Tag Archives: Taylor Hall

December 5 – Day 62 – Metro mayhem

It’s Tuesday, so you know what that means: another fun day of hockey action!

The evening gets started at 7 p.m. with the puck drop of New Jersey at Columbus, followed half an hour later by four more contests (the New York Rangers at Pittsbrugh [NBCSN/SN], St. Louis at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Winnipeg at Detroit and the New York Islanders at Tampa Bay [TVAS]). Next up is Nashville at Dallas at 8:30 p.m., with Buffalo at Colorado only 30 minutes behind. Finally, a trio of tilts (Carolina at Vancouver, Anaheim at Vegas [SN1] and Minnesota at Los Angeles [NBCSN]) act as tonight’s nightcaps, and they drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

It’s an excellent slate of games on tap today, including four matchups between current playoff teams. The one that draws my attention the most is taking place in Central Ohio this evening, as the Metropolitan Division lead could be exchanged if everything goes the Devils’ way.

 

How tight are the standings in the Metropolitan Division, you ask? Well, if worst comes to worst for the division-leading 17-9-1 Blue Jackets, they could fall into a tie with Pittsburgh for third place by the end of the night (provided the Pens beat the Rangers, but December is way too early to be writing all the standings possibilities out).

Such is life in the toughest division in the league, where all eight clubs are within 10 points of each other.

With the exception of the Islanders (hey, another Metropolitan team!), no team is hotter right now than Columbus. Even though they lost their last contest, the Jackets have won eight of their past 10 games, and they’re doing it with some unbelievable play in their defensive end. Since November 11 (the day of the Jackets’ first game during this run), Columbus has allowed only 17 goals against, the fewest in the league.

The defensive corps certainly deserves some credit by allowing a fourth-best 287 shots against in that time (props to D Zach Werenski and his team-leading 22 blocks over this run), but the real star has been 14-6-1 G Sergei Bobrovsky. Starting eight of the 10 games, he’s saved 94.7 percent of the shots that have come his way for a 1.49 GAA, both of which rank in the top-three of the NHL since Veterans Day. This incredible effort has improved his season numbers to a .931 save percentage and 2.02 GAA, the second-best and best efforts, respectively, in the NHL among netminders with at least eight starts.

Given the unenviable task of trying to beat Bobrovsky are the third place 15-7-4 Devils, who have earned at least a point in 11 of their 16 games going back to November 1. Fortunately for them, they sport one of the better offenses in the league, as they average exactly three goals-per-game to rank 12th-best in the NHL.

What a difference a year can make. Last season, even with F Taylor Hall‘s 20-33-53 totals, the Devils scored an Eastern Conference-worst 2.2 goals-per-game and, as such, they were at the bottom of the conference table.

A season and a few rookies later, and New Jersey is starting to look like the franchise we knew and hated loved during the late ’90s and early 2000’s – maybe not in style, but success.

Yes, Hall is still putting up incredible numbers, as he’s already managed 8-19-27 totals to lead the team this season. But as we saw last campaign, one good player cannot atone for the sins of an entire team.

Enter Jersey’s youth. Rookies W Jesper Bratt (8-9-17 totals) and C Nico Hischier (5-13-18) complete Hall’s line, and they’ve been able to find more than their share of success. Though not yet at Hall’s caliber, they still rank (t)second and fourth-best in New Jersey’s list of offensive producers.

D Will Butcher (2-16-18) has also been a pleasant addition to this team, as he’s the player tied with Hischier for second-most points on the team. Even though the plays on the third defensive pairing with D Steven Santini, he’s been an especially valuable asset along the blueline during the Devils’ power plays, as his 10 points with the man-advantage are most on the squad.

Of course, the most frightening player to Bobrovsky might actually play on the third line. In case you don’t watch the Devils often, allow me to introduce you to F Brian Gibbons, Jersey’s purest sniper. Not only does the journeyman have the best shooting percentage on the team with his 32.4 percent success rate, but his 11 goals are also the most on the club.

Talk about depth scoring.

Of note, this evening is the first of a home-and-home series between these clubs. Neither squad will be in action until this Friday, when the Blue Jackets make their first visit of the season to the Prudential Center. To put things lightly, this is a big week in the Metropolitan Division (more on that Thursday).

These types of games are always fun. Throwing a solid offense at a goaltender that allows almost exactly one fewer goal against than they manage on a normal night is a true test of which platoon is better. Since this is a home game for Columbus, I’m leaning towards Bobrovsky earning his 15th win of the season.


The Washington Capitals never trailed in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the San Jose Sharks 4-1 at Capital One Arena.

The contest started with both defenses commanding play early, as only 18 total shots were fired in the first period. However, Third Star of the Game W Devante Smith-Pelly (D John Carlson and F Jay Beagle) finally broke through for the Capitals with 3:11 remaining before the first intermission to set the score at 1-0.

