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Toronto Maple Leafs 2018-2019 Season Preview

Toronto Maple Leafs

49-26-7, 105 points, third in the Atlantic Division

Lost in First Round to Boston, 4-3

Additions: RW Adam Cracknell, F Tyler Ennis, C Josh Jooris, C Par Lindholm, G Eamon McAdam, D Igor Ozhiganov, D Jordan Subban, C John Tavares

Subtractions: F Miro Aaltonen (signed with Vityaz Podolsk, KHL), RW Kyle Baun (signed with Belfast Giants, EIHL), C Tyler Bozak (signed with STL), W Martins Dzierkals (signed with Dinamo Riga, KHL), F Colin Greening (signed with Toronto Marlies, AHL), F Leo Komarov (signed with NYI), W Matt Martin (traded to NYI), C Tomas Plekanec (signed with MTL), D Roman Polak (signed with DAL), F Ben Smith (signed with Adler Mannheim, DEL), LW James van Riemsdyk (signed with PHI), LW Nolan Vesey (traded to EDM)

Offseason Analysis: Let’s just get this out of the way early: Johnny T is coming home!

I’m not even a Maple Leafs fan and that gets me mildly excited.

After all, Tavares is departing a team that qualified for the playoffs only thrice during his nine-year tenure and joining one that scored a (t)third-best 270 goals last season without his offensive acumen. With Tavares’ 272-349-621 career totals effectively replacing Bozak’s 136-229-365 marks in just as many seasons (the only difference being Tavares will play no lower than on the second line, while Bozak was the Leafs’ third-line center), it’s safe to say Toronto’s offense – which was already stacked by simply mentioning C Auston Matthews‘ name – is now rivaled only by Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg.

So, that means the Leafs are locks for the Stanley Cup, right? I mean, that’s what all the Toronto fans have been telling me…

Regrettably, I must poke a hole in that balloon, at least until the squad proves me wrong in the first month or so of the regular season.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubts about the Leafs’ offense. Few are going to keep up with Toronto’s attack, which may very well be capable of flirting with the 300-goal mark this year (that’s 3.66 goals per game, Leafs fans).

Instead, my concerns reside along Toronto’s blue line, and I’m sure G Frederik Andersen agrees with me. With Andersen in net last season, the Maple Leafs allowed at least 30 shots on goal 44 times.

He started 66 games last campaign.

For those struggling to do the math, Andersen – who started 80 percent of the Maple Leafs’ games last season and accrued 3889 minutes – faced at least 10 shots per period in two-thirds of his appearances.

Talk about a heavy workload.

To Andersen’s credit, he posted five shutouts and a solid .918 save percentage last season, so he performed marvelously given the immense pressure on him. However, there’s no doubt he would have preferred to see fewer than the 33.9 shots against per game coming his way, a regression from the 32.6 shots the Leafs allowed in 2016-2017.

In my last season preview, I mentioned how Pittsburgh might be a team looking to trade a defenseman should Juuso Riikola continue to impress. If that proves to be the case, General Manager Kyle Dubas would be wise to get in contact with counterpart Jim Rutherford to at least inquire about an asking price, as the Pens have exactly what the Leafs are in the market for: an established, NHL-ready defenseman with significant playoff experience.

The asking price would likely be high considering both are expected to be major players in the Eastern Conference. However, with visions of Stanley Cups dancing in their dreams, the initial cost of addressing the Maple Leafs’ defensive deficiencies likely pale in comparison to the time wasted in a contention window with a porous blue line.

Offseason Grade: B+

Yes, the Maple Leafs landed Tavares. As a result, they automatically earn better than a passing grade. However, doing little to improve a blue line that allowed the fourth-most shots has me very concerned that this club won’t see much of an improvement on that end of the ice. Dubas had better have a plan to address that issue soon, as Matthews’ contract next summer is not going to be cheap, which will make it difficult to retool the defense. In the meantime, hopefully the offense will meet or exceed expectations, as Scotiabank Arena could see more than a few high-scoring games this year.

2018-19 NHL Schedule Analysis

It’s that time of year again – it’s time to analyze the NHL’s schedule for the upcoming season.

As mentioned in last year’s edition of this post, these sorts of columns aren’t usually associated with the NHL due in large part to the fact that every team plays every other team at least twice – once at home and once on the road – for a fairly even strength of schedule for each and every club. However, there’s more than a few benchmarks on the league’s calendar, as well as some important stretches in each organization’s individual schedule, that makes each team’s campaign unique.

In terms of how the schedule can be divided, the NHL’s offering for this upcoming season is very similar to the one we just completed in June in that it can be divided into fourths. One quarter of the season – approximately 21 games played for every team – is compacted between Opening Day (scheduled for October 3) and American Thanksgiving, the second of nine days this year without any regular season play.

American Thanksgiving is not an arbitrarily picked date, mind you. Longtime fans of DtFR know there’s more than a few stat-heads in residence around here, and one of our favorites is that teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving qualify for the postseason over 75 percent of the time. For those wondering, last season was a bit wild in regards to that statistic, as only 11 (instead of the usual 12) of the teams in playoff position by the Thanksgiving Break punched tickets to the dance.

I’m not here to point fingers, but the St. Louis Blues were on top of the Western Conference when they sat down for their 2017 turkey feasts. Maybe the tryptophan stuck around for the remainder of the season?

Excuse this Blues fan’s digressions.

I usually consider the second and third quarters as one group (for those bad at math, that’s half the schedule), meaning Black Friday (November 23) to February 24 provides the main bulk of the season – approximately 41 games per team (funny how that works out to half an 82-game season, isn’t it?). Just like Thanksgiving, February 24 is not a date simply drawn out of a hat. Instead, that is the last day of play before February 25’s trade deadline.

It is in this chunk of the season that a team truly proves itself in the face of a grinding schedule, as clubs will be playing at least three games a week for 13 weeks with only two major breaks – the standard three-day Christmas holiday and the All-Star Break/bye week (more on that in a moment).

After the trade deadline, the NHL’s regular season schedule is hot and heavy until it comes to a close on April 6 (You hear that Boston? No extending the season this year!). With every club packing approximately 20 games into only 41 days, teams will effectively be in action every other day as they scramble to complete their playoff qualification or improve upon their seeding.

Of course, there’s always a few wildcards that try to mess with this system. Take, for example, the Florida Panthers, who for the second season in a row have a backlogged schedule. With only 19 games on their calendar before Thanksgiving, the Panthers will play a whopping 22 games after the deadline to close out the season, meaning they just might complete they playoff push they came so close to pulling off last season.

On the flip side, Nashville is a team that has potential to see a stellar position in the standings – say, possession of the Presidents’ Trophy like Tampa Bay had for much of the season – slip through its fingers at the bitter end. The Predators will lace up their skates only 18 times after the trade deadline for the fewest number of tilts in that time span of any club in the NHL.

In terms of spacing their games evenly across the season, the teams with the most-balanced schedules include the Avalanche, Blackhawks, Bruins, Canadiens, Flyers, Lightning, Rangers, Senators, Sharks, Stars and Wild.


