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Game of the week: February 25-March 3

With the trade deadline passing by on Monday, there’s only one important date remaining this regular season: April 6, the season’s finale.

However, we’re not quite focused on that date yet. Instead, let’s see what games this week had to offer:

NHL SCHEDULE: February 25-March 3
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)VISITORHOSTNATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, February 25
7 p.m.BuffaloToronto3-5
7 p.m.MontréalNew Jersey1-2
7:30 p.m.Los AngelesTampa Bay3-4 (SO)
8 p.m.EdmontonNashville2-3 (SO)
9 p.m.FloridaColorado4-3 (OT)
10 p.m.AnaheimVancouver0-4
Tuesday, February 26
7 p.m.San JoseBoston1-4
7 p.m.Calgary FlamesNew York Islanders3-1
7 p.m.BuffaloPhiladelphia2-5
7 p.m.OttawaWashington2-7
7 p.m.Los AngelesCarolina1-6
7 p.m.PittsburghColumbus5-2
7:30 p.m.MontréalDetroit8-1
8 p.m.NashvilleSt. Louis0-2
8 p.m.MinnesotaWinnipeg3-2
9 p.m.FloridaArizona3-4 (SO)
10 p.m.DallasVegas1-4
Wednesday, February 27
7 p.m.EdmontonToronto2-6
7 p.m.CalgaryNew Jersey2-1
7:30 p.m.Tampa Bay LightningNew York Rangers4-3 (OT)
9:30 p.m.VancouverColorado2-3 (SO)
10 p.m.ChicagoAnaheim4-3
Thursday, February 28
7 p.m.Toronto Maple LeafsNew York Islanders1-6
7 p.m.PhiladelphiaColumbus3-4 (OT)
7:30 p.m.Tampa BayBoston1-4
7:30 p.m.EdmontonOttawa4-2
9 p.m.VancouverArizona2-5
10 p.m.FloridaVegas5-6 (SO)
10:30 p.m.DallasLos Angeles4-3 (OT)
Friday, March 1
7 p.m.PittsburghBuffalo3-4 (OT)
7 p.m.PhiladelphiaNew Jersey6-3
7 p.m.Washington CapitalsNew York Islanders3-1
7 p.m.Montréal CanadiensNew York Rangers4-2
7:30 p.m.St. LouisCarolina2-5
8 p.m.NashvilleWinnipeg3-5
10 p.m.VegasAnaheim3-0
10:30 p.m.ColoradoSan Jose3-4
Saturday, March 2
1 p.m.EdmontonColumbus 
4 p.m.ChicagoLos AngelesNHLN
7 p.m.New JerseyBoston 
7 p.m.BuffaloTorontoCBC, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m.PittsburghMontréalSN360, TVAS
7 p.m.OttawaTampa BayCITY, TVAS2
7 p.m.CarolinaFlorida 
8 p.m.DetroitArizona 
8 p.m.DallasSt. Louis 
10 p.m.Minnesota WildCalgary FlamesCBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, March 3
12:30 p.m.Washington CapitalsNew York RangersNBC, TVAS
3 p.m.Philadelphia FlyersNew York IslandersSN1, TVAS
4 p.m.VancouverVegas 
4 p.m.ColoradoAnaheim 
5 p.m.OttawaFloridaRDS2
7 p.m.WinnipegColumbusSN
7:30 p.m.NashvilleMinnesotaNBCSN
10 p.m.ChicagoSan Jose 

There were rivalries galore to choose from this week – nine, if you want to be precise. Buffalo and Toronto waged two editions of the Battle of the QEW, with the Leafs hosting on Monday and the Sabres returning the favor tonight.

In between those meetings, the Penguins made their first visit of the season to Columbus and the Habs squared off against the Wings (both on Tuesday) and Friday featured Montréal visiting the Rangers, the Caps visiting the Islanders and the Battle of the Turnpikes. Joining Toronto and Buffalo in rivalry action today are the Blackhawks and Kings, while the Caps and Blueshirts are waiting until tomorrow to stage their derby.

In a similar strain as rivalries, we were also privy to three rematches from last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Minnesota and Winnipeg rekindled their First Round animosity on Tuesday, ending with the Wild exacting revenge for their early playoff exit. The Bolts and Bruins were at it Thursday (with Boston pulling off the 4-1 victory), while Nashville and Winnipeg scrapped for first place in the Central Division last night (the Jets recaptured the division lead with a 5-3 win).

