Tag Archives: Toronto Maple Leafs

March 14 – Day 154 – Somebody’s gotta win

We’re reaching the midway point of March, meaning there’s only a few weeks separating us from playoff hockey! It’s time to get excited, fans!

Arenas start coming to life at 7 p.m. this evening with Dallas at Toronto (SN/TVAS), followed an hour later by Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers (NBCSN). San Jose at Edmonton (SN1) drops the puck at 9:30 p.m., while tonight’s co-nightcaps – New Jersey at Vegas and Vancouver at Anaheim – wait half an hour before wrapping up the night’s events. All times Eastern.

When the schedule was released before this season, I was most excited for the action in Alberta this evening since it was a rematch of a Western Quarterfinal matchup from a year ago. However, the game that must attract our attention is the other tilt taking place in Canada tonight.


The past two weeks have not been a stellar run for the 40-22-7 Maple Leafs, as they’ve posted a lowly 1-2-2 record over their past five games after rattling off a four-game winning streak.

For me, what has been really disappointing about Toronto – both lately and, really, for the entire season as a whole – has been its performance on the defensive end. Over their last five games, the Leafs have allowed 34.2 shots against per game, the ninth-most in the NHL since February 26. F Leo Komarov (3.6 hits per game since February 26), F William Nylander (eight takeaways in his past five games) and D Nikita Zaitsev (1.8 blocks per game in his last four showings [he missed Saturday’s home game against the Penguins with the flu]) have stood out lately, but the Maple Leafs just don’t seem to be getting consistent production in their own zone from the entire roster.

However, that is just a microcosm of Toronto’s season as a whole. In terms of shots against, the Leafs have been the fourth-worst team in the NHL having yielded 34 pucks per game. As Head Coach Mike Babcock’s side is quickly learning, Komarov (three hits per game for the season), F Mitch Marner (team-leading 66 takeaways in 69 games played) and Zaitsev (2.5 blocks per game all season) cannot carry this club on their own defensively.

What makes this current defensive play all the more glaring is the recent struggles of 33-18-5 G Frederik Andersen. Having managed a .919 save percentage and 2.76 GAA for the entire season, those numbers have dropped to an .885 save percentage and 4.21 GAA in his past four starts.

This is not an attack on Andersen, because his decline in play has to be related to the pure exhaustion of facing over 1900 shots this year. In fact, it’s almost entirely because of him that Toronto has allowed only 2.83 goals all season, the (t)12th-best mark in the NHL. Fortunately, he’s played only two games in the past 10 days and is coming off a 5-2 win in his past outing, so he should be well rested entering tonight’s affair.

Speaking of teams currently in playoff position not playing necessarily well right now, Toronto is hosting the 38-26-6 Stars this evening, a club that has posted only a 1-3-1 record in its last five games.

While Toronto has struggled on the defensive end lately, all of the Stars’ issues have occurred when they have the puck on their own sticks. Dallas has averaged only 1.4 goals per game since March 5, a mark that is tied with Vancouver for worst in the league in that time.

However, that’s not to say none of the Stars are finding success. In fact, with 2-3-5 totals during this run, F Tyler Seguin has managed to average a point per game since March 5 to elevate his season totals to 36-29-65, far and away the best marks on the club.

Unfortunately, it’s the rest of the team that is putting Seguin at risk of delaying his sixth playoff appearance by at least a season. Besides the three-point efforts of stellar linemates (at least as of puck drop last night) LW Jamie Benn and RW Alexander Radulov (with 2-1-3 and 1-2-3 totals, respectively), no Stars have registered more than two points over this five-game stretch.

One source of offensive production that has fallen quiet lately is D John Klingberg. Having posted 7-50-57 totals for the season, he’s managed only two assists in his past six showings. Whether he focuses on creating plays for the Benn-Seguin-Radulov super line or increasing the potency of the other three trios, he’ll be a big key in getting this Stars team back on track.

I have a hard time believing a team in any sport has nothing to play for when it steps onto its playing surface, but the Leafs have literally nothing to play for as far as the standings are concerned. Toronto trails second-place Boston by nine points, and the Bruins will have two games in hand after tonight’s events. Even if the Maple Leafs win out starting tonight, the Bruins would need only 18 points (nine victories) in their remaining 14 games to hold on to home ice in the first round of the playoffs. I just don’t see Boston dropping that many games in regulation, especially since it can still grasp the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

“Well,” you say, “maybe the Maple Leafs could still lose third place in the division?”

Yeah, that’s not happening either. Florida is in fourth place in the Atlantic, and it trails the Leafs by a dozen points. Even with the Panthers’ two games in hand – which will increase to three following tonight’s tilt – the bottom is going to need to drop out on Toronto for it to become a wild card.

Instead, this game – and every other one until the end of the regular season – is effectively a live practice situation. The Maple Leafs should take these opportunities to get healthy, work out any kinks in their game and prepare for the return of C Auston Matthews and the postseason.

The same cannot be said for the Stars, as this is a very important game for them. After losing last night in Montréal in regulation, Dallas has fallen behind Colorado and is currently the Western Conference’s second wild card. Mix in the fact that three teams trail the Stars by a maximum of only three points, and Dallas is in desperate need of a victory tonight.

When the Leafs made their annual trip to Dallas on January 25, 7-4-1 G Curtis McElhinney stole headlines with his dazzling 39-save performance. Pairing that with a two-goal performance by C Nazem Kadri, Toronto earned two points with a 4-1 victory.

There’s been a few games this season where I’ve felt so confident in a prediction that I’d consider betting the house. Today is one of those times. Dallas’ offense is anemic right now, and it is coming off a miserable 4-2 performance against a bad Canadiens team last night. Mix in the fact that the Stars have a lowly 14-16-3 record on the road, and this has the clear appearance of a Toronto victory.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Colorado Avalanche earned a 5-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Xcel Energy Center.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it’s probably no secret which club it belonged to. With 3:38 remaining in the frame, Second Star of the Game F J.T. Compher (D David Warsofsky) buried a wrist shot to give the Avs a 1-0 advantage.

The second period was a far more evenly-matched affair, as both sides came away with a marker. The first belonged to Third Star C Mikko Koivu (F Charlie Coyle) and the Wild, as he registered a wrister with 6:04 remaining in the period to level the game at 1-1. However, that scoreline lasted only 59 seconds before D Nikita Zadorov (W Blake Comeau) provided what proved to be Colorado’s game-winning goal.