This season marks the third season of bye weeks in the NHL, and the league is continuing to make adjustments on the breaks to maximize the benefits for players while minimizing the impact on its overall product.

Year 1 featured byes scattered throughout the schedule from New Year’s all the way into March, creating confusion among fans and, presumably, opposing coaching staffs alike as we tried to keep track of which organizations had taken their breaks already and which were still playing on tired legs.

To alleviate that concern, the NHL condensed all byes into the span of two weeks in January last season with relative success. Gone was the chance of catching a team that had played for four-straight months without much of a break, as well as the chance a team could enter the playoffs with any sniff of an edge due to enjoying their bye later in the season. However, what that design created was a month book-ended by the Christmas and All-Star Breaks that lacked much action, as it’s tough to have games taking place when literally half the league is resting.

In my opinion, the league just might have found a winning formula in its third try. This year’s schedule sees every team’s bye week attached to the All-Star Weekend in San Jose. 21 clubs will enjoy the majority of their breaks following the festivities on January 24-27, while the remaining 10 will take their byes before the weekend or have it split on either side of the break.

What results is a minimum of four days off for all players regardless of their participation in San Jose, plus the four days allocated to the All-Star events that only a handful of players will attend. In addition, by selecting a majority of the 10 teams that will take their byes before the All-Star Break from the Eastern Conference, the NHL can schedule those sides for enough games to fill the scheduling void since travel between those cities is far shorter than in the West.

The players get their breaks and the NHL keeps hockey in arenas and on TV: I’d say everybody wins.


My favorite days of the regular season are always when there’s 15 games on the schedule, leaving only one team inactive. I guess that means I’ll have to do my Christmas shopping on a different day, because the first of those dates is November 23 – right after American Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately for Kings fans, their favorite club will be left out in the cold that day (who am I kidding, is there ever a cold day in Los Angeles?), but they’ll get to participate in December 29’s loaded schedule at the expense of Columbus.

Finally, the last 15-game day of the calendar is on April 6 – the final day of the regular season. Just like the Kings were the first team to be absent on a slammed schedule, the Ducks will be the odd team out, as their 82nd and final game of the regular season will take place the day before against Los Angeles at Honda Center.

ANAHEIM DUCKS – eliminated in First Round, 101 points

It’s hard to tell: did the Ducks have the worst road record of any 2018 Pacific Division playoff team because of all their injuries, or because their style of play is on the verge of extinction in the NHL’s current era of speed and skill?

I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll know soon enough, as four of Anaheim’s first six games are away from Honda Center. Should the Ducks struggle in Glendale against the potentially up-and-coming Coyotes in Game 2 of the regular season on October 6, there just might be cause for concern in Orange County.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 15-27)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (December 29-January 11)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Colorado, vs. Florida, vs. Winnipeg, vs. San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary, vs. Los Angeles

ARIZONA COYOTES – 29th, 70 points

Going 0-10-1 in your opening 11 games is going to have a majorly detrimental effect on more than your overall record, so it’s no surprise the Coyotes ended the season with the worst home and road records of any club in the Western Conference. However, Arizona posted an 11-7-2 record in its last 20 games to close the campaign, so perhaps the Yotes aren’t as far off the mark as they seem on the surface.

Just like last season, Arizona’s first 11 games could answer a lot of questions about this organization moving forward, as the Coyotes have drawn a balanced schedule to open their season. Six of their first 11 opponents qualified for the playoffs last season (including Winnipeg [Oct. 20] and the Lightning [Oct. 27]), but almost all of the other five were nowhere close to the playoff bubble (Dallas [Oct. 4] was closest, but still missed the postseason by three points). Now, the Coyotes don’t necessarily have to have a winning record by the time October is through, but at least a .500 record would be reason enough to begin believing in this squad.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (February 24-March 9)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at New Jersey, at NY Islanders, vs. Chicago, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, vs. Los Angeles, at Vegas, vs. Winnipeg

BOSTON BRUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 112 points

Known for its brutal winters and Nor’easters, few look forward to making the trip to Boston during the wintertime. Count hockey players in particular among the professionals unexcited about a visit to New England, as TD Garden was home to the best home team in the Atlantic Division.

The Bruins fell just one point short of claiming the Eastern Conference crown last regular season, but they’ll have a chance to take an early lead this year when they open the season with eight-straight games against teams that failed to miss the playoffs. After visiting Washington D.C. for the Capitals’ banner raising ceremony on October 3, Boston will head to Buffalo (Oct. 4) before returning home to host the Senators (Oct. 8), Oilers (Oct. 11) and Red Wings (Oct. 13). Then, they’re off to Canada, taking on Calgary (Oct. 17), Edmonton (Oct. 18), Vancouver (Oct. 20) and Ottawa (Oct. 23) before returning home.

BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (February 15-23)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (February 26-March 9)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Islanders, at New Jersey, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Detroit, at Columbus, at Minnesota, vs. Tampa Bay

BUFFALO SABRES – 31st, 62 points

Is it a surprise that the worst home team of the NHL ended up being the worst team at the end of the season? KeyBank Center was not a friendly place for the Sabres last year, but that’s sure to change with first-overall draft pick D Rasmus Dahlin joining the club to excite the loyal Buffalo fans.

Surely to the surprise of many, the Sabres did not finish the 2017-18 season with the worst road record in the league (that belonged to division rival Montréal). 14-20-7 away from home is far from pretty, but is is certainly something to build off of as Buffalo tries to return to the postseason for the first time in eight years.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 17 days (January 14-30)

BYE WEEK: January 19-28 (10 days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 15 days (February 1-15)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at Montréal, at New Jersey, at Ottawa, vs. Detroit, at NY Islanders, vs. Columbus, vs. Nashville, vs. Ottawa, at Detroit

CALGARY FLAMES – 20th, 84 points

Teams with outstanding road records in the regular season are usually pretty dangerous in the postseason – but only if they qualify. Enter the curious case of the Calgary Flames last season, as they tied St. Louis for the honor of Best Road Team among those that failed to qualify for the playoffs with a 20-15-6 mark away from the Saddledome.

If new Head Coach Bill Peters can maintain that success in white, he’ll need to make sure his troops are in tip-top shape at the start of the New Year when the Flames begin their longest home stand. During that extended stay in Alberta, Calgary will host tough competition of the likes of the Avalanche (Jan. 9) and Panthers (Jan. 11), as well as the improving Coyotes (Jan. 13) and Sabres (Jan. 16).

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (January 9-18)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 9-16)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, at Vancouver, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Edmonton

CAROLINA HURRICANES – 21st, 83 points

Upon first glance at their 36-35-11 record, you might think you would want the Hurricanes to be traveling to your favorite team’s arena in hopes of them earning two points. However, just the opposite was true, as the Canes tied Florida for the best road record of any Eastern Conference club to miss the postseason.

