Tag Archives: Stars

October 12 – Day Nine – The Kevin Peter Hall game

If you have no idea who the title is referring to, maybe today’s selection can help.

Action is slightly delayed this evening, as our first two contests (Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay [SN360/TVAS] and St. Louis at Florida) don’t drop the puck until 7:30 p.m. Dallas pays a visit to Nashville at 8 p.m., followed by Minnesota at Chicago half an hour later. Another pair of contests (Winnipeg at Vancouver and Detroit at Arizona) get the green light at 10 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Buffalo at San Jose – getting underway 30 minutes later. All times Eastern.

There’s two games from that selection that have drawn my eye. The Wild-Blackhawks rivalry is always fun to take in, but I’m surprisingly more drawn to a meeting between between two 1-2-0 clubs.

 

Still can’t figure it out? Hall was the person in the Predator suit in the first two Predator movies. He’s the star of Predator!

Sure, I could have gone with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but that would have been too easy.

Anyways…

Coming off an offseason of high expectations, both of these teams had a tough opening week to their campaigns. They both lost their opening two games (including an embarrassing 4-0 loss by the Predators to Pittsburgh in a rematch of the Stanley Cup Finals) before winning their contests on Tuesday.

Starting with visiting Dallas, this was supposed to be an offense that eclipsed that of 2015-’16, yet the Stars have averaged only 2.33 goals-per-game to start the season ([t]third-worst in the league).

Part of the problem has been the goaltending they’ve squared off against. Both Jake Allen (.93 save percentage and 2.58 GAA) and Marc-Andre Fleury (.963 save percentage and 1.32 GAA) have yet to lose a game in three starts and – especially Fleury – have been among the league’s best.

Even though the super line of Jamie BennTyler SeguinAlexander Radulov didn’t find the back of the net, Dallas proved what it is truly capable of Tuesday against G Petr Mrazek. With the exception of the top power play unit scoring late in the first period, the middle two lines began flexing their muscles by scoring the remaining three goals (shh, no one needs to know that C Martin Hanzal‘s first goal of the year was an empty netter).

While the offense assumes its form, it’s been the superb play of G Ben Bishop that has been keeping the Stars competitive in all their games. So far this season he’s posted a .955 save percentage and 1.15 GAA, including what could have been a shutout if he hadn’t been forced from the Vegas game on opening night.

Of the numerous signings made across the league, few improved a team as immensely as this one did for Dallas. Add in the fact that the Stars also added D Marc Methot to a formerly flimsy defensive corps and you find a Dallas team ready to shoot for the stars (that was so lame).

As for the Predators, they’re just trying to live up to qualifying for last year’s Stanley Cup Finals. No big deal, right?

That postseason effort was largely dependent on a defensive corps that also had a scoring touch as golden as their sweaters, and maybe it’s the absence of that flair that has held Nashville back so far this young season. Beyond D P.K. Subban and his four assists, only two other blue liners have contributed on offense. Even more noticeable is that none of those defensive points are goals.

It would seem D Ryan Ellis‘ absence is certainly being felt, as he posted 16-22-38 totals last season for .54 points-per-game. He would have notched at least one point by now.

And as dependable as Bishop has been for the Stars, G Pekka Rinne has been below-average to star the season. He’s managed only an .869 save percentage for an atrocious 4.16 GAA – and he didn’t even play in the four-goal loss to Pittsburgh.

With such an offensively-minded D-corps, elite play from Rinne is an absolute necessity. To put it bluntly, forcing the defense to actually focus on playing defense (that’s not a knock on this group, but we all know they’re almost always planning their next attack) takes such a major weapon away from this Nashville team. Head Coach Peter Laviolette cannot afford for this solid team to be in the wrong year of Rinne’s “good year, bad year” routine.

If anything is starting to go right for the Predators, it’s their power play. The man-advantage, specifically the top unit, played an integral role in the Preds’ comeback win Tuesday from a 4-3 deficit in the third period. Nashville has converted 31.3 percent of its man-advantages, which ties with the Rangers for the second-best effort in the NHL.

Though it was great to get that win over Philadelphia, I still don’t think all the Preds are mentally back from summer vacation. Having said that, I’m leaning towards Dallas pulling off the victory tonight, whether the game is over after 60 minutes or requires a shootout.


The machine that is the Pittsburgh Penguins seems to have rediscovered its groove, as they beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 at the Verizon Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Penguins employed a goal-per-period strategy last night that the Caps nearly matched, failing to score in the first period. Because of that, does that make D Kris Letang‘s (W Bryan Rust and First Star of the Game RW Patric Hornqvist) first goal of the season, a power play wrist shot 5:22 into the game, the game-winner?

Unfortunately for Letang, we all know the answer to that question is technically ‘no.’ Sorry, buddy.

Pittsburgh registered its second power play goal of the night 8:20 into the second period, courtesy of Hornqvist (W Tom Kuhnhackl and C Sidney Crosby), another first-time goalscorer for the 2017-’18 season. The Penguins almost took a two-goal advantage into the second intermission, but Second Star D Christian Djoos (C Lars Eller and W Brett Connolly) sneaked a slap shot past G Matthew Murray with 53 seconds remaining in the frame to pull Washington back within a goal. Just like the goalscorers before him, Djoos’ marker was his first of the season, but this one was extra special: tonight was also his NHL debut.

Apparently Head Coach Mike Sullivan was none too pleased about Djoos’ late marker, as Third Star W Conor Sheary (D Justin Schultz and D Olli Maatta) provided what proved to be the true game-winner 38 seconds into the third period.

The play truly started with five seconds remaining in the second period when RW Alex Chiasson earned himself a seat in the penalty box for getting caught holding D Brian Dumoulin. As far as action on the ice is concerned, the scoring play began with Maatta at the blue line. Seeing Schultz undefended – due to the Capitals being shorthanded – in the face-off circle to G Braden Holtby‘s right, he passed to his fellow defenseman who quickly centered a pass to Sheary waiting in Holtby’s crease. Though the 25-year-old began falling while performing his tip-in, the redirection was just enough to beat Holtby to the post.

W Alex Ovechkin (Djoos and C Nicklas Backstrom) did pull Washington back within a goal with 7:09 remaining in regulation, but neither he, F T.J. Oshie nor any of the other Capitals could complete the comeback in the remaining time.

Murray earned the victory after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (.909), leaving the loss to Holby, who saved 33-of-36 (.917).

Pittsburgh’s road victory snaps what was a four-game winning streak for the 5-3-1 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That being said, hosts still have a two-point advantage over roadies in the competition.

October 6 – Day Three – Welcome to the league

Man, a week goes by fast when there’s hockey involved. All of a sudden it’s Friday!

Speaking of, we have three games on the schedule tonight in anticipation of a 15-game Saturday. The action starts at 7 p.m. with the New York Islanders visiting Columbus, followed half an hour by Florida at Tampa Bay for Game 1 of the Governor’s Cup. Finally, Vegas heads to Dallas (NHLN/SN360/TVAS) to close out the night at 8:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s only one chance for a franchise to play its first NHL game, so is there any doubt which game we’re featuring tonight?

 

 

 

 

 

Now that it is officially game day for the Golden Knights, allow us at Down the Frozen River to welcome Vegas to the NHL!

Officially, the process of bringing the NHL’s 31st team to Las Vegas began in late 2014 when Commissioner Gary Bettman allowed Bill Foley to test the season ticket market, though the league has had a presence in the city since the early 90s (not counting the bookies).

Over 13,000 season tickets and 18 months later, the Golden Knights were approved for business and preparing to start winning hockey games.

Unfortunately, history is not on their side in this contest. The last expansion franchises to win their opening games were Tampa Bay (7-3 against Chicago) and Ottawa (5-3 against Montréal) in the 1992-’93 season. Since then, expansion teams have gone a dreadful 0-6-1 in their first-ever regular season games, getting outscored 25-11 in the process.

Ouch. Maybe the Golden Knights can do better.

For them to buck the trend, they’ll need exemplary play from stars like G Marc-Andre Fleury, F Jon Marchessault and W Reilly Smith. Considering Vegas’ lack of an effective blue line and the prowess of the Stars’ forwards (more on them in a minute), Fleury’s job description is simple even though it’s not simply filled.

And it’s with that in mind that puts even more pressure on the Knights’ forwards. Given that Dallas doesn’t necessarily play the best defense in the league, Marchessault, and Smith will hopefully be able to find some chemistry on the top line with C Vadim Shipachyov to keep Vegas competitive.

In addition to playing their first game, the Knights are also bringing with them some the Stars’ old friends. In particular, C Cody Eakin spent the last five seasons in Dallas before being selected by Vegas in the expansion draft. During his tenure in the Lone Star State he registered solid 61-85-146 totals, but last season’s 3-9-12 performance was a drastic decline that forced General Manager Jim Nill to leave him exposed.

Speaking of Nill, now that Eakin is on the Golden Knights’ second line, he had the opportunity to make some much needed changes to the Stars’ roster. After finishing 15 points behind the eighth-seeded Predators last season, Nill was able to improve his team by adding the likes of G Ben Bishop, C Martin Hanzal, D Marc Methot and RW Alexander Radulov.

Pair that group of players, who should provide at least a 10-point improvement in the standings compared to last year’s team, with Dallas’ mainstays of LW Jamie Benn and F Tyler Seguin and you find a club that should have something to say about the Blackhawks winning the Central Division for a second-straight season.

Considering the poor history of expansion teams in their first regular season showing and the fact that RW David Clarkson, F Mikhail Grabovski, W James Neal and D Clayton Stoner are all on injured reserve, I’m not expecting much from the Golden Knights this evening. Instead, I’m going to be enthralled by what could be the best top-line in hockey (Benn-Seguin-Radulov) backed by the first number one goaltender Dallas has seen in years.


Of all the teams to make it a priority to defend their new home, I suppose I should have pegged Detroit, who beat Minnesota 4-2 at Little Caesars Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

After a scoreless first period, the Red Wings scored two goals in 23 seconds – both courtesy of their second power play unit. First Star of the Game W Anthony Mantha (RW Martin Frk and Third Star D Mike Green) claimed the honor of scoring the first goal in arena history by burying a five-on-three wrist shot with 5:20 remaining. Under normal power play conditions, that lead doubled 23 seconds later when F Dylan Larkin (Green and Mantha) tipped a loose puck past G Devan Dubnyk.

Not to be outdone, the Wild had a scoring blitz of their own, starting with C Joel Eriksson Ek‘s (W Chris Stewart and LW Marcus Foligno) wrister two minutes into the third period, followed by Stewart’s (F Tyler Ennis and D Kyle Quincey) wrister only 48 seconds later to level the game at two-all.

The tie lasted 4:19 before F Henrik Zetterberg (Green and F Tomas Tatar) found the game-winning snap shot on his stick. From between the face-off circles, he collected a Green pass deflected off W Jason Zucker‘s skate and fired it five-hole on Dubnyk to set the score at 3-2.