Finally, I always try to point out the biggest homecomings, and there were three this week. Of course, none was more anticipated than C John Tavares making his first trip to Nassau Coliseum as a member of the Maple Leafs on Thursday. Tavares enjoyed nine seasons with the Islanders, including five as the club’s 14th captain. His 621 points scored while wearing blue and orange ranks fifth in franchise history, but don’t let that fool you – Islanders fans did not treat him to a warm welcome.

Also making notable homecomings were current Penguin D Jack Johnson returning to Columbus on Tuesday and current Predator F Mikael Granlund returning to St. Paul tomorrow (considering he just experienced the birth of his child, there’s actually a chance he never left Minnesota in the first place). Both spent seven seasons with their respective former clubs before joining their current organizations (Johnson via free agency this summer and Granlund via deadline trade).

However, all of those things having been listed, there’s still one more event that demands our attention. For the third week in a row, a former great of the game is seeing his number raised to the rafters. Tonight, the Calgary Flames honor RW Jarome Iginla.

It can be easily forgotten that Iginla was not drafted by the Flames, but instead by the Dallas Stars. Only two seasons removed from their departure from the State of Hockey, the Stars selected the Kamloops Blazer 11th-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.

Knowing what we know now, how Iginla fell all the way to 11th is hard to fathom. Only 10 total players from this 234-player draft class were ever named to even one NHL All-Star Game, of which only Iginla and nine-year teammate G Miikka Kiprusoff ever received end-of-season All-Star Team nods.

Regardless, Iginla likely never even thought about shopping for a Dallas apartment, as he was traded alongside C Corey Millen to Calgary (coincidentally in the same province as the city that hosted that edition of the draft: Edmonton, Iginla’s hometown) five months later for the rights to C Joe Nieuwendyk.

Nieuwendyk would go on to win the Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999 – scoring two game-winning overtime goals on the way, including one in triple-overtime against former rival Edmonton – so perhaps this was a fair trade all-in-all.

Iginla made his NHL debut during the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs (he registered 1-1-2 totals in two games played) after the Blazers lost to Spokane in the WHL’s West Division Finals 4-2. As the reigning WHL Player of the Year, Iginla registered 1-1-2 totals in his first two postseason appearances before the Flames were swept by Chicago in the Western Quarterfinals.

Iginla played all 82 games of his rookie campaign in 1996-97, registering impressive 21-29-50 totals (including three game-winning goals) to finish second in Calder voting behind fellow traded 1995 pick D Bryan Berard of the New York Islanders (he was originally drafted first-overall by Ottawa).

Like many outstanding youths, Iginla faced a rather severe sophomore slump. The winger posted only 13-19-32 marks in 70 games played, but he hopped right back on his horse for Season 3 to reemerge as a 50-point player and start a run of scoring at least 50 points in 15 of 16 seasons (interrupted only by the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign) from 1998-2015, a run that extended beyond his time in Calgary.

Of course, implying that the Flames could only count on 50 points from Iginla is undoubtedly doing his reputation a major disservice. The 51 points he scored in the 1998-99 season was only the beginning of his meteoric rise. He notched 63 points at the turn of the millennium, followed by 71 in 2000-01.

Iggy’s sixth season (2001-02) saw him set his career-high in goals with 52-44-96 totals, and everyone in the league took notice. Not only did Iginla earn his first of three First All-Star Team honors, but he also brought home more than his fair share of hardware from the NHL Awards, winning the Rocket Richard Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy and the Lester B. Pearson Award (now known as the Ted Lindsay Award).

Of course, all that hardware didn’t make up for one major hole in Iginla’s resume. Not only had he not yet won a playoff game, he hadn’t even made a playoff appearance since his NHL debut.

That changed in a massive way in 2004, Iginla’s first season as the Flames’ 18th captain in franchise history. With a 41-32-73 season that earned Iginla his first King Clancy Award and second Richard Trophy, he led the Flames to a sixth-place finish in the Western Conference and their first playoff appearance in eight seasons.

The success didn’t end there though: the Flames defeated all three of the West’s division champions, including the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Red Wings in the conference semifinals, to advance all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the East’s top seed.

As for Iginla, he hadn’t yet scored all the goals for his campaign, as he added 13 goals and 22 points in his 26 playoff games – including outstanding 5-3-8 totals in the quarterfinals against Vancouver. His 13 markers were the most by any player in the 2004 playoffs, but his side fell to the Bolts in seven games.

Iginla’s Flames would qualify for the next four playoffs after their Stanley Cup Final appearance (skipping, of course, the 2004-05 lockout-cancelled season), but each time they failed to advance beyond the First Round. During that run, the captain earned his last two nominations to the NHL’s First All-Star team, doing it consecutively in 2008 and 2009 with respective 50-48-98 and 35-54-89 seasons.

