Tag Archives: Skinner

Game of the week: October 15-21

It’s time for another DtFR Game of the Week!

First and foremost, let’s take a look at all the games I neglected earlier this week:

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 15-21
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 15
7:30 p.m. Los Angeles Toronto 1-4
7:30 p.m. Detroit Montréal 3-7
7:30 p.m. Dallas Ottawa 1-4
8 p.m. Minnesota Nashville 2-4
Tuesday, October 16
7 p.m. Dallas New Jersey 0-3
7 p.m. Colorado New York Rangers 2-3 (SO)
7 p.m. Florida Philadelphia 5-6 (SO)
7 p.m. Vancouver Pittsburgh 3-2 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Carolina Tampa Bay 2-4
8 p.m. Arizona Minnesota 1-2
8 p.m. Edmonton Winnipeg 5-4 (OT)
10 p.m. Buffalo Vegas 1-4
Wednesday, October 17
7 p.m. St. Louis Montréal 2-3
7 p.m. New York Rangers Washington 3-4 (OT)
9:30 p.m. Boston Calgary 2-5
10 p.m. New York Islanders Anaheim 1-4
Thursday, October 18
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Toronto 3-0
7 p.m. Colorado New Jersey 5-3
7 p.m. Philadelphia Columbus 3-6
7:30 p.m. Detroit Tampa Bay 1-3
8 p.m. Vancouver Winnipeg 1-4
8:30 p.m. Arizona Chicago 4-1
9 p.m. Boston Edmonton 2-3 (OT)
10:30 p.m. New York Islanders Los Angeles 7-2
10:30 p.m. Buffalo San Jose 1-5
Friday, October 19
7 p.m. Florida Washington 6-5 (SO)
8 p.m. Minnesota Dallas 3-1
9 p.m. Nashville Calgary 5-3
saturday, October 20
1 p.m. New Jersey Philadelphia 2-5
1 p.m. Colorado Carolina 3-1
3:30 p.m. Buffalo Los Angeles 5-1
4 p.m. Arizona Winnipeg 3-5
7 p.m. St. Louis Toronto 4-1
7 p.m. Montréal Ottawa 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Detroit Florida 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Chicago Columbus 4-1
8 p.m. Tampa Bay Minnesota 4-5 (OT)
10 p.m. Boston Vancouver 1-2 (OT)
10 p.m. Anaheim Vegas 1-3
10 p.m. Nashville Edmonton 3-0
10:30 p.m. New York Islanders San Jose 1-4
SunDay, October 21
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Chicago NHLN, TVAS
7 p.m. Calgary New York Rangers SN1
8 p.m. Buffalo Anaheim

This schedule was a little bit fuller than last week’s offerings, as there’s a solid 44 games I had to choose from as compared to last week’s 42.

While there were certainly some worthy candidates in terms of rivalries (Detroit at Montréal, Edmonton at Winnipeg, New York at Washington, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Montréal at Ottawa all took place this week) and player returns (D Marc Methot made his first trip back to Ottawa since being selected during the Vegas expansion draft and later traded to the Stars, four former Blackhawks – five if you include RW Marian Hossa – returned to the Madhouse on Madison as members of the Coyotes and C Tyler Bozak wore white in Toronto for the first time in his career playing for St. Louis), one game sticks out above all the rest even though I’m more concerned about what will be hanging above the ice than what will be taking place on it.

 

Without a doubt, the Ducks are having one of the better and more unexpected starts to the season. Meanwhile, the Sabres are trying their hardest to keep pace with the rest of the white-hot Atlantic Division that enters the day with five teams in playoff position (an extremely important accolade in October, to be sure).

But what really drew me to tonight’s tilt is the pregame festivities involving LW Paul Kariya, as his No. 9 is going to be retired and sent where it belongs – hanging above the Honda Center ice opposite RW Teemu Selanne‘s No. 8.

The fourth-overall pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Kariya joined the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim just in time for the 1994-95 season (well, if it had started on time, that is), signing a three-year deal on August 31, 1994.

Though the Mighty Ducks struggled before Selanne was brought on board via trade during the 1995-96 season, that’s not to say Kariya – who just celebrated his 44th birthday on Tuesday – was playing poorly. He posted 18-21-39 totals his 47-game debut season, earning a spot on the All-Rookie Team and finishing third in Calder voting behind Quebec’s C Peter Forsberg and Washington’s G Jim Carey.

Oh yeah, speaking of that 1995-96 campaign, Kariya’s second season ended with him boasting career-best numbers in goals (50, three of which were overtime game-winners – an Anaheim single-season record) and points (108) after a full 82-game schedule. That dominant performance earned him his first of three First All-Star Team accolades, his first of back-to-back Lady Byng Trophies and his first of seven appearances at the All-Star Game.

I guess he never heard of the sophomore slump.

Named the Mighty Ducks’ third captain in franchise history during the offseason (a title he held for a franchise-record eight years), Kariya barely missed a second-straight season hitting the 100-point plateau in 1996-97 as a result of missing 13 games with an upper-body injury and unrelated concussion, but a 44-55-99 performance in 69 games played qualifies as the best season of his career on a points-per-game standpoint. The 1.43 points per game he managed narrowly beats out his 1.41 in 1997-98 – another season hampered by concussion, as well as a contract dispute that lasted into December, limiting him to only 22 games played. Additionally, his +36 for the 1996-97 campaign is still an Anaheim single-season record.

Of course, the most important mark about the 1996-97 season for Kariya is not only his dazzling performance, but also the fact that Anaheim qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Mighty Ducks fought past the Phoenix Coyotes in seven games before getting swept by the eventual champion Red Wings in the second round of their postseason debut. Kariya posted 7-6-13 marks in those 11 games, including the overtime game-winning goal in Game 6 against Phoenix that forced Game 7.

To be certain, the most productive years of Kariya’s career were his first seven campaigns. In all, he played 442 regular season games for the Mighty Ducks from 1995-2001, managing 243-288-531 totals to average 1.2 points per game – not to mention his 8-9-17 marks in 14 career playoff games to that point.

However, that’s not to say the captain still wasn’t a guiding hand on his team. Kariya managed 57-81-138 totals in his final two seasons with the Mighty Ducks, and he led Anaheim all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002-03 where his squad lost a hard-fought, seven-game series to the New Jersey Devils.

That Game 7 proved to be Kariya’s last with Anaheim, as he and Selanne both headed for the supposedly greener pastures of Denver (the Avs, of course, fell in the second round in Kariya and Selanne’s only season with the club) for the 2003-04 season. Kariya played five more seasons after that – two with Nashville and three with St. Louis – before retiring during the 2011 offseason as a result of the six concussions he sustained over the course of his 16-year, 15-season professional career.

Having been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last summer, there are few awards left to be bestowed upon Karyia (provided he doesn’t get involved in coaching or management). However, this one will surely elicit quite the response from one of the greatest to have ever worn the eggplant and jade.

Of course, once the ceremony is complete, there’s still a hockey game to be played. Both of tonight’s squads were in action last night, with Buffalo besting Los Angeles 5-1 at Staples Center and Anaheim falling in Vegas 3-1.

The 4-4-0 Sabres entered today’s action in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, but only one point behind Ottawa for fifth place in the Atlantic Division and the second wild card.

Gotta love early season standings.

Perhaps the brightest spot for Buffalo so far this season has been the outstanding play of 2-0-0 G Linus Ullmark, who has allowed only one goal in his two starts and boasts a .982 save percentage and .5 GAA that is best in the league among netminders with at least 33 minutes played.

While his emergence as a potential star is an encouraging sign for a franchise that has missed the playoffs for seven-straight seasons, the fact that he was the goalie in net for Buffalo yesterday up the road in Tinseltown has all signs pointing towards 2-4-0 G Carter Hutton manning the posts this evening.

Whether he’s being compared to Ullmark or his performance last season, Hutton is already drawing the ire of Upstate New Yorkers. Having signed a three-year, $2.75 million AAV contract this summer after posting a dominating .931 save percentage and 2.09 GAA with the St. Louis Blues last season, Hutton has managed only a .906 save percentage and 3.27 GAA so far this year.

Considering his offense has averaged only 2.25 goals per game thus far into the season (the fifth-worst mark in the NHL despite F Jeff Skinner‘s hat trick yesterday), Hutton is going to need to improve in a hurry if the Sabres want to stay in playoff contention much longer.

That being said, it should be acknowledged that Buffalo hasn’t exactly played incredible defense in front of Hutton. The Sabres’ 32.63 shots against-per-game is 12th-worst in the league, and that number climbs to 33.67 when Hutton is in net.

