Tag Archives: Tatar

Vegas escapes whiteout with 3-1 victory

 

With a 3-1 Game 2 victory at Bell MTS Place, the Vegas Golden Knights have leveled their Western Conference Finals series with the Winnipeg Jets at one game apiece.

As would be expected from the Winnipeg Whiteout crowd, all the energy was with the Jets at the opening puck drop. In fact, the fan-power almost resulted in a Jets goal only 33 seconds into the game when C Mark Scheifele‘s backhanded shot leaked through Second Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury and laid exposed in the blue paint, but D Nate Schmidt was there to clean up the situation to keep the game from turning into a potential barn-burner early.

Even though Winnipeg almost got that first laugh, it was the Golden Knights who eventually took command of the first frame. With 6:37 remaining in the period, F Tomas Tatar (D Shea Theodore and F Ryan Carpenter) drew Game 2’s first blood, scoring his first goal of the playoffs to give his side a lead a lead it would not yield.

Tatar’s tally was an excellent example of commitment to a play, as his first shot bounced off G Connor Hellebuyck‘s left post and careened into the end boards. However, Tatar maintained control of the situation by reclaiming possession and returning to the original scene of the crime, this time beating Hellebuyck to the near post.

3:59 later, some incredible defense by the Golden Knights in the neutral zone yielded First Star F Jon Marchessault‘s (W Reilly Smith) first goal of the game. Marchessault was the fortuitous recipient of Smith’s work against Third Star LW Kyle Connor at the red line, eventually earning a breakaway opportunity against Hellebuyck that he buried five-hole.

A scoreless second period was due in large part to some solid defense played by both sides. Both Vegas and Winnipeg fired only eight shots apiece in the middle frame.

In terms of overall stats for the entire game, Winnipeg certainly made its presence known along the boards by throwing 19 hits to Vegas’ seven. Leading that effort was none other than F Adam Lowry, who threw a game-high four checks.

Meanwhile, the Golden Knights made an excellent habit of getting in the way of the Jets’ shots, as they blocked a whopping 21 shots in Game 2. Though D Josh Morrissey led the game with five shot blocks, Smith paced Vegas in the statistic with his three rejections (not to mention his game-high three takeaways).

We all know the expression “third time’s the charm,” and that was true yet again in regards to Winnipeg’s power play. After failing to convert a too many men on the ice penalty in the first period and D Brayden McNabb‘s tripping infraction against RW Blake Wheeler late in the second, the Jets finally got on the scoreboard at the 7:17 mark of the third period.

Taking advantage of D Luca Sbisa tripping W Brandon Tanev 1:38 before, Connor (W Nikolaj Ehlers and D Tyler Myers) flung a prayer of a wrist shot at Fleury’s chest that managed to roll off his chest protector and into the goal, pulling Winnipeg back within a one-goal deficit.

As would be expected, the Whiteout was fully rejuvenated after its club finally showed some offensive life, but the Winnipeg faithful reclaimed their seats only 1:28 later when Marchessault (Smith and C William Karlsson) buried a backhander to set the 3-1 score that held to the end of regulation.

With only one day off to make the approximately three-hour flight from Southern Manitoba to Southeastern Nevada, Game 3 to snap the 1-1 tie is scheduled for 9 p.m. Eastern this Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena. Television viewers can catch the contest on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

March 8 – Day 148 – Home ice advantage

Thursdays in the NHL never disappoint, as there’s a whopping 12 games on the slate this evening!

Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. this evening with three games (Philadelphia at Boston [NHLN/SN], Winnipeg at New Jersey and Colorado at Columbus), followed half an hour later by four more (Buffalo at Ottawa [RDS2], Vegas at Detroit, the New York Rangers at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Montréal at Florida [RDS]). Next up is Anaheim at Nashville, which drops the puck at 8 p.m. and is trailed half an hour later by Carolina at Chicago and the New York Islanders at Edmonton at 9 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – Washington at Los Angeles (SN) and St. Louis at San Jose – drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close the evening out. All times Eastern.

More than a few of tonight’s games were circled on my calendar at the start of the year, including…

  • Philadelphia at Boston: The Flyers are playing their second rivalry game in as many days, traveling into snow-covered Boston.
  • Buffalo at Ottawa: The Sabres and Senators enjoyed a healthy rivalry in the mid-2000s. Let’s see if it gets revived tonight.
  • Vegas at Detroit: After spending his first seven seasons in Hockeytown, F Tomas Tatar is making his return with the Golden Knights tonight.
  • New York at Tampa Bay: Another deadline deal sent F Vladislav Namestnikov from Tampa – where he’s spent the first five seasons of his NHL career – to the Rangers.
  • Anaheim at Nashville: If playoff rematches get you excited, this is the game for you. The Predators beat the Ducks in six games last May.
  • Carolina at Chicago: G Scott Darling and D Trevor van Riemsdyk were both Blackhawks last season, but tonight they’ll be wearing white at United Center.
  • New York at Edmonton: D Brandon Davidson and RW Jordan Eberle swapped in their blue-and-orange Oilers sweaters for blue-and-orange Islanders sweaters.

What a selection of games! However, only one can be our focus tonight. Since the postseason is just around the corner, let’s look back to the Ducks and Predators’ playoff matchup from a season ago just in case it gets repeated this year.

 

If you’ll remember, Bridgestone Arena was an impassable fortress in favor of the Predators last postseason. They won both home games in the first round to complete their sweep of the Blackhawks and followed it up with three more wins – including the series-clinching Game 6 – against St. Louis to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

Then Anaheim showed up and spoiled the fun.

Though they’d surely heard the whispers roars about The Stone, the Ducks didn’t seem too daunted by one of the most impressive home ice advantages in recent memory. Having split the opening two games at Honda Center, the Ducks and Predators played a tight Game 3 to a 2-1 Nashville victory that saw D Roman Josi score the game-winner with 2:43 remaining in regulation, setting up an extremely important Game 4.