With that in mind, Metropolitan rivals Pittsburgh (Feb. 5) and New Jersey (Feb. 10) cannot afford to rest on their laurels when Carolina takes to its longest road trip of the season just after the bye week, as the Hurricanes are going to be more than eager to defend their Road Warrior title.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (November 10-23)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 5-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Montréal, at Washington, vs. Washington, vs. Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh, at Toronto, vs. New Jersey, at Philadelphia

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – 25th, 76 points

My, how the mighty have fallen. After winning its most recent Stanley Cup only three years ago, Chicago took a massive tumble last season to end up in last place in the Central Division, only six points removed from the bottom of the Western Conference. To add insult to injury, the Hawks’ 18-18-5 record at home and 15-21-5 record on the road qualified them for the division’s worst in both categories.

Playoff teams take care of business at home, so that is where the Blackhawks should focus most of their energy at the start of the season. It won’t take United Center very long to spring back to life if the Hawks can earn at least 10 points on home ice in October – an easy task considering four of their seven visiting opponents that month failed to qualify for the playoffs last season.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in seven days (December 12-18)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Three games in five days – 3x (February 1-5; February 27-March 3; March 26-30)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, at Colorado, vs. Colorado, at Arizona, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, vs. Winnipeg, vs. St. Louis, vs. Dallas, at Nashville

COLORADO AVALANCHE – eliminated in first round, 95 points

This might be intrinsic of any 16 seed, but the Avs had the worst home record of any Central Division playoff team and the worst road record of all playoff teams.

Excitement in Denver for the Avalanche is growing by the minute, so I think it’s a safe assumption that Colorado will improve on its 28-11-2 mark at Pepsi Center this season. However, it’s the Avs’ 15-19-7 away record that I’m most concerned with, and they’ll get a nice, balanced road trip in January to work out the kinks in their white sweaters. That road swing starts in Winnipeg with a tough match against the Jets (Jan. 8), followed by two softer tilts against the Flames (Jan. 9) and Canadiens (Jan. 12). The intensity gets ratcheted up again with a stop in Toronto (Jan. 14) before culminating with a visit to Ottawa (Jan. 16). If Colorado can come home with at least seven points from that Canadian swing, it will be more than set up for another playoff appearance.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 8-16)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 18 days (January 19-February 5)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Minnesota, at Dallas, vs. Chicago, at Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Arizona, at St. Louis, vs. Edmonton, vs. Winnipeg, at San Jose

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – eliminated in first round, 97 points

A 2-0 advantage heading back to Nationwide Arena wasn’t enough to get the Blue Jackets their first playoff series victory, so it’s back to the drawing board again this season.

Going off last year’s table, the toughest stretch in Columbus’ schedule is surely its six-game run leading up to the Christmas break. The Jackets host the Kings (Dec. 13), Ducks (Dec. 15), Golden Knights (Dec. 17) and Devils (Dec. 20) before heading east to take on Philadelphia (Dec. 22) and New Jersey (Dec. 23). Since those last three matchups are in the division, they’re obviously more important, but if Columbus is as good as I think it is, it should come away with at least eight points over that stretch.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (December 8-20)

BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (March 16-24)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. Boston, at NY Rangers, at Ottawa

DALLAS STARS – 19th, 92 points

Dallas’ 26-12-3 home record tied with Columbus for the 13th-best home mark in the NHL last season, yet the Stars failed to qualify for the postseason (in fact, the Stars had the best home record of any Western Conference club to miss the playoffs).

That’s what draws me to the Stars’ Halloween road trip throughout the Eastern Conference. If American Airlines Center is going to maintain its status as one of the tougher places to play in this league, the Stars are going to need to expel some ghosts and improve on their road effort if they want to extend their season beyond 82 games.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (October 28-November 6)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 21 days (January 12-February 1)

BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Florida, vs. Colorado, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Philadelphia, at Chicago, vs. Minnesota

DETROIT RED WINGS – 27th, 73 points

How nice is it that the league is letting the W Filip Zadina Era officially get underway with his NHL debut taking place at home? That game might be against a solid Blue Jackets team, but there shouldn’t be an empty seat in Little Caesars Arena on October 4 in anticipation of seeing what this kid is capable of.

Unfortunately for the rebuilding Red Wings, there’s 81 more games remaining on their schedule that might not be met with quite the same fanfare. Even if Detroit is still in contention late in the season, it’ll be hard pressed to make up any ground in the standings as six of its last 10 games – including five straight – are on the road.

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (February 17-26)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (March 19-28)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Rangers, at St. Louis, at Vegas, at San Jose, at Buffalo, vs. New Jersey, vs. Boston, vs. Pittsburgh, at Pittsburgh, vs. Buffalo

EDMONTON OILERS – 23rd, 78 points

With one of, if not the best player in the game in C Connor McDavid on their team, the Oilers surely have to be better than last season, right? If that is the case, Edmonton’s comeback story will find an interesting start when it squares off against New Jersey at Sweden’s Scandinavium – the home nation of LW Pontus Aberg, D Oscar Klefbom, D Adam Larsson and RW Jesse Puljujarvi – on October 6.

However, the point of the Oilers’ schedule I’m most interested in is the seven games leading up to their bye week. All seven of those tilts will be against clubs that missed the playoffs last year, with all but one taking place at Rogers Place where the Oil were the best home team in the Pacific Division that failed to qualify for the postseason. If Edmonton can’t capitalize on a juicy stretch like that, this team is beyond hope.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (December 18-31)

BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 25-March 4)

LAST 10 GAMES: at St. Louis, vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at Vegas, at Colorado, vs. San Jose, at Calgary

FLORIDA PANTHERS – 16th, 96 points

Though finishing in ninth place in the Eastern Conference in 2017-18 is usually reason enough to predict the Panthers could qualify for the playoffs this season, there’s even more evidence for those willing to dig a little bit deeper.

The Devils (Nov. 26), Ducks (Nov. 28), Lightning (Dec. 1), Bruins (Dec. 4) and Avalanche (Dec. 6) may be coming to Sunrise during Florida’s longest home stand, but the fact that the Panthers were the NHL’s best home team to miss the playoffs will surely play in their favor. Similarly, there will be no fear in the Cats’ eyes when they travel to Philadelphia (Nov. 13), Columbus (Nov. 15) or Tampa Bay (Nov. 21) during their longest sabbatical from BB&T Center, as Florida also boasts (along with Carolina) the best road record of any Eastern Conference team to fail to qualify for the 2018 postseason.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 13-23)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 15 days (November 24-December 8)

BYE WEEK: January 22-31 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Dallas, vs. Arizona, vs. Boston, at Toronto, at Montréal, at Ottawa, at Boston, vs. Washington, vs. NY Islanders, vs. New Jersey

LOS ANGELES KINGS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points

This year’s winner of the 2018-19 Bye Lottery is none other than the Kings of Tinseltown, who’ll get a whopping 11 days off the ice to rest and recuperate for the final 32 games of their regular season.

Speaking of byes, keep an eye on the Kings in the days following American Thanksgiving. From November 24-December 4, they’ll play seven games, all of which are against competition who’s 2017-18 campaigns ended after 82 games last season. Making that slice of their schedule even sweeter, six of those sides are from within Los Angeles’ own division, meaning the Kings could start staking a real claim for the Pacific before Christmas if they take care of business – something they didn’t exactly do a good job of last season (the Kings had the worst home record of any playoff team last season).