It’s always a convenient time to score, but it’s especially so when Second Star W Alex Ovechkin buries a backhanded shot 7:11 into the second period for what proved to be the game-winner. The Russian did all the work for his tally, as he stole a misplayed puck from D Brent Burns and began tearing towards G Martin Jones. Taking advantage of an almost perfect one-on-one situation (D Brenden Dillon had an opportunity for a diving one-in-a-million play, but he couldn’t pull of the block), Ovechkin fired his backhander between Jones’ body and his right arm.

In a weird bit of circumstance, Ovechkin’s 20th goal of the season propelled him into sole ownership of 20th place in the list of the NHL’s all-time goalscorers, surpassing RW Mark Recchi‘s total of 577. The next name to fall victim to Ovechkin snipe from the left face-off circle will be RW Jari Kurri, who scored 601 goals in 1251 games played. Considering Ovechkin has only 949 games in his career so far, the sky is the limit to where he ends up on the list of all-time greats.

W Timo Meier (D Justin Braun) followed up Ovechkin’s marker 4:21 later to pull San Jose back within a goal, but W Brett Connolly (Ovechkin and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) scored a power play backhander with 52 seconds remaining before the second intermission to return a two-goal advantage to Washington.

In the midst of 16 third period penalties, LW Jakub Vrana (RW Tom Wilson and D Dmitry Orlov) netted a power play wrist shot with 8:24 remaining in regulation to set the 4-1 final score.

First Star G Philipp Grubauer earned the victory after saving 24-of-25 shots faced (.96 save percentage), leaving the loss to Jones, who saved 25-of-29 (.862).

Starting with Minnesota’s victory over Vegas on November 30, home and road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have exchanged wins daily. It was the 35-21-6 hosts’ turn today, and they now have a 16-point advantage over the roadies.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #82- Baby It’s Cole Outside

Nick and Connor analyze the Sami VatanenAdam Henrique trade between the Anaheim Ducks and New Jersey Devils, recap the standings at the end of November and talk what’s next for the Pittsburgh Penguins with Matt Murray out week-to-week. Connor also breaks down the potential scenarios for Ian Cole and the Penguins.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #81- Turkey Day 2K17: As Gudas It Gets

Nick checks in with Colby Kephart and Frank Fanelli (of Student Union Sports) on Radko Gudas’s suspension, the Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Chance The Rapper’s SNL skit for the ages. Also discussed, the overabundance of outdoor games featuring teams that are obviously stuck in a revolving door of outdoor games.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

And be sure to check out our newest extension of the product, DTFR Overtime, this week where Nick retroactively wrote about a topic from last week’s episode.

November 18 – Day 46 – Path to the playoffs

Saturdays like this are the best. Not only are there a whopping 13 NHL games on the schedule, but there’s also five matinees on the day meaning it’s possible to watch hockey for *busts out calculator* 12.5 hours.

And they say miracles don’t happen anymore.

The first of those matinees is scheduled for 1 p.m. and features Calgary at Philadelphia (SN1), followed by two more (Edmonton at Dallas and Arizona at Ottawa [TVAS]) an hour later. 3 p.m. marks the puck drop of New Jersey at Winnipeg, and the last early game of the day – Florida at Los Angeles – will commence an hour after. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it a collection of four tilts (Carolina at Buffalo, Toronto at Montréal [CBC/CITY/SN/TVAS], the New York Islanders at Tampa Bay and Chicago at Pittsburgh [NHLN]), with Minnesota at Washington waiting half an hour before getting a green light. Colorado at Nashville is next up at 8 p.m., followed by St. Louis at Vancouver (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. and Boston at San Jose – tonight’s nightcap – 30 minutes after. All times Eastern.

If you can watch all those games, you are certainly worthy of the “hockey fan” title.

As usual with a day featuring this much activity, there’s usually more than a few good story lines to keep track of. Today’s list includes:

  • Toronto at Montréal: An Original Six rivalry game featuring the two Canadian teams? Yes, please.
  • Minnesota at Washington: For 117 total regular season and playoff games, F Daniel Winnik called Capital One Arena home. Tonight, he’s a member of the visiting team.

Though those games will be fun, I’m far more interested in the action taking place in Manitoba between two 11-4-3 clubs.

 

Don’t tell anybody, but after missing the playoffs for at least the past two seasons, both these teams have climbed into third place or better in their respective conferences.

If that’s not improvement, I don’t know what is.

In particular, the Jets have been especially exceptional of late, as they’ve won seven of their last 10 games and are currently riding a three-game winning streak.

What makes this winning streak even more significant for Winnipeg is – though the offense is performing slightly above it’s 3.22 goals-per-game mark for the season – the defensive end of the ice seems like it has turned a significant corner.