In that tilt, Anaheim survive a two-goal third period comeback (capped by F Filip Forsberg‘s game-tying marker with 36 seconds remaining in regulation) by Nashville that eventually led to a W Corey Perry overtime goal that snapped Nashville’s home winning streak and leveled the series at two games apiece.

A home loss like that can take the legs out from under a team, or it can reignite the fire in their competitive drive. It did the latter for the Predators in the conference final, as they headed back west to win 3-1 in Anaheim and pull within a victory of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Home ice didn’t disappoint for the Predators in Game 6, as they cruised to a 6-3 victory on the back of a C Colton Sissons hat trick.

That dominance that got 43-14-9 Smashville to the championship round a season ago is in full swing right now, as the Predators are currently riding an impressive nine-game winning streak.

It’s hard to argue with the offense Nashville has been exhibiting during this winning streak. Since February 19, the Predators have averaged a whopping 4.33 goals per game, the best mark in the NHL.

Managing 6-6-12 marks over this run to improve his season totals to 24-25-49, W Viktor Arvidsson has been a major part of this Nashville attack. However, he’s also had the support of the injured Josi (1-11-12 totals in his last six games played) and D Ryan Ellis (3-8-11 since February 19), as all three are currently averaging at least a point per game.

It is here where we find the dominance of the Predators, as only three of Ellis’ last 12 points have coincided with Arvidsson getting on the scorecard, meaning these two players have played in a combined 21 goals in the past nine games.

Talk about the entire team getting involved on the offensive attack.

Of course, all those goals do no good if the opposition can keep up on the scoreboard. Fortunately for Nashville, it has 36-9-4 G Pekka Rinne at its disposal.

Even though he’s been faced with an average of 32 shots per game during this run (16th in the NHL since February 19), Rinne has performed phenomenally to keep opposing offenses under his thumb. The Finn has posted an incredible .942 save percentage and 1.86 GAA in his last seven starts, improving his season marks to a .928 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.

However, Nashville is not the only team in tonight’s game currently riding a win streak. The 34-21-12 Ducks are rolling too, as they’ve won their last three games and have earned points in four-straight.

Just like with the Preds’ winning streak, Anaheim’s has also been sparked by some stellar offense. In all, seven players have averaged at least a point per game since February 25 – none of which have been better than C Ryan Getzlaf, who’s posted unbelievable 1-8-9 totals in his last three games played (he missed Friday’s win over the Blue Jackets due to illness) to average three points per game during this run. Linemate F Rickard Rakell has also been exemplary lately, as his 6-2-8 totals average out to two points per game in his last four showings.

In all, the 4.75 goals per game Anaheim has averaged since February 25 is tops in the NHL in that time.

The similarities between tonight’s opponents continues when we look towards the goal crease, as 25-15-6 G John Gibson has been in peak form in his last three starts. Since last Sunday, Gibson has posted an incredible .955 save percentage for a 1.67 GAA in spite of a defense that has allowed a dismal 38.5 shots against per game (third-worst in the NHL since February 25), improving his season marks to a .927 save percentage and 2.46 GAA.

Even though the Ducks will be in action again tomorrow night in Dallas, it has to be all but assured that Head Coach Randy Carlyle will deploy his best netminder against the best team in the Western Conference and save 8-5-6 G Ryan Miller for the Stars.

Much to the pleasure of the Ducks, who have yet to beat Nashville this season, tonight’s matchup is the finale of the three-game series between these clubs. Their first meeting was on November 3 at Honda Center, where the Preds won 5-3 in large part due to Josi’s one-goal, two-point night. Smashville followed up that victory with a much more competitive 3-2 shootout win at Bridgestone Arena, the site of tonight’s game, on December 2 (W Kevin Fiala took First Star honors).

With the top seed in the Western Conference (and therefore the Central Division) currently in their grasp, there is only one thing left for the Predators to compete for: the Presidents’ Trophy. Nashville’s 95 points are only one point fewer than Tampa’s, and the Preds have a game in hand. In other words, hold off on inscribing this year’s regular-season champion into the record books.

The Ducks could care less about a trophy they’ve never seen, as their sole focus is on holding on to second place in the Pacific Division. Four teams (Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles and Calgary) are competing for two division spots and are separated by only four points entering tonight’s action, and the Ducks have no wiggle room given the Sharks and Kings both have a game in hand on the team from Orange County.

This preview started with a recap about home dominance, and I think that’s where the preview must also end. Though the Ducks have been playing well lately – well enough, in fact, to upset many good teams in their own barns – Smashville is an entirely different animal. With their fans behind them, the Predators will simply be too strong tonight for the Ducks to beat them.


With a three-assist night from First Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Even though a total of seven goals were struck in this game, only one was registered in the first period. It belonged to RW Phil Kessel (F Evgeni Malkin and Crosby) and was a power play wrist shot with 1:25 remaining in the frame.

Facing a 1-0 deficit, the Flyers pulled back even 2:07 into the second period when Third Star RW Jakub Voracek (F Nolan Patrick) scored a tip-in, followed only 3:52 later by F Travis Konecny (F Claude Giroux and D Andrew MacDonald) setting the score at 2-1 with a wrister.

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, that was all the offense it could muster, meaning D Jamie Oleksiak‘s (D Justin Schultz and F Jake Guentzel) slap shot at the 9:24 mark leveled the game at 2-2. 5:01 later, Pittsburgh found its game-winner courtesy of Second Star W Conor Sheary (Crosby and Oleksiak).

After Oleksiak slung a pass his way from the left face-off circle in his own zone, Crosby did most of the work setting up a two-on-one advantage while advancing into the Flyers’ zone. The captain fired an initial wrister that G Petr Mrazek blocked, but Sheary was there to collect the rebound and complete the play with a backhanded shot.