Playing under four-on-four conditions due to LW Gabriel Landeskog and D Nate Prosser taking matching roughing penalties 25 seconds before Koivu’s marker, excellent forechecking by the Avalanche created this goal. Comeau initially advanced play into his offensive zone, but a sloppy pass to F Carl Soderberg resulted in F Mikael Granlund possessing the puck in the corner to G Devan Dubnyk‘s right. However, Colorado wasn’t ready to give up on the play yet, as Soderberg engaged the Finn to dislodge possession and allow Comeau a second chance at glory. He didn’t miss, as he centered a pass to Zadorov that was one-timed past Dubnyk’s glove, off the right post and into the net.

The pattern of scoring the same quantity of goals as the period’s number reached its trifecta in the final frame, as Colorado laid it on Minnesota with three markers. Having been held off the scorecard so far, F Nathan MacKinnon (D Patrik Nemeth) scored a wrister only 11 seconds into the period to give Colorado a two-goal advantage. He was followed by Compher (D Samuel Girard and W Sven Andrighetto) and F Tyson Jost (D Tyson Barrie and RW Mikko Rantanen) later in the frame, both with power play goals to set the 5-1 final score.

First Star G Semyon Varlamov earned the victory after saving 33-of-34 shots faced (.971 save percentage), leaving the loss to Dubnyk, who saved 17-of-22 (.773).

Though they would have obviously preferred to earn two points last night, the Wild are probably the happiest of the two teams coming out of this game because they know they won’t see the Avalanche again this regular season. In four meetings, Colorado dropped only one point to dominate Minnesota all year.

Things have been looking up for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series lately. Colorado’s victory was the fourth consecutive by a visitor in the series, meaning the 86-49-19 hosts’ lead has been trimmed to 37 points (Yes, those numbers don’t line up with yesterday’s. I discovered some clerical errors that have now been resolved.).

March 10- Day 150- Kane you sweep the Caps out of California?

Saturdays are a great day in the National Hockey League. Then again, Saturdays in March are pretty great in general even though we’re all going to be watching the sport on ice instead of flipping channels with that sport that started with a peach basket (ATLANTA HAD TWO NHL TEAMS!) and that Canadian guy (HOCKEY, EH!!) in Springfield, Massachusetts (AHL HOCKEY!!!).

Please ignore college basketball for one day, okay? Thanks guys.

So yeah, Saturdays are pretty great. Especially when you wake up and the heat is still running– thank you very much, power company.

While our usual DTFR Game of the Day writer, @connorzkeith, is day-to-day and recovering from minor upper body surgery, I’d like to extend a special “thank you” to @jdettro for filling in yesterday.

Thanks to the second nor’easter in about a week, I was unable to fulfill my scheduled duty of doing Connor’s job for a day as was originally planned. Luckily, the power is back on and I’m here to be the Daily Matchup boss for the day.

In the meantime, looks like New England’s going to get ravaged again by another nor’easter on Monday/Tuesday– so if this experience isn’t for you, don’t worry, my power will probably be knocked out again in a couple days.

Anyway, on with the show.

There’s a boatload of games (11, in fact) on the docket today and only one can be our DTFR Game of the Day, but if you’re trying to catch them all…

The puck drops first in the Hub of Hockey at 1 p.m. between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins nationally on NHL Network (NBCS Chicago and NESN in their respective local markets)– with the Vegas Golden Knights paying a visit to the Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning (RDS) and Winnipeg Jets at the Philadelphia Flyers all facing off at the same time.

Two hours later, the Arizona Coyotes visit the Colorado Avalanche at 3 p.m. An hour after that, the St. Louis Blues try to climb back into the playoff picture against the Los Angeles Kings on NHL Network at 4 p.m. Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks square off at four in the afternoon as well.

If you’re content with watching NHL Network all day and sitting through the thousands of J.G Wentworth commercials, then you can treat yourself to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 p.m. on NHL Network in the United States (CBC, Sportsnet & TVAS in Canada). If that’s not your thing, perhaps the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers are more of your cup of tea, because they’re also getting underway at seven o’clock.

The New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators face-off an hour later (8 p.m.) at Bridgestone Arena and the Minnesota Wild wrap up the night in Edmonton against the Oilers at 10 p.m. on CBC and Sportsnet in Canada. All times Eastern.

Here’s a few important ones circled on my calendar:

  • Chicago at Boston: Tommy Wingels will be in the lineup for the first of this home-and-home series weekend matchup against his former team. Also, Boston’s without David Backes, Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy, so there’s that.
  • Montreal at Tampa: If you like good Atlantic Division matchups, this is usually one of them, even if the Canadiens are in a rebuild.
  • Winnipeg at Philadelphia: The Jets are scary good and the Flyers are physically scary, what’s not to love in the City of Brotherly Love?
  • Arizona at Colorado: You would’ve laughed at me if I mentioned this last season, but the Coyotes are ruining their draft lottery chances by winning a lot lately and the Avalanche might be a wild card team this year, so…
  • Washington at San Jose: Both of these teams have 81 points on the season and are 2nd in their respective divisions (Capitals in the Metropolitan, Sharks in the Pacific). Fight it out!
  • Pittsburgh at Toronto: This could be a playoff matchup if the Leafs make it that far. In any case, it’s a Battle of Mikes behind the bench– Mike Sullivan and Mike Babcock.

Plenty of great match-ups to chose from, but only one can be our Game of the Day, after all. As such, let’s turn our attention to SAP Center, shall we?

Washington Capitals Logo                             Unknown

Saturday afternoon is a great time to tune into the Washington Capitals at San Jose Sharks. Other than the whole “2nd place theme” going on, the Capitals are riding into San Jose on a two-game losing streak (a 4-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday and a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday).

Washington is being outscored by the entire State of California (so far), 7-1. Braden Holtby‘s had no brakes going down the tracks all season and it doesn’t appear his defense is doing anything to help.

After allowing three goals in a little over 25 minutes against the Ducks, Holtby was pulled. Philipp Grubauer then only faced eight shots on goal, turning all of them aside.

An empty net goal was enough to seal their fate at Honda Center, however.

Head coach, Barry Trotz, gave Grubauer a nod of confidence in giving him the start against the re-surging Kings, but the night did not go as planned for the team with the league’s leader in goals– Alex Ovechkin with 40 goals thus far– being held off the scoresheet in both SoCal games.

Grubauer allowed two goals before the Capitals gave up yet another empty netter in the closing minutes at Staples Center.

For all intents and purposes, Ovechkin is two-goals shy of 600 career NHL goals.

If he’s able to get at least two pucks past a San Jose goaltender on Saturday, he’ll become just the 20th player in NHL history to score 600 goals.

Looking to recapture the momentum of their 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium last week, Washington could use two points in regulation against the on-again-off-again Sharks.

San Jose, in the meantime, enters Saturday night 2-1-0 in the month of March, outscoring opponents 11-6. A 7-2 victory at home against the Chicago Blackhawks yielded itself to an embarrassing 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Shark Tank.

