Tag Archives: Subban

Jettisoned: Predators bow out in Game 7, Jets punch Conference Finals ticket

 

Well there you have it, folks. The second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs has come to a close with an almost-fitting end to the series that played out exactly how we thought it would without ever really playing out how we thought it would.

Perhaps the most hyped matchup of the postseason, it was nearly-universally agreed upon that Winnipeg/Nashville would go seven games, but how we got there was anything but predictable. A seven-game series that saw only two games end in one-goal margins (those in fact being the only games that ended with a margin of less than three tallies) and was more a story of attack/counter-attack. Nearly every game swung wildly to one team’s favor, usually on the back of explosive starts that took the wind out of the sails of the opponent before they knew what had happened.

Game 4 was a tight 2-1 affair, though hardly memorable on the back of a 7-4 gongshow victory in Game 3 for Winnipeg on home ice. Game 1 and Games 5-7 were all complete visiting team dominations silencing notoriously loud buildings. Game 2 was really our only look at what many expected from this series, with Nashville grabbing a thrilling 5-4 victory in double-overtime on home ice.

But since we’re here, let’s take a look at how this strange series came to a close.

Winnipeg controlled things early, hemming Nashville on their own side of center ice for most of the opening minutes. The Predators looked to be skating in deep sand, oftentimes unable to advance the puck forward at all, thanks to a stifling forecheck from the Jets and some careless puck control of their own doing. Surely, though, Pekka Rinne would be able to help his team survive the early problems and gain their footing…

Then Tyler Myers sent up a prayer from below the goal line to Rinne’s left that deflected into the net off of the stunned Nashville netminder, and just like that we had a 1-0 game 8:41 into the first period. But, again, no problem. We’re less than halfway through the first period, it’s just a one-goal deficit, Rinne will obviously shake this one off and…

2:06 later Rinne inexplicably abandons the near post after stopping a Paul Stastny stuff attempt, the rebound landing right back on his blade for him to chip over the pad and into the net for a Charmin Ultra-Soft 2-0 goal. Has anyone seen the wheels for this bus lately? We seem to have misplaced them.

Peter Laviolette, either wishing to settle things down without wasting a precious timeout, or knowing enough about his goaltender’s complete inability to recover from shaky starts in playoff games to realize that this ship needed immediate abandoning (third pull in the series for Rinne, you be the judge), yanked the big Finn in favor of the little Finn, inserting Juuse Saros into the net for the remainder of the game.

To their credit, the Predators responded to the move by finally picking up their game. P.K. Subban first drew a penalty, then fired a one-time Howitzer off the post and in on the resulting power play, bringing his team back within one with just over four minutes to play in the first.

Unfortunately for Nashville, this only seemed to fire up the opposition, with the Winnipeg defense vacuum-sealing their end from that point on, and Connor Hellebuyck dispelling any further offensive chances that came his way. The two goaltenders spent the next 20+ minutes countering everything thrown their way (which admittedly was not a lot as the two teams were basically stuck in a neutral zone traffic jam).

Late in the second period the Jets grabbed the momentum back when Blake Wheeler jumped on a turnover (a theme in this one, with the Predators committing 24 vs Winnipeg’s paltry 10) and hung Subban out to dry in no man’s land, sending a pass over to Scheifele who quickly lifted one over the shoulder of Saros to regain the two-goal lead with 2:10 left to play in the second frame.

The second period was really the finest display of a brilliant tactic Winnipeg utilized all night long, essentially using their team speed to actually slow the game down. No matter what Nashville tried to do, every puck carrier was instantly met by at least one, often multiple Jets. Passing lanes were non-existent due to some incredible defensive stickwork, and even when there appeared to be open space, it would close up immediately, leaving the Predators dumbfounded, and holding them to just six shots in the second period.

The Preds did gain some offensive traction in the third, but Hellebuyck always had the answer and the defense in front of him made sure he had a clear line of sight to every shot and limited follow-up opportunities for anything that their goaltender didn’t manage to grab onto. Of note, Dustin Byfuglien played a lights-out game defensively, basically making it impossible for any Predators player to get to the front of the net to set up screens. Toby Enstrom was also stellar, making countless beautiful stick and positioning plays throughout the night to break up some of the few rushes Nashville was able to start.

Nashville fought and clawed for every chance all throughout the third period, but their efforts came to a screeching halt at the 11:59 mark when Paul Stastny tallied his second goal of the game on Winnipeg’s lone power play of the night, banging home the rebound from a Laine blast before Saros could close down the five hole. That was Stastny’s fifth goal of this series, continuing a terrific playoff run for the deadline acquisition (lol remember that time the Blues traded him to the Jets for a lottery-protected first round pick?).

Mark Scheifele would add the 5-1 empty netter to tally his league-leading 11th goal of the playoffs with 2:33 remaining, but even with the extra man on the ice the Predators were just lost trying to find the answer to Winnipeg’s flawless defensive scheme.

So Winnipeg takes the series largely on the strength of winning three-of-four games in Nashville, all by convincing scores (4-1, 6-2, 5-1), and move on to face probably the only team in the Western Conference that can match their speed, the ‘Remember when we didn’t exist last year?’ Vegas Golden Knights in the Conference Finals. Game 1 of that series comes to you this Saturday night (May 12th) at 7 p.m. ET with DTFR recap coverage brought to you by @nlanciani53.

Crashville: Preds crumble after strong start, Jets take 2-1 series lead

 

So, uh, which one of these teams is supposedly the one with the roster full of seasoned vets that have been there before and can’t be rattled, again?

In a series that was just about as hyped as Avengers: Infinity War, we expected to see plenty of crazy, unexpected stuff. But, much like with the film, I’m not sure many people expected to see (spoilers) half of the cast crumble to dust. Or, at least not the half that did in this game.

After answering an anomalous Game 1 drubbing by taking a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 2, it looked like the Preds were back on track as the series shifted to Winnipeg’s raucous home ice. Clearly now with the early stumble in the past, the defending Western Conference champs would be able to rely upon their experience and battle-tested mental toughness to grab a hold of the series against a young, unproven Winnipeg roster.

In the first period, that narrative seemed pretty well spot-on.

Quickly and effectively quieting the thunderous atmosphere in the early going (shoutout to the crowd for a mid-anthem ‘TRUE NORTH’ that I’m pretty sure I felt here in Ohio), the Preds found paydirt just 4:53 into the game with a new-look fourth line featuring Ryan Hartman, Mike Fisher, and Miikka Salomaki (in for a banged up Calle Jarnkrok) when 37-year-old Fisher banged home a loose puck as it squeaked out from underneath of Connor Hellebuyck after he thought he had made the stop on a quick point shot set up by Hartman (who got buried by Dustin Byfuglien for his troubles).

The Jets tried to answer a few minutes later, as Nikolaj Ehlers and Paul Stastny combined on a beautiful criss-cross play entering the zone, eventually setting up Stastny all alone behind the defense, but Pekka Rinne had the answer for his backhand attempt.

Winnipeg’s momentum would be stifled shortly after, though, as the Predators would head to the power play. P.K. Subban (showered in the ever-present boos that I’m still not-at-all sure of the reason for) took a perfect one-time feed from Filip Forsberg at the top of the left circle and spanked it home through Hellebucyk. (It’s worth noting that the confusing boos became much less enthusiastic after this)

The energy of the play seemed to follow the energy of the building for the next few minutes, with very little of note outside of an unsuccessful Viktor Arvidsson breakaway attempt and a nearly-successful fake dump-in by Patrik Laine the only real highlights until Austin Watson picked up the puck on a bad Winnipeg change, walked in one-on-one against Josh Morrissey, and let go a seemingly-harmless wrister from a tough angle that eluded Hellebuyck, caught the far post and went in to give the Preds the 3-0 lead with 2:24 to play.

