it is the second-best among that group of 33 netminders. Of course, that statistic measures not only how well Bobrovsky performs, but also the success of the defense in front of him. That’s where D Jack Johnson and co. come into play, as their efforts have led Columbus to ranking (t)ninth-best in the league in shots against-per-game, allowing only 30.9 each night.

At first it seemed bizarre that Johnson’s 1.9 blocks-per-game was enough to lead the team. After all, D Alec Martinez leads the Los Angeles Kings – another club that doesn’t allow many goals – in that statistic with a whopping 3.5 blocks-per-game (1.2 more than second-best D Derek Forbort) that actually tops the league.

And it’s then that I realized this is the culture Head Coach John Tortorella has built over the course of his first two seasons in Columbus. Johnson’s effort by itself may not be all that impressive, but it’s the fact that he’s not alone in blocking shots that makes this Blue Jackets team successful.

As an entire squad, Columbus has blocked 280 shots to tie for eighth-most in the NHL as Johnson and fellow defensemen Seth Jones, Ryan Murray and David Savard all manage at least 1.6 blocks-per-game. Pairing that effort with the incredible ability of Bobrovsky, it’s impressive that eight teams have been able to outscore the Jackets.

Of course, the offense going up against the Jackets tonight is a good one. Even though they lost their last outing, the Rangers still takes credit for the seventh-best offense in the league, managing 3.28 goals-per-game.

C Mika Zibanejad takes a lot of credit for what New York has been able to achieve on the offensive end, as he leads the team with a point-per-game on 9-10-19 totals, but he’s also gotten a lot of help from new addition D Kevin Shattenkirk and his 5-12-17 campaign.

Of particular note for both players is that they’re playing the Blue Jackets this evening. So far this season, Zibanejad has had two three-point games, and the most recent was November 6’s contest against Columbus. Similarly, Shattenkirk’s last goal was scored in that game against Bobrovsky, so there’s no doubt he’d like to beat the netminder once again.

While their performances this season have been strong, it’s the Blueshirts’ versatility in the offensive zone that has made them so dangerous. A total of eight players, including two defensemen, have earned 10 or more points already this season.

New York also has a special way of capitalizing on opportunities, made evident by its third-best 24.6 power play conversion percentage. Considering the Jackets play only an average penalty kill, stopping 81.3 percent to tie the Rangers for 13th-best, they’d be wise to keep RW Josh Anderson and his 11 penalty minutes under control.

Since this game features a strong New York offense against an equally competitive Columbus defense, this game may very well come down to the activity in 8-5-2 G Henrik Lundqvist‘s zone. Even though the Blueshirts have a miserable 2-4-0 record away from Madison Square Garden, I think their clear edge in special teams will be enough for them to pull off the upset this evening at Nationwide Arena.


Led by First Star of the Game G Roberto Luongo‘s 35-save shutout, the Florida Panthers beat the San Jose Sharks 2-0 at the SAP Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

This game was a very competitive, grind-it-out affair, as the Panthers were able to pull out the win even though they managed to fire only 28 shots on G Martin Jones‘ net.

The first of those to sneak past him was a wrap-around goal from Second Star F Colton Sceviour (F Connor Brickley and F Vincent Trocheck), buried exactly 60 seconds into the second period. After escaping a scrum with F Joe Pavelski and D Joakim Ryan along the rear boards, Sceviour skated behind Jones from his left to right. No defenders moved to cover Sceviour when he reached the goalpost, so he took the opportunity to slide the puck past Jones’ right skate and into the back of the net.

Third Star C Nick Bjugstad (W Jamie McGinn and RW Radim Vrbata) tacked on the highly-desired insurance goal with 7:37 remaining in regulation to set the 2-0 final score.

That shutout was Luongo’s first of the season and the 79th of his career in the regular season or playoffs. Meanwhile, Jones took the loss after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (.929 save percentage).

Florida’s road victory snaps a three-game winning streak by the 23-17-5 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors now trail the hosts by only four points.

November 15 – Day 43 – Heading in opposite directions

We’re halfway through the month of November and only a week away from American Thanksgiving, an important benchmark in the NHL for separating the men from the boys in terms of probable playoff teams. Though it wouldn’t seem it with over four months of play remaining, this is a pivotal week.

Calgary makes its yearly visit to Detroit (SN/TVAS) to get this stretch started at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Chicago (NBCSN). Finally, this evening’s nightcap of Boston at Anaheim (SN360) will drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

All three games should be very competitive, as they are being contested by opponents separated by only two points or less in the league table. That being said, there’s going to be no game more exciting than the one between Original Six clubs taking place in the Windy City.

 

I apparently really like these Central vs. Metropolitan matchups, because this is the fourth game we’ve featured between these two divisions in the last five days.

9-7-2 New York’s wild ride through the month of November continues since the last time it was featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Starting with Halloween night against the Golden Knights, the Rangers have yet to drop a point in any of their past six contests, including tilts against Tampa Bay (you know, the best team in the NHL) and Columbus.

