Nick and Pete recap the Ottawa Senators coaching hire, two extensions, the latest rumors and the 2019 Western Conference Final while teasing their 2019 Stanley Cup Final preview.
If you didn’t learn your lesson from the First Round to the Second Round, hopefully you’ve learned it by now, because their is no “Third Chance Bracket”.
Yes, it’s time for the Conference Finals in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, ladies and gentlemen, and this year in the Western Conference it’s a familiar duo going at it again for the first time in three years.
P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)
The San Jose Sharks trailed, 3-0, on home ice in the third period of a Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights in the First Round, but everything changed when Joe Pavelski went down with an injury and Cody Eakin was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.
Sure, maybe the penalty was over the top and should have only been a two-minute minor penalty, but the Golden Knights also shouldn’t have ever allowed four power play goals against in a span of 4:01. San Jose took the lead, 4-3, then Vegas tied it in the final minute of regulation.
The Sharks became just the 2nd team in Stanley Cup Playoff history to erase a three-goal deficit and win in overtime, 5-4, as they eliminated the Golden Knights in seven games in the First Round.
Anybody see that coming? No?
But at the same time, we all had a warning sign when the Golden Knights blew a, 3-0, lead in the first period of Game 2 and the Sharks tied it, 3-3, heading into the first intermission. Though San Jose went on to lose that game, 5-3, it meant Vegas was vulnerable.
Since then, the Sharks rocketed back-and-forth with the Colorado Avalanche, ultimately coming out on top, 3-2, in Game 7 on Wednesday to advance to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2016.
The St. Louis Blues have been riding the back of their rookie goaltender, Jordan Binnington, since a little over four months ago as the hottest team in the league since Jan. 1st.
As such, the Blues defeated the Winnipeg Jets in six games in the First Round– despite both teams dropping their first two home games in the series.
St. Louis then faced the best goaltender (statistically speaking) remaining in the postseason, Ben Bishop, and the rest of the Dallas Stars in the Second Round.
They trailed in the series, 3-2, entering Game 6 in Dallas and stormed out of American Airlines Center faster than a jet with the series tied, 3-3, heading back to home ice for Game 7.
Tuesday night, the Blues fired 54 shots on goal. Bishop stopped 52 of them, but Binnington only allowed one goal against.
Hometown hero, Pat Maroon, scored the game-winning, series clinching goal in double overtime to lift St. Louis over Dallas, 2-1, and punched his team’s ticket to the Western Conference Final for the first time since… 2016.
That’s because San Jose defeated St. Louis in six games in the 2016 Western Conference Final. The Blues had home ice in that series and utilized Jake Allen in the crease until Game 6 when then head coach, Ken Hitchcock, elected to start Brian Elliott facing elimination.
This time around, the Sharks have home ice and St. Louis appears to have an answer to the Allen wrench– it’s Binnington.
Can they enact revenge and advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1970 or will San Jose make the trip back to the Final for the second time in franchise history– and first since losing in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final?
There’s good and bad news for both teams as Peter DeBoer prepares his Sharks to take on Craig Berube‘s Blues.
San Jose has made the postseason in 21 out of 27 seasons in their existence and Sharks fans have grown accustomed to usual playoff performers like Logan Couture (9-5–14 totals in 14 games played) on their ice at SAP Center.
But the Sharks have the added benefit of a three-way tie for the lead in scoring on their roster with Couture, Tomas Hertl (9-5–14 totals) and Brent Burns (5-9–14 totals) all having amassed 14 points through two rounds.
Not only that, but Hertl is tied with Couture in goals so far this postseason. It’s been a breakout year for the already star player in teal.
General Manager Doug Wilson landed the offseason’s biggest prize on the blue line via a trade with the Ottawa Senators back in September and his asset is paying off when it really counts.
Erik Karlsson may trail Burns among all Sharks defenders in points, but he does have 12 assists through 14 games and that’s good enough to lead his entire team in helpers.
DeBoer’s lineup is pretty deep with Timo Meier contributing three goals and seven assists (10 points) in 14 games and trade deadline acquisition, Gustav Nyquist, chipping in 1-7–8 totals from the top-nine.
San Jose has also had depth scoring from Kevin Labanc (three goals, three assists in 14 GP), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (three goals, three assists in 12 GP), Joe Thornton (2-4–6 totals in 12 games) and even Joonas Donskoi— who scored a goal for the first time in 35 games (regular season and postseason) against Colorado in Game 7.
Martin Jones (8-5 record, 2.72 goals against average, .910 save percentage in 14 games played this postseason) is having an old-school Stanley Cup Playoffs performance, whereby it’s not about the numbers, but rather how many games you win (and getting better as you go).
Backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (0-1, 3.33 GAA, .861 SV% in two games played this postseason) made a couple of relief appearances against Vegas, but was not required to save his team from the Avs.
St. Louis General Manager, Doug Armstrong, landed Ryan O’Reilly via a trade and important third line center, Tyler Bozak, in free agency last summer and built a roster that looked to be force coming out of the gate.
Things didn’t go so well from the get-go as then head coach, Mike Yeo, got his team off to a horrendous start and was replaced by the interim head coach (Berube) who has taken the roster from 31st in the league (dead last) as January began to the Western Conference Final as the calendar enters mid-May.
Jaden Schwartz (8-3–11 totals in 13 GP) is tied with Alex Pietrangelo (2-9–11 totals in 13 GP) in scoring on the Blues roster. While Schwartz is also a team-best plus-seven rating and leads St. Louis in goals with eight, Pietrangelo leads his team– both as the captain and– in assists with nine.
Selke Trophy finalist, O’Reilly has two goals and seven assists (nine points) through 13 games, but is a minus-five rating.
Worse, while Vladimir Tarasenko has five goals in 13 games, the usual star at Enterprise Center has yet to pickup an assist and is also a minus-five.