Frk (Mantha and Green) secured the win by burying a slap shot with 9:21 remaining in the contest, setting the 4-2 final score.

Second Star Jimmy Howard earned the victory after saving 37-of-39 shots faced for a .949 save percentage, leaving the loss to Dubnyk, who saved 27-of-31 (.871 save percentage).

After three games, road teams have a slight one-point advantage in the DtFR Game of the Day series with a 2-1-0 record.

NHL Schedule Analysis

Welcome to Down the Frozen River’s first-ever attempt at offering some schedule analysis of the upcoming NHL season.

I know what you’re thinking: these types of columns are usually associated with the NFL and not the NHL – or any other league, for that matter, where all teams play at least once per season. But when and where different clubs appear on the  schedule can still play a big role in a team’s success. An important home stand or an ill-timed extended road trip can determine if a club is a buyer or seller at the trade deadline, make or break a squad’s chances for playoff qualification in March or affect seeding in April.

For starters, I’d like to explain how I approach the season. Maybe it’s my varying degrees of affection for the NFL (the only other Big Four league in the United States that uses bye weeks), but I view a campaign in thirds.

Thirds?

Yes, thirds. They may not be perfect thirds, but each section takes on its own characteristics. Take a look at how the NFL arranges its 16-game, 17-week season. For example, during the 2017 season, the NFL’s byes will begin in Week 5 and extend to Week 11, effectively cutting the season into approximate thirds: (1) Weeks 1-4 featuring no byes, (2) Weeks 5-11 and (3) Weeks 12-17 (Week 12 corresponds with American Thanksgiving and the following Sunday/Monday, just to put things in perspective).

Now lets take that approach to the 2017-’18 NHL season, a campaign featuring 82 games for each of its 31 clubs. With the regular season beginning October 4, most teams will play approximately 21 games before American Thanksgiving, another 41 before the trade deadline and 20 to close out the season.

Pretty close to thirds, right? Well, maybe it’s fourths but the middle two are combined… Whatever. My degree isn’t in math.

But regardless of what they are, what do they mean?

Well, if you buy into the stat that teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving qualify for the postseason over 75 percent of the time, that proves how important a quick start can be. If nothing else, it is certainly an early barometer of which teams are good and which should already be making plans for the 2018-’19 campaign.

Speaking of plans, that leads us to the second part of the season. It involves Christmas Break, the Winter Classic, bye weeks (more on those in a minute) and, of course, the All-Star Weekend in Tampa. Those are all fun and exciting, but most important are the transactions between clubs at this time, as contenders try to shore up chinks in their armor and the lesser clubs (*cough* Colorado *cough*) prepare for the future. This almost ho-hum, business-as-usual state of play is status quo for most of the season, which makes sense why this section is double the games of the other two phases of the year.

Then comes the final push. With the exception of the playoffs, this is some of the most exciting hockey of the season – night in, night out. Almost every game matters not only for playoff qualification and seeding, but also for fully integrating those deadline acquisitions before April 7,  the final day of the regular season, comes to a close.

Having more or less games in comparison to the rest of the league in any of the three sections can have its positives and negatives, but they’re impossible to predict given the unpredictability of hot or cold streaks, injuries and even the weather issues the league has had to deal with the past few years.

Another thing to keep in mind is the still relatively new change to the schedule: the addition of bye weeks. Making their debut only a season ago, the league has done a little tweaking to when each teams’ breaks occur on the calendar.

Last year, the first bye weeks began as early as New Year’s Day when the Islanders and Penguins began their five- and seven-day breaks, respectively, but Anaheim – the last club to take its 2017 hiatus – did not complete its vacation until early March.

What resulted was just over two months of action where fans had to keep track of which clubs had already taken their breaks and which hadn’t and trying to calculate how that affected the standings.

Sound like too much effort? Don’t worry, the league thought so too. This year, all bye weeks will take place in the span of two weeks in January, just before the All-Star Break.

I’m intrigued by this decision. With last year’s setup, the volume of games in a given week did not seem to change enough to be noticeable – which is good. Everybody wants to watch games all the time. But as I mentioned before, 2017’s situation required media, fans and teams to stay on top of which sides had or had not taken their week off.

Although condensing the bye week-schedule resolves that problem, it may also create a lull in the season only two weeks after Christmas Break and a week before the All-Star Break by having only 15 teams active at a time, potentially making January an overall anemic month. We’ll have to wait and see if that is the case, but if my prediction proves correct the NHL might have to find a happy medium between the two formats.

Perhaps the original reason the league condensed the bye week schedule was to account for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, but that is no longer the case as the NHL has elected not to release its players to their national federations for the February 10-25 tournament. Though some players have said they intend to participate in the tournament regardless of the NHL’s decision to abstain (whether they actually do or not remains to be seen), everyone’s favorite international tournament will certainly have a different flair – especially involving the rosters of usual favorites: Canada and the USA.

The last final major date on the calendar is always the previously hinted at trade deadline. This year, the deadline is scheduled for February 26 at the usual 3 p.m. Eastern time. Like most Mondays, the schedule is fairly light that evening with only five contests taking place (Washington at Columbus, Philadelphia at Montréal, Toronto at Tampa Bay, Vancouver at Colorado and  Vegas at Los Angeles).

After last year’s Cody McLeod episode that featured him fighting and scoring against the Avalanche only a day after being being traded from that very team (he didn’t even leave Denver, instead meeting up with the Predators when they arrived in town), I’m looking forward to even more excitement at this deadline.

For those that enjoy the days where every team is in action, I regret to inform you that the addition of Vegas has made that impossible. Instead, you’ll have to settle for dates that feature 15 contests and leave one club inactive.

Five such days exist this season: October 7 (first Saturday of the season), November 22 (day before American Thanksgiving), December 23 (day before Christmas Eve), January 25 (day before the All-Star Break) and April 7. On those dates, don’t expect to catch Boston, St. Louis, Calgary, Los Angeles or Pittsburgh – respectively – as they’ll be just as glued to their televisions as you will be, taking in all the day’s action.

ANAHEIM DUCKS – Campbell Cup runner-up, 105 points

Don’t tell anybody, but the Ducks have won the Pacific Division for five straight seasons. The main reason? An impressive 29-8-4 record at the Pond last season. But don’t let that distract you from a blemish growing in the Ducks’ armor: the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead they’re only 17-15-9 outside Orange County. That road trip to end November just so happens to occur right after Edmonton finishes a five-game home stand, meaning Anaheim may be forced to hold serve within the Pacific Division in an uncomfortable position.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (November 7-19)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 25-December 5)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. New Jersey, at Calgary, at Winnipeg, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Colorado, vs. Minnesota, vs. Dallas and at Arizona

ARIZONA COYOTES – 28th, 70 points

Remember in high school when the football team’s weakest opponent always aligned with homecoming? Keep that in mind when you realize that the Coyotes get to help the Golden Knights open T-Mobile Arena. Also keep in mind Arizona was 12-24-5 away from home last year.

BYE WEEK: January 7-11 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 17 days (February 15-March 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in nine days (March 21-29)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Buffalo, at Carolina, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, at Vegas, at Los Angeles, vs. St. Louis, at Calgary, at Vancouver and vs. Anaheim

BOSTON BRUINS – eliminated in first round, 95 points

Usually, rivalry series are supposed to take place over the course of an entire season. Instead, the NHL has elected to schedule all four matchups of one of its premier rivalries in the span of seven weeks, including three meetings in eight days. The Bruins should be relatively happy though, as they’ll get their bye week to prepare for their first visit to the Bell Centre and the Canadiens will have games in Washington and Brooklyn the night before their January 20 and March 3 matchups, respectively, while the Bruins get the nights off.

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (February 17-25)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (February 27-March 10)

LAST 10 GAMES: at St. Louis, at Dallas, at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Florida, at Philadelphia, at Tampa Bay, at Florida and vs. Ottawa

BUFFALO SABRES – 26th, 78 points

Some teams simply struggle on the road. The Sabres were one of those squads last year, amassing only a 13-22-6 record away from Upstate New York. Though a four-game trip in early December doesn’t seem too taxing on the surface, Buffalo will be hard pressed to come back with more than two points as it’ll visit Pittsburgh (December 2), Colorado (December 5), Chicago (December 8) and St. Louis (December 10) before returning home to host Ottawa.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (December 2-10)

BYE WEEK: January 12-17 (six days)

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

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Arizona, vs. Montréal, at NY Rangers, at Toronto, vs. Detroit, at Nashville, at Toronto, vs. Ottawa, at Tampa Bay and at Florida

CALGARY FLAMES – eliminated in first round, 94 points

If only one team from the Western Conference gives up its playoff spot this season, I’d bet the house on it being the Flames. Last year’s side had an unimpressive 24-17-0 home record, including a 4-7-0 start over the first two months at the Saddledome. In a cruel bit of irony, the Flames’ longest home stand begins the last weekend of October, so Glen Gulutzan will need to get his troops in order in a hurry to avoid another backwards-step season similar to 2015-16.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 27-November 13)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 15-25)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, vs. Columbus, vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Winnipeg and vs. Vegas

CAROLINA HURRICANES – 21st, 87 points

In terms of off-season moves, last year’s Predators are this year’s Hurricanes. And, just like last year, everyone will be watching the Canes’ first few games to see if their new additions will be an immediate success. Carolina will certainly be put to the test in those contests, as their opening five matchups are against Minnesota (October 7), Columbus (October 10), Winnipeg (October 14), Edmonton (October 17) and Calgary (October 19). As long as Carolina can head to its sixth game in Dallas with at least five points on the table, I have no doubt the squad can come together and be a real threat in the Metropolitan Division.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (December 5-15)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 15 days (January 30-February 13)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Ottawa, vs. Ottawa, at New Jersey, at Washington, vs. NY Rangers, at Florida, at Philadelphia and vs. Tampa Bay

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – Central Division Champion, 109 points

The Blackhawks have not missed the playoffs since 2008, and I don’t expect that to change this year. That being said, they’ll be tested early and often this year, starting with their first eight games – all against 2017 postseason clubs. In particular, Chicago will have October 14 circled on its calendar, as it represents an opportunity for the Hawks to avenge getting swept by the Predators in April.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 14 days (December 21-January 3)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (January 10-24)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. St. Louis, vs. Colorado, vs. Vancouver, at NY Islanders, vs. San Jose, vs. Winnipeg, at Colorado, at St. Louis, vs. St. Louis and at Winnipeg

COLORADO AVALANCHE – 30th, 48 points

If only the schedule was the only thing holding the Avalanche back from finding success. Instead, their last five games represent a gimme two points for Chicago (March 30), Anaheim (April 1), Los Angeles (April 2), San Jose (April 5) and St. Louis (April 7) – all teams that will be finalizing either a qualification push or establishing their seeding.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (December 27-January 6)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (January 22-February 3)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Chicago, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Vegas, at Vegas, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Chicago, at Anaheim, at Los Angeles, at San Jose and vs. St. Louis

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – eliminated in first round, 108 points