In fact, the Blueshirts have played so well they’ve converted their goal-differential, which was once an ugly -10 on October 23, into a positive number for the first time this season. And with that success, the Rangers find themselves in a tie with their crosstown rivals for eighth-place in the Eastern Conference.

This may seem elementary, but the best way to improve a goal differential – and by default, win – usually involves burying some goals. Offense has been all the rage at Madison Square Garden lately, as the Rangers have scored a league-high 26 goals since October 31, averaging 4.33 per game.

In the league-wide list of top-10 point earners since Halloween, there is only one defenseman listed: Kevin Shattenkirk. Managing 3-5-8 totals in his past six games, the New Rochelle, N.Y. native and first-year Ranger has been a major driver in this surge. Of note, half his points – both for the season and during this run – have come on the power play (an effort the Rangers rank third-best for the season with a 25.8 percent conversion rate), indicating his impact in all situations.

Not to be overshadowed too much, top-line C Mika Zibanejad has also earned eight points over this stretch, but he’s been earning his pay more as a play-maker than a goalscorer, as he’s buried only one goal in this stretch. His favorite player to assist of late has been sophomore W Pavel Buchnevich, who has scored four goals in six games – an effort eclipsed only by fourth-liner W Michael Grabner.

It’s also been a tale of two months for the 8-8-2 Blackhawks, but they’re not exactly as happy with the change as the Blueshirts. Going back to October 24’s 4-2 loss in Vegas, Chicago is an uninspiring 3-6-0. That includes losses to the Avalanche, Canadiens and Flyers, who among them have a combined 24-24-5 record and a -15 goal-differential.

What should be truly concerning for the Blackhawks is their record in meaningful games since April 1 of last season. They went 0-2-2 to finish out the 2016-’17 regular season campaign, followed by an 0-3-1 performance in the playoffs. Add that in with this year’s record and Chicago has gone 8-13-5 in its last 26 competitive matches.

If this is an April Fools’ Day joke, it should go down in the Guinness World Records as the longest and most convoluted, because this Hawks team should be in much better position than 11th in the Western Conference.

After all, the Hawks boast players such as F Patrick Kane (winner of 2016’s Hart, Lindsay and Ross Trophies), D Duncan Keith (a two-time Norris Trophy winner) and C Jonathan Toews (the 2013 Selke Trophy winner), all of whom have thrice hoisted the Stanley Cup.

What’s most frustrating is that the Hawks aren’t really doing anything wrong statistically. Sure, the offense’s 2.94 goals-per-game for the season could technically be better (it’s only [t]13th-best in the league, after all), but allowing a (t)ninth-fewest 2.72 goals against-per-game should be more than enough to keep Chicago competitive.

Of course, season averages have a way of camouflaging recent momentum – or lack thereof. Since October 24, the Blackhawks have scored only 21 goals, tying Detroit for sixth-fewest in that stretch.

Perhaps the most telling point about this squad during this nine-game stretch is that W Alex DeBrincat, a rookie on the third line, is leading the attack with his 5-2-7 totals (6-5-11 for the season), followed close behind by F Artem Anisimov‘s – a player that’s never scored more than 45 points in a season – 5-1-6 effort. Not Kane; not Toews; heck, not even W Brandon Saad.

DeBrincat and Anisimov.

Head Coach Joel Quenneville will never complain about depth scoring. Depth scoring is one of the top things that separates the best teams in this league from pretenders. But you can’t have depth scorers without stars like Kane and Toews doing their jobs as the primary forwards. Until they rediscover their groove, Chicago will continue to struggle.

It’s with that in mind that I’m forced to favor the Rangers in this contest. Though I’m sure G Corey Crawford – who’s having a Vezina-caliber season so far – will prove a solid test against New York’s red-hot offense, I don’t think the Blackhawks’ offense will be able to break through G Henrik Lundqvist and his defense.


A combined seven goals were struck in the second period of yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, but the Nashville Predators weathered the storm to beat the Washington Capitals 6-3 at Bridgestone Arena.

Though the middle act of this three-ring circus was the wildest, the first period still provided some excitement for the home fans when F Craig Smith (First Star of the Game LW Kevin Fiala and D Anthony Bitetto) scored a tip-in with 8:12 remaining before the first intermission. 5:55 later, Third Star C Nick Bonino (D Roman Josi and F Calle Jarnkrok) doubled the Preds’ advantage to 2-0.

It took only 6:28 of play in the second period for the Caps to level the game. Aided by Jarnkrok earning a seat in the penalty box for hooking him 45 seconds earlier, F T.J. Oshie (D John Carlson and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) scored Washington’s first goal of the night at the 4:29 mark with a power play tip-in. 1:59 later, RW Alex Chiasson (W Brett Connolly and Carlson) tied the game at two-all with a slap shot. That tie lasted exactly 17 seconds before F Filip Forsberg buried an unassisted wrist shot to reclaim a lead for Nashville.

