Nick reacts to coaching changes, the draft lottery and the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs already in progress while providing an update.
Get ready to take in some hockey, because there’s a deluge of 15 games on today’s slate!
The men’s Olympic action continues this morning at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time when the OAR squares off against Team USA to determine the winner of Group B, not to mention a tilt between Slovenia and Slovakia at the same time.
Back in North America, there’s a whopping 11 games of NHL action on the schedule. The festivities begin at 1 p.m. when Los Angeles visits Buffalo (NHLN), followed an hour later by a pair of tilts (Anaheim at Minnesota and the New York Rangers at Ottawa [TVAS]). The final matinee featuring Edmonton at Arizona drops the puck at 4 p.m. Three games (Montréal at Vegas [CITY/SN360/TVAS], New Jersey at Tampa Bay and Toronto at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN]) get underway at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed an hour later by Detroit at Nashville and Washington at Chicago at 8:30 p.m. Finally, the last two NHL games of the day (Boston at Vancouver [SN/SN360] and Florida at Calgary [CITY]) find their starts at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.
Back in South Korea, there’s only four games left to be played in the men’s group stage – two of which will be played tonight. Germany takes on Norway at 10:10 p.m. in Group C action, followed by the Czech Republic vs. Switzerland at 2:40 a.m. in Group A. All times Eastern.
Some of the games that stuck out to me when the schedule was released include…
- OAR vs. USA: If the Olympic Athletes from Russia win this game, they could earn an automatic entry into the Olympic quarterfinals. Should they lose, they could fall all the way to fourth in the four-team Group B.
- Slovenia vs. Slovakia: Those scenarios are dependent on the result of this game, as Slovakia – having beaten the OAR – would clinch the group with a victory and an American loss of any variety.
- New York at Ottawa: Though these teams look nothing like they did this time last year, tonight is a rematch of the 2017 Eastern Semifinals.
- Montréal at Vegas: D David Schlemko was a member of the Golden Knights for less than a day before he was shipped to Montréal for a fifth-round pick in next year’s draft.
- Germany vs. Norway: It’s a battle for third place in Group C!
- Czech Republic vs. Switzerland: Umm… I wrote this post before Group A’s second games, so I don’t know important or unimportant this game will be. I guess we’ll just hope its a good match!
Beyond those games at the Olympics, I’m most drawn to the tilt between Anaheim and Minnesota, as the winner of that game will take a major step towards qualifying for the playoffs. However, since no club is officially qualifying or being eliminated from Stanley Cup playoff contention today, I think we have to take in the important game in Group B!
Before you say it: yes, I know the Russians are officially the “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” meaning the Russian flag shouldn’t be used. However, I am way too scared of the International Olympic Committee to be throwing the Olympic Rings around on this website.
We ain’t playing that game.
Anyways, back to the hockey. With a 1-0-1-0 record, Team USA is currently atop Group B – though only by a slim one-point margin. If they can hold onto that position (easiest done with a regulation victory in this game), the Americans would earn a first-round bye and automatic entry into the quarterfinals.
Through two games, I’ve been most impressed with the United States’ effort on the defensive end – especially the effort of G Ryan Zapolski. Though his overall form has left more to be desired by this American fan, he’s managed to post a .915 save percentage and 1.99 GAA. Pair that with the group’s second-best defense, which has allowed an average of 23.5 shots against in its first two showings, and the Stars and Stripes have allowed only two goals per game – the (t)best in Group B.
Speaking of leaving much to be desired, the Americans’ offense has been nothing short of anemic by scoring only two goals apiece in their first showings.
That being said, F Ryan Donato (the Bruins’ second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft) has been far and away the most exciting skater Team USA has to offer. His 2-1-3 totals lead the squad, and he owns the distinction of being the only American to score in the USA’s 2-1 victory over Slovakia Thursday night, both on the power play.
Joining Donato in averaging a point-per-game are F Brian O’Neill (1-1-2 totals) and F Chris Bourque (0-2-2). Bourque was a major part of Donato’s two-goal performance a couple days ago, as he provided the secondary assist on both of the youngster’s markers.
As for the 1-0-0-1 Olympic Athletes from Russia, it’s a question of which side is going to show up for this morning’s tilt: the team that lost 3-2 in regulation to Slovakia, or the team that dominated Slovenia to a frightening 8-2 victory.