After last year’s dominant performance at the midway point of the season, Columbus won’t be taking any by surprise this campaign – especially with Artemi Panarin, 2016’s Calder Memorial Trophy winner, on the squad. The Jackets face an interesting schedule that doesn’t feature an extended West Coast trip in exchange for any home stand of much worth – their longest stay in Ohio is a measly nine days early in the season with only four games played. But, should this squad keep last year’s positive energy rolling through the summer and cash in on their frequent flyer miles, they could be the most prepared of any for a lengthy postseason and all the travel associated with it.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in nine days (October 19-27)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Three games in five days – 2x (November 2-6; March 27-31)

BYE WEEK: January 13-17 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Boston, at NY Rangers, vs. Florida, vs. St. Louis, at Edmonton, at Calgary, at Vancouver, vs. Detroit, vs. Pittsburgh and at Nashville

DALLAS STARS – 24th, 79 points

A season ago, Dallas was a horrendous 12-24-5 away from the American Airlines Center. That’s what makes a potential late-season playoff push daunting, as the end of March has the Stars departing the Lone Star State for an Eastern road trip that also bizarrely includes a visit to Winnipeg in the middle. As if the travel wasn’t scary enough, all five of the Eastern opponents qualified for the playoffs last year, so Dallas would be very wise to take advantage of a fairly easy October schedule (includes Vegas, Detroit, Colorado twice, Arizona twice and Vancouver) to pad themselves some points in the standings ahead of time.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 16 days (December 29-January 13)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (March 11- 20)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Winnipeg, at Washington, vs. Boston, vs. Vancouver, vs. Philadelphia, at Minnesota, vs. Minnesota, at San Jose, at Anaheim and at Los Angeles

DETROIT RED WINGS – 25th, 79 points

Without even acknowledging the Red Wings’ roster troubles, they’re going to be hard pressed to get back into the playoffs this year given their extended trip away from Little Caesars Arena (that’s still weird to type) at the trade deadline. Between February 25 and March 18, Hockeytown will come to life only once when the Wings host Vegas on March 8. That contest splits what could have been a 10-game, 22-day road trip against steep competition into perfect halves, just for the Wings to get back on a plane to Columbus for another road game the next day.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (November 11-22)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days – 2x (February 25-March 6; March 9-18)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, vs. Washington, at Toronto, at Montréal, vs. Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Ottawa, at Columbus, vs. Montréal and vs. NY Islanders

EDMONTON OILERS – eliminated in second round, 103 points

As if the Oilers weren’t already poised for greatness, their schedule is arranged in a way that they should be competing for the top seed in the Western Conference. Edmonton has three five-game home stands spread throughout its schedule, including one right after the Oil’s six-day bye week that also includes the All-Star Weekend. Add in the fact that their longest road trip is behind them by Thanksgiving and you find a team prepared for anything or anyone that makes the mistake of wandering into Rogers Place.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (November 18-26)

BYE WEEK: January 14-19 (six days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Carolina, at Ottawa, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Anaheim, vs. Columbus, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Minnesota, vs. Vegas and vs. Vancouver

FLORIDA PANTHERS – 23rd, 81 points

Florida opens up its season with a home-and-home series against Governor’s Cup rival Tampa Bay before hosting St. Louis and visiting Pittsburgh. It’s a tough start to what many expect to be another disappointing season for the Panthers, especially giving their awful 19-19-3 record in Sunrise a season ago.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days – 2x (December 11-19; February 12-20)

BYE WEEK: January 13-18 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (February 22-March 4)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Columbus, vs. Arizona, at NY Islanders, at Toronto, at Ottawa, at Boston, vs. Carolina, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston and vs. Buffalo

LOS ANGELES KINGS – 22nd, 86 points

Especially for a club that missed out on the playoffs last year, there is nothing more exciting than seeing the Avalanche twice in the last 17 days of the season. Add in the fact that the Kings also drew Arizona in that stretch and the Kings could be a well-rested club in the first round of the playoffs – if they qualify.

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 12 days (February 9-20)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (March 1-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, at Colorado, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary, vs. Arizona, at Anaheim, vs. Colorado, vs. Minnesota and vs. Dallas

MINNESOTA WILD – eliminated in first round, 106 points

On the fifth day of Christmas, the Scheduler gave to Minny… a tough, nine-game stretch!

Yes, I’m pretty proud of that.

In all seriousness, the Wild are certainly going to be looking forward to the three-day holiday break, as it will signal an end to the nine-game run of playing against eight playoff teams from a season ago. The gauntlet starts on December 8 in Anaheim, followed by a contest in San Jose on December 10 before returning home to host Calgary (December 12), Toronto (December 14) and Edmonton (December 16). The Wild take back to the road to play the Blackhawks (December 17), Senators (December 19), Panthers (Decmber 22) and Lightning (December 23) before hanging up their skates in exhaustion for a few days.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (October 24-November 4)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (December 17-23)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Los Angeles, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, at Nashville, vs. Dallas, at Dallas, vs. Edmonton, at Anaheim, at Los Angeles and at San Jose

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS – Atlantic Division champion, 103 points

March is looking like its going to be a taxing month on the Canadiens, a club that could lose control of a division its won twice in the past three seasons. After the Habs close out their season two-and-a-half month series with rival Boston on March 3, they’ll have to clean up a six-game road trip that involves visits to Tampa (March 10) and Columbus (March 12), host the Penguins (March 15), travel to Toronto (March 17), Pittsburgh (March 21) and Buffalo (March 23), host the Capitals (March 24) and travel to Pittsburgh again (March 31). That’s quite a gauntlet for an aging defense.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (November 7-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 15 days (December 16-December 30)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Florida, at Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Washington, vs. Detroit, at Pittsburgh, vs. New Jersey, vs. Winnipeg, at Detroit and at Toronto

NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Campbell Cup winner, 94 points

Now that the Predators have cemented themselves as one of the big players in the NHL, they’ll need to back up last year’s postseason performance with a big target on their backs. That’ll be no more apparent than in their last 10 games (see below). With the exception of Florida, all of those clubs could be fighting for a playoff spot, making Nashville’s efforts to improve its seeding a difficult affair.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (November 1-7)

BYE WEEK: January 10-15 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in eight days (January 16-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, vs. Minnesota, vs. San Jose, vs. Buffalo, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at Washington and vs. Columbus

NEW JERSEY DEVILS – 27th, 70 points

Sometimes the scheduler has a cruel way of making a team a whipping post. That is the Devils’ fate over their last dozen games of the season. It’ll be no surprise that Jersey is solidly out of playoff contention by that time, but they’ll be squaring off with at least 10 teams (they play the Penguins twice) potentially in desperate need of two points to solidify a playoff spot or seed, which will make a tough season even harder for Jersey fans. Keep your heads up though, folks! Hopefully Nico Hischier can lead you back to the Promise Land!

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (December 15-29)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 14 days (March 10-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, at Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Carolina, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. NY Islanders, at Montréal, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Toronto and at Washington


NEW YORK ISLANDERS – 17th, 94 points

A year ago, the Islanders missed out on a playoff spot by only a point even though they ended their campaign on a six-game winning streak. The main reason? A slow, 8-10-4 start to the season (specifically a 1-6-1 road record through November) that eventually cost Jack Capuano his job. Surely Doug Weight is aware of this, so I expect him to have his club prepared for their California trip a week into the season. If the Isles aren’t up to snuff, Garth Snow may start fielding calls early.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (October 11-19)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (December 16-27)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Chicago, vs. Florida, at Ottawa, vs. Toronto, at New Jersey, vs. Philadelphia, vs. NY Rangers and at Detroit

NEW YORK RANGERS – eliminated in second round, 102 points

There’s some mean scheduling going on in the Metropolitan Division this season, and that is no more apparent than with the Rangers. The Blueshirts play their last regular season game at Madison Square Garden on March 30, a full eight days before their season finale in Philadelphia. Then again, is any team better prepared to complete its playoff push wearing white than New York? Last season, the Rangers won an impressive 27 games beyond the shores of Manhattan – three more than Chicago, the second-best road team. Making the four-game road trip even less frightening, the Rangers will still be able to sleep in their own beds for at least six of those nights as two of the games are against Jersey and the Islanders.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (October 14-26)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (March 31-April 7)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Columbus, at Philadelphia, vs. Buffalo, vs. Washington, at Washington, vs. Tampa Bay, at Carolina, at New Jersey, at NY Islanders and at Philadelphia

OTTAWA SENATORS – Prince of Wales Trophy runner-up, 98 points

And the winner of the second annual bye week lottery is… the Ottawa Senators! For being runner-up for the Prince of Wales Trophy a season ago, the Sens earned the longest bye week of any club in the league by at least a day. The vacation will be especially useful for the Senators, as they’ll be able to effectively prepare for their imposing five games before the All-Star Break: vs. St. Louis, vs. Toronto, at Minnesota, at St. Louis and vs. Boston.

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

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 14 days (November 29-December 12)

BYE WEEK: January 11-17 (seven days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Carolina, at Carolina, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Florida, at Detroit, vs. Winnipeg, at Buffalo, at Pittsburgh and at Boston

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – 19th, 88 points

It seems someone within the Flyers organization offended the schedule maker in the last year, because they have the unfortunate predicament of starting the season on a four-game Western road trip, culminating with a visit to Bridgestone Arena against the current owners of the Campbell Cup, the Nashville Predators. But every cloud has a silver lining, and Philly’s is twofold: not only is that (tied for) the club’s longest road trip, but they also come home to a nice long home stand.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (October 4-10)

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

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Washington, at Detroit, vs. NY Rangers, at Pittsburgh, at Dallas, at Colorado, vs. Boston, at NY Islanders, vs. Carolina and vs. NY Rangers

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – Stanley Cup Champion, 111 points

At this point, I think the Penguins are only concerned with what day the Stanley Cup Finals begin. For those wanting to dig a little bit deeper, we need to look no further than Pittsburgh’s first five games of the season against clubs with playoff aspirations, including one that may or may not feel as if it was robbed of a goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals (*hint* they definitely were).