Thankfully a 2-0 win on Thursday night lifted the spirits of Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Martin Jones and crew against St. Louis.

Trade deadline acquisition, Evander Kane, has fit in pretty well with the Northern California based franchise, amassing 1-4–5 totals in four games since trading in his Buffalo Sabres gear for a new teal-colored sweater.

In fact, Kane has fit in so well, he’s rejuvenated the Pavelski line with Joonas Donskoi on the other wing.

Jones will likely see his seventh straight start, but that’s no worry for the plus-14 goal differential Sharks now that Burns has begun to find his rhythm alongside… Joakim Ryan!?!

The 24-year-old rookie defenseman has three goals and nine assists (12 points) in 58 games played and is a plus-10 this season.

Veterans Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun are carrying their weight on the second defensive pair. Each of them are plus-7’s so far. Meanwhile Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo (try saying that ten times fast) solidfy the bottom pairing on the blue line.

Whereas the Capitals added Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek to their defensive zone leading up to the deadline, San Jose went after more of a spark.

It’s kind of hard to imagine where Joe Thornton will return to the lineup the way San Jose has been playing as of late. Then again, maybe that’s not a bad thing for someone who’s 38-years-old and still looking for his first Stanley Cup.

As long as the top-six forwards (Kane, Pavelski, Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture and Mikkel Boedker) don’t disappear when it counts, the Sharks should be poised to be a nice dark horse as long as they reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs down the stretch.

Despite being cash-strapped and weaker on defense, the Washington Capitals are putting together a solid season. Trotz’s team is offensively driven. It might just be enough to finally match the Pittsburgh Penguins style of constant offense in the Second Round of the postseason– but I’d hate to get ahead of ourselves.

Washington’s led the Metropolitan Division and they’re looking to regain the division lead with a win in any fashion on Saturday and a Penguins loss in regulation to Toronto later that evening.

In any case, whoever ends up in the Stanley Cup Final will have to go through a rigorous Western Conference team.

For San Jose, it could be three long rounds. For the Capitals, it might be any of the California teams they’ve played this week and, well, they’ve got some work to do.

Regardless, the Sharks want to stay hot and remain competitive– firmly in the grasp of a Pacific Division playoff spot instead of a wild card manifestation. Look for San Jose to take a bite out of Washington’s goaltending with their recent scoring prowess and 3-1-0 record through four games of their six game home stand.

The Dallas Stars took yesterday’s DTFR Game of the Day against the Anaheim Ducks by a score of 2-1 at American Airlines Center.

Ryan Getzlaf (10) kicked off the game’s scoring, giving Anaheim a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission. Corey Perry (27) and Rickard Rakell (29) notched the assists on Getzlaf’s goal at 17:16 of the 1st period.

Devin Shore (9) tied the game, 1-1, at 8:50 of the 3rd period on a power play goal. Tyler Seguin (27) and Jamie Benn (37) recorded the assists on Shore’s goal.

Benn (23) scored the game winning goal on another Stars power play at 14:50. Dallas blueliner, John Klingberg (50) reached the 50-assist plateau and Seguin (28) picked up his 2nd point of the night on Benn’s game-winner with a little more than five minutes remaining in regulation.

Dallas netminder, Kari Lehtonen, picked up the win with 26 saves on 27 shots against for a .963 save percentage. Ducks goaltender, Ryan Miller, allowed two goals on 37 shots for a .946 SV% in the loss.

The Stars were 2/2 on the power play, while Anaheim failed to convert on three man-advantages. Dallas travels to Pittsburgh for a Sunday night matchup at PPG Paints Arena on NBCSN (7:30 p.m. ET).

Anaheim is off until Monday night on home ice at Honda Center against the St. Louis Blues (10 p.m. ET).

Down the Frozen River Podcast #96- Hart to Hart Talk

Nick and Connor ponder whether or not Taylor Hall is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate, which Western Conference team (NSH, WPG or VGK) will make the Stanley Cup Final and dive into the odds of the Florida Panthers making the playoffs and/or fielding a competitive team. Also, thoughts on the Detroit Red Wings and goaltender interference.

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.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 21

Skater of the Week: Nathan MacKinnon

MacKinnon was the definition of an unstoppable force this week, and he encountered no immovable objects. With five goals (two on the power play, and two game-winners), six assists (also two on the power play), and 11 points in four games, his breakout campaign continues to the tune of 77 points in 57 games.

After notching a pair of goals and a helper on Monday against Vancouver, he put up 1-and-1 against Calgary on Wednesday, before leading his team’s 7-1 torching of Minnesota on Friday night with two goals and five assists to go with a flawless +5 rating (even more impressive when you consider one of his points was on the power play, meaning he was on the ice for six of the seven goals his team scored), before ending the week with a lone helper against Nashville.

With the Avs fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot, they’ll need their former #1 overall pick to continue his immense play down the home stretch.

Tendy of the Week: Roberto Luongo

Nobody tell the man he’s 38-years-old.

The Panthers are on an absolutely ridiculous run since the beginning of February, having won 11-of-15 games in that stretch, and Luongo (who returned from injury on February 17) has been a huge part of that. He’s lost just one game of the seven he’s played since his return, and this week was a perfect 3-0-0 for the Florida netminder.

Stopping 37-of-39 against Toronto on Tuesday, 29-of-31 against he Devils on Thursday, and capping the week turning aside 39-of-40 Philadelphia attempts on Sunday, Luongo finished the week with a .955 save percentage and 1.63 GAA as his Panthers now miraculously sit just one point outside of the final wild card spot in the east.

Catching the top three in the Atlantic is a nearly impossible task at this point, but if the other wild card teams falter (please not Columbus) and Florida continues this play, they’ll sneak their way into a very unlikely playoff birth.

Game of the Week: Philadelphia Flyers 6 @ Tampa Bay Lightning 7 (SO), Saturday March 3, 2018

I mean, this was one of those hilariously entertaining affairs that you know took years off the coaches’ lives but it was just so much fun that you couldn’t help but love it. I’m not even going to try and recap all the goals (there were 13 of them for god’s sake) but here’s what you need to know:

This was one of those rare cases where both goaltenders leave the game with numbers worthy of the waiver wire, yet somehow are also the stars of the show, as both of them made so many ridiculous saves that I honestly believe this game could have been an 11-10 final score. Two of the league’s most terrifying offenses just shelling each other with every weapon they had. Tampa came back from multi-goal deficits on two occasions, and Philadelphia had to erase a lead in the dying minutes of regulation to make it to overtime. Philly got a power play in overtime and Andrei Vasilevskiy stood on his head to survive the onslaught. Then ‘Mr. Automatic’ Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos burned Petr Mrazek in the skills competition to put away the orange menace and send the Bolts faithful home with big fat smiles on their faces.