Over the past three games, Winnipeg has allowed only four goals against – the (t)fifth-fewest in the NHL in the past week – and much of that effort has been the direct result of 10-1-2 G Connor Hellebuyck‘s solid play in net. Undoubtedly having the best season of his three-year career, Hellebuyck has managed a .93 save percentage and 2.29 GAA for the campaign that has been only elevated by allowing just three goals in his past two appearances.

Hellebuyck has needed to play at this high level for most of this season because of his defense allowing a (t)fifth-worst 33.7 shots against-per-game, and that’s been no different over this three-game run. I can only assume Head Coach Paul Maurice’s next step in returning the Jets to the glory days of the 70s will be to improve the play of the blue line. Himself a former OHL defenseman, he’ll undoubtedly lean on the already strong play of young defensemen Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba – both averaging 2.2 blocks-per-game – as well as F Brandon Tanev (2.7 hits-per-game) to set a solid example for others to follow.

Considering they’re playing a Devils offense that has averaged the seventh-best goals-per-game this season, I don’t doubt that we’ll hear Hellebuyck, Morrissey, Tanev and Trouba’s names often this afternoon.

What makes New Jersey’s offense fun to watch is – just like @nlanciani53 and I discussed on yesterday’s podcast – it is very selective about what shots it takes. The Devils are earning their 2.38 goals-per-game on only 30.4 shots-per-game, a rate that is eighth-lowest in the NHL.

Perhaps its no surprise then that F Brian Gibbons has found such success this year from the fourth line. Although he trails F Taylor Hall‘s 6-13-19 totals for the team-lead in points, his eight goals are the highest total in Newark.

How is this possible? It’s inconceivable that a fourth-liner should be besting one of the better forwards in the game!

It’s all because he’s being ultra-selective about the opportunities he’s taking. He’s fired only 25 shots so far this year (1.39 per game) compared to Hall’s 63, but Gibbons claims a team-leading .32 shooting percentage.

Perhaps no other stat is more telling about Gibbons – and arguably the Devils as a whole – than his performance on the penalty kill. He’s already scored two shorthanded goals this season, which is one fewer than the league-leading and more likely goalscorer LW Evander Kane. “Taking what the defense is giving you” seems to be a message Head Coach John Hynes is preaching to his players, and they’re buying in and executing with even more success than he probably imagined at the start of this season.

As for who’s going to win this game, this one may very well be a toss up. I’m leaning towards the Jets taking two points in this game not only because they’re playing at home, but also because I feel their offense is a little bit better than Jersey’s defense.


In our second shutout in as many nights, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day was won 2-0 by the Columbus Blue Jackets over the New York Rangers at Nationwide Arena.

First Star of the Game G Sergei Bobrovsky saved all 36 shots he faced to earn his second clean sheet of the season. Not to be outdone too much, Third Star G Henrik Lundqvist also played spectacularly, as he saved 40-of-42 shots faced (.952 save percentage).

Thirty-three of the Jackets’ shots on goal were registered in the first two periods, so it’s a surprise they didn’t have better than a one-goal advantage heading into the second intermission. However, Lundqvist only let by Second Star D Zach Werenski‘s (F Brandon Dubinsky and F Boone Jenner) snap shot with 6:26 remaining in the second frame.

Though it will do little to console King Henrik, Werenski’s goal was the result of some absolutely brilliant passing by the Jackets. The play started above the right offensive face-off circle with Werenski tapping the puck to Jenner, who proceeded to move to the center of the zone before dishing to Dubinsky. The forward started driving towards the net, pulling C David Desharnais out of the slot to attempt a sliding block. Dubinsky made a quick move around him and continued his assault on Lundqvist, but instead of firing a close-range wrist shot, he slid a pass behind two Rangers to Werenski on the edge of the right face-off circle, where he ripped his snapper high cheese over Lundqvist’s right shoulder.

Columbus tacked on its insurance goal at the 7:14 mark of the third period thanks in large part to W Pavel Buchnevich earning a seat in the penalty box for interfering with Jenner 19 seconds earlier. LW Artemi Panarin (RW Oliver Bjorkstrand) took advantage of the odd-man situation to score a slap shot for his fourth goal of the season.

The Blue Jackets’ victory is the fourth in the past five days by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the 24-17-5 hosts have exploded to a six-point advantage over the visitors after the series was tied Sunday.

November 16 – Day 44 – Defense is a Boughner

Fantasy hockey players, consider this your alert: with a dozen games on the schedule, there’s tons of points to be earned tonight!

Like they do most nights, the festivities begin at 7 p.m. when two games (New Jersey at Toronto and Carolina at the New York Islanders), followed half an hour later by three more (Arizona at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Pittsburgh at Ottawa [RDS2] and Dallas at Tampa Bay). 8 p.m. marks the start of two contests (Nashville at Minnesota and Philadelphia at Winnipeg) with another pair (Washington at Colorado and St. Louis at Edmonton) waiting an hour before getting underway. Vegas at Vancouver gets green-lit at 10 p.m. and tonight’s nightcaps – Boston at Los Angeles (SN) and Florida at San Jose – close things out half an hour later. All times Eastern.