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 28-November 4)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (December 2-11)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, vs. New Jersey, vs. Philadelphia, at Detroit, at New Jersey, vs. Montréal, vs. Washington, at Columbus and vs. Ottawa

SAN JOSE SHARKS – eliminated in first round, 99 points

The Sharks have home stands aplenty throughout their schedule – but the best one may not be the one you’re thinking of. Sure, they get to spend the first half of March in the Bay Area and play six games, but I expect Brent Burns‘ club is licking its chops even more about its opening five games. Over the first two weeks of the season, San Jose hosts Philly, LA, Buffalo, the Islanders and Montréal – four teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs and one that fell in the first round. If the Sharks can find their rhythm early, they can carry that momentum into their Eastern road swing and try to stake their claim in the Pacific Division.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (October 20-28)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (February 27-March 12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. New Jersey, vs. Vegas, vs. Calgary, at Chicago, at St. Louis, at Nashville, at Vegas, vs. Dallas, vs. Colorado and vs. Minnesota

ST. LOUIS BLUES – eliminated in second round, 99 points

The Blues’ biggest games every year are against Chicago, and 2018 will be no different. This year the matchup earns added importance as the series is backlogged in the season schedule. Game 80 for both teams will take place at Scottrade Center (soon to be the Artist Venue Formerly Known as Scottrade Center), followed only two days later by another contest at the United Center. Given the fact that first and second place in the Central Division has been separated by an average of only 2.75 points over the last four seasons, first round home ice – and maybe even a banner – could be on the line.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 11 days (November 21-December 1)

BYE WEEK: January 10-15 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in 10 days (March 3-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Boston, vs. Vancouver, at Columbus, vs. San Jose, at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Washington, vs. Chicago, at Chicago and at Colorado

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – 18th, 94th

As exciting as hosting the All-Star festivities is, there’s always one negative repercussion that sometimes gets overlooked: the extended time away from home. To allow arena staff and the NHL to prepare a venue for the event – and then return it to its original state – the Lightning will have to make two four-game road trips, before and after the event. That being said, they’ll be handsomely compensated for their time away from Amalie Arena with a long eight-game home stand for almost the entirety of March. But don’t mark those as wins yet, Bolts fans: six of those eight teams qualified for the playoffs last year.

BYE WEEK: January 12-17 (six days)

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

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 18 days (March 3-20)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at NY Islanders, at New Jersey, vs. Arizona, at Boston, at NY Rangers, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, vs. Buffalo and at Carolina

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – eliminated in first round, 95 points

Remember last season when the Maple Leafs finally clinched their playoff spot in their penultimate game? That may be a bit harder to do this year as Toronto has only 18 contests following the trade deadline, tied with Anaheim for the lowest total over that stretch of time. Instead, Mike Babcock’s club will have to get their work done early this year with 23 games before Thanksgiving. Given Auston Matthews‘ four-goal debut a season ago, something tells me that won’t be too big a task.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 12 days (December 20-31)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (January 2-16)

BYE WEEK: January 11-15 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Tampa Bay, at Nashville, vs. Detroit, vs. Buffalo, vs. Florida, at NY Islanders, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, at New Jersey and vs. Montréal

VANCOUVER CANUCKS – 29th, 69 points

Last season, Vancouver went a measly 12-26-3 away from Rogers
Arena, the second-worst road record in the league. That’s what makes January so frightening for the Canucks, even if their bye week occurs in the middle of their seven-game road trip. If Vancouver can survive that and is still in the playoff hunt at the end of March, it has a tough five-game home stand that should either more than properly prepare it for the playoffs or allow the squad to set up their April 8 tee times early.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days – 2x (October 26-November 6; January 23-February 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 16 days (January 6-21)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vegas, at Chicago, at St. Louis, at Dallas, vs. Anaheim, vs. Edmonton, vs. Columbus, vs. Vegas, vs. Arizona and at Edmonton

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

What better way to build quick interest in the NHL’s newest market than by having not one seven-game home stand in its debut season, but two? The first should certainly be the more exciting of the two, as four of the Golden Knights’ seven opponents failed to make the playoffs a season ago. The better Vegas capitalizes on this …ahem… golden opportunity, the better its chance of achieving the club’s primary on-the-ice objective: finishing ahead of Colorado.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 10-27)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (January 30-February 8)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Vancouver, at San Jose, at Colorado, vs. Colorado, vs. Arizona, vs. St. Louis, vs. San Jose, at Vancouver, at Edmonton and at Calgary

WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Presidents’ Trophy winner, 118 points

Washington’s roster may have taken a hit, but that doesn’t mean the Capitals’ goal has changed. The first four games on their schedule should give us a good impression of what to expect from them this year, as they’ll visit Ottawa, host Montréal, travel to Tampa Bay and host Pittsburgh – four quality sides in seven days that also have their eyes on the postseason.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (November 30-December 8)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (December 19-27)

BYE WEEK: January 13-17 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Dallas, at Detroit, at Montréal, at NY Rangers, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Carolina, at Pittsburgh, at St. Louis, vs. Nashville and vs. New Jersey

WINNIPEG JETS – 20th, 87 points

After the All-Star festivities in Tampa have died down, make sure to turn your attention to Manitoba where Patrik Laine and the Jets could dominate the month of February. The club that missed the playoffs by only seven points a season ago will play 12 games before the trade deadline, the first 10 of which will be at The Phone Booth. If Winnipeg can’t improve on last year’s 22-18-1 home record over that stretch, it could signal an early end for the Jets’ quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

BYE WEEK: January 14-19 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: 10 games in 22 days (January 30-February 20)

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

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Los Angeles, vs. Anaheim, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, at Chicago, at Toronto, at Ottawa, at Montréal, vs. Calgary and vs. Chicago

April 3 – Day 166 – One more! For Queen Elizabeth!

Seven more days of the regular season remain, making this the last Monday of the NHL year. I know it’s difficult, but enjoy it as best as you can.

To help you do that, there’s three games on the schedule tonight. A pair of those (Toronto at Buffalo [NHLN/SN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Detroit [RDS2]) drop the puck at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Montréal at Florida (RDS) – tonight’s early nightcap. All times eastern.

Since none of these games are matchups of playoff teams, what better contest to watch than the Battle for the Queen Elizabeth Way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though divided by a national border, the fact that these towns are separated by only 89 miles/145 kilometers has yielded quite the rivalry. That hatred has only increased this season as both the Maple Leafs and Sabres are returning to form and promise to be strong clubs next season and for years to come.

The future has come early in Toronto, as the Maple Leafs have a 38-24-15 record that is good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division. Winners of their past three games, the Leafs have been especially good since March 16, as they’ve gone 7-1-1 since then, which ties for the fourth-best run in the league in that time.

Just like it’s been all season, the reason for Toronto‘s success over this run has been its incredible offense. The Leafs have scored 32 goals since mid-March, a total that ties for second-most in the league in that time.

The man behind this attack? Exactly who it’s been all year: rookie phenom Auston Matthews. Not only has the kid scored seven goals for 11 points in the last nine games, but he’s also tied at 38 with Nikita Kucherov for third-most tallies all season.

It goes without saying, but this Leaf is absolutely special. He is the number one reason Toronto is currently in playoff position going to be in the playoffs, and potentially could be reasons two and three as well.

Reason four just might be Toronto‘s power play. Converting 30.4% of  their opportunities of late, the Maple Leafs‘ man-advantage has been fourth-best in the NHL since March 16. While Matthews has been effective during this specific stretch (he’s scored three power play goals for four points in his last nine games), fellow rookie William Nylander has been the true stud on the man-advantage. He’s notched 25 points with the extra man all season, nine of which have been tallies off his stick, to lead all first-year players.

To complete our perfunctory list, reason number five has to be Toronto‘s penalty kill. Thanks in large part to 32-15-14 Frederik Andersen and his .897 power play save percentage (fourth best in the league among the 37 netminders with at least 32 appearances), the Maple Leafs have rejected 83% of opposing man-advantages to rank eighth-best in the NHL.

Don’t tell anybody, but that lone regulation loss Toronto has suffered recently came at the hands of the 32-34-12 Sabres, the second-worst team in the Atlantic. Unfortunately, that win is one of only four the Sabres have earned in their past seven games.

You’ve got to score to win, and that’s been Buffalo‘s main struggle of late. Although Jack Eichel has averaged a point-per-game over this stretch (including three goals) to lead the team, he and Ryan O’Reilly (six points) have been the only two forwards really contributing to the attack lately.

Of course, that’s looking at the offense as a whole. When you start breaking things down, you find Buffalo‘s problem truly lies in even-strength play, as its power play has been the best in the league since mid-March.

Yes, even better than Washington‘s vaunted attack.

The Sabres have converted 46.7% of their man-advantage opportunities in the last two weeks, and it is on this assault where more of the team has participated. 15 different players have contributed at least a point on even-strength play since March 17, compared to 10 on the power play in that time.

Five more players were involved? Great! Bottom line, it means the Sabres are scoring!

True, but unfortunately it’s not that easy. Buffalo has spent a combined 22:16 on the man-advantage over 15 opportunities in its past seven games. Both those totals are the lowest in the league over that stretch. That means much of the team has effectively wasted the remaining (approximately) 400 minutes they’ve played, as they’ve only scored nine goals during five-on-five play, or a goal every 44 minutes.

One goal per 44 minutes of even-strength play does not win hockey games. If that’s not apparent by Buffalo‘s recent record, I don’t know what is.

Fortunately, the Sabres have remained competitive due to performing the opposite special team as well as they execute the power play. 22-24-8 Robin Lehner deserves much of the credit for that success, as his .926 power play save percentage ranks sixth-best in the NHL among the 39 goalies with at least four appearances since March 17.

Though the Sabres will miss the postseason for the sixth-straight season, this is an important game for Buffalo. Due to their two-game winning streak against Toronto, the Sabres have tied the season series against the Maple Leafs at 2-2-0, making this contest a true rubber match.

They last squared off on March 25 at the KeyBank Center – the same site of tonight’s game – where the Sabres won 5-2 on Eichel’s two-goal, three-point night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Lehner (.921 save percentage [tied for ninth-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (32 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league], including four shutouts [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), Jake Gardiner (+26 [10th-best in the league]) and Matthews (38 points [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Uh oh, that’s not good for the home team. Vegas has marked this game with a +140 line, meaning the odds-makers favor the Leafs. Unfortunately for the Sabres, so do I. While both clubs are almost evenly matched on special teams, the Toronto‘s offense is far superior at even-strength, which is where they should earn the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ray Getliffe (1914-2008) – Though originally a Bruin, this forward spent most of his 10-year career in Montréal. A two-time Stanley Cup champion, he hoisted the trophy once with both clubs.
  • Bernie Parent (1945-) – Another player to start his career in Boston, this Hall-of-Fame goaltender played most of his 13 NHL seasons with the Flyers. He was a five-time All Star and won two Conn Smythes, Vezinas and – most importantly – Stanley Cups.
  • Brent Gilchrist (1967-) – Drafted by Montréal 79th-overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing  played 15 seasons in the league – most of which with the Stars organization. He hoisted his lone Stanley Cup in 1998 with the Red Wings.
  • Shawn Bates (1975-) – The Boston-theme continues with this center, as the Bruins selected him in the fourth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He actually spent most of his 10-year career with the Islanders, with whom he notched 170 of his 198 career points.
  • Stephen Weiss (1983-) – The fourth-overall selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, this center spent all but two of his 13 seasons with the Panthers. He notched 423 points before hanging up his skates, including 156 goals.

The Predators had the chance to not only clinch their postseason berth with a victory, but also surpass the Blues for third place in the Central Division. Instead, St. Louis beat Nashville 4-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

St. Louis didn’t wait long to get on the board, courtesy of a Vladimir Tarasenko (Jaden Schwartz and First Star of the Game David Perron) wrist shot 5:22 after the initial puck drop. Ryan Johansen (Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban) and the Preds responded exactly six minutes later to tie the game at one-all with a power play wrister, the score that held into the first intermission.