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 17 days (October 28-November 13)

BYE WEEK: January 22-February 1 (11 days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (February 2-11)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. San Jose, vs. Anaheim, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Chicago, vs. Calgary, at Arizona, at Anaheim, vs. Vegas

MINNESOTA WILD – eliminated in First Round, 101 points

Every team looks forward to its bye week, but none will need it as much as the Wild. The toughest stretch of Minnesota’s schedule is the six games leading up to the festivities in San Jose, as all of those matchups are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs a season ago.

Minnesota starts that run in Philadelphia on January 14, followed only a day later by a visit to Xcel Energy Center by the Kings. After that, the Ducks (Jan. 17) and Blue Jackets (Jan. 19) both make trips north before the Wild head west to take on Vegas (Jan. 21) and Colorado (Jan. 23). It’s a tough run (especially the game against the Avs, against whom the Wild lost three of four games last season by a combined 19-4 score), but this Minnesota club is a veteran group that should rise to the occasion.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 14 games (October 29-November 11)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (March 11-19)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. NY Islanders, vs. Colorado, at Washington, at Carolina, vs. Nashville, at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Boston, at Dallas

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS – 28th, 71 points

The start of the season has a decent chance of being painful for the Habs (they open their campaign at Toronto [Oct. 3] and Pittsburgh [Oct. 6] before returning home to host the Kings [Oct. 11] and Penguins [Oct. 13]), but they’ll then have five-straight tilts against teams that missed the playoffs last season to warm up in anticipation of their first meeting of the year against arch-rival Boston (Oct. 27).

If the Canadiens are going to improve this campaign, they’re going to need to figure out their road woes from a season ago. Finishing the season with a league-worst 11-26-4 record away from Bell Centre is simply not going to cut it – unless Montréal is planning on drafting D Bowen Byram, F Cole Caufield or C Jack Hughes with another lottery pick next summer.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 19-31)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 22 days (January 19-February 9)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Philadelphia, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Buffalo, at Carolina, vs. Florida, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, at Washington, vs. Toronto

NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Presidents’ Trophy winner, 117 points

The Predators had their sights on something a little bit bigger than the Presidents’ Trophy last season (the Capitals know all about that plight), but their championship window is still wide open – just as long as they figure out when they want to hand the crease over to G Juuse Saros.

Of the many games and series I’m looking forward to this season, few shine as bright as the Preds’ four showdowns with Winnipeg. Fortunately for us, the first of those is scheduled for October 11 – only nine days into the 2018-19 season – but the series will really heat up in March when the final two meetings take place in the span of 23 days. Though Winnipeg is known for its home-ice advantage, Nashville has full intentions of improving on a NHL-best of its own: a 25-9-7 road record.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (November 25-December 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (January 4-13)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Minnesota, at Pittsburgh, vs. Columbus, at Buffalo, vs. Vancouver, vs. Chicago

NEW JERSEY DEVILS – eliminated in First Round, 97 points

Like a top-flight college football team, the Devils are playing a neutral-site game to open their regular season. However, what sets New Jersey apart from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and the likes is that its tilt against the Oilers will not take place in North America, but instead at Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden (homeland of W Jesper Bratt and F Marcus Johansson).

Talk about a truly impartial crowd.

Few teams are going to be looking forward to the Christmas break quite like Jersey. Starting with a showdown in Washington on November 30, the Devils will begin a series of 10-straight games against teams that were in the playoffs last season – none more anticipated than a home rematch against the Lightning on December 3.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in eight days (October 11-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 13 days (October 30-November 11)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Colorado, vs. Washington, vs. Boston, vs. Arizona, vs. Buffalo, at Detroit, vs. St. Louis, vs. NY Rangers, at Carolina, at Florida

NEW YORK ISLANDERS – 22nd, 80 points

As someone who’s never visited either Barclays Center or Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, I do not know if the Isles’ three homecoming games are going to be awesome because (a) the team returns to the building where they won four-straight Stanley Cups or (b) they’re playing in a building actually built for hockey, but I do know they’ll be awesome nonetheless.

Another thing I know is that the Islanders’ longest home stand (five games, all of which will be contested in Brooklyn) will likely not be a fun one, as C Mathew Barzal‘s side will be hosting the Maple Leafs on February 28 (complete with former captain C John Tavares), Capitals (Mar. 1) and Flyers (Mar. 3) in the span of four days, all of which were playoff teams only a few months ago. That tough stretch will do the Islanders no favors as they try to shed the label of the Metropolitan Division’s worst home team.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (October 13-20)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in eight days (February 26-March 5)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Boston, at Montréal, at Philadelphia, vs. Arizona, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, vs. Toronto, at Florida, at Washington

NEW YORK RANGERS – 24th, 77 points

There’s a few fans and analysts out there that think the Rangers can complete their rebuild and get right back into the playoffs this season. That remains to be seen, but we’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from these Blueshirts by the end of November.

No, I’m not talking about the American Thanksgiving thing that was mentioned earlier – though that is mathematically backed. Instead, I offer this note: good teams can beat other good teams, but great teams almost always defeat the clubs they’re supposed to. In that strain, eight of New York’s last nine tilts before Thanksgiving are against sides that failed to make the playoffs last year, with a majority of those tilts taking place in the Big Apple. If the Rangers can earn at least 12 points during that run, I’ll buy in that this team is for real. For them to do that, they’ll need to improve on a Metropolitan Division-worst 13-23-5 record away from Madison Square Garden.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days – 2x (October 25-November 1; February 12-19)

BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (February 2-10)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Detroit, at Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Boston, vs. St. Louis, at Philadelphia, at New Jersey, vs. Ottawa, vs. Columbus, at Pittsburgh

OTTAWA SENATORS – 30th, 62 points

We shared our hot-like-a-Canadian-Tire-fire takes in the season previews earlier this summer, but I always have my concerns about a team enjoying its longest home stand before October even comes to a close. That means much of the Senators’ travels will be condensed into six months without the opportunity for an extended series of nights sleeping in their own homes.

If Ottawa can, by some unpredictable act of God, manage to get back on track this season, it has a very favorable schedule to close the campaign. Seven of its last 10 opponents failed to qualify for the playoffs last season, and the three that did all have to come to Canadian Tire Centre. If the Sens are within six points of a playoff spot by mid-March, they could be just the team to squeak into a fifth postseason berth in the last eight seasons.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (October 10-23)

BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 14-21)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Buffalo, vs. Florida, vs. Toronto, vs. Tampa Bay, at NY Rangers, at Buffalo, vs. Columbus

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points

To all Flyers season ticket holders: consider grabbing a holiday ticket package to the 76ers this December, because you’re going to be hard pressed to watch much hockey at Wells Fargo Center that month. Of the 14 games Philadelphia will play in the final month of the year, a whopping 10 will be away from Broad Street.