Scoring subsided for almost two-and-a-half minutes before Fiala (Second Star D Mattias Ekholm) decided to get things ramped back up with a tip-in that proved to be the game-winner at the 9:04 mark to set the score at 4-2, but his tally was quickly answered by Oshie’s (F Chandler Stephenson and C Nicklas Backstrom) wrister 17 seconds later to pull Washington back within a 4-3 deficit.

Now that we’ve reached the midway point of the frame, let’s take a second and recap: five goals have already been scored in this second period! There’s still 10 more minutes to play! Meanwhile, the last three teams to face Wild G Devan Dubnyk have not been able to score even one goal against him.

Hockey is a fickle game.

Anyways, only two more goals were struck in the period, and they both belonged to the Preds. W Miikka Salomaki (C Colton Sissons and D Matt Irwin) scored his second goal of the season with 5:54 remaining in the frame, and Ekholm (C Kyle Turris and Sissons) finished the period off with a power play clapper two minutes before the second intermission.

It seems both teams used up all their offense in the second period, because not a single goal was struck in the third period. That left G Pekka Rinne with the victory after saving 26-of-29 shots faced (.897 save percentage) and G Braden Holtby, who saved 19-of-25 (.76), with the loss. Holtby was lifted for G Philipp Grubauer at the start of the third period, and he saved all six shots he faced.

Nashville’s victory is the second-straight by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. With their record now improved to 22-16-5, hosts now own a four-point advantage over the roadies.

November 8 – Day 36 – It’s a whole new month

It’s Wednesday, so you know what that means: it’s supposedly rivalry night in the NHL.

At least that’s what I’ve been told by Doc Emrick…

The action finds its start at 7:30 p.m. this evening with Minnesota at Toronto (SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Boston at the New York Rangers (NBCSN). After that game finishes, fans should keep their televisions tuned to NBCSN to catch this evening’s nightcap -Tampa Bay at San Jose – at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Last Wednesday’s rivalry was New Jersey at Vancouver… I know, what a heated matchup. This week, we get a real rivalry of the Original Six variety that features one team riding a four-game winning streak.

 

What a difference turning a page in the calendar can be! After opening the season a miserable 1-5-2, the Blueshirts have now rattled off four straight victories to crawl into a tie for sixth in the Metropolitan Division and 10th in the Eastern Conference.

Whether the 7-7-2 Rangers were spending too much time planning their Halloween costumes or being respectful of the Yankees playoff run, we’ll never know. Either way, New Yorkers are happy to have winning ways at Madison Square Garden once again (yes, we’ll include the 6-4 Knicks, who are riding a three-game winning streak of their own, until proved otherwise).

Since Halloween, only Winnipeg’s 3-0-1 run comes close to rivaling the Rangers’ four-game winning streak, and there’s some interesting similarities between both clubs’ surges: a spike in offensive productivity has been integral to the teams’ performances. That’s especially true in New York’s case, as 6-4-2 G Henrik Lundqvist and co. have allowed an average of three goals-per-game over this stretch.

Usually that’s not the best strategy to win hockey games, but it’s working out right now for the Rangers because of the spectacular play of C Mika Zibanejad and D Kevin Shattenkirk.

Even though Zibanejad’s seven points are the most on the team during this run, Shattenkirk has arguably been the most impressive with his 3-3-6 totals since the last day of October. Playing a style that makes him seem to be a fourth forward instead of one half of the Rangers’ second defensive pairing can prove difficult to adjust to (just ask the Capitals), but it seems New York is starting to find its groove with the offseason’s most-desired piece.

One of the best ways to find momentum is to have success on special teams. The Rangers have been doing just that during this stretch, as their 40 percent conversion rate since Halloween is (t)fourth-best in the league. It’s on the man-advantage that Zibanejad has put in most his work, as his five power play points over this stretch are most on the squad. His favorite person to connect on the with on the man-advantage of late has been F Chris Kreider, who has scored two of the Blueshirts’ six extra-man tallies.

That effort doesn’t stop at the power play. New York has also been perfect on the penalty kill in its last four games, stopping all eight of the man-advantages that has come its way. Considering Lundqvist has faced only nine shots during that stretch, all credit for this success must belong to D Ryan McDonagh and the rest of the defensive corps.

If the Rangers are truly going to make a living out of dominating special teams, they’ll face a serious test tonight against a 6-4-3 Bruins club that absolutely dominates in uneven situations.

The superior of Boston’s special teams is its penalty kill, which ranks third-best in the NHL for the month-old season with an 87.2 percent kill rate. This success has been a combined effort of exemplary play by 3-4-2 G Tuukka Rask, who’s managed a .935 save percentage against the power play that ranks second-best among goaltenders with at least six starts, and a defense that has limited his work to only 46 shots in that situation.