Alex Steen (Perron) provided the game-winner early in the second period. He buried a wrister only 55 seconds after resuming play from the first intermission, followed only 5:52 later by a Perron (Alex Pietrangelo) wrister. Those tallies set the score at 3-1, which held into the second intermission.

The lone score of the third belonged to Third Star Joel Edmundson, an unassisted wrister 8:11 into the frame.

Second Star Jake Allen saved 35-of-36 shots faced (97.2%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Juuse Saros, who saved 21-of-25 (84%).

Nashville did qualify for the playoffs yesterday by virtue of Arizona beating ninth-place Los Angeles.

For four straight days now, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have earned two points in the standings. Within the series, that has given hosts a 85-58-25 record, five points better than the roadies.

March 31 – Day 163 – Keeping it in Alberta

Welcome to the penultimate Friday in the NHL’s regular season. Unless you’re a fan of one of the 16 teams heading for the playoffs, there’s not much hockey left to be watched so make sure to catch the rest of this season’s games!

Tonight’s festivities start with Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers (SN) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by New Jersey at the New York Islanders. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Columbus at Chicago,  with two more (St. Louis at Colorado and San Jose at Calgary) getting underway at the top of the hour. Two contests – Los Angeles at Vancouver (SN360) and Washington at Arizona – share the role of nightcap and get started at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Pittsburgh at New York: Not only is it a rematch of last year’s Eastern Quarterfinals, but the Blueshirts could pull within four points of third place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • Columbus at Chicago: Two of the three best teams in the league? Yes please.
  • San Jose at Calgary: Thanks to the Sharks‘ loss last night, the Flames are only three points out of third place in the Pacific Division.

I’d love to watch the Hawks and Jackets square off, but it doesn’t have major playoff implications – and that’s what we’re all about this time of year. As much as I dislike repeating teams on back-to-back nights, it looks like we have to catch the Sharks‘ plane to Calgary for another important Pacific tilt.

 

If the Sharks can be happy about anything right now, it’s that today is the final day in what has been a dreadful March for them. Their 6-9-0 mark is tied with Arizona for the sixth-worst record in the month, and being compared to Coyotes in anything is usually a sign of trouble.

What makes the recent struggles an even harder pill to swallow is that it is spoiling an overall solid regular season. When the final game in February was played, San Jose was not only leading the Pacific Division by five points, but also trailed Minnesota by only seven points for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Thirty days later, the 43-27-7 Sharks sit alone in third place in the division, and four teams separate them from home ice throughout the conference playoffs. It leaves a club and fan base that entered the season on a quest to hoist its first Stanley Cup wondering if they can even escape what will be a very trying quarterfinals matchup against the Ducks, Flames, Oilers or possibly even the Blackhawks.

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s been an nearly all-inclusive collapse (defense notwithstanding) by the Sharks that has resulted in their horrendous run over the past 15 games.

Since 33-32-6 Martin Jones was in net last night, I’d assume 10-6-1 Aaron Dell will start in goal tonight (of course, I tabbed Dell to start yesterday and I was wrong, so who knows?). Dell has actually been a solid backup all season, as his .928 save percentage and 2.09 GAA are not only better than Jones’ effort, but also rank (t)third and fourth-best in the league among the 56 netminders with at least 16 appearances.

Whether we get that Dell or the Dell that has seen his save percentage drop to .915 in March remains to be seen, but you can plan on Justin Braun and San Jose‘s defense playing as strong as ever.

All season the goal has been to keep pucks off Dell and Jones’ crease as much as possible, and they’ve done an excellent job in achieving just that. All year, they’ve allowed only 27.5 shots-against per game – the third-best rate in the league – and they’ve actually been slightly better of late, allowing only 27.1 per game in March.

No Shark deserves more credit for that than Braun. He’s been the defensive stalwart of the club all year, and it shows in his team-leading 154 shot blocks. Another that has done well defensively is Joe Thornton, but he does his work before the opposition even thinks about firing at the net. He leads the squad in takeaways with 64 (tied for eighth-most in the league), including 13 this month.

The goaltending issues have proven to be especially detrimental to San Jose‘s penalty kill. Since it has been only an average effort on the season as a whole (80.8% kill rate is 15th-worst in the NHL), taking away the luxury of a usually-reliable backstop has dropped the Sharks to ninth-worst in March, neutralizing only 78% of their infractions. Dell has saved only 85% of the power play shots that have come his way this month, the 14th-worst effort among the 38 goalies with at least six March appearances.

Special teams seem to be a struggle for Peter DeBoer’s squad this year, as his power play has actually been worse than his penalty kill. The Sharks rank seventh-worst on the season with their 17.1% success rate with the man-advantage.

It’s surprising that San Jose has been so poor, mostly because they have one weapon few can match: Brent Burns. The offensive-minded blueliner has notched 24 points on the power play this campaign, which ties for 16th-most in the NHL.

Perhaps the Sharks‘ mojo has relocated itself to Cowtown. Currently in possession of a 43-30-4 record and the West’s first wild card, the Flames have earned a 15-4-1 record since February 15. That ties Columbus for the best mark in that time, though I’d argue the Flames have been better with one fewer game played.

I may actually be on to something regarding San Jose‘s mojo, as Brian Elliott has been fantastic during this run. After a rocky start to the season, he’s reclaimed the starting job in Calgary and made it his own. Since mid-February, he’s earned a .933 save percentage and a 1.97 GAA, the fourth and fifth-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 33 goalies with at least nine appearances in that time.

Tonight is the fourth of five games between these clubs this season, and the Flames have the opportunity to clinch the series victory with a win tonight. They’ve gone 2-1-0 so far against San Jose, including the last time they met on January 11. It was a closely contested affair, but Dougie Hamilton scored with 2:19 remaining in regulation to earn a 3-2 win for the Flames in the Saddledome.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Johnny Gaudreau (42 assists for 59 points [both lead the team]) and Mark Giordano (176 blocks for a+22 [both lead the team]) & San Jose‘s Burns (73 points [eighth-most in the league]) and Jones (33 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

It’s hard to argue with recent success. Vegas has marked the Flames a -130 favorite to win tonight. Just like I said yesterday, the Sharks‘ rebound has to start in the crease. While Calgary certainly doesn’t pose the offensive threat the Oilers did a night ago, the Flames‘ confidence should be enough to get past whichever goaltender DeBoer decides to go with.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bud MacPherson (1927-1988) – For seven seasons MacPherson roamed along Montréal‘s blueline, and he was rewarded with one All-Star Game and the 1953 Stanley Cup.
  • Gordie Howe (1928-2016) – There’s no discussion: this right wing is one of the greatest players the world has ever seen. Named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 – seven years before his last season in the league – he played in 23 All-Star Games over 26 NHL seasons (all but one with Detroit) and won both the Hart Memorial and Art Ross Trophies six times apiece, not to mention his four Stanley Cups.
  • Bob Pulford (1936-) – Another Hall of Famer, this left wing played all but two seasons of his 16-year career in Toronto. He won four Stanley Cups in the process, including three-straight from 1962-’64.
  • Bill Hicke (1938-2005) – Spending most of his time in Montréal, this right wing played 13 seasons in the NHL. The three-time All-Star was good for almost as many penalty minutes as points contributed, but that didn’t stop him from being a two-time Stanley Cup champion.
  • Gilles Gilbert (1949-) – Selected by the North Stars 25th-overall in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft, this goaltender played 416 games over his 14-year career. Spending most of his time in Boston, he earned a 192-143-60 record before hanging up his pads.
  • Tom Barrasso (1965-) – Buffalo selected this goaltender fifth-overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, but he played a majority of his career for the Penguins. He played well for both clubs, as he earned the 1984 Calder Memorial and Vezina Trophies and the 1985 William M. Jennings Trophy with the Sabres and back-to-back Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh.
  • Pavel Bure (1971-) – Though only selected in the sixth round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by Vancouver (his longest-tenured club), this right wing had a highly successful career. In addition to six All-Star Game appearances, he won two Maurice Richard Trophies and the 1992 Calder. All of that added up to a Hall of Fame induction in 2012.
  • Michael Ryder (1980-) – Montréal selected this right wing in the eighth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his 11 seasons. That being said, he was wearing the crest of the arch-rival Bruins when he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup.
  • David Clarkson (1984-) – A longtime right wing for the Devils, this Toronto-native played 10 seasons in the NHL. He could’ve been playing his 11th this year with Columbus, but he was denied the opportunity to practice with the club due to failing his physical.
  • Steve Bernier (1985-) – The 16th-overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, this right wing has played 633 games over 11 seasons in the league. His longest -tenured club is New Jersey, with whom he scored 28 goals for 65 points.
  • Jakob Chychrun (1998-) – This rookie defenseman was the 16th-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by Arizona. He shows promise on the offensive end of the ice, as he’s provided 19 points already this year, the third-most among Coyotes blueliners.

Thanks to Second Star of the Game Cam Talbot‘s 38-save effort, Edmonton was able to best the Sharks 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to improve into second place in the Pacific Division.

Though Talbot had a strong night, it didn’t start off the best way. He allowed Jannik Hansen (Paul Martin) to score only his eighth goal of the season 1:01 into play to allow the Sharks to take an early lead. Fortunately for him, Third Star Patrick Maroon (First Star Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) provided a game-tying goal 9:21 later. Though Zack Kassian was sent off the ice for hooking birthday boy Marc-Edouard Vlasic with 3:24 remaining in the period, McDavid (Oscar Klefbom and Drake Caggiula) was able to score a shorthanded backhander only 52 seconds later to give the Oil a 2-1 lead it would not yield.

Maroon (Kris Russell) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal 7:51 into the third period with a tip-in. It became the winner with 6:01 remaining in regulation when Joe Pavelski (Vlasic and Hansen) scored a tip-in of his own, but the Sharks were unable to find another tally before the final horn.

Talbot earned the victory after saving 38-of-40 shots faced (95%), leaving the loss to Jones, who saved 19-of-22 (86.4%).

We’re all squared up once again in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as both home and away teams in the series have an identical 189 points. Road sides still have more wins with their 83-59-23 record.

March 24 – Day 156 – Isle have what he’s having

Just like you look forward to Friday to begin your two-day break, this is a lot of the league’s rest day before a weekend of excitement.

There’s only four games on the schedule tonight, starting with the New York Islanders at Pittsburgh (NHLN/SN/TVAS) at 7 p.m. and Tampa Bay at Detroit half an hour later. San Jose at Dallas drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., with Winnipeg at Anaheim – tonight’s nightcap – getting underway at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New York at Pittsburgh: Not only is it rivalry night in the Steel City, but the Isles have a chance to move into the playoff bracket.
  • Tampa Bay at Detroit: It’s been almost a year now, but these clubs did meet up in one of last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.

With the Bruins on a four-game losing skid, they’ve opened the door for the Islanders to once again enter the playoff picture. Pair that with one of my favorite rivalries in the Metropolitan Division (at least), and we’ve got a surefire featured matchup!