Considering I wasn’t alone in pegging the OAR – which currently occupies third place in the group – to come away with gold medals at the end of the tournament, I’m sure the Americans are planning on another positive showing from today’s opposition.
Even factoring in the statistics from their disappointing showing against the Slovaks, the OAR still ranks among the best in Group B. That is no more apparent than when looking at Красная Машина‘s (The Red Machine) offense, which has averaged a group-leading five goals per period.
If these Olympic Games are a proper representation, it looks like the Minnesota Wild found a steal of a player in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by selecting F Kirill Kaprizov, as he’s posted dominating 4-0-4 totals in only two games played.
Hold on, I want to make sure you caught that. By averaging two goals per game, Kaprizov has single-handedly matched the entirety of Team USA’s offensive effort. If that doesn’t make American Head Coach Tony Granato‘s heart beat a bit faster, he doesn’t deserve his job anymore.
Another major player in the Russian attack is F Nikita Gusev, who’s matched Kaprizov’s four goals with four assists of his own – three of which were apples on Kaprizov markers. In total, a whopping nine OAR skaters are averaging a point per game, including the likes of F Ilya Kovalchuk (2-1-3 totals), Columbus’ sixth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft D Vladislav Gavrikov (1-1-2) and F Pavel Datsyuk (0-2-2).
Allowing an average of only 2.5 goals against per game, the Red Machine is just as strong in its defensive end, as its 17 shots allowed per game is far and away the best performance of the group. That’s allowed G Vasili Koshechkin a pretty easy tournament so far, as even though his .852 save percentage is far from impressive, it’s been good enough for him to post a 2.43 GAA.
The last time Team USA and the Russians squared off was on May 16 in group play of the 2017 IIHF World Championship in Cologne, Germany. The Americans won that game 5-3, thanks in large part to a two-goal game – including the game-winner – by F Kevin Hayes.
Perhaps the most important hint to how this game will end is found in the fact that Hayes, who provided the big goals in the last meeting between these sides, is in Ottawa today instead of PyeongChang. With that in mind, the OAR should be able to pull off the victory this morning.
However, perhaps the USA’s biggest weapon in this game is its goaltender. As Jokerit’s starter in the KHL, Zapolski has seen many of the OAR’s players. Considering he’s posted a .932 save percentage and 1.73 GAA with his professional club, perhaps he can bring that edge against the skaters he sees on a regular basis.
In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, Finland’s women’s hockey team dominated Sweden to a 7-2 victory at Kwandong Hockey Centre, setting up a rematch against the United States in the Olympic semifinals.
Everything was going the Lady Lions’ way from the opening puck drop, as they found their game-winning goal in the first period by entering the first intermission with a 3-0 advantage. F Petra Nieminen (F Venla Hovi) scored the game’s opening goal at the 6:12 mark, followed only 5:20 later by F Riikka Valila (D Isa Rahunen) scoring to set the score at 2-0.
The game-winning play started with 4:10 remaining in the frame, as that’s when Sweden’s F Maria Lindh was caught tripping a Finn to earn herself a seat in the penalty box. With the five-on-four advantage, Suomi did not disappoint, scoring with only six seconds remaining before Lindh was released. F Susanna Tapani (F Noora Tulus and F Linda Valimaki) was the one to complete the play, beating G Sara Grahn to set to give the Lady Lions a three-goal advantage.
When play resumed in the second period, Finland’s winning ways continued as it needed only 7:14 of action for F Michelle Karvinen (D Minnamari Tuominen and D Ronja Savolainen) to score what was at the time a third insurance tally. Sweden finally got on the scoreboard at the 8:53 mark when F Emma Nordin (F Erika Grahm and D Annie Svedin) sneaked a shot past G Noora Raty, but Finland once again had a four-goal advantage only 36 later when Valila (Karvinen and Tapani) scored her second goal of the match. The second period ended with a 5-2 score thanks to F Rebecca Stenberg (D Maja Nylen Persson) burying a shorthanded goal with 48 seconds remaining before the second intermission.
Any chance of a comeback by the Lady Crowns was demolished in the third period when F Emma Nuutinen (Tulus and Rahunen) and F Sanni Hakala (F Annina Rajahuhta) scored Finland’s final insurance braces, setting the score at the 7-2 final.