The third period ended with a 4-2 score when Sheary (Guentzel and Crosby) scored a wrister 40 seconds before the second intermission. Malkin (LW Carl Hagelin and C Riley Sheahan) completed the game’s scoring with 1:41 remaining in regulation by burying a wrister into an empty net.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (.929 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved 23-of-27 (.852).

Pittsburgh’s road victory snapped a seven-game winning streak by the 81-48-19 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have only a 29-point advantage in the series.

October 22 – Day 19 – Selections are slim, Vol. III

What did we do to insult the NHL? For the second time in a week, there’s only one game on the schedule. By default, that makes the Canucks’ yearly visit to Detroit at 7 p.m.* (SN1/SN360/TVAS) our DtFR Game of the Day.

*Eastern time.

 

I promise, even though Motown has been featured three times in the past seven days, this is not supposed to be a Red Wings-centric blog or series. I can only feature the games the league schedules.

#ThanksNHL

After a hot start to the season, this has not been a good week for 4-3-1 Detroit. The Wings have amassed a lowly record of 0-2-1 in their past three games, getting outscored 13-8 in the process.

If these three games have been representative of how the Wings are expected to play for the remainder of the season, Michiganders might want to begin tuning in to the other club that calls Little Caesars Arena home (You’re welcome for the shoutout, Pistons. Way to beat my Hornets Wednesday).

As can be surmised from the combined score listed above, it certainly hasn’t been a decline in offensive production that has slowed the Red Wings. Averaging 2.67 goals-per-game over that stretch is, while not among the best in the league by any means, usually good enough to keep games competitive (thanks a bunch for your 3-1-4 efforts this week, F Tomas Tatar!).

Instead, it’s been a breakdown on the defensive end. In the last three contests, Detroit has averaged 4.33 goals against on 31 opposing shots-per-game. Since the shots against average in that time span is actually better than the Wings’ 33.1 rate for the season, it seems it has been the goaltenders that have been struggling this week.

Enter goalies Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek. Backup Mrazek is the lucky one to take credit for Detroit’s overtime loss to Washington Friday, but a regulation loss was added to both netminders’ records this week.

Though his two starts were against some of the best offenses in the NHL, Howard really dropped the ball during this skid. Not only did he muster a measly .885 save percentage against the Lightning Monday, but he saved only one-of-four shots Wednesday in Toronto before getting pulled 4:14 ahead of the first intermission.

Howard started the season exceptionally, managing a .955 save percentage and a 1.62 GAA for a perfect 3-0-0 record. If any unlikely Motor City Magic is going to happen this season, it will most certainly require both him and Mrazek being at their top of their game every single night they take the ice.

In the midst of a five-game Eastern road trip, the Canucks come to Detroit having won two of their past three games – a stark improvement to their 1-2-1 start.

Whichever Red Wings netminder stars this evening has a fantastic opportunity to rediscover his groove against a Canucks offense that averages a (t)ninth-worst 2.71 goals-per-game.

There’s very little that has gone right for 3-3-1 Vancouver on its offensive end to start this season. Even though C Bo Horvat has fired a team-leading 21 shots, the Canucks average a sixth-worst 29.9 shots-per-game. Tack on the lousy goals-per-game rate previously mentioned and you find an offense that is struggling to fight through even the weakest of defenses.

Trying their hardest to keep the Canucks afloat this season are rookie RW Brock Boeser (2-3-5 totals), D Michael Del Zotto (0-5-5) and W Derek Dorsett (4-1-5).

Boeser in particular has been mightily impressive considering he co-leads the team in points in only games played, but I really want to focus on Dorsett for a moment. Though usually far from the first player you think of as an offensive threat (he averages .25 points-per-game for his entire career), the fourth liner has been one of the Canucks’ best scoring threats this season through seven games.

Is his point production to start his campaign not impressive enough for you? Try his .4 shooting percentage on for size. In fact, that success rate is tied for second-best in the league among players that have fired at least 10 shots this season.

You heard it here first: Dorsett is obviously one of the league’s top snipers.

Consider how big of a joke that last line was, if Detroit’s goaltending can’t handle this offense, they simply don’t deserve to win. Since I think they can – and Tatar and co. can certainly best G Jacob Markstrom –  I’m picking Detroit to earn two points this evening.


Though they trailed 4-2 entering the third period at the TD Garden, the Buffalo Sabres pulled off a 5-4 overtime victory against the Boston Bruins in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Each regulation period had a character of its own, and the first totally belonged to the Bruins. Boston finally broke through with 6:44 remaining in the frame courtesy of a wrist shot from Third Star of the Game RW David Pastrnak (F Tim Schaller and D Charlie McAvoy). 109 seconds later, Second Star LW Brad Marchand buried an unassisted  power play wrister to set the score at 2-0 in favor of the Bruins.

Period 2 was a much more even affair, though it didn’t start that way. Only 37 seconds after the intermission was complete, Marchand (F Anders Bjork and McAvoy) scored another wrister to give Boston a three-goal lead. 7:24 after Marchand’s sixth marker of the season, Buffalo finally got on the scoreboard with a wrister from RW Jason Pominville (First Star F Ryan O’Reilly). A Pastrnak (F Riley Nash and D Torey Krug) wrister negated Pominville’s tally with 8:38 remaining in the period, but C Jack Eichel (D Marco Scandella and W Justin Bailey) pulled the Sabres back within a 4-2 deficit 4:45 later with a solid wrister.

The third period was Buffalo’s chance to shine, starting with LW Benoit Pouliot‘s (F Sam Reinhart and D Jake McCabe) first goal of the season, a snap shot 6:55 into the frame. With the Sabres still trailing with under five minutes remaining in regulation, time was quickly running out. LW Evander Kane (McCabe and Pominville) helped Buffalonians settle back into their seats (well, technically, jump out of them and then settle into them) with a backhanded shot that proved to be the final goal of regulation, struck with 2:08 to spare.

Nearly three minutes of three-on-three action was played, but O’Reilly didn’t really seem all that interested in playing much more. Scoring a backhander with 2:01 remaining before the shootout, the forward earned the Sabres their second win of the season.