If Rask doesn’t hug D Zdeno Chara every day, or at least shake his hand and offer a Finnish thanks, he’s doing something wrong. Chara averages 1.4 blocks-per-game and has only stepped up his game to an even higher level in that department with D Adam McQuaid‘s broken leg. Every little thing Chara does helps keep pucks away from Rask and reduce his workload, and that’s a very important thing for a netminder that has started over 60 games for the past three seasons.

Boston is also home to one of the top-five power plays in the league. Led by RW David Pastrnak and his 3-3-6 power play effort, the Bruins have converted a wildly impressive 25.5 percent of their extra-man opportunities. If the Rangers can keep the Bruins’ power play from finding the back of their net, they deserve to win. Otherwise, it may be wise to keep Shattenkirk and his team-leading 22 penalty minutes under control.

Neither team played yesterday, so this should be an entertaining matchup between two fresh clubs. Since I don’t feel the Bruins’ even-strength offense offers anything Lundqvist hasn’t seen before, I’m leaning towards the Rangers earning two points tonight.


The Vancouver Canucks repaid the Calgary Flames for winning at Rogers Arena last month, as they won yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at the Scotiabank Saddledome 5-3.

Like every good rivalry game, this contest had its share of penalties – seven, to be exact, totaling 14 penalty minutes. As a result, five of the eight goals struck last night came as a result of special teams play.

The Flames were able to kill off D Dougie Hamilton‘s cross-check against W Thomas Vanek at the midway point of the first period, but they weren’t so fortunate after F Michael Frolik tripped LW Daniel Sedin with 6:21 remaining in the frame. With only a second remaining before Frolik could return to action, F Sam Gagner (Sedin and Vanek) scored a power play wrist shot to give Vancouver the lead.

However, that lead wouldn’t last into the first intermission, and it was all because F Brandon Sutter was caught holding D T.J. Brodie. With 11 seconds remaining before the break, Hamilton (C Mikael Backlund and LW Matthew Tkachuk) made amends for his prior infraction to level the game for Calgary.

Power play goal #3 was a result of Sedin hi-sticking Hamilton with 8:32 remaining on the second period clock. He sat in the box for only 23 seconds, as Second Star of the Game LW Johnny Gaudreau (Brodie and C Sean Monahan) posted his bail with a wrister to give the Flames their first lead of the night.

Apparently all this power play mumbo jumbo is not what Vanek (D Michael Del Zotto and D Alex Biega) had in mind for the evening, as he registered the first five-on-five goal of the game with 4:51 remaining in the second period to level the score at 2-2, and W Micheal Ferland followed suit 2:18 later to reclaim the lead for Calgary.

The next penalty that proved important was Biega’s trip against D Mark Giordano with 1:56 remaining before the second intermission, but it was not the Flames that capitalized. Instead, RW Derek Dorsett (Sutter and D Ben Hutton) scored a shorthanded deflection to level the game 100 seconds before reporting to the dressing room for intermission.

After two back-and-forth frames, the Canucks decided to take command of the game with a swift two-goal blitz before five minutes ticked off the third period clock. They were helped in that effort by D Michael Stone, who was caught holding Vanek at the 3:49 mark. 23 seconds later, Vancouver registered its game-winning goal.

The fourth power play tally of the night belongs to First Star C Bo Horvat (RW Brock Boeser and Hutton), though he was more beneficiary than anything. Hutton and Boeser did most of the work, as it was them that brought the puck into the offensive zone following a Flames clear. Boeser slung a wrist shot from the right face-off circle towards the far post that G Mike Smith blocked rather easily. The operative word here is obviously blocked, as Horvat was waiting in the crease to collect Smith’s rebound and slide a backhanded shot behind him.

Though Horvat gets credit for the game-winner, it was probably C Henrik Sedin‘s (D. Sedin and RW Jake Virtanen) five-on-five goal only 38 seconds later that really took the wind out of the Flames’ sails. Try as they might, they could neither force the Canucks to commit a penalty nor break through Third Star G Jacob Markstrom at even strength.

Speaking of Markstrom, he saved 29-of-32 shots faced (.906 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Smith, who saved 16-of-21 (.762).

Being the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day seems to be the desirable thing of late, as visitors are riding a two-game winning streak and have won six of the past eight tilts. This solid run has pulled the roadies within two points of the 18-14-4 hosts.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 4

Player of the Week: Josh Bailey

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

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

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

Team of the Week: New York Rangers

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, but what about…”

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

News, Notes, and Nonsense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 28 – Day 25 – Oil Capital of Canada

There may be some great college football games and the World Series on today, but remember to make room for hockey!

There’s only one matinee on the schedule today, and it occurs in Buffalo when the Sabres host San Jose (SN) at 1 p.m. The rest of tonight’s action starts at its usual time of 7 p.m. when six contests (Los Angeles at Boston, Philadelphia at Toronto [CBC], the New York Rangers at Montréal [CITY/NHLN/SN1/TVAS], Anaheim at Tampa Bay, Detroit at Florida and Arizona at New Jersey) drop the puck, followed by three more (Columbus at St. Louis, the New York Islanders at Nashville and Pittsburgh at Minnesota) an hour later. Chicago pays a visit to Colorado at 9 p.m., while Washington makes its yearly trip to Edmonton (CBC/SN1) 60 minutes later to complete the night’s festivities. All times Eastern.