Considering former defenseman Phil Housley is the team’s head coach and the fact that the organization took D Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick, surely that number has to improve sooner or later? Right?

Consider me a doubter of Housley’s until it does.

One final note I have about the Sabres is in regard to their special teams. It was only a few seasons ago that Buffalo’s power play – led by C Jack Eichel – was among the most dangerous in the league. However, that has not been the case this season, as the Sabres’ 13.3 percent success rate with the man-advantage has been eighth-worst in the league through the first few weeks of the season. The penalty kill has also struggled, as Buffalo’s 69.2 kill percentage is third-worst in the NHL.

The Sabres have a lot of problems to figure out, but the best way to fix the special teams while they’re still on the road just might be to avoid the penalty box all together.

Did you hear that, RW Kyle Okposo? Stay out of trouble!

As for tonight’s hosts, the 5-2-1 Ducks have yet to see too many troubles so far this season, as they’re leading the division despite many fans and pundits pegging San Jose and Vegas as the Pacific’s powerhouses.

But how are they doing it?

Just like Buffalo, Anaheim’s best player to start the season has been none other than its goaltender, 4-2-1 G John Gibson. The 2016 Jennings Trophy winner (o.k., he shared it with G Frederik Andersen, now of the Toronto Maple Leafs) has been dynamite right out of the gates this season, as he has a solid .949 save percentage and 1.91 GAA to show for his first seven starts of the season.

However, to continue the comparisons to Buffalo, Gibson was also in net last night against the Golden Knights, so it looks like it could be none other than 1-0-0 G Ryan Miller, the winner of the 2010 Vezina Trophy, manning the crease this evening against his former club.

Though he is clearly the backup in Anaheim, Miller is in no way any easier to score upon than Gibson. With two appearances so far this year, Miller has a .946 save percentage and 1.51 GAA – all this despite a Ducks defense that allows an average of 37 shots against per game, the worst in the NHL.

Despite the backups being the logical starters tonight, this game has all the makings of a goaltending duel considering the struggles of both offenses and defenses. If that is the case, I’ll certainly take the Ducks to successfully honor Kariya and earn two points tonight. Miller is undoubtedly better than Hutton this year, and he has the benefit of special teams that will easily dominate the Sabres.

Carolina Hurricanes 2018-2019 Season Preview

Carolina Hurricanes

36-35-11, 83 points, sixth in the Metropolitan Division

Additions: HC Rod Brind’Amour, D Calvin de Haan, W Micheal Ferland, D Michael Fora, D Adam Fox, D Dougie Hamilton, F Jordan Martinook, G Petr Mrazek, F Cliff Pu, D Dan Renouf, RW Andrei Svechnikov

Subtractions: D Jake Chelios (signed by Detroit), D Klas Dahlbeck (signed by CSKA Moscow), D Noah Hanifin (traded to Calgary), C Marcus Kruger (traded to Arizona), F Elias Lindholm (traded to Calgary), F Andrew Miller (signed by HC Fribourg-Gotteron), F Joakim Nordstrom (signed by Boston), HC Bill Peters (resigned, hired by Calgary), C Derek Ryan (signed by Calgary), F Jeff Skinner (traded to Buffalo), G Jeremy Smith (signed by Bridgeport), G Cam Ward (signed by Chicago)

Offseason Analysis: I had the pleasure of composing Carolina’s season preview last summer, and let me tell you: I was super excited. I was convinced this team was finally going to cause some real trouble in the Metropolitan Division on the back of its excellent defense and formidable offense.

Instead we got the same Hurricanes we’ve grown accustomed to over these past few years: a team that, while it was among the better sides to miss out on the postseason, extended its playoff drought to nine-straight seasons.

After a busy offseason for the Canes, it’s safe to say that expectations for the club this season are nowhere near as high. Five forwards that played at least 41 games last season are not returning to Raleigh, not to mention defensive stalwart Hanifin and Ward – a goaltender that, while aging, is still capable of stealing a few games – taking their respective talents to Calgary and Chicago.

If any part of Carolina’s game won’t suffer from these roster moves, it’ll likely be the defense, as the Canes lost a great defenseman and replaced him with one just as good. de Haan played only 33 games last season for the Isles, but his 2016-17 campaign was excellent. He posted 5-20-25 totals in 82 games played with a +15 rating on a team that allowed 238 goals against – the eighth-most in the league that season – due in large part to his 190 shot blocks and 139 hits. Having turned only 27-years-old in May, I have no reason to believe de Haan can’t rediscover that physical form and continue to be an imposing force on the blue line.

Instead, it will be the Hurricanes’ offense that will take a more noticeable step backwards, specifically in the top-six. Assuming that Brind’Amour plays Svechnikov in that position (I think it’s a very safe guess), as well as probable fellow rookies Martin Necas and Valentin Zykov, it will be up to Ferland, Teravainen and Aho (who himself is only entering his third NHL season) to spearhead the scoring lines (You’ll notice I left F Jordan Staal out of that group. That’s because he’s never had any business playing first line center).

It’s not to say this group doesn’t have the potential to be lethal in a few seasons (I’d argue Aho and Svechnikov have a chance to become one on the best lines in the NHL someday), but I just don’t see everything coming together to make this campaign anything more than a learning experience.

To make matters worse, even if the offense can manage to be just average (scoring around 95 goals for the entire season, or over a goal per game), it won’t get very much support from the goaltending department. G Scott Darling posted a horrendous .888 save percentage in 43 appearances last season for a 3.18 GAA, and Mrazek wasn’t all that much better with his .902 save percentage and 3.03 GAA in 39 regular season appearances between Detroit and Philadelphia.

Both netminders will certainly be looking for bounce back years (especially Mrazek, who is in another contract season), but my faith in them has dwindled to the point that I won’t believe they’ve improved until I see it. If my doubts are proven, there’s real potential that rookie G Alex Nedeljkovic, the Canes’ second-round pick in 2014, could see some considerable playing time in the NHL instead of with Carolina’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte.

Offseason Grade: D

Especially after winning the draft lottery to pick second, I was surprised the rumors coming out of Raleigh were that the Canes were intending to gut their roster. Now that we’re only a couple weeks away from training camp, I find myself surprised that Carolina didn’t move more NHL pieces to fully invest in the future (perhaps those moves are being held for the trade deadline?). For not fully committing to either plan (keep the team together or blow it apart), General Manager Don Waddell does not get a passing grade from me.

Pre-Draft Grab Bag

We’re just a few hours away from the NHL Draft, so I thought I would put together a few quick hits to tide you over before Gary Bettman gets up to say “we have a trade to announce” for the first time and every NHL GM talks about how wonderful Dallas is as a city.

At the beginning of the junior hockey season, I highlighted four draft-eligible players from the WHL–Ty Smith, Jett Woo, Riley Sutter and Alexander Alexeyev.  So, how did there season go and where might you see them go tonight?  Smith, the left-handed defenseman from Spokane, finished the year with 73 points in 69 games and another 7 points in 7 playoff games.  Central Scouting had him ranked 14th among North American Skaters and that is also where he finished the season.  ISS had him ranked at 19th at the end of the season.  Some rankings have him as high as #8 and others in the mid-late 20’s.  That is the nature of this year’s draft though–there is some depth in the draft and a wide variance in rankings outside of the top 2-3 picks.

Jett Woo really fell off the radar as the year went on.  Missing 28 games with an upper-body injury in your draft year will do that.  Some early rankings had him as a mid-late first round pick, but Central Scouting had him as the 28th best North American skater and ISS didn’t have him ranked in the first round.  His 25 points in 44 games wasn’t particularly remarkable and his playoff performance–3 points in 14 games–certainly didn’t help things.  Based on how the season went, I’d say Woo projects more as a dependable, second pairing defenseman who is good all around, but not stellar in the offensive zone.  There are enough positives that he will probably go in the first half of the second round.

Riley Sutter finished the season with a solid, but not spectacular, 53 points in 68 games.  He had a very good stint in the playoffs with 19 points in 21 games.  Sutter will probably still be on the board after the second round.  A solid two-way player, who plays the center position, has size, pedigree and plays his best hockey in the playoffs…some GM could get bold and take him in the second round.  In all likelihood, he projects as a very good third line center that can occasionally slot in on the second line.

Alexander Alexeyev put up 37 points in 45 games this season and followed it up with 5 points in 3 playoff games.  Like Woo, he’s had injury issues, but, when healthy, he’s been looked to contribute more than Woo, routinely logging 20 plus minutes a night.  Like Woo, he’s a solid, two-way defenseman, but, to this point, he’s had more offensive upside.  So, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Alexeyev has been ranked higher than Woo, showing up at 24th on the final ISS rankings and 22nd on Central Scouting’s North American skater list.  There is a lot of risk in picking Alexeyev in the first round, but given the importance of defense, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a team take him with one of the last ten picks in the first round.

