Tag Archives: Staal

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’.

December 10 – Day 67 – Scoring is hard

After an action-packed Saturday, the NHL is pulling reigns back a bit this evening, as it has scheduled only four games to be played tonight.

In fact, most of that action starts at the same time, as three (Arizona at Chicago, Buffalo at St. Louis and Edmonton at Toronto [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) of the four contests drop the puck at 7 p.m. The last matchup of the night – Minnesota at San Jose – waits until 9 p.m. before getting underway. All times Eastern.

Originally, I was planning on commemorating D Niklas Hjalmarsson‘s first return to Chicago since being traded this offseason, but that is difficult to do while he is on injured reserve (I guess we’ll have to wait until next season). Instead, we’ll make the trip out to The Tank for what should be the best game of the night between the Sharks and Wild.

 

To put things lightly, life could be easier for both of these clubs. Let’s start with the 16-10-2 Sharks, who are scrapping with the 16-12-2 Flames and 15-12-4 Canucks for third place – not to mention trailing an expansion team for home ice in the playoffs –  in the Pacific Division.

The main thing San Jose has in its favor is an incredible defense. Allowing only 2.28 goals against-per-game, the Sharks are the second-best in the NHL in the statistic, which atones for the sins of their anemic offense that manages a fourth-worst 2.67 goals-per-game.

The primary way the Sharks are finding their defensive success is by keeping pucks off 11-7-1 G Martin Jones. San Jose has limited its goaltenders’ workloads to only 29.32 shots against-per-game (the second-fewest in the NHL). That effort has been spearheaded by D Justin Braun‘s 2.03 blocks-per-game, D Brent Burns‘ team-leading 33 takeaways and D Brenden Dillon‘s 2.85 hits-per-game.

But it’s not like Jones needs all that much help. He’s posted a .91 season save percentage and 2.41 GAA this year to rank (t)12th- and sixth-best, respectively, among the 37 netminders with at least 10 starts.

That all being said, it looks like San Jose is having a dream season in comparison to the Wild, who have yet to find consistent traction and officially jump into the Western Conference’s playoff picture.

Of course, Minnesota does not have the privilege of playing in the less intense Pacific Division, but that’s no excuse for an offense that manages only 2.92 goals-per-game, the 14th-fewest in the league.

The Wild have a real problem with creating depth scoring. There’s no doubt that second line C Eric Staal (10-13-23 totals) and first-liner W Jason Zucker (14-10-24) have been impressive, but F Mikael Granlund ranks third on the team in points with only 6-11-17 totals a year removed from his incredible 26-43-69 effort.

Until Minnesota can figure out a way to get Granlund back to form, I feel they’re going to continue to struggle. It’s for that reason that I think the Sharks are going to come away with the victory today.


No amount of hype could prepare us for such a competitive matchup in the DtFR Game of the Day, but the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to hold on for a 4-3 overtime victory at Amalie Arena over the Winnipeg Jets.

With the obvious exception of overtime, both clubs managed a goal-per-period to create an exciting, turbulent environment. That mood found its start at the 1:23 mark of the first period when F Andrew Copp (F Adam Lowry and F Brandon Tanev) buried a wrist shot to give Winnipeg an early lead. That advantage lasted until 63 seconds remained in the frame when F Yanni Gourde (First Star of the Game F Brayden Point and F Tyler Johnson) scored a power play tip-in to level the game at one-all.

Tampa Bay carried that positive energy into the second period, and finally earned its first lead of the night when Third Star D Mikhail Sergachev (Johnson and W Ondrej Palat) scored a wrister with 3:41 remaining in the frame. The game was once again leveled 1:23 later courtesy of a tip-in from birthday boy LW Kyle Connor (D Josh Morrissey and RW Blake Wheeler), setting the score at 2-2 going into the second period. Considering it was his 21st birthday, I’ll bet more than a few of his teammates bought him a beer after the game to celebrate.

The Bolts scored goals on both sides of the first intermission, so it is only logical that the Jets would match that effort around the second. Winnipeg took a 3-2 lead at the 7:02 mark of the frame courtesy of a wrister from Second Star W Nikolaj Ehlers (D Jacob Trouba and RW Patrik Laine), but the score was once again tied 1:49 later on a RW Nikita Kucherov (D Jake Dotchin and C Steven Stamkos) wrister. After that quick scoring spurt, both defenses clamped down to allow only a combined 14 shots in the third period.

