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2018-19 NHL Schedule Analysis

It’s that time of year again – it’s time to analyze the NHL’s schedule for the upcoming season.

As mentioned in last year’s edition of this post, these sorts of columns aren’t usually associated with the NHL due in large part to the fact that every team plays every other team at least twice – once at home and once on the road – for a fairly even strength of schedule for each and every club. However, there’s more than a few benchmarks on the league’s calendar, as well as some important stretches in each organization’s individual schedule, that makes each team’s campaign unique.

In terms of how the schedule can be divided, the NHL’s offering for this upcoming season is very similar to the one we just completed in June in that it can be divided into fourths. One quarter of the season – approximately 21 games played for every team – is compacted between Opening Day (scheduled for October 3) and American Thanksgiving, the second of nine days this year without any regular season play.

American Thanksgiving is not an arbitrarily picked date, mind you. Longtime fans of DtFR know there’s more than a few stat-heads in residence around here, and one of our favorites is that teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving qualify for the postseason over 75 percent of the time. For those wondering, last season was a bit wild in regards to that statistic, as only 11 (instead of the usual 12) of the teams in playoff position by the Thanksgiving Break punched tickets to the dance.

I’m not here to point fingers, but the St. Louis Blues were on top of the Western Conference when they sat down for their 2017 turkey feasts. Maybe the tryptophan stuck around for the remainder of the season?

Excuse this Blues fan’s digressions.

I usually consider the second and third quarters as one group (for those bad at math, that’s half the schedule), meaning Black Friday (November 23) to February 24 provides the main bulk of the season – approximately 41 games per team (funny how that works out to half an 82-game season, isn’t it?). Just like Thanksgiving, February 24 is not a date simply drawn out of a hat. Instead, that is the last day of play before February 25’s trade deadline.

It is in this chunk of the season that a team truly proves itself in the face of a grinding schedule, as clubs will be playing at least three games a week for 13 weeks with only two major breaks – the standard three-day Christmas holiday and the All-Star Break/bye week (more on that in a moment).

After the trade deadline, the NHL’s regular season schedule is hot and heavy until it comes to a close on April 6 (You hear that Boston? No extending the season this year!). With every club packing approximately 20 games into only 41 days, teams will effectively be in action every other day as they scramble to complete their playoff qualification or improve upon their seeding.

Of course, there’s always a few wildcards that try to mess with this system. Take, for example, the Florida Panthers, who for the second season in a row have a backlogged schedule. With only 19 games on their calendar before Thanksgiving, the Panthers will play a whopping 22 games after the deadline to close out the season, meaning they just might complete they playoff push they came so close to pulling off last season.

On the flip side, Nashville is a team that has potential to see a stellar position in the standings – say, possession of the Presidents’ Trophy like Tampa Bay had for much of the season – slip through its fingers at the bitter end. The Predators will lace up their skates only 18 times after the trade deadline for the fewest number of tilts in that time span of any club in the NHL.

In terms of spacing their games evenly across the season, the teams with the most-balanced schedules include the Avalanche, Blackhawks, Bruins, Canadiens, Flyers, Lightning, Rangers, Senators, Sharks, Stars and Wild.


This season marks the third season of bye weeks in the NHL, and the league is continuing to make adjustments on the breaks to maximize the benefits for players while minimizing the impact on its overall product.

Year 1 featured byes scattered throughout the schedule from New Year’s all the way into March, creating confusion among fans and, presumably, opposing coaching staffs alike as we tried to keep track of which organizations had taken their breaks already and which were still playing on tired legs.

To alleviate that concern, the NHL condensed all byes into the span of two weeks in January last season with relative success. Gone was the chance of catching a team that had played for four-straight months without much of a break, as well as the chance a team could enter the playoffs with any sniff of an edge due to enjoying their bye later in the season. However, what that design created was a month book-ended by the Christmas and All-Star Breaks that lacked much action, as it’s tough to have games taking place when literally half the league is resting.

In my opinion, the league just might have found a winning formula in its third try. This year’s schedule sees every team’s bye week attached to the All-Star Weekend in San Jose. 21 clubs will enjoy the majority of their breaks following the festivities on January 24-27, while the remaining 10 will take their byes before the weekend or have it split on either side of the break.

What results is a minimum of four days off for all players regardless of their participation in San Jose, plus the four days allocated to the All-Star events that only a handful of players will attend. In addition, by selecting a majority of the 10 teams that will take their byes before the All-Star Break from the Eastern Conference, the NHL can schedule those sides for enough games to fill the scheduling void since travel between those cities is far shorter than in the West.

The players get their breaks and the NHL keeps hockey in arenas and on TV: I’d say everybody wins.


My favorite days of the regular season are always when there’s 15 games on the schedule, leaving only one team inactive. I guess that means I’ll have to do my Christmas shopping on a different day, because the first of those dates is November 23 – right after American Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately for Kings fans, their favorite club will be left out in the cold that day (who am I kidding, is there ever a cold day in Los Angeles?), but they’ll get to participate in December 29’s loaded schedule at the expense of Columbus.

Finally, the last 15-game day of the calendar is on April 6 – the final day of the regular season. Just like the Kings were the first team to be absent on a slammed schedule, the Ducks will be the odd team out, as their 82nd and final game of the regular season will take place the day before against Los Angeles at Honda Center.

ANAHEIM DUCKS – eliminated in First Round, 101 points

It’s hard to tell: did the Ducks have the worst road record of any 2018 Pacific Division playoff team because of all their injuries, or because their style of play is on the verge of extinction in the NHL’s current era of speed and skill?

I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll know soon enough, as four of Anaheim’s first six games are away from Honda Center. Should the Ducks struggle in Glendale against the potentially up-and-coming Coyotes in Game 2 of the regular season on October 6, there just might be cause for concern in Orange County.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 15-27)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (December 29-January 11)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Colorado, vs. Florida, vs. Winnipeg, vs. San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary, vs. Los Angeles

ARIZONA COYOTES – 29th, 70 points

Going 0-10-1 in your opening 11 games is going to have a majorly detrimental effect on more than your overall record, so it’s no surprise the Coyotes ended the season with the worst home and road records of any club in the Western Conference. However, Arizona posted an 11-7-2 record in its last 20 games to close the campaign, so perhaps the Yotes aren’t as far off the mark as they seem on the surface.

Just like last season, Arizona’s first 11 games could answer a lot of questions about this organization moving forward, as the Coyotes have drawn a balanced schedule to open their season. Six of their first 11 opponents qualified for the playoffs last season (including Winnipeg [Oct. 20] and the Lightning [Oct. 27]), but almost all of the other five were nowhere close to the playoff bubble (Dallas [Oct. 4] was closest, but still missed the postseason by three points). Now, the Coyotes don’t necessarily have to have a winning record by the time October is through, but at least a .500 record would be reason enough to begin believing in this squad.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (February 24-March 9)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at New Jersey, at NY Islanders, vs. Chicago, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, vs. Los Angeles, at Vegas, vs. Winnipeg

BOSTON BRUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 112 points

Known for its brutal winters and Nor’easters, few look forward to making the trip to Boston during the wintertime. Count hockey players in particular among the professionals unexcited about a visit to New England, as TD Garden was home to the best home team in the Atlantic Division.

The Bruins fell just one point short of claiming the Eastern Conference crown last regular season, but they’ll have a chance to take an early lead this year when they open the season with eight-straight games against teams that failed to miss the playoffs. After visiting Washington D.C. for the Capitals’ banner raising ceremony on October 3, Boston will head to Buffalo (Oct. 4) before returning home to host the Senators (Oct. 8), Oilers (Oct. 11) and Red Wings (Oct. 13). Then, they’re off to Canada, taking on Calgary (Oct. 17), Edmonton (Oct. 18), Vancouver (Oct. 20) and Ottawa (Oct. 23) before returning home.

BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (February 15-23)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (February 26-March 9)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Islanders, at New Jersey, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Detroit, at Columbus, at Minnesota, vs. Tampa Bay

BUFFALO SABRES – 31st, 62 points

Is it a surprise that the worst home team of the NHL ended up being the worst team at the end of the season? KeyBank Center was not a friendly place for the Sabres last year, but that’s sure to change with first-overall draft pick D Rasmus Dahlin joining the club to excite the loyal Buffalo fans.

Surely to the surprise of many, the Sabres did not finish the 2017-18 season with the worst road record in the league (that belonged to division rival Montréal). 14-20-7 away from home is far from pretty, but is is certainly something to build off of as Buffalo tries to return to the postseason for the first time in eight years.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 17 days (January 14-30)

BYE WEEK: January 19-28 (10 days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 15 days (February 1-15)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at Montréal, at New Jersey, at Ottawa, vs. Detroit, at NY Islanders, vs. Columbus, vs. Nashville, vs. Ottawa, at Detroit

CALGARY FLAMES – 20th, 84 points

Teams with outstanding road records in the regular season are usually pretty dangerous in the postseason – but only if they qualify. Enter the curious case of the Calgary Flames last season, as they tied St. Louis for the honor of Best Road Team among those that failed to qualify for the playoffs with a 20-15-6 mark away from the Saddledome.

If new Head Coach Bill Peters can maintain that success in white, he’ll need to make sure his troops are in tip-top shape at the start of the New Year when the Flames begin their longest home stand. During that extended stay in Alberta, Calgary will host tough competition of the likes of the Avalanche (Jan. 9) and Panthers (Jan. 11), as well as the improving Coyotes (Jan. 13) and Sabres (Jan. 16).

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (January 9-18)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 9-16)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, at Vancouver, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Edmonton

CAROLINA HURRICANES – 21st, 83 points

Upon first glance at their 36-35-11 record, you might think you would want the Hurricanes to be traveling to your favorite team’s arena in hopes of them earning two points. However, just the opposite was true, as the Canes tied Florida for the best road record of any Eastern Conference club to miss the postseason.