Raty and her defense performed marvelously in this game, as she saved 19-of-21 shots faced (.905 save percentage) for the victory. Meanwhile, Grahn took the loss after saving only eight-of-11 (.727). Following her poor performance in the first period, G Sarah Berglind took over goaltending duties for the final two frames, and she saved 16-of-20 (.8) for no decision.
Officially listed as the visitor in yesterday’s quarterfinal, the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day have pulled back within 24 points of the 70-42-17 hosts in the series.
The Original Trio reunite for a very fun-filled podcast. The Carolina Hurricanes were sold, Jaromir Jagr is soon to be unsigned, All-Star Rosters were scrutinized, US and Canada men’s national teams were analyzed and more in this action packed episode. #HealthBeforeHockey
Connor Keith returns to the Down the Frozen River scene with this season preview of the Pittsburgh Penguins. This was written before final roster cuts were made, but the season came along quickly and I kind of failed as an editor when it came to posting things in a timely manner. But that shouldn’t make any of Connor’s analysis any less valuable! Enjoy.
Pittsburgh Penguins (51-24-7, won division, second in conference)
After yet another early exit from the playoffs (fourth time kicked out of playoffs in first or second round of playoffs since winning the Cup in the 2008-’09 season), Mario Lemieux & Ronald Burkle have pulled the plug on the entire coaching staff & GM Ray Shero (2006-’14). Since then, the Penguins have hired Jim Rutherford to replace Shero, Mike Johnston to replace Dan Bylsma, & Rick Tocchet to replace Tony Granato & Tood Reirden.
Mike Johnston has yet to record a game in the NHL as a head coach, but he does have experience in head coaching. His first head coaching position was in the college ranks when he coached New Brunswick for five seasons (1989-’94). After being hired by the Canadian men’s team in 1994 as an associate coach, he took the head coaching job in 1998 for a season. He departed Team Canada for an assistant position with the Vancouver Canucks, followed by being an associate coach of the Los Angeles Kings. His most recent position is with the Portland Winterhawks (WHL), from 2008 until last season as coach & GM.
His first season witnessed the Winterhawks going 19-48-3-2, second to last in the league. The following season, Johnston’s Winterhawks (44-25-2-1) finished fourth in a competitive division for fifth in the conference, losing in the second round of the playoffs. In his third season, his team led the conference at 50-19-0-3 for third in the league. The Hawks made it all the way to the finals before losing to Kootenay. In 2011-’12, his team again made it to the finals, losing a deciding game seven.
Of course, the year the Winterhawks finally won their championship, Johnston was suspended for recruiting violations. As his violations were more connected to his GM position in a junior league, I don’t predict that he will have similar problems in Pittsburgh. He has proven that he can make rapid growth in only the course of one season, which may be exactly what the Pens need to cross the bridge between strong & elite.
Jim Rutherford is an ex-goalie (potential influence on future goalie signings, either this season or the near future?), playing for Pittsburgh from 1971 until traded to Detroit in the middle of January 1974. For the past 20 years, he has been the General Manager of the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise, winning a division championship in 1998-’99, 2001-’02, & 2005-’06, a conference championship in 2001-’02 & 2005-’06, & winning the franchise’s only Stanley Cup in the 2005-’06 season. So far with the Penguins, he has signed six free agents & traded James Neal to the Nashville Predators for Patric Hornqvist & Nick Spaling.
Of course, the biggest question Penguins have is their goaltending. Based on moves made so far, Marc-Andre Fleury is still Pittsburgh’s starting goalie. He had a save percentage of 91.5% for the regular season, averaging 2.47 goals against per game. As much as everyone likes to get on Fleury during the playoffs, he didn’t have the meltdown people like to associate with him. In fact, in his 13 playoff games, he matched his regular season save percentage exactly, as well as giving up .07 less goals in those playoff games. He also had two shutouts over the postseason (almost 29% of playoff wins were shutouts), in addition to the five he had in the regular season (13% of his wins were shutouts), tied for fourth in the league.
The Pens also retained Jeff Zatkoff, who played in 20 regular season games last year for a 20-12-6, including a shutout. His save percentage in those games was 91.2% & he allowed 2.29 goals per game.