Before the season started, I had the New York-Montréal fixture circled on my calendar for being a rematch from last season’s playoffs and an Original Six game. Considering how both those clubs have started their seasons, I’m reconsidering that decision and am instead far more interested in seeing W Alex Ovechkin and C Connor McDavid try to outscore each other.

 

Somehow, we’ve made it 25 days into this season without featuring the Oilers. I know they’ve had a slow start to a season of high expectations, but what kind of atrocity have I committed?

Yes, now that NHL coaches have had an offseason to prepare plans for taking on 3-5-1 Edmonton’s high-flying offense, life hasn’t been quite as simple as many orange-clad fans would have hoped while analysts were pegging the Oilers for a deep 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs run.

Figuring out what has been the Oil’s problem is a tall task, as it seems they’re under-performing on both ends of the ice. Of course, the most obvious struggles have occurred on the offensive end.

As we all so well remember, Edmonton’s offense last season was a truly thrilling pleasure to watch, as they averaged 2.96 goals-per-game – the third-best mark in the league. This year, the Oilers are performing a tribute to the 2010-’11 season that earned them the opportunity to select C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall in the ensuing NHL Entry Draft, as their 2.22 goals-per-game is second-worst in the NHL.

Though it’d be easy to say that they’ve grown complacent after earning massive contracts this summer, this lackluster effort is no fault of F Leon Draisaitl or McDavid. Both are averaging more than one point-per-game (a benchmark for the best forwards in the game), and their first line (completed by LW Patrick Maroon) has accounted for nine of the Oil’s 20 goals on the season.

One player that has really stood out to me is Zack Kassian, the third-line right wing that had a major coming-out party in the playoffs by scoring two game-winning goals against the Sharks. So far this year, he only has an assist to his credit, well under his .31 points-per-game scoring rate for his career.

Perhaps Kassin is one of those “Mr. April”-types: a player that has a knack for coming through in the clutch. That’s all fine and well when the calendar is flipped to that month, but it can be a major burden on the club in the remaining six months of the season. For Edmonton’s sake, let’s hope he can find a way to rediscover his scoring touch.

If he – and the rest of his team, for that matter – can’t, you have to wonder how much longer Head Coach Todd McLellan will keep Draisaitl on the top line if the offense continues to struggle. Though the Oilers have solid depth at the center position (Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Strome and Jujhar Khaira are currently the bottom-three at the position), moving the German to his natural position on the second line could spread the offensive spark needed to get this team going.

Of course, I say all this after the Oil posted a 5-4 victory over the Stars Thursday. Perhaps the offense is finally finding its groove after all and McLellan will be able to keep his super line intact.

While the better half of Edmonton’s game so far has been defense, it still has not been as exemplary as last season. For the entirety of 2016-’17, the Oilers allowed 207 goals against, or 2.52 goals-per-game, which was the fifth-best effort in the Western Conference and eighth-best in the entire NHL.

A major part of that success was G Cam Talbot, who rocked a .919 save percentage to a 2.39 GAA, both of which ranked eighth-best in the league among goaltenders with at least 49 starts. Making those numbers even more impressive was the fact that Talbot, then 29-years-old, started a whopping 73 games last season to 4294 minutes.

Remember, those are only regular season numbers. Add in the postseason, and Talbot saw 5093 minutes last year. The fact that he showed up for camp this year is a true testament to his character given that workload.

Maybe it’s last season’s work schedule that is playing its part on 3-4-1 Talbot this year, because he simply has not been as good in his eight starts this season (out of nine games played by Edmonton, for those keeping track). Though it doesn’t help that he’s playing behind a defense that gives up a 10th-most 31 shots-per-game, his .909 save percentage and 2.96 GAA are the biggest change from last year’s Oilers team to this one, so either he needs to return to last season’s form or McLellan needs to better utilize backup G  Laurent Brossoit, or else General Manager Peter Chiarelli will be forced to further tax his tight budget to improve the defense while keeping in mind Draisaitl and McDavid’s contracts.

One team that knows more than its fair share about the salary cap is the 4-5-1 Capitals. As a result of following a “this is the year” mentality for the last three seasons (at least), General Manager Brian MacLellan was forced to make some tough decisions that eventually resulted in D Karl Alzner, F Marcus Johansson, D Kevin Shattenkirk and RW Justin Williams all exiting the Washington fold.

What’s left is a team that is struggling on both ends of the ice, made most apparent by their two-game losing skid at the hands of Florida and Vancouver.

While the offense is far from its former form (the Capitals average a 13th-worst 2.9 goals-per-game), it has been G Braden Holtby that has been the biggest blemish on Washington’s efforts. Even though he has a defense in front of him limiting his workload to 32.7 shots-per-game (14th-most in the NHL), he’s managed only a .913 save percentage for a 2.87 GAA.