With that in mind, Metropolitan rivals Pittsburgh (Feb. 5) and New Jersey (Feb. 10) cannot afford to rest on their laurels when Carolina takes to its longest road trip of the season just after the bye week, as the Hurricanes are going to be more than eager to defend their Road Warrior title.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (November 10-23)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 5-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Montréal, at Washington, vs. Washington, vs. Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh, at Toronto, vs. New Jersey, at Philadelphia

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – 25th, 76 points

My, how the mighty have fallen. After winning its most recent Stanley Cup only three years ago, Chicago took a massive tumble last season to end up in last place in the Central Division, only six points removed from the bottom of the Western Conference. To add insult to injury, the Hawks’ 18-18-5 record at home and 15-21-5 record on the road qualified them for the division’s worst in both categories.

Playoff teams take care of business at home, so that is where the Blackhawks should focus most of their energy at the start of the season. It won’t take United Center very long to spring back to life if the Hawks can earn at least 10 points on home ice in October – an easy task considering four of their seven visiting opponents that month failed to qualify for the playoffs last season.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in seven days (December 12-18)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Three games in five days – 3x (February 1-5; February 27-March 3; March 26-30)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, at Colorado, vs. Colorado, at Arizona, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, vs. Winnipeg, vs. St. Louis, vs. Dallas, at Nashville

COLORADO AVALANCHE – eliminated in first round, 95 points

This might be intrinsic of any 16 seed, but the Avs had the worst home record of any Central Division playoff team and the worst road record of all playoff teams.

Excitement in Denver for the Avalanche is growing by the minute, so I think it’s a safe assumption that Colorado will improve on its 28-11-2 mark at Pepsi Center this season. However, it’s the Avs’ 15-19-7 away record that I’m most concerned with, and they’ll get a nice, balanced road trip in January to work out the kinks in their white sweaters. That road swing starts in Winnipeg with a tough match against the Jets (Jan. 8), followed by two softer tilts against the Flames (Jan. 9) and Canadiens (Jan. 12). The intensity gets ratcheted up again with a stop in Toronto (Jan. 14) before culminating with a visit to Ottawa (Jan. 16). If Colorado can come home with at least seven points from that Canadian swing, it will be more than set up for another playoff appearance.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 8-16)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 18 days (January 19-February 5)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Minnesota, at Dallas, vs. Chicago, at Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Arizona, at St. Louis, vs. Edmonton, vs. Winnipeg, at San Jose

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – eliminated in first round, 97 points

A 2-0 advantage heading back to Nationwide Arena wasn’t enough to get the Blue Jackets their first playoff series victory, so it’s back to the drawing board again this season.

Going off last year’s table, the toughest stretch in Columbus’ schedule is surely its six-game run leading up to the Christmas break. The Jackets host the Kings (Dec. 13), Ducks (Dec. 15), Golden Knights (Dec. 17) and Devils (Dec. 20) before heading east to take on Philadelphia (Dec. 22) and New Jersey (Dec. 23). Since those last three matchups are in the division, they’re obviously more important, but if Columbus is as good as I think it is, it should come away with at least eight points over that stretch.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (December 8-20)

BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (March 16-24)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. Boston, at NY Rangers, at Ottawa

DALLAS STARS – 19th, 92 points

Dallas’ 26-12-3 home record tied with Columbus for the 13th-best home mark in the NHL last season, yet the Stars failed to qualify for the postseason (in fact, the Stars had the best home record of any Western Conference club to miss the playoffs).

That’s what draws me to the Stars’ Halloween road trip throughout the Eastern Conference. If American Airlines Center is going to maintain its status as one of the tougher places to play in this league, the Stars are going to need to expel some ghosts and improve on their road effort if they want to extend their season beyond 82 games.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (October 28-November 6)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 21 days (January 12-February 1)

BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Florida, vs. Colorado, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Philadelphia, at Chicago, vs. Minnesota

DETROIT RED WINGS – 27th, 73 points

How nice is it that the league is letting the W Filip Zadina Era officially get underway with his NHL debut taking place at home? That game might be against a solid Blue Jackets team, but there shouldn’t be an empty seat in Little Caesars Arena on October 4 in anticipation of seeing what this kid is capable of.

Unfortunately for the rebuilding Red Wings, there’s 81 more games remaining on their schedule that might not be met with quite the same fanfare. Even if Detroit is still in contention late in the season, it’ll be hard pressed to make up any ground in the standings as six of its last 10 games – including five straight – are on the road.

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (February 17-26)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (March 19-28)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Rangers, at St. Louis, at Vegas, at San Jose, at Buffalo, vs. New Jersey, vs. Boston, vs. Pittsburgh, at Pittsburgh, vs. Buffalo

EDMONTON OILERS – 23rd, 78 points

With one of, if not the best player in the game in C Connor McDavid on their team, the Oilers surely have to be better than last season, right? If that is the case, Edmonton’s comeback story will find an interesting start when it squares off against New Jersey at Sweden’s Scandinavium – the home nation of LW Pontus Aberg, D Oscar Klefbom, D Adam Larsson and RW Jesse Puljujarvi – on October 6.

However, the point of the Oilers’ schedule I’m most interested in is the seven games leading up to their bye week. All seven of those tilts will be against clubs that missed the playoffs last year, with all but one taking place at Rogers Place where the Oil were the best home team in the Pacific Division that failed to qualify for the postseason. If Edmonton can’t capitalize on a juicy stretch like that, this team is beyond hope.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (December 18-31)

BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 25-March 4)

LAST 10 GAMES: at St. Louis, vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at Vegas, at Colorado, vs. San Jose, at Calgary

FLORIDA PANTHERS – 16th, 96 points

Though finishing in ninth place in the Eastern Conference in 2017-18 is usually reason enough to predict the Panthers could qualify for the playoffs this season, there’s even more evidence for those willing to dig a little bit deeper.

The Devils (Nov. 26), Ducks (Nov. 28), Lightning (Dec. 1), Bruins (Dec. 4) and Avalanche (Dec. 6) may be coming to Sunrise during Florida’s longest home stand, but the fact that the Panthers were the NHL’s best home team to miss the playoffs will surely play in their favor. Similarly, there will be no fear in the Cats’ eyes when they travel to Philadelphia (Nov. 13), Columbus (Nov. 15) or Tampa Bay (Nov. 21) during their longest sabbatical from BB&T Center, as Florida also boasts (along with Carolina) the best road record of any Eastern Conference team to fail to qualify for the 2018 postseason.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 13-23)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 15 days (November 24-December 8)

BYE WEEK: January 22-31 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Dallas, vs. Arizona, vs. Boston, at Toronto, at Montréal, at Ottawa, at Boston, vs. Washington, vs. NY Islanders, vs. New Jersey

LOS ANGELES KINGS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points

This year’s winner of the 2018-19 Bye Lottery is none other than the Kings of Tinseltown, who’ll get a whopping 11 days off the ice to rest and recuperate for the final 32 games of their regular season.

Speaking of byes, keep an eye on the Kings in the days following American Thanksgiving. From November 24-December 4, they’ll play seven games, all of which are against competition who’s 2017-18 campaigns ended after 82 games last season. Making that slice of their schedule even sweeter, six of those sides are from within Los Angeles’ own division, meaning the Kings could start staking a real claim for the Pacific before Christmas if they take care of business – something they didn’t exactly do a good job of last season (the Kings had the worst home record of any playoff team last season).

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 17 days (October 28-November 13)

BYE WEEK: January 22-February 1 (11 days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (February 2-11)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. San Jose, vs. Anaheim, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Chicago, vs. Calgary, at Arizona, at Anaheim, vs. Vegas

MINNESOTA WILD – eliminated in First Round, 101 points

Every team looks forward to its bye week, but none will need it as much as the Wild. The toughest stretch of Minnesota’s schedule is the six games leading up to the festivities in San Jose, as all of those matchups are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs a season ago.

Minnesota starts that run in Philadelphia on January 14, followed only a day later by a visit to Xcel Energy Center by the Kings. After that, the Ducks (Jan. 17) and Blue Jackets (Jan. 19) both make trips north before the Wild head west to take on Vegas (Jan. 21) and Colorado (Jan. 23). It’s a tough run (especially the game against the Avs, against whom the Wild lost three of four games last season by a combined 19-4 score), but this Minnesota club is a veteran group that should rise to the occasion.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 14 games (October 29-November 11)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (March 11-19)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. NY Islanders, vs. Colorado, at Washington, at Carolina, vs. Nashville, at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Boston, at Dallas

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS – 28th, 71 points

The start of the season has a decent chance of being painful for the Habs (they open their campaign at Toronto [Oct. 3] and Pittsburgh [Oct. 6] before returning home to host the Kings [Oct. 11] and Penguins [Oct. 13]), but they’ll then have five-straight tilts against teams that missed the playoffs last season to warm up in anticipation of their first meeting of the year against arch-rival Boston (Oct. 27).

If the Canadiens are going to improve this campaign, they’re going to need to figure out their road woes from a season ago. Finishing the season with a league-worst 11-26-4 record away from Bell Centre is simply not going to cut it – unless Montréal is planning on drafting D Bowen Byram, F Cole Caufield or C Jack Hughes with another lottery pick next summer.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 19-31)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 22 days (January 19-February 9)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Philadelphia, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Buffalo, at Carolina, vs. Florida, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, at Washington, vs. Toronto

NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Presidents’ Trophy winner, 117 points

The Predators had their sights on something a little bit bigger than the Presidents’ Trophy last season (the Capitals know all about that plight), but their championship window is still wide open – just as long as they figure out when they want to hand the crease over to G Juuse Saros.