For such a competitive game, it’s a surprise overtime didn’t last longer. However, Point (D Anton Stralman) was able to score a backhanded shot only 36 seconds into three-on-three play to earn Tampa the overtime victory.

Point’s goal was a result of some brilliant agility and puck control. After receiving Stalman’s pass at the red line, he deked around F Bryan Little to set up a one-on-one with G Connor Hellebuyck. Not content to simply fire a wrister at the netminder, he patiently waited and pulled the puck across the crease from Hellebuyck’s left to right before flipping a backhander between the goalie’s right arm and leg and into the back of the net.

G Andrei Vasilevskiy earned the victory after saving 17-of-20 shots faced (.85 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Hellebuyck, who saved 24-of-28 (.857).

This contest was the fourth-consecutive in the DtFR Game of the Day that required more than 60 minutes to determine a victor. With the hosts winning, they extend their record in the series to 38-22-7, 16 points better than the away sides.

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.

November 4 – Day 32 – Another Saturday, another rivalry

I made a snarky comment in yesterday’s column about the NHL holding out on its fans by scheduling only two games on Friday.

Boy was I just served.

There’s a full slate of games on tap this Saturday – 13, to be exact, which is just as many as Thursday. It all gets started with our lone matinee of the day at 2 p.m. when Vegas makes its first-ever visit to Ottawa (TVAS2). The real fun begins at 7 p.m., as that’s when six games (Toronto at St. Louis [CBC], Montréal at Winnipeg [SN/TVAS], Washington at Boston [NHLN], Columbus at Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers at Florida and Colorado at Philadelphia) will drop the puck, followed by two more (Buffalo at Dallas and Chicago at Minnesota) an hour later and Carolina at Arizona at 9 p.m. The West Coast finally gets involved at 10 p.m. with the beginning of Pittsburgh at Vancouver (CBC/SN), trailed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Nashville at Los Angeles and Anaheim at San Jose. All times Eastern.

As usual, there’s a compelling reason to keep tabs on almost every game. That especially goes for the action at the Xcel Energy Center and SAP Center this evening, as rivalry games always bring out the best in every player involved.

I’m in the mood for a heated rivalry game. Since we just featured the Ducks yesterday, lets see what action the State of Hockey has to offer this evening.

 

Thee straight playoff meetings has a way of creating more than a bit of animosity between two clubs – especially when the same team won all three series.

Interestingly, as the Western Conference table currently stands coming into tonight’s game, neither club has the chance of seeing the other during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs because they’re both slated to be golfing come this April.

The chance of that situation holding for the rest of the season is unlikely, and that makes tonight’s game even more important as the 6-5-2 Blackhawks and 5-4-2 Wild work to climb the Central Division standings.

When Chicago has found success this year, it’s all been by the work of 6-4-0 G Corey Crawford – even in spite of his defense. Even though the Hawks allow a third-most 34.5 shots-per-game to reach their own crease, the Windy City is home to the (t)sixth-best goals-against average in the league at 2.62.

Forget being the better of the Blackhawks’ two goaltenders, or even the best in the Central Division. Heck, saying Crawford’s .941 save percentage and 1.92 GAA is at the top of the Western Conference (yes, even better than G Jonathan Quick) does not even do him justice. Among all 29 netminders in the NHL that have started at least six games, Crawford is number one in both statistics.

Given the 32-year-old’s performance for the season, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Hawks’ penalty kill is also among the top-10 in the league. Even though Crawford’s .918 save percentage against the power play is only fifth-best in the league, Chicago has killed 83.3 percent of opposing man-advantages to tie for ninth-best in the NHL. If D Brent Seabrook, who leads the team with 2.4 blocks-per-game, can find a way to inspire his defensive corps to be even just a little stiffer while shorthanded, this Chicago team can keep riding its goaltender’s career season to a 10th-straight playoff appearance.

This evening, Crawford will face a good test against an offense that knows what it’s doing, as Minnesota’s 3.36 goals-per-game is the third-best effort in the West.

What makes the Wild so difficult to defend against is their unpredictability. D Jared Spurgeon currently leads the team in production with his 2-7-9 totals from the top defensive-pair. Minnesota’s leading forward is its top-line center Mikko Koivu, who is equally potent passing and shooting – made evident by his 4-4-8 totals.

Both Koivu and Spurgeon’s seasons might be foreseeable, but it’s the fact that third-liner W Chris Stewart‘s 6-2-8 campaign begins the list of depth scorers that makes the Wild so potent. Utilizing his incredible .273 shooting percentage, he’s provided 16 percent of the Wild’s goals from his spot on the third line. Add in the fact that Minnesota is also home to players like C Eric Staal, D Ryan Suter and W Jason Zucker, and you have a team that is capable of scoring regardless of which personnel is on the ice.