If somehow Ty Smith was still on the board at 18, I’d be stoked to see the Jackets get him, though they are more likely to prioritize a forward and the odds of Smith slipping that far seem low given the number of teams in need of a defenseman picking ahead of Columbus.

Quick Hits

  • It wouldn’t be the offseason without some sort of contract drama for the Jackets.  Last year we saw Josh Anderson‘s contract negotiations draft out until the fall.  This year, drama regarding the extension of Artemi Panarin has come a year early after the 2019 UFA-to-be stated he was not yet ready to sign an extension come July 1.  Jarmo Kekalainen was, predictably, calm about the situation, but he’s also going to spend the weekend seeing what the market is for the dynamic wing, which is the smart thing to do.  Despite the gloom and doom from certain local beat writers, Panarin isn’t going anywhere unless someone wants to overpay the Jackets.
  • Interestingly, Kekaleinen made a comment that what went for Panarin, also went for Sergei Bobrovsky, which was largely ignored as people focused on the Panarin rumors.  The Jackets didn’t have an easy go the last time they had to negotiate an extension with Bobrovsky, but their internal options to replace Bobrovsky next year are uncertain at best given the season Joonas Korpisalo had and the fact that Elvis Merzlikins has yet to play in North America.  The fact that Bobrovsky will likely be looking for a raise and a long-term deal when he is already making over $7 million/season is a concern for the Jackets going forward.  Something to watch.
  • As always, there are a lot of rumors out there about potential trade bait.  Ryan O’Reilly is a player Buffalo would like to move before his bonus payment on July 1, but doing so may require them accepting a lesser haul than they would get after July 1.  After the second pick in the draft, it wouldn’t be a shock to see any team move down.  Carolina is looking to move Jeff Skinner and, potentially, Elias LindholmCraig Anderson and, perhaps, Erik Karlsson could be on the move for Ottawa, which begs the question whether Matt Duchene might also be on the move again with only 1 year left on his deal on yet another team that doesn’t seem to be a contender.  The Habs are looking to move Max Pacioretty, and also to finally get a second line center.  So, could be a lot of busy real estate agents this weekend.
  • Get ready for the annual Ilya Kovalchuk tease.  Los Angeles and Vegas seem to be the leaders, but you should probably expect him to sign with a Russian team when it is all said and done because that’s how he rolls.

February 23 – Day 135 – Cinderella on ice

Enjoy your last Friday before the NHL trade deadline! Hopefully your boss doesn’t trade you across the country this weekend.

We start the day in South Korea at the Olympics, as there’s one remaining semifinal in the men’s tournament to be played. Dropping the puck at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time, Canada and Germany will be squaring off for their chance to qualify for the gold medal game.

Back in the lands of the NHL, we have five games on the NHL schedule – one of which I’ll be in attendance at. The action starts at 7 p.m. with Minnesota at the New York Rangers (NHLN), followed half an hour later by Pittsburgh at Carolina (TVAS). Staggered starts seems to be the theme tonight, as Winnipeg at St. Louis is slated to start at 8 p.m., while San Jose at Chicago waits 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Unfortunately, Vancouver at Vegas bucks our half-hour trend, as that tilt waits until 10:30 p.m. before closing out the night’s action. All times Eastern.

What games have my attention? I thought you’d never ask!

  • Canada vs. Germany: The chance to play for a gold medal is tantalizingly close for these teams, but only one will get the chance to compete for the most desired prize.
  • Pittsburgh at Carolina: This game literally will have my attention since it will be happening right in front of me. Watch for me and my dad on TVAS, Canadians!

While it would be fun to do a preview of the game I’ll be at, I’m sure it goes without saying that the Olympic semifinal is far more pressing.

 

Not to give away my pick, but the clear favorite in this game is 3-0-1-0 Canada. The Canadians took second place in Group A after tilts against Switzerland (5-1), the Czech Republic (3-2 shootout loss) and South Korea (4-0), followed by beating Finland in a tight 1-0 quarterfinals matchup.

Entering semifinal play (as will be the case for all statistical rankings in this preview), no team has had more success on the defensive end than Team Canada. Not only is their defense allowing a third-best 22.5 shots against per game (second-best among the four semifinalists), but G Ben Scrivens has also been solid, posting a .929 save percentage for a 1.61 GAA.

Mix those impressive together and you get a team that has allowed only one goal against per game, tops in South Korea.

Of course, Team Canada has more to offer than simply a strong defense. The team with the leafs on their sweaters have averaged an impressive three goals per game, the (t)third-most of any team at the Olympic Games and (t)second among the semifinalists.

While an impressive 15 different Canadians have found their way onto the scorecard, two NHL veterans have stood above the rest: D Maxim Noreau (2-3-5 totals) and F Derek Roy (0-5-5). Both are averaging more than a point per game, and pairing their success with production from almost every skater makes every Canadian line a threat to score.

Meanwhile, 0-3-0-2 Germany is the Cinderella story of this Olympic tournament, as it finished a lowly third place in Group C after tilts against Finland (5-2 loss), Sweden (1-0 loss) and Norway (2-1 SO).

However, the group stage has no bearing on how a team can perform in the playoffs, and Head Coach Marco Sturm has done an excellent job of getting his team to believe just that. Träger der Adler – The Eagle Carriers – have beaten Switzerland (2-1 OT) and Sweden (4-3 OT) – the tournament’s top seed following the group stage – to qualify for the semifinals and ensure the chance to compete for their first Olympic medal since West Germany took bronze at the 1976 Games in Innsbruck, Austria.

Similar to Team Canada, Germany’s expertise in its first five games has been on the defensive end. The Eagle Carriers’ defense has allowed 26 shots against per game (sixth-worst among all Olympic teams, worst of the semifinalists), a manageable number for G Danny aus den Birken who’s posted a .904 save percentage and 2.43 GAA.

Putting those numbers together, the Germans have allowed only 2.2 goals against per game, the sixth-worst of any team in the Olympics and worst of the four semifinalists.

On the offensive end, the similarities in style between the Canadians and Germans continue, as 15 different skaters have registered at least a point. Of those, F Patrick Hager has been their biggest star with his team-leading 2-2-4 totals.

The Germans and Canadians last tangled on May 18, 2017 at the 2017 IIHF World Championships in Cologne, Germany. Canada’s defense was on full display in that game, limiting the Germans to only 20 shots on goal while the Canadians fired a whopping 50 at G Philipp Grubauer of the Washington Capitals. Grubauer performed well, but Winnipeg’s F Mark Scheifele and Carolina’s F Jeff Skinner were able to sneak a goal apiece past him to earn a slim 2-1 quarterfinals victory for Canada (Yannic Seidenberg scored Germany’s lone goal with 6:39 remaining in regulation) en route to a silver medal.

You’ll notice all but one player listed in that recap has an NHL team associated with his name. The fact that those players – and not Seidenberg – are preoccupied in North America is a major story in this game.

While doing our Olympic preview in a recent DtFR podcast, I pointed out that Germany has achieved a #8 world ranking from the IIHF without the luxury of multiple players from the top professional league in the world.

It is my opinion that this fact, which is usually to the Germans’ detriment, has become an advantage.

How could that be?

All of Team USA and Team Canada’s biggest stars are stuck in the NHL. The same can be said for a majority of the best Russians, Finns and Swedes. Meanwhile, Germany (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, fellow semifinalist Czech Republic) has fielded almost entirely its usual roster. Undoubtedly, that consistency and the chemistry associated with it is a major reason for Germany’s run to the semifinalists.

But is that continuity enough to beat the Canadians?

I certainly think this is going to be the more competitive of the two semifinal matchups, but the talent on Canada’s roster looks like it still exceeds that of the Germans. As such, I think Canada squeaks by Germany for the chance to win its third-consecutive gold.

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals Logo

1. Washington Capitals– 31-17-5 (67 points, 53 GP)

After spending a couple of months figuring themselves out and weathering the storm that’s been Braden Holtby‘s second-to-last career worst season (his 2.76 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 39 games played are better and the same as his 2013-14 2.85 GAA and .915 SV% in 48 games played respectively).

It’s a bit of an off year for Washington, but even an off year for the Capitals is still a pretty good season, considering they’re currently first in a division that is more active than a lava lamp in terms of rising and falling.