Three-on-three play is designed to create some wild action to ensure games don’t end on the shootout, and that’s exactly what happened at the Garden.

Unfortunately for the home fans, almost all that action occurred in Boston’s defensive zone as the Sabres fired six shots on goal in overtime to Boston’s zero.

On what proved to be the Sabres’ final possession, they fired three shots at G Anton Khudobin (though only two were on goal). The first was by D Rasmus Ristolainen from the far face-off circle, but it harmlessly ended up in the near corner. O’Reilly collected the rebound, and passed back to the defenseman who attempted another shot from near the same spot as the first. This one was on frame, but Khudobin was able to reject his offering towards the far corner.

Buffalo once again collected the rebound to maintain possession behind the net. O’Reilly eventually emerged above the goal line with the puck on his stick to begin his attack run on the crease from Khudobin’s right to left. The forward faked a shot to the near post to force the netminder to protect that portion of his net, allowing him slide across the crease just enough to elevate his backhander over Khudobin’s sprawled pads.

Though he suffered a slow start, G Robin Lehner earned the victory after saving 27-of-31 shots  faced (.871 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Khudobin, who saved 37-of-42 (.881).

The third-straight overtime/shootout game in the DtFR Game of the Day series is also the third-straight victory by the road teams. They now trail the 10-5-4 hosts by only four points.

October 5 – Day Two – Pour one out for The Joe

Opening day is always fun (congrats to the Leafs, Blues, Oilers and Flyers for achieving 1-0-0 records, by the way), but I think its safe to say that I actually get more excited for the second day when there’s far more action (don’t even get me started about the first Saturday of the season!).

Tonight, there are eight games on the schedule, starting with three (Nashville at Boston, Montréal at Buffalo [RDS/TSN2] and Colorado at the New York Rangers) at 7 p.m. and a pair (Washington at Ottawa [RDS2] and Minnesota at Detroit [NBCSN]) half an hour later. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Pittsburgh at Chicago (SN360), while 10 p.m. features the evening’s co-nightcaps: Arizona at Anaheim and Philadelphia at Los Angeles (NBCSN). All times Eastern.

There’s certainly some fantastic games on the schedule, but one in particular has caught my eye.

 

Yes, we all know Detroit missed the playoffs last season for the first time in 25 years. That narrative was played out for the entirety of the 2016-’17 campaign.

Unfortunately, I think that story overshadowed another equally important one, especially among out-of-town fans: for the first time since December 27, 1979, the Red Wings will no longer call Joe Louis Arena home.

I cannot say I ever had the pleasure of walking into The Joe. Heck, I’ve never even been to Detroit. But for those who have, I can only imagine it was a wonderfully magical experience. Few buildings currently standing in the NHL have borne witness to such prolonged greatness.

C Steve Yzerman scored quite a few of his 692 goals between those unpredictable boards, and Nicklas Lidstrom year in and year out proved his defensive prowess by winning seven Norris Trophies and contributing to four Stanley Cup-winning efforts.

Manny Legace and Chris Osgood are just two of the many heralded goalies to man The Joe’s posts, while few defended his designated area like Bob Probert and his beloved penalty box. In fact, after spending so much of his hockey career defending his fellow Red Wings from Wendel Clark and RW Tie Domi and assuming his spot in the sin bin, Probert’s ashes were scattered in the arena’s penalty box following the club’s final home game last season.

But, unless something dramatic happens to Little Caesars Arena before 7:30 p.m. tonight, the time for Joe Louis Arena (and The Palace at Auburn Hills, for all you basketball fans) has come and gone.

And so, a new chapter in the story that is the Detroit Red Wings begins tonight as this team adjusts to its new home and begins work on building “Hockeytown Dynasty 2.0.”

Unfortunately, I don’t think that chapter gets a good starts tonight, as the Wild should be more than able to spoil the arena’s Grand Opening. Minnesota returns much of a roster that won 12-straight games en route to a 106-point season, including G Devan Dubnyk (40-19-5 record on a .923 save percentage and 2.25 GAA last season), F Mikael Granlund (26-43-69 totals in 2016-’17) and D Ryan Suter (allowed only six even-strength or shorthanded goals last season).

For Detroit, G Jimmy Howard will surely get the opening night start and will be under heavy pressure all night. Even though the Wings added D Trevor Daley, Howard may be the only line of defense considering how much Detroit’s blue line struggled last season. Knowing the Wild fired 30.8 shots-per-game last season, he may be in for a long night.

Offensively, the Red Wings have two sneaky-good top lines in Tomas TatarHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist and Anthony ManthaDylan LarkinMartin Frk, but the real question will be if these six have enough firepower in them to keep this team relevant all season against some of the best defenses. This game should provide an effective litmus test in determining just that.

I feel pretty safe in predicting a Wild win tonight, especially when seeing some bookies listing Minnesota at a -140 favorite.

Detroit Red Wings 2017-2018 Season Preview

Detroit Red Wings

33-36-13, 79 points, 7th in Atlantic (‘16-‘17)

Key additions: Trevor Daley, Luke Witkowski 

Key subtractions: Tomas Jurco (signed with Chicago), Steve Ott (Retired), Thomas Vanek (Signed with VAN)

Unsigned: Andreas Athanasiou

Offseason Analysis: The Detroit Red Wings’ offseason was spent trying to keep their current players. With contracts due to Tomas Tatar and Andreas Athanasiou, the Wings needed to shore up some of their core players. They managed this when they signed Tatar to a four-year contract worth $5.3 million AAV.

However, they still are dropping the ball on Athanasiou – he still remains unsigned. This a player who scored 18 goals and registered and 11 assists only a season ago, even when playing with the seventh-worst offense in the league. The 6’ 2”, 23-year-old center has a few options from KHL teams if the Wings can never reach an agreement, but I think there are a few teams in the NHL itching to get their hands on this player. If the Wings want to have a successful offseason, they need to make this deal happen.