Of the many games and series I’m looking forward to this season, few shine as bright as the Preds’ four showdowns with Winnipeg. Fortunately for us, the first of those is scheduled for October 11 – only nine days into the 2018-19 season – but the series will really heat up in March when the final two meetings take place in the span of 23 days. Though Winnipeg is known for its home-ice advantage, Nashville has full intentions of improving on a NHL-best of its own: a 25-9-7 road record.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (November 25-December 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (January 4-13)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Minnesota, at Pittsburgh, vs. Columbus, at Buffalo, vs. Vancouver, vs. Chicago

NEW JERSEY DEVILS – eliminated in First Round, 97 points

Like a top-flight college football team, the Devils are playing a neutral-site game to open their regular season. However, what sets New Jersey apart from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and the likes is that its tilt against the Oilers will not take place in North America, but instead at Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden (homeland of W Jesper Bratt and F Marcus Johansson).

Talk about a truly impartial crowd.

Few teams are going to be looking forward to the Christmas break quite like Jersey. Starting with a showdown in Washington on November 30, the Devils will begin a series of 10-straight games against teams that were in the playoffs last season – none more anticipated than a home rematch against the Lightning on December 3.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in eight days (October 11-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 13 days (October 30-November 11)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Colorado, vs. Washington, vs. Boston, vs. Arizona, vs. Buffalo, at Detroit, vs. St. Louis, vs. NY Rangers, at Carolina, at Florida

NEW YORK ISLANDERS – 22nd, 80 points

As someone who’s never visited either Barclays Center or Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, I do not know if the Isles’ three homecoming games are going to be awesome because (a) the team returns to the building where they won four-straight Stanley Cups or (b) they’re playing in a building actually built for hockey, but I do know they’ll be awesome nonetheless.

Another thing I know is that the Islanders’ longest home stand (five games, all of which will be contested in Brooklyn) will likely not be a fun one, as C Mathew Barzal‘s side will be hosting the Maple Leafs on February 28 (complete with former captain C John Tavares), Capitals (Mar. 1) and Flyers (Mar. 3) in the span of four days, all of which were playoff teams only a few months ago. That tough stretch will do the Islanders no favors as they try to shed the label of the Metropolitan Division’s worst home team.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (October 13-20)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in eight days (February 26-March 5)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Boston, at Montréal, at Philadelphia, vs. Arizona, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, vs. Toronto, at Florida, at Washington

NEW YORK RANGERS – 24th, 77 points

There’s a few fans and analysts out there that think the Rangers can complete their rebuild and get right back into the playoffs this season. That remains to be seen, but we’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from these Blueshirts by the end of November.

No, I’m not talking about the American Thanksgiving thing that was mentioned earlier – though that is mathematically backed. Instead, I offer this note: good teams can beat other good teams, but great teams almost always defeat the clubs they’re supposed to. In that strain, eight of New York’s last nine tilts before Thanksgiving are against sides that failed to make the playoffs last year, with a majority of those tilts taking place in the Big Apple. If the Rangers can earn at least 12 points during that run, I’ll buy in that this team is for real. For them to do that, they’ll need to improve on a Metropolitan Division-worst 13-23-5 record away from Madison Square Garden.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days – 2x (October 25-November 1; February 12-19)

BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (February 2-10)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Detroit, at Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Boston, vs. St. Louis, at Philadelphia, at New Jersey, vs. Ottawa, vs. Columbus, at Pittsburgh

OTTAWA SENATORS – 30th, 62 points

We shared our hot-like-a-Canadian-Tire-fire takes in the season previews earlier this summer, but I always have my concerns about a team enjoying its longest home stand before October even comes to a close. That means much of the Senators’ travels will be condensed into six months without the opportunity for an extended series of nights sleeping in their own homes.

If Ottawa can, by some unpredictable act of God, manage to get back on track this season, it has a very favorable schedule to close the campaign. Seven of its last 10 opponents failed to qualify for the playoffs last season, and the three that did all have to come to Canadian Tire Centre. If the Sens are within six points of a playoff spot by mid-March, they could be just the team to squeak into a fifth postseason berth in the last eight seasons.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (October 10-23)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 14-21)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Buffalo, vs. Florida, vs. Toronto, vs. Tampa Bay, at NY Rangers, at Buffalo, vs. Columbus

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points

To all Flyers season ticket holders: consider grabbing a holiday ticket package to the 76ers this December, because you’re going to be hard pressed to watch much hockey at Wells Fargo Center that month. Of the 14 games Philadelphia will play in the final month of the year, a whopping 10 will be away from Broad Street.

Making matters even more difficult, eight of those December games will be against clubs that qualified for the postseason last year, including two contests against division rival Columbus. By midnight of January 2 (the Flyers are in Nashville on New Year’s Day), we will surely know if this season’s Philadelphia club can build upon last year’s success. If last year’s campaign is any indication, these Flyers should return to the City of Brotherly Love in good shape, as they had the best road record of any team in the Metropolitan Division last season.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days – 2x (November 8-17; February 2-11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (December 23-January 1)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Montréal, at Chicago, vs. NY Islanders, at Washington, vs. Toronto, at Carolina, vs. NY Rangers, at Dallas, at St. Louis, vs. Carolina

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points

Last season, Penguins fans bemoaned the number of back-to-back games on their favorite club’s schedule. The NHL must have heard those complaints, because there’s only 11 instances of that occurring this season, the first of which isn’t until November 23 (at Boston) and 24 (vs. Columbus) – the weekend following American Thanksgiving when every team but Minnesota and Ottawa plays two games in three days.

However, what Pittsburgh got in fewer back-to-backs, it gave up in home stands. The most consecutive home games the Pens will play this season is three, which they do a whopping six times in a 41-game home schedule at the toughest arena in the Eastern Conference (at least according to the Pens’ home record last season). That’ll lead to a lot of plane rides and hotel stays, which could wear on the squad as the season progresses.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Three games in eight days (October 4-11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 11-19)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, at Carolina, at Nashville, at Dallas, at NY Rangers, vs. Nashville, vs. Carolina, at Detroit, vs. Detroit, vs. NY Rangers

SAN JOSE SHARKS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points

Good luck finding a more balanced schedule in the Pacific Division, if not the entire NHL. The Sharks have two five-game road trips to go with their six-game home stand, and it’s rare that they have only a one-off stay at SAP Center. That means the Sharks should spend more nights in their own beds than other clubs, which will surely pay dividends later in the season when other teams are getting tired after a full season of play.

Based on last year’s standings, one of the toughest stretches of San Jose’s schedule looks like it will occur in mid-March, as the Sharks will host the Predators (Mar. 16) and Golden Knights (Mar. 18) before heading south to take on their California brethren on back-to-back days (Mar. 21 and 22). With that in mind, I’d expect San Jose to be in the mix for its seventh Pacific Division title and maybe, just maybe, a shot at the top seed in the Western Conference.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (October 5-14)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (November 11-23)

BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Vegas, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Detroit, vs. Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Calgary, at Vancouver, at Edmonton, vs. Colorado

ST. LOUIS BLUES – 18th, 94 points

One of the most striking things about the Blues’ schedule is that, of the five times they play Chicago all season, three of those showdowns are scheduled in October. If that doesn’t get F Ryan O’Reilly excited to play for the Notes, I don’t know what will.

Undoubtedly, one of the most important six-game stretches in St. Louis’ schedule occurs around American Thanksgiving, as the Blues will square off with five of last season’s Western Conference playoff teams, including a home-and-home series with the Predators on Thanksgiving Eve and Black Friday. For the Blues’ sake, hopefully G Jake Allen will choose any other time of the season for his annual month-long meltdown.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 25-November 11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 18 days (January 21-February 7)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Detroit, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Vegas, at NY Rangers, at New Jersey, vs. Colorado, at Chicago, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Vancouver

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – Prince of Wales Trophy runner-up, 113 points

There’s no way to start a campaign quite like an extended home stand, and that’s just what the Lightning have the privilege of this season. However, the Bolts can’t afford to get too comfortable (even if the toughest competition they’ll face during that home stay is Columbus on Oct. 13), as they’ll immediately embark on their longest road trip (a tour of the Western Conference) after a division tilt against the Red Wings (Oct. 18). Fortunately, they boasted the Eastern Conference’s best road record last season, so that surely won’t be a problem for them.

Coincidentally, we can combine a Californian road trip and the Blue Jackets to find the toughest stretch of Tampa Bay’s schedule – at least in terms of last season’s standings. The Bolts will head to Orange County for a New Year’s Eve showdown against the Ducks, followed three days later by a Tinseltown tilt and a jaunt up to San Jose on January 5. When C Steven Stamkos and co. return to the friendly confines of Amalie Arena on January 8, Columbus will be waiting for them to cap a four-game streak against playoff teams from a season ago – the longest such run on Tampa’s schedule.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 6-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 20-27)

BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Arizona, at Washington, at Carolina, at St. Louis, vs. Boston, vs. Washington, at Ottawa, at Montréal, at Toronto, at Boston

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – eliminated in First Round, 105 points

The Maple Leafs were good before Tavares showed up, but now Torontonians have Stanley Cups dancing in their dreams. We’ll have a discussion about the Leafs’ chances in their season preview later this summer (spoiler: that defense still hasn’t been fixed), but first it’ll be worth mentioning that they seem to have a balanced schedule in front of them.

Toronto gets a nice and easy initiation into its 2018-19 campaign by playing its first five games against clubs that failed to qualify for the 2018 postseason, but the pedal hits the metal on October 13 when five of the Maple Leafs’ next six opponents finished in the NHL’s Sweet 16. In fact, from Opening Day until American Thanksgiving, just under 60 percent of Toronto’s first 22 games will be against 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff teams, meaning the Leafs will need to be ready right out of the gate if they want to avoid playing catch-up in the standings for the remainder of the regular season.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in 10 days (December 29-January 7)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (February 9-19)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Philadelphia, at Ottawa, at NY Islanders, vs. Carolina, vs. Tampa Bay, at Montréal

VANCOUVER CANUCKS – 26th, 73 points

With RW Brock Boeser and C Bo Horvat already in Vancouver and F Elias Pettersson champing at the bit to fulfill the Canucks’ Swedish quota, it’s hard to believe British Columbia’s NHL representative can remain at the bottom of the table for many more seasons.