Making matters even more difficult, eight of those December games will be against clubs that qualified for the postseason last year, including two contests against division rival Columbus. By midnight of January 2 (the Flyers are in Nashville on New Year’s Day), we will surely know if this season’s Philadelphia club can build upon last year’s success. If last year’s campaign is any indication, these Flyers should return to the City of Brotherly Love in good shape, as they had the best road record of any team in the Metropolitan Division last season.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days – 2x (November 8-17; February 2-11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (December 23-January 1)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Montréal, at Chicago, vs. NY Islanders, at Washington, vs. Toronto, at Carolina, vs. NY Rangers, at Dallas, at St. Louis, vs. Carolina

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points

Last season, Penguins fans bemoaned the number of back-to-back games on their favorite club’s schedule. The NHL must have heard those complaints, because there’s only 11 instances of that occurring this season, the first of which isn’t until November 23 (at Boston) and 24 (vs. Columbus) – the weekend following American Thanksgiving when every team but Minnesota and Ottawa plays two games in three days.

However, what Pittsburgh got in fewer back-to-backs, it gave up in home stands. The most consecutive home games the Pens will play this season is three, which they do a whopping six times in a 41-game home schedule at the toughest arena in the Eastern Conference (at least according to the Pens’ home record last season). That’ll lead to a lot of plane rides and hotel stays, which could wear on the squad as the season progresses.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Three games in eight days (October 4-11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 11-19)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, at Carolina, at Nashville, at Dallas, at NY Rangers, vs. Nashville, vs. Carolina, at Detroit, vs. Detroit, vs. NY Rangers

SAN JOSE SHARKS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points

Good luck finding a more balanced schedule in the Pacific Division, if not the entire NHL. The Sharks have two five-game road trips to go with their six-game home stand, and it’s rare that they have only a one-off stay at SAP Center. That means the Sharks should spend more nights in their own beds than other clubs, which will surely pay dividends later in the season when other teams are getting tired after a full season of play.

Based on last year’s standings, one of the toughest stretches of San Jose’s schedule looks like it will occur in mid-March, as the Sharks will host the Predators (Mar. 16) and Golden Knights (Mar. 18) before heading south to take on their California brethren on back-to-back days (Mar. 21 and 22). With that in mind, I’d expect San Jose to be in the mix for its seventh Pacific Division title and maybe, just maybe, a shot at the top seed in the Western Conference.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (October 5-14)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (November 11-23)

BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Vegas, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Detroit, vs. Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Calgary, at Vancouver, at Edmonton, vs. Colorado

ST. LOUIS BLUES – 18th, 94 points

One of the most striking things about the Blues’ schedule is that, of the five times they play Chicago all season, three of those showdowns are scheduled in October. If that doesn’t get F Ryan O’Reilly excited to play for the Notes, I don’t know what will.

Undoubtedly, one of the most important six-game stretches in St. Louis’ schedule occurs around American Thanksgiving, as the Blues will square off with five of last season’s Western Conference playoff teams, including a home-and-home series with the Predators on Thanksgiving Eve and Black Friday. For the Blues’ sake, hopefully G Jake Allen will choose any other time of the season for his annual month-long meltdown.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 25-November 11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 18 days (January 21-February 7)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Detroit, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Vegas, at NY Rangers, at New Jersey, vs. Colorado, at Chicago, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Vancouver

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – Prince of Wales Trophy runner-up, 113 points

There’s no way to start a campaign quite like an extended home stand, and that’s just what the Lightning have the privilege of this season. However, the Bolts can’t afford to get too comfortable (even if the toughest competition they’ll face during that home stay is Columbus on Oct. 13), as they’ll immediately embark on their longest road trip (a tour of the Western Conference) after a division tilt against the Red Wings (Oct. 18). Fortunately, they boasted the Eastern Conference’s best road record last season, so that surely won’t be a problem for them.

Coincidentally, we can combine a Californian road trip and the Blue Jackets to find the toughest stretch of Tampa Bay’s schedule – at least in terms of last season’s standings. The Bolts will head to Orange County for a New Year’s Eve showdown against the Ducks, followed three days later by a Tinseltown tilt and a jaunt up to San Jose on January 5. When C Steven Stamkos and co. return to the friendly confines of Amalie Arena on January 8, Columbus will be waiting for them to cap a four-game streak against playoff teams from a season ago – the longest such run on Tampa’s schedule.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 6-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 20-27)

BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Arizona, at Washington, at Carolina, at St. Louis, vs. Boston, vs. Washington, at Ottawa, at Montréal, at Toronto, at Boston

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – eliminated in First Round, 105 points

The Maple Leafs were good before Tavares showed up, but now Torontonians have Stanley Cups dancing in their dreams. We’ll have a discussion about the Leafs’ chances in their season preview later this summer (spoiler: that defense still hasn’t been fixed), but first it’ll be worth mentioning that they seem to have a balanced schedule in front of them.

Toronto gets a nice and easy initiation into its 2018-19 campaign by playing its first five games against clubs that failed to qualify for the 2018 postseason, but the pedal hits the metal on October 13 when five of the Maple Leafs’ next six opponents finished in the NHL’s Sweet 16. In fact, from Opening Day until American Thanksgiving, just under 60 percent of Toronto’s first 22 games will be against 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff teams, meaning the Leafs will need to be ready right out of the gate if they want to avoid playing catch-up in the standings for the remainder of the regular season.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in 10 days (December 29-January 7)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (February 9-19)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Philadelphia, at Ottawa, at NY Islanders, vs. Carolina, vs. Tampa Bay, at Montréal

VANCOUVER CANUCKS – 26th, 73 points

With RW Brock Boeser and C Bo Horvat already in Vancouver and F Elias Pettersson champing at the bit to fulfill the Canucks’ Swedish quota, it’s hard to believe British Columbia’s NHL representative can remain at the bottom of the table for many more seasons.

Pretending, if only for a moment, that this is the year the Canucks start their upward climb, their seven-game home stand that effectively closes the season (Games 81 and 82 are in Nashville [Apr. 4] and St. Louis [Apr. 6]) will play a major role in determining their postseason fate. That series starts slow with visits from the Senators (Mar. 20) and Flames (Mar. 23), but picks up some real steam when Columbus (Mar. 24), Anaheim (Mar. 26), Los Angeles (Mar. 28), Dallas (Mar. 30) and San Jose (Apr. 2) roll into town. Every point is precious that time of year, so the blue-and-green’s extended time in their own beds could provide just the edge they need to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in six seasons.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (October 6-18)

BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (March 20-April 2)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Chicago, vs. Ottawa, vs. Calgary, vs. Columbus, vs. Anaheim, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. San Jose, at Nashville, at St. Louis

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS – Stanley Cup runner-up, 109 points

In their inaugural season, the Golden Knights got blessed with an unbelievable seven-game home stand to open T-Mobile Arena (the venue that proved to be the best home-ice advantage in the Pacific Division). It looks like it’s time for the NHL to cash that $500 million check, as Vegas will embark on a five-game road trip only three days into the season after hosting the Flyers on October 4 (much to the chagrin of the rest of the league, Vegas finished last season tied with Los Angeles for the honor of “Best Visitor in the Pacific Division,” as they both had matching 22-14-5 records away from home).