The reason this deal is taking so long is because of Detroit’s lack of cap space. They are very tight to the cap and still have to sign a few players. One of the major offseason moves the Wings made was signing two-time Stanley Cup Champion Trevor Daley to a three-year deal worth $3.1 million AAV. The addition of Daley should help this team defensively and give them a leader in the locker room.

As for the offseason as whole, the loss of Thomas Vanek seems like a big loss to that group of forwards. This team struggles offensively as it is losing a top 6 forward is going to hurt them even more.

Red Wings fans aren’t going to like this next part: I still don’t think the Wings are a playoff team. They added defensively, but they lost offensively. I think you need to look at some of the dead weight with big contracts. The management team in Detroit needs to find a way to get the contracts off the books. They also need the younger prospects, like Tyler Bertuzzi and others, to step up and produce on smaller contracts. If they can make this happen, maybe Detroit can find a hint of playoffs in next few seasons. As for this year, all the other teams in the division got better and I see the Wings at the bottom of the table.

Offseason Grade: C-

March 8 – Day 140 – I’m spoked

If you want to watch hockey tonight (which we both know you do), it’s going to be pretty easy to find. All three contests (Ottawa at Dallas [RDS/SN360], Pittsburgh at Winnipeg [SN] and Detroit at Boston [NBCSN/TVAS]) – all of which happen to drop the puck at 8 p.m. eastern – are being nationally televised in Canada, and the one that just so happens to be our DtFR Game of the Day can be seen throughout the USA.

 

Who would’ve guessed I would’ve fallen for an Original Six matchup? In my defense, tonight’s offerings are… lacking… At least this rivalry got a boost last season, no matter how slight.

That boost wasn’t necessarily seen on the ice per se, but more so on the league table. For those that don’t remember, the Red Wings qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 25th-straight season – certainly an impressive feat.

Yet that success always has to detract from that of another. Last year, that was the Bruins who suffered an earlier-than-desired offseason. That fact was made more excruciating by the fact that Detroit qualified on a tiebreaker with the Bruins, besting them by a lone regulation+overtime victory.

To say the 34-26-6 Bruins aren’t proud of their nine victories more than Detroit‘s this season might be a bit of an understatement. That improvement has led them to third place in the Atlantic Division, the exact spot the Wings occupied a year ago.

They’ve gotten to that position on the back of their defense and goaltending. Boston is 11th-best in the league on that end of the ice, allowing only 172 tallies against.

30-16-4 Tuukka Rask has benefited greatly from his improved defense, as his season .913 save percentage and 2.28 GAA are (t)23rd and (t)eighth-best in the league among the 40 netminders with at least 26 appearances.

A season ago, Rask faced 30.4 shots-per-night, which tied for the 11th-worst rate in the NHL. This season, that rate is down to an impressive 26.4-per-game, the second-lowest in the league. He may be turning 40-years-old in 10 days, but Captain Zdeno Chara has been at the forefront of that improvement. He’s blocked 110 shots so far this season, the most on the squad. If he maintains his production, Chara is in line for 140 blocks on the season – far-and-away the largest total of his 19-year career.

Because of those combined efforts, the Bruins also have one of the best penalty kills in the game. Refusing to yield a goal on 85.7% of opposing power plays, Boston is second-best in the NHL. Joining Chara at the top of the chart in shorthanded blocks is Adam McQuaid, as they both have 29 to their credit.

My, what can change from one year to the next. It is all but certain that the 25-28-11 Red Wings will not be among the 16 teams fighting for the Stanley Cup following the 2016-’17 regular season, as the losers of their past two games currently occupy dead last in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

The main reason for their predicament is a lackluster offense. Lackluster may be a compliment, as Detroit has managed only 153 goals this season – the fifth-fewest in the NHL.

He’s tried as hard as he can, but Captain Henrik Zetterberg can only do so much. His team-leading 53 points is a respectable total – the average player claims 17.2 this season – but the rest of the roster is mostly barren of scoring threats, especially following the trade of Thomas Vanek to Florida. Probably the other main threat is Tomas Tatar, who’s 15 tallies is the active clubhouse-leader.

Usually, the power play is supposed to be a positive opportunity for an offense. Instead, it’s almost dreaded in Detroit, as the Wings have found success only 12.8% of the time – easily the worst mark in the game. Just like with the basic offense, weapons are hard to come by in Motor City. With the departure of Vanek, Frans Nielsen leads the squad with only 11 power play points and three skaters have buried an active team-high of three extra-man goals.

Tonight’s contest marks the culmination of this season’s series between these two clubs. Since Boston already has a 2-0-1 record against the Wings, all Detroit can hope for is a regulation victory to tie the series a five points apiece for both sides.

They last time they played was January 24 at the TD Garden. Although they needed an overtime winner from David Pastrnak, the Bruins were able to hold on for a 4-3 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Brad Marchand (68 points [fourth-most in the league] on 30 goals [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for third-most in the league] among 30 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL] on a 2.28 GAA [tied for ninth-best in the league]) & Detroit‘s Danny DeKeyser (135 blocks [leads the team]), Luke Glendening (135 hits [leads the team]) and Anthony Mantha (+14 [best on the team]).

In what is probably the biggest spread of the night, the Bruins are a -250 favorite to prove victorious this evening. Everything Detroit struggles at, Boston excels. That’s typically a recipe for disaster for the road team, and I expect this one to go no different. The Bruins should win easily.

Hockey Birthday

  • Larry Murphy (1961-) – This Hall of Fame defenseman was the fourth-overall selection in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. Although the three-time All-Star spent most of his 21-year career with the Capitals and was drafted by Los Angeles, he hoisted the Stanley Cup four times – twice each with Detroit and Pittsburgh.