Pretending, if only for a moment, that this is the year the Canucks start their upward climb, their seven-game home stand that effectively closes the season (Games 81 and 82 are in Nashville [Apr. 4] and St. Louis [Apr. 6]) will play a major role in determining their postseason fate. That series starts slow with visits from the Senators (Mar. 20) and Flames (Mar. 23), but picks up some real steam when Columbus (Mar. 24), Anaheim (Mar. 26), Los Angeles (Mar. 28), Dallas (Mar. 30) and San Jose (Apr. 2) roll into town. Every point is precious that time of year, so the blue-and-green’s extended time in their own beds could provide just the edge they need to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in six seasons.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (October 6-18)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (March 20-April 2)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Chicago, vs. Ottawa, vs. Calgary, vs. Columbus, vs. Anaheim, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. San Jose, at Nashville, at St. Louis

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS – Stanley Cup runner-up, 109 points

In their inaugural season, the Golden Knights got blessed with an unbelievable seven-game home stand to open T-Mobile Arena (the venue that proved to be the best home-ice advantage in the Pacific Division). It looks like it’s time for the NHL to cash that $500 million check, as Vegas will embark on a five-game road trip only three days into the season after hosting the Flyers on October 4 (much to the chagrin of the rest of the league, Vegas finished last season tied with Los Angeles for the honor of “Best Visitor in the Pacific Division,” as they both had matching 22-14-5 records away from home).

Speaking of five-game runs, an important one for Vegas will get underway on Valentine’s Day. The Golden Knights host Toronto that night, followed by a visit from the Predators two days later. Then Vegas is off to Colorado (Feb. 18) before returning home to host the Bruins (Feb. 20) and Jets (Feb. 22). That is Vegas’ longest stretch of consecutive games against 2018 playoff teams, and the fact that three of those clubs are Western Conference foes means postseason seeding could be on the line.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 6-13)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 16-28)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Detroit, at St. Louis, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, at San Jose, vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Los Angeles

WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Stanley Cup champion, 105 points

Winning a championship is hard, but successfully defending that title can be even harder. That’s the next challenge facing W Alex Ovechkin‘s crew, and we’ll see if they’re up to it after their first five games – all of which are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs last season, including rival Pittsburgh (Oct. 4) and the reigning Western Champion Golden Knights (Oct. 10).

Even if the Caps don’t come out with a solid record after that series, they’ll still have more than enough time to whip their play under new Head Coach Todd Reirden into shape, as their next eight opponents all failed to extend their seasons beyond 82 tilts.

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (February 1-11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 12 days (February 12-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: at New Jersey, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Carolina, at Carolina, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, vs. Montréal, vs. NY Islanders

WINNIPEG JETS – Campbell Bowl runner-up, 114 points

RW Blake Wheeler and the Jets took a major step forward last season to advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals before falling in five games to Vegas. Expectations in Manitoba are going to be extremely high this campaign, but it’ll be interesting to see if this young roster can perform with a large target on its back.

A good indication of how Winnipeg will perform under that pressure will come in the first month of play. After a nice, long home stand that ends with a major matchup against the Maple Leafs (Oct. 24) at the league’s most intimidating home arena, the Jets will take to the road for a back-to-back in Detroit (Oct. 26) and Toronto (Oct. 27), then fly to Finland (RW Patrik Laine‘s homeland) for another back-to-back against the up-and-coming Panthers (Nov. 1 and 2). If G Connor Hellebuyck and co. can come away with a winning record after that extended, 9328-mile (that’s 15 megameters, Canadians) road trip, I have no doubt these Jets will be challenging for their first division title since 2006-07’s Southeastern title as the Atlanta Thrashers.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (October 14-24)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in 13 days (January 17-29)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Anaheim, at Vegas, vs. Nashville, vs. Dallas, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Chicago, at Minnesota, at Colorado, at Arizona

Western Finals are Golden

 

 

 

 

 

With a shimmering defense that yielded only 28 shots against, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in Game 6 to advance to their first-ever Western Conference Finals.

What was so impressive about that defense is not only how it seemed to improve as the game wore on (San Jose’s best period was the first when it fired 11 shots on goal), but also how well it dominated the blue line. Almost every Sharks possession in the third period was forced to start with a dump-and-chase that, when paired with a slow forecheck, resulted in few possessions of any real worth.

However, the Golden Knights’ defense seemed to extend beyond simply D Brayden McNabb‘s five blocks and RW Ryan Reaves‘ eight hits (both the most of either team). On at least two occasions per period, San Jose would sling shots past First Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury only to hear the deafening ping of the goalposts or crossbar.

One of those instances occurred in the first period, while the game was still a scoreless tie. With approximately 30 seconds remaining before intermission, LW Evander Kane deflected D Brent Burns‘ high shot from the point only to find the crossbar – and then the right goalpost – before the puck landed in the slot to be collected by the Knights.

Snapping that scoreless draw and scoring the game-winning goal was Second Star F Jon Marchessault (W Reilly Smith and C William Karlsson), who beat G Martin Jones at the 6:33 mark of the second period. Karlsson should get a lot of credit for the marker, as it was him that stole the puck off D Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s stick to prevent the puck from leaving Vegas’ offensive zone.

After that, the play was similar to an odd-man rush in that the Sharks were already making their way towards the neutral zone, leaving Marchessault with only one defender between him and Jones’ net. With little opposition, it’s all the former Panther could do but beat the netminder five-hole.

Turning our attention back to the iron, it wasn’t only Fleury’s defensive friend, but also Vegas’ offensive weapon. With 4:22 remaining in the second period, it appeared that Third Star D Nate Schmidt‘s (Erik Haula and David Perron) wrist shot had bounced off the crossbar behind Jones and back into play.

No light went on, no celebration and no signal. No harm, no foul right?

As San Jose was driving towards Fleury’s net, the horn blasted to signify that Toronto wanted the officials to take another look at the play. As it turned out, Schmidt’s shot didn’t hit the crossbar, but it instead slid underneath and ricocheted off the camera tucked into the top of the net.

After the crowd got done booing the referees for missing the goal call (or Toronto for requesting a second look), the Shark Tank fell deathly quiet. Surely not a confidence boost for the Sharks, the writing was on the wall for the remainder of that second period, requiring San Jose to find two goals in the final frame.

Cue the previously mentioned Vegas defense, which allowed only 10 shots on goal in the last 20 minutes. Considering San Jose’s playoff life was on the line, allowing only one shot against every two minutes is an impressive feat that, when paired with Fleury’s perfect 28-save effort, shows just how dominant the Knights’ defense was.

Without even a goal to show for his team’s effort, Head Coach Peter DeBoer was forced to pull Jones (who himself had an okay night with a 30-for-32 performance [.938 save percentage]) for the extra attacker with 2:14 remaining on the clock. 23 seconds later, C Cody Eakin (F Ryan Carpenter and Schmidt) scored a tap-in on an empty net to set the 3-0 final score.

Vegas’ next opponent still has yet to be determined, but the second half of that Western Finals matchup could be cemented as soon as tomorrow night. Winnipeg leads its series against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators 3-2 and has the opportunity to close them out at Bell MTS Place in Game 6. Puck drop for that game is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Eastern and may be viewed on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.

Regardless of opponent, the Golden Knights will not return to T-Mobile Arena until Game 3 of the Conference Finals due to both Nashville and Winnipeg having a better regular-season record.

Jones Shuts Out Knights; Evens Series at 2

 

 

 

 

 

The San Jose Sharks got quality goaltending from Martin Jones and buried the Vegas Golden Knights 4-0 to send the series back to Las Vegas tied at two.  Jones had 34 saves on the night and bested Knights goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, who seemingly had Sharks circling him all night long.  The loss was the first shutout loss in the playoffs for the Knights.

The Sharks’ first goal came off of an impressive skating exhibition by Marcus Sorensen who outmaneuvered four of the Sharks skaters and Fleury to put the puck top shelf with under five minutes left in the first period.  The Knights felt there was interference (effectively a pick on one of their defending players), but the referees apparently felt otherwise.

The Sharks may not have got back Joe Thornton, but they did get back Joonas Donskoi and he didn’t waste time getting back on the scoresheet.  In the dying minutes of the first period, Donskoi skated down the ice with two Knights back to defend, but managed to shoot the puck through Brayden McNabb‘s legs and Fleury had no hope to stop it.  Fleury managed 30 saves and was better than his save percentage might suggest on the night.

In the second period, Tomas Hertl cashed in on chaos in front of Fleury after a shot by Mikkel Boedker.  At that point, it was all over but the shouting.  “Little” Joe Pavelski would add a power play goal in the third and that was the final nail in the coffin.

This was the first game of the series where the Sharks had a better Corsi-For percentage than the Knights.   The Sharks looked faster than Vegas and the Knights seemed unable to establish the forecheck.  The Vegas power play went 0-for-5 and they have to be a little concerned by the lack of offense.  James Neal still only has one goal for the series.   The Sharks have evened the series without much from Evander Kane to this point.

With that said, Vegas regained home ice advantage in Game 3 and now they head home for a critical Game 5.  They have to generate more offense and part of that has to come on the power play.  If they can do that and/or have Fleury play out of his mind, they have a good change.  But if they continue being out skated by San Jose and allowing the Sharks to take shots from high danger areas, the clock will strike midnight for Cinderella.

Both power plays roll, Vegas wins 4-3

 

 

 

 

 

Having suffered their first-ever playoff loss Saturday, the Vegas Golden Knights rebounded in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs’ Second Round to beat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 in overtime at SAP Center to reclaim a one-game advantage in their series.

Play was back-and-forth across all 200 feet of the rink in the opening 10 minutes, but San Jose certainly had the upper hand in terms of shots on goal. The Sharks’ nine scoring attempts easily eclipsed Vegas’ four, but First Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury was more than up to the task of keeping that attack at bay.