Go watch the highlights, seriously.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Boy, Bettman. First no-showing the Olympics, then an epic snoozefest of a Stadium Series game on national television (to the point that apparently some markets turned off the game in favor of local news before it had ended). Really growing the game, aren’t we?

Max Pacioretty is likely to be out for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury, and could potentially be shut down for the remainder of the season. This, of course, would be ironic, considered his entire team has basically been shut down since opening night.

Seattle, answering the “Is it a true hockey market?” question with resounding vigor, sold out their initial 10,000 season ticket allotments in about 12 minutes, and had sold about 25,000 within a few hours.

The bad news continues for the struggling Blues, who have now lost Jay Bouwmeester for the remainder of the season to a hip injury. Starting to look like this could be a very entertaining offseason (read: someone drops a grenade in the front office) in the Gateway City.

You should go watch the Nick Seeler vs Luke Witkowski fight.

Taylor Hall has now scored in like…a million straight games or something, so that’s pretty neat.

David Poile is now the winningest General Manager in NHL history, surpassing Glen Sather at 1,320 wins between his stints with Washington and Nashville. The only GM in Predators history has yet to win the Stanley Cup, but his Nashville squad looks like just about as good a bet as any this year, and a big shiny ring on his finger would likely put Poile in the all-time greats discussion.

Phil Kessel shoved Zdeno Chara in a scrum, and everything that followed was solid comedy.

March 3 – Day 143 – You can put your mind at ease

If Saturdays are good for nothing else, the joy of having hockey on for almost 12-straight hours makes a week at work almost worth it.


Today’s action starts at 1 p.m. when Philadelphia visits Tampa Bay, followed an hour later by St. Louis at Dallas. The next matinee is a 4 p.m. tilt featuring Chicago at Los Angeles (NHLN), trailed by a pair of games (Montréal at Boston [SN/TVAS] and the New York Islanders at Pittsburgh) 60 minutes after. The evening’s festivities get underway at 8 p.m. with two matchups (Ottawa at Arizona [CITY] and Toronto at Washington [CBC/NBC/TVAS]), while the New York Rangers at Edmonton (CBC/SN/SN1) close out the night at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s more than a few important games on today’s schedule…

  • Chicago at Los Angeles: This rivalry was important when the Blackhawks were competitive.
  • Montréal at Boston: If you’re looking for a rivalry, this one…
  • New York at Pittsburgh: …and this one are the important ones on today’s schedule. You’re free to decide which should take precedence.
  • Toronto at Washington: Not only is this the much anticipated outdoor game being played at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., but it’s also a rematch of an Eastern Conference first round matchup from a season ago.

I suppose we can get into the spirit of things and see how the outdoor game goes. After all, it’s expected to be the evening’s most competitive match.


Let’s get the most important thing out of the way first:

  • Capitals fans: Your organization is honoring the days of the mid-to-late ’90s when it was having an identity crisis. Instead of donning the customary red we’ve come to know Washington for, the Caps have elected to bust out blue threads this evening. Who cares that Toronto usually wears blue and red and white are also American colors ? This game is at the Naval Academy and – gosh darn it! – the hosts from the nation’s capital are going to wear navy blue!
  • Maple Leafs fans: Yes, we know your team is usually the blue one. Not tonight. Treat it like a game in Tampa – your team is the one clad in white. Blue is bad. White is winners.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can jump into the hockey.

39-20-7 Toronto ended February with a bang, as the Leafs are currently riding a six-game point streak and have posted a 9-1-2 record in their past 12 games.

The reason the the Maple Leafs’ recent winning ways is easily their offense, which has managed a fifth-best 3.67 goals per game since February 5. Mitch Marner has been nothing short of incredible over this run, as he’s posted 8-9-17 totals in 12 games to improve his season marks to 17-36-53. Joining him in averaging at least a point per game during this run is Nazem Kadri (6-7-13 in 12 games) and Auston Matthews (5-5-10 in nine games), who’s currently on injured reserve.

Kadri has managed to make himself right at home filling in for Matthews on the top line, and he’s become best friends with Marner. They’ve combined on nine scoring plays since early February, six of which were at even-strength. Mix in some Patrick Marleau (20-14-34 totals in 66 games) magic, and the Leafs employ one heck of a top line.

Defensively, the only person worth talking about for the Leafs is G Frederik Andersen, because his defense has been abysmal for the last month by allowing 37.08 shots per game – the second-most in the NHL since February 5.

Even with that onslaught, 32-16-5 Andersen has been phenomenal. Having started 10 of the Leafs’ last 12 games, he’s posted a .924 save percentage and 2.87 GAA to earn 15 points in the standings. On the season, he now has a .922 save percentage and 2.67 GAA.

Meanwhile, the 36-21-7 Capitals have struggled to find much consistency lately, alternating wins and losses to post a 4-4-0 record over their last eight games.

As might be indicated by such a mark in recent games, Washington has been little better than average since February 15. With 6-4-10 totals in the past eight games, Alex Ovechkin has been the only consistent presence on the offensive end, and the Caps’ resulting 2.75 goals per game in that time is only (t)15th-best in the league.

That puts pressure on the defensive end to perform well, but that’s only partially happened. The defensive skaters have played decently lately, as Brooks Orpik (2.8 blocks per game since February 15) and Tom Wilson (3.1 hits per game over this run) have led the way to limit the opposition to 32.25 shots against per game over the Caps’ past eight games, the (t)13th-best mark in the NHL in that time.

However, neither 28-14-4 G Braden Holtby nor 8-7-3 G Philipp Grubauer have held up their end of the bargain, as they’ve allowed 3.25 goals per game since February 15. In fact, Holtby – tonight’s starter – has actually been outplayed by his understudy, as his .832 save percentage and 5.77 GAA have been eclipsed by Grubauer’s .949 save percentage and 1.61 GAA.

Considering Grubauer can take credit for all four of the Caps’ most recent wins, I wouldn’t be surprised if Holtby – a former Vezina winner, mind you – is on a short leash this evening.

We’re getting to the part of the season when we can bust out the words “rubber match,” and this tilt definitely qualifies. In the first two games between Toronto and Washington, the Maple Leafs took an impressive 2-0 victory at Capital One Arena way back on October 17 (Andersen took First Star honors with his 30-save shutout), followed by the Caps besting the Leafs 4-2 on November 25 at Air Canada Centre (Ovechkin registered a hat trick to lead Washington’s attack) to level the season series at 1-1-0.