Maroon, however, has three timely goals and one assist (four points) in 13 games from the bottom-six and has helped solidified St. Louis’ all-around playing style.
Meanwhile, Binnington (8-5, 2.39 GAA, .915 SV% in 13 GP) has backstopped the Blues when it matters most, or rather, when he needs to since the defense is helping keep his workload relatively low.
The Stars only managed 30 shots on goal in Game 7– you know, a game that went into double overtime. Credit where credit is due to Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson and crew on the blue line in St. Louis.
The two teams split the season series 1-1-0, but as is a well-known fact of the postseason– it’s almost like an entirely new season altogether. Having home ice is one thing. Defending it is another.
St. Louis has their best chance to win the Cup in (well, it seems like this is said almost every year with Armstrong as their General Manager, but this year they mean it) years.
That said, San Jose has a lot of momentum working in their favor from the first two rounds after riding an emotional comeback and with the return of Pavelski to their lineup.
This series isn’t going to be a short one and the Sharks should pull off another seven-game stunner, cracking the Binnington code and advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in franchise history.
Except this time around, the Sharks are out for blood.
Regular season outcomes:
3-2 F/SO SJS at SAP Center on March 9th, 4-0 STL at Enterprise Center on Nov. 9th
5/11- Game 1 STL @ SJS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/13- Game 2 STL @ SJS 9 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/15- Game 3 SJS @ STL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN360, TVAS
5/17- Game 4 SJS @ STL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
5/19- Game 5 STL @ SJS 3 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*
5/21- Game 6 SJS @ STL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS*
5/23- Game 7 STL @ SJS 9 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN1, TVAS
Nick, Cap’n and Pete assess the Detroit Red Wings hiring of Steve Yzerman as General Manager and Executive Vice President, as well as recap the trio of Game 7s in the First Round and preview the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
How’s your bracket doing? Not great? Well, you should have taken my advice for the last round (except for Calgary and Tampa). Maybe you’ll nail the Second Chance Bracket the NHL is offering.
Or maybe you won’t.
Regardless, the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs is over and the Second Round starts on Thursday. As such, let’s take a look at every matchup like we did for the last round.
P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)
San Jose went 3-0-0 in their regular season series against Colorado, but the Avs were 0-2-1 against the Calgary Flames entering their First Round matchup. In short, the regular season doesn’t mean much. Seriously.
Calgary had home ice advantage and lost two out of their three home games in the First Round to the Avalanche.
The Sharks trailed, 3-1, in their series against the Vegas Golden Knights, then Tomas Hertl guaranteed things would go seven games and they did.
Then the Sharks pulled off an improbable comeback in Game 7, overcoming a three-goal deficit in the third period to win in overtime a la the 2013 Boston Bruins in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs that postseason.
Colorado’s first line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen is back firing on all cylinders, while Philipp Grubauer (4-1-0 record, 1.89 goals against average, .939 save percentage in five games played this postseason) has locked down the crease in the Mile High City.
Martin Jones (4-2-0, 3.20 GAA, .904 SV% in seven games played this postseason) has been all over the place in the crease for the Sharks.
With Erik Karlsson amassing nine assists in the last series, San Jose’s defense is quite the two-way prowess in the wake of Colorado’s mostly “shut-down” blue line.
This series is going to come down to whether the Avs can get out to a lead and withhold the inevitable Sharks comeback or if San Jose can limit Colorado’s scoring chances and will the scoreboard to their advantage.
After six games, expect the Avalanche to come out on top of the mountain and make their first Western Conference Final appearance since 2002 when they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.
Regular season outcomes:
5-2 SJS at SAP Center on April 6th, 4-3 SJS at SAP Center on March 1st, 5-4 SJS at Pepsi Center on Jan. 2nd
4/26- Game 1 COL @ SJS 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/28- Game 2 COL @ SJS 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/30- Game 3 SJS @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/2- Game 4 SJS @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/4- Game 5 COL @ SJS*
5/6- Game 6 SJS @ COL*
5/8- Game 7 COL @ SJS*
C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)
Despite facing the Stars solely in the second-half of the regular season– whereby the Blues went on an incredible run to the postseason backstopped by rookie sensation, Jordan Binnington (4-2-0, 2.63 GAA, .908 SV% in six games played this posteason)– St. Louis went 1-3-0 against Dallas in 2018-19.
Of course, as already noted, the regular season series record doesn’t mean much when the Stanley Cup Playoffs start, but is it possible the Stars are the only team that could make Binnington nervous?
Surely St. Louis’ roster can’t be too nervous, what with Jaden Schwartz notching the natural hat trick in Game 6 against the Winnipeg Jets– almost single handedly eliminating the Jets himself– and the rest of the Blues, like David Perron, overcoming Winnipeg’s speed and skill to get to the Second Round.
But the sheer fire power of the Stars was hard to contain by one of the best defenses on paper in the Nashville Predators. Alexander Radulov had a two-goal game en route to Dallas heading home to clinch their series against the Preds in six games.
Then there’s the best goaltending of the Western Conference to consider. The real wild card that could steal the Vezina Trophy this season (as he is a finalist).
Ben Bishop (4-2-0, 1.89 GAA, .945 SV% in six games this postseason) has been lights out in the regular season and playoffs so far.
There’s no way this series isn’t going seven games. If it falls short, then that’s an abomination on behalf of The Hockey Gods.
That said, St. Louis has the all-important home ice advantage should it come down to– when it comes down to a Game 7. Because of that, the Blues will meet the Avalanche in the 2019 Western Conference Final.
Regular season outcomes:
4-1 DAL at Enterprise Center on March 2nd, 5-2 DAL at American Airlines Center on Feb. 21st, 3-1 STL at American Airlines Center on Jan. 12th, 3-1 DAL at Enterprise Center on Jan. 8th
4/25- Game 1 DAL @ STL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
4/27- Game 2 DAL @ STL 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS
4/29- Game 3 STL @ DAL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
5/1- Game 4 STL @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
5/3- Game 5 DAL @ STL* 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, TVAS
5/5- Game 6 STL @ DAL*
5/7- Game 7 DAL @ STL*
In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.