Washington has a plus-11 goal differential through 53 games played despite the loss of Marcus Johansson in a trade with the New Jersey Devils this offseason and an injured Andre Burakovsky seeing limited time so far. That doesn’t even mention the loss of depth for the Capitals last July either– remember Justin Williams (signed with Carolina) and Karl Alzner (signed with Montreal)?

Luckily for the Capitals they only have about $412,000 in cap space as I write, so their trade deadline plans are pretty much already determined for them.

If they’re able to dump a guy like Brooks Orpik— and his $5.500 million cap hit that runs through next season– that would provide the organization with some much needed relief.

Potential assets to trade: F Jay Beagle, D Brooks Orpik

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

pittsburgh_penguins_logo

2. Pittsburgh Penguins– 30-22-3 (63 points, 55 GP)

After bouncing around the Metropolitan Division standings, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are currently four points behind first place in the division.

Much like his rival in Washington, Matthew Murray is having a season to forget. Injuries and the death of his father have taken a toll on the two-time Cup winning goaltender, limiting Murray to just 34 games thus far with a 2.97 GAA and .903 SV% (again, both career worsts– though he is in just his second full season since his 13 GP in 2015-16).

Despite their plus-three goal differential and gifted scorer (turned 2018 All-Star snub), Phil Kessel (24-41–65 totals in 55 games), the Penguins have been porous on defense. Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, is a minus-15 through 52 games played.

Only Justin Schultz (plus-5, 38 GP) and Jamie Oleksiak (plus-6, 20 GP– split between Dallas and Pittsburgh) are positive plus/minus blue liners.

Since November, Pittsburgh has been trying to move defenseman, Ian Cole– though head coach, Mike Sullivan, has been forced to play him (thereby keeping him on the Penguins roster) due to injuries affecting Schultz and friends.

Antti Niemi didn’t pan out and bring stable backup goaltending to the Steel City (he’s since departed via waivers to Florida, then Montreal). Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been left to pick up the tab with some impressive performances at times.

Midseason acquisitions F Riley Sheahan, as well as Oleksiak, have not been enough to fill holes left by Nick Bonino (the forward signed with Nashville in July) and Trevor Daley (left via free agency, landed in Detroit) respectively.

But with roughly $425,000 in cap space to work with currently, the Penguins can’t afford to make much noise on February 26th– but they should definitely snag a defenseman and rental backup goaltender.

Potential assets to trade: D Ian Cole, D Brian Dumoulin, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Carl Hagelin, D Matt Hunwick, F Riley Sheahan

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Jason Garrison (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

New Jersey Devils Logo

3. New Jersey Devils– 27-17-8 (62 points, 52 GP)

New Jersey has almost $8.000 million to work with currently as things approach the trade deadline at the end of the month.

The Devils are one of the biggest surprises this season east of the Mississippi River.

First overall pick in the 2017 draft, Nico Hischier, has been quietly setting the tone with forwards, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha in the resurgence of youth. Travis Zajac is back in his dominant, physical, ways and the Sami VatanenAdam Henrique trade has worked out quite well for both teams.

And that’s not even mentioning Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.

Will Butcher is quite the offensive threat on the blue line and John Moore is firing on all cylinders. Despite Marcus Johansson’s concussion, New Jersey hasn’t faced much adversity in overcoming injuries this year.

There’s a lot of cap room to work with, but not a whole lot that this team can really give up to bring in the best guys on the trade market, like Evander Kane, unless the Devils are comfortable parting ways with prospects and draft picks (spoiler alert, they might be).

New Jersey really should be in the hunt for Kane, Rick Nash, Max Pacioretty, David Perron and other great offensive assets– either as the front-runner or the stealthy dark-horse that’ll make one or two big moves to carry them to glory.

The Devils have the time and space to add a veteran forward or defenseman that might eat some salary, but put them lightyears beyond their Metropolitan counterparts.

It’s a buyers market.

Potential assets to trade: F Ben Coleman, F Jimmy Hayes, D Ben Lovejoy, F Drew Stafford

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

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4. Philadelphia Flyers– 25-19-9 (59 points, 53 GP)

Aside from the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now.

Goaltender, Brian Elliott, has found his top-notch form once again while Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux are rolling along. With almost $3.000 million to spend at the deadline, the Flyers could make some improvements to their team.

Trading away Brayden Schenn was costly for Philadelphia this offseason, but thankfully Jakub Voracek and the rest of the roster decided to pick up some of the points left behind by Schenn’s departure.

Adding Jori Lehtera, on the other hand, was a big mistake– both in production value and in cap management.

The Flyers could really solidify their offense with one or two moves and probably should anchor their defense with at least a depth blue liner or two coming down the stretch. Someone like David Perron, Patrick Maroon or Nic Petan could flourish in the Philly system. Meanwhile, a defenseman like Cody Franson would help put them over the edge if someone’s injured.

Potential assets to trade: D Radko Gudas, F Jori Lehtera, F Matt Read, F Dale Weise

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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5. Columbus Blue Jackets– 27-22-4 (58 points, 53 GP)

After getting a fast start out of the gate the Columbus Blue Jackets have really cooled off. It’s not that they’re a bad team, but rather, they’re just average.

Sergei Bobrovsky can’t stop the puck and play every other position too. Otherwise, the Blue Jackets would probably be first in the division. But good news, Columbus, you’ve got some cap space to work with at the end of the month.

As I write, the Blue Jackets have about $5.000 million to work with in cap room.

That’s good enough to bring in just about any player without considering what the future impact on the team his cap hit might have (unless Jarmo Kekalainen brings in a clear-cut rental player that won’t be re-signed in July). The point is this, Columbus has enough room to mess around with something valuable at the deadline, but they’re going to have to re-sign a plethora of core/future core pieces of the franchise this offseason.

The Blue Jackets aren’t doomed– they know their future plans more than anyone else.

But what could they bring in to make this team better? Someone. Is there anyone they could snag now and really shake things up as a contender moving forward? Short answer, yes.

For all of the return of Rick Nash to Columbus talk, well, that’s not ideal. Kekalainen should consider someone like Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before taking back a guy like Nash– who will only break the franchise’s heart again in July when he goes back to the Rangers *bold prediction alert*.

Potential assets to trade: D Andre Benoit, D Jack Johnson

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF)F Blake Comeau (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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6. New York Islanders– 26-22-6 (58 points, 54 GP)

The biggest question heading into the 2018 trade deadline for the New York Islanders is the same one that’s been asked since Steven Stamkos signed his extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning– will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?

New York has expressed that they are not looking to trade Tavares should things go detrimentally south between now and February 26th, but if things do…

The Islanders have almost $1.500 million in cap space to play around with before the deadline. They also have 13 pending free agents at season’s end, meaning there’s plenty of options the franchise could pursue.

Should Tavares get a raise and a long-term deal? Absolutely.

The  Islanders could pack it up and go home on this season given their injuries, lack of defense and well, let’s just say, things aren’t going so great for the team that ranks 31st (out of 31 NHL teams) in average attendance this season.

Or they could be active in trying to scrap together a good team centered around their current stars (Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Joshua Ho-Sang and others).

Potential assets to trade: F Josh Bailey, F Jason Chimera, F Casey Cizikas, D Thomas Hickey, D Dennis Seidenberg

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)

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7. Carolina Hurricanes– 24-21-9 (57 points, 54 GP)

New Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, might call an audible heading into this year’s trade deadline and decide to spend money on the roster. With almost $15.500 million in cap space, the Hurricanes are in the best possible position to land not just one or two of the big names floating around the rumor mill, but rather three or four quality pieces.

The trouble is, who would they get rid of, since their prospects and youth are worth keeping for further development and overall organizational growth?

Jeff Skinner is someone to build around. So are Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

Lee Stempniak might make his annual trip around the league, but other than that, who are the Hurricanes actually going to offer up from their forwards? If anything, Carolina would move a guy like Noah Hanifin given the contract extensions (and pay raises) that kick in next season for Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.

Regardless, though they’re not out of contention, the Hurricanes could really use a goaltender to pull them through the stretch. This whole Cam Ward/Scott Darling thing isn’t working out.

Potential assets to trade: G Scott Darling, D Noah Hanifin, F Lee Stempniak, F Derek Ryan, draft picks

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ),  D Mike Green (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

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8. New York Rangers– 25-24-5 (55 points, 54 GP)

Look, the New York Rangers are still (technically speaking) in contention– but they absolutely shouldn’t waste another year of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career in the National Hockey League without a Stanley Cup.

The team they have right now? Yeah, they aren’t winning.

They’ve aged out. The core’s been decimated by the Vegas expansion draft and some offseason moves (namely trading Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona after losing Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in June).

Not every player is washed up.

Some will find better homes and rejuvenate their careers before potentially signing with the Rangers in free agency and going back “home” *ahem, Rick Nash*.