Soon after, action turned decidedly in the Sharks’ favor as the Golden Knights struggled to get the puck into their attacking third. Starting at the 9:24 mark, the Knights went 5:54 without firing a shot on G Martin Jones in the second half of the first frame, due in large part to some stellar play by San Jose in the neutral zone. The only reason that skid came to an end is due to W Mikkel Boedker sending the puck over the glass, taking a delay of game penalty and giving Vegas a power play.

Further proving San Jose’s defensive abilities, it yielded only one shot against on that man-advantage.

However, no matter how well San Jose controlled play in the first period (the Sharks’ final shot differential for the frame read 16-10), the game remained scoreless at the first intermission. As such, the frame belonged to Fleury, who saved all 16 of those shots as a part of his 39-for-42 save performance (.929 save percentage).

That tie finally came undone at the 6:59 mark of the second period when W Timo Meier (C Chris Tierney and Boedker) scored a power play wrist shot. Taking advantage of W William Carrier committing a tripping penalty against Boedker 1:31 earlier, the Sharks completed some excellent one-time passes to set Meier up for a tic-tac-goal from the right face-off circle.

Meier’s was the first of three-consecutive power play goals scored in the third period, but unfortunately for the teal-clad fans, the next two belonged to the visiting Knights.

D Colin Miller (W James Neal and W David Perron) tied the game only 2:41 after Meier’s goal with a power play wrister, taking advantaged of D Brenden Dillon‘s holding penalty against Perron at the 7:56 mark.

Known for his scoring ability, Neal drew a lot of attention once he ended up with possession along the goal line to Jones’ left. With Sharks swarming towards him, he crossed a centering pass to Miller across the crease, who then returned a wrister towards the far post to give Vegas its first lead of the night.

With the Knights’ second power play unit striking gold for the club’s first goal, it was first unit that got its time to shine when Third Star F Tomas Hertl was caught roughing Neal with 7:13 remaining in the second period. F Jon Marchessault (RW Alex Tuch and W Reilly Smith) buried a wrister only 22 seconds after Hertl took his seat in isolation to give Vegas a 2-1 advantage.

The Golden Knights had one more trick up their sleeves in the third period, but this one they managed to pull off under even-strength conditions. Smith (Second Star C William Karlsson and Marchessault) set the score at 3-1 only 1:17 after Marchessault’s marker with a slick backhanded shot on Karlsson’s centering pass, his first marker of this postseason.

However, these Sharks were far from ready to turn their attention to Game 4 just yet. Though they officially failed to capitalize on D Jonathon Merrill‘s crosscheck against D Dylan DeMelo at the 5:45 mark of the third period, LW Evander Kane‘s (D Brent Burns and DeMelo) wrister 2:04 later was completed before the defenseman could rejoin play. Kane fired his shot from the right face-off dot, beating Fleury over his glove.

Vegas Head Coach Gerard Gallant challenged for goaltender interference against F Logan Couture, but it was ruled that the screening forward was outside the crease and enough time had passed since any previous contact that Fleury was able to recollect himself to prepare for the save on Kane’s wrister.

It also didn’t help that much of the previous contact was due to Fleury crosschecking Couture in the back when he had been in the crease, but those facts are neither here nor there since Fleury came out on the winning side of things.

As for forcing overtime, San Jose did that with 1:57 remaining in regulation when Hertl (D Justin Braun and RW Kevin Labanc) somehow sneaked a wrister past basically every skater on the ice and used them as screens against Fleury. After D Deryk Engelland blocked Braun’s shot from just above the crease, Fleury had no idea where the puck went until it ended up behind him.

In terms of shots on goal, overtime was an even affair considering both squads managed three shots on goal apiece. However, it was Vegas’ third and final offering that earned it the victory.

Karlsson (Neal and Marchessault) provided that breakaway snap shot at the 8:17 mark of the overtime period.

A quick stretch pass is all the Golden Knights needed to set up the league’s third-best goalscorer from the regular season. Marchessault’s pass from the right corner found Neal at Vegas’ defensive blue line, and the runner-up in last year’s Stanley Cup Final dumped a pass to the game-winner at the red line before sitting back and watching him do the rest of the work. Karlsson turned on the NOS to set up a one-on-one against Jones, firing his snapper from the top of the right face-off circle to beat the netminder to the far post.

Game 3 was an important match for the Golden Knights, as they’ve now reclaimed home-ice advantage in this playoff series. Jones and the Sharks now face the difficult task once again of needing to win a game at T-Mobile Arena – the very place they lost 7-0 in Game 1.

Puck drop for Game 4 from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. is scheduled for May 2 at 10 p.m. Eastern. The match will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.

Undisciplined Knights take first playoff loss

 

 

 

 

After losing Game 1 7-0, the San Jose Sharks have miraculously stolen home ice away from the Vegas Golden Knights after a Game 2 4-3 double-overtime victory at T-Mobile Arena.

Between its inability to stay out of the penalty box and lack of success at defensive zone face-offs, it’s almost a surprise Vegas was able to extend this game to the 85:13 it lasted.

As for the former note, no Golden Knight takes as much responsibility for his club playing shorthanded as W David Perron. He took a game-high six penalties in minutes, all for unruly infractions like slashing (against D Brenden Dillon with 3:56 remaining in the first period), holding the stick (against D Dylan DeMelo 1:56 into the second period) and roughing (against the aforementioned Dillon with 6:36 remaining in the second period).

Fortunately for Perron, only one of his infractions ended up costing the Knights a power play goal – but it was a big one, considering it started the Sharks’ trend of success off set plays. On the immediate face-off in Vegas’ defensive zone following Perron’s infraction against DeMelo, F Joe Pavelski won the scrum and fed the puck to Third Star of the Game D Brent Burns, who ripped a nasty slap shot from the blue line – with the help of a lucky bounce off F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s skate – past G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s right pad, snapping the netminder’s perfect 144:04 goalless streak.

Burns’ goal set the score at 2-1, canceling out one of Second Star C William Karlsson‘s two markers. The Swede potted his first of the night (D Colin Miller and D Nate Schmidt) on a snap shot with 2:01 remaining in the first period, capitalizing on a missed slap shot-turned-assist by Miller that bounced off the endboards and right into his lap.

Karlsson’s offering was the Knights’ fifth and final shot of the first period, as the Sharks’ defense was doing an excellent job all night keeping the hosts’ attack at bay. In the more than 85 minutes played all night, Vegas managed only 29 shots on G Martin Jones – well below the (t)10th-most 32.8 shots on goal per game it averaged all regular season. Of those, he saved 26 for a .897 save percentage.

In a mirror image of registering his club’s last shot of the first frame, Karlsson also fired the Golden Knights’ first shot on goal of the second period, and he found just as much success. Only 26 seconds into the frame, he set the score at 2-0 with a snapper assisted by W Reilly Smith that probably should not have reached the back of the net. Jones was late sealing off the near post, allowing the puck to barely squeak past his arm to set off the T-Mobile Arena goal horn.

As for how Vegas overcame its shortcomings, one needs look no further than the goaltending crease. Though he is the only player judged by a personal win-loss record, Fleury absolutely stood on his head in this contest just like he has in his last five playoff showings. The man nicknamed “Flower” did not wilt under the Sharks’ pressure, as he saved 43-of-47 shots faced for a .915 save percentage.

That being said, the second period was a tough one for him, as it was in those 20 minutes that he let in all three of his regulation goals against. Not only was Burns’ marker part of that total, but so too was First Star F Logan Couture‘s (F Tomas Hertl) snapper with 8:52 remaining in the period and Burns’ (W Timo Meier and Pavelski) wrap-around 2:59 after.

Just like his first goal of the game, Burns’ second was also the result of another set play from the face-off dot. Pavelski won the draw and shoved the puck to Meier, who quickly dished to San Jose’s favorite defenseman so he could get to work. Burns rumbled up the right boards and into the trapezoid, eventually getting rewarded with a gaping cage when Meier literally crashed into Fleury’s left post. Head Coach Gerard Gallant challenged for goaltender interference, but it was ruled he was shoved by a Golden Knight and was not responsible for any contact he made with the netminder.

For those keeping score at home, Perron was also in the box for this goal against, but Dillon took a corresponding roughing penalty to even play at four-on-four.

Anyways, that left the score at 3-2 going into the second intermission (during which it was revealed the Buffalo Sabres will be drafting first overall and the Carolina Hurricanes won the lottery by jumping up nine spots into the second pick at the NHL Entry Draft), and that’s where it remained at the midway point of the third period.

Having yet to experience a playoff loss, the Vegas crowd was beginning to grow antsy – that is until Schmidt (D Shea Theodore and F Erik Haula) took a page out of Burns’ book and ripped an impressive clapper from the blue line following a resumption of play.

The play was a mirrored-image of Burns’ second tally, as Perron won the draw and shoved the puck to Haula along the boards, who returned the play to Theodore at the point. The defensemen quickly connected after that, allowing Schmidt to line up a perfect clapper past Jones’ blocker to tie the game at three-all.

Some excellent goaltending extended this game into the second overtime period. In total, 16 shots on goal were fired in the frame between the Golden Knights and Sharks, but none found the back of the net thanks to the incredible play of Fleury and Jones.

Well, that’s technically not true.

F Jon Marchessault thought he had scored the game-winning goal with 3:02 remaining in the first overtime period, but it was ruled he interfered with Jones in the blue paint and inhibited his ability to make a play on the shot. That took the score off the board and left the game raging on into the cool desert night.

The contest finally reached its end at the 5:13 mark of the second overtime when Couture (RW Kevin Labanc and Burns) took advantage of D Jonathon Merrill‘s hooking penalty against Meier to bury a power play wrister behind Fleury.