There’s quite a few games that have caught my eye this evening. That list includes:

  • Pittsburgh at Ottawa: It’s the first of three rematches of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Dallas at Tampa Bay: Welcome home G Ben Bishop; welcome home.
  • Vegas at Vancouver: D Luca Sbisa called British Columbia home for three seasons, but he’s traded his Vancouver digs for a pad in Sin City.
  • Florida at San Jose: For the last two years, Bob Boughner was an assistant coach for Head Coach Peter DeBoer in San Jose. Tonight, he’ll square off against him as the 15th head coach in Panthers history.

It’s a tough selection among those four, but I have a great way to determine which game is the DtFR Game of the Day: we’ve featured 30 of 31 NHL teams in the series so far, but the one club that escapes us is the Panthers. It’s time to resolve that today.

 

I don’t think you really understand how happy it makes me each year to say we’ve featured every club at least once in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Of course, the Panthers haven’t exactly done themselves any favors with 14 points in the standings…

Regardless of Florida’s current situation, there’s no doubt of Boughner’s ability as a coach. He’s been a head man before, even if his experience wasn’t in the NHL. For eight total seasons (two four-year terms) he was the skipper his hometown OHL team, the Windsor Spitfires. In particular, his first stint with the club was certainly noteworthy. After missing the playoffs in 2006-’07, his first season coaching the organization, he built the Spitfires into a team capable of winning back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2009 and ’10.

Of course, what can you expect from a team that featured the likes of D Ryan Ellis, D Cam Fowler, G Philipp Grubauer, F Taylor Hall, F Adam Henrique, RW Zack Kassian and F Austin Watson?

Winning two CHL championships is a good way to get noticed by the big kids in the hockey business, and Boughner was hired as an assistant coach to Scott Arniel with the Blue Jackets in 2010-’11 before returning to Windsor a year later.

His second four-year stint with the Spitfires was nowhere near as good as his first (given, winning back-to-back titles is a tough act to replicate), as he only qualified Windsor for the OHL playoffs two times – both times falling in the first round.

Following 2014-’15’s failure to reach the postseason, Boughner returned to the NHL as an assistant coach for DeBoer in San Jose, working primarily with D Brent Burns and the defense. The Sharks found much success in Boughner’s two years with the club, as they qualified for their first-ever Stanley Cup Finals in 2016.

And that brings us to present day. Since being hired as the Panthers head coach on June 12, he’s led the club to a not-so-great 6-9-2 record that – as I indicated in my season preview – I blame almost entirely on General Manager Dale Tallon.

As the saying goes, “If it walks like a duck, flies like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” Well, these Panthers are definitely no Anaheim Ducks. Even though I’m sure Boughner – a former defenseman with 10 seasons of NHL experience – is telling his blueliners all his tips and tricks, Florida is the worst defense in the NHL as measured by shots against-per-game, as their 36.6 is 1.1 more than second-worst New Jersey.

Given the obnoxious number of shots it allows, perhaps it’s no surprise Florida has registered the sixth-fewest blocks so far this season. I usually hold D Aaron Ekblad in high esteem, but as one of, if not the best defenseman on this team, his 1.5 blocks-per-game are definitely not cutting it.

Even D Andy Greene, who plays for a nominally better defense in Jersey, has managed 2.1 blocks-per-game this year. Good leaders lead by example, and Ekblad needs to do that if he wants any chance of a positive future for this Panthers organization – especially since he’s locked in with this team until the end of the 2024-’25 season.

Maybe the Panthers are a more violent team; maybe that’s how they are trying to play defense. Guess again, because Florida’s 320 hits are fifth-fewest in the NHL.

Making matters worse, F Derek MacKenzie, whose 37 hits lead the team, is currently listed as day-to-day and it is uncertain if he’ll be able to return to the ice for the first time since getting injured early in Saturday’s game against the Devils. If he’s not ready to play and D Alex Petrovic is still banished to the press box with his team-leading three hits-per-game, F Micheal Haley and his 1.8 hits-per-game would take over as the Panthers’ primary muscle.

What all of this means is 3-3-1 G Roberto Luongo should probably be commended for his .919 save percentage and 3.09 GAA. He’s doing the best he can to provide the league’s (t)ninth-best offense a chance every night he takes to the crease.

Last thing about the Panthers before we talk Sharks real quick: that offense, though. Jonathan Huberdeau (7-14-21 totals) and Vincent Trocheck (8-10-18) are absolute studs, as they’ve racked up all those points on separate lines. Snoozing on Florida’s offense is a recipe for disaster, and G Martin Jones would be wise to treat every attack from the top-two lines just like he would against the other team in the Sunshine State.

That’s actually as good a transition as any, because 10-6-0 San Jose makes a living out of rejecting even the best of offenses, allowing a league-leading 2.25 goals against-per-game.