Though this contest is being played at Xcel Energy Center, I’m leaning towards Crawford being able to ensure a victory for his Blackhawks.


The Nashville Predators have won their last two games played at the Honda Center, as they beat the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Preds found a fast start to the contest, as they registered their first goal only 6:26 into the matchup courtesy of a LW Scott Hartnell (First Star of the Game D Roman Josi and W Pontus Aberg) tip-in. Anaheim nearly made it to the dressing room for first intermission with the opportunity to regroup after giving up only one goal, but Josi (C Colton Sissons and C Frederick Gaudreau) scored a snap shot with 49 seconds remaining in the frame to give Nashville a two-goal advantage.

Just like in the first period, the Predators were quick to pounce on the Ducks at the start of the second frame. Scoring his first goal of the season, D Matt Irwin (D Yannick Weber and Gaudreau) gave Nashville a 3-0 advantage 3:05 into the period. Anaheim finally got on the scoreboard 79 seconds thanks to F Antoine Vermette (W Ondrej Kase and LW Nick Ritchie) and his wrist shot, but could not build any momentum off the marker. That led to 12:56 of scoreless action.

Ritchie proved important in breaking the game’s scoreless skid, but it wasn’t in the Ducks’ favor. Instead, he earned a seat in the penalty box (his second of the period) for slashing Gaudreau with 3:35 remaining in the frame. 55 seconds later, W Viktor Arvidsson (D Mattias Ekholm and LW Kevin Fiala) registered what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Arvidsson owes every bit of his successful slap shot to a patient Predators power play. Fiala was working with the puck in the right face-off circle and along the boards, but he simply didn’t like the look he was getting at G John Gibson‘s net with D Hampus Lindholm in his way. He eventually returned the puck to Ekholm at the point, who slid a pass across the zone to Arvidsson at the top of the opposite circle that the wing whipped past Gibson’s glove into the back of the net.

Whether he was working to match Arvidsson’s power play goal or Josi’s late-period heroics, Lindholm (F Rickard Rakell) scored a slapper with 15 seconds remaining on the second frame clock to pull the Ducks back within a 4-2 deficit.

Anaheim fans finally had a chance to truly believe their club had a chance at the 7:41 mark of the third period when Second Star W Jakob Silfverberg (C Derek Grant and Third Star F Chris Wagner) notched a slapper to pull the Ducks back within a goal. But, try as they might with their 13 shots-on-goal, the Ducks simply could not find a way past G Pekka Rinne, eventually forcing them to pull Gibson. D P.K. Subban (Rinne and F Austin Watson) took advantage of the empty cage with 18 seconds remaining in regulation to ensure a Predators victory.

By saving 35-of-38 shots faced (.921 save percentage) – not to mention earning his first point of the season – Rinne did all he could to earn his sixth win of the season. On the other side, Gibson took the loss after saving 25-of-29 (.862).

Nashville’s win away from Bridgestone Arena earns another two points for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but visitors still trail the 17-11-4 hosts by six points.

New York Rangers 2017-’18 Season Preview

New York Rangers

48-28-6, 102 points, fourth in the Metropolitan Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Ottawa

Additions: D Anthony DeAngelo, C David Desharnais, G Ondrej Pavelec, D Kevin Shattenkirk

Subtractions: W Taylor Beck (signed with Yekaterinburg), D Adam Clendening (signed with ARI), D Dan Girardi (signed with TBL), G Magnus Hellberg (signed with Kunlun), F Marek Hrivik (signed with CGY), W Nicklas Jensen (signed with Jokerit), D Kevin Klein (signed with Zürcher), F Brandon Pirri (signed with Zürcher), G Antti Raanta (traded to ARI), C Derek Stepan (traded to ARI)

Offseason Analysis: Before we jump into any analysis, allow me to soothe the fears of any casual Rangers fans: few of the 10 subtractions listed above played the entirety of last season with the Rangers. In actuality, only four spots needed to be filled this offseason.

Then again, General Manager Jeff Gorton did buy out the back half of Girardi’s six-year, $5.5 million AAV contract (keeping at least $1.1 million on the books through the 2022-’23 season), so some of these gaps were self-inflicted.

That’s apparently the price a team had to pay to get its hands on two-way blueliner Shattenkirk, 2017’s most-courted free agent. Though he failed to help the Capitals escape their second-round curse, he brings with him undoubtable scoring abilities that will only strengthen 2016-‘17’s fourth-best offense.