In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.
P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)
The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.
Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”
Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.
Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.
Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.
Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.
For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.
Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.
Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.
Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.
In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.
Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.
Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?
Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th
4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2
4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*
4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*
4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*
P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)
The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.
Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.
There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.
Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.
Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.
Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.
In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.
For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.
The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.
But this time around feels different.
San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.
Regular season outcomes:
4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th
4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2
4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*
4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*
4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*
C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)
A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.
It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.
For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).
Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.
Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.
Oh. Again. Never mind.
While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.
In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.
Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.
This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?
Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.
On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.
Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.
But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.
Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.
As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.
Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.
Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.
It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th
4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2
4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2
4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*
4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*
4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*
C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)
After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.
This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.
Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.
Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.
In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).
Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.
Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.
Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.
However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.
The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.
This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.
Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.
Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).
Don’t try to mess with what’s working.
Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.
Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.
For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.
Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.
Regular season outcomes:
1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th
4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3
4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2
4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*
4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*
4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*
Messy officiating was a theme of the night, but at the end of the night, Charlie McAvoy scored the game-winning overtime goal to lift the Boston Bruins over the San Jose Sharks, 6-5, on Monday night at SAP Center.
San Jose’s ageless wonder, 39-year-old Joe Thornton had his fifth career hat trick (and first since Oct. 27, 2010) and united the hockey world in his quest for four goals in one game that was ultimately unsuccessful due to the loss.
Tuukka Rask (20-8-4 record, 2.45 goals against average, .918 save percentage in 33 games played) made 33 saves on 38 shots against for an .868 SV% in the overtime win for Boston.
Sharks goaltender, Martin Jones (28-11-5, 2.95 GAA, .896 SV% in 45 GP) turned aside 14 out of 20 shots faced for a .700 SV% in the overtime loss.
The B’s improved to 35-17-8 (78 points) on the season and remained in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, while the Sharks fell to 35-17-8 (78 points) on the season and stayed in 2nd place in the Pacific Division.
Boston improved to 23-4-5 when scoring first this season and 11-2-3 when tied after two periods. San Jose fell to 4-4-3 when tied after two periods this season.
In addition, the Bruins are now 14-10-5 on the road this season and 3-0-0 on their current five-game road trip.
The Bruins are also on a six-game winning streak (their longest of the season) and are now 8-0-1 in the month of February.
Peter Cehlarik did not take part in morning skate on Monday, as Bruce Cassidy reassured reporters after practice that Cehalrik sustained a lower body injury in Saturday night’s matchup with the Los Angeles Kings and would be out against San Jose.
Karson Kuhlman took over Cehlarik’s spot on the second line right wing alongside Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci, while David Backes took Kuhlman’s spot from Saturday on the fourth line with Joakim Nordstrom and Trent Frederic.
Bruins defender, Steven Kampfer rejoined the NHL club in San Jose on a recall after a three-game conditioning stint with Boston’s AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins.
From puck drop to the first whistle, the Bruins and Sharks played a consecutive span of 10:13– negating the first media timeout altogether.
In fact, the networks carrying the game Monday night couldn’t even go to break after the first whistle as it came on an icing call.
As the frantic postseason-infused pace settled in, San Jose defender Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved the puck from crossing the line just in the nick of time. Or did he?
An overhead view from the crossbar might have indicated that Boston was robbed of a goal, but since the call on the ice was “no goal” and the other camera angles were inconclusive– the original call stood.
While shorthanded, Evander Kane broke free from the Bruins blue liners, beat Rask and rang the post with his shot.
Moments later, after killing off the Hertl infraction, Kane got a stick up high on Grzelcyk, sending the B’s back on the power play at 13:04 of the opening frame.
After failing to generate any offense on their first power play chance of the night, Boston capitalized on their second extra skater advantage.
45 seconds into their second power play, Krug (6) blasted a slap shot while moving into the face-off dot to Jones’ right side, while Erik Karlsson partially screened his own goaltender, as the puck went high, glove side, into the twine.
Krejci (36) and Patrice Bergeron (35) tallied the assists on Krug’s power play goal at 13:49 as Boston jumped out to a, 1-0, lead.
With his assist on the goal, Krejci became the fourth Bruin to reach at least 50 points this season.
A few minutes later, Kuraly won a face-off in the attacking zone back to Zdeno Chara (6) whereby the 6-foot-9 defender rocketed his patented slap shot past Jones for his 199th career goal.
Kuraly (11) had the only assist on Chara’s goal at 16:26 and the Bruins led, 2-0.
Less than two minutes later, Boston continued to strangle the momentum pendulum into their metaphorical side.
DeBrusk lobbed an aerial pass on a two-on-one to Kuhlman (1) as Jones was caught behind the play, giving Kuhlman his first career NHL goal and a three-goal lead for the Bruins.
Kuhlman’s goal was assisted by DeBrusk (9) and Krejci (37) at 18:24 of the first period as Boston led, 3-0.
As the seconds ticked down before the first intermission, Joe Thornton (11) put the Sharks on the scoreboard to make it a two-goal game.
Joe Pavelski had the initial shot on goal, but Thornton found the rebound in the crease and sent it home to make it, 3-1, Boston at 19:57 of the first period.
Pavelski recorded his 22nd assist of the season on Thornton’s first goal of the game.
Entering the first intermission, the Bruins led, 3-1, on the scoreboard, but both teams recorded eight shots on goal aside.
The B’s led in takeaways (3-2), hits (8-6) and face-off win percentage (63-37), while the Sharks led in blocked shots (4-2) and giveaways (4-2) after one period of play. San Jose had yet to see any time on the power play, while the Bruins were 1/2 on the skater advantage heading into the second period.
Early in the middle frame, Miller sent the puck over the glass and received an automatic delay of game penalty– leaving Boston shorthanded at 1:40 of the second period.