Mike Yeo’s return to Minnesota was a successful one for his new club, as the Blues beat the Wild 2-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

If not for Mikko Koivu‘s (Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund) wrist shot from the neutral zone with the extra skater and 11 seconds remaining in the game, Second Star of the Game Jake Allen would have earned the shutout and First Star David Perron (Colton Parayko and Alexander Steen) would have taken credit for the game-winning goal on his first period tip-in tally.

Instead, that honor belongs to none other than Third Star Vladimir Tarasenko (Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo). He buried a wrister with 8:57 remaining in regulation to then set the score at 2-0.

Allen saved 32-of-33 shots faced (97%) in the victory, leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved 18-of-20 (90%).

If my numbers are correct from when I missed time, St. Louis‘ victory should propel the 72-48-22 road teams to a six-point lead over the hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

January 25 – Day 102 – Red and blue aren’t just election rivals

Tuesday’s gone, but Wednesday is here – and brings with it some more hockey games. Toronto at Detroit (SN) gets things started at 7 p.m., followed an hour later by Philadelphia at the New York Rangers (NBCSN/TVAS). We move west of the Mississippi River at 9:30 p.m. with Vancouver at Colorado (SN360), with tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Anaheim – starting half an hour later. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Detroit: Simply calling this an Original Six game is an insult to years of deep rivalry.
  • Philadelphia at New York: Just like other teams in their respective towns, the Flyers and Rangers have a history of not getting along.

As much as I dislike featuring the same team two days in a row, Detroit has another big game tonight against the Maple Leafs. Time to break out the red sweaters, boys! You’ve got some rivals coming to town!

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To put things simply, if the Bruins and Canadiens didn’t have their deep playoff history, this would be the rivalry everyone in hockey would look forward to.

Ever since the Red Wings were formed, these clubs have clashed both on the ice as well as in the stands, as Detroit and Toronto are separated by only 210 miles. They’ve faced one another 23 times in the playoffs – including seven meetings in the Stanley Cup finals – with the Wings owning a one-playoff game advantage with a 59-58 record.

Toronto enters tonight with a 22-14-9 record and in possession of the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference, their best positioning in the standings in a long time. They’ve found that success by playing well on the offensive end to score 139 goals in 45 games – the sixth-best rate in the league.

When half of your team’s top-six scorers are rookies, the rebuild looks like it is in good shape. That’s the case in Toronto, as youngster Mitch Marner leads his club with 39 points. The same goes for goalscoring, as first-overall pick Auston Matthews owns that title for the Leafs with his 22 tallies.

Just as Detroit struggles without a reliable power play, Toronto excels with their impressive man-advantage. Led by William Nylander, yet another rookie, and his 15 power play points, the Maple Leafs score on 24.1% of their extra-man opportunities – the second-best rate in the NHL. Nazem Kadri takes credit for the most man-advantage goals on the club with 10 to his credit.

Toronto has also found great success with their other special team, refusing to yield a goal on 85.2% of opposing power plays – the fourth-best rate in the league. Roman Polak gets to take a lot of the credit with his club-topping 24 shorthanded blocks.

Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto have been alternating between playoff qualification and ninth in the Eastern Conference for the last couple of weeks, and that trend could continue tonight. A loss by Toronto opens them up to falling out of the playoff bracket, while earning only a point would improve them into third place in the Atlantic Division, replacing the Bruins.

Things haven’t quite been going 20-19-9 Detroit‘s way – especially lately, as they’ve fallen in overtime in their last three games. For the first time in ages, the Wings find themselves in second-to-last in the Atlantic Division and third-to-last in the Eastern Conference, yet they enter play tonight trailing the second wildcard by only four points.

The main reason for their struggles has been their uninspiring offense, which has managed only 117 goals – the seventh-fewest in the league. That being said, Captain Henrik Zetterberg has done all he can to fight that trend with his team-leading 33 points, as have Dylan Larkin and the injured Thomas Vanek, who co-lead the team with a dozen tallies.

One of the biggest reasons for the Wings‘ lack of offensive success ranks 30th in the league. Detroit is home to the worst power play in the league, converting only 11.3% of their opportunities. Frans Nielsen has tried his hardest to resolve that issue, but his club-leading eight power play points simply aren’t cutting it. Neither are Larkin and Vanek’s three man-advantage goals.

A win tonight would not pull the Wings into playoff position, but it can propel them all the way from 14th to 10th. Even if they continue their recent trend of forcing overtime before losing, they make a significant climb up the table, advancing into 11th.

These clubs have only met once this season, and it was not under usual circumstances. On New Year’s Day, Detroit and Toronto celebrated the 100th anniversary of the NHL by playing the Centennial Classic at BMO Field (home pitch of Toronto FC). The Leafs won that game 5-4 in overtime.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Detroit‘s Luke Glendening (108 hits [leads the team]) and Zetterberg (33 points, including 24 assists for a +9 [all lead the team]) & Toronto‘s Frederik Andersen (20 wins [10th-most in the NHL]) and Matthews (22 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]).

Vegas has marked the Wings a +116 underdog in tonight’s game, and that might be giving Joe Louis Arena a little too much credit. Toronto has proven they have the ability to compete with some of the best teams in the league, and they’ll want to ensure they maintain their position in the standings with a victory tonight. I don’t see the Leafs falling this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Chris Chelios (1962-) – Drafted 40th-overall by Montréal in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman pulled managed simply a Hall of Fame career over 26 seasons. He played most of his games with Chicago, but spent more seasons in Detroit. Regardless of if he’s remembered more as a Hawk or Wing, he played in 11 All Star games and hoisted just as many Stanley Cups as Norris Trophies: three.
  • Esa Tikkanen (1965-) – Edmonton picked this left wing in the fourth-round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, and he returned them with four Stanley Cups. He won his fifth and final in 1994 with the Rangers.
  • Randy McKay (1967-) – A sixth-round selection by Detroit in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing spent most of his career in New Jersey. He won two Stanley Cups over his 15-season career, both with the Devils.
  • Jared Cowen (1991-) – Although drafted by Ottawa ninth-overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, this blueliner currently finds himself out of a job after losing his grievance hearing with Toronto and subsequently being cut. He has 249 games played over six seasons of experience.