Speaking of five-game runs, an important one for Vegas will get underway on Valentine’s Day. The Golden Knights host Toronto that night, followed by a visit from the Predators two days later. Then Vegas is off to Colorado (Feb. 18) before returning home to host the Bruins (Feb. 20) and Jets (Feb. 22). That is Vegas’ longest stretch of consecutive games against 2018 playoff teams, and the fact that three of those clubs are Western Conference foes means postseason seeding could be on the line.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 6-13)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 16-28)

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Detroit, at St. Louis, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, at San Jose, vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Los Angeles

WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Stanley Cup champion, 105 points

Winning a championship is hard, but successfully defending that title can be even harder. That’s the next challenge facing W Alex Ovechkin‘s crew, and we’ll see if they’re up to it after their first five games – all of which are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs last season, including rival Pittsburgh (Oct. 4) and the reigning Western Champion Golden Knights (Oct. 10).

Even if the Caps don’t come out with a solid record after that series, they’ll still have more than enough time to whip their play under new Head Coach Todd Reirden into shape, as their next eight opponents all failed to extend their seasons beyond 82 tilts.

BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (February 1-11)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 12 days (February 12-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: at New Jersey, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Carolina, at Carolina, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, vs. Montréal, vs. NY Islanders

WINNIPEG JETS – Campbell Bowl runner-up, 114 points

RW Blake Wheeler and the Jets took a major step forward last season to advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals before falling in five games to Vegas. Expectations in Manitoba are going to be extremely high this campaign, but it’ll be interesting to see if this young roster can perform with a large target on its back.

A good indication of how Winnipeg will perform under that pressure will come in the first month of play. After a nice, long home stand that ends with a major matchup against the Maple Leafs (Oct. 24) at the league’s most intimidating home arena, the Jets will take to the road for a back-to-back in Detroit (Oct. 26) and Toronto (Oct. 27), then fly to Finland (RW Patrik Laine‘s homeland) for another back-to-back against the up-and-coming Panthers (Nov. 1 and 2). If G Connor Hellebuyck and co. can come away with a winning record after that extended, 9328-mile (that’s 15 megameters, Canadians) road trip, I have no doubt these Jets will be challenging for their first division title since 2006-07’s Southeastern title as the Atlanta Thrashers.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (October 14-24)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in 13 days (January 17-29)

BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Anaheim, at Vegas, vs. Nashville, vs. Dallas, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Chicago, at Minnesota, at Colorado, at Arizona

David is Goliath: Pastrnak’s hat trick; 6 points too much for Leafs

 

 

 

 

 

If Pastafarianism wasn’t already a religion, Boston would definitely be trying to make it one. (But seriously, it is already a religion. Look it up. It’s a hoot.)

It was a rocking night at TD Garden, with Rene Rancourt bringing his two-game fist pump totals to 8 (kid’s on a roll) and the Boston crowd (that included our own @nlanciani53) was thunderous.

After having the proverbial sand kicked in their faces in Game 1, it was expected that Toronto would come into Game 2 looking for redemption, and prove they were the threat they were made out to be. Sure they’d have to do it without Nazem Kadri (serving the first of his 3 game suspension, replaced by Andreas Johnsson playing his first career NHL playoff game) in the lineup, but Boston would be without Tommy Wingels (the one who received the suspension-worthy hit, replaced by Ryan Donato also playing his first career NHL playoff game) so that should even things up, right?

It, uh…it didn’t.

The first solid action kicked off just 1:30 into the game, as Jake DeBrusk sprung Rick Nash on a breakaway with a beautiful stretch pass, but Nash would fire just wide of the net.

Soon after, it was Tuukka Rask making the game’s first notable stop, grabbing a redirect off the stick of William Nylander. On the following shift Rask covered up another puck and took a snow shower from young Kasperi Kapanen, drawing the ire of…basically everyone wearing black and gold. This seemed to be when the troubles really started for the Leafs, actually.

First it was Kevan Miller absolutely freight train-ing James van Riemsdyk in the corner to Rask’s right, igniting the Boston crowd and giving a jolt of energy to his team.

Just over 30 seconds after the big hit, the Bruins’ top line started zipping the puck around, capped off by Torey Krug firing a hard pass to a streaking David Pastrnak. The pass caught a Toronto stick and deflected up in the air, but Pastrnak somehow managed to corral the puck and settle it on his tape while doing a 360 past a Leafs defender and tucking a backhand past the outstretched pad of Frederik Andersen to take the 1-0 lead at 5:26. If you haven’t seen this goal yet, go find it.

Krug would make the church bells ring a few minutes later, firing one off of the post, shortly before Toronto took a penalty. Early in the penalty kill it looked like Toronto was going to tie the game, as Kapanen broke in alone and deked Rask out of his pants, but fired the puck right off the post and sent the play in the other direction where shortly after DeBrusk would tip in a centering feed from Krug (who had pinched all the way to the goal line on the right wing boards) to score Boston’s 4th power play goal of the series to put his team up 2-0 9:46 into the game.

Less than two and a half minutes later Boston would find the back of the net again, with another defenseman, this time being Kevan Miller from the left wing boards, would fire a pass to the middle of the ice from along the goal line. Miller’s pass hit the skate of Leafs defender Nikita Zaitsev and beat Andersen, putting Boston up 3-0 with 7:47 to play in the first.

Mike Babcock decided he had seen enough, and rather than burning a valuable timeout, he chose to make a goaltending switch to get the attention of his team, pulling Andersen in favor of Curtis McElhinney, who made just the second playoff appearance of his entire career.

Unfortunately for Babcock and the Leafs, the Bruins were having none of this attempt to slow things down. Tim Schaller made sure the building stayed in it by flattening Mitch Marner on the forecheck, leading to a fight with Ron Hainsey.

On the power play resulting from Hainsey’s instigator penalty, the Bs extra man unit improved to five-for-eight in the series when Rick Nash cleaned up the garbage from a ricocheting Pastrnak shot just 11 seconds into the man advantage, giving the Bruins a 4-0 lead at the 15:00 mark.

Toronto did manage to somewhat stop the bleeding for the final five minutes, and mounted a bit of a counter-attack, but never got a serious scoring opportunity out of it and went to the room trailing by four with little in the way of positives to build on. Boston scored four goals on eight shots, including the last three on consecutive shots.

Early in the second, Toronto finally found life, with Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner pouncing on a David Krejci turnover to set up a two-on-one, where Marner would bang in the back door goal to make it 4-1 just 1:22 into the middle frame.

Again, it took no time at all for Boston to push Toronto’s faces right back in the dirt, coming out on the very next shift and responding with two thundering hits. First it was David Backes stapling Zaitsev to the end boards behind his own net, then just a few seconds later Leo Komarov tried to step into Miller and instead ended up laying on the ice seemingly unsure of his whereabouts. Or identity. (He’d return only briefly on a power play shift a few minutes later, taking the ice for about 10 seconds before immediately returning to the locker room and never reappearing)

Then just 2:24 after the Marner goal, it would be Krejci making amends for his costly turnover by tipping a Pastrnak shot past McElhinney as he skated across the front of the net, restoring Boston’s four-goal lead 3:46 into the second.

The Leafs would get a power play soon after, but the only real opportunity they’d have was a hard wrist shot by Auston Matthews labeled for the glove side corner that Rask seemingly lackadaisically snagged out of the air.