Others will simply be a superb rental/long term participant in a franchise, like Michael Grabner.

Basically I’m saying that all the guys New York’s been rumored to trade should get traded and the team can pull off a quick turnaround with their up-and-coming youth, plus whatever they get in return for Nash, Grabner and Co.

And with only about $1.400 million in cap space, the Rangers could have some fun blowing things up (partially).

Build around Mika Zibanejad and friends. Do it, New York. Do it now.

Potential assets to trade: F David Desharnais, F Michael Grabner, D Nick Holden, D Ryan McDonagh, F Rick Nash, G Ondrej Pavelec, D Marc Staal, F Jimmy Vesey, F Mats Zuccarello

Potential assets to acquire: D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

January 11 – Day 96 – Seeing red

Usually Thursdays are among the busiest days of the week, but this particular edition doesn’t quite fit the bill with only three East Coast games to offer.

Like it usually does, the action begins at 7 p.m. with a pair of contests (Columbus at Buffalo [SN] and Carolina at Washington [NHLN]), but the nightcap – Calgary at Tampa Bay (TVAS) – gets an early start at 7:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Toronto and Vegas.

Fortunately, all three tilts are being broadcast nationally so no one gets left out on tonight’s fun. However, it is citizens of the United States that are truly the lucky ones, because they get tonight’s best matchup.

 

Hidden within this tilt between Southeast-turned-Metropolitan Division rivals is the homecoming of Mr. Game 7 to Washington for the first time since returning to Raleigh this offseason.

RW Justin Williams played the last two seasons before this one with W Alex Ovechkin and company. Following a successful seven seasons in Los Angeles that earned him his second and third Stanley Cup rings (not to mention the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy), the Kings left him unsigned and he joined the Caps on a two-year, $6.5 million contract.

Beyond the simple offensive prowess he had shown throughout his NHL tenure (he’d averaged .63 points per game for his career leading up to the 2015-’16 season), Williams was brought into the Washington fold to bring the very thing it had missed in seasons past: the clutch factor. The ability to take the ice in a Game 7 knowing they had the experience and scoring touch to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998.

Williams brought exactly what the Capitals expected as far as his scoring was concerned. Having scored .63 points per game for the first 14 seasons of his career, Williams managed a .62 in two seasons with the Caps to post 46-54-100 totals during his tenure.

However, Mr. Game 7 apparently didn’t travel from the West to East Coast, because he managed only 2-1-3 totals in five elimination games with Washington. In fact, even though the Capitals clawed their way back into last year’s Eastern Semifinal against Pittsburgh from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7, all Williams can claim for his last three postseason games are six shots on goal. No goals, no assists. Heck, he even has a goal-differential of zero.

While I’m sure the Caps’ dire cap situation is the primary reason he swapped out red sweaters this offseason, Williams not delivering in the postseason like he was expected to must have factored into the decision to not resign him at least a little bit.

Regardless of the reason, Williams was presented with the opportunity to resign with the Hurricanes, the club with which he won his first Stanley Cup in 2006, on a two-year, $9 million contract. He pounced on the opportunity immediately.

So far, Williams has continued his stellar offensive production. With 7-19-26 totals alongside LW Brock McGinn and C Victor Rask on the Canes’ third line, he’s posting his .62 points-per-game while while also providing a guiding hand for a team with an average age of 26.4-years-old – 1.3 years younger than the league average according to hockeyreference.com.

That guiding hand is apparently working, because Carolina has a 19-15-8 record that is only one point behind Pittsburgh for the second wildcard spot.

We already talked on Tuesday about the impressive surge the Canes have been on lately, earning 17 points over their past 13 games with an 8-4-1 record. However, the next step for this Carolina team is to start beating some of the best teams in the league with a little bit more consistency.

The last six games the Hurricanes have played have been against teams currently in playoff position. In those contests, they’ve managed only a 2-3-1 record, and it’s due in large part to the defense meeting their match against some of the best offenses the game has to offer.

Usually, Carolina is one of the soundest defenses in the NHL. On the season, F Jeff Skinner (42 takeaways), D Jaccob Slavin (2.1 blocks-per-game) and F Jordan Staal (2.4 hits-per-game) have led the Canes to allowing only 29.1 shots against per game, the fewest in the league by half a shot.

Statistically, that defense is still unmatched. Over its past six games, Carolina has allowed only 28 shots per game, the fewest in the league since December 29. However, 11-4-2 G Cam Ward‘s numbers are plummeting from his season marks of a .907 save percentage and 2.78 GAA. How can it be that he’s managed only an .883 save percentage and 3.18 GAA in his past five starts?

Answer: solid offenses.

It is worth mentioning who these current playoff teams are Carolina has played lately: Pittsburgh (2-1 win), at St. Louis (3-2 loss), Washington (5-4 overtime loss), at Pittsburgh (4-0 win), at Boston (7-1 loss) and at Tampa Bay (5-4 loss).

Of these offenses, three are in the top-10 in goals-per-game, and for good reason: they have some of the best scorers in the league. In short, players on these teams (think RW Nikita Kucherov and Ovechkin, just to name a couple) don’t need much room to find the back of the net.

That would put the onus on Ward to perform better against these top teams to keep games close, as well as the offense to find a way to break through these clubs’ defenses with a little bit more success. However, with Carolina and Washington playing a home-and-home series tonight and tomorrow, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of 8-11-6 G Scott Darling for this evening’s matchup.

Darling hasn’t exactly been all the Canes had hoped he’d be when they acquired him this offseason, but he’ll get another opportunity tonight against the Metropolitan Division-leading 27-13-3 Capitals. Washington is rolling right now, as they’ve won five-straight and earned points in 11 of their past 12 games with a 9-1-2 record.

Just like Carolina, Washington is finding much of its success on the defensive end with solid play from RW Alex Chiasson, 24-8-0 G Braden Holtby, D Dmitry Orlov, D Brooks Orpik and RW Tom Wilson, but we tackled that conversation Sunday.

Instead, let’s talk offense.

We’ve already mentioned Ovechkin and the stellar season he’s having. Posting 27-19-46 points (a goal total that ties Kucherov for most in the NHL), he’s well on his way to having his best season since the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 campaign where he registered 56 points in 48 games.

He’s certainly been the hero during this impressive run the Caps have been on since December 12, but he’s also received tremendous support from D John Carlson and C Nicklas Backstrom, who’ve earned respective 3-9-12 and 4-7-11 marks over their past dozen games.

This offensive explosion has been happening all season for Carlson, who must have gleaned a thing or two from D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s short stay in the capital. He’s already posted 5-29-34 totals for the season in his first 43 games played, and if he continues on his pace, he may very well have a season even better than his 12-43-55 career year in 2014-’15.

Tonight marks Game 2 of four between these clubs for the 2017-’18 regular season. The Capitals made the trip down I-95 on January 2. Even though Rask managed to post a two-goal night, Ovechkin was able to match him and score the most important tally of the game: the overtime game winner. Washington won the contest 5-4.

With Darling in net on the road in a usually hostile environment, I have a hard time of seeing the Canes pulling out the victory tonight. However, they will have more than their fair shot at evening the weekend series tomorrow when theses teams square off once again in Raleigh.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Minnesota Wild snapped their four-game road losing skid by beating the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 at United Center.

Making it all the sweeter, the victory was of the come-from-behind variety, as Third Star of the Game D Brent Seabrook (D Michal Kempny and C Nick Schmaltz) – coming off his first-ever healthy scratch when Chicago played in Ottawa the day before – scored a wrist shot with 7:36 remaining in the first frame to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.

It took until the 9:58 mark of the second period for Minnesota to level the game. D Jonas Brodin (W Jason Zucker and D Mathew Dumba) was the guilty party, scoring a slap shot from the blue line for only his fourth tally of the season.

As for the game-winner, it was fired off First Star D Ryan Suter‘s (C Mikko Koivu and F Mikael Granlund) stick 3:03 into the third period during four-on-four play. Not usually known for his scoring touch (this was only his sixth goal of the year), Suter received a cross-ice pass from Koivu above the right face-off circle that he turned into a powerful top-shelf wrister that squeezed between G Anton Forsberg‘s left ear and shoulder – an area that is almost impossible to defend.

Another major player in the Wild’s victory was Second Star G Devan Dubnyk, who saved 34-of-35 shots faced (.971 save percentage) to earn the victory. That left Forsberg with the loss after he saved 25-of-27 (.926).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are showing life lately, as they’ve earned points in three of the last four contests. However, the series is still dominated by the 54-30-12 home teams, as they still have a 24-point advantage.