Perhaps Boughner can use the Sharks’ defense – the same defense he helped build – as a teaching tool for his club, because there’s few blue lines in the league better than San Jose’s. Though 8-4-0 Jones has been solid with his .925 save percentage, it’s the fact that D Justin Braun (2.4 blocks-per-game), D Brenden Dillon (3.1 hits-per-game) and co. have allowed only 28.8 shots against-per-game that has earned the Sharks third place in the Pacific Division.

In my opinion, one of the best indicators of a really good defense is finding success with a man in the penalty box. The Sharks pass that test with flying colors (I can only assume those colors are teal and orange), as their 88.5 percent kill rate is second-best in the NHL. Considering the Panthers’ power play is (t)12th-worst in the league, they shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping those numbers up tonight.

Florida’s offense squares up rather nicely with San Jose’s defense, and the Sharks’ sixth-worst attack might find it in them to struggle against the Panthers’ defense. If that proves to be the case, I give the edge to San Jose since it’s playing at home and it has Jones at its disposal.


With a third period hat trick by First Star of the Game F Artem Anisimov, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the New York Rangers 6-3 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Anisimov’s (F Patrick Kane and Second Star F Nick Schmaltz) first goal of the game wasn’t struck until the 1:07 mark of the third period, leaving him only 18:53 to complete his performance. After F John Hayden (D Cody Franson and D Duncan Keith) set the score at 3-1 46 seconds after Anisimov’s first goal, the Russian struck again (Franson and Schmaltz) at the 5:14 mark with a power play wrist shot.

Since his second goal proved to be the game-winner, I suppose we’ll let it be the most important of Anisimov’s night, but his tip-in with 3:48 remaining in regulation (Schmaltz and RW Richard Panik) to send headgear flying has to earn silver. That tally set the score at 5-3 and was followed 2:18 later by C Jonathan Toews‘ (Panik and D Brent Seabrook) fifth marker of the season to set the 6-3 final on an empty net.

Making tonight’s win even sweeter for the Hawks, it technically counts as a come-from-behind victory due to C Mika Zibanejad‘s (F Chris Kreider and W Pavel Buchnevich) wrister 9:58 into the first period. He gave the Rangers a one-goal advantage that lasted 29:10 before Third Star W Alex DeBrincat (Panik and Keith) sneaked a wrister past G Henrik Lundqvist with 52 seconds remaining in the second period to level the game.

The Blueshirts also put up a strong fight in the middle of the final frame, as they scored two goals between Anisimov’s second and third. F Kevin Hayes (W Mats Zuccarello and W Rick Nash) takes credit for the first at the 7:08 mark with a wrister, followed 4:48 later by an unassisted Nash backhanded shot to set the score at 4-3 in favor of Chicago. Momentum was certainly on New York’s side at that moment, but the fact that the Hawks’ defense allowed only nine shots on goal in both the second and third periods put a halt to that positive energy rather quickly.

G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (.893 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lundqvist, who saved 30-of-34 (.882). King Henrik was lifted after Anisimov’s second goal in favor of G Ondrej Pavelec, who completed the game saving seven-of-eight (.875) for no decision.

Not only is this the second-straight 6-3 score in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but it’s also the third-straight victory by the now 23-16-5 home teams who now have a six-point advantage over the roadies.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #79- Zone Time 101

Nick, Connor and Cap’n recap the Matt Duchene trade and pick a winnner(s). The crew also discussed how good the Tampa Bay Lightning are and how the Montreal Canadiens haven’t been smart with asset management in recent years and where they could go from here.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #78- Just Give Them Actual Sweaters

Nick and Connor rant about the standings entering November, how good the New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks are and blast the 2018 Winter Games jerseys for Canada and USA (they’re bad, very bad).

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

November 1 – Day 29 – Brian Boyle’s debut?

Halloween is great, but it’s the first couple of weeks in November that are truly great because you get to eat your candy. What better way to watch a hockey game?

Speaking of which, you’ll have a few more contests to choose from while experiencing your sugar high than your typical Wednesday. The action starts at 8 p.m. when Philadelphia visits Chicago (NBCSN), followed half an hour later by Pittsburgh at Edmonton (SN1/TVAS). The real meat of tonight’s schedule occurs on the West Coast, as two matchups (New Jersey at Vancouver [SN360] and Toronto at Anaheim) are slated for 10 p.m., 30 minutes before tonight’s nightcap: Nashville at San Jose (NBCSN).

The Predators-Sharks game should be nothing short of excellent considering they’re tied for eighth place in the Western Conference, but we just featured San Jose Monday. With that in mind and the fact that F Brian Boyle could make his season debut tonight, let’s take a look at the Devils’ yearly trip to British Columbia.