Completing the theme of the night, Couture’s play was the direct result of Hertl’s face-off victory only moments before. After the play was set up with Burns at the point, he dished to Labanc heading towards the right face-off dot. The sophomore would have been well within his rights to attempt a shot through traffic, but he instead elected to sling a pass through the zone to Couture at the opposite dot, who elevated his writer over Fleury’s blocker.

With the exception of another stellar performance by the three-time Stanley Cup champion, Vegas has only itself to blame for this loss. Perron and the Golden Knights will need to put an emphasis on staying out of the penalty box in their upcoming games, especially considering the next two are away from the comforts of home.

After a quick 90-minute flight from Sin City to San Jose, Game 3’s puck drop is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern on Monday, April 30. Hockey fans that can’t snag one of the 17,562 tickets into The Shark Tank that night should tune their televisions to CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

Sharks Move On From Past; Ducks Mired in It

 

Game 3 was a must-win for the Anaheim Ducks after losing two games at home to the San Jose Sharks.  The embarrassing 8-1 lost showed a tale of two California teams–one finally moving beyond the team helmed by Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton for the past decade and the other desperate to relive their past glory from 2007.  The team that has moved on from its past appears to be the team that will move on to Round 2, while the team trying to relive its past is learning a hard lesson–the NHL is not the same as it was in 2007.

When the Ducks brought back Randy Carlyle, the thought was that his discipline was what was needed to get the team to the next level.  If this is what discipline looks like, I’d hate to see what anarchy would look like for this team.  10 penalties, including four from Captain Ryan Getzlaf (including a misconduct), who should know better.

The Sharks breakaway speed has been a problem for the Ducks the entire series, and it was again in Game 3.  The Sharks started to break it open in the second period when two quick goals gave them a 3-1 lead.  The first of those two goals was scored by Joonas Donskoi on a nice feed from, who else, Evander Kane and the second saw Donskoi setting up Marcus Sorensen on another breakaway. It went downhill from there as John Gibson couldn’t bail out the Ducks and the score was 5-1 by the time the third period began, leading to the Ducks going to Ryan Miller in desperation.  It didn’t matter, despite a solid season, Miller would give up 3 goals in the third period.

I don’t know if the Sharks are good enough for Buffalo to get that first round pick from the Kane deal, but it is clear that Kane fits right in on the team.  The Sharks don’t appear to be missing either Marleau or Thornton.  Without Jumbo out there, they are able to take advantage of their speed against a team like the Ducks.  This is the way hockey is played in 2018.

The Ducks, on the other hand, are playing with a team built literally and figuratively for 2007.  Francois Beauchemin. Jason ChimeraRyan Kesler.  Miller. This doesn’t even include some of the guys not currently playing for the Ducks such as Kevin Bieksa, Antoine Vermette, Jared Boll and Chris Kelly.  Beauchemin played nearly 20 minutes, so its not as if he was a rarely-used third pairing defenseman.

Some of that was certainly the result of injuries.  But the Ducks, in general, need to do what San Jose has done this year and start moving on from the past.  This isn’t Getzlaf and Corey Perry‘s team any more than the 2007 Ducks were Teemu Selanne‘s team–its Rickard Rakell‘s team.  Its Jakob Silfverberg‘s team.  Its Ondrej Kase‘s team.   Yes, Perry and Getzlaf will continue to be important, but their role should be a supporting role the way Selanne’s role was when he returned to Anaheim.  This is a young man’s league and you can’t build a team in this league around a core of 30-somethings.

You also can’t build the team the Ducks need to build with Carlyle at the helm.  Bob Murray needs to learn from the mistakes of his mentor, Brian Burke.  When Burke got nostalgic and brought in Todd Bertuzzi, he messed with the chemistry he had created in Anaheim.  Murray needs to abandon nostalgia and build around youth and speed with Perry and Getzlaf there to provide just enough grit and physicality to balance things.

The Ducks will have at least one more game in 2017-18.  Hopefully it is the end of an era and the beginning of a bright future.  They have the young players and prospects to do it, but they need to have faith to hand the team over to them.

As for the Sharks, it is going to be fun to see what this team can do in the rest of the post-season, particularly as the next round is shaping up to be against the team with the Midas Touch, the Vegas Golden Knights.

Kane Raises Sharks, Ducks Lose Home Ice

 

I’ve seen many Ducks-Sharks playoff matchups through the years, but this one might prove to be different.  This year the Sharks are without Patrick Marleau, now in Toronto.  Joe Thornton is out with an injury.  Their big trade deadline acquisition was a guy portrayed (rightly or wrongly) as a locker room cancer.

The Ducks came into the playoffs a hot team after struggling with injuries early in the season.  Ryan Getzlaf put up over a point a game on the season, albeit after missing substantial time to injury.  Both John Gibson and Ryan Miller put up solid numbers on the season with save percentages over .920.  Despite trading Sami Vatanen, the Ducks still boast a solid defense.

Despite all of that, the Ducks managed to give up home ice and look pretty lackluster doing it.  In the first period, the Ducks seemed to have problems with the Sharks speed. Neither team’s power play could come up big despite opportunities.  The Ducks only managed 4 shots prior to the first intermission.

Things would get decidedly worse for Anaheim in the second frame.  With nearly 7 minutes gone in the period and the Sharks already outshooting the Ducks 15 to 7, the Ducks took two ill-advised penalties to give San Jose a 5-on-3.  Before the PA announcer could finish telling the crowd about the second penalty, Evander Kane had put the Sharks up 1-0 on a beautiful feed by Pavelski.

Pavelski would make another solid pass to Kane that led to the second goal for the Sharks.  Less than a minute later, Brent Burns would put the game away with a snap shot through traffic to put the Sharks up 3-0.  The score would hold through the third period, despite the Ducks out-shooting the Sharks 12-9.

Evander Kane looks like a guy trying to prove something.  This is a point made by several of us on the DTFR playoff podcast.  Randy Carlyle did nothing to contradict my hypothesis that the game has passed him by and the Ducks now find themselves down 1-0 and needing to win at least one game in the Shark Tank to win this series.  One bright spot for the Ducks was Gibson, who had a solid performance despite the loss.

If the Ducks are going to even up the series, they really need to stay out of the penalty box.  What is a bigger concern is how much the Ducks seemed to struggle with the Sharks’ speed.  Relying on Francois Beauchemin to play 20 plus minutes is probably not helping in this respect, something necessitated as a result of injuries and the trade of Vatanen earlier this season.  It is possible the Ducks get Kevin Bieksa back, but it is also hard to see how a lumbering 38-year old is going to do any better against the Sharks’ quick forwards.  Somehow the Ducks are going to have to find an answer before Saturday or they’ll find themselves headed to San Jose down 2-0.

March 31 – Day 171 – Flower Power vs. everybody

Including today, only nine days of regular season hockey are left this year! Are you excited for the playoffs yet?

Play starts at 1 p.m. today with Florida at Boston (SN), followed an hour later by Ottawa at Detroit (SN1/TVAS). Columbus at Vancouver (SN360) completes the afternoon’s matinees, as the next four tilts (Winnipeg at Toronto [CBC/SN], the New York Islanders at New Jersey, Montréal at Pittsburgh [CITY/NHLN/SN360/TVAS] and the New York Rangers at Carolina) wait until the usual 7 p.m. starting time. 8 p.m. mark the puck drop of a pair of tilts (Buffalo at Nashville and Minnesota at Dallas), while St. Louis at Arizona waits an hour before getting underway. Finally, Edmonton at Calgary (CBC/SN/SN360) gets green-lit at 10 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: San Jose at Vegas. All times Eastern.

A few of the games that stuck out to me – at least at the beginning of the season – include:

  • Florida at Boston: Welcome back to Beantown, F Frank Vatrano! Let’s see if you can get an important two points for your new team against the one that traded you.
  • Columbus at Vancouver: Speaking of trades, the deadline swap that sent W Thomas Vanek to Ohio might be among the most impactful this season.
  • Buffalo at Nashville: Another return will occur in this game, but this one features Phil Housley at Bridgestone Arena, the place he’d been an assistant coach for the past four seasons.
  • Edmonton at Calgary: Even though both of these sides are ineligible for the postseason, don’t expect the nastiness to see any sort of decline.

Of those, the Panthers-Bruins game is obviously the most impactful on this postseason. However, there’s also the Jets-Maple Leafs and Sharks-Golden Knights games taking place today, both of which are certainly worthy of our attention.

Though I would recommend watching all three, we may only feature one in this column. As such, let’s make the trip to the Silver State to get a preview of a potential second round matchup.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a wild ride for the 49-22-7 Golden Knights this regular season, and much to the delight of them and their fans, there’s still at least one more chapter to be written in the playoffs.

However, it doesn’t seem like Vegas is looking too far ahead into the playoffs, as they’re still playing some exemplary hockey down the stretch even though they’ve already clinched a playoff spot. Since March 18, Vegas has posted a wildly impressive 4-1-2 record to hold on to its spot atop the Pacific Division.

Is it any surprise that a three-time Stanley Cup champion is the one leading the Knights down the stretch? 28-12-4 G Marc-Andre Fleury has been phenomenal in his last five starts, even despite a defense that has allowed an average of 33 shots against per game since March 18, the 11th-most in the league in that time.

Even facing that almost constant pressure, Fleury has managed an imposing .964 save percentage and 1.14 GAA over that stretch that’s even better than the .931 save percentage and 2.15 GAA he’s posted for the entire regular season, both of which are second-best in the NHL among qualified goaltenders.

With 12-3-2 G Malcolm Subban playing in Vegas’ 4-3 overtime victory last night against the Blues, Fleury will be totally rested and prepared for whatever San Jose throws at him tonight.

Speaking of, if we want to talk about teams closing the regular season on a hot run, the 44-24-10 Sharks have to enter into that conversation. San Jose has managed an 8-1-1 record over its last 10 games, due in large part to its unstoppable offense.

None have been able to keep the Sharks under control lately, as they come to Vegas averaging 4.2 goals per game since March 12, the best attack in the Western Conference and second-best in the NHL.