January 9 – Day 94 – It was a dark and Stormy night

With only one game on the schedule, yesterday was kind of boring. Darn you college football!

Fortunately for us, every day for the remainder of the regular season – barring the All-Star Break – has at least two games on tap, and today has way more. as it usually does, the action starts at 7 p.m. with a pair of games (Winnipeg at Buffalo and Vancouver at Washington), followed half an hour later by two more (Chicago at Ottawa [RDS] and Carolina at Tampa Bay). To clean up the evening’s festivities, the three remaining tilts (Florida at St. Louis, Edmonton at Nashville [NBCSN/SN1/TVAS] and Calgary at Minnesota) drop the puck at 8 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Vegas.

None of these games really excite me all that much, but the one that should prove to be the best of the bunch will be taking place in Central Florida this evening.

 

We all know the 30-9-3 Lightning are good. After all, they have a three-point lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and an eight-point advantage on Washington for the Eastern Conference lead.

But they’ve been even better lately. Tampa has posted a 6-3-1 record over its last 10 games, and earned points in all but one of its five-game road trip (darn those pesky Senators) that it just completed Sunday.

What’s it take to win like that on the road these days in the NHL? Apparently stellar offense, because that’s exactly how the Bolts pulled it off. Over their past five games, the Lightning have scored an impressive 16 goals. That’s the (t)seventh-most in the league since December 31.

I know what you’re thinking: “Duh the Lightning won on their offense. I mean, they average a league-best 3.64 goals per game.”

I have two notes on that:

  1. Good for you for knowing exactly how potent Tampa Bay’s attack is.
  2. The leader of the offense over this run is not who you think it is, and you probably wouldn’t pick him if I gave you five guesses.

Over their last five games, no one has been a more dominant force for the Lightning than F Yanni Gourde. Yes, Tampa’s favorite third-liner has been thunderstruck of late, as he’s posted 3-3-6 totals during the road trip to elevate his season numbers to 14-16-30.

Of course, Gourde didn’t take the weekly scoring title from a lack of effort by anyone else. Usual suspect RW Nikita Kucherov, who has league-leading 27 goals and 59 points to his credit on the year, performed just as he typically does, posting 3-2-5 totals to average a point-per-game over the past 10 days.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have 26-6-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. The second-year starter has been nothing short of phenomenal, as he tops the chart in almost every statistical category. His six shutouts (two of which occurred on the recent road trip) and 26 wins are both the best marks in the league, and his .935 season save percentage and 2.04 GAA put him in third place in those respective statistics. Pairing his stellar work with an unstoppable offense has yielded three (D Victor Hedman, F Brayden Point and D Anton Stralman) Bolts with top-10 +/- ratings, a total that is matched only by the Bruins.

And to think, we had that whole discussion without mentioning two-time Richard Trophy-winner C Steven Stamkos. If that’s not an indicator of how good this Tampa Bay team is, I don’t know what is.

Suffice to say, 19-14-8 Carolina has a tough task on its hands to climb back in front of the Penguins for the second wild card tonight (they can do it with any result except a regulation loss). However, don’t count these Canes out: they’ve posted an 8-3-1 record since December 12 on the back of a solid defense.

Let’s play that game where I know what you’re thinking again. I bet you’re looking at me like, “Good defense? Don’t the Canes allow three goals per game?”

Man, you are so good at statistics. You should write a daily hockey blog.

Yes, it’s true: Carolina’s season numbers aren’t all that impressive. Averaging three goals against per game puts the Canes among the 12 worst on the year. However, what’s hidden within goals-per-game is responsibility. Who’s been bad: the defense or the goaltender?

Answer: goaltender.

On the season, Carolina has allowed only 29 shots against per game, easily the best in the league. F Jeff Skinner (40 takeaways), D Jaccob Slavin (2.1 blocks per game) and F Jordan Staal (2.39 hits-per-game) have performed phenomenally through their first 41 games to achieve that impressive mark. However, 8-11-6 G Scott Darling proved that he is not ready to assume a starting role, having posted a .893 save percentage for a 2.97 GAA after Carolina traded a third-round pick to Chicago for him to assume that position this offseason, wasting that solid effort.

Enter 11-3-2 G Cam Ward, the Conn Smythe winner during Carolina’s 2006 Stanley Cup run a dozen years ago. Since reclaiming his starting role once again, all the Hurricanes have done is win (well, almost). With that still solid defense playing in front of him, he’s posted a 7-1-1 record since December 12 with a .917 save percentage and 2.18 GAA that, while nothing to write home about, is enough for W Sebastian Aho‘s (team-leading 13-20-33 totals) offense to get the job done.

These teams have already squared off once before, but it is not a memory Carolina remembers fondly. On October 24, the Lightning wandered into PNC Arena and smacked the young Hurricanes around more than a little bit, beating them 5-1 in the midst of a four-game winning streak. Vasilevskiy saved 31-of-32 (.969 save percentage) and F Tyler Johnson paced the offense with his 1-1-2 night. Slavin scored the only goal for the hosts.

For those wondering: yes, Darling was in net that night.

With Ward in action, it seems anything is possible for the Canes right now. However, it’s hard to pick against the league’s best when they’re at home, so I have to pick the Bolts to win this one. Perhaps Carolina can find a way to force overtime so they can get back inside the playoff bubble.


Facing a 2-0 defect going into the third period, the Columbus Blue Jackets staged an impressive late comeback to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Air Canada Centre.

Though a 2-0 advantage through 40 minutes of play might indicate the Leafs had the game in hand, that was not the case. Columbus actually out-shot Toronto 25-22 in the first and second periods, but it was the Maple Leafs who had the lead. They finally broke through Second Star of the Game G Sergei Bobrovsky with 8:51 remaining in the second period courtesy of a tip-in from Third Star LW James van Riemsdyk (D Roman Polak and C Tyler Bozak), followed 4:53 later by F William Nylander (D Jake Gardiner) bagging a power play snap shot.

Knowing the Blue Jackets would come out of the second intermission with goals on the mind, Toronto’s defense performed phenomenally to allow only four third period shots. The Leafs’ offense did their part too, keeping the puck in Bobrovsky’s end and making him stop 13 shots.

However, they couldn’t hold off the Jackets forever. F Nick Foligno (F Jordan Schroeder and D Markus Nutivaara) finally got Columbus on the board with a tip-in, leaving his squad 4:35 to find a leveling goal. F Pierre-Luc Dubois (D Seth Jones) found that leveling tally with 2:47 remaining in regulation, beating G Frederik Andersen with a wrist shot.

Since neither defense allowed another shot on goal, the game advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period. With 1:49 remaining of those five minutes, First Star LW Artemi Panarin (D Zach Werenski and Jones) had had enough and ended the game with a tip-in.

Panarin entered the zone along the left boards, but because Gardiner was covering him, he slid a pass across the zone to Werenski. The uncovered defenseman immediately drove towards the net until he was on Andersen’s front porch, forcing the netminder advance towards him to defend any possible shot. However, that left a gap between Andersen’s left skate and his goal post that doubled as the passing lane Werenski used to get the puck back to Panarin, setting up a wide open shot that was impossible to miss.

Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 35-of-37 shots faced (.946 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Andersen, who saved 30-of-33 (.909).

Though the road team won this one, the DtFR Game of the Day series is still dominated by home teams. The hosts have a 53-29-12 record that is 24 points superior to the visitors’.

November 22 – Day 50 – Decision day, beta version

The big day is finally here! If stats are right – and, I mean, they usually are – the way the standings read after tonight’s action should include 78 percent of this April’s postseason participants.

Making this evening even more exciting, today is the second day of the 2017-’18 season that features the maximum 15 games. Of course, that means one team has to be left off the schedule, which is why members of the Blues are already consuming their turkey dinners.

As for teams on the clock tonight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with nine of those games (Minnesota at Buffalo, Edmonton at Detroit, Toronto at Florida, Boston at New Jersey, Philadelphia at the New York Islanders, Vancouver at Pittsburgh, Ottawa at Washington [TVAS], the New York Rangers at Carolina and Calgary at Columbus [SN360]) and Chicago at Tampa Bay (NBCSN) half an hour later. Montréal at Nashville (RDS/SN1) drops the puck at 8 p.m., while a pair of contests (Dallas at Colorado and San Jose at Arizona) wait until 9 p.m. before getting underway. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – Vegas at Anaheim and Winnipeg at Los Angeles – close out what I consider the first quarter of the season at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

One of the games I had circled on my calendar today was Minnesota at Buffalo due to the returns of F Tyler Ennis and LW Marcus Foligno to the Queen City after being traded this June. Combined, they played 14 seasons in Buffalo.