 

These two clubs have been some of the best stories to start the season. Though I think it’s still too early to be adjusting playoff predictions for either of them, the fact that they are both among the top four in their respective conferences a month into their campaigns is certainly an admirable feat.

If either of these teams are to hold on to their position in the standings, I’d put my money on the 8-2-0 Devils that are currently leading the Metropolitan Division.

Few were better in the month of October with the puck on their sticks, as Jersey has laid claim to the third-best scoring offense in the league through 28 days of action. Led by the incomparable F Taylor Hall and his 3-10-13 totals in his second season with the team, New Jersey has scored an impressive 3.8 goals-per-game.

Though Hall is certainly deserving of any and all praise he receives, one of my favorite players for New Jersey is rookie D Will Butcher. Not only are his 11 assists most on the team (not to mention the second-highest point-total), but he’s also been heavily involved in a Devils power play that has already scored 11 man-advantage goals in 10 games played for a 27.5 percent conversion rate that is fifth-best in the NHL.

Maybe you didn’t hear me: Fifth-best in the league. We’re talking better than the high-flying Maple Leafs, better than W Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, and even better than the Sabres who ended last season with the top special teams in the NHL.

Anyways, back to Butcher. Seven of his 11 assists have been struck while the Devils have a man-advantage, which makes him the strongest contributor to Jersey’s power play by a mile (rookie W Jesper Bratt and Hall tie for second with five power play points).

What has made New Jersey’s man-advantage so spectacular is Butcher has had more than his fair share of options to pass to. Playing on the Devils’ top power play unit, he’s been able to pass to Bratt, Hall or C Adam Henrique – all of whom have scored two goals on the man-advantage. Tack on W Drew Stafford‘s two power play goals from the second unit, and you have a squad that G Jacob Markstrom can’t wait to see leave Rogers Arena.

Speaking of Markstrom, Vancouver has found most of its wins this season by playing some stellar defensive hockey. Having allowed only 2.36 goals-per-game through 11 showings, the Canucks are the third-best defense in the NHL.

It’s pretty tough to allow goals when not too many shots are reaching your goaltender. That’s the exact approach being taken by Head Coach Travis Green. Even though he was a center during his playing days with the Islanders (what does he know about defense?), his team has allowed only 29 shots against-per-game, the third-fewest in the league.

The Canucks have been so good defensively, it’s hard to decide where to start. We could discuss D Ben Hutton‘s 11 takeaways in as many games played, or we could talk about RW Derek Dorsett‘s more physical approach to forcing a change in possession, as he leads the team with 2.3 hits-per-game. And even if those methods don’t work, D Michael Del Zotto has been there to block loads of shots, averaging 2.5 per game.

Regardless of how they’re doing it, Markstrom is not complaining one bit that his defense is keeping lots of pucks out of his crease. And much to the delight of Vancouverites, Markstrom has been no slouch in his own right when the occasional shot comes his way. So far this season, he’s managed a solid .911 save percentage and 2.4 GAA, both of which rank inside the top-15 among goaltenders with at least five starts.

It’s a game of strength-on-strength, which usually leads me to predicting how things will go on the opposite end of the ice to help me make my pick. Go figure that Vancouver’s offense and New Jersey’s defense both rank 11th-worst in goals for or against.

Therefore, I’m leaning towards the Canucks winning this game and snapping the Devils’ two-game winning streak on the simple basis of being the home team. This should be a very competitive and exciting game that could require more than 60 minutes to determine a winner.


In what proved to be a very defensive game, the Winnipeg Jets were able to beat the Minnesota 2-1 at the Xcel Energy Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Only one goal was struck in the first two periods, and it belonged to LW Kyle Connor (C Mark Scheifele and D Tyler Myers) 7:10 into the first period. His wrist shot remained alone on the scoreboard for the next 33:33 of play, much to the delight of the Jets.

In the time between goals, First Star of the Game G Connor Hellebuyck played like an absolute stud. He faced a total of 17 shots in the first period and second period, and saved them all. For the entire evening, he saved 28-of-29 shots faced for an impressive .966 save percentage.

Only 43 seconds after returning from the second intermission, Second Star W Nikolaj Ehlers decided that it was time Winnipeg had an insurance goal. Ehlers came in possession of the puck after a terrible decision by D Matt Dumba to perform a no-look backwards pass in his own defensive zone. Ehlers took advantage of the unattended puck, maneuvered around F Mikael Granlund and buried a backhanded shot after deking G Alex Stalock.

Though Third Star F Luke Kunin (W Nino Niederreiter and C Eric Staal) was able to pull the Wild back within a goal at the 5:36 mark of the third period, Minnesota could not find a second goal in the remaining time to force overtime.

In the home loss, Stalock saved only 17-of-19 shots faced for an. 895 save percentage.