But how valuable is a two-way defenseman really? To put things in perspective, nine of the top 10 and 12 of the top 14 teams in defensive points last season made the playoffs (the Islanders and Flyers missed the playoffs by only a combined eight points, by the way), and Nashville and Pittsburgh  – the Stanley Cup Finalists – were two of the top-three clubs in the statistic.

The Rangers were one of those top teams last year before adding Shattenkirk, the former St. Louis Blue that has posted at least 40 points every season of his career (except the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 campaign). Given he’s replacing Girardi – a player that has posted only .23 points-per-game for the past two years – in the lineup, the Blueshirts will see an immediate improvement along their blue line, at least in scoring.

But is adding Shattenkirk enough to win 35-year-old G Henrik Lundqvist his first Stanley Cup? That remains to be seen, as the signing could hurt just as much as it helps. One of Girardi’s strongpoints was keeping shots of his goaltender, as he registered 166 blocks and 10 more takeaways last season. In comparison, New York’s new piece managed only 95 shot rejections, but also 36 steals. If Shattenkirk cannot rein in his propensity for attacking the opposing net, Captain Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and the rest of the defensive corps will have to take a cab home after games due to sheer exhaustion.

Of course, that was not what Shattenkirk was hired to do… see the dilemma here?

Though the 2012 Vezina winner will forever be King Henrik, his age is not doing him any favors. Add in the fact that new backup Pavalec (.888 save percentage, 3.55 GAA in eight starts last season) is no Raanta (.922 save percentage, 2.26 GAA in 26 starts last season), and the pressure will be on New York’s defense to keep Lundqvist as fit, healthy and well-rested as possible to ensure he plays as much as possible.

Offseason Grade: C+

The Blueshirts live and die by their incredible, hopefully ageless netminder. Without Lundqvist, this season is a waste of time for the Rangers (no offense Pavalec) – no matter how much Shattenkirk scores. Should Lundqvist be unable to cope with the potential added work, Mats Zuccarello (15-44-59 totals) and co. will be under fire to score even more goals to keep the Rangers in contention. While exciting to watch, playing barnburner-type games can grow taxing on teams and will certainly not be a feasible strategy in the playoffs.

Just ask the 2015-’16 Stars.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 14

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 2

Montréal redeemed itself in in Game 2 by beating the Rangers 4-3 in overtime at the Bell Centre to level their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at a game apiece.

And none of it would have been possible if not for Third Star of the Game Tomas Plekanec‘s (First Star Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk) miracle goal with 18 ticks remaining on the clock in regulation. Carey Price had vacated his crease for the extra attacker, but the real advantage occurred when Shea Weber knocked Michael Grabner down along the blue line. That freed up the Galchenyuk to find Radulov in the far corner, who then set up Plekanec on the far post for a quick tip-in.

In similar fashion as far as the clock was concerned, the Canadiens waited to strike until the end of the overtime period was near. Radulov (Max Pacioretty and Weber) earned the first playoff game-winning goal of his career in the scrappiest of ways. Though the Habs captain had fired the initial shot, Second Star Henrik Lundqvist was able to keep that attempt out of his net. He was unable to contain that shot however, leaving the rebound in front of his crease ready for the taking by Radulov, who buried a wrister five hole for the victory.

Speaking of Lundqvist, he stood tall though he faced adversity all night. He knew he was in for a tough game when his stick snapped early in the first period. He was without that important piece of equipment for almost a minute, and Jeff Petry (Phillip Danault and Radulov) was able to take advantage for the opening goal of the game.

In all, the Rangers netminder saved an incredible 54-of-58 shots faced (93.1%). By comparison, Price saved 35-of-38 (92.1%) in his win.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 2

Thanks in large part to another stellar performance by Second Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins earned a 4-1 victory against the Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena to claim a two-game advantage in their Eastern Quarterfinals matchup.

Mike Sullivan is going to have quite the decision on his hands when Matthew Murray is cleared to resume play. Though last year’s Stanley Cup-winning goaltender was expected to command the Pens’ crease throughout the postseason, longtime starter Fleury has saved a combined 70 of 72 shots faced (97.2%) for two-straight victories.

Offensively, no one on the ice was finer than First Star Sidney Crosby. He posted a three-point effort on the night, including the lone tally of the first period.