 

The rivalry between these two clubs is well documented in multiple places around the web, though I would recommend the YouTube videos I included on November 18 when these teams met for the second time this season. In gist, previous meetings between these clubs have been… scrappy.

As mentioned before, 34-26-12 New York is licking its chops in anticipation for tonight’s game, because a win over a rival is made only sweeter by moving into the second wild card spot that is currently occupied by 38-30-6 Boston.

For the ninth-place Isles (fifth in the Metropolitan) to actually secure that win, they’ll need to shore up a defensive end that has been a little more than leaky this season. They’ve allowed 216 goals against already this year, the #fifth-most in the NHL.

Of course, that starts with the goaltender. Enter 25-16-5 Thomas Greiss, who was officially declared New York‘s starting goaltender after 6-8-5 Jaroslav Halak was sent to Bridgeport on New Year’s Eve. Greiss has tried to make solid use of his time, but his .914 season save percentage and 2.67 GAA rank only #(t)24th and #28th-best among the 46 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

While those are below-average numbers, it’s not as if he’s the only hole on that end of the Islanders‘ ice. The defense playing in front of him is not much better, as they allow 32.1 shots-per-game to reach Greiss’ net – the #fifth-highest average in the NHL. The main reason New York isn’t worse is the incredible play of Calvin de Haan, who has 170 shot blocks to his credit to not only lead the team, but also rank #fifth-best in the league.

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but another issue in New York has been a power play that is successful on only 15.8% of attempts – the #fifth-worst effort in the league. Just like he does on the even-strength attack, Captain John Tavares has been the star of the man-advantage with his team-leading 17 power play points. He’s joined at the top of the Isles‘ extra-man scorers list by Anders Lee, as both have buried seven tallies.

Though their injury list is nearly as long as this preview, the 46-17-10 Penguins are the second-best team in the Metropolitan, Eastern Conference and the NHL. Having already locked up their spot in the playoffs, Pittsburgh will try to continue their impressive offensive performance that has returned 250 goals – the #most in the NHL.

As you’d probably guess, the man behind that charge is none other than Captain Sidney Crosby. He leads Pittsburgh‘s offensive juggernaut with 81 points, 41 of which are goals – another mark he paces the club in. His season goal total is already the second-highest of his career, but it doesn’t seem he’ll match or succeed his 2009-’10 personal best of 51 tallies in a campaign.

One of the Pens‘ favorite ways to score the puck is via the power play, as they are #tied for third-best in the league with their 22.3% success rate. Second-year Penguin Phil Kessel has been instrumental in that effort with his team-leading 28 power play points, but Crosby still manages to get his beak wet, as 13 of his goals have come with the extra-man – the most on the squad.

So far this year, the Penguins have had the upper-hand when squaring off against the Islanders, as they’ve won two of the previous three matchups. Of course, the most recent meeting on November 30 was the one the Isles won 5-3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New York‘s Josh Bailey (37 assists [leads the team]), Cal Clutterbuck (193 hits [leads the team]), Dennis Seidenberg (+23 [leads the team]) and Tavares (62 points [leads the team]) & Pittsburgh‘s Ian Cole (+28 [seventh-best in the league]), Crosby (41 goals [leads the NHL] for 81 points [tied for second-most in the league]), Matthew Murray (.925 save percentage [sixth-best in the NHL] for a 2.34 GAA [10th-best in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+32 [tied for best in the NHL]).

I haven’t seen Vegas’ line for tonight’s game yet, but I can only assume it favors the home Penguins. None are better than Pittsburgh at scoring the puck, and the Islanders can’t help but allow goals. All signs point toward the Isles fighting for a playoff spot on a different night.

Hockey Birthday

  • Doug Jarvis (1955-) – Toronto selected this center 24th-overall in the 1975 NHL Amateur Draft, but he never played a game for the Leafs. Instead, he played most of his 13 seasons in Montréal, where he hoisted four-straight Stanley Cups. His hardware collection also includes the 1984 Frank J. Selke and the 1987 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophies.
  • Pat Price (1955-) – 13 picks before Jarvis was selected, the Islanders picked up this defenseman. He played 13 seasons in the NHL, and spent most of his time in Quebec. From 1976-’78, he registered an impressive +51 rating on only 37 points.
  • Philippe Boucher (1973-) – The 13th-overall selection in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo, this defenseman spent 16 seasons in the league, mostly in Los Angeles. During his sixth campaign with Dallas, he was traded to Pittsburgh to win the 2009 Stanley Cup and close out his career.
  • Maxim Kuznetsov (1977-) – Detroit selected this defenseman 26th-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent most of his NHL career. Unfortunately for him, his tenure in the league was only 136 games and four seasons long.
  • Ron Hainsey (1981-) – A longtime member of the Thrashers/Jets organization, this defenseman was selected 13th-overall by Montréal in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Similar to Boucher, Hainsey was traded to Pittsburgh at this season’s trade deadline in hopes of claiming his first Stanley Cup.
  • P.A. Parenteau (1983-) – Though selected by Anaheim in the ninth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, this left wing has been a career journeyman over his nine seasons in the league. Currently, he plays for the Predators after joining them at this season’s trade deadline.

I predicted a defensive matchup, and that’s exactly what we got in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Washington needed a shootout to knock off the Blue Jackets at the Verizon Center.

Although a combined total of 48 shots were fired over the course of the first 40 minutes, the first goal of the game wasn’t struck until the 41 second mark of the third period. That tally belonged to Seth Jones (Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner) and the Jackets, but the Capitals were more than prepared to deal with that obstacle. 5:58 after Jones’ marker, Third Star of the Game Dmitry Orlov (Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams) buried his sixth goal of the season to tie the game at one-all, the score that held through the remainder of regulation and the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

Who knew that even a shootout could be a defensive affair?

  1. The only person that didn’t apply to was T.J. Oshie, who scored the first shootout attempt to give the Caps an early lead.
  2. Cam Atkinson was charged with leveling the shootout for Columbus, but First Star Braden Holtby was having none of that. He saved Atkinson’s shot to keep Washington‘s 1-0 shootout lead.
  3. Evgeny Kuznetsov tried to improve on the Capitals‘ advantage, but Second Star Sergei Bobrovsky would not yield.
  4. Sam Gagner tried to reward Bobrovsky’s work, but he met a worse fate than Atkinson – he completely missed.
  5. Nicklas Backstrom had a chance to end the shootout with a goal, but Bobrovsky earned one more shot for his club after saving the center’s attempt.
  6. It’s not often a team gets three tries to tie a shootout, but Alexander Wennberg did not take advantage of that opportunity. Holtby made the save to earn the extra point in the standings.

Holtby saved 29-of-20 shots faced (96.7%) to earn the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Bobrovsky, who saved 44-of-45 (97.8%).

That victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which is now tied at 79-56-23.

March 15 – Day 147 – The Flames are red hot

Only four games are on the schedule tonight, so let’s dive right in. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS), followed 90 minutes later by Boston at Calgary (SN). Detroit visits Colorado at 9:30 p.m. and St. Louis at Anaheim (NBCSN), tonight’s nightcap, drops the puck half an hour later. All times eastern.

If it was certain Mark Streit would be available for tonight’s game, I’d be much more inclined to feature the Battle for the Keystone State. But with the injury he sustained Monday night, I’m much more interested in the Bruins‘ visit to the Saddledome.

 

Winners of its past three contests, Boston enters tonight’s game with a 37-26-6 record good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins may not be dominant on either end of the ice, but they play a solid overall game. Specifically, I’m most impressed with a defensive effort that has yielded only 177 goals against, which ties for the 10th-fewest in the NHL.

Of course, that always starts with the goaltender, and Boston has a good one in 33-16-4 Tuukka Rask. Yet even the best goaltenders need a night off every once in a while, and that’s where 4-5-1 Anton Khudobin comes into play. He’s registered a .895 season save percentage and 2.76 GAA, the 56th and 42nd-best marks, respectively, among the 68 goalies with at least five appearances this year.

While neither stats are worth writing home to Russia about (I mean, we need to factor in the price of postage), he’ll be receiving considerable help from his blueline tonight. Led by Captain Zdeno Chara‘s 116 short blocks (narrowly beating out Adam McQuaid‘s contributions), the Bruins have allowed only 26.5 shots to reach their goalies’ crease, the second-best rate in the NHL.

That play is especially impressive in light of last season’s performance, which forced Bruins goaltenders to shrug off more than 30 shots-per-game. As rookie Brandon Carlo continues to grow, Boston‘s defense could become one of the stingiest in the league.

Speaking of stingy, that’s exactly what the Bruins‘ top-rated penalty kill is. Thanks in large part to McQuaid’s 32 shorthanded shot blocks, the Bruins escape opponents’ power plays unscathed 86.2% of the time.

Boston is also the proud home of a solid power play. While not as successful as their penalty kill, the Bruins do tie for 10th-best in the league with a power play that finds the back of the net 20.5% of the time. That attack is twin-led by first-unit members Torey Krug and David Pastrnak, both of whom have 20 power play points. Pastrnak also shares the extra-man goal-scoring lead, but this time with Brad Marchand. Both of them have buried the puck eight times on the power play.

In a surprising turn of events since December and January, defense has become the name of the game for the 39-26-4 Flames, who currently occupy second place in the Pacific Division and are easily the hottest team in the league (pun intended). Winners of their past 10 games, they’ve allowed only 183 goals against so far this season, the 13th-fewest in the NHL.

For the second season in a row, 21-13-3 Brian Elliott has righted the ship for another playoff-hopeful club. Although his .91 season save percentage isn’t the best on the team (that belongs to Chad Johnson and his .913), his 2.51 GAA is, and those rank (t)33rd and (t)17th-best in the league, respectively, among the 51 goalies with at least 18 appearances.

Those numbers aren’t exactly impressive, but they don’t have to be when Elliott plays behind one of the better defensed in the league. Allowing only 28.7 shots to reach his crease per game, Calgary ranks eighth-best in the NHL. That success is due in large part to Mark Giordano, whose 154 shot blocks not only pace the Flames, but are sixth-most in the NHL.

Thanks to Johnson’s incredible night in net (he saved 35-of-36 – 97.2%!), the Flames were able to stave off the Bruins‘ offense for a 2-1 victory when they made their annual visit to Boston on November 25.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (35 goals [tied for most in the NHL] for 74 points [tied for third-most in the league]) and Calgary‘s Giordano (+17 on 154 blocks [both lead the team]).