Speaking of home losses, that’s the first in the past three days in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Home teams now have a 16-9-4 record that is only eight points better than the visitors’.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 1…and a half

As the season’s first full week has come to a close, it’s time for the first installment of my incessant weekly ramblings. Yes I know we’re basically 2 weeks into the schedule, but lumping that first half-week in with this seriously helps my desire to be only as productive as absolutely necessary. So, without further adieu, let’s get caught up on all those things you already saw and/or knew about, and find out the selections of your humble, know-nothing Midwesterner of an author for the best player/team/game of the week.

Player of the Week: Alex Ovechkin

It just is. Did you see the things he did? Go watch the things he did. They were silly. He has 9 goals in 6 games. At one point he had 7 goals in 2 games. Those…those aren’t real stats, those are video game stats. Stop arguing with me, and somebody give that man a cookie.

Team of the Week: New Jersey Devils

Alright, who had Jersey atop the ridiculous Metropolitan Division on their predictions lists? Nobody, that’s who. Although technically in a tie with Columbus atop the division, and with Toronto (who the Devils lambasted 6-3) atop the conference, those teams were supposed to be good. Same goes for the only team in the entire league the Devils currently trail in the standings, Chicago. The New Jersey roster basically reads “Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Cory Schneider, and some other hockey players” yet here they are handing out Stone Cold Steve Austin-sized cans of whoop-@$ nightly. Hischier mesmerizes nightly, the makeshift forward group is scoring like it’s going out of style, 22-year-old former 5th-round pick defenseman Will Butcher has put up 8 points in 5 games (with 5 of them on the PP), and Schneider and Keith Kinkaid have both played very well in net. Nobody saw this coming, and anyone who says they did is a liar.

Game of the Week: Capitals 3 @ Lightning 4 (OT), Monday October 9th

When two of the league’s most dangerous offenses come together, you generally expect a good show, and this one didn’t disappoint. A comeback OT win, some sweet saves, 30+ hits, a goal of the year candidate… This game wasn’t lacking much. Even with Andrei Vasilevskiy and Philipp Grubauer trading highlight reel stops, a penalty-filled contest led to 3 total PP goals, including the Nikita Kucherov GWG in OT, and no shortage of even-strength offense to boot. Tampa spent most of the game chasing the Caps on the scoreboard, but with just over 9 minutes remaining in regulation Kucherov received a beautiful tic-tac-toe outlet courtesy of Anton Stralman and Alex Killorn, danced his way across the Washington blueline, and with the puck on his backhand (and Taylor Chorney on his back) roofed a bottle-popper over the glove side shoulder of the Washington netminder to tie it up at 3-3. If you don’t feel like watching the full game highlights, at least go dig up this goal, just have an extra pair of shorts on hand to change into afterwards.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

More than a few teams are currently not where they were expected to be in the standings, and that goes for both ends of the spectrum. The aforementioned upstart Devils are accompanied at 4-1-0 by the Red Wings, and followed closely by the Avs (4-2-0) and the “Nobody told us expansion teams are bad” Golden Knights at 3-1-0. Things get even crazier down at the more lackluster end of the standings, with the Rangers (1-5-0), Sharks/Oilers/Habs (1-3-0), and Wild (1-1-2) all notably underperforming. The Rangers and Habs are both particularly surprising, in that the bulk of their respective troubles can be attributed to their usually-stalwart goaltenders being…well, less than stalwart.

Opening night in Vegas was quite a thing to behold, with a beautiful pre-game ceremony honoring the victims and heroes of the Las Vegas terror attack just a few weeks ago. The Knights fed off the raucous crowd and cruised to a 5-2 victory over their desert-dwelling counterparts from Arizona.

Unfortunately for Vegas, their hot start could be quickly simmered by injuries to Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) and Jon Marchessault (lower body). Both players were placed on IR and are expected to miss “at least a week” so Vegas now has to rely on its slim organizational depth to step in for the time being. Marchessault is certainly an important piece of the team (he’s coming off of a 30-goal campaign with Florida), but it’s the Fleury injury that could really hurt them, as they really don’t have any proven goaltenders beyond ‘Flower’. But, given I watched young Malcolm Subban earn a 3-1 victory for the Knights as I typed this article, perhaps they have less to worry about than originally feared.

Oh and Jaromir Jagr is back, so the mullet wig I bought a few years ago is still relevant.