It was an excellent play that started with Conor Sheary ripping the puck away from Sergei Bobrovsky behind the goaltender’s net. After Bobrovsky had given up on the play to return to his goal line, Sheary passed to Third Star Jake Guentzel (who took credit for the game-winner in the second period), who was waiting on the near side of the crease. Bobrovsky committed to saving a Guentzel shot, so the rookie dished across the crease to Crosby, who powered home an easy wrist shot.

 

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild – Game 2

It may not be what many predicted, but the Blues emerged from two games at the Xcel Energy Center with a two-game lead in their Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup against Minnesota thanks to a 2-1 victory.

Both clubs’ defenses were the true stars of this game. Neither Jake Allen (21 saves, 95.5%) nor Devan Dubnyk (22 saves, 91.7%) faced more than 24 shots, and a combined 27 shot blocks were earned between the two teams. The brightest blueliners were Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko, as both rejected three shots apiece from reaching Allen’s crease.

Another blueliner that earned his pay was Joel Edmundson, who seems to be taking over Kevin Shattenkirk‘s former position of two-way defenseman. Assisted by Patrik Berglund and Magnus Paajarvi, he fired a slap shot from the blueline to give the Notes an early lead in the second period.

Zach Parise (Eric Staal and Ryan Suter) made sure St. Louis would not escape the frame with the lead, though. Taking advantage of Alex Steen and Scottie Upshall sitting in the penalty box, Staal collected his own rebound and slid a pass between Allen and a sprawled Bouwmeester to Parise waiting at the top of the crease. The wing elevated his wrist shot bar-down over Allen to level the game at one-all.

With 2:27 remaining in regulation, Jaden Schwartz (Alex Pietrangelo and Kyle Brodziak) provided St. Louis its second tally of the night. The Blues’ captain dished to Schwartz from the red line, who entered the offensive zone slow enough to allow David Perron to screen Dubnyk. Schwartz did not simply use that screen, he used Perron. He fired his wrister five hole… on Perron… to find the back of the net before the Minnesota netminder even knew a shot was fired.

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 2

With a 2-0 victory over the Sharks at Rogers Place, Edmonton pulled even at one game apiece in its Western Conference Quarterfinal and earned the celebration it had been waiting 11 years for.

The Oilers scored only four shorthanded goals during the regular season, but both tallies they registered in the victory were on the penalty kill. One of those – the opening goal of the game – belonged to First Star of the Game Zack Kassian. He was the best player on the ice all night, sticking his nose in every play and throwing six hits – including two bone-rattling blows on Logan Couture and Brenden Dillon.

His shorty was a direct result of a Joe Pavelski fumbled puck early in the second period (It was that kind of night for the Sharks. They managed only 16 shots on goal). The wing collected the puck at the Sharks’ blueline, but Pavelski tried to steal it right back.

Unfortunatly for San Jose, his steal landed right on Mark Letestu‘s stick, who returned the puck to the streaking wing for a one-on-one showdown against Martin Jones. Kassian elected to fire a snap shot from between the face-off dots, beating the netminder low for the winner.

The usual star of the Oilers would not be outdone. Just like Kassian, Third Star Connor McDavid registered the first goal of his playoff career in a shorthanded situation. Assisted by Darnell Nurse and Second Star Cam Talbot, he fired a snapper from the far face-off dot after screaming up the boards to beat Jones low.

March 14 – Day 146 – Potential Stanley Cup Finals preview? We’ll have to see…

Nine games are being contested in the NHL tonight, and there’s more than a few good ones. Like it almost always does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with three contests (Winnipeg at New Jersey, Minnesota at Washington and the New York Islanders at Carolina), followed by another trio (Chicago at Montréal [NBCSN/RDS], Tampa Bay at Ottawa [RDS2] and Toronto at Florida [TVAS]) half an hour later. The Western Conference starts getting involved at 9 p.m. with Dallas at Edmonton, followed 90 minutes later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Arizona at Los Angeles and Buffalo at San JoseAll times eastern.

Since the Blackhawks make only one trip to the Bell Centre per year, it’s always an exciting Original Six game. That being said, the match I’m most attracted to features the class of each conference squaring off at the Verizon Center.

 

There’s not many hockey fans that would complain about a Stanley Cup between these clubs. They’ve been at the top of their respective conferences for almost the entirety of the year, and both feature the full package. They have explosive offenses, and are backed goaltenders that, by the time the 2017 NHL Awards Show is over, have both won Vezina Trophies (Yes, I’m giving Devan Dubnyk this year’s Vezina. Show me a more worthy candidate.).