For a netminder that owns career .921 and 2.32 marks, this is the definition of a slump.

Unfortunately for Head Coach Barry Trotz, helping Holtby out of his tough stretch is not as simple as starting G Philipp Grubauer, as the backup has been even worse than the starter with an .85 save percentage and 4.67 GAA.

I think Grubauer is a fine backup, but I can’t vouch for his ability to bounce back and get his season turned around. Holtby, however? I’ll bet you every cent I own (it’s a depleting total, cash in now!) that he’ll find a way to get this campaign back under his control to help a downgraded, but certainly not talent-less Capitals team to a fourth-straight playoff appearance.

The question is, of course, if his comeback begins tonight. It’s certainly possible, but considering both of Edmonton’s top-two lines got on the scorecard at least twice in its last game, I think the Oilers can keep their positive momentum rolling in tonight’s tilt.


Behind the impeccable play of First Star of the Game G Pekka Rinne, the Nashville Predators beat the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Rinne allowed only one goal on 44 shots faced for a .977 save percentage. Making that stat even better – or worse, depending on your perspective – his lone blemish was an unassisted shorthanded wrist shot by F Artem Anisimov with 26 seconds remaining in the first frame.

Though G Corey Crawford entered the second period in line for the win, he exited the ice for the second intermission in line for what proved to be his fourth loss of the season. The only way for that to happen was for Crawford to allow both of the Predators’ goals in the middle frame, and he did just that.

First up was C Calle Jarnkrok, who leveled the game only 57 seconds into the period  with an unassisted wrister, his first goal of the season. But it was Second Star F Craig Smith‘s (D P.K. Subban and LW Kevin Fiala) power play wrister, buried with 8:58 remaining in the frame, that proved to be the deciding goal.

The Predators’ extra-man opportunity owes its start to D Jan Rutta for tripping C Frederick Gaudreau at the 9:30 mark of the period. Chicago was within 28 seconds of a successful kill before Smith took advantage of C Colton Sissons‘ screen to beat a blinded Crawford’s blocker with a wrister from the top of the left face-off circle.

Though the Blackhawks would fire 15 shots in the third period, Rinne stood tall to earn his fifth victory of the season. Crawford took the loss after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage).

Nashville’s victory helped road teams avoid the business-week sweep at the hands of the 14-7-4 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but visitors still trail the series by eight points.

October 11 – Day Eight – Second round preview

Now that all the fun of the opening week is behind us, it’s time to get focused for the two-month run to American Thanksgiving.

Don’t think the holiday is that important in the NHL? Maybe this will change your mind.

With that in mind, let’s jump into the five games on the schedule this evening. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with two contests (New Jersey at Toronto [SN] and Pittsburgh at Washington [NBCSN]), followed two hours later by Boston at Colorado. Fixtures continue to fall in line every half hour as the New York Islanders visit Anaheim at 10 p.m. and tonight’s nightcap, Calgary at Los Angeles, drops the puck 30 minutes later. All times Eastern.

Tonight was supposed to be Brian Boyle‘s return to Toronto, but since his diagnosis of chronic myelogenous leukemia has kept him off the ice to star the season, we’ll delay the celebration of the Leafs’ trip to the second round until his return in mid-November.

Instead, let’s take in one of the NHL’s best rivalries in recent years.

 

If not for the Capitals’ significant roster turnover this offseason, it would have been safe to pencil these two squads into a third-straight meeting in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Then again, given Washington’s 2-0-1 record to lead the Metropolitan Division after a week of play, maybe that assumption isn’t too far off the mark.

What has made Washington so deadly to start the season has been its ultra-efficient offense. Though the Capitals average 4.33 goals-per-game ([t]fourth-best in the NHL), they take the fewest shots-per-game in the league at 25.7.

In effect, the Caps are attacking opposing goalies with scalpels instead of battle axes.

At the head of that attack is head surgeon W Alex Ovechkin (.389 shooting percentage), who’s assisted by American Sniper F T.J. Oshie (.375) – both of whom are in the top-15 of shooting percentage and combine for 10 of Washington’s 13 goals. With two solid centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov feeding them passes, Head Coach Barry Trotz is optimistic his top-two lines won’t miss a beat after the offseason departures of F Marcus Johansson and RW Justin Williams.

Speaking of the title of “American Sniper,” Oshie should look out for Columbus’ LW Sonny Milano and his obnoxious .571 to start his rookie season. The kid’s going places with a shot like that, but we’ll worry about that when the Capitals and Jackets tangle in early December.

Back to our game tonight, Washington has felt its turbulent offseason most within the defensive corps. It’s a good thing G Braden Holtby moonlights as a brick wall, as his career .922 save percentage has been put to the test by facing an average of 37 shots-per-game, the (t)fourth-highest in the league. If the Pens want any chance of beating the reigning Jennings Trophy winner, they’ll need to attack him early and often.