Almost 30 seconds later, Pavelski (32) redirected an initial shot from the point off Rask, whereby the Bruins goaltender made the initial save, but the puck took an odd bounce and went over his shoulder and into the four-by-six frame behind him.
Couture followed up his assist on Pavelski’s goal with a hooking penalty at 4:43.
Late in the ensuing power play for Boston, DeBrusk (18) entered the attacking zone on a breakaway with speed and beat Jones to make it, 4-2, Bruins.
In the last four games, DeBrusk has 4-4–8 totals.
Danton Heinen (11) and Backes (9) notched the primary and secondary assists, respectively, on DeBrusk’s power play goal at 6:30 of the second period.
Wagner and Braun tussled for a few seconds with the gloves off before the linesmen got in-between the two and separated them.
Despite not actually fighting, Wagner and Braun each received five-minute majors for doing more than what otherwise would have been considered roughing at 10:25.
Late in the second period, whatever tilt in the ice there was took a tank (at the Shark Tank, get it?) as San Jose made it a one-goal game at 16:03, thanks to another garbage goal collected by Thornton (12).
For the second time of the night, Thornton banged home the rebound to record his first two-goal game in his 51st game this season and fourth since 2013.
Shortly thereafter, Thornton took a trip to the penalty box for high-sticking Bruins winger, Brad Marchand.
While shorthanded, Couture split the Boston defense and charged into the offensive zone while the B’s were caught changing lines.
As Couture neared Rask, Marchand hooked the Sharks forward and the puck didn’t cross the goal line, despite the quick string of confusing signals indicated by the referee.
Instead of waving off the goal that wasn’t (alas, the puck almost reached the goal line), then pointing towards the center-ice face-off dot to award the ensuing penalty shot, the ref closest to the goal appeared to change his mind and indicated a goal had been scored.
Except he hadn’t, technically.
To the dismay of those in attendance, the ref had simply misdirected his followup signal to the washout and should have pointed towards center-ice as Couture was to follow up with a penalty shot, regardless.
The official call was that Rask had made the save on the initial breakaway while Marchand had hooked Couture, illegally disrupting the scoring chance and thus resulting in a penalty shot.
On the ensuing penalty shot, Couture (22) fired one into the twine at 19:35 of the second period, resulting in yet another last minute goal for San Jose– this time tying the game, 4-4.
As a result, Couture became just the fourth player in Sharks franchise history to score a shorthanded penalty shot goal.
Through 40 minutes of play, both teams were tied, 4-4, on the scoreboard, despite San Jose’s distinct advantage in shots on goal in the middle frame alone (14-4).
Entering the second intermission, San Jose led in shot on goal (22-12), blocked shots (7-3), giveaways (7-3) and hits (20-17), while Boston led in face-off win% (54-47). Both teams had five giveaways each after two periods.
The Sharks were 1/1 on the power play, while the Bruins were 2/4 on the skater advantage heading into the third period.
After not changing lines quick enough, the refs decided to charge the Bruins with a bench minor for delay of game at 1:57 of the third period.
Sure, that’s an actual thing, but given the standard (or lack thereof) of the night, well…
Too many men on the ice was something that went overlooked and two goals (one that was that wasn’t and one that wasn’t that was) were both miscalled as some of the bigger takeaways for next season’s “what not to do” officiating training video.
Jokes aside, it was a poorly officiated game.
Backes served the delay of game bench minor for Boston, but the Sharks weren’t able to capitalize on the power play.
Finally, in a moment the hockey world had been waiting to see in almost nine years, Thornton (13) scored his third goal of the game, notching a hat trick on the first lead change of the night.
San Jose led, 5-4, at 13:32 of the third period.
Pavelski (23) and Braun (13) tallied the assist’s on Thornton’s goal as the game’s momentum completely shifted to the Sharks’ favor.
Chara and Pavelski exchanged pleasantries and slashed each other with their sticks, yielding matching slashing minors at 15:42.
Late in the ensuing 4-on-4 action, Carlo sent a shot on goal that rebounded high into the air.
Wagner (8) batted the puck down with a seemingly high stick, then swung his stick along the ice at the puck tying the game, 5-5.
That’s right, Wagner scored the game-tying goal after playing the puck with a high stick.
Going to review is not an option for a goal that is thought to be scored as a result of knocking the puck down with a high stick, then scoring the goal from a legal elevation.
The problem with the goal was that the play should’ve been whistled dead as soon as Wagner knocked the puck out of the air with his stick above his shoulder.
Whether it was seen or not from the angle on the ice, we’ll never know (it’s not the NHL’s nature to make refs explain why a call was made or not– in fact, it’s never happened for anything that’s not reviewable).
Carlo (4) and Noel Acciari (4) had the assists on Wagner’s goal, which set a new career-high in goals in a season for the Walpole, Massachusetts native at 17:11 of the third period.
At the end of regulation, the Bruins and Sharks were tied, 5-5.
San Jose led in shots on goal (33-19) and in blocked shots (8-7), giveaways (9-5), hits (23-22) and face-off win% (54-46) after three periods of play.
Both teams had ten takeaways aside. The Sharks finished the night 1/2 on the skater advantage as Boston went 2/4 on the power play.
Peter DeBoer was coaching in his 800th career game on Monday and rolled out line after line of All-Star quality 3-on-3 overtime lines, especially after Cassidy started Kuraly, Grzelcyk and McAvoy in the five-minute overtime period.
Trouble is, one of those starters actually turned out to be the right one. *foreshadowing*
After Kane entered the zone with a virtual 3-on-0 for San Jose, the play was blown dead as the net behind Rask had come off its moorings and was not properly fixed even though the ref behind the play should have gone over and readjusted it while the puck was at the opposite end of the ice.
It’s either the goaltender’s responsibility or the referee’s job to fix the net if it’s off its pegs, but not enough to immediately disrupt play.