Rinne made a few solid stops in the waning minutes (including a stellar left pad stretch to deny Blake Wheeler as he picked up a deflected shot and tried to tuck it inside the left post) to preserve the lead and keep the crowd quiet heading into the first intermission. Predators leading 12-10 in shots after 20.

In the second period the tone changed immensely, and it began very early.

Jacob Trouba leveled Forsberg just inside the blueline in the first 30 seconds of the game to give the crowd some jump, and his team seemed to feed off of that. 3:38 into the period Winnipeg finally got on the board (although nobody besides Stastny noticed at the time) when a Byfuglien point shot caught Stastny’s skate and deflected past Rinne to bring the deficit to two goals.

Wheeler found himself staring at a yawning cage just under two minutes later when the puck came to him off of a Rinne misplay behind the net, but he fired the puck over the net trying to lift it over the top of a sprawling Rinne and Nick Bonino. As Wheeler tried to corral the puck along the boards, he was leveled by Watson, who got jumped by Mark Scheifele for his efforts. Both players went to the box, and just over 30 seconds into the resulting four-on-four it would be Big Buff blasting home the 3-2 goal after a beautiful zone entry and puck movement by Tyler Myers and Bryan Little. Then just 14 seconds later the roof came off of Bell MTS Place when Stastny, Wheeler, and Trouba connected for a gorgeous tic-tac-goal to tie the game at three with still over 14 minutes remaining in the second.

With his team rattled, Rinne seemed to take it upon himself to settle things back down, first gloving down a laser from Laine on a two-on-one, then later denying Wheeler on a point blank attempt on a beautiful passing play.

Despite the best efforts of the Nashville netminder, though, Winnipeg would take their first lead of the night with 44.7 seconds remaining in the period when Laine (locked and loaded taking a pass from Stastny who grabbed the puck on the rebound of a prior Laine shot) fooled everyone by firing the puck across the ice to Byfuglien who hammered home the one-timer from distance to put the Jets up 4-3. They’d carry that score (and a 16-6 shot advantage in the period) to the dressing room, looking to put away the Preds in the third.

The third period started with quite a few bangs. Trouba and Bonino got into a shoving match early on that eventually became a fairly lengthy fight between the two. Byfuglien just missed erasing Arvidsson from existence, then made up for it by stapling Hartman to the glass as the Nashville forward went to clear the puck out of his zone while killing a Winnipeg power play.

Unfortunately that hit would be about the only positive result for Winnipeg on their man advantage, and when Colton Sissons returned to the ice after serving his time, he immediately redeemed himself by drawing a penalty that would give the Predators the momentum swing they needed. Forsberg walked the line at the point before firing home a gorgeous wrist shot that beat a screened Hellebucyk and knotted the score at four with 12:20 remaining.

Nashville looked to have an opportunity to regain the lead shortly after the power play goal when Trouba mishandled the puck at his offensive blueline, giving Arvidsson a clear-cut breakaway. But Hellebuyck confidently and emphatically snagged the puck out of the air with his glove, bringing the arena back to life.

Byfuglien nearly had himself a hat trick a few minutes after the save (and resulting momentum switch), pouncing on a loose puck to create a two-on-one but having his bid denied by Rinne. He then once more narrowly missed demolishing a Predators player, this time being Subban who managed to avoid the hit at the last possible moment.

Ryan Ellis‘ tough series continued, this time taking a Byfuglien shot to the side of his face that didn’t get hacked open by a skate blade in Game 1. Luckily it was just a high-rising wrist shot without a ton of power behind it, and he’d shake it off fairly quickly.

Unfortunately for his team, though, it came when they were down a man and it took one of their best penalty killers off the ice. On the very next shift the Jets retook the lead for the final time when Wheeler buried the rebound of a Scheifele one-timer that he set up, giving Winnipeg the 5-4 lead with 4:59 to play.

Rinne was upset, as earlier in the sequence he had take a shot to the mask that seemed to break one of the straps of the helmet, but play was not called. Shortly after the goal, Adam Lowry attempted to steal the puck away from Rinne behind the net, and the Predators’ goaltender responded with a claymore-swing of his goal stick to the back of Lowry, putting Nashville down a man for the third time in quick succession in the final minutes of the game, this time when they were down a goal.

Bonino nearly played hero with a shorthanded goal, jumping on a loose puck in front of the Jets’ goal that no one but him seemed to be able to find, but Hellebucyk was able to blocker it away just in time.

Nashville was unable to mount much of an attack with the extra man after pulling Rinne, and Wheeler and Brandon Tanev (who extended his goal scoring streak to four games) added a pair of empty netters to seal a 7-4 Winnipeg victory in front of the hometown faithful.

In the end, it was Hellebucyk’s ability to settle down after a shaky start, and Nashville’s inability to counter momentum swings (and stay out of the box at crucial times) that played the biggest role in this one. It also didn’t hurt that Byfuglien may have played his best playoff game since his Cup run with the Blackhawks. What looks to be a very important Game 4 comes to you at 9:30 p.m. ET this Thursday (May 3) on NBCSN, and @nlanciani53 will have your DTFR recap coverage.

Snowed Under: Wild fall 2-0 to Jets, face 3-1 series defecit

 

In the midst of a Minnesota snowstorm, the hometown crowd watched their hopes all but buried as the Wild were simply unable to overcome their laundry list of injuries and a suffocating Winnipeg defense.

Already without Ryan Suter, the Wild took another hammering blow late in Game 3 when Zach Parise got sandwiched by Mark Scheifele and Ben Chiarot and suffered a fractured sternum (side note: ouch) that rules him out of the rest of the playoffs. Parise’s spot in the lineup would be filled by Tyler Ennis, seeing his first NHL playoff action since 2011 when the diminutive forward was a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

Winnipeg was not without their own injury problems, losing Tyler Myers after an awkward collision with Marcus Foligno in Game 3. Though not as key an element to his team as Parise is to the Wild, Myers still eats a lot of quality minutes on the Winnipeg blueline. Young Tucker Poolman would taste his first ever playoff action as he filled in for the towering Myers.

The game started much the same as it ended…and middle-d…you know what I mean.

Tight checking, excellent stick position, and a near-complete lack of offensive chances were a theme in this one. Not to say that there wasn’t action, as from the opening puck drop the two teams continued the series’ main theme: That is, both teams spent every shift actively trying to kill each other. Arguably 2018’s roughest series so far, it isn’t even so much the quantity of hits we’ve seen in this one, but moreso that every hit we do see is thrown with seemingly as much force as it can possibly be delivered with. No great wonder why so many players are nursing injuries.

Other than a brief flurry by Winnipeg that Devan Dubnyk answered with three or four quality stops about 8:30 into the frame, the opening 10 minutes had little to speak of in terms of scoring opportunities.

Finally it was Minnesota who started to find some traction, first coming from an unlikely source in their fourth line of Foligno – Joel Eriksson EkDaniel Winnik, who deployed an effective dump and chase strategy, sending two forecheckers in hard and fast to get the Winnipeg defense in deep, then working the puck free to a second wave usually of the third forward and a pinching defenseman. All Minnesota lines adopted the strategy for a solid few minutes in the late first, and all had decent chances, including Nino Niederreiter feeding Eric Staal right in the goal mouth, only to have an excellent backhand chance waffled away by Connor Hellebuyck. Shortly after, Minnesota’s sustained pressure forced the Jets into a penalty, and on the resulting power play Josh Morrissey got away with an egregious cross-check to the face/neck of Staal, who lay on the ice for a few seconds before slowly making his was to the bench all while play continued around him. The Minnesota crowd was…less than pleased.

To continue their displeasure, shortly after the penalty concluded, it would be Morrissey starting a breakout to Scheifele, who played a give-and-go with Kyle Connor beautifully, taking Connor’s drop pass in the low slot and ripping a snapshot through traffic and over Dubnyk with just 28 seconds left to play, sending the Minnesota crowd into a symphony of boos so loud I think P.K. Subban actually might have heard them.