The fourth-best team in hockey, the 43-18-6 Wild currently have a narrow one-point (but with a game-in-hand) lead over Chicago for first place in both the Central and the Western Conference. As said before, Dubnyk has been absolutely exceptional this year, but Minnesota‘s offense has grown into one of the most dominant in the game.

Two hundred twenty goals in 67 games sounds impressive on its own, but who would’ve guessed the Wild would host an offense that trails only Pittsburgh for league superiority? That attack is spearheaded by first-line right wing Mikael Granlund, who has a career-high 63 points to his credit. In fact, he’s so good his .94 points-per-game scoring rate is 15th-best in the entire NHL.

You have to keep layering the accolades on Granlund when you focus on Minnesota‘s goal-scoring, as he leads the club with 23 tallies – another career high. He’s closely trailed by Eric Staal, Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter, who have 22, 21 and 20, respectively. To put things simply, Minnesota‘s top-two lines are deadly.

As you’d expect, that attack doesn’t stop when the Wild earn a man-advantage. When an opponent commits a penalty, Minnesota converts 21.1% of their power plays into goals, the eighth-best rate in the league.

Guess who leads that effort.

Yup, it’s Granlund, as he has 18 power play points on his resume this year. Yet he doesn’t have the clubhouse lead in man-advantage goal-scoring – that responsibility belongs to Niederreiter, who has eight power play goals even though he hasn’t scored one since February 12.

If the power play is good, the penalty kill is great, as the Wild‘s 84% success rate ties for sixth-best in the league (more on that later). Although I usually give credit to the leading shorthanded shot blocker in this situation (fine… way to go Jared Spurgeon with your 18 blocks), it’s better to acknowledge Dubnyk’s play. Even though he’s faced 203 shots when down a man (14th-most in the NHL), his .897 save percentage in that situation is sixth-best in the league.

One of the few teams better than the Wild are the 44-17-7 Capitals, but they shouldn’t take that to heart – nobody’s better than Washington (just ask Al Capone about the IRS)! The Verizon Center must be the second home of the Department of Defense, as Washington has allowed only 147 goals all season – the best total in the league.

34-11-5 Braden Holtby is an absolute machine. Winner of last year’s Vezina Trophy, he’d be a shoe-in for this year’s season’s award if not for the stellar play of Dubnyk as his .926 season save percentage and 2.03 GAA are fifth-best and tops in the league, respectively, among the 41 netminders with at least 26 appearances.

Part of the reason Holtby’s found such success is due to a solid blueline playing in front of him. Led by Karl Alzner and his 142 shot blocks (tied for 10th-most in the NHL), the Caps‘ defense has allowed only 27.7 shots-per-game to reach his crease, which is the fourth-best rate in the league.

Remember how Minnesota was tied for the sixth-best penalty kill in the league? That other team is the Washington Capitals, who have also rejected 84% of the power plays they’ve faced. The defense leads the way in that effort – especially Alzner, who has 35 shorthanded shot blocks, which ties for fourth-most in the league.

Oh yeah, and then there’s also the notorious Washington offense, which has been solid since, I don’t know… 2005, when Alex Ovechkin entered the league. That offense especially comes to mind when the Capitals earn the power play, as their 21.3% success rate is the seventh-best mark in the NHL. Although Ovechkin would love you to think it him and his team-high 12 man-advantage goals, Nicklas Backstrom is actually the mastermind behind the Caps‘ power play with his 26 extra-man points.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (.931 save percentage [tied for best in the NHL] and a 2.07 GAA for 36 wins [both second-best in the league], including five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+28 [eighth-best in the league]), Mikko Koivu (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+32 [third-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+34 [best in the NHL]) and Zucker (+33 [second-best in the league]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (47 assists [third-most in the NHL] for 68 points [ninth-most in the league]), Holtby (eight shutouts [most in the NHL] and a 2.03 GAA [best in the league] and .926 save percentage [fifth-best in the NHL] for 34 wins [third-most in the league]), Dmitry Orlov (+27 [ninth-best in the NHL]) and Brooks Orpik (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the league]).

Even though they’re losers of their past four games, Vegas favors Washington to win tonight’s game with a -145 line. I’m absolutely appalled the spread is that large, even though I do think the Capitals manage to pull out the win tonight with home ice.

The special teams units of both teams are solid, and the goaltenders are even better. Everything is going to boil down to each team’s defensive play, and I’m certain the Caps are better in that department. Washington wins a close one.