It would seem both of these teams are all but ensured playoff spots given how they’ve played this season, so they’re more interested in improving seeding tonight.

Washington currently leads the Metropolitan Division by one point over Philadelphia, which has two tilts this weekend to result in the Capitals having a game in hand by Monday morning. A win is obviously important in a division where the top six clubs are separated by only 10 points, but the Caps won’t be too disappointed if they end the weekend in second place in the division.

Meanwhile, Toronto is in a full-fledged war against Boston for the all-important second position in the Atlantic Division, as the team with home ice in their likely first round series will surely have the better chance of advancing to the Eastern Semifinals. The Leafs currently trail the Bruins by one point, but the fact that Boston has four games in hand on Toronto puts a major dent in Head Coach Mike Babcock’s plans.

If Washington is going to continue its run of alternating wins and losses, it’s probably not a good thing it beat the Senators in its last showing on Tuesday. Pair that with Toronto’s stellar offense and the road team winning the first two meetings between these clubs, and I’m leaning towards the Maple Leafs earning two points tonight.

Yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day was a grind-it-out, defensive affair. Those are just the types of games the Carolina Hurricanes excel at, as they beat the New Jersey Devils 3-1 at PNC Arena.

With the exception of Carolina’s second period (13 shots on goal) and New Jersey’s third (12 SOG), neither offense was able to apply much pressure on its opposing goaltenders in terms of volume considering the remaining shot totals for either team in the remaining periods were all under 10. In particular, the Hurricanes’ defense played marvelously in the first period to limit the Devils to only six shots on goal.

That put a premium on precision scoring, and that was on full display when Third Star of the Game C Derek Ryan (F Victor Rask and D Noah Hanifin) scored the game’s opening goal with 8:10 remaining in the second period. Officially marked as a deflection scored by the center, he actually banked his shot off D Damon Severson‘s left skate to beat G Keith Kinkaid.

Another skilled scorer struck late in the second frame to tie the game at 1-1. With Ryan in the penalty box for holding him 27 seconds before and a measly 33 ticks on the clock separating him from the second intermission, F Taylor Hall (D Sami Vatanen and W Kyle Palmieri) scored a power play tip-in to extend his point streak to 24 appearances.

First Star F Teuvo Teravainen (D Brett Pesce and F Elias Lindholm) takes credit for the game-winning goal at the 9:37 mark of the final frame. Those guilty of blinking at the wrong time – like I was when watching this game live – likely missed this goal.

The play started when Lindholm slid a pass to Pesce at the center of the blue line from the right face-off circle. The defenseman one-timed a killer slap shot just wide of Kinkaid’s net that would have set up a juicy rebound off the boards, but that bounce proved unnecessary as the Finn was waiting in the corner of the slot to redirect the shot through the crease and into the goal, setting the score at 2-1.

With Jersey trailing by one and Kinkaid pulled for the extra attacker, RW Justin Williams (F Jordan Staal) scored an empty netter 22 seconds before the end of regulation to seal the Canes’ 29th victory of the season.

Second Star G Cam Ward earned the victory after saving 25-of-26 shots faced (.962 save percentage), leaving the loss to Kinkaid, who saved 27-of-29 (.931).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are rolling once again. After allowing road teams to go on a four-game streak of earning at least a point, the 77-47-19 hosts have won three in a row to take a commanding 24-point advantage in the series.

Numbers Game: March to the Playoffs

First of all, it’s March, which means it’s officially the best month of the year, but not for any of the reasons you’re thinking. College basketball can stay on the back burner– especially when there’s playoff hockey to look forward to next month when, oh yeah, that NCAA championship game actually occurs.

Save your “March is the worst month of the year” takes for the next person in line, thanks.

Anyway, at this point in the season it’s worth noting that the trade deadline has come and passed. While acquisitions like Rick Nash for the Boston Bruins, Derick Brassard for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tomas Tatar for the Vegas Golden Knights and Paul Stastny for the Winnipeg Jets will certainly impact their teams, the following projected standings are merely an educated guess at how things should pan out.

There are simply too many variables that Microsoft Excel cannot account for, namely injuries, roster changes and well, whether or not a player woke up on the right side of the bed that day.

To that end, some projected points totals had a little Gut Feeling 2.0 added to them. In other words, the Toronto Maple Leafs are not going to end up with 130 or 131 points like a couple of models showed– there’s simply not enough games remaining for them to almost match an NHL record.

Therefore, more realistic measures have been added for some teams to account for “reality”.

Some teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, for instance, had a little win-percentage on the season taken into account for their 19 remaining games on the season– and then reflected in the total number of points they should earn.

As with all stats and analytics, try not to get too bogged down on one or another. A holistic viewpoint goes much further than trying to survive on heart and grit alone.

Especially in today’s NHL, where speed and skill are more present than ever before.

With that, here’s a glance at how the standings should shake out for all 31 NHL clubs based on their performances through February 28, 2018.

As always, my degree is in communication, not math. In other words, throw everything mentioned above out the window, strap yourself in and good luck surviving the adrenaline rush that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Oh, your team’s not going to make it, you say?

My condolences, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes fans. Next year is totally your year.


2017-2018 Projected Standings after Five Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Tampa Bay Lightning, 106 points (64 GP so far)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 105 points (61 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points (66 GP so far)
  4. Montreal Canadiens, 78 points (63 GP so far)
  5. Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (63 GP so far)
  6. Florida Panthers, 75 points (60 GP so far)
  7. Buffalo Sabres, 68 points (64 GP so far)
  8. Ottawa Senators, 65 points (62 GP so far)

The Atlantic Division was already determined in December. Nothing should surprise anyone, except for how close it should be coming down the wire for first place in the division.

It might seem crazy considering the Tampa Bay Lightning really bolstered their defense with Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline, but Boston and Toronto have as much speed and offense to remain in the hunt for that little “Y” next to their names down the stretch. Plus it helps that the Lightning, Bruins and Maple Leafs aren’t playing each other every night, so that has to factor in their somehow.

Between 4th and 6th in the division it’s anyone’s game. The Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers are all teetering on the edge of either a rebuild or just a few steps away from a re-tool-on-the-fly.

Neither of them are inherently “ideal”, but they can’t do anything else to compete with Tampa, Boston and Toronto.

It’s worth noting that the Buffalo Sabres will barely climb out of the basement of the division this year. And that’s without Jack Eichel (fractured ankle).

Simply put, the Ottawa Senators are beyond bad.