What might be the most impressive thing about San Jose’s attack is that, short of D Brent Burns‘ 1-9-10 marks in his last 10 games, no other skater is averaging at least a point per game during this run. That means that instead of one Shark dominating the game, it’s instead the entire offense contributing.

That’s no more apparent than when we look at who has been on the receiving end of Burns’ last nine assists. With the exception of F Logan Couture and F Joe Pavelski both scoring two goals following passes from Burns, no player has scored more than one goal with an assist from the defenseman in San Jose’s last 10 games. In total, seven different players have benefited from a Burns helper, representing all four lines of forwards.

Much to the disappointment of hockey fans, tonight marks the finale of the regular season series between these two squads. Having earned five points against the Sharks to their three, Vegas has had the upper hand so far this year when taking on San Jose, but the visitors could level the series tonight with a regulation win.

San Jose and Vegas first squared off on November 24 at T-Mobile Arena, where the Golden Knights held on to win a wild 5-4 game in overtime (F Jon Marchessault scored the game-winner). Game 2 wasn’t until February 8 at SAP Center, but home ice didn’t help the Sharks avoid a 5-3 loss (Fleury earned First Star honors with his 35-save effort).

Most recently, the Knights returned to San Jose on March 22 – only nine days ago – to finally suffer their first defeat at the hands fins of the Sharks, who won 2-1 in overtime (that game-winner belonged to Couture).

Should San Jose be able to earn a regulation win tonight, it would level the season series against Vegas at five points apiece.

Of course, that’s not the main reason the Sharks want to win this game. Currently trailing the Golden Knights by seven points, there’s still technically an outside shot they could dismantle Vegas from atop the Pacific Division. After tonight’s game, both clubs will have three games remaining on the schedule, meaning the Sharks would need to effectively win out while Vegas also loses all three tilts in regulation.

What a matchup we are about to witness! No one has been able to slow down the Sharks’ attack lately, yet no offense has been able to beat Fleury. Even though they’re on the road, I like the Sharks to win this game since they’ve been able to find offensive contributions from their entire team lately. That constant pressure should be enough to wear Fleury down.


In a defensive affair that surprisingly featured only one penalty, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 in overtime in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Honda Center.

The Kings wasted no time in finding their regulation goal, as D Drew Doughty (C Anze Kopitar and W Dustin Brown) scored a wrist shot 6:01 into the game to give Los Angeles the advantage.

Anaheim didn’t respond until 3:05 remained in the second period. Third Star of the Game LW Nick Ritchie (D Francois Beauchemin and W Ondrej Kase) banged home a backhanded shot to level the game at 1-1.

The defenses really amped up their games in the third period, as only a combined nine shots made it on goal in the final 20 minutes. In particular, the Kings’ D-corps played especially well, limiting the Ducks to only two scoring opportunities to keep the game tied at the end of regulation.

That defensive theme continued through most of the overtime period, as it took 4:41 of three-on-three play before First Star F Rickard Rakell (D Brandon Montour and Kase) scored his third game-winner of the season.

Montour and Kase earned assists, but this goal was all about Rakell. He carried the puck from blue line to blue line, even with F Trevor Lewis doing his best to maintain a defensive presence. Once Rakell finally reached the right face-off dot, he used D Alec Martinez as a screen to rip an elevated snap shot to the far post, beating helpless G Jonathan Quick before he could even react.

G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 28-of-29 shots faced (.966 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Quick, who saved 31-of-33 (.939).

Another DtFR Game of the Day, another home victory. The Ducks are the seventh-consecutive host to win their game in the featured series, and they also extend the 97-53-21 home teams’ point streak to nine games. Hosts in the series now have a 44-point lead on the roadies.

March 27 – Day 167 – A win streak must end!

Tuesdays are usually one of the busier days in the NHL’s weekly schedule, and this one is no different as nine matchups are on tap this evening.

Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. when Carolina at New Jersey drops the puck, followed half an hour later by two more (the New York Islanders at Ottawa [RDS] and Pittsburgh at Detroit [NHLN/TVAS]). 8 p.m. marks the start of a trio of tilts (San Jose at St. Louis, Minnesota at Nashville and Boston at Winnipeg), while Philadelphia at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Columbus at Edmonton is next up at 9 p.m., while Anaheim at Vancouver closes out the night with a 10 p.m. showdown. All times Eastern.

Surprisingly, there’s only two games being televised nationally this evening even though there’s some interesting narratives associated with at least three…

  • Pittsburgh at Detroit: After meeting in back-to-back Stanley Cups, the relationship between these teams and fanbases is – at least in my experience – one of mutual respect.
  • Boston at Winnipeg: D Paul Postma is currently with the Boston Bruins instead of the Providence variety and, should he be active tonight, he’ll make his first return to Winnipeg since departing as a free agent.
  • Columbus at Edmonton: After four seasons with the Blue Jackets, F Mark Letestu signed with the Oil in 2015-16. However, he’s since been traded back to Columbus, and this will be his first return to Rogers Place as a former Oiler.

As tempting as the Bruins-Jets matchup is – believe me, that’s going to be a stellar game – the fact that both teams have already clinched a postseason spot makes it a little less exciting. However, the Kings’ win last night booted St. Louis out of playoff picture, and it’ll have to beat a red-hot Sharks team to resolve that issue.

 

Due in large part to Columbus’ recent 10-game winning streak that just ended (at the hand of the Blues, mind you), 44-23-9 San Jose’s eight-game winning streak has not gotten the publicity it deserves.

Perhaps part of the reason for that is the Sharks’ schedule. No victory in the NHL is easy, but the fact that six of San Jose’s last eight opponents currently sit outside the playoff picture shows that the Sharks’ competition of late has been significantly less talented.

On the other hand, the Sharks would argue that they can only play the teams on their schedule in the order they come and that they are taking care of business during the home stretch of the regular season.

Either way, the Sharks have left little to doubt if they’re prepared for the playoffs. Earlier in the season, I had my concerns about San Jose’s playoff chances due to its less than exemplary offense.

The Sharks have put those doubts to bed over this winning streak, as their unbelievable 4.63 goals per game since March 12 has been the best mark in the NHL in that time, not to mention 1.2 goals better than the second-best Western playoff team (Anaheim) over that same stretch.

It’s hard to say which skater has been the most dominant during this eight-game run, as F Tomas Hertl has posted the most points with his 5-4-9 totals (21-23-44 for the season), but LW Evander Kane‘s gaudy 7-1-8 marks (28-25-53 for the season) have more than proven why his services were so desired at the trade deadline.

Whichever mark you think is most impressive, the best thing for San Jose is that neither player has participated on the same scoring play in Kane’s short tenure in Northern California. That means that each and every one of their points represents its own goal, so those two players have contributed to 17 of the Sharks’ most recent 37 scores. That’s over 45.9 percent of the offense from only two players, an impressive stat to say the least.

Of course, the story of San Jose’s attack doesn’t stop there, as second-liner F Logan Couture (4-4-8 totals since March 12, 31-26-57 overall) and third-pair defenseman Brenden Dillon (3-5-8 since March 12, 4-16-20 overall) are also averaging a point per game over this run.

That impressive offense has also yielded results on the defensive end, as the Sharks are possessing the puck so well they’re limiting opponents’ scoring opportunities. Pair that with Dillon (two hits per game since March 12) and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s (2.3 blocks per game over this run) defensive efforts, and you get a team that has allowed only 30.13 shots against per game over its past eight games, the 11th-best mark in the NHL since March 12.

No one has enjoyed that performance more than 29-18-6 G Martin Jones, who’s all but likely to be in net this evening. Jones has posted an impressive .919 save percentage and 2.38 GAA over his past seven starts, improving his season marks to a .918 save percentage and 2.45 GAA.

Between Jones and his skaters, the Sharks have allowed only 2.5 goals per game since March 12, the (t)ninth-lowest average in the league in that time.

However, it’s not just the Sharks that come into this game defending a winning streak. The 42-28-5 Blues have also gone five-straight games without suffering a loss, and they have all intentions of keeping their winning ways going at Scottrade Center this evening.

You’re hard pressed to find a defense playing better right now than St. Louis’. Led by the impressive efforts of W Dmitrij Jaskin (3.2 hits per game since March 17), D Colton Parayko (four takeaways in his last five games) and D Alex Pietrangelo (2.6 blocks per game over this run), the Notes have allowed only 25.2 shots per game since March 17, the best mark in the NHL in that time.

Similar to Jones with the Sharks, the biggest beneficiary of this performance has been none other than 26-21-2 G Jake Allen, who will be earning his 10th-consecutive start this evening. With help from the lightened workload, Allen has managed an impressive .921 save percentage and 1.97 GAA in his last five starts, well superior to his season statistics of a .908 save percentage and 2.68 GAA.

Between Allen and his skaters, the Blues have allowed an average of two goals per game since March 17, the (t)second-best mark in the Western Conference and league in that time.

While the Blues’ offense hasn’t achieved rankings quite as high as the defense of late, St. Louis still sports an impressive attack that cannot be taken lightly, as five players have averaged at least a point per game over their last five showings.

There’s been no better Blues skater lately than Pietrangelo. A captain that prefers to lead by example, Pietro has posted 3-5-8 totals since March 17 to improve his season marks to 15-36-51, the (t)second-most goals and 12th-highest point total among all NHL defensemen.

Joining Pietrangelo in averaging a point per game over this five-game winning streak includes F Jaden Schwartz (2-4-6 totals since March 17, 22-33-55 overall), F Alex Steen (2-3-5 since March 17, 15-30-45 overall), F Brayden Schenn (1-4-5 since March 17, 25-38-63 overall) and D Vince Dunn (1-4-5 since March 17, 5-17-22 overall). Altogether, the Blue Notes have averaged 3.4 goals per game over their last five games, the (t)10th-best mark in the NHL since March 17.