Minnesota ended the period leading 10-7 in shots, but down on the board. Shot blocking was a major theme of the first period, and the game, really. It also contributed to the growing list of banged up players, as both Mathew Dumba and Dustin Byfuglien left the ice at different points in the first because of shot blocks.

The second started with a bang, as on the opening shift the Wild jumped on a turnover by Jacob Trouba and flew up the ice on a three-on-one lead by Mikael Granlund. #64 in green showed Hellebucyk shot all the way, but with just inches to spare sent a pass across the crease to Dumba who looked to have a sure goal, before the glove of Hellebucyk robbed him blind. A few minutes later Jonas Brodin sprung Niederreiter on a breakaway with an unbelievable stretch pass (that frankly I have no idea how Nino even managed to corral on his stick) but just before he could get the shot off a desperate Morrissey poked the puck off of his stick and clear of danger.

Dubnyk would see little action of serious consequence in the middle frame, a few whacks at a centered puck in the blue paint by Adam Lowry the only real threat of the second 20 minutes. The Wild did, however, lose Granlund for a few minutes in the middle of the frame, but he would return to finish the game. Also of note was Dumba taking a run at Byfuglien, which worked out about as well as you’d expect.

Late in the period Brodin nearly played hero himself, absolutely dancing a Winnipeg defender at the blueline and walking in to label a wrist shot for the high blocker side of Hellebucyk, but the newly-elected Vezina candidate had the answer, as was the case all night.

By the end of the second the Wild lead 20-19 on the shot clock, but struggled to find room to construct any serious chances.

The Jets took the attack to Minnesota for stretches of the third, attempting to prevent them from even having the chance to tie the game. An early chance by Joe Morrow found a goal post, and later Scheifele found one of his own, which created some chaos around the Wild goal that Dubnyk had to tidy up. Laine then got a breakaway opportunity in the dying minutes of the third that was harassed just enough by Spurgeon to allow Dubnyk to poke the puck away before any harm could come.

It took Minnesota until just under two minutes remaining to gain enough solid puck possession to get Dubnyk off, but the extra attacker still couldn’t help them solve the labyrinth that was Winnipeg’s defensive scheme, and Scheifele buried the 2-0 dagger with 10 seconds remaining to seal Minnesota’s fate.

Outshot 30-28, the Jets took the first road victory of the series, giving them the chance to win the first playoff series in franchise history in front of what will surely be a raucous Winnipeg Whiteout crowd on Friday night (DTFR coverage brought to you again by yours truly).

How Minnesota finds a way to extend this series is beyond me. The injuries to key players just seem to be too much for them to overcome. They’ll need nothing short of a miracle to make it back to Xcel Energy Center for Game 6.

Avs score three in first period, take Game 3

 

The old saying goes that a team is never behind in a playoff series until it loses a home match. With that in mind, the Colorado Avalanche beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 to win Game 3 and pull within a victory of leveling their First Round series.

The good news for the Predators is that G Juuse Saros saved all 18 shots he faced in his 33:34 of action.

The bad news is, of course, that he didn’t start the game.

Instead, that honor was bestowed upon G Pekka Rinne, who saved only 11-of-15 (.733 save percentage) before being lifted at the 4:25 mark of the second period.

Going back to the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals, this was the third-consecutive road playoff game that saw Rinne get chased from the crease, not to mention his fourth-consecutive road playoff loss.

The Avs have made a living in this series pouncing on Rinne early, and that trend was only magnified with the luxury of home ice when they buried three markers before the first intermission.

Just like in Games 1 and 2, the Avs scored the first goal when Third Star of the Game W Blake Comeau (F Carl Soderberg and W Matthew Nieto) buried a tip-in only 1:50 into play – Colorado’s first shot on net in the contest. That advantage doubled to two goals with 6:36 remaining in the frame when W Gabriel Bourque (D Patrik Nemeth and F J.T. Compher) scored another tip-in from a similar position as Comeau’s tally: right in front of Rinne’s crease.

Not to be outdone by his own bottom-six, First Star F Nathan MacKinnon made sure to get on the scoreboard 4:43 after Bourque’s marker by scoring a wrist shot with a breakaway-springing assist from Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog.

MacKinnon’s next act not only proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Rinne, but it also ended up as the game-winning goal by the time the Predators’ comeback attempt was said and done.

4:22 into the second period, RW Mikko Rantanen did his best Serge Savard spin-o-rama impression to fire a centering pass from along the goal line. However, Landeskog was not able to corral the pass and the puck trickled towards the high slot. C Kyle Turris had an opportunity to take possession of the loose puck, but it bounced over his stick to MacKinnon, who was sure to pocket his wrister over Rinne’s right shoulder.

Now with a comfortable 4-0 advantage, Colorado made it its job to weather whatever resurgence Nashville was going to assuredly muster up. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work to perfection when Nemeth and D Nikita Zadorov were both sent to the penalty box at the 9:27 mark of the second frame for respective cross checking and hooking penalties.

Handed a full two minutes of five-on-three play, the Preds did exactly what any good squad would do and took advantage of that opportunity. Nashville finally got on the scoreboard with 9:37 remaining in the second period to pull within a 4-1 deficit courtesy of a F Ryan Johansen (F Filip Forsberg and D Ryan Ellis) wrister.

While Nemeth was serving up the remainder of his penalty, G Jonathan Bernier decided it would be really neat to make a save with his neck. Ellis’ shot rode up on him and would have sneaked by had the netminder not squeezed the puck between his head and shoulder pads. As would be expected, Bernier took a second to recover from the play, but he stayed in the game.

Even though no more scoring occurred in the second frame after Johansen’s marker, Pepsi Center’s scoreboard operator still had much to do. Four more penalties occurred before the second intermission. Three of those infractions were against the Predators, including negating holding penalties between MacKinnon and D P.K. Subban. What doesn’t make the scorecard is why MacKinnon was holding Subban in the first place, as the Nova Scotian was on the receiving end of a questionable elbow. These teams are growing increasingly displeased with each other, and that is made even more apparent when the heavily-favored Predators struggle to get past Bernier and the Avs.

The closest Nashville got to a third period comeback occurred at the 7:12 mark when F Colton Sissons (D Roman Josi and Ellis) buried a wrister, but the Predators couldn’t make anything more out of that positive energy. That forced Head Coach Peter Laviolette to pull Saros for an extra attacker, allowing Landeskog (Rantanen and D Mark Barberio) to score an empty-netter with 1:36 remaining in regulation.

F Austin Watson did score a wrister 21 seconds later that was challenged for goaltender interference, but Toronto ruled it to be a good goal. Of course, it didn’t ultimately matter, as the Predators were unable to score two goals to level the game.

The Avalanche’s comeback is far from done, however. Game 4 is still an important match in this playoff series, as the Predators could go home with either a 2-2 tie or needing only one more win to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. Game 4 is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, April 18 at Pepsi Center. Fans can catch the game on NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

March 31 – Day 171 – Flower Power vs. everybody

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 24 – Day 164 – Unpredictability at its finest

It’s a busy Saturday in the NHL, so let’s jump right into today’s schedule!

First up is Vegas at Colorado (SN1) at 3 p.m., trailed an hour later by Calgary at San Jose as the only other matinee of the day. A whopping eight games (Detroit at Toronto [CBC], Washington at Montréal [NHLN/SN/TVAS], Carolina at Ottawa [CITY/SN1], Arizona at Florida, Tampa Bay at New Jersey, Chicago at the New York Islanders, Buffalo at the New York Rangers and St. Louis at Columbus) drop the puck at 7 p.m., followed by Nashville at Minnesota 60 minutes later. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Edmonton (CBC/SN/SN1) – drops the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the day’s festivities. All times Eastern.