In addition, the Penguins also signed Arizona’s backup of a season ago in Thomas Greiss. In 25 games last season, he amassed a record of 10-8-5 (two shutouts, equaling Fleury’s eight percent of games played where the opponent was held scoreless) with a save percentage of 92% (better than both Penguin goalies, but with a smaller sample than Fleury), allowing only 2.29 goals per game (lower than both Pittsburgh goalies). Based on last year’s stats alone, he may take the backup position from Zatkoff.
The Pens come into the season having lost some big names, most notably Jussi Jokinen (signed with Florida), James Neal (traded to Nashville), & Matt Niskanen (signed with Washington).
They lost two of the top four players with most regular season games with the Penguins last season in Matt Niskanen & Jussi Jokinen both playing 81 regular season games last year. Additionally, they lost seven of the top 19 players with the most playoff games with the Penguins last season in James Neal, Jussi Jokinen, Matt Niskanen, Lee Stempniak (signed with the Rangers), Joe Vitale (signed with Arizona) (all played in all 13 games), Brian Gibbons (signed with Columbus), & Tanner Glass (signed with the Rangers) (both played eight games). The Penguins are adding players that can play most of a regular season, though, in Christian Erhoff (Buffalo) & Patric Hornqvist (Nashville), who both played 75 games last season.
The Penguins are not bringing back half of their top six shot takers this year as James Neal (238), Jussi Jokinen (172), & Matt Niskanen (162, led defensemen) are not returning. These three players accounted for over 23% of the Penguins’ shots last regular season. Looking at only postseason numbers, eight of the top 19 shot-takers are not returning, as James Neal (49, led team), Jussi Jokinen (31), Matt Niskanen (24), Lee Stempniak (22), Joe Vitale (13), Brian Gibbons (11), Tanner Glass (10), & Brooks Orpik (eight, signed with Washington) are not returning. These shooters accounted for over 38% of the shots taken in the postseason.
Almost 20% of last season’s goals will not show up to training camp this season as James Neal (27) & Jussi Jokinen (21) are with other teams. The Penguins have added Patric Hornqvist (22) to try to make up for the missing goals, but he only makes up for Jokinen’s, meaning other players including new addition Nick Spaling (13 last season, acquired from Nashville) & returner Brandon Sutter (13) will need to step up their goal scoring.
Three of the leading five assisters will not be with the Penguins this season as Jussi Jokinen (36), Matt Niskanen (36, led defensemen), & James Neal (34) are not returning. To make up for this, the Pens have signed Patric Hornqvist (31), Christian Erhoff (27), & Steve Downie (20, signed from Philadelphia). These new additions don’t match the talent lost in this stat column, but they also didn’t have Sidney Crosby (36 goals), Chris Kunitz (35 goals), James Neal (27 goals), & Evgeni Malkin (23 goals) on their team.
Six of the top 11 +/- guys in the regular season have been lost, including Matt Niskanen (33, led team), James Neal (15), Jussi Jokinen (12), Brian Gibbons (five), & Lee Stempniak (five). Included in that, the Penguins also lost eight of the top 17 +/- players during the playoffs. Combined, Brooks Orpik (six), Jussi Jokinen (five), James Neal (two), Brian Gibbons (two), Tanner Glass (zero), Joe Vitale (zero), & Matt Niskanen (negative two) all total to 13, greater than the rest of the remaining team’s score of 12. To make up for these lost numbers, Pittsburgh has signed Nick Spaling (two), Patric Hornqvist (one), & Steve Downie (one). The three of them, though, only rival Jussi Jokinen’s contributions last season, so they will need to improve in that aspect.
The Penguins lost five of the top nine penalty minute earners in Tanner Glass (90, “led” the Penguins last season), Deryk Engelland (58, signed with Calgary), James Neal (55), Matt Niskanen (51), & Brooks Orpik (46). Sadly, the Pens picked up Steve Downie, who had minutes (106) equal to Neal & Niskanen combined. New hire Nick Spaling only served 14 minutes in the sin bin last season, which averaged out to almost 12 seconds per game. This will be a huge asset to keep the Penguins from defending the power play.
Present roster consists of 12 forwards, six defensemen, & three goalies (21 men).