Of these teams, the Blues definitely need to keep their winning streak alive the most considering their precarious playoff chances (more on that in a moment). Unfortunately for them, they have not performed well against the Sharks this season, as San Jose has taken both previous meetings. San Jose won the first game at Scottrade Center on February 20 with a 3-2 scored (W Mikkel Boedker provided the game-winning goal), followed by a defensive 2-0 victory at SAP Center on March 8 (Boedker again provided the game-winning goal to earn First Star honors).

Should the Notes be able to keep Boedker off the board and buck that trend, they’ll catapult themselves into sixth place in the Western Conference, good enough for the first wild card (Los Angeles would fall to the second and Colorado would end up on the wrong side of the bubble).

As for San Jose, it currently sits six points behind Vegas for the Pacific Division lead and six points ahead of third-place Anaheim. With all three teams having six games remaining to play, anything is still technically possible, but it seems likely that the Golden Knights and Sharks are locked in as the top two seeds in the division.

I know who I’m pulling for in this game, but that’s not what you came here for. The Blues are awfully confident right now having beaten both Boston and Columbus in the past week, but the Sharks are definitely playing much better right now. This game might require more than 60 minutes, but I have a feeling San Jose walks away with two points tonight.


With a three-point effort, First Star of the Game F Jon Marchessault led the Vegas Golden Knights to a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

After both squads played to a scoreless first period, Colorado let Vegas get on the board by committing a silly too many men on the ice penalty at the 4:06 mark of the second period. It took only eight seconds with the man-advantage for Third Star W Alex Tuch (C William Karlsson and Marchessault) to bury a snap shot to give the Knights the first goal. Though the Avalanche would eventually level the game 9:27 later courtesy of an D Erik Johnson (W Blake Comeau and W Matt Nieto) snapper, Marchessault (Second Star D Shea Theodore and Karlsson) would eventually find the game-winning goal with 5:44 remaining in the frame.

Barring a usually stellar offense struggling to find much success, the main reason the Avs lost is because of some boneheaded plays. This time, it was F Tyson Jost sent to the penalty box after earning a double minor penalty for hi-sticking F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare with 6:17 remaining in the period. 33 seconds later, Tuch was screaming into the offensive zone with the puck on his stick before slinging a pass towards the left boards for Karlsson. Karlsson reset the play to Theodore at the point, who tapped a pass along the blue line to Marchessault at the right point.

While all this was happening, Tuch was still at work setting up shop right in front of G Semyon Varlamov‘s crease to act as a great screen. After Marchessault advanced to the right face-off dot, Tuch leaned into the slot just enough to expose the near post, allowing the former Panther to tuck his wrist shot over the netminder’s left shoulder.

The Golden Knights cemented their victory with two insurance tallies in the final frame. Theodore (F Erik Haula and W James Neal) registered the first only 1:31 into the period, and Karlsson (Marchessault) completed the scoring on an empty net with 16 seconds remaining in regulation, setting the 4-1 final score.

G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the victory after saving 28-of-29 shots faced (.966 save percentage), leaving the loss to Varlamov, who saved 26-of-29 (.897).

Vegas’ home victory marks five-straight games in the DtFR Game of the Day series where the hosts earned at least one point, as well as a third-consecutive win. As such, the 93-53-21 hosts now have a 38-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

March 16 – Day 156 – If defense wins championships…

There’s a couple gems tucked within this evening’s half-dozen games!

The New York Islanders visit Washington (NHLN/SN1/TVAS) at 7 p.m. to open the evening’s events, followed by Dallas at Ottawa (RDS) half an hour later. The next two tilts (Nashville at Colorado and San Jose at Calgary) don’t drop the puck until 9 p.m., with Detroit at Anaheim (SN1) waiting another hour before getting underway. Finally, Minnesota at Vegas closes out the night with their 10:30 matchup. All times Eastern.

I’d marked half of tonight’s games as potentially important at the start of the season…

  • New York at Washington: The second half of the home-and-home between these clubs goes down tonight!
  • Dallas at Ottawa: D Marc Methot was scheduled to return to his home arena of five years tonight, but a cut on his hand kept him out of Wednesday’s tilt in Toronto. Odds are the Canadian Tire Centre crowd will have to wait another year.
  • Detroit at Anaheim: When the Red Wings were in the Western Conference, this was quite the rivalry. Considering the Ducks need every point they can get right now, this game has a chance of turning nasty in a hurry.

…but none of those rivalries have quite the significance of the Pacific Division showdown in Alberta!

 

Let’s start with the 38-23-9 San Jose Sharks, the team that currently occupies second place in the Pacific Division. San Jose has been playing relatively well lately, as it has posted a 3-1-0 record over its last four games.

Just like other points in the season when the Sharks have been finding wins left and right, defense has been the biggest key to their recent success. Led by the efforts of LW Evander Kane (3.8 hits per game since March 8) and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic (two blocks per game over this run), San Jose has limited its opposition to only 24 shots against per game since March 8, the best mark in the league in that time.

As might be expected, 24-18-6 G Martin Jones has looked really, really good considering how few pucks have come his way lately. Having started each and every one of the Sharks’ last four games, he’s posted a .926 save percentage and 1.75 GAA to elevate his season marks to a .917 save percentage and 2.48 GAA.

Between San Jose’s stellar defense and the solid play of Jones, the Sharks have allowed only two goals against per game during this four-game run, the (t)third-lowest mark in the NHL since March 8.

Defense seems to be the theme of tonight’s game, as 35-26-10 Calgary – which currently occupies 10th place in the Western Conference – has also posted a 3-1-0 record over its last four games on the back of its blueline.

Behind the exemplary play of F Sam Bennett (2.8 hits per game since March 7), D Mark Giordano (1.5 blocks per game during this four-game run) and D Travis Hamonic (five takeaways in his last four showings), the Flames have done a good job of keeping scoring threats to a minimum, as they’ve allowed only 27.75 shots against per game since March 7, the fifth-best mark in the NHL in that time.

A major reason for Calgary’s return to form has been the return to health for 24-17-6 G Mike Smith, tonight’s probable starter. Smith has split his two starts since returning to action which is largely why his .926 save percentage and 2.05 GAA doesn’t seem that impressive. However, his most recent showing against the Oilers was a good one, as he posted a 28-save shutout to improve his season marks to a .922 save percentage and 2.51 GAA.

If the Pacific Division is going to send four teams to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flames definitely need to win this game. They’re currently three points behind current second wildcard Dallas, which is playing a lowly Senators team tonight. Of course, that ignores the current ninth-place Ducks, who have two points on Calgary and is also playing a weak Red Wings team tonight.

But this isn’t college sports with confusing conference and division loyalties (It’ll never make sense to me how fans of a team want to see the same opponents they pull against almost every other day of the year all of a sudden perform well. You didn’t like them yesterday, why should you today?), so don’t expect San Jose to be spotting Calgary any points tonight. Besides, this is the Sharks’ game in hand on Los Angeles, the very club they lead for second place in the Pacific by only one point. A win tonight would go a long way in ensuring San Jose would host a potential Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs.

The Sharks have definitely had the upper hand through the first half of the season series between these clubs, as they won both December meetings. Their first contest was on December 14 at the Saddledome where San Jose took a 3-2 victory (RW Joonas Donskoi provided the game-winning goal), followed only 14 days later by a tilt in The Tank that also ended 3-2 in favor of the Sharks – though they needed a shootout to pull off the victory (D Brent Burns earned First Star honors).

Compared to the 2.5 goals per game the Flames have managed over their last four showings, San Jose’s 2.75 goals per game over their last four tilts is slightly better. With that in mind, I’m led to believe the Sharks are in line for another tight victory tonight just like in their two previous meetings with Calgary.


With a hat trick from First Star of the Game RW Cam Atkinson, the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

With eight goals being struck in the entire contest, half of the game’s scoring occurred in the first period. RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (D Seth Jones and F Sonny Milano) got on the scoreboard first with a slap shot at the 9:41 mark, and he was followed only 11 seconds later by F Boone Jenner (D Jack Johnson and W Thomas Vanek) to give the Jackets a two-goal advantage. With 8:26 remaining in the period, F Claude Giroux (F Travis Konecny and Second Star D Andrew MacDonald) buried a clapper to pull the Flyers back within a goal, but Atkinson (D Zach Werenski and LW Artemi Panarin) scored his first of the game 6:34 later to reestablish Columbus’ two-goal lead.

If Columbus dominated the first period, Philadelphia owned the second – but not without allowing what proved to be the game-winning goal to slip under its nose. Only 14 seconds into the frame, D Shayne Gostisbehere (D Ivan Provorov and C Sean Couturier) set the score at 3-2 with a power play snap shot. 3:09 later, Atkinson (D David Savard) provided the Jackets’ all-important fourth goal.

Some plays confuse the opposing goaltender, and others just straight beat him. This is one of the latter, as Savard created a breakaway opportunity by slinging a pass from the left face-off dot in his own zone to Atkinson waiting at the far blue line. After that, all Atkinson had to do was advance towards the right face-off dot before ripping a clapper through G Petr Mrazek to the far post.

Facing a 4-2 deficit, MacDonald (D Travis Sanheim and Konecny) scored a clapper with 7:37 remaining in the frame to pull the Flyers back within a goal of the Jackets.

The third period almost escaped without the scoreboard operator needing to lift a finger (no penalties occurred in the frame either), but Atkinson wasn’t about to depart the City of Brotherly Love without some black-and-orange caps. With Third Star G Alex Lyon pulled for the extra attacker, Atkinson (Panarin and Savard) skated down the ice and completed the fourth hat trick of his NHL career with only a second to spare.

G Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved six-of-10 (.6). Mrazek was lifted following Atkinson’s eventual game-winner in favor of Lyon, who saved all 18 shots he faced for no decision.

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are on quite a run lately, as they’ve earned points in six-consecutive tilts. As such, the 87-50-19 hosts now have only a 36-point lead in the season series.