For the third time in four days, the DtFR Game of the Day required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. That winner last night proved to be the Boston, who beat the Red Wings 4-3 in overtime.

Of the three regulation periods, the first was the busiest. It got off to a quick start when Kevan Miller (Tim Schaller and Dominic Moore) scored his first goal of the season only 3:39 after the initial puck drop. The Bruins‘ lead lasted only 7:20 until Andreas Athanasiou (Third Star of the Game Mike Green and Niklas Kronwall) leveled with a snap shot. First Star Brad Marchand (Ryan Spooner and Second Star David Pastrnak) reclaimed the lead for Boston with 2:26 remaining in the period with his power play wrister, setting the score at 2-1 going into the first intermission.

The second period absolutely belonged to the Red Wings, beginning with Green’s (Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist) tip-in at the 6:25 mark to level the match. With 9:09 remaining in the period, Tomas Tatar (Zetterberg) provided Detroit its first lead with a strong wrister.

The game was tied again at the 8:20 mark of the final frame, courtesy of Marchand (Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug). As neither team was able to break the draw, the game advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

That extra time nearly resulted in a shootout if not for Pastrnak’s (David Krejci and Brandon Carlo) slap shot with 47 seconds remaining. That tally earned the Bruins the extra point in the standings.

Tuukka Rask earned the victory by saving 23-of-26 shots faced (88.5%), leaving the overtime loss to Jared Coreau, who saved 45-of-49 (91.8%).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now on a two-game winning streak thanks to Boston‘s victory. Hosts now own a six-point advantage over the visitors with their 54-34-16 record in the series.

December 1 – Day 50 – This one’s not outside, but it’s still cool… right?

How special that the 50th day of play perfectly aligns with December 1. It’s like the NHL planned it that way.

As usual, Thursday is one of our busier weekdays, so without further ado…

Four games drop the puck at 7 p.m. (Carolina at Boston, the New York Rangers at Buffalo, Dallas at Pittsburgh [SN360] and the New York Islanders at Washington), followed half an hour later by two more (Philadelphia at Ottawa [RDS] and Florida at Detroit). 8 p.m. marks the start of a pair of games (Tampa Bay at St. Louis and Edmonton at Winnipeg), with New Jersey at Chicago waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Two more contests get green lit at 9 p.m. (Columbus at Colorado and Los Angeles at Arizona) trailed an hour later by this evening’s nightcap: Anaheim at Vancouver (SN360). All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New York at Washington: I like rivalries. You like rivalries. We all like rivalries.
  • Edmonton at Winnipeg: This rivalry has existed even longer than New YorkWashington, going back to these clubs’ WHA days.

I expect the contest at the MTS Centre to be the better of our two rivalries this evening, so off to Manitoba!

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Wait, didn’t we already feature this game? Yes, yes we have. In fact, if I went through my record correctly, this is the first exact rematch in the DtFR Game of the Day series this season, featuring both teams back in the same city.

Then again, is it truly an identical rematch? That distinction of city instead of arena was intentional. When we featured these two last time, they played at Investors Group Field where the Oilers have a perfect 1-0-0 franchise record after beating the Jets 3-0.

Edmonton enters tonight’s game with a 12-10-2 record, good enough for third place in the Pacific Division. They’ve earned that position with a solid offense that has scored 69 goals already this season – the fifth-best effort in the NHL.

You get two guesses to find out who’s leading the Oil, and you probably won’t need the second. It’s been Captain Connor McDavid, who has 31 points to his credit to average 1.29 points per game – the best effort in the league among players with more than two games played (yes, that intentionally excludes only Jack Eichel‘s two points in one game). 11 of McDavid’s points have been goals, which also leads the club by four tallies.

Defensively, the Oilers have been especially impressive on the penalty kill. They rank second-best in the NHL by not allowing a goal on 88.4% of opposing power plays. Leading the charge during these undermanned situations has been Darnell Nurse, who has 10 shorthanded blocks on his resume.

Hosting them this evening are the 11-12-2 Jets who occupy sixth place in the Central Division. Although they have a good offense, Winnipeg has been held back by their defense and goaltending that has allowed 72 goals, the fourth-most in the league.

Another Connor, Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck has started between the pipes 17 times this season, earning a 9-8-0 record. Through those games, he’s earned a .915 save percentage and a 2.54 GAA, tying for (t)20th and 19th-worst among the 41 neminders with nine or more appearances.

If we’ve learned nothing else from the Jets, it’s that an average paired with an average defense does not yield a consistent winning result. Even though four Winnipeg blueliners have 30 or more stops – led by Dustin Byfuglien‘s 44 blocks – they allow an average of 30.3 shots against per night, the only 15th-best rate in the league. While I’m still leaning towards the goaltending taking most of the blame, the Jets‘ defense does need to find a better way to limit opposing opportunities beyond blocking shots.

As might have been suspected, the penalty kill has also been a problem for the Jets. Even though Toby Enstrom has 11 shorthanded blocks to his name, Winnipeg ranks eighth-worst when a man-down, stopping only 80.4% of opposing power plays.

Given an offense that has scored 65 goals already this season, it is somewhat surprising that Winnipeg‘s power play has found success on only 13.8% of attempts. Rookie Patrik Laine leads that charge with seven power play points, five of which are goals.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Edmonton‘s McDavid (31 points on 20 assists [both lead the NHL] and 11 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]) and Cam Talbot (three shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL] among 11 wins [tied for sixth-most in the league]) & Winnipeg‘s Nikolaj Ehlers (16 assists [tied for third-most in the NHL]), Laine (13 goals [tied for second-most in the league]) and Mark Scheifele (26 points on 13 goals [both tied for second-most in the NHL]).