Metropolitan Division

  1. z-Pittsburgh Penguins, 108 points (64 GP so far)
  2. x-Philadelphia Flyers, 99 points (63 GP so far)
  3. x-New Jersey Devils, 97 points (63 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points (63 GP so far)
  5. wc2-Washington Capitals, 94 points (64 GP so far)
  6. New York Islanders, 87 points (64 GP so far)
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 75 points (63 GP so far)
  8. New York Rangers, 72 points (64 GP so far)

After much turbulence leading up to this month in the Metropolitan Division, it seems by the end of the month, we’ll have a clear picture of who’s really a contender, who’s making a Second Round exit and who’s just pretending to be on the ice when they’re actually sending out some pretty high-tech holograms on the ice.

In other words, the Pittsburgh Penguins are suited for a three-peat as long as Matt Murray can stay healthy. Even still, they’re beginning to peak at the right time as they have done every year with Mike Sullivan behind the bench.

But who’s that neighbor of theirs in Pennsylvania? They might have to re-grease some poles in Philadelphia, because the Flyers are surging right now and it should carry them into decent playoff position.

The New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals all remain competitive, but sadly fall victim to First or Second Round exits simply because have you seen the rest of the Eastern Conference? Yeah, I thought so too.

One of these years if the Carolina Hurricanes look to actually spend a little more money they’ll be able to take their money-puck approach back to the postseason for the first time since 2009, but this year is not that year. They didn’t do anything at the deadline and it shows.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. p-Winnipeg Jets, 116 points (63 GP so far)
  2. x-Minnesota Wild, 104 points (63 GP so far)
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 100 points (62 GP so far)
  4. wc2-St. Louis Blues, 92 points (65 GP so far)
  5. Dallas Stars, 92 points (63 GP so far)
  6. Colorado Avalanche, 85 points (63 GP so far)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 70 points (63 GP so far)

Your President’s Trophy winners, ladies and gentlemen, entering March 2018 should be the Winnipeg Jets.

That’s right, the team in Winnipeg, Manitoba with a seating capacity of a little more than 15,000 fans at Bell MTS Place. That one. Winnipeg. The Western Conference’s Carolina Hurricanes. They aren’t big spenders, yet they bought exactly what they needed at the trade deadline in Paul Stastny.

Meanwhile, apparently Eric Staal‘s first hat trick in a little over five years is enough to catapult the Minnesota Wild on a surprising run down the stretch. Though they are currently 3rd in the Central Division, Minnesota is coming alive.

It’s hard to knock the Nashville Predators off of their game– especially while they’re in command of the division– but something just doesn’t go exactly as planned this month for the Preds.

They’ll still beat Minnesota in the First Round and set themselves up for quite a matchup with Winnipeg in the Second Round though. Obviously the winner of that is going to battle the Vegas Golden Knights for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

A warning to the St. Louis Blues– keep up this downward trend and the Dallas Stars will replace you in the wild card.

Whatever upper body injury is plaguing Corey Crawford is only making things worse for the Chicago Blackhawks.

In some models, they should be a lot better than they are right now, but that’s due to their impressive streak of success from 2010-17. Now, in 2018, the wheels fell off and the floor fell out from under them– on top of the Crawford injury.

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 113 points (63 GP so far)
  2. x-Los Angeles Kings, 105 points (64 GP so far)
  3. x-Anaheim Ducks, 100 points (64 GP so far)
  4. wc1-San Jose Sharks, 94 points (64 GP so far)
  5. Calgary Flames, 78 points (65 GP so far)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 78 points (63 GP so far)
  7. Vancouver Canucks, 77 points (64 GP so far)
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 63 points (62 GP so far)

The Vegas Golden Knights, in their inaugural season, come up three points shy of winning the 2017-18 President’s Trophy as the team with the best regular season record. The Vegas Golden Knights.

Despite the push from all of the California clubs, this is Vegas’s division title to lose. Not just in the regular season, but in the playoffs too.

No amount of onslaught from the Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks should be able to stand a seven-game series with Ryan Reaves and the rest of the Golden Knights. Having said that though, it’s a shame the San Jose Sharks will likely pair-up with the Jets, because we’ll never get to know if Vegas could single handedly defeat all three California teams en route to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

That’s assuming a lot, but let’s roll with it.

All season long the Calgary Flames have been a lovable underdog. Unfortunately, their time is cut short. All good things must come to an end and again, if you’re going to do nothing at the deadline as a fringe competitor, you can’t expect to improve.

At least you shouldn’t, otherwise well, you know the definition of insanity (doing the same thing and expecting a different result).

Better luck next year, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes.

Numbers Game: Boston through 60 (in 17-18)

Thanks to a nor’easter back in January that postponed a Boston Bruins-Florida Panthers matchup to the very last day of the regular season in April, the Bruins have passed the 60 game mark just in time for the trade deadline to have come and gone.

In other words, thanks to the day off between Sunday’s game in Buffalo and Tuesday night’s matchup on home ice against Carolina, I was able to put together projections for all of the new additions to the roster from the last week or two (Brian Gionta, Rick Nash, Tommy Wingels and Nick Holden).

Anyway, through 60 games of the 2017-18 season, the Boston Bruins have faltered as of late to 3rd place in the Atlantic Division with five games in hand on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Nothing to worry about– what’s that, Patrice Bergeron‘s out for at least two weeks?

Okay, still nothing to worry about. The Bruins have a secret weapon with the last name “Nash”. No, his first name’s not “Rick”, though Rick Nash could really bring this team to the next level as a result of his acquisition. The secret weapon is Riley Nash.

Yes, Riley Nash.

He’s having a career season that could result in 13-23–36 totals when all is said and done. Even with his current 10-18–28 totals in 59 games played, he’s set new career highs in all offensive categories. Imagine what an additional three goals and five assists over the next 22 games could do for Boston as they head down the stretch with some unprecedented depth-scoring.

But enough about Riley Nash, let’s take a look at the rest of the roster, shall we?

Take a look at the latest forecast for the Bruins in the charts below. As always, please keep in mind that my degree is in communication and not math or anything to do with numbers, really. My expertise is in words so if anything looks out-of-whack– it’s Microsoft Excel’s fault.

I’m just kidding.

There’s outliers in everything and not every prediction pans out. Again, these charts are only a utopian view on things– ignoring injuries, healthy scratches, sickness, bad hair days or anything else.


Boston Bruins Projections Through 60 Games (22 Games Remaining)

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Rick Nash should fit right in alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk on the second line for Boston. In turn, the second line’s offense should breakout once the chemistry of a few games together is in flawless rhythm. Rick Nash just might end up with 40 points on the season, thanks to Krejci’s golden passes.

Hopefully that means another contract at the end of the season for the pending-UFA wearing No. 61.

Brad Marchand should top the scoring list for the Bruins for yet another year, surpassing the 70-point plateau with an expected 30-44–74 totals by the end of the regular season. Fellow linemates, Bergeron and David Pastrnak should also see some fantastic results over the next 22 games.