Iginla’s Flames career would end on March 28, 2013 when he was traded as a rental to Pittsburgh for LW Kenny Agostino, RW Ben Hanowski and a 2013 first-round pick that would eventually become LW Morgan Klimchuk. He would go on to play for the Bruins, Avs and Kings before being forced to hang up his skates after the 2016-17 season.

With 525-570-1095 totals in 1219 career games played for Calgary, Iginla holds franchise records for appearances, goals, points, power play goals (161) and game-winning goals (83). In terms of league records, Iginla is one of only seven players to score 30 or more goals in 11-straight seasons (all of which were with Calgary, and a streak that could have been longer if not for the 2012-13 lockout), one of 20 to reach the 600-goal plateau and one of 34 to manage at least 1300 points.

For these reasons, as well as every other detail and fact listed above, Iginla is bypassing Calgary’s “Forever a Flame” program (in which a player is honored, but his number not retired) and seeing his No. 12 rightfully join RW Lanny McDonald‘s No. 9 and G Mike Vernon‘s No. 30 as the team’s third (fourth if that Oiler’s No. 99 is included) sweater retired from circulation.

What a time to be a member of the C of Red, no? Not only is the organization honoring one of, if not the greatest to ever don the Flaming C (no disrespect intended to D Al MacInnis, McDonald and his mustache or Vernon), but this year’s team is also pretty darn exciting. They boast a 41-16-7 record that that leads San Jose for the Western Conference lead, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down with their seven-game win streak and eight-game point streak – both the best currently active in the NHL.

Dating back to Valentine’s Day, the Flames have played to a 7-0-1 record (they dropped a point to the Panthers in a shootout), largely as a result of their incredible defensive play. Entering play Friday (all stats will not take into account March 1’s eight games due to my work schedule), no team has allowed fewer shots than Calgary in the past 14 days. The Flames have allowed only 214 shots against in their past eight outings, which averages out to 26.75 shots against per game.

Leading that defensive charge has been none other than Calgary’s resident 3-H Club: D Noah Hanifin, who’s 10 takeaways since February 14 lead the team; D Travis Hamonic, who tops the squad by averaging two blocks per game during this run; and W Garnet Hathaway, the Flames’ leading body checker in the past 14 days by averaging three hits per game.

As would be expected, the most prominent place this solid defensive work is showing up is on the scoreboard, as the Flames have allowed a (t)fourth-best 1.75 goals against per game since February 14. As a result, 19-11-2 G Mike Smith has been having an easy go of it lately, made evident by his combined .93 save percentage and 1.98 GAA for his past six starts.

On the season, Smith boasts an .897 save percentage and 2.89 GAA, but his recent run of success means he’ll likely be in the crease this evening. Smith has a not-so-great 6-11-2 all-time record against the Wild, but he stopped all 31 shots faced the last time he saw them on December 6 to improve his career statistics against Minnesota to a .921 save percentage and 2.18 GAA.

Speaking of the Wild, they’re currently on a bit of a run themselves.

On the back of a four-game win streak (including wins against the Blues and Jets), Minnesota has amassed a 31-27-6 record that is currently (well, as of Friday morning) good enough for the Western Conference’s second wild card.

The main player in this recent success has undoubtedly been 25-21-5 G Devan Dubnyk, Smith’s former battery-mate with the Coyotes. Though he’s certainly received help from his defense (the Wild have allowed an average of 30.5 shots against per game in their last four outings, the 12th-best mark in the NHL in that time), he’s played lights out to allow only 1.5 goals against per tilt in his last four starts – the fourth-best mark in the league since February 21.

What makes this streak so impressive is that Dubnyk has been only a little better than average this season with his .912 save percentage and 2.59 GAA on the campaign. However, he’s elevated his game to his 2014-15 level in his last four outings to post a combined .951 save percentage and 1.49 GAA.

Impressive stuff.

Over his 10-year career, Dubnyk has squared off against Calgary 26 times and can boast a solid 11-8-4 record against the Flames. Combined, he’s managed a .923 save percentage and 2.7 GAA against Alberta’s southern franchise.

So if we’re in line for a goaltending duel, which will emerge with two points?

Personally, I like the Flames this evening. They have the advantage of playing at home with an excited C of Red behind them, as well as a better defense and more talented offense. Dubnyk might continue to stand on his head, but I think the Flames can find a way to sneak one more goal past him.

I’ll take Calgary 2-1.

Game of the week: December 3-9

It’s time once again for DtFR’s weekly featured matchup! Let’s take a gander at the NHL’s offerings for this edition, shall we?