Vegas favors Winnipeg tonight, but not by much. The line reads -110, effectively only rewarding the Jets for playing at home. Due to that, I feel like Edmonton will be able to pull off the victory, as their defense and goaltending is slightly better than Winnipeg‘s.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ryan Malone (1979-) – Although drafted by his hometown Penguins, this left wing is most known for his six seasons in Tampa Bay.
  • Tomas Tatar (1990-) – The 60th-overall selection in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, he’s entering his sixth season with Detroit.

An impressive three-goal first period led the Sharks to a 4-1 road upset of host Los Angeles in the Battle of California.

The onslaught of goals started at the 3:32 mark with the second goal of rookie Kevin Labanc‘s (First Star of the Game Logan Couture and Second Star Joel Ward) career, a forceful wrist shot. With 55 seconds remaining in the frame, Couture (Joonas Donskoi and Ward) doubled a wrister of his own, trailed 30 ticks of the clock later by Ryan Carpenter‘s (Mikkel Boedker) first-ever career goal.

The only goal of the second frame belonged to the host Kings. 3:01 after resuming play, Third Star Dustin Brown (Marian Gaborik and Nic Dowd) took advantage of a Labanc hooking penalty to pull back within two goals, but they were never able to tickle the twine again before the clock emptied.

San Jose‘s final tally was with 77 remaining in the game, an empty-netter by Couture.

Martin Jones earns the victory after saving 26-of-27 shots faced (96.3%), leaving the loss to Peter Budaj, saving 20-of-23 (87%).

San Jose‘s victory is the first regulation win in the DtFR Game of the Day series since Ottawa’s 2-0 win on Sunday. It sets the series record at 28-17-7 in favor of the home squads, favoring them by six points over the roadies.

October 21 – Day 10 – Ugh.

That’s all I can really say about tonight’s contests. Only three games are on tap this evening and most of them are at the same time. Two drop the puck at 7 p.m. (Arizona at the New York Islanders and Chicago at Columbus), followed half an hour later by Nashville at Detroit (NHLN/SN360/TVAS). All times eastern.

I must admit, there’s nothing really attractive about any of these three games. None of these teams have a winning record (two are .500, though), and all of them are west vs. east. I suppose we’ll go with the Predators at the Red Wings since expectations are so high for Nashville this season.

UnknownUnknownThe Nashville Predators enter tonight’s game hosting a 1-2-0 record. Their one victory came in their first game played, a 3-2 win over the Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena. Offense has been the main struggle so far, as their seven tallies ties for fourth-fewest in the NHL. Their leading point-scorer is Ryan Johansen, who has four assists to his credit.

Their opposition this evening is the 2-2-0 Detroit Red Wings. It’s not only their record that’s even: Detroit has also scored just as many goals as they’ve allowed – 12. Barring their first game against Tampa Bay, the Wings have averaged only 22 shots per game, 11 fewer than the league average. Even more frustrating for Detroit, Tomas Tatar, who leads the squad with 12 shots, has yet to find the back of the net. Instead, it is Mike Green and Thomas Vanek leading the team offensively, both with six points evenly distributed between goals and assists.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Detroit‘s Green (three goals and three assists for six points [all tie for team lead]), Darren Helm (three goals [ties for team lead]), Gustav Nyquist (three assists [ties for team lead]) and Vanek (three goals and three assists for six points [all tie for team lead]) & Nashville‘s Pekka Rinne (.934 save percentage [fifth-best in the leauge] and 2.04 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL]).

Detroit is marked as the +100 underdog in tonight’s contest, a line I am comfortable with. I think the Preds can go into Joe Louis Arena and earn their second victory of the season.

Hockey Birthday

  • Carl Brewer (1938-2001) – This three-time Stanley Cup champion played 604 games over 12 NHL seasons along the blue line. Most of his career was spent with hometown club Toronto, but he also had stops in Detroit and St. Louis. In addition to his three professional titles, Brewer also helped Canada claim bronze at the 1967 World Championships.
  • Lou Lamoriello (1942-) – Although he’s coached 53 games in his career, Lamoriello is better known for his team building abilities. He spent 28 seasons in New Jersey, winning three Stanley Cups. This is is second year in Toronto. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
  • Michel Briere (1949-1971) – The career that never had the opportunity to truly get started, Brière played 76 games with Pittsburgh, scoring the third most points on the team. Unfortunately, he was involved in a car accident that eventually cost him his life. Brière’s 21 was never reissued, eventually being retired in 2001, and the QMJHL MVP and the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ Rookie of the Year awards both bear his name.
  • Mike Keenan (1949-) – A controversial character in the NHL that has never held down a job for more than four seasons, Keenan has coached 1386 games in the top league in the world to date. His 672-531-147-36 record for 1527 points is decent, but what he really hangs his hat on is leading the Rangers to their fourth and most recent Stanley Cup championship in 1994.

How many more leads will be blown this season? San Jose had a two-goal lead on the Penguins entering the third period, but ended up falling 3-2 in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

Both those Shark tallies were struck in the second period. 5:04 after resuming play from the first intermission, Tomas Hertl (Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns) fired his backhander past Third Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury to take the lead. With 3:45 remaining in that same period, Patrick Marleau (Logan Couture) doubled the Sharks‘ lead by beating Fleury with a wrister.

Pittsburgh‘s comeback began 6:47 into the final frame when Second Star Evgeni Malkin scored his second goal of the season. 2:14 later, Scott Wilson (Matt Cullen and First Star Patric Hornqvist) leveled the game with 10:59 remaining in the contest. Hornqvist’s (Phil Kessel and Malkin) struck the winning wrister with 5:58 remaining in regulation to seal the victory.

Fleury earns the victory after saving 32-of-34 (94.1%), while Martin Jones takes the loss after saving 17-of-20 (85%).

Pittsburgh‘s victory extends the home teams’ record to 8-3-1 in the DtFR Game of the Day series, favoring them by six points over the roadies.