Some of the games I’ve had my eye on include…

  • Detroit at Toronto: Including this one, there’s only four more Original Six matchups left this regular season! Get ’em in while you can!
  • Arizona at Florida: D Jason Demers spent all of last season with the Panthers. Hopefully the Florida faithful will give him a warm welcome tonight.
  • Chicago at New York: With G Jean-Francois Berube and G Anton Forsberg competing for next season’s backup job, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the former get tonight’s start against his former team.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: Consider this your fourth and final reminder of the season that the Oilers traded away C Wayne Gretzky.

However, none of those matchups feature two teams still in the hunt for the postseason. Instead, let’s make the trip to Denver to see what the Avs can do to the Knights!

 

 

 

 

 

This has been far from a bad week for the 47-21-6 Golden Knights, as they’ve posted a 2-0-1 record over their past three games in spite of 27-11-3 G Marc-Andre Fleury joining Reilly Smith on Vegas’ injury list.

There was certainly concern when Fleury went down with his head injury in Tuesday’s tilt against the Canucks – not only for the player, but also for the team’s performance. After all, the only reason the Golden Knights shutout the Flames on Sunday was because Fleury put on an amazing performance, saving all 42 shots Calgary fired.

However, 11-3-2 G Malcolm Subban has easily taken command of the crease in Fleury’s stead, as he completed the starter’s game against Vancouver by allowing a lone goal and followed it up by yielding only two tallies and forcing overtime against the Sharks on Thursday.

As hinted at before with Fleury’s performance against Calgary, the reason the goaltenders have been so incredible lately is because they’ve been the only line of defense lately. Since March 18, the Golden Knights have allowed an average of 38.67 shots against per game, the second-most of any team in the league in that time.

It remains to be seen which goaltender will earn the start this afternoon, as Fleury was seen on ice for practice in Denver today.

Incredibly, the 40-26-8 Avalanche have been one of the best feel good stories of the year in a season that features an expansion team posing a real threat for winning the Stanley Cup. That’s been no less true over the past 16 games, as Colorado has earned a 9-3-4 record since February 20.

The biggest reason for the Avs’ success this season has been their impressive offense, headed by 2014 Calder-winner F Nathan MacKinnon. Over Colorado’s last 16 games, MacKinnon has posted unbelievable 14-17-31 totals – one point short of averaging two points per game over this run – to improve his season marks to 38-54-92.

But it hasn’t been just MacKinnon. F Mikko Rantanen and D Tyson Barrie have also been unstoppable lately, managing respective 9-18-27 and 7-14-21 marks since February 20. With Barrie gelling so well with Colorado’s top line, there’s little that can slow down this attack.

While it might be a little extreme to say Vegas doesn’t care about this match or any other until Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Golden Knights’ fortunes really don’t change all that much with a win, loss or draw. Vegas currently trails Nashville by six points for the Presidents’ Trophy, but that lead is even greater considering the Predators have a game in hand. Similarly, the Knights aren’t all that concerned with second-place San Jose catching up and challenging for the Pacific Division title, as they have a seven-point advantage over their NorCal nemeses.

However, the same cannot be said for the Avalanche, as they have fallen back into the second wild card after Anaheim’s overtime loss last night in Winnipeg. Since tonight’s tilt is Colorado’s game in hand on the Ducks (at least until tomorrow when Anaheim is in Edmonton while the Avs are dormant), it needs to earn at least one point to jump back into the first wild card. Should the Avs fall in regulation, they risk relinquishing their playoff position to St. Louis, which has a tough matchup of its own in Columbus.

Colorado and Vegas have squared off only once so far this season, and it was far from a pleasurable experience for the Avs. Colorado was invited to T-Mobile Arena on October 27, where it was pounded into oblivion by the Knights to a 7-0 final score. G Oscar Dansk earned First Star honors with a perfect 32-save performance, while 11 different Golden Knights registered at least a point – four of which posted 1-1-2 totals on the night.

Whether it’s Fleury or Subban in net today, they are going to face a tough task in trying to slow down the Avs’ dominating attack. Though they’ve been good this season, I think Colorado has what it takes to earn two points at home today.


Even though the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to rally from a 3-1 deficit in the third period, the New Jersey Devils won yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at PPG Paints Arena 4-3 in overtime.

The Devils would eventually score their three goals, but not before the Penguins would take an initial one-goal lead. Third Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby (D Jamie Oleksiak and F Jake Guentzel) scored his 25th goal of the season 2:29 into play, burying a wrist shot to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 advantage that held into the first intermission.

Head Coach John Hynes must have had some choice words for his club during the first break, because New Jersey absolutely dominated the second frame – or, at least 3:39 of it. D Will Butcher (D Damon Severson and First Star F Taylor Hall) pulled the Devils even 5:15 into the frame with a power play snap shot, followed only 2:05 later by a F Blake Coleman (W Drew Stafford and C Pavel Zacha) backhanded shot that gave Jersey the lead. Second Star C Nico Hischier (D John Moore and Hall) completed the Devils’ blitz with a wrister at the 8:54 mark to give them a 3-1 lead that they held into the second intermission.

Facing a two-goal deficit, Pittsburgh didn’t waste much time in starting its comeback after the start of the third period. Only 3:13 into the frame, D Brian Dumoulin (Crosby) halved the Devils’ advantage with a slap shot, his fifth goal of the season. The goal horn was brought to life once again 7:39 later, this time by RW Phil Kessel (C Derick Brassard and W Conor Sheary) to level the game at 3-3.

With that tie holding through the end of regulation, the game advanced into five minutes of three-on-three play. However, Hall (Hischier) needed only 27 seconds of those five minutes to find the game-winner.

After struggling mightily under an intense forecheck by the Penguins his own defensive zone, Hischier finally ended up with the puck on his stick long enough to fling a pass to Hall waiting near the blue line into the Devils’ offensive zone. Unfortunately for the Penguins, the very defense that was causing such troubles proved to be extremely beneficial to Hall, as he had only G Matt Murray to beat to end the game, which he did with a wrister through the netminder’s five-hole.

G Keith Kinkaid earned the victory after saving 40-of-43 shots faced (.93 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Murray, who saved 30-of-34 (.882).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day have been an incredibly difficult out lately, as they’ve earned points in 11 of the last 14 featured matchups. As such, the 90-53-21 hosts now have only a 34-point advantage in the series.

February 7 – Day 119 – Caterpillars are Leaf Predators

Congratulations! You made it half-way through the work week. You deserve to celebrate, and there’s no better way to do it than by kicking your feet up and watching some hockey.

The evening’s festivities get a little bit later start than usual, as Nashville at Toronto (SN/TVAS) is waiting until 7:30 p.m. for its opening puck drop as compared to the usual 7 p.m. However, that means there’s only a half-hour wait for NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry, as Boston at the New York Rangers will get started at 8 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap will see the green light at 10:30 p.m., featuring Edmonton at Los Angeles. All times Eastern.

Ironically, I circled…

  • Boston at New York: The Bruins are playing their second Original Six game in as many days. Tonight’s opponent: the hapless Rangers.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: Over two separate stints, F Mike Cammalleri has played six seasons with the Kings. Tonight marks his first return to Staples Center since being traded to the Oilers.

…earlier in the year, but the game I’m most drawn to tonight has to be the Predators vs. the Maple Leafs. Looks like we’re headed to Ontario for the second time in three days!

 

There’s no ignoring the Atlantic Division’s third-best team lately, as the 31-19-5 Maple Leafs are sporting an offense that can’t be stopped and pairing it with some exemplary play in net.

Since January 24, Toronto has posed a 5-1-0 record, and the offense has been a major reason for that. Averaging four goals per game, the Leafs are tied with Edmonton for the second-best attack in the league in that time.