Rick Nash and Auston Matthews traded breakaway opportunities, both on terrific power moves through defenders, but both were turned aside by the respective netminders.

Toronto again pulled within 3 when Tyler Bozak tipped home a nice spinning feed from below the goal line by Connor Brown with 10:57 remaining. They managed to build a little momentum off of this, having a few good scoring chances (Gardiner one-timer out of a netfront scramble, Marleau getting his own rebound off the end boards and nearly beating an off-balance Rask) turned aside in the next few minutes. Rask continued to be the story for most of the dying minutes, making two of his best stops with just over 4 to play, first on Matthews walking out from behind the net, then stretching out the opposite side pad to deny Patrick Marleau on the rebound. Shots were evened up at 22 at the end of the second period.

Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk spent the last part of the second and the third period nursing an apparent leg injury of some sort, often limping noticeably, but finished the game.

The early minutes of the third passed without incident, until Brown and Tomas Plekanec jumped on a loose puck after Charlie McAvoy tripped near his own blueline for a two-on-one, but Rask again turned it aside. On the following shift at the opposite end it would be McElhinney stopping a Patrice Bergeron one-timer on a feed by Brad Marchand.

With 8:26 remaining Boston would strike again, Marchand turning the puck over from Gardiner and walking in on a breakaway that Gardiner somehow managed to get back and poke check away at the last second, but before Toronto could regroup Bergeron had already retrieved the puck in the corner and handed it to Pastrnak, who walked to the front of the net almost uncontested and roofed a shot over the blocker side of McElhinney for the 6-2 lead.

JVR managed to again cut the defecit to 3 with 5:07 to play when he banged home a rebound past Rask, who had little help on the play, after a hard forecheck by Bozak caused Zdeno Chara to lose his stick, leaving him unable to tie up van Riemsdyk in front of the net.

Just to make sure the winning margin was four goals, and just because he could, Pastrnak took a Marchand pass from behind the goal line, toe dragged it between his own legs, then backhanded the puck into the net past a prone McElhinney to scored the hat trick, bring his point total to six on the night (nine in the first two games of the series), and drive the dagger firmly into the hearts of the Toronto faithful with 1:36 to play. ‘Pasta’ became the first player in franchise history to score 3+ points in each of the team’s first two playoff games of the year.

The simple fact in this series is that Toronto has yet to find any answer for the Bruins’ top line (14 points between them in Game 2). Should they be able to, they could find success, as the rest of the Boston lineup is not supremely dangerous (New Jersey has found a way to keep the Miller/Stamkos/Kucherov line quiet, but can’t match the Bolts’ ridiculous depth). But the Toronto defense looks almost helpless at times, and Rask has simply been too good for Toronto to rely upon their offense to solve all their problems.

Mike Babcock and his team will search hard for an answer, I’m sure, and will hope for a little reinvigorating energy from an energetic home crowd at the ACC. Game 3 will come to you on Monday night at 7 p.m. Eastern with DTFR coverage brought to you by shameless Boston homer @nlanciani53

March 28 – Day 168 – Expect another close one

Only four games are on today’s schedule, but there’s at least a couple stellar matchups to be seen!

First up is Florida at Toronto (SN/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Washington (NBCSN). Finally, our co-nightcaps – Arizona at Vegas and Philadelphia at Colorado – drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the night’s action. All times Eastern.

Originally, I had marked the Rangers-Capitals game as a potential featured matchup, but their rivalry has nothing on the importance of tonight’s showdown in Ontario. To Hogtown!

 

 

 

 

 

As you’d expect from a team that’s been in playoff position for basically the entire season, the 45-24-7 Maple Leafs have been a tough out lately. They’ve posted a solid 6-2-0 record over their past eight showings, due in large part to sporting the second-best attack in both the Eastern Conference and the NHL in that time.

Toronto has been as close to unstoppable as a team can get with its 4.13 goals per game since March 10. A total of five players have averaged at least a point per game over that stretch, but none have been as impressive as LW James van Riemsdyk and his 8-3-11 totals in eight outings, improving his season numbers to 34-18-52.

There’s little to argue considering van Riemsdyk has personally scored 24.2 percent of the Leafs’ last 33 goals, but his effort has been even more impressive considering the almost constant carousel of linemates he’s had to play with. In total, JVR has gotten on the scorecard with goals or assists from a total of six different forwards in his past eight games (three different forwards on the power play and five at even-strength).

In particular, van Riemsdyk has gelled especially well with C Tyler Bozak and F Mitch Marner – two of the players joining him in averaging at least a point per game since March 10. Even with a seemingly revolving door at the right wing position, Bozak has been van Riemsdyk’s constant center and has three primary assists to prove it. Meanwhile, Marner has also found success when he’s added to the mix on the power play, adding three more assists of his own.

In total, van Riemsdyk, Marner (2-9-11 totals since March 10, 20-45-65 overall), D Morgan Rielly (0-10-10 since March 10, 6-42-48 overall), Bozak (1-7-8 since March 10, 11-30-41 overall) and C Auston Matthews (1-2-3 in his three games since returning from injury, 29-24-53 overall) make up Toronto’s most consistent scoring threats during this run.

If two men can will their team to the playoffs, it has to be the 39-28-7 Panthers’ starting goaltender 15-10-2 Roberto Luongo and backup 20-13-5 James Reimer. Since March 19, Florida has posted a 4-1-0 record, and Luongo and Reimer have been a big part of it.

Florida’s goaltending is the focus tonight, and for good reason: without them, the Panthers would yield so many goals to that elite Toronto offense. After all, Florida’s defense has allowed an average of 31.2 opposing shots on goal during this five-game run, good enough for only (t)14th-best in the NHL in that time.

However, Luongo and Reimer have played marvelously despite that adversity, combining to allow only 1.6 goals against per game since March 19, the best mark in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the NHL in that time.

In his past two starts, Luongo has managed an impressive .95 save percentage and 1.51 GAA, marks eclipsed only by Reimer’s .958 save percentage and 1.33 GAA in his past three outings.

With lowly Ottawa on the schedule tomorrow night, Luongo will be in the crease this evening looking to improve his .927 season save percentage and associated 2.55 GAA.

The Panthers have so much more to gain from a victory tonight than the Leafs do its not even funny.

As things stand going into tonight’s action, the Devils have a three-point advantage on the Panthers for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card. With tonight’s tilt being one of the two games in hand Florida has on Jersey, the Panthers have to earn at least one point (two would obviously be preferable) to maintain control of their own destiny.

Meanwhile, Toronto is just sitting back and twiddling its fingers in anticipation of the playoffs. After all, the Bruins have all but locked up home ice in the first round considering they have a game in hand to go with their eight-point lead on the Leafs for second place, and Toronto has a 12-point advantage on tonight’s opponent for third. At this point, the Maple Leafs’ main goal is getting healthy and staying focused on their goal of advancing to the second round for the first time since 2004.

This has been a close matchup all season, to the point that even though the Panthers have two victories to the Leafs’ one, the clubs have earned an equal four points in tilts against each other.