Hockey Birthday

  • Vaclav Nedomansky (1944-) – This right wing spent only six seasons in the NHL, and most of that time was with the Red Wings. After four years in the WHA, his best season was in 1978-’79 when he buried 38 goals for 73 points.
  • Patrick Traverse (1974-) – Drafted 50th-overall by Ottawa in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman appeared in seven seasons between 1995 and 2006. Spending most of his time with the club that drafted him, he finished his career with an overall +2 rating.

The Blues notched a huge 3-1 victory against Los Angeles in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to expand their lead over the ninth-place Kings to five points in the race for the second Western wild card.

Things really started heating up with 6:23 remaining in the second period when Third Star of the Game David Perron (Alexander Steen) scored a wrist shot to break the scoreless draw. The Kings fired an incredible 21 shots-on-goal in the frame, but First Star Jake Allen saved them all to preserve St. Louis‘ one-goal lead going into the second intermission.

Only 70 seconds after returning to the ice for the final period, Magnus Paajarvi (Patrik Berglund and Alex Pietrangelo) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal with a power play wrister. Los Angeles finally got on the board when Dustin Brown (Drew Doughty and Tyler Toffoli) scored a wrister with 2:55 remaining in regulation to pull within a score, but Steen (Pietrangelo) scored on an empty net with seven seconds remaining in the game to seal the Notes‘ victory.

Allen saved all but one of the 39 shots (97.4%) he faced to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Jonathan Quick, who saved 23-of-25 (92%).

Not only is St. Louis‘ victory important in the NHL standings, but it also strongly impacts the DtFR Game of the Day series as well. Thanks to the Blues, the 74-52-22 road teams now have a one-point lead over homers in the series.

January 13 – Day 90 – Ready for an Original Six game?

It’s finally Friday, so sit back and watch some hockey after that stressful business week. The action gets started at 7 p.m. with two games (Toronto at the New York Rangers and Chicago at Washington [NHLN]), followed half an hour later by two more (the New York Islanders at Florida and Buffalo at Carolina). Columbus at Tampa Bay (SN/TVAS) drops the puck at 8 p.m., trailed an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps (New Jersey at Calgary and Winnipeg at Arizona).

Short list:

  • Toronto at New York: It’s another Original Six game this evening, this one taking place at Madison Square Garden.
  • New York at Florida: Last postseason, the Islanders upset Florida in the Eastern Quarterfinals before falling to Tampa Bay.

Don’t tell anybody, but Toronto is only four points out of playoff position, and tonight’s game in the Big Apple will be a good test to see if they’re capable of acting  on the opportunity.

UnknownNew York Rangers Logo

 

 

 

 

 

The Leafs make their lone trip of the season to Manhattan with an 18-13-8 record. The main problem for Toronto has been their defense and goaltending, which has allowed 111 goals against – only the 15th-fewest in the league.

With the exception of six games, 17-9-7 Frederik Andersen has always been the man in charge of the crease for the Maple Leafs this season. So far, he’s saved .918 percent of shots faced for a 2.69 GAA, which ties for 18th and 27th-best among the 44 goalies with 17 or more appearances.

While Andersen has been far from impressive, he can’t shoulder the entire blame. The Leafs have allowed an average of 32.6 shots-per-game to reach Andersen’s crease, tied for the fourth-worst in the league. Morgan Rielly has given all he can and more to Toronto, as he leads the club with 67 shot blocks.

If the Leafs truly want to make a playoff push, I’d expect them to be active at the trade deadline to bring in a quality defenseman.

Although the Leafs have tied for the seventh-best effort on the penalty kill with a 83.6% kill rate (led by Roman Polak‘s 16 short-handed blocks), percentages can be deceiving. Toronto averages 11:35 penalty minutes per game, the second-highest in the NHL, and Andersen has struggled mightily. He’s allowed 19 power play goals to slip past him, which ties for the seventh-most in the league.

Fortunately, Toronto has been very successful on the power play. Led by William Nylander and his 15 power play points, the Maple Leafs bury the puck 22.4% of the time with the man-advantage, the seventh-best rate in the league. Nazem Kadri has been the one responsible for most of those situational goals, with eight to his credit (tied for the fourth-most in the NHL).

You know you’re in a tough division when you’re riding a two-game winning streak and have the fifth-best point percentage in the NHL, yet you’re still only in a wild card spot. That’s the position the 28-13-1 Rangers find themselves in, although that can change with a win tonight, as they could take advantage of Pittsburgh‘s two-game losing skid and jump into third place in the division. As they have been all season, they’ll be led by their dominant offense that has accounted for a league-leading 144 points.