All but two (D Nate Schmidt and D Kevin Shattenkirk) of the goalscorers from the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs have returned to Washington this season. Mentioned above as simply play-makers, Backstrom and Kuznetsov both found much success against Pittsburgh in May, as they both beat former Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury for four goals apiece.

Similarly, only two players (C Nick Bonino and F Matt Cullen) that scored on Holtby last postseason departed Pittsburgh. In particular, Holtby is least looking forward to seeing F Jake Guentzel again, as the 23-year-old scored on him four times five months ago.

The Penguins simply haven’t played the same way twice to start the season (most notably falling flat on their faces in Chicago, losing 10-1), though they’d like to repeat their performance from Saturday when they beat Nashville 4-0.

Beyond simply jumping out to a quick start (F Evgeni Malkin scored the game-winning goal only 66 seconds into the game), Pittsburgh got back to playing a sound defensive game. The Predators managed to fire only 26 shots at G Matthew Murray, far below the Penguins’ average of 34.7 shots-against-per-game.

It was also in that game where the city of Pittsburgh fell in love with RW Ryan Reaves, similar to how St. Louis did seven years ago, as he provided a goal to go with his fights with W Cody McLeod and F Austin Watson. Fans and pundits alike questioned General Manager Jim Rutherford‘s decision to bring in an enforcer, but if he can manage to be a goon with a little bit of touch and put up similar numbers to his 7-6-13 performance last season, he’ll be a welcome addition to this lineup.

This is a tough game to pick, as it seemed the Penguins turned a corner last Saturday and are resuming the form we’ve come to expect from them year in and year out. That being said, I think this Capitals team matches up well against them. No matter how hard Pittsburgh’s defense tries, I believe that either Ovechkin or Oshie will be able to find just the right shot to beat Murray.


In an exciting and emotional night for the city of Las Vegas, the Golden Knights were able to beat the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 to win their first-ever home tilt at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Knights absolutely blitzed the Coyotes out of the gates, as they scored four of their five goals in 10:42 of play. First up was F Tomas Nosek (F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and D Luca Sbisa) burying a wrist shot 2:31 after puck drop, followed by Second Star of the Game D Deryk Engelland (LW Brendan Leipsic) finding the back of G Antti Raanta‘s net only 107 seconds later. Scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal was none other than Third Star W James Neal (D Brayden McNabb and W David Perron), the same man who has now accounted for all three of Vegas’ winners to begin its inaugural season.

Within this sequence, the puck first made its way towards the goal off a shot by McNabb from the top of the offensive zone. It was casually blocked by D Jason Demers at the top of the crease, but Neal was able to collect the rebound and pivot towards the face-off circle to Raanta’s right. Once he finished his spin, he squeezed his wrister between the goaltender’s blocker and the near post.

But Neal wasn’t done. Thanks to F Mario Kempe interfering with Fleury, Vegas earned a power play that Neal (W Reilly Smith and F Erik Haula) was able to convert with a wrister from the crease to beat a fallen G Louis Domingue five-hole. Though F Tobias Rieder (D Niklas Hjalmarsson) was able to get the Coyotes on the board with 7:23 remaining in the first period, it did little to dampen the spirits of the newborn hockey fans.

After a wild opening frame, the second and third periods were much more tame. C Oscar Lindberg (Leipsic) and D Kevin Connauton (C Derek Stepan and F Clayton Keller) were able to score for Vegas and Arizona, respectively, but their tallies had little impact on the outcome.

Overall, the Knights absolutely dominated this game. To start with, they won 68 percent of face-offs, but they were further helped by sloppy play from the Yotes. Though the statistic is recorded as takeaways, most of Vegas’ 12 steals (led by Smith’s three) were a result of aimless passes from Arizona. The Coyotes supposedly improved on paper this offseason, but this showing was not evident of that.

Fleury earned his third victory in as many games played by saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the loss to Raanta, who saved two-of-five (.4) before being pulled. He was replaced by Domingue 6:15 into the game, and saved 21-of-23 (.913) for no decision.

That’s a fourth-straight win by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, a series that now favors the 5-2-1 hosts by four points.

October 8 – Day Five – Selections are slim, Vol. I

What a day yesterday! 15 games of NHL action is the best way to spend an evening.

But all good things must come to an end, and this one in particular comes to a screeching halt. There’s only one game on the schedule today, making 1-1-0 Montréal’s 7 p.m.* visit to Madison Square Garden (NHLN/RDS/SN1) to face the 0-2-0 Rangers our de facto Game of the Day.

*Eastern time

 

Everybody loves a good Original Six matchup, especially when it’s a rematch from the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s a postseason Habs fans would like to forget though. After winning the Atlantic Division by five points over Ottawa last season with a +26 goal differential, Montréal managed only 11 goals against the first wild card Rangers before being eliminated in six games.