If it’s fixable, the ref must fix it as long as the puck is completely out of the zone.
Officiating be damned, Kane’s surefire scoring chance was killed.
On a 3-on-2 back the other way, DeBrusk worked the puck to Krejci for the perfect pass to McAvoy (4), who ripped a bullet past Jones to win the game for Boston, 6-5, in overtime.
Krejci (38) and DeBrusk (10) collected the assists on McAvoy’s game-winning goal at 3:59 of the overtime period, as the Bruins improved to 7-6 in overtime this season.
The Sharks fell to 6-5 past the 60-minute mark, but before having to go to a shootout, this season, despite finishing Monday night’s action with the advantage in shots on goal (38-20, including a 5-1 advantage in overtime alone), giveaways (10-6) and face-off win% (52-48).
Boston finished the night leading in blocked shots (11-8).
Both teams recorded 24 hits aside.
The Bruins travel to Las Vegas for a Wednesday night battle with the Vegas Golden Knights before finishing up their current five-game road trip on Saturday in St. Louis against the Blues. Boston returns home to close out February with a Tuesday (Feb. 26th) night matchup with the Sharks and a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 28th.
The Edmonton Oilers fired their president of hockey operations and General Manager, Peter Chiarelli (April 2015-January 2019). The club officially made the announcement after the DTFR Duo finished recording this week’s episode.
There won’t be a 2020 World Cup of Hockey and there were a few milestones to go along with a bunch of minor trades made this week.
It’s the final week before the All-Star Break that features all 31 teams in action!
Let’s take a look at the schedule:
|NHL SCHEDULE: January 14-20|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, January 14|
|7 p.m.||Chicago||New Jersey||5-8|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Washington||4-1|
|7:30 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||Boston Bruins||3-2 (OT)|
|Tuesday, January 15|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis Blues||New York Islanders||1-2 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Carolina Hurricanes||New York Rangers||2-6|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Columbus||1-4|
|8 p.m.||Los Angeles||Minnesota||2-3 (SO)|
|8:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Dallas||2-0|
|10 p.m.||Pittsburgh||San Jose||2-5|
|Wednesday, January 16|
|9:30 p.m.||Buffalo||Calgary||4-3 (OT)|
|10 p.m.||Edmonton||Vancouver||3-2 (SO)|
|10 p.m.||San Jose||Arizona||3-6|
|Thursday, January 17|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Boston||2-5|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey Devils||New York Islanders||1-4|
|7 p.m.||Chicago Blackhawks||New York Rangers||3-4|
|7:30 p.m.||Toronto||Tampa Bay||4-2|
|8:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||Dallas||2-1|
|Friday, January 18|
|7:30 p.m.||New York Islanders||Washington Capitals||2-0|
|9 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Arizona||3-2 (OT)|
|Saturday, January 19|
|1 p.m.||Anaheim||New Jersey||SN|
|3 p.m.||Los Angeles||Colorado|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||St. Louis||CITY|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Boston Bruins||NHLN|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia||Montréal||CBC, ESPN+, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Tampa Bay|
|10 p.m.||Calgary Flames||Edmonton Oilers||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|Sunday, January 20|
|12:30 p.m.||Washington||Chicago||NBC, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Anaheim Ducks||New York Islanders||SN1|
|7 p.m.||Arizona||Toronto||NHLN, SN|
|9:30 p.m.||Carolina||Edmonton||SN1, SN360|
If rivalries are your jam, you’ve loved this week’s schedule since there’s at least one rivalry being played every day except Sunday. Monday saw the Habs make a trip to the Hub, followed the next day by the Ducks in Detroit (once a rivalry, always a rivalry). The Bruins were back at it Wednesday in the City of Brotherly Love, while another Original Six tilt took place Thursday with the Blackhawks visiting the Broadway Blueshirts. Speaking of New York, the Islanders headed to D.C. yesterday to take on the Caps, while two sets of arch-rivals square off this evening: the frequently-featured Rangers and Bruins wage war at 7 p.m., followed by the Battle of Alberta at 10.
If playoff rematches are more your speed, you preferred Winnipeg’s schedule. The Jets hosted Vegas Tuesday, followed two days later by a trip to Nashville.
Finally, there’s more than a few major homecomings happening this week, the biggest of which is 10-year veteran D Adam McQuaid‘s first game in Boston wearing a crest other than the Spoked B when the Rangers come to town tonight.
Also making returns were W Magnus Paajarvi (now a Senator, he called St. Louis home for five seasons), David Quinn (the Rangers hired him from Boston University where he’d been the head coach for five seasons) and Barry Trotz (after winning the Stanley Cup in his fourth year at Washington’s helm, Trotz signed with the Islanders this offseason).
While many of these tilts are exciting, the game that really sticks out to me involves two of the top teams in their respective conferences that were Stanley Cup favorites entering the campaign.
If not for Wednesday’s 6-3 loss in Glendale to the Coyotes, the 28-14-7 Sharks would be considered the hottest team in the NHL. They entered that tilt riding a seven game winning streak and have posted a dominant 9-2-2 mark in their last 13 outings.
There’s no doubt that Tampa Bay (tonight’s opponent) and division-rival Calgary boast two of the NHL’s best offenses. However, San Jose’s 3.57 goals per game for the entire 2018-19 season ranks third best in the league, and that attack only looks stronger when we focus on this 13 game run. Since December 22, the Sharks have averaged a whopping 4.31 goals per game, which ties the Flames for tops in the league.
Spearheading that onslaught of offense is none other than D Erik Karlsson, the man supposedly suffering a down season. His personal goal count may not be as high as he’d like (he’s registered only three through 47 outings this season), but struggles are otherwise few and far between nowadays considering he’s posted 1-18-19 totals in his past 11 games.