Of course, what else should be expected of a group of forwards that features the talents of F William Nylander, C Nazem Kadri and C Auston Matthews? Nylander and Kadri in particular have been exceptional of late, as both have posted team-leading 3-5-8 totals over this run to improve their respective season marks to 12-29-41 and 17-16-33. However, it’s never wise to forget about Matthews, as he’s also posted 4-3-7 totals since January 24 to average more than a point-per-game over his past six appearances.

In addition to their stellar contributions, D Jake Gardiner is also doing more than his fair share from the blue line. In his past six games, he’s provided the Leafs’ attack with eight assists – all but one of which were at even-strength. In Monday’s game against the Ducks, he provided the lone assist on both of Nylander’s goals – one of which proved to be the game-winner.

After being forced from Monday’s game after suffering a collision with W Corey Perry, 25-15-4 G Frederik Andersen will be in net this evening. There was concern Andersen would be forced to miss time after the hit, but he seems ready to go.

Of course, if I’m a Predators forwards, I don’t necessarily know if I’d rather square off against Andersen or 6-4-0 G Curtis McElhinney, as both have been absolutely incredible of late – even behind a defense that has allowed a seventh-worst 33.83 shots against per game since January 24. In that time, both goalies have posted save percentages above .93 and GAAs under 2.3 – not to mention one shutout apiece.

Of note, Andersen has an 8-4-0 all-time record (regular and postseason) against Nashville and is currently riding a two-game winning streak against the club.

If the Leafs are bringing the offense, 32-12-7 Nashville is certainly capable of providing the defense. Since January 4, the second-best team in the Central Division has earned a 9-1-2 record by holding its opponents to a measly two goals per game, the second-best effort in the league in that time.

Let’s start with the defensive skaters, who’ve been playing absolutely out of their minds for the past month. Led by C Nick Bonino and W Kevin Fiala (both averaging a takeaway-per-game since January 4), D Ryan Ellis and D Roman Josi (both with two blocks per game in their past 12 showings) and D Alexei Emelin (2.8 hits-per-game over this stretch), Nashville has limited its opponents to a fourth-fewest 29.17 shots against per game.

There’s lots to like about the Preds’ defense, but what is most impressive to me is that it’s a total team effort that is leading to their success. Five players are leading three statistical categories, and many of their teammates are right behind them in production. Everybody buying into Head Coach Peter Laviolette‘s system is what makes this team great and a heavy favorite to qualify for at least the Western Finals.

Of course, it’s not like 27-8-3 G Pekka Rinne usually needs all that much help to keep the scoreboard clean anyways. After all, he has a solid .926 save percentage and 2.32 GAA on the season.

As can be expected with the defense in front of him playing so well lately, Rinne has been even better over his last eight starts. Since January 4, the Finn has posted a .932 save percentage and 1.85 GAA, both of which rank in the top-four in the league in that time.

Making this Predators team an even more daunting foe, the offense has provided the (t)eighth-best attack in the league over its past dozen games. With D P.K. Subban at the helm, averaging a point per game over this run with 4-8-12 marks to improve his season totals to 13-28-41, the Predators are scoring an average of 3.08 goals per game.

So, the important question is which team is going to come out on top of this high-flying matchup?

Nashville has been playing better, longer. As such, I’m leaning towards the Predators earning two points tonight at Air Canada Centre, even if they need overtime or the shootout to get the job done.


Though the Vegas Golden Knights staged an impressive third period comeback in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at PPG Paints Arena, they couldn’t get past the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won 5-4.

Even though Vegas would end up a goal short, it actually had a one-goal advantage going into the first intermission. C William Karlsson (F Jon Marchessault and W Reilly Smith) registered the lone marker of the frame, a power play snap shot 2:09 into the game.

6:34 into the second period, the Knights doubled their lead to 2-0 courtesy of a W James Neal (D Nate Schmidt and W David Perron) backhanded shot. However, the Knights couldn’t hold the Penguins’ offense at bay forever, and RW Ryan Reaves (C Riley Sheahan) finally broke through 4:34 after Neal’s tally to pull Pittsburgh back within a goal. The list of unpredictable goalscorers continued with 2:36 remaining in the period when D Ian Cole (W Bryan Rust and Second Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby) buried a snapper to level the game at 2-2, but he was followed by the more conventional striker F Jake Guentzel (Crosby and D Brian Dumoulin) only 1:16 later, who scored a slap shot to give the Pens their first lead of the game.

Pittsburgh came out firing in the third period, and with good reason considering Vegas’ eventual comeback. First Star F Evgeni Malkin (RW Phil Kessel) buried what was then an insurance goal 3:09 into the frame, and he was followed by a Kessel (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) brace that proved to be the game-winner.

Kessel may get credit for the goal, but his scoring opportunity was a direct result of some stellar puck moving by the Penguins’ offense. Hagelin carried the puck across the blue line into the offensive zone before passing to Kessel along the left boards. Since Hagelin continued driving towards Third Star G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s crease, Kessel proceeded to dump the puck behind the goal into the trapezoid for his fellow winger. Hagelin spotted a wide-open Malkin in the right face-off circle and set him up for a clean shot on Fleury’s cage, but the red-hot Russian instead elected to draw two defenders towards him before sneaking a pass behind C Cody Eakin to Kessel. Since Fleury had set up to save a shot from Malkin, he left the left side of his goal wide open, leaving an easy target for Kessel’s snapper to set the score at 5-2.

However, the action didn’t end there. Only 18 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Kessel, a F Ryan Carpenter (RW Alex Tuch and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) wrist shot pulled the Knights back within a 5-3 deficit. The comeback became even more real when Marchessault (Smith) scored a wrister with 7:59 remaining in regulation to pull Vegas back within a goal, but G Matthew Murray refused to concede a fifth goal to ensure a Pens victory.

Murray earned the victory after saving 21-of-25 shots faced (.84 save percentage), leaving the loss to Fleury, who saved 33-of-38 (.868).

For the second straight night in the DtFR Game of the Day series, the home team allowed four goals but still earned the victory. As such, the hosts in the series have improved their record to 66-38-15, a whopping 27 points better than the visitors’.

January 19 – Day 104 – Skeletons in the closet

There may not be many games going on today, but at least they’re all being broadcast nationally.

Most of the night’s action drops the puck at 7:30 p.m. this evening, as two (Vegas at Florida [SN360/TVAS] and Montréal at Washington [NHLN/RDS/TSN2]) of the three games get underway. Finally, Los Angeles at Anaheim (NBCSN) closes out the night’s festivities with a rivalry game at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Minnesota, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Now, I know that the Freeway Face-Off is taking place today and both teams are on the cusp of playoff position, but there’s one game that has really attracted my attention.

 

 

 

 

 

Featuring this game provides us the enjoyable opportunity of looking back at the Panthers’ decisions over the past year and judging them.

If that doesn’t sound like fun, I don’t know what is.

Gerard Gallant was named the head coach of the Florida Panthers before the 2014-’15 season. The season before, Florida had posted an ugly 29-45-8 record to finish seventh in the Atlantic Division, a whopping 27 points behind Detroit for the second wild card.

While the Panthers didn’t do much climbing in the division standings (they only advanced to sixth in the Atlantic), Gallant’s first year as head coach saw the club improve to 38-29-15, their first winning record since claiming the Southeast Division in 2011-’12.

That growth continued into the 2015-’16 campaign, which was easily his best during his tenure in Florida. The Panthers exploded to a 47-26-9 record to raise their second division banner in franchise history and finish third in the Eastern Conference. One of Florida’s major acquisitions that season was trading RW Jimmy Hayes to Boston for W Reilly Smith. Smith was an instant success in the Sunshine State, as he posted a career-best 25 goals en route to 50 points, finishing sixth on the team in scoring.

Though the young Panthers fell in six games to C John Tavares‘ Islanders in the first round, excitement surrounded the team for their future.