Even with his current injury– a fractured right foot– Bergeron should be able to set a new career high in goals (33). Meanwhile, Pastrnak should cruise past the 60-point plateau, primarily setting up helpers on Marchand’s gifted offense.

Boston’s answer to their opponent’s third line on any given night? Danton Heinen.

The rookie should amass 16 goals and 36– 36!– assists (52 points) in his first full NHL season.

Looking further down the lines, Tim Schaller should reach the 20-point plateau. As a fourth liner. The rest of the fourth line? Sean Kuraly should reach 15 points. Noel Acciari should notch 11 points.

On defense, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy should put up respectable numbers for their age groups while Torey Krug continues his venture in the “live or die by the sword” life.

Krug is on pace for 51 points this season, which would match his career year of… …last season. The only problem is when he has a bad night, he has a bad night. Still, his scoring and puck moving abilities far outweigh some of his drawbacks. His counterpart, however, is in the midst of a sophomore slump.

Brandon Carlo hasn’t been great. Fear not though, he’s still a top-four defenseman moving forward. The future of the Bruins blue line is contingent upon McAvoy leading the charge with Carlo developing more of a shutdown style. Though he is only projected to score one goal this season, his offense isn’t the main focus.

His plus-minus, however, should be. Carlo has a plus-11 entering Tuesday night. He’s projected to be a plus-14. For someone that’s averaging almost 20 minutes a night a plus-3 differential in the last 22 games of the season should be a bit of a concern considering Boston’s overall improvement in goal scoring from last season to this season.

Consider giving Nick Holden a shot, Bruce Cassidy, if Carlo’s condition worsens. Conversely, give Matt Grzelcyk a try on the second pair, since he’s already on pace for a better season than Carlo.

In goal, Tuukka Rask is best limited to between 55-60 games and it’s looking like this year will keep him in that sweet spot. You’ve been warned, other 30 teams in the NHL.

Rask’s projected 2.21 goals against average and .927 save percentage rank 2nd and 3rd in his career in seasons with at least 41 games played.

Meanwhile, the real Anton Khudobin has decided to show up again. He’s a backup goaltender disguising himself as “having a ridiculous season”, well, until recently at least. A forecasted 2.44 GAA and .920 SV% isn’t the worst thing for a backup goaltender, but it doesn’t scream “is there a goaltending controversy in Boston?” (which, for the record, there never was since Tim Thomas‘s departure).

Khudobin filled in well at the beginning of the season when it mattered, but his luck has slowed. He’s performed his role well enough to earn another year in black-and-gold if Bruins general manager, Don Sweeney, chooses to send him a new contract for another year while Zane McIntyre and Dan Vladar develop in the system (or Jeremy Swayman down the road).

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 20

Skater of the Week: Evgeni Malkin

Two games. Two games is all Geno played this entire week, and he still scored six points.

Currently riding a six-game point streak with 13 total points in that time, Malkin is just torching everything in his path. In his two contests this past week he tallied a goal and two assists in Carolina before reversing the numbers in Florida. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that only one of those six points was on the power play. In fact, just two of the 13 points he’s scored in this streak were away from even strength.

The Penguins were already stacked and red-hot before adding Derick Brassard, so as of this writing, there’s no solid reason not to bet on the three-peat.

Tendy of the Week: Frederik Andersen

Possibly the quietest Vezina candidate of all time, Freddie has been stellar for basically the entire season, and is a huge reason the Leafs are where they’re at in the standings. But playing behind that offense doesn’t leave a lot of spotlight left for the Danish netminder. Not that he seems to mind.

Downing the Panthers, Islanders, and closest rival Boston during the week, Andersen posted a .939 save percentage and 1.96 GAA on the week, stopping 92 of 98 shots faced. If not for an .870 result against Boston (a game that was still a regulation win for his Leafs, mind you) where he allowed three goals on only 23 shots, Andersen’s numbers could have been even more spectacular. Still, that 3-0-0 record is probably the most important thing to him and his team.

Currently carrying a .922 save percentage and 2.67 GAA on the season to accompany a 32-16-4 record, Freddie has firmly placed his name in the category of ‘Legit #1 goaltender’, and his Toronto squad looks poised to potentially do some postseason damage.

Game of the Week: Germany 3, Artists Formerly Known as Russia 4 (OT)

International officiating is somehow actually worse than NHL officiating, believe it or not.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

*Disclaimer: Nick and Connor have been doing a great job of recapping all the trade deadline madness, so rather than repeat all the trades that they’ve already written about, I’ll simply direct you to their articles*

Mike Fisher is now o-fish-ully back with the Predators, having signed a $1 million contract for the remainder of the 2017-’18 season. The Preds definitely seem to be all-in for a Cup run this year, convincing former captain Fisher to unretire, and acquiring wrecking ball winger Ryan Hartman from division rival Chicago at the deadline.

Erik Karlsson is still an Ottawa Senator, which I suppose is great news to anyone not named Erik Karlsson.

Jack Johnson is still a Blue Jacket, and I can only assume our good friend Cap’n Cornelius can actually feel me typing those words as they dig into his soul. Oh well, at least we got to see Aaron Portzline be wrong about something again.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made another save by reaching his glove behind his back, confirming that the original was not a fluke and that he is not actually a human but rather some sort of crazy Russian android, and I feel like we’re not as concerned about that as we should be.

Brian Gionta and Cody Goloubef managed to earn the attention of NHL teams during their respective Olympic tournaments, with Goloubef getting a contract from the Flames, and Gionta (admittedly surprisingly) signing with the Bruins.

Johnny Oduya was waived by Ottawa and claimed by Philadelphia, and I can only assume he did not need transportation to make the trip from Ontario to Pennsylvania.

TRADE: Vegas ships Leipsic to Vancouver

It’s another first for the Vegas Golden Knights. I’m just kidding, they technically existed at the deadline last season (though they could participate because they had just filed their papers that day).

Anyway, the Golden Knights traded F Brendan Leipsic to the Vancouver Canucks for D Philip Holm.


Leipsic, 23, has two goals and 11 assists (13 points) in 44 games for Vegas this season after making his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2015-16 season. In 50 career NHL games, Leipsic has 3-13–16 totals.

The 5’10”, 180-pound left wing is a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba and was originally drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 3rd round (89th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

vegas_golden_knights_logoHolm, 26, appeared in his first career NHL game this season with the Canucks on February 23rd against the Golden Knights and was a minus-two in 15:12 time-on-ice.