But, considering how important tonight’s action could be when the regular season comes to a close, I don’t have it in me to make the trip to Upstate New York. Instead, I’m far more interested in a game featuring two teams that started slow, but now are only a point outside of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

 

This matchup at PNC Arena is always a special one to me, because it was my first – and still only – NHL hockey game.

But I’m not featuring it simply for personal nostalgic reasons. As mentioned before, these teams are fighting for their playoff lives after rebounding from very slow starts to the season.

After beginning their campaign with a 2-6-2 record, the 10-9-2 Rangers have exploded in the month of November (and Halloween) to win seven of their last nine games.

The biggest impetus for this resurgence has been the Rangers’ offense making the decision to dominate games. Not only does possessing the puck give New York a better chance of scoring – which it does with ease, by the way, managing 32 goals since Halloween to rank (t)fifth-best in that time – but it also alleviates the pressure on the defense and 9-6-2 G Henrik Lundqvist, whose .91 save percentage since the start of last season is noticeably lower than his career .92 effort.

Leading that offensive charge in the Big Apple is none other than C Mika Zibanejad, whose 10 points in the last nine games top the clubhouse leader board. With seven of those points being assists, Zibanejad’s chemistry with Pavel Buchnevich is almost palpable, as the sophomore winger has warmly embraced his role as the first line’s goalscorer.

In 41 games last season, Buchnevich scored eight goals – a decent enough total for a rookie drafted in the third round. Only 21 games into this campaign, he’s raised his game another level to already match that total, and I’d argue it’s a safe assumption to say he’ll find more than a few more. I could be over-hyping Buchnevich, but I think he has the potential to compete with the likes of Aaron Judge and Kristaps Porzingis for the title of best scorer in town.

Of course, he’ll also need to compete with a member of his own team, at least for the time being. Though W Michael Grabner is only a lowly third-liner, he’s actually been the most potent depth weapon the Blueshirts have at their disposal, as his six goals since Halloween lead the team over that stretch.

There’s just something about playing in New York City that brings out the best in Grabner, because joining the Rangers last year lit a flame that had been dormant since his days with the Islanders. While playing for the blue-and-orange, the Austrian averaged .3 goals-per-game over the course of his five seasons. That attracted the attention of Toronto, who traded for him but received only 18 points out of the transaction in the 2015-’16 season.

Since returning to The Big City, Grabner has gotten right back to his scoring ways much to the Rangers’ delight. He’s scored .37 goals-per-game in a Rangers sweater, giving him decent 9-2-11 totals given his spot on the depth chart.

If any team is capable of slowing down New York, I’d bet on the 9-6-4 Hurricanes, whose 2.68 goals against-per-game is the third-lowest in the Eastern Conference and seventh-best in the entire NHL.

No team in the East plays defense like Carolina. Led by the impressive efforts of F Jeff Skinner (team-best 18 takeaways), D Jaccob Slavin (club-leading 2.5 blocks-per-game) and F Jordan Staal (team-high 2.2 hits-per-game), the Canes allow only 29.2 shots to reach 6-4-4 G Scott Darling, which is important considering the 29-year-old’s .909 season save percentage is nowhere near the .924 he posted last year in Chicago.

Of course, the source of this season’s momentum was the offense’s performance at the end of last season. While averaging 2.95 goals-per-game is not exactly dominant (it’s the [t]15th-worst effort in the league, after all), it seems like the Canes are starting to find momentum a month into the season. Led by F Teuvo Teravainen‘s 5-7-12 effort since November 7, Carolina has managed 25 goals –  the fourth-most in the NHL in that time.

Another weapon the Rangers need to keep an eye on is the wing opposite Teravainen on the top line: Sebastian Aho. After starting the season on a 14-game goalless skid, he’s finally found his touch to score a goal in each of his last four games. With Staal having a scoring renaissance à la his last season in Pittsburgh in 2011-’12 (you know, basically his only good year when he managed 25-25-50 totals), this line has – at least at the moment – few peers (shh, stop talking Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosNikita Kucherov).

When the Hurricanes’ offense is gelling like this, they’re tough to stop – hence the 5-1-1 record over their past seven games. Should they continue that momentum and keep playing the sout defense they have all year, the Canes should be a lock to win tonight’s game and potentially pull into seventh place in the Eastern Conference.


Scoring continues to be a problem for the Montréal Canadiens, as they lost 3-1 to the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

While it’s good to find success on the power play, it must be partially embarrassing to the Habs to know their only goal in this game was struck as the result of a man-advantage. With RW Brett Ritchie serving time in the penalty box for hi-sticking D Joseph Morrow, RW Brendan Gallagher (LW Charles Hudon and Morrow) broke the scoreless draw with 7:56 remaining in the second period.

After that, this game almost entirely belonged to the Stars. That was made no more apparent than in the final 100 seconds before the second intermission when Dallas scored two quick goals to take the lead. The first belonged to First Star F Devin Shore (D John Klingberg and D Esa Lindell) courtesy of a wrist shot struck with 1:38 remaining in the period, followed only 59 seconds later by a wrister from Third Star F Jason Spezza (F Tyler Seguin and Shore) that proved to be the game-winner.

Just like Spezza has been taught his whole life, good things happen when you hang out near the net. Just before Seguin ripped his snap shot from between the left face-off circle and the goal line, Spezza moved from screening G Charlie Lindgren to moving to the top of the crease, pushing Morrow out of position in the process. Though the netminder was able to block Seguin’s shot with his left shoulder, the loose puck was prime for the taking for a relatively uncovered Spezza. Even though Morrow tried to knock him down before he could take possession, Spezza had just enough time to tap the puck to the far post before Lindgren’s left skate sealed the gap.

Both defenses really clamped down in the third period, as a total of only 14 shots were fired between the two teams. As a result, Montréal was unable to find a goal to level the game and Head Coach Claude Julien was forced to pull Lindgren for an extra attacker. With 27 seconds remaining in regulation, Seguin (RW Alexander Radulov) took advantage of the gaping cage to score an insurance empty netter and set the 3-1 final score.

Second Star Ben Bishop earned the victory after saving 29-of-30 shots faced (.967 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lindgren, who saved 26-of-28 (.929 save percentage).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a five-game point streak thanks to Dallas’ victory last night. The win sets the hosts’ record at 27-17-6, which is 11 points better than that of the roadies.

November 13 – Day 41 – Lookin’ for the Promised Land

Everybody makes a big deal about Fridays that are the 13th day of a month. Since Monday is everybody’s most-dreaded day of the week, shouldn’t Monday the 13th be the unluckiest day of the year?

Think about it and get back to me.

With two games on tonight’s schedule, there’s four teams hoping I’m wrong in my assessment. The first of those – Dallas at Carolina (TVAS) – is scheduled for 7 p.m., followed by St. Louis at Calgary two hours later. All times Eastern.

We could feature a game between two teams that are already in decent position in the league table, but I’m actually more interested in the Stars-Hurricanes game if for no other reason than to say we’ve finally featured Carolina in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

 

It’s time for me to back up the heaps of praise I poured on the Hurricanes this offseason.

As ridiculous as it sounds, the real reason for my confidence in Raleigh’s 2017-’18 team goes way back to the 2015-’16 season. In March of that year, the Canes went on a quietly solid 6-2-6 run that actually ranked 10th-best in the league. Whether by F Jordan Staal‘s gritty physical play (he averaged 2.4 hits-per-game that month) or D Jaccob Slavin‘s 1.8 blocks-per-game in March, that squad played solid team defense to keep shots off G Cam Ward and earn points in six-straight games.

The Canes pulled within four points of the then-second wild card Bruins (Philadelphia eventually qualified as the eighth seed), but that momentum died and they could not improve from 10th-place in the Eastern Conference. While surely disappointing at the time, the young Hurricanes showed promise for the future.

If that comeback story sounds familiar, it’s because the Hurricanes did almost the exact same thing last year. During March of the 2016-’17 campaign, Carolina was even better than it was the previous campaign, going an incredible 10-2-5 to lay claim to the best record of the month.

What makes this surge different than the one the year before is that it was absolutely driven by the offense. The Canes scored 54 goals in the month of March, six more than both Chicago and Pittsburgh (for those wondering, doing anything offensively better than the Blackhawks or Penguins – much less both – is a very good sign). F Jeff Skinner was the primary impetus behind that attack, as he registered 12-5-17 totals – and not a one of them occurred on the power play.

Once again, the playoffs were not in the cards for Carolina. Even though they climbed into 10th-place in the Eastern Conference and trailed – who would have guessed it – the Bruins by only four points for the second wild card, the Hurricanes could not find any success in April and ended the 2016-’17 season the same way they have since 2009-’10: watching the first round on TV.