With the Panthers seemingly on the rise, they signed then 26-year-old F Jon Marchessault to a two-year, $1.5 million deal after not being offered a contract by Tampa Bay following three years with the organization. As indicated by where Marchessault plays now (the same almost certainly applies to Smith, but more on that in a minute), it seems Gallant saw potential in a player that had posted only 8-11-19 totals in 49 NHL games, which was realized by Marchessault’s impressive 2016-’17 campaign.

However, a simple slow start of 11-10-1 in 2016 is all it took for Florida General Manager Tom Rowe to fire Gallant and literally desert him at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. after the Panthers lost to the Hurricanes 3-2. How firing the winningest coach in franchise history a year after he led the team to its highest heights since the improbable run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, not to mention that he coached the Atlantic All-Star team, makes sense still baffles the imagination of many outside the Panthers’ front office.

At the time of Gallant’s firing, Marchessault had posted solid 10-7-17 totals through 22 games played, well better than Smith’s 4-3-7 effort in the same amount of time. Even with Rowe assuming coaching duties for the remainder of the season, Marchessault would score a team-high 30 goals and tack on 21 assists for a third-best 51 points in 75 games – all career bests for a player in only his second full season in the NHL. However, Florida returned to sixth in the Atlantic Division with only a 35-36-11 record, 14 points behind second wildcard Toronto. Obviously, the decline was on Gallant and Smith’s shoulders, as Smith finished with only 15-22-37 totals.

After going unsigned for the remainder of the 2016-’17 season, Gallant was hired as head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights on April 13, 2017, allowing him the opportunity to work with General Manager George McPhee to build the exact team he wanted from a blank slate – a luxury afforded to very few in the world of professional sports.

Having recent experience with the Panthers’ system, it’s no surprise that Gallant would do everything in his power to get his favorite players from that team. However, I’d bet that even he didn’t predict his good fortune when General Manager Dale Tallon – the same person responsible for signing Gallant to the Panthers in 2014 – agreed to trade Smith to Vegas in exchange for the Golden Knights drafting Marchessault in the 2017 Expansion Draft and a measly fourth-round draft pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

Call me crazy, but perhaps it shouldn’t have ever been a surprise that 30-11-3 Vegas is doing so well. Marchessault (16-26-42 totals) and Smith (12-24-36) are both among the top-four point earners for the Knights with the same head coach that led them to glory on the opposite side of the country. Marchessualt has since signed a six-year, $30 million extension with the Golden Knights. That means he and Smith, who came to Vegas with five years remaining on a five-year, $25 million deal will be together through the 2021-’22 season.

Compare that to 18-19-6 Florida’s situation in fourth to last in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference and it makes clear sense why Rowe is no longer the Panthers’ general manager (however, he’s still in Florida’s front office… I wish I had that kind of job security).

Imagining what could have been for the Panthers if Rowe hadn’t screwed everything up by chasing some analytical dream is truly disparaging (and I’m not even a Panthers fan!), and that point will be made even more clear this evening with all the former Panthers in town.

After losing in regulation Tuesday, the Western Conference-leading Golden Knights are looking forward to getting their next winning streak started. Vegas has earned points in four of its past five games, and it owes all its success to 10-3-2 G Marc-Andre Fleury and his defense.

Fleury has been stellar all year. After all, his .945 season save percentage and 1.72 GAA are both best in the league among all 66 netminders with at least four starts to their credit (okay, St. Louis’ 10-3-1 G Carter Hutton has matched Fleury’s GAA on the year). However, Fleury has somehow found an even higher level to play at, as he’s posted an incredible .948 save percentage and 1.51 GAA in his last four starts.

While Fleury has been so good that the word solid doesn’t do him justice, he’s also had the luxury of playing behind an impressive defense. Over their last five games, the Golden Knights have allowed an average of only 29.4 shots against, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since January 5. Whether its been LW William Carrier and D Brayden McNabb‘s 3.6 hits-per-game, D Deryk Engelland‘s two blocks-per-game or C William Karlsson‘s six takeaways over this stretch – or simply the Knights’ impressive offense keeping the puck out of the defensive zone – Vegas is making it easy for the face of their franchise to shine like a jewel in the desert.

Of note, Fleury led the Golden Knights to a 4-1 victory yesterday in Tampa Bay, so it would seem likely that 11-2-0 G Malcolm Subban will draw the start this evening. Subban has posted a .918 save percentage and 2.38 GAA in 13 starts this season.

Meanwhile, the struggle continues for the Panthers, who have posted only a 1-3-1 record over their past five games. While they haven’t been very impressive on either end of the ice, the biggest issues of last have been on the defensive end of the rink.

With 6-6-1 G Roberto Luongo still on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, 12-12-5 G James Reimer has started every game since the December 4. Before this rough patch since January 2, he’d actually been having success to the point that he had earned a 7-3-1 record since assuming starting duties – including a five-game winning streak.

However, the new year has not treated him well, as he’s managed only a .894 save percentage and 3.46 GAA in the Panthers’ last five games.

The reason for Reimer’s decline is obvious. The line about him starting every game since the beginning of December was not hyperbole: he’s literally started Florida’s last 16 games, including both ends of two back-to-backs. Fortunately for the Panthers, this is their first game coming off a six-day bye, so Reimer will be well-rested and ready to go.

However, if they’re going to continue riding their backup so hard, perhaps the Panthers’ defense could help him out and keep pucks away from him. Since January 2, Florida’s defense has allowed an average of 33.4 shots against per game, the 10th-highest in the league in that time.

D Aaron Ekblad may average two blocks per game over this run, D Alex Petrovic 2.8 hits per game and F Vincent Trocheck five takeways since January 2, but something has to change to keep Reimer alive until Luongo returns – especially since rookie G Harri Sateri is currently serving as backup. In essence, this fourth-worst 3.8 goals against-per-game since January 2 falls on the Panthers’ defense.

Florida has already made its trip out to T-Mobile Arena on December 17, and Rowe was justifiably embarrassed as his Panthers lost 5-2. Oh, and who led the way scoring in that game? First Star of the Game Marchessault (1-2-3 totals) and Smith (0-2-2).

We didn’t even talk about Vegas’ well-documented offense. With that corps going against the Panthers’ defense, it’s hard to believe the Panthers will be able to put up much of a fight tonight.


On the night of C Eric Lindros‘ number retirement, the Philadelphia Flyers completed their season sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs, beating them in overtime 3-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

This contest was a defensive affair at the start, as neither club could register more than nine shots on goal in the first period. As a result, the score read the same during the first intermission as it did at the opening puck drop: 0-0.

However, that all changed in the blink of an eye in the second frame. RW Connor Brown (F Zach Hyman) broke the draw on a wrist shot with 7:03 remaining in the period, followed only 28 seconds later by C Frederik Gauthier‘s (W Matt Martin and D Jake Gardiner) first goal of the season to set the score at 2-0.

Philadelphia finally got on the scoreboard at the 1:33 mark of the third period, courtesy of an unassisted wrap-around shot by Third Star of the Game F Nolan Patrick. Though F Jori Lehtera tried to give the game away by interfering with Gauthier only 34 seconds later, W Wayne Simmonds (F Valtteri Filppula and D Andrew MacDonald) found a way to bury a shorthanded snap shot at the 3:25 mark, leveling the score at two-all.

Though neither team was able to score in the remainder of regulation, it didn’t take long for First Star C Sean Couturier (F Travis Konecny and Second Star G Michal Neuvirth) to win the game in overtime. The play started when Neuvirth made a pad save on C Auston Matthews. Konecny corralled the loose puck and began racing up the right boards. With two Maple Leafs closing in on him near the right face-off dot, he split his defenders with a pass to Couturier in the left face-off circle, setting up Philly’s leading scorer with a one-on-one opportunity against G Frederik Andersen. Couturier slung his wrist shot to the far post, ending the game in the Flyers’ favor.

Neuvirth earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Andersen, who saved 34-of-37 (.919).