As a depth-defenseman, Holm brings his 6’1″, 190-pound frame as some added insurance for Vegas as they journey down their first stretch run in franchise history before the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A native of Stockholm, Sweden, he was undrafted and signed a one-year entry level contract with the Canucks on May 26, 2017. He has 11-18–29 totals in 44 games with the Utica Comets (AHL) this season– his first in North America. Holm will join the Golden Knights’s AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.

February 26 – Day 138 – And the dust settles

Today’s the day, hockey fans: the NHL trade deadline is finally upon us. As of 3 p.m. Eastern, every roster will effectively look how it will for the end of the regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Once all the dust settles, there’s five games to be played tonight, with fans potentially seeing their new additions for the first time. The action begins at 7 p.m. with Washington at Columbus (SN), followed half an hour later by two more (Philadelphia at Montréal [NBCSN/RDS/TSN2] and Toronto at Tampa Bay [TVAS]). Next up is Vancouver at Colorado at 9 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at Los Angeles (SN) – waiting until 10:30 to drop the puck. All times Eastern.

I must admit: I composed this article following the completion of yesterday’s games. Because of that, the featured matchup cannot take into account any of today’s deadline deals.

That being said, there’s only one clear choice for the title of today’s most important game.






If you’re a regular listener to the DtFR Podcast, you know how much I rail on the lack of quality in the Atlantic Division (though not quite as often as the miserable Pacific). While I still stand by that claim when looking at the division as a whole, the Atlantic is also home to the best top-three of any division in the NHL.

Let’s start with the visiting 39-20-5 Maple Leafs, who have been the league’s hottest team in the past month. Since January 24, Toronto has earned a dominant 13-2-0 record by pairing a standout offense with the exemplary play of 32-16-4 G Frederik Andersen.

Sometimes, all it takes is one person to propel a team to greatness. There’s a few of those types of players on Toronto’s roster, but the one that deserves the most credit for the Maple Leafs’ recent run is Andersen. He’s played lights out since January 24, posting a solid .928 save percentage and 2.58 GAA.

Those may not be the best numbers in the league in that time, but it’s the fact that he’s been able to play so well and lead his team to allowing only a second-best 2.33 goals against per game over the past month in spite of his defense’s poor effort that makes him so important. Few netminders would be able to keep up behind a team that has allowed a second-worst 35.4 shots against per game over their past 15 showings.

Of course, there’s more to this Toronto roster than Andersen. Since January 24, the Leafs’ attack has been dominated by current first-liners F Mitch Marner (10-9-19 over this run) and C Nazem Kadri (9-10-19 totals in his past 15 games), as well as second-liner F William Nylander (5-10-15) and C Auston Matthews (7-7-14 in his last 14 games) – who landed on injured reserve yesterday with a shoulder injury that will keep him off the ice for at least seven days.

All four are averaging at least a point per game over the past month, and the top line especially looks like it could take on any defense in the league right now and find much success.

Whether or not 42-17-3 Tampa Bay’s defense will pose much of a problem tonight is certainly up for discussion, but there’s no doubting the Lightning’s offense, which has propelled them to a 4-1-0 record in their past five showings.

For those that haven’t heard: RW Nikita Kucherov is really, really good at his job. In his past five games, he’s posted disgusting 3-7-10 totals to average two points per game and elevate his point streak to nine games. Joining him in averaging a lowly point per game since February 15 are F Brayden Point (5-1-6), D Victor Hedman (1-5-6) and C Steven Stamkos (3-2-5).

Though Kucherov and Point have been playing together on the second line lately, Kucherov’s favorite dance partner over the last 11 days has been Hedman. In addition to the Russian providing the primary assist on Hedman’s goal in Ottawa on Thursday, the defenseman has contributed to another five of Kucherov’s last 10 scoring plays.

Digging even deeper into those six plays, Hedman and Kucherov have completed plays directly to each other (in other words, they both provided assists on another player’s goal or one provided the primary assist on the other’s tally) in five of the six scores. If Toronto’s defense can take away those passing lanes, it can effectively shut down Tampa’s attack.

The Lightning and Maple Leafs were scheduled for a four-game regular season series this year, and both games to take place at Air Canada Centre are already behind us. The Bolts made their first trip to Toronto on January 2, beating the Leafs 2-0 (36-12-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy earned First Star honors for his 29-save shutout). Game 2 took place on February 12, but this one favored the hosts as Toronto earned a tight 4-3 victory (LW James van Riemsdyk scored the game-winner).

While tonight’s result won’t impact the standings in terms of playoff matchups, Toronto especially can benefit from a win tonight. The Leafs currently hold on to second place in the division by only one point while the third-place Bruins have a whopping five games in hand. Any lead the Leafs can generate is important, because they’re well behind the eight ball in keeping Boston behind them at season’s end.

Of course, Tampa Bay is also more than interested in two points – especially considering the Golden Knights are also in action tonight. The Lightning have only a one-point advantage on Vegas for the Presidents’ Trophy, a lead which is even slimmer when taking into account the Knights’ game in hand.

Tampa Bay has the luxury of playing at home this evening, but I’m of the opinion that it won’t matter. Two of the three most important phases of Toronto’s game has been firing on all cylinders for the past month and show no sign of slowing down. Even without Matthews, I think the Leafs can earn two points tonight.

With an overtime goal from Second Star of the Game D Trevor Daley, the Detroit Red Wings beat the New York Rangers 3-2 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first period almost ended in a scoreless draw, but F Andreas Athanasiou (D Nick Jensen and F Dylan Larkin) didn’t seem to interested in that when he buried his wrist shot with seven seconds remaining on the clock.

Detroit’s advantage read 2-0 4:31 into the second period when F Darren Helm scored an unassisted wrister, but that advantage lasted only 3:20 before F J.T. Miller (Third Star F Ryan Spooner and D Anthony DeAngelo) pulled the Rangers back within a one-goal deficit with a slap shot.

The tale of two halves was completed with 8:44 remaining in regulation when RW Jesper Fast (F Kevin Hayes and Spooner) scored a wrister to tie the game at 2-2. Surprisingly, even though the Blueshirts fired a whopping 19 shots on goal in the third period, they could not break the tie, sending this game into overtime.

Considering they had powered all the way back from 2-0 down to tie the game, common sense would say New York had all the energy coming into the five minute three-on-three overtime period. However, both defenses rose to the occasion to allow only one combined shot on goal. Unfortunately for the Blueshirts, that shot belonged to Daley (C Frans Nielsen and F Tomas Tatar), who redirected Nielsen’s initial shot between G Henrik Lundqvist‘s legs with six seconds separating the game from the dreaded shootout.

First Star G Jimmy Howard earned the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (.947 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Lundqvist, who saved 31-of-34 (.912).

That’s the second-straight win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the 73-46-19 hosts now have only a 19-point lead over the visitors in the series.