Although it’s more than a two-headed assault, the main pair getting a lot of the praise right now in New York are Kevin Hayes and Derek Stepan, both of whom have an impressive 31 points to their credit. Of course, they’ve mostly been facilitators. The striker on this team is still Michael Grabner with his 19 tallies.

As you might expect, the Blueshirts‘ power play is no slouch. In fact, they’re third best in the league, successful on 23.2% of their opportunities. Ryan McDonagh has been at the forefront of that effort with nine power play points, but hasn’t been the one scoring the goals. That duty has been shared by Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Vesey, all of whom have four power play goals.

Even the penalty kill has been impressive, refusing to yield to the opposition’s man-advantage 83% of the time, the 10th-best effort in the league. Kevin Klein gets to take a lot of responsibility for that ranking, as his 16 shorthanded blocks are tops on the club.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Grabner (+22 [fifth-best in the NHL]), Nick Holden (+20 [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Henrik Lundqvist (18 wins [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (17 wins [10th-most in the league]) and Auston Matthews (21 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has put a -137 next to the Rangers‘ name to indicate they’re the favorites this evening. It’s hard to argue with, given their success regardless of who they’re playing. Until Toronto can put together a full game on a regular basis, they will not be able to stand up to talented teams like New York.

Hockey Birthday

  • Art Ross (1886-1964) – It’s nearly impossible to fully summarize all Ross did. The defenseman won two Stanley Cups as a player, and tacked on an additional three as a coach or general manager for Boston. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949, and the yearly award for the season’s leading scorer is named in his honor.
  • Cesare Maniago (1939-) – This goaltender played 568 games over 15 seasons in the NHL, mostly with the North Stars. He completed his career with a 190-257-97 record on a 3.27 GAA.
  • Kelly Hrudey (1961-) – Another netminder, the Islanders drafted Hrudey 38th-overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. That being said, he spent most of his 15 seasons in Los Angeles en route to a 271-265-88 career record.
  • Nikolai Khabibulin (1973-) – Drafted in the ninth round of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by the original Jets, this goaltender would’ve been a steal 100 picks earlier. The Bulin Wall finished his 18-season career with a 333-334-97 record, four All Star selections and a 2004 Stanley Cup title while in Tampa Bay.
  • Sergei Brylin (1974-) – The 42nd-overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft played his entire career with the club that drafted him – New Jersey. During that time, he notched 308 points to win three Stanley Cups.
  • Marc Staal (1987-) – The middle Staal brother was the 12th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Rangers, and that’s where he’s played every since. Over his entire career, he’s notched a +40.
  • Connor McDavid (1997-) – In only 88 career games, the first pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton has already notched 96 points. There’s no ifs about it: he will be the next superior player, if he’s not already.
  • Ivan Provorov (1997-) – The seventh-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by Philadelphia, this defenseman has finally joined the Flyers this season. He’s made quite the impact, tying Shayne Gostisbehere with 19 points for most by a Philly blueliner.

Talk about an evening of comebacks. First, Third Star of the Game Taylor Hall made his return to Edmonton. Then, the Oilers scored a game-tying goal with 7:24 remaining in regulation to force overtime, which they used to beat the Devils 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The lone goal of the first period belonged to Travis Zajac (Kyle Palmieri and Michael Cammalleri) and the visiting Devils. He tipped-in his shot with 1:54 remaining in the frame to put New Jersey ahead going into intermission.

Edmonton pulled the game back even almost immediately after returning to the ice. 16 seconds after the initial puck drop, Andrej Sekera (Second Star Leon Draisaitl and Adam Larsson) scored a snapper to tie the game at one-all. That draw lasted until 51 seconds remained in the second period, when Steven Santini (Hall and P.A. Parenteau) scored the first goal of his career. Once again, Jersey took a one-goal lead into the dressing room.

As stated before, the Oilers tied the game with 7:24 remaining in regulation off a wrister from First Star Patrick Maroon (Draisaitl and McDavid). Neither side was able to break the knot, so the game advanced into three-on-three overtime.

Only 1:50 into the five-minute period, Draisaitl (McDavid and Oscar Klefbom) ended the game in the home club’s favor with an impressive slap shot, his 16th goal of the season.

Cam Talbot earned the victory after saving 16-of-18 shots faced (88.9%), leaving the loss to Cory Schneider, who saved 31-of-34 (91.2%).

The Oilers‘ victory is the second-straight by a home club in the DtFR Game of the Day series, improving the hosts’ record to 49-29-14, 10 points better than the visitors.