Of course, Karlsson isn’t San Jose’s only blue liner that likes to get involved in the offensive zone. D Brent Burns – a favorite for the Norris Trophy at the midway point of the season – is only a point behind Karlsson since December 22, posting 5-13-18 marks.
I’m of the opinion that the primary responsibility of a team’s defensive efforts is to limit opposing shots on goal, so – in a way – this dominant offense that maintains extended possessions is also performing marvelously well for 22-8-4 G Martin Jones. The Sharks have allowed only 28.31 shots against per game since December 22, the fourth-best mark in the NHL in that stretch.
As for actual defensive efforts, it’s hard not to have been impressed by Burns (team-leading 19 takeaways) and Kane (2.9 hits per game) during this run.
Of course, no matter how well the Sharks have been playing lately, there’s few that would argue that tonight’s hosts, the 36-10-2 Tampa Bay Lightning, are the best team the National Hockey League has to offer. The Bolts have a seven-point advantage in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy, and they haven’t lost back-to-back games since November 10 and 13.
The reason that’s an important note is due to Tampa Bay’s 4-2 home loss at the hands of the Maple Leafs Thursday night, dropping their record since November 15 to 24-5-1.
During that dominant run, the Bolts have boasted the league’s top offense, averaging a whopping 4.23 goals per game – many of which have involved Art Ross-leader RW Nikita Kucherov. In Tampa’s last 30 games, Kucherov has notched dominant 15-43-58 totals – five points better than the NHL’s second-best player in that time.
Another player worth mentioning is surely 19-6-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy, tonight’s likely starter considering this is Tampa’s last game until January 30’s tilt against Pittsburgh. In his past 14 starts, Vasilevskiy has managed an outstanding .922 save percentage and 2.65 GAA, a slight decline from his season marks of .925 and 2.48 due to the defense in front of him allowing 32.73 shots against per game since November 15, the seventh-worst mark in the NHL in that time.
There’s no doubt these offenses are capable of taking a game over, but both of them playing in the same game will certainly be either club’s greatest challenge they’ve faced in a while.
In my opinion, this game boils down to the opposing goaltenders. If that is the case, the Lightning have a clear advantage, as Jones’ .903 season save percentage and corresponding 2.72 GAA pale in comparison to Vasilevskiy’s.
As a result, I think the Bolts can come away from tonight’s tilt with a two or three-goal victory to further cement themselves as the league’s best club.
The holiday break is so close we can almost taste it, but there’s still a little more work to be done before the NHL begins its three-day break on Monday. Without further ado, this week’s offerings include:
|NHL SCHEDULE: December 17-23|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, December 17|
|7:30 p.m.||Nashville||Ottawa||3-4 (OT)|
|9 p.m.||New York Islanders||Colorado Avalanche||4-1|
|Tuesday, December 18|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||New Jersey||7-2|
|7 p.m.||Anaheim Ducks||New York Rangers||1-3|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Minnesota||4-0|
|9 p.m.||St. Louis||Edmonton||4-1|
|9 p.m.||New York Islanders||Arizona Coyotes||3-1|
|10 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Vancouver||5-2|
|10:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||Los Angeles||1-4|
|Wednesday, December 19|
|Thursday, December 20|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Columbus|
|9 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Calgary|
|9 p.m.||Montréal||Arizona||RDS, TSN2|
|10 p.m.||St. Louis||Vancouver||ESPN+|
|10 p.m.||New York Islanders||Vegas Golden Knights||SN360|
|10:30 p.m.||Winnipeg||San Jose|
|Friday, December 21|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||New Jersey||RDS|
|7 p.m.||Buffalo||Washington||NBCSN, SN, TVAS|
|9 p.m.||Chicago||Colorado||ESPN+, SN360|
|Saturday, December 22|
|1 p.m.||Nashville||Boston||NHLN, SN, SN1|
|4 p.m.||Montréal||Vegas||RDS, TSN2|
|4 p.m.||Los Angeles||San Jose||NBCSN, SN1|
|4 p.m.||St. Louis||Calgary|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Toronto Maple Leafs||CBC, NHLN, SN, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Washington||Ottawa||CITY, SN360, TVAS|
|10 p.m.||Winnipeg||Vancouver||CBC, SN360|
|10 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Edmonton||CITY, ESPN+, SN1|
|Sunday, December 23|
|12:30 p.m.||Columbus||New Jersey||SN|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia Flyers||New York Rangers||NHLN|
|7:30 p.m.||Detroit||Toronto||SN, SN360, TVAS|
|8 p.m.||Los Angeles||Vegas|
|8 p.m.||Arizona||San Jose|
|8 p.m.||New York Islanders||Dallas Stars|
For those that didn’t keep count, that’s a healthy 55 tilts to keep us entertained while family members you simply adore ask a multitude of questions you’d rather they not.
In the rivalries department, the NHL loaded us up with six showdowns this week, including Boston at Montréal, Pittsburgh at Washington, Los Angeles at San Jose, the Rangers at Toronto, Philadelphia at the Rangers and Detroit at Toronto.
Two rematches from this spring’s edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will also take place: the previously mentioned Pens-Caps game and Los Angeles’ trip to Sin City Sunday night.
Finally, the biggest player return of the week will take place tonight when F Max Domi makes his first trip back to Glendale to take on the Coyotes, the club that drafted him 12th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
However, of all those games highlighted, there’s still another tonight that will have my full attention. Both the Jets and Sharks entered this season with high expectations, but only one has truly flexed its muscles thus far this season. Perhaps that will be just the motivation San Jose needs to find its next gear.
Currently in a three-way tie for first place in the Western Conference, the 22-10-2 Winnipeg Jets are technically the top team by playing one fewer game than both the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators.
Winnipeg’s last outing wasn’t exactly one to be proud of (the Jets fell 4-1 in Los Angeles to the lowly Kings on Tuesday), but it had been riding a five-game winning streak coming into that game. In fact, in their past 11 games, the Jets boast a 9-2-0 record that includes five overtime or shootout victories.