The 58-34-12 home teams are reestablishing their dominance in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’re now riding a three-game winning streak. They now hold a 23 point lead on the visitors in the series.

January 12 – Day 97 – Gagner is “to win” in French, so…

There’s one more day until the first wave of byes end! Get ready for an explosion of games tomorrow!

However, that still means today’s list of matchups is rather short. Only five pucks are going to be dropped this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (Vancouver at Columbus and Calgary at Florida) and Washington at Carolina half an hour later. Next up is Winnipeg at Chicago at 8:30 p.m., followed by Edmonton at Arizona acting as tonight’s nightcap. All times Eastern.

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

You’ll notice none of these games are being broadcast nationally in either Canada or the USA, which is a real bummer. Hopefully you live in one of these 10 markets.

As for which tilt we’ll feature here, my list of two candidates was trimmed to one by the still ongoing saga between RW Jaromir Jagr and the Calgary Flames, who was scheduled to make his return to Sunrise today. Since we featured the Canes and Caps yesterday (you can just use that preview for today’s contest), let’s take in F Sam Gagner‘s return to Ohio.

 

Life is not always easy for a first-round pick.

Just ask Gagner, who was the sixth-overall selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft – you know, the same draft with LW Jamie Benn, F Patrick Kane, LW Max Pacioretty, D Kevin Shattenkirk, W Wayne Simmonds, D P.K. Subban, RW Jakub Voracek… the list goes on to include a total of 93 skaters and four goaltenders that have seen time in the NHL.

It was a good draft class with some exceptional talent, but not a great one – look to 2003 for a better example of a draft with more depth.

By simply arranging the draft class by points they’ve scored so far in their careers, Edmonton picking him sixth is right on the money. He’s posted 149-272-421 totals over the course of his 11 seasons in the league, which puts him behind Kane (797 points), Benn (556), Voracek (539), Pacioretty (434) and Simmonds (424).

However, how is it Gagner, who provides .57 points-per-game, is one of the three players listed above that is no longer with the club that drafted him?

The obvious answer is just to say “Oilers” and move on, but Gagner’s story did not immediately end up in Columbus.

Gagner signed a three-year extension with the Oil before the 2013-’14 season, but he played only one year of that deal before being shipped to Tampa Bay for RW Teddy Purcell. The Bolts apparently never wanted him, because he was shipped off only an hour later to Arizona for a sixth-round pick.

Year two of that three-year deal was spent with the Coyotes as a right wing – not his usual center position. The results of that experiment in 2014-’15 were fairly poor given his 15-26-41 totals playing off the puck, but General Manager Don Maloney insisted Gagner could not play his natural position in the NHL and decided to trade him to Philadelphia that offseason for D Nicklas Grossmann and D Chris Pronger – who, by the way, hadn’t seen the ice since the 2011-’12 season even though his contract expired this most recent offseason.

For those counting at home, Arizona received 58 games played in the 2015-’16 season out of that trade.

Oh yeah, and Maloney was fired after that year. There’s also that.

And so, Gagner completed a hat trick of teams in as many seasons all on the same contract. It was a miserable campaign in Philly that saw him register only 16 points in 53 games (he spent time in the AHL that season as well), and he was allowed to test free agency.

No one wanted Gagner. Nobody. Free agents can begin signing contracts on July 1, but he didn’t earn a spot on a team until August 1. The former first-rounder signed a one-year, $650 thousand contract with Columbus, making $225 thousand fewer than he did during his first three seasons in the league.

The Jackets had nothing to lose in this situation and everything to gain. They had missed the 2016 playoffs entirely, falling all the way to last in the Metropolitan Division and 15th in the Eastern Conference a year after missing the postseason by only nine points. If Gagner failed to produce, the Jackets could easily waive him and he’d almost assuredly end up in Cleveland with their AHL affiliate.

To put things plainly, Columbus General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen looked like a genius after this deal. The Blue Jackets enjoyed their greatest season of all-time by reaching the 100-point plateau for the first time in franchise history, and Gagner was one of the biggest players. He posted fifth-best 18-32-50 totals, setting a career-high in points and tying his career-best in goals.

However, the money just wasn’t there for the Jackets to keep Gagner around for this season. For the second offseason in a row, he was a free agent. But this time, Gagner was one of the first players signed. He was brought into the Vancouver fold on a three-year, $3.15 million deal, and is currently centering the Canucks’ top line.

Unfortunately, Gagner hasn’t been able to bring along the Jackets’ spark to the 16-21-6 Canucks, who currently occupy second-to-last in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. Short of his stint with the Flyers, he’s having the worst season of his career, posting only 7-12-19 totals through 43 games played (.44 points per game).

Of course, it’s hard to say that Gagner is having a bad year on his own accord. His 19 points are enough to place him sixth on the team, and rookie sensation RW Brock Boeser is the only player on the squad with more than 30 points to his credit.

Vancouver is experiencing an especially rough patch in its season right now, as it is in the midst of a seven-game road trip (tonight is Game 4) while also suffering a five-game losing skid that has seen it earn only one point.

As you might expect from a team where 19 points is good enough for sixth-most on the squad, offense is a major issue for the Canucks. During this five-game losing skid, they’ve managed only eight goals, meaning they’re averaging a third-worst 1.6 goals per game since December 30.

What makes things even more frustrating is that the little offense the Canucks are getting is coming from only two players: the legends themselves, LW Daniel Sedin and C Henrik Sedin. D. Sedin has been extremely impressive over his last three games, as he’s managed 2-2-4 totals for a three-game point streak, and H. Sedin has thrown in three assists in that span as well.

Meanwhile, this hasn’t been the best of runs for 25-17-3 Columbus either. The Jackets have earned only a 3-4-1 record over their past eight games, and they now trail Washington, which has a game in hand, by four points for the Metropolitan Division lead.

It’s not very often that I’m disappointed with Columbus’ overall defensive effort, but for the second time in a row of me featuring the Jackets, that’s where I’m having concerns.

Over their past eight games, the Blue Jackets have allowed 24 goals. Those astute at math notice that is an average of three goals per game (well over the 2.69 Columbus has averaged all season), which ties Chicago for 12th-worst since December 27.

One of, if not the biggest issue over this run has been the penalty kill. Over its past eight games, Columbus has successfully defended only two-thirds of its 18 shorthanded situations, making the Jackets the fifth-worst kill over the past 16 days.

G Sergei Bobrovsky has posted only an .844 save percentage against the power play since December 27 (the 22nd-worst among the 61 netminders to face a power play situation in that time), but he’s also had to face a fifth-most 32 power play shots.

With D David Savard being the only Blue Jacket with more than three shorthanded blocked shots and a total of only four total takeaways in that situation, Columbus needs to find a way to get its penalty kill under control in a hurry.

Bobrovsky played yesterday to a 3-1 loss in Buffalo, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see 4-4-0 G Joonas Korpisalo draw tonight’s start. That being said, I’ve made that prediction once already this week and it didn’t pan out, so we’ll see what Head Coach John Tortorella decides to do.

With the Canucks sporting a 20.7 power play conversion rate that is 12th-best on the season, this may not be the easiest of home games for Columbus. Throw in the fact that Korpisalo, who hasn’t faced an NHL shot since December 31, could be in net tonight, and Vancouver has a very real shot at earning two points this evening.


With a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Carolina Hurricanes have moved into the Eastern Conference’s second wild card.

This was a game full of solid defense and counterattacking by the Canes. Even though they out-shot the Capitals 33-28 for the night, it felt like Washington was earning much stronger possessions and longer time in the offensive zone.

That was no more apparent than in Carolina’s first goal of the night. With F Josh Jooris in the penalty box for holding D Madison Bowey, the Caps were on the power play. However, when D John Carlson attempted to reset the play to W Alex Ovechkin at the blue line, C Jordan Staal intercepted the pass to set himself up for a one-on-one duel with G Braden Holtby. Staal won that battle, squeezing a backhanded shot between the netminder’s legs for his second shorthanded tally of the season, the most he’s scored in one campaign as a Hurricane.