Calgary is narrowly favored to win tonight’s game by Vegas with a -105 line. I can certainly see why the oddsmakers are concerned, but I also know the Flames have beaten some solid teams over this winning streak. I like the Bruins to win tonight, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Calgary can keep the magic going again this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Punch Imlach (1918-1987) – It goes without saying, but a coaching career that features four Stanley Cups, including three in a row from 1962-’64, is probably a good one. Imlach did just that with the Maple Leafs, the team he coached for 12 of his 14 seasons. He completed his career in the 1979-’80 season with a 402-337-150 record.
  • Craig Ludwig (1961-) – Montréal selected this defenseman 61st-overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played the first eight years of his career and won his first Stanley Cup. Following a year with the Islanders, he joined the (North) Stars organization in 1991-’92, with whom he played the last eight years of his career  – and won his second Stanley Cup.
  • Darcy Tucker (1975-) – Another Montréal pick, this right wing was selected in the sixth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. Although drafted by the Canadiens, he actually spent most of his 14-year career with Toronto, where he scored 148 of his 215 career goals.
  • James Reimer (1988-) – Speaking of the Maple Leafs, they selected this goaltender 99th-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He spent six seasons in Toronto before being traded to the Sharks at the deadline last year. He now plays in Florida, where he’s earned a 12-12-5 record.

Although the Wild scored two goals in the third period, it wasn’t enough to get past the Capitals in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. Washington defended the Verizon Center to a 4-2 victory.

Although both clubs combined for 29 shots in the first period, this game almost reached the first intermission scoreless. The operative word there is almost, as Nate Schmidt (Second Star of the Game Alex Ovechkin and First Star Nicklas Backstrom) scored only his second goal of the season with a dozen seconds remaining on the clock to give Washington a one-goal lead.

February 19. 11 games ago. That was the last time Ovechkin scored before tonight’s tally. Assisted by John Carlson and Backstrom, he buried a wrist shot with 5:08 remaining in the second period to double the Caps‘ lead and end his scoreless skid. The game-winner belongs to Evgeny Kuznetsov (Backstrom and Carlson) on a power play wrister 2:16 later that set the score at 3-0.

Whatever Bruce Boudreau said in the dressing room during intermission, it seems Matt Dumba (Mikael Granlund) took it to heart, as he buried a backhanded shot 37 seconds after play resumed to get the Wild on the board. Eric Staal (Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter) followed that four minutes later with a power play wrister to pull Minnesota within a goal, but they couldn’t find another tally. Jay Beagle (Dmitry Orlov) made the Wild‘s comeback even more difficult by burying a wrister with 5:41 remaining in the game, setting the 4-2 final score.

Third Star Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (93.75%), leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 36-of-40 (90%).

While losing first place in the division and conference is obviously the bigger issue for the Wild, they are also responsible for allowing the 75-53-21 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series to have a one-point lead over the visitors.

March 3 – Day 135 – Andersen’s revenge

Fridays usually aren’t too eventful in the NHL, but that’s not true tonight with half a dozen contests being played. The action starts at 7 p.m. with Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (NHLN/SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Arizona at Carolina. The staggered starts continue at 8 p.m. with St. Louis at Winnipeg, trailed 30 minutes later by the New York Islanders at Chicago. Detroit at Calgary drops the puck at 9 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Toronto at Anaheim – waiting an hour before getting underway. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh: The Penguins needed seven games to get past the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals en route to their fourth Stanley Cup victory.
  • New York at Chicago: For four years of Andrew Ladd‘s career, he wore the Blackhawksred-and-black. But now, he dresses for the Islanders.
  • Toronto at Anaheim: Frederik Andersen also returns to his former stomping grounds, as he called the Honda Center home for the first three years of his career.

Since Ladd only played 19 regular seasons with the Hawks last year, lets focus in on Andersen’s trip west.

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*Author’s note: All statistics were accurate at the time of composition. Three games (NYI@DAL, TOR@LAK and VAN@SJS) had yet to finish. My apologies for the inconvenience.*

Although originally drafted by Carolina in 2010, Andersen elected for re-entry after being unable to reach a contract with the Hurricanes and was selected by Anaheim 87th-overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Only a season later, he was the Ducks‘ primary backup. He made 24 starts during that 2013-’14 rookie season, and earned a 20-5-0 on career-bests .923 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.

That good impression earned him the starting job in his sophomore season, and he retained it through last year. Over his entire career in Anaheim (aka, the first three years of his career), he earned an impressive 114-77-26 record on a .918 save percentage and 2.33 GAA, and helped lead the Ducks to a 2015 Western Conference Finals appearance.

He looked to be the goaltender of the Ducks‘ future, but Bob Murray had other ideas. With the quick coming of age by John Gibson (Andersen’s backup from 2014-’16), he was presented with the perfect situation: two fantastic goaltenders both under the age of 30. Looks like it’s time to make a trade, but who to ship off?

Murray decided to stick with the younger Gibson, leaving Andersen as the odd man out. That’s how he ended up in Toronto. He was traded to the Maple Leafs this offseason in exchange for two draft picks (one of which became Sam Steel of the Regina Pats).

It’s easy to say it’s been a seamless transition. Andersen’s play has, for the most part, remained consistent to what he exhibited in Anaheim and the Leafs are in playoff contention for the first time since 2012-’13.

While Andersen has been good, the 28-21-13 Maple Leafs‘ offense has been better. They’ve buried 189 goals in 62 games this season – the sixth-best effort in the NHL – and that success has led them to fourth place in the Atlantic Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference.

Of course, when you have the incredible Auston Matthews, that shouldn’t be that difficult to do. The rookie has been absolutely unstoppable this season, as he already has an impressive 55 points to his credit to lead the team. 31 of those points have been goals, another total that paces Toronto.

The Leafs are especially potent on the power play. Led by rookie William Nylanders‘ 20 power play points, Toronto leads the NHL with a 23% success rate with the man-advantage. If Gibson picks one Maple Leaf to pay extra attention to when his club is short a man, it should be Nazem Kadri. The center has 10 extra-man goals to his credit – the most on the team.

Toronto has also been solid on the penalty kill. Properly defending 83.5% of their infractions, the Leafs are ninth-best in the league in that situation. Much of that success is the fruit of Roman Polak‘s labor, as his 29 shorthanded blocks are best on the team.

Though playing without him, Andersen’s former club is still finding wins this season. They currently occupy third place in the Pacific Division with their 32-21-10 record, and most of that success is directly due to their impressive defense and goaltending, as the Ducks have allowed only 159 goals against this year – that ties for the sixth-fewest in the NHL.

It turns out keeping Gibson was, at minimum, a good choice. He’s earned an impressive 23-15-8 mark so far this year on his season .922 save percentage and 2.24 GAA, the (t)seventh and sixth-best effort in the league among the 43 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

Of course, it never hurts to help a 23-year-old netminder with one of the league’s better defenses. Led by Cam Fowler‘s 105 shot blocks (he’s on pace to best his former career-high 122 blocks by 15), Anaheim has allowed only 29.3 shots-per-game to reach Gibson’s crease – the ninth-best effort in the league.

As you’d expect from a team that does almost everything regarding the defense well, the penalty kill is fairly solid. The Ducks properly neutralize 84.9% of opposing power plays, the fourth-best rate in the league. Fowler deserves a lot of the credit, as his 23 shorthanded shot blocks are tops on the club.

The Ducks have already made their yearly trip to Toronto, and it was certainly a successful trip. Thanks to Fowler’s game-winning power play tally, Anaheim won December 19’s contest at the Air Canada Centre 3-2.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Gibson (five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the leauge] and a 2.24 GAA [sixth-best in the NHL] on a .922 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Toronto‘s Matthews (31 goals [tied for second-most in the NHL]).

I like the Ducks to win tonight not only because they have home ice, but also because I trust their offense more than I trust the Leafs‘ defense. It should be a tight game, but Anaheim should prevail.

Hockey Birthday

  • Andy Murray (1951-) – A head coach with 10 years of experience, Murray’s longest tenured position was with the Los Angeles Kings from 1999 to 2005. He has a career 333-278-127 record.
  • Brian Leetch (1968-) – Probably the best hockey player from Texas all-time, this Hall of Fame defenseman was selected ninth-overall by the Rangers in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft and played 18 sesaons. A nine-time All-Star, he won the 1994 Stanley Cup as well as two Norris Trophies, the 1989 Calder and the 1994 Conn Smythe.
  • Stephane Robidas (1977-) – Selected in the seventh round by Montréal in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played 15 seasons in the league, spending 11 of those years in Dallas. He finished his career with a +16 rating and earned one All-Star Game appearance.
  • Colton Orr (1982-) – He may not have been drafted, but that didn’t stop him from playing 11 years in the NHL. Spending most of that time in Toronto, he was known as an enforcer and has 641 career hits to show for his work.
  • Alexander Semin (1984-) – Washington selected this left wing 13th-overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he’s spent the most of his 11-year NHL career. Currently, he plays for the Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL.

First Star of the Game Paul Byron didn’t really feel like playing overtime last night, so he buried an unassisted wrist shot with nine seconds remaining in regulation to give Montréal a 2-1 victory over the Predators in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Nashville actually had the lead for most of the game. With 95 seconds remaining in the first period, Ryan Ellis (P.K. Subban and Mike Fisher) buried a power play slap shot to set the score at 1-0.

Not only would that tally last to the first intermission, but it would also hold through the entire second period.

With 9:05 remaining in regulation, things started to get interesting. Brendan Gallagher (Alex Galchenyuk) potted a wrap-around goal to pull the Habs even with the Preds. Then madness happened, as Byron won the game with fewer than 10 seconds on the clock.

Second Star Carey Price earned the victory after saving 24-of-26 shots faced (96%), leaving the gut-wrenching loss to Third Star Pekka Rinne, who saved 24-of-26 (92.3%).

Montréal‘s victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, no small task given how successful the 70-45-22 visitors have been of late. Hosts now trail the visitors in the series by only eight points.

February 22 – Day 126 – Guess who’s found their stride

Like most Wednesdays, the NHL is not exactly an active place this evening, as only three games will be contested. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with Edmonton at Florida (SN), followed half an hour later by Washington at Philadelphia (NBCSN/TVAS). Finally, Boston visits Anaheim (SN/SN1) at 10:30 p.m. to act as this evening’s nightcap. All times eastern.

Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve featured either the Capitals or the Flyers? There’s no way we’re missing this rivalry!

Washington Capitals LogoPhiladelphia Flyers Logo

 

For those looking for holes in the 39-12-7 Capitals‘ game, I wish you the best of luck. There’s a reason they lead the Presidents’ Trophy race, as they play extremely well on both ends of the ice. That being said, the main reason Washington has the best scoring differential in the NHL is because of their exemplary defensive play, which has allowed only 121 goals this season – the fewest in the NHL.

Of course, orchestrating that effort is 29-8-5 Braden Holtby, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. Although it certainly helps to have an offense like the Caps do, Holtby has earned every win to his credit this season, as his .926 save percentage and 2.01 GAA are (t)fourth and (t)best in the NHL, respectively, among the 43 goalies with at least 22 appearances.

He also has the benefit of one of the best defenses in the league, too. Led by Karl Alzner‘s 112 shot blocks, Washington‘s blue line allows only 27.9 shots-per-game to reach Holtby’s crease, the sixth-best rate in the game.