To the surprise of none, Winnipeg’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its offense. Having averaged 3.56 goals per game for the entire season (the fourth-best mark in the NHL), Head Coach Peter DeBoer will certainly have a plan for how he wants his team to slow down the impressive talents of C Mark Scheifele (21-25-46 points) and RW Blake Wheeler (5-39-44) on Winnipeg’s top line.
However, that will be a difficult task to pull off because the Jets’ attack has been even more potent than usual during this 11-game run. Since November 29, the Jets have averaged an outstanding four goals per game, which is tied with, coincidentally, San Jose for third best in the league in that time.
The previously mentioned Scheifele and Wheeler have certainly had their fingerprints all over that dynamic attack, as they’ve posted respective 8-12-20 and 1-14-15 totals in their last 11 outings. However, they’ve also been joined by LW Nikolaj Ehlers (7-5-12), D Josh Morrissey (3-8-11 in nine games) and D Dustin Byfuglien (1-8-9 in seven games) in averaging at least a point per game during this run, creating a defensive nightmare for most teams not as talented as the Sharks on the blue line.
The San Jose Sharks were supposed to already be atop the Western Conference – if not the entire NHL – according to many preseason reports, yet they find themselves stuck with a 19-11-5 record good enough for only second place in the Pacific Division.
But don’t read that as the Sharks being a bad team. They’re riding a five-game winning streak and have posted a 7-1-0 record in their past eight outings, so it seems like the team is finally starting to realize its potential. The next question, of course, is just how good can this team be, but that’s an answer the Jets would rather not answer tonight.
During this eight-game run, San Jose has been clicking on all cylinders; literally everything is gelling, and the numbers are showing just that.
Perhaps my favorite part of the Sharks’ game right now is their attack. Currently in a tie with Ottawa for eighth-best offense on the season by averaging 3.31 goals per game, the Sharks’ effort since December 2 has made all but Tampa Bay jealous. Led by F Logan Couture‘s impressive 5-6-11 totals in the last eight games, San Jose has managed a dominant 4.25 goals per game during this run.
That’s right, the same Karlsson that looked like he wasn’t panning out in Silicon Valley is on a bit of a hot streak of late. His goal scoring may be down from his Ottawa days (last season’s nine goals in 71 appearances was a poor season for him, and this year’s pace has him set to register only five markers), but the 10-year NHL veteran is still making his presence known on the scorecard.
In addition to scoring, this dynamic offense has also had some incredible influence on the defensive zone by maintaining elongated possessions. During this eight-game run, San Jose has allowed only 27.88 shots against per game, the fifth-best mark in the NHL since December 2 and only two shots worse than the Islanders’ league-leading pace set in that same time span.
Of course, D Justin Braun (2.3 blocks per game since December 2), D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits per game during this run) and Karlsson (11 takeaways in his past eight outings) have certainly done their fair share on the defensive end as well.
If anyone is appreciative of that effort, it’s surely 14-7-3 G Martin Jones, tonight’s starter. Though he’s struggled for much of the season (made evident by his unusually low .901 save percentage and 2.81 GAA for the campaign), he’s shown signs of improvement lately. He’s earned five of the Sharks’ last seven wins, posting a much more familiar .936 save percentage and 1.94 GAA in his last seven starts.
If Jones has finally rounded into form for the year, this Sharks blue line will truly begin to influence play in the offensive zone, which should be a very scary proposition for the entire Western Conference.
When two high powered offenses are going at it, I usually side with the better of the two goaltenders to determine the game’s winner. In his past eight starts, 15-9-1 G Connor Hellebuyck has earned six wins on the back of a .91 save percentage and 2.72 GAA (both nominal improvements on his .908 season save percentage and associated 2.9 GAA).
Compare that to Jones’ numbers, and the answer is obvious: the Sharks should come away winners tonight and send the home fans happy.
Folks, it’s no longer October.
You can once again begin asking the question “is it October yet?” without facing any legal ramifications, despite the fact that the 2018-19 regular season is very much alive and in effect.
Canadian Thanksgiving has come and gone, but for all of you urban legend believers in postseason fate, American Thanksgiving has yet to pass– meaning every team’s playoff hopes is still technically alive. The majority of teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving– in this case, Nov. 22nd– make the playoffs.
If you’re new to hockey, this is a thing, but it’s not set in stone. There’s always that one or two teams that sneak their way in from outside the picture frame. Likewise, there’s always that team that blows it down the stretch.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a hot start, working their way to 1st place in the Atlantic Division by the end of October, with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins hot on their tail just as we all expected.
Though the Maple Leafs have a fiery offense and solid goaltending, defense has been the most apparent area for improvement. In Boston, depth scoring, injuries and a slow start in net for Tuukka Rask have held the Bruins back from realizing their full potential, but the depth of their defenders and backup netminder Jaroslav Halak have kept them in good-standing.
In the surprise of the month for the Atlantic Division, the Montreal Canadiens sit 4th and the Buffalo Sabres sit 5th– both with 14 points on the season so far. Meanwhile, to no surprise the Ottawa Senators are 6th, the Detroit Red Wings are in a rebuild and the Florida Panthers simply haven’t played as many games as their opponents.
Taking a look at the Metropolitan Division and you won’t be surprised to see the Pittsburgh Penguins back in control with Sidney Crosby at the steering wheel, but you might be surprised by the other current divisional playoff spot holders.
The New York Islanders are 2nd and the Carolina Hurricanes are 3rd after the Hurricanes led the division for most of the month, only to begin a recent skid.
Just on the outskirts of a wild card spot are the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils.
Washington’s off to a slower start than expected, but overall not feeling as bad as a Stanley Cup hangover as it could’ve been– given how many fountains around D.C. they dove in and the number of beers consumed.
Columbus is just over .500 and the Devils have also played fewer games than anyone in their division, much like the Panthers.