The optimism remained as strong as ever though. This still young team has now performed brilliantly in crunch time of the NHL season two years in a row, showcasing both ends of the ice. Add in the fact that Skinner, Slavin, Staal and even Ward  are all still members of this year’s club (Ward and RW Justin Williams are the only two Canes still remaining on the team from their 2006 Stanley Cup season), and Carolina seemed poised to take the next step as a franchise and return to the postseason.

That’s what inspired General Manager Ron Francis to acquire talents like G Scott Darling, D Trevor van Riemsdyk and Williams this offseason. Surely adding these solid players – who between them have five Stanley Cup rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy – would lead Carolina to the Promised Land!

As it turns out, the 6-5-4 Hurricanes have done just what they’ve done in previous seasons: get off to a slow start that necessitates those late-season pushes. For a season of excitement, 13th-place in the Eastern Conference was not exactly in the Canes’ plan.

It certainly has not been a lack of effort on the defensive end that has held Carolina back. Staal (2.3 hits-per-game) and Slavin (2.3 blocks-per-game) are still as busy as ever, and have led the Hurricanes to allowing only 29.2 shots against-per-game, the best effort in the conference and third-best in the NHL.

Instead, it’s Head Coach Bill Peters’ offense that is holding the Hurricanes back from glory. Even with Williams (2-11-13 totals) and Skinner (8-2-10) leading the way, Carolina has managed only 2.67 goals-per-game, the ninth-fewest in the league.

That all being said, perhaps the Canes are starting to turn a corner. After a rough October, Carolina is 2-1-2 in the month of November and has earned points in its last four games, including a 3-1 victory in Columbus Friday and a 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks Saturday. LW Brock McGinn in particular has been on fire during this run, as he’s supplied four of the Canes’ 10 goals since November 4 from the third line.

Another team looking to make a return to the playoffs this season is the 9-7-0 Stars, and they’re off to a much better start in achieving their goal considering they occupy seventh in the Western Conference after 16 games played.

I know I say it every time we talk about Dallas, but it still feels so weird to think about: the Stars are winning on the efforts of their defense.

*shivers*

Told you it’s weird.

The Stars have allowed only 28.8 shots to reach 7-4-0 G Ben Bishop, which is tied for the fewest in the entire league. Though his play has not indicated it’s necessary, keeping a solid netminder with a .914 season save percentage under-worked sounds like an excellent way to earn two points most nights you strap on the skates.

Whether it’s been the work of fourth-liner RW Brett Ritchie and his 2.6 hits-per-game or D John Klingberg‘s 1.8 blocks-per-game, that work in the defensive zone may prove important tonight. After the completion of tonight’s game, the Stars board a plane for Sunrise, Fla. (ok, they’re probably going to fly into Miami) for a Tuesday night tilt with the Panthers.

What that means for tonight’s game is Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has to choose which game to start backup G Kari Lehtonen, who has a 2-3-0 record on a .914 save percentage and 2.4 GAA. Considering the Panthers’ offense scores a solid 3.31 goals-per-game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lehtonen take on the Canes tonight, especially since he beat Carolina in both meetings last season.

With two teams playing some of the best defense around, this game is going to boil down to who has the better offense. Since that is the case, I’m going to bet on forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin every time. Dallas should win tonight.


With two goals in the third period, the San Jose Sharks pulled off the 2-1 comeback victory against the Los Angeles Kings in the Staples Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

If not for D Tim Heed‘s hooking penalty against F Tyler Toffoli at the 7:49 mark of the first period, perhaps the Kings never would have found their lone goal. Instead, W Dustin Brown (C Anze Kopitar and D Drew Doughty) took advantage of the man-advantage only 41 seconds later to give Los Angeles a lead it would hold for nearly 40 minutes.

Though the Sharks fired 19 shots at Second Star G Jonathan Quick through the first two periods, they didn’t find their first goal of the game until the 5:42 mark of the third period. F Melker Karlsson (F Tomas Hertl and F Logan Couture) took credit for breaking through Quick’s defenses with a wrist shot to level the game at one-all.

With 7:10 remaining in regulation, fourth-liner RW Joel Ward (F Barclay Goodrow and D Joakim Ryan) scored the third-and-final goal of the night with his left skate. Caught in the corner by Doughty and F Brooks Laich, Ward shoved a pass up the far boards to Ryan at the point that he returned back down the boards to Goodrow, who was near the left face-off circle. The forward than tried to snap a pass to W Timo Meier on the opposite side of Quick’s crease, but it was intercepted by Ward’s skate and redirected right into the net.

First Star G Martin Jones earned the victory after saving 26-of-27 shots faced (.963 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 31-of-33 (.939).

The Sharks’ road win is a big one in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as it pulls the 21-17-3 road teams even with the 20-16-5 hosts.

Carolina Hurricanes 2017-’18 Season Preview

Carolina Hurricanes

36-31-15, 87 points, seventh in the Metropolitan Division

Additions: G Scott Darling, C Josh Jooris, C Marcus Kruger, D Trevor van Riemsdyk, RW Justin Williams

Subtractions: G Eddie Lack (traded to CGY), G Michael Leighton (signed with TBL), D Ryan Murphy (traded to CGY), F Andrej Nestrasil (signed with HC Neftekhimik), D Matt Tennyson (signed with BUF)

Offseason Analysis: I’ve been high on the Hurricanes all offseason, but now is the time to put everything in writing.

I’m beyond excited, but let’s simply tackle the transactions to get started.

In the crease, Carolina made arguably its biggest move by bringing in Darling from Chicago to replace Lack, who was eventually traded to Calgary. For the Canes last year, Cam Ward’s 29-year old backup started 18 games for an 8-7-3 record with a .902 season save percentage and a 2.64 GAA. Meanwhile, 28-year-old Darling started 27 contests in Corey Crawford’s place for an 18-5-5 with a .924 save percentage and 2.38 GAA.

Given that Darling is certainly the goaltender of the future – and maybe even the present, taking into account 33-year-old Ward’s decline over the past two seasons – Carolina definitely improved in net.

The Hurricanes also made a major move on defense, as they allowed Tennyson to sign with Buffalo to make room for van Riemsdyk. At 27-years-old, Tennyson notched only six assists last season for a -13 rating over 45 games. Meanwhile, the former Blackhawk (noticing a trend yet?) notched 16 points in only 58 games played (he missed over a month of action with an upper-body injury) for a +17 rating. The scoring numbers may not be much of a change, but the fact that Chicago generated one more goal that it allowed while he was on the ice is far more attractive than the Canes’ efforts last season while Tennyson was playing.

Net result of a 26-year-old van Riemsdyk taking over Tennyson’s spot: an improvement I’d make any day.

And lastly, the forwards. As if General Manager Ron Francis hadn’t already gotten Head Coach Bill Peters enough new toys to play with, he also made an effort to add Mr. Game 7 – yes, the same Williams that scored the final goal in Carolina’s Stanley Cup-winning game in 2006 – to a two year, $4.5 million AAV deal. Last year in Washington, the soon-to-be 36-year-old notched 48 points evenly split between goals and assists, but his experience may be an even bigger asset for an offensive corps that had an average age of 25.6 years-old before he was added to the mix.

Even though he’s not an alumnus of the Blackhawks’ organization, I’m sure he’s going to fit in just fine.

But what makes all these additions exciting is how well the club they’re joining performed at the end of last season. From March 9-30, the Hurricanes amassed an incredible record of 9-0-4 – the best in the league during that span – by scoring over 3.5 goals-per-game for 46 tallies (that’s six more than even Edmonton’s mighty offense managed in that time).

That offensive assault was spearheaded by 2011 Calder winner F Jeff Skinner and his 12-3-15 performance (37-26-63 for the season) over that stretch, so he may need a similar start to the 2017-’18 season to prevent another slow start that has plagued Carolina in the past.

Last year, the Canes were only 9-9-4 by the end of November; they were an even worse 8-12-4 over the first two months of the 2015-’16 season. Together, the Hurricanes missed the playoffs by only a combined 18 points. If not for those slow starts, perhaps this campaign could be Carolina’s third-straight playoff appearance.

Offseason Grade: B+

All in all, Francis’ offseason acquisitions may not be quite as good as Jim Nill’s considering how much work was needed in Dallas, but he was no less effective. Carolina only improved their young core this offseason and are prepared to make some serious noise in the Metropolitan Division – but therein lies the problem. Given the competition in that division, the Canes could struggle to bust into the playoffs this season as a top-three seed, but they should be well in the hunt for a wildcard seed.