Carolina took the lead with 8:27 remaining in the second period, but that advantage wouldn’t last for long. Third Star of the Game C Lars Eller (F T.J. Oshie and D Christian Djoos) was able to level the game 4:32 later with a slap shot from above the face-off circles. The one-all score held into the second intermission.

What other line to score the game-winning goal than RW Justin Williams‘? The former Capital didn’t earn a point on the play, but his protégé Second Star C Victor Rask did with his unassisted wrist shot with 9:06 remaining in regulation.

Because the Caps were facing a delayed penalty, it was a six-on-five situation for the Canes. D Justin Faulk fired an initial wrist shot from above the face-off circles that Holtby was able to deflect, but neither he nor any other skater clad in red could take possession of the loose puck. That’s what allowed Rask to one-time a wrister from the left face-off circle, beating Holtby short side.

Washington tried valiantly to find another leveling goal up its sleeve, but Head Coach Barry Trotz was eventually forced to pull Holtby as regulation was beginning to come to an end. That’s what allowed W Sebastian Aho (F Elias Lindholm) to bury a wrister with 89 seconds remaining in regulation to set the score at the 3-1 final.

While the Canes executed their game plan to a T, the player most deserving of praise was First Star G Scott Darling. Having lost his last two starts, he won this one by stopping 27-of-28 shots faced (.964 save percentage). Holtby took the loss, saving 30-of-32 (.938).

That’s the second-consecutive win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The 54-31-12 home teams still hold the advantage in the series, but the visitors have now pulled within 22 points.

January 2 – Day 87 – Ellis in, Forsberg out

After yesterday’s boring schedule with only one game, it’s time to get the league back in action with a dozen contests tonight.

As it usually does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with four matchups (Tampa Bay at Toronto [TVAS], Boston at the New York Islanders [SN], Pittsburgh at Philadelphia [NBCSN] and Washington at Carolina), followed half an hour later by San Jose at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of the next two games (New Jersey at St. Louis and Florida at Minnesota), while Columbus at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Winnipeg at Colorado is the next contest to get started at 9 p.m., followed half an hour later by Los Angeles at Edmonton (NBCSN) and tonight’s co-nightcaps – Anaheim at Vancouver and Nashville at Vegas – at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

There’s more than a few of today’s contests that stick out…

  • Pittsburgh at Philadelphia: If rivalries are what get you going, this is the game for you.
  • Los Angeles at Edmonton: Maybe F Jussi Jokinen‘s trade can reignite this C Wayne Gretzky-era rivalry? That’s probably super optimistic.
  • Anaheim at Vancouver: Speaking players making a return to a former home arena, G Ryan Miller spent the last three seasons calling Rogers Arena home.
  • Nashville at Vegas: D Alexei Emelin was a Golden Knight for 10 days this summer, so does this count as a homecoming?

Of that list, there’s no matchup more exciting than the Predators’ visit to Sin City!

 

I know we’ve featured both these clubs in the past seven days, but how can we possibly ignore a matchup between two of the top four teams in the NHL?

If there’s one thing to expect from this game, it’s offense. The 26-9-2 Golden Knights and 23-10-5 Predators are both among the top-seven offenses in the league, averaging more than three goals per game.

For Vegas, which averages a second-best 3.51 goals per game and has won seven-straight games, that attack is led by none other than F Jon Marchessault and his team-leading 14-22-36 totals. Although he started the season with only a 3-3-6 effort in eight October games, he’s exploded in the past two months to be the only Knight to average more than a point-per-game on the season.

Of course, that does disrespect C William Karlsson at least a little, because he’s been absolutely exemplary himself. No one on Vegas’ roster has scored more goals than Karlsson, and his 20 tallies are good enough to put him in sixth-place in the race for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy.

Meanwhile, the Predators’ offense – which is usually very strong and manages a seventh-best 3.16 goals-per-game – may be in disarray this evening with F Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Forsberg still leads the team with his 15-19-34 totals, but his departure leaves D P.K. Subban as the club’s active leading scorer with 9-20-29 totals.

Fortunately for the Preds, they have already played a game without Forsberg against Minnesota. Nashville was able to win that game 3-0 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday, but the Wild are definitely an inferior opponent in comparison to Vegas. The main reason for that victory was undoubtedly the stellar play of 4-3-2 G Juuse Saros (he saved all 29 shots he faced), and 19-7-3 G Pekka Rinne may need to duplicate that performance for Nashville to earn points from tonight’s contest.

Of course, if anybody can do it, I’d put my money on Rinne. After all, he’s already managed three shutouts this season ([t]fourth-most in the league) in addition to his other 16 wins (fifth-most in the NHL) on the back of his .924 save percentage (seventh-best in the league) and 2.47 GAA (10th-best in the NHL).

I’ll just let all those stats sink in for a moment. Yes, he’s good.

But don’t think Rinne is the only solid goaltender in today’s game. G Marc-Andre Fleury is the one that comes in with three Stanley Cup rings and a 7-1-1 record on the season. He’s posted a .938 save percentage for a 1.96 GAA on the season, both of which are superior to Rinne’s numbers.

These teams have already tangled once before this season, and that contest was a real thriller. In W James Neal‘s first game back in Nashville on December 8, he and W Reilly Smith led the Golden Knights to a 4-3 shootout victory. I feel safe in saying we might be in line for an equally competitive game tonight.

With Forsberg being out of the lineup, I question if Nashville’s offense will be able to keep up with the Golden Knights. Even with D Ryan Ellis making his season debut tonight, unless Rinne simply plays out of his mind – which is certainly a possibility – all signs are pointing towards a Vegas victory.


The New York Rangers needed overtime, but they beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in the Winter Classic yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Citi Field.

The Blueshirts exploded out of the gate, as they scored both their regulation goals in the first period. F Paul Carey (RW Jesper Fast and F Boo Nieves) opened the scoring 4:09 into the period and W Michael Grabner (Third Star of the Game F Kevin Hayes and First Star F J.T. Miller) set the score at 2-0 only 4:11 later.

The next two goals were struck by Buffalo, and both tallies took place within the first minute of each of the remaining periods. F Sam Reinhart (RW Kyle Okposo and D Rasmus Ristolainen) was the first Sabre to find the back of the net, but he got some help from D Nick Holden when he was caught hooking Okposo with 23 seconds remaining in the first period. 56 ticks into the middle frame, Reinhart buried a power play wrist shot to pull the Sabres back within a goal.

Ristolainen (F Ryan O’Reilly and Okposo) needed no such advantage when he scored 27 seconds into the third period. It wasn’t exactly a strong wrister from the blue line, but it was enough to get past G Henrik Lundqvist and level the game.

It seems power play goals were the way to take control of scoring in this game, because New York found its game-winner while on the man-advantage. At the 2:15 mark of the five minute three-on-three overtime period, F Jacob Josefson was caught tripping W Jimmy Vesey to earn himself a seat in the penalty box.

That’s what set up the four-on-three advantage that led to Miller’s (D Kevin Shattenkirk and W Mats Zuccarello) backhanded goal that beat Second Star G Robin Lehner. Only 28 after play had resumed from Josefson’s infraction, Shattenkirk fired a wrist shot on goal that Lehner was able to deflect with ease. However, he wasn’t able to contain the rebound, which allowed Miller to collect the puck and tap it into a gaping cage.

Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Lehner, who saved 39-of-42 (.929).

Even though the game was played in Queens and not the Queen City, the Rangers played the role of road team in this season’s Winter Classic, meaning they snapped the three-game winning streak DtFR Game of the Day hosts were riding in the series. However, those home teams still lead the series by 23 points with a 49-27-11 record.