Most noticeable in the Canadiens’ offensive struggles this April was the disappearance of LW Max Pacioretty. He managed .83 points-per-game for 35-32-67 totals to lead his squad in the regular season, but he registered only one assist – albeit on Game 2’s overtime game-winner – as his lone postseason offensive contribution.

Instead, it was RW Alexander Radulov that rose to the challenge, earning a team-leading seven points – including two goals – against G Henrik Lundqvist. But, there’s one problem with that going into tonight’s game: Radulov now wears a green Dallas Stars sweater after signing with them as a free agent this offseason.

To replace his scoring contributions, General Manager Marc Bergevin traded for F Jonathan Drouin‘s RFA rights and then signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract. Though it’s far too early to say it was a bad decision, Drouin has only provided a lone assist in two games played as the offense has deferred to RW Brendan Gallagher‘s 1-1-2 effort to start the season. Pairing that with Pacioretty’s two points in his past 10 non-preseason games, the Canadiens’ stars are struggling to find much attacking rhythm.

As a result, the Habs have not exited the gates as strongly as they were hoping for. They escaped with a shootout victory in Buffalo to open their season Thursday before going to Washington and getting whipped 6-1 last night by W Alex Ovechkin.

Of course, those two points are still miles ahead of where the Blueshirts are to start the year, as they lost 4-2 to Colorado, the presumed worst team in the NHL, in their first game followed by a wild 8-5 loss in Toronto last night. In fact, New York is the only club in the Eastern Conference to have not earned a point already this campaign, even though they have yet to depart the comforts of home.

Having managed seven goals in two games (led by Mats Zuccarello‘s 1-4-5 effort to start the season), offense is definitely the problem in The Big Apple. Instead, Head Coach Alain Vigneault‘s club is struggling on the defensive end, specifically between the pipes.

This is not the start to the 2017-’18 season Lundqvist envisioned. In two starts, he’s saved only 34-of-42 shots faced for a .809 save percentage and a whopping 6.13 GAA. Making those numbers even more alarming, he allowed five goals in the opening period last night against the Leafs before being pulled.

Though the Rangers’ defense looks far from perfect, Lundqvist can’t blame them for his struggles. Led by newcomer D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s team-leading five blocks, the blue line allows only 33.5 shots-per-game to reach the net, a number that ties for 13th-best in the league.

So, does Vigneault sit Lundqvist in favor of G Ondrej Pavelec tonight? Something tells me the answer is no.  Personally, I’d leave King Henrik in the net to face an offense that has yet to find its groove, especially since he sat the last two periods last night and should be rested enough to have another go at earning his first win of the season. Though he’s experienced enough that you wouldn’t think he needs a confidence boost, it’s that experience that gives Vigneault the belief he can bounce back.

As I stated in my Rangers offseason recap/preview, this Rangers club will go as Lundqvist goes. That’s great when he’s playing like his usual self, but until then New York could be in dire straits. With that in mind, whichever team can control Montréal’s offensive zone will win this game tonight.


With his second game-winning goal in as many games played this season, Second Star of the Game W Brandon Saad and the Blackhawks beat the visiting Blue Jackets 5-1 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Chicago wasted no time in taking command of this game, as First Star F Patrick Kane (W Ryan Hartman and D Gustav Forsling) buried a wrist shot only 93 seconds into the contest to take a quick 1-0 lead. Assisted by Third Star C Jonathan Toews and F Patrick Sharp, Saad followed up Kane’s score only 4:31 later with a power play wrister to beat G Joonas Korpisalo.

Saad was the beneficiary of an ugly free-for-all in front of Korpisalo’s crease.  Sharp started the scoring play by firing a shot on goal from above the right face-off circle. Though Korpisalo was able to make the save, both Toews and Saad collapsed on his crease to apply pressure. Toews had intentions of collecting the puck to score on his own, but couldn’t corral it and instead nudged it across the crease to Saad. Considering Chicago’s prodigal son was able to bury the goal to set a 2-0 score, he’ll be happy to settle for the assist.

Toews (Saad) did eventually find the back of the net for his first goal of the year to add to the Hawks’ lead with 9:46 remaining in the second period, but LW Sonny Milano (F Nick Foligno and D Gabriel Carlsson) pulled the Jackets back within two goals only 31 seconds later on a wrister. Unfortunately for Columbus, that goal could not provide enough of a spark as D Jan Rutta (Kane) buried a wrister with 7:09 remaining in the second frame to set the score at 4-1.

RW Richard Panik provided Chicago’s final insurance goal with 5:55 remaining in the game.

G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 32-of-33 shots faced (.97 save percentage), leaving the loss to Korpisalo, who saved 24-of-29 (.828 save percentage).

For those wondering, both of the Blackhawks’ victories have come against opponents from the Metropolitan Division, the best in the league last season. They’ve won those games by a combined score of 15-2. If that’s not an indication of the caliber of these Hawks, I don’t know what is.

Though not as comfortably as yesterday, the 3-2-0 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series still hold a one-point advantage over their hosts.