The Philadelphia Flyers sit 7th in the Metropolitan Division in a tight race, but have shown weaknesses on the blue line and in the blue paint (goaltending, again) and the New York Rangers are in a full-scale rebuild to start things off this season.
In the Western Conference, the Nashville Predators are staking a case for defending their President’s Trophy season last year currently sitting atop the Central Division, as well as the league.
Filling out the remaining Central Divisions spots, last season’s biggest improvers, the Colorado Avalanche sit 2nd with the Minnesota Wild in 3rd. There’s two wild card berth in the Central Division, currently held by the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks(!?!)– that’s right, last season’s division bottom feeders are able to keep their heads barely above the surface with Corey Crawford back in the net.
The Dallas Stars sit 6th and the St. Louis Blues have had the wheels fall off in just a month’s time.
In the Pacific Division, the Vancouver Canucks lead the San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Vegas Golden Knights and the 31st place team in the league– the Los Angeles Kings.
Yes, the Pacific Division is that wide-open so far with legitimate playoff contenders from last season (San Jose, Anaheim, Vegas and Los Angeles) all over the place. The Sharks haven’t hit their stride, the Ducks are suffering from injuries and defensive breakdowns, while the Golden Knights are looking for last season’s inaugural season magic.
Oh and the Kings? Yeah, everything’s pretty bad right now and Jonathan Quick‘s out indefinitely.
Meanwhile, pleasant surprises in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Arizona are being led by… youth?
Nothing makes sense anymore.
Luckily, that’s just a quick recap of the first month in about as bland an outlook as you can get when the meat of this post is really about what’s to come. That’s right, everything above? Forget most of it. Let’s use a little foresight and figure out how November through April should go.
2018-19 Projected Standings after One Month
- y-Boston Bruins, 104 points (12 GP so far)
- x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 103 points (11 GP so far)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 94 points (12 GP so far)
- wc1-Montreal Canadiens, 93 points (11 GP so far)
- Florida Panthers, 84 points (9 GP so far)
- Ottawa Senators, 84 points (11 GP so far)
- Detroit Red Wings, 81 points (12 GP so far)
- Buffalo Sabres, 76 points (12 GP so far)
What’s bound to happen in the Atlantic?
The forecast is so close between the top-three teams in the division that none of their positions in the standings are truly set in stone, unlike how the Red Wings will undoubtedly land somewhere in the bottom-three spots in the Atlantic.
There’s a chance the Panthers never get off the ground and there’s a chance the Sabres are able to continue turning heads around the league by not currently being in the basement of the division. However, since this forecast takes into consideration recent seasons in addition to current gameplay…
Check back in another month.
(Is it too early to do one of these? Yeah, probably.)
- p-Washington Capitals, 107 points (10 GP so far)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 106 points (10 GP so far)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 93 points (11 GP so far)
- wc2- New York Islanders, 89 points (11 GP so far)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 89 points (12 GP so far)
- New York Rangers, 89 points (12 GP so far)
- New Jersey Devils, 87 points (9 GP so far)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 85 points (12 GP so far)
The biggest takeaway from the Metropolitan forecast is after the top-two teams, anything goes.
Washington will be able to right the ship and land in a divisional spot– whether that’s top-dog or behind the Penguins remains to be seen. Columbus should even out as they’ve been doing as of late and settle in for another First Round exit (probably).
But between the Islanders, Flyers, Rangers, Devils and Hurricanes? Yeah, anything goes.
The Islanders are better than the Rangers, but the Rangers might somehow be better than the Flyers. Meanwhile, if New Jersey can get things going like they did last season, they’ve got a chance to box out the competition. Plus, Carolina remains unpredictable and foreseeably within striking range of a wild card spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Again, it’s only been one month. There’s still a little more than five months left in the regular season.
- z-Nashville Predators, 105 points (12 GP so far)
- x-Minnesota Wild, 100 points (12 GP so far)
- x-Chicago Blackhawks, 98 points (13 GP so far)
- wc1-St. Louis Blues, 96 points (10 GP so far)
- wc2-Winnipeg Jets, 94 points (12 GP so far)
- Dallas Stars, 90 points (11 GP so far)
- Colorado Avalanche, 85 points (12 GP so far)
In the Central Division, the Nashville Predators continue to reign supreme. Cool.
Minnesota, Chicago and St. Louis are all somehow destined for the postseason. This, after the Wild make it every year, Crawford’s return lifts the Blackhawks over the competition and supposedly the Blues will figure things out.
Wait, the Avalanche can’t be that bad.
Once again, it’s an extremely early forecast that takes into account recency bias from the last few seasons. Colorado won’t be last. Winnipeg shouldn’t be a wild card team.
But Dallas? Yeah, they’re definitely not making the playoffs if they keep playing like they have been.
- y-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (12 GP so far)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 98 points (13 GP so far)
- x-Calgary Flames, 89 points (13 GP so far)
- Los Angeles Kings, 87 points (11 GP so far)
- Vancouver Canucks, 84 points (14 GP so far)
- Edmonton Oilers, 83 points (11 GP so far)
- Arizona Coyotes, 77 points (11 GP so far)
- Vegas Golden Knights, 75 points (12 GP so far)
By now everything you’ve read should indicate what’s going to be written below.
San Jose? Good team. No surprise, given Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are on the blue line with Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Evander Kane at forward. Oh and Martin Jones in net.
Anaheim? If they can whether the storm, they can make it in one of the most unpredictable divisions based on how bad the other teams are or should be.
Calgary? Bill Peters finally coaches a team to a playoff berth? Yeah. That should happen.
The Kings can recover from this slow start– if they don’t mess things up in November.
As for the Canucks, Oilers, Coyotes and Golden Knights, well, Vancouver might make some noise. Edmonton could be a pretender as long as Connor McDavid is a contender. Arizona remains to be seen and the situation looks like it’s only going to get worse for Vegas before anything gets better– if it even does.