Game 1 between these sides occurred way back on November 22 at BB&T Center. Led by F Nick Bjugstad, who scored Florida’s lone regulation goal as well as the game-winner in the shootout, the Panthers won that game 2-1.

Games 2 and 3 took place within a week of each other. Toronto hosted the first of those on February 20, winning 1-0 on the back of 35-20-5 G Frederik Andersen‘s 40-save performance and van Riemsdyk’s first period goal. Seven days later, the Maple Leafs and Panthers were back at it in Sunrise, where Florida took a 3-2 victory courtesy of C Jared McCann‘s overtime game-winner.

Florida has proven it can hang with the mighty Leafs so far this season, but can it perform in light of the added pressure of this playoff run? I’m leaning towards Toronto taking two points tonight, but this might be yet another matchup between these clubs that requires more than 60 minutes.


It took overtime, but the St. Louis Blues snapped the San Jose Sharks’ eight-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Scottrade Center.

This game was all about the Blues responding to adversity, as they did not lead for a single second until scoring their game-winning goal.

That adversity started 6:26 into the game when LW Evander Kane (F Melker Karlsson and D Brent Burns) buried a wrist shot to give the Sharks a 1-0 advantage. Though it didn’t respond immediately, St. Louis did eventually find its leveling goal 11:17 later courtesy of an C Oskar Sundqvist (D Colton Parayko and Second Star of the Game D Vince Dunn) wrister.

With D Joel Edmundson in the penalty box for hooking RW Timo Meier at the 6:21 mark of the second period, San Jose reclaimed a one-goal advantage when F Joe Pavelski (Burns) potted a power play tip-in after only 46 seconds with the man-advantage. However, First Star RW Vladimir Tarasenko (F Brayden Schenn and D Alex Pietrangelo) was able to return the favor with 7:57 remaining in the frame, scoring a power play wrister 58 seconds after Meier tripped him to earn a seat of his own in the sin bin. Tarasenko’s marker leveled the game once again at 2-2.

Both defenses performed incredibly in the third period. St. Louis limited the Sharks to only seven shots on goal, while San Jose allowed only nine Blues attempts. Between those 16 offerings, none got by G Jake Allen or G Aaron Dell, meaning the tilt advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

Tarasenko (F Vladimir Sobotka) needed just over half the overtime period – three seconds more, to be precise – to find the game-winner for the Notes.

The play started with a face-off at the dot to Dell’s right. Though Pavelski was able to win the draw with a little help from W Mikkel Boedker, who proceeded to take the puck into the trapezoid behind his goal, an efficient forecheck by Sobotka resulted in him ending up with possession and moving towards the right post. Having attacked the trapezoid to help Sobotka win the puck, Tarasenko was busy getting above the goal line and setting up shop outside the crease near the left goal post, meaning all Sobotka had to do was backhand a quick pass through the crease to Tarasenko to set him up for an easy wrister to win the game, the Blues’ fourth overtime victory in their past six outings.

Allen earned the victory after saving 22-of-24 shots faced (.917 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Dell, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

Hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series have now earned points in six-consecutive tilts, not to mention winning four in a row. As such, home teams now have a 94-53-21 record that is 39 points better than the roadies’.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 23

Skater of the Week: Alex Pietrangelo

How about the defenseman getting some love, huh?

In all honesty, this wasn’t even a case of picking him out for having a stellar week ‘as a defenseman’, he lead the entire league in scoring last week full-stop.

The 6-foot-3 210 pound King City, Ont. native racked up three goals and six assists in four games this past week, including a goal and two helpers on the power play. He also averaged nearly 26 minutes of ice time per game in that stretch, remaining a key cog on the St. Louis blueline with his all-around strong play.

Starting the week with a pair of assists against Anaheim on Monday, he had a forgettable outing against Colorado on Thursday with no points and a -3 rating. But after that he closed the week with a pair of stellar games, recording two goals (one on the power play) and an assist against the Rangers on Saturday, then followed up the next day with a four-point outing against Chicago, where he’d tally a goal and three assists, with two of the helpers coming on the man-advantage.

Just one point shy of tying his career-high of 51 points after just 68 games played, and having already bested his previous goal-scoring mark (he’s now at 15, having posted a prior-best 14 last season), the 28 year-old looks set to be one of the NHL’s best defenders over the next few years. His Blues team may be in a bit of a reset right now after an up-and-down campaign, but with Pietrangelo as one of their key pieces moving forward, it’s easy to think they’ll be right back at the top of the league in very short order. Plus, it’s still not at all impossible for them to sneak into the playoffs if they can finish the season strong.

Tendy of the Week: Curtis McElhinney

I tell ya, that McElhinney, he’s a pretty good backup, ain’t he?

There were more than a few terrific stretches by goaltenders this week, but I’m giving the nod to the guy you’d never expect to have a week like this. Plus, he’s a professional athlete that drives a, like, 15-year-old Volvo. He’s just the best.

C-Mac made only two starts this week, but tallied three wins (because reasons), and posted a .955 save percentage and 1.57 GAA for the week. He started the week being brought in in relief of an injured Frederik Andersen on Wednesday night against Dallas (more on that game in a minute), playing just over 30 minutes and surrendering two goals on 15 shots. Not a great stat night, but he collected the W, anyway. Then, with Andersen out the rest of the week, McElhinney got the call the next night against Buffalo, turning aside 38-of-40, and again on Saturday against Montreal where he’d blank the Habs with a 33-save shutout.

The 34-year-old career-journeyman goaltender now has a scarcely-believable 10-4-1 record this year with a 2.09 GAA and .935 save percentage. His style could be described as ‘Dominik Hasek, without the grace’, and there’s no real reason to suspect this season is any more than an anomaly in the career of a .908/2.87 goaltender, particularly one in his mid-30s, but you can’t help but root for a guy like McElhinney.

Game of the Week: Dallas Stars 5 @ Toronto Maple Leafs 6 (SO), Wednesday March 14th, 2018

Hmm, a Stars-Leafs game ended in a shootout with 11 total goals. Who could have seen that coming?

68 shots, 59 hits, a James van Riemsdyk hat trick, and a comeback home team victory, what’s not to love?

Seriously, you’re still here? Why are you not watching the highlights and/or Steve Dangle’s LFR on the game? Get outta here! GO!

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

As a member of a fanbase that once had a literal fan rally in support of essentially tactical-nuking our team’s front office, I’m fully behind the #MelnykOut movement.

William Karlsson can’t stop scoring. Part of me believes this is yet another example of my team’s eternal curse of misusing a player and then trading him away to watch him become a star (read: Jakub Voracek), but the other part of me sees a .23 shooting percentage and can’t wait to watch everyone scream about how overpaid he is in a couple years when he’s putting up 15-25-40 seasons after the Knights sign him to a 100-year, eleventy-bazillion dollar contract.

The NHL GM meetings are underway in Florida, so expect very little in the way of productive changes to rules, and expect very much in the way of surprisingly tan general managers.

@jdettro and I touched the Stanley Cup last weekend, so don’t be surprised if it rusts now.

Happy 70th birthday to Bobby Orr. I have nothing clever for this, just a birthday message.

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.).

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.

Almost.

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.

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.

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.