Philadelphia Flyers 2017-2018 Season Preview

Philadelphia Flyers LogoPhiladelphia Flyers

39-33-10, 88 points, 6th in the Metropolitan Division (’16-’17)

Additions: G Brian Elliott, F Corban Knight, F Jori Lehtera, F Phil Varone, F Brendan Warren

Subtractions: F Chris Conner (signed with Lehigh Valley Phantoms, AHL), F Nick Cousins (traded to ARI), D Michael Del Zotto (signed with VAN), F Roman Lyubimov (signed with HC CSKA Moscow, KHL), G Merrick Madsen (traded to ARI), G Steve Mason (signed with WPG), F Andy Miele (signed with Malmö Redhawks, SHL), D Jesper Pettersson (signed with Djurgårdens IF, SHL), F Brayden Schenn (traded to STL), F Eric Wellwood (retired)

Still Unsigned: F Boyd Gordon, D Nick Schultz, F Chris VandeVelde

Offseason Analysis: Philadelphia Flyers general manager, Ron Hextall, didn’t play the Powerball, but may have won the lottery after all– considering the fact that the Flyers moved from 14th to 2nd overall at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft via the draft lottery and were then able to select Nolan Patrick from the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Landing Patrick over New Jersey’s 1st overall pick, Nico Hischier, might resemble the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in initial success. Edmonton Oilers 2010 1st overall pick, Taylor Hall didn’t have much of a team around him in Edmonton in his rookie season of 2010-2011, while Boston’s Tyler Seguin had the eventual 2011 Stanley Cup champions as his linemates.

Hischier joins the rebuilding Devils, while Patrick landed on the middle-of-the-road Flyers and if you’re a fan of either of those teams, you’re probably hoping that the first two picks of the 2017 draft aren’t a full repeat of the 2010 draft, where Hall was traded to New Jersey just last year and Seguin was dealt to Dallas in 2013.

Hextall didn’t have to patch much on Philadelphia’s front lines. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier still exist, while Valtteri Filppula continues to be an underrated force of nature that he is as a top-9 forward.

Patrick joins the influx of youth in the City of Brotherly Love, where Travis Konecny dangles and scores goals and Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere shut down opposing teams on the blue line.

The Flyers currently have five defensemen on their NHL roster and shouldn’t be too worried about how the sixth spot and depth spot will fill out– alas, this is the reason why training camp and the preseason exist.

But while Hextall had an easy offseason of minor tweaks to the roster, a couple of key components from last season’s team are no longer members of the franchise.

Brayden Schenn was dealt to St. Louis in exchange for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 1st round pick (Morgan Frost) and a conditional 2018 1st round pick. Nick Cousins was sent to Arizona in a trade that involved other, less important, components. More importantly, Steve Mason was not offered a contract and jettisoned for the Winnipeg Jets via free agency as Brian Elliott agreed to terms with Philadelphia on a 2-year, $2.750 million per year contract.

Entering his fourth NHL season, Lehtera is coming off of a career worst seven goals, 15 assists (22 points) performance in 64 games played last season (due to injuries and otherwise). Healthy and in need of a change of scenery, Lehtera appears to be reinvigorated and ready to slide in alongside the likes of Giroux, Voracek, Konecny, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl and Jordan Weal.

Since the late 1990s, the Flyers have had about 3,000,000 million different starting goaltenders. Okay, the real number is somewhere around 30, but the point is this– Philly may have found a number one starter in Brian Elliott.

After being traded to the Calgary Flames from the St. Louis Blues, Elliott went on to appear in 49 games– the most he’s played since the 2009-2010 season (55 games with the Ottawa Senators). Last season, Elliott’s numbers (a 2.55 goals against average and a .910 save percentage) nearly reflected that of his 2009-2010 season (2.57 GAA with a .909 SV% in 6 more games than his 2016-2017 campaign).

Yes, Elliott was considerably worse in Calgary than in St. Louis. He never had a GAA above 2.28 with the Blues (and his 2.28 GAA came in 24 games during the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season). His final year with St. Louis (2015-2016) amassed a 2.07 GAA and a .930 SV% in 42 games played en route to a Western Conference Finals appearance (and loss to the San Jose Sharks).

Granted, St. Louis had a defense in front of him– and an offense, for that matter– all of his years in a blue note, while Elliott’s short stint with the Flames was largely unprotected. There was no 1A/1B scenario, unlike when Elliott played with Jake Allen in St. Louis and Calgary’s defense was not of the caliber of Colton Parayko and all who came before him on the Blues.

But Elliott is determined to find his game again on a stable roster, where Gostisbehere, Provorov, Andrew MacDonald, Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning look to hold down the fort in the defensive zone.

And if Elliott has a bad night or an off-week, then Michal Neuvirth is more than ready to step in and tame the crease, like how the Blues juggled Elliott and Allen for a few seasons.

Coming off a season with a -17 goal differential, the Flyers will need to replace a two-time 50-point scorer (Schenn) with more than what they brought in during the offseason. Hextall is opting for the build from within strategy, having witnessed an impressive rookie campaign from Konecny and since landing Patrick 2nd overall in June.

Inaction can work, as the old saying “don’t fix it if it ain’t broken” goes, but will it be enough to put Philadelphia back into Stanley Cup contention for the first time since 2010, let alone back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Offseason Grade: C

Simply put, the Flyers could’ve gotten more up front in the Brayden Schenn deal, it seems, from either the Blues or literally any other team and that hampers their offseason success in finding a suitable replacement for Steve Mason as one of their goalies by signing Brian Elliott.