The theme of sixth-best continues on the penalty kill, where the Caps neutralize 84.3% of opposing power plays. Just as he does at even-strength, Alzner is an unstoppable force when his club is down a man, as he leads the squad with 31 shorthanded blocks.

Oh yeah, and the power play is the better of the two special teams units. Scoring a goal on 21.8% of opportunities, the Caps are eighth-best in the league with the extra man. That effort is headlined by Nicklas Backstrom and his 23 power play points, even if it is Alex Ovechkin scoring all the goals (he has a dozen tallies with the man-advantage).

That’s a lot for the 28-24-7 Flyers to handle. After a good start to the season, Philadelphia now finds itself in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference, three points behind Florida for the second wildcard.

A dried up offense is the main reason Philly has seen its stock drop so dramatically in the past month. At one point one of the best in the league, the Flyers have accounted for only a total of 154 goals this year – the 10th fewest in hockey. Jakub Voracek is trying his hardest with his team-leading 49 points – as is Wayne Simmonds with his team-leading 25 goals (both have registered a point in four of the last five games) – but the rest of the squad is in a major funk that will be difficult to break against tonight’s opposition.

Don’t let the overall drop in production fool you, though. The Flyers are still one of the best in the league – tied for eighth-best, in fact – on the power play, as they convert an impressive 21.3% of opportunities. Philadelphia employs a two-headed attack, as both Captain Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn tie with 23 power play points for the team lead, but Schenn has been most impressive: 14 of his points are goals, the highest mark on the squad.

Tonight’s contest is the third in the four-game season series between these clubs, and both have won their respective first matchup on home ice. That being said, Washington still has a 1-0-1 advantage over the Flyers thanks to forcing a shootout before falling 3-2 on December 21. The last time they met was January 15, when the Capitals knocked Philly around for a five-goal shutout victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Philadelphia‘s Radko Gudas (192 hits [leads the team]), Ivan Provorov (124 blocks [leads the team]), Simmonds (25 goals [leads the team]) and Voracek (34 assists for 49 points [both lead the team]) & Washington‘s Backstrom (44 assists [second-most in the league] for 61 points [fifth-most in the NHL]), Holtby (seven shutouts [tied for most in the league] and 2.01 GAA [tied for best in the NHL] on a .926 save percentage [tied for fourth-best in the league] for 29 wins [fourth-most in the NHL]), Dmitry Orlov (+27 [ninth-best in the league]), Brooks Orpik (+32 [tied for second-best in the NHL]) T.J. Oshie (+24 [10th-best in the league]) and Ovechkin (27 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]).

Only one team has a positive (read: bad) line next to their name tonight, and it’s the Flyers with their +138. Unfortunately for them, I don’t know if it would matter if they were hitting on all cylinders coming into this game, the Capitals are, as usual, just plain better than most every other team in the league. I figure Washington should win by at least two goals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Sid Abel (1918-2000) – Spending most of his playing days in Detroit, this forward played in the NHL for 14 seasons. It was a successful career, as three All-Star selections, the 1949 Hart Trophy and three Stanley Cups landed him in the Hall of Fame.
  • Tim Young (1955-) – Selected 16th-overall in the 1975 NHL Amateur Draft, this center played 10 seasons in the league, most of which with the North Stars. His lone All-Star appearance was in 1977.
  • Pat LaFontaine (1965-) – A long time Islander, this Hall of Fame center was the third-overall pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. Although he never hoisted the Stanley Cup, he did play in five All-Star games and won the 1995 Masterton Trophy.

It’s hard to lose with a three-goal period, and the Blackhawks proved that with a 5-3 victory in Minnesota in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Surprisingly for a contest that featured eight markers, the first goal of the game wasn’t struck until 20:58 had ticked off the clock. First Star of the Game Jonathan Toews (Brian Campbell and Trevor van Riemsdyk) takes credit with his wrist shot, but Second Star Mikael Granlund (Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu) leveled the game 3:22 later with a power play wrister. Thanks to a wrister from Richard Panik (Toews) 41 seconds after Granlund’s tally, Chicago took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.

You know how the goal song at the Xcel Energy Center is Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy?” That’s exactly what happened during the third frame, as five goals were struck. Third Star Nick Schmaltz (Toews) buried the first tally of the period only 33 seconds after it began, giving the Hawks a 3-1 lead. Zach Parise (Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville) pulled the Wild back within a tally at the 6:41 mark, but Toews (Schmaltz and Panik) buried the eventual game-winning backhander only 102 seconds later. Granlund (Niederreiter and Koivu) scored his second power play goal of the night with 6:51 remaining in regulation to once again pull Minnesota within a tally, but Toews’ (Schmaltz) hat-trick-completing wrister on an empty net sealed the Hawks‘ victory.

Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 29-of-32 shots faced (90.625%), leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 34-of-38 (89.5%).

The winning ways for the 64-43-21 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series won’t stop, as their four-game winning streak has propelled them to a three-point lead over hosts.

February 17 – Day 121 – Since Penguins are from the South(ern Hemisphere), would they have been Confederates?

I thought about posting Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” but decided instead to write about hockey.

You’re welcome.

There’s only three games on the schedule this evening, which makes choosing the featured game a breeze. Pittsburgh at Columbus (NHLN/SN/TVAS) starts things off at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Colorado at Carolina. Finally, Florida at Anaheim (SN1) drops the puck at 10 p.m. as tonight’s nightcap. All times eastern.

It is with great deliberation that we will feature Pittsburgh at Columbus for the third time this season in as many meetings.

pittsburgh_penguins_logoColumbus Blue Jackets Logo

 

Winners of its past two games, Pittsburgh makes its second trip of the season to Nationwide Arena with a 36-13-7 record, which is good enough for second place in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have been magnificent with the puck on their stick this season, as they’ve buried 199 goals so far – the most in the NHL.

Leading that charge has been none other than Captain Sidney Crosby, who’s 64 points not only top the team, but are also the second-most in the league. Of course, just last night he joined the 1000-point club with a three-point effort against the Jets, including taking credit for the game-winning overtime goal. Speaking of goals, that’s another department Crosby heads for Pittsburgh, as his 31 markers are tops in the Steel City.

As you’d expect from the club with the best offense in the league, Pittsburgh‘s power play is a thing of beauty. The Penguins convert 22.2% of opponents’ penalties into goals – the fourth-best rate in the league. Since Crosby commands the even-strength play, Phil Kessel has taken up residence as the power play manager in his second season with the team. His 25 power play points lead the team, even if Crosby has the man-advantage goal-scoring lead with 10 tallies.

If the reigning Stanley Cup champions have one thing to fix, it is definitely their penalty kill. They are ninth-worst in the league when down a man, stopping only 79.6% of opposing power plays. Ian Cole certainly doesn’t deserve the blame though, as his team-leading 32 shorthanded blocks are tied for third-most in the league.

Playing host this evening are the 36-15-5 Blue Jackets, the third-best team in both the Metropolitan and the East. Columbus is a very strong team that plays well on both ends of the ice, but I’m most impressed by their offense. The Jackets have managed 180 tallies so far this season, the fifth-most in the league.

No one deserves more credit for that effort than Cam Atkinson, who leads the team with 49 points. Just like the star forward for the opposition, Atkinson is not afraid to call his own number, as his 27 goals are also a team-high.

Few (three, to be exact) power plays are better than Pittsburgh‘s. The Jackets are the proud owners of one of said power plays, as they convert 22.8% of their man-advantages into goals – the third-best rate in the NHL. Alexander Wennberg has been the mastermind behind that fantastic effort, as his 21 power play points are tops in Ohio, but it’s been Nick Foligno that has been the most impressive. He’s buried 10 goals with the man-advantage, which ties for sixth-most in the league in addition to leading the Jackets.

Both teams have already hosted one game in this best-of-four season series, and both teams can claim a home victory. That being said, the most recent game, which took place at PPG Paints Arena, was nowhere near as dominant a performance as the Jackets had when they hosted. Columbus won 7-1 when these clubs met December 22, but the Penguins needed overtime to win 4-3 on February 3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Columbus‘ Atkinson (27 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Sergei Bobrovsky (30 wins [second-most in the league] on a 2.19 GAA [fourth-best in the NHL] and a .925 save percentage [seventh-best in the league], including three shutouts [10th-most in the NHL]) and Wennberg (36 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (31 goals [most in the NHL] among 64 points [second-most in the league]), Evgeni Malkin (58 points [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]), Matthew Murray (.926 save percentage [tied for third-best in the league] for a 2.27 GAA [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]) and Justin Schultz (+31 [tied for third-best in the league]).

Vegas has marked the Jackets to win with a -110 line, and it’s hard to pick against that. There are few clubs that can go toe-to-toe with the Penguins, but Columbus is one of them. Pair home ice with a penalty kill that is superior to that of the Penguins‘, and we should see a Blue Jackets victory – even if it’s not by six goals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Lindy Ruff (1960-) – Selected 32nd-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, this skater spent most of his 12 seasons with the club that drafted him: Buffalo. With one assist during the 1990-’91 campaign, he claimed exactly 300 points over his career. Nowadays, he’s the head coach in Dallas.
  • Luc Robitaille (1966-) – This left wing was a special player. Although drafted by Los Angeles in the ninth-round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, he won the 1987 Calder and proved to be an eight-time All Star. The Hall-of-Famer spent most of his career with the Kings, but he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup in 2002 with Detroit.
  • Vinny Prospal (1975-) – This center might have been drafted by Philadelphia in the third-round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his 16-year career in Tampa Bay. He registered 765 points before hanging up his skates for good.
  • Drew Miller (1984-) – Anaheim selected this left wing in the sixth-round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s spent the last eight seasons with the Red Wings organization. He’s one of the lucky players to make his NHL debut during the playoffs, and he was even luckier to win the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007.

With a 4-2 home victory against the crosstown rival Rangers in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Islanders have pulled within a point of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

The game didn’t start the Isles‘ way though, as Nick Holden (Mats Zuccarello and Brady Skjei) took credit for the lone goal of the first period. He buried his wrist shot only 6:23 into the contest to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead that held into the first intermission.

Only 2:43 after returning to the ice, Anders Lee (Josh Bailey and First Star of the Game John Tavares) pulled the Islanders even with a wrister, followed only 3:41 later by Second Star Andrew Ladd‘s (Stephen Gionta) wrister. The Isles took their 2-1 lead into the second intermission.

The Isles‘ third straight goal proved to be the winner, and it was a special one. Only 3:03 after returning to the ice, Third Star Nikolay Kulemin (Tavares) buried a shorthanded wrister to set the score at 3-1. Jimmy Vesey (Rick Nash and Skjei) eventually converted the Rangers‘ power play into a goal, but Ladd’s (Jason Chimera) second goal of the night on an empty net squelched any chance of a late Blueshirts comeback.

Thomas Greiss saved 25-of-27 shots faced (92.6%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 19-of-22 (86.4%).

The Isles‘ victory snaps a three-game losing skid by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series and sets the hosts’ record at 63-42-18, four points better than visitors.