NHL SCHEDULE: December 3-9
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 3
7 p.m. Tampa Bay New Jersey 5-1
8 p.m. Buffalo Nashville 1-2
8:30 p.m. Edmonton Dallas 1-4
Tuesday, December 4
7 p.m. Boston Florida 0-5
7 p.m. Winnipeg Jets New York Islanders 3-1
7 p.m. Colorado Pittsburgh 3-6
7 p.m. Calgary Columbus 9-6
7:30 p.m. Toronto Buffalo 4-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Montréal 2-5
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Detroit 6-5 (SO)
10 p.m. Minnesota Vancouver 3-2
10 p.m. Washington Vegas 3-5
10:30 p.m. Arizona Los Angeles 2-1
Wednesday, December 5
8 p.m. Edmonton St. Louis 3-2 (SO)
10:30 p.m. Chicago Anaheim 2-4
10:30 p.m. Carolina San Jose 1-5
Thursday, December 6
7 p.m. Detroit Toronto 5-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Colorado Florida 5-2
7 p.m. Columbus Philadelphia 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Pittsburgh Penguins 2-6
7:30 p.m. Montréal Ottawa 5-2
7:30 p.m. Boston Tampa Bay 2-3
9 p.m. Minnesota Calgary 0-2
9 p.m. Washington Arizona 4-2
10 p.m. Nashville Vancouver 3-5
10 p.m. Chicago Vegas 3-4
10:30 p.m. New Jersey Los Angeles 6-3
Friday, December 7
8 p.m. San Jose Dallas 2-3
8 p.m. St. Louis Winnipeg 1-0
9 p.m. Minnesota Edmonton 2-7
10 p.m. Carolina Anaheim 4-1
Saturday, December 8
1 p.m. Philadelphia Buffalo 6-2
4 p.m. Vegas Los Angeles 1-5
7 p.m. Toronto Boston 3-6
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Ottawa 1-2 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Detroit Red Wings 3-2
7 p.m. Colorado Tampa Bay 1-7
7 p.m. New York Rangers Florida Panthers 5-4 (SO)
7 p.m. Washington Columbus 4-0
8 p.m. San Jose Arizona 5-3
10 p.m. Nashville Calgary 2-5
Sunday, December 9
3 p.m. Vancouver St. Louis
3 p.m. Philadelphia Winnipeg TVAS
5 p.m. Boston Ottawa RDS2
6 p.m. Montréal Canadiens Chicago Blackhawks NHLN, RDS, SN, SN1
8 p.m. New Jersey Anaheim
9 p.m. Dallas Vegas
9 p.m. Calgary Edmonton SN, SN1

This week’s rivalries included the Battle of the QEW (Toronto at Buffalo), Ottawa at Montréal, Detroit at Toronto, the Islanders at Pittsburgh, Montréal at Ottawa, Toronto at Boston, Montréal at Chicago and the Battle of Alberta (Calgary at Edmonton).

In a similar strain, there were also more than a few rematches of playoff fixtures from last spring. Tampa Bay continued its beat down of New Jersey on Monday, while Vegas exacted some revenge against Washington on Tuesday. The Bolts then headed home to host Boston on Wednesday, winning 3-2. Vegas is heading to Los Angeles this afternoon looking for its fifth-straight victory against the Kings, followed by tonight’s tilt between the Capitals and Blue Jackets.

Finally, in the “player returns” department, only two really stuck out among this week’s tilts. Now a member of the Avalanche, D Ian Cole made his first trip back to Pittsburgh Tuesday to take on the club he was a member of for the past four seasons. Then, Wednesday night, C Kyle Brodziak made his first return to St. Louis as a member of a visiting team, having spent three seasons with the Blues.

Of all those, the one I’m most interested in is the Battle of Alberta, so pack your coat and start heading to the City of Champions!

Don’t everyone look all at once (it’ll make the team self-conscious), but with last night’s 5-2 win over Nashville, the 19-9-2 Calgary Flames have claimed a one-point lead for first place in the Western Conference.

Not the Pacific Division, mind you. The Flames have been running that show for about a month now. We’re talking about the entire conference.

I guess Head Coach Bill Peters knows a bit more than we give him credit for around here.

A major reason Calgary is in the position it’s in right now is due to the impressive 9-1-1 record it’s riding right now – a stretch that started with a 4-2 victory over the Oilers on November 17.

A solid argument could be made that no team in the NHL has been better than the Flames in the past three weeks, as they are among the top-three in the league in goals per game, goals against per game and shots against per game.

Starting with the offense (a stat in which Calgary ranks sixth on the entire season, averaging 3.47 goals per game), the Flames have been the class of the conference since November 17, as their 4.45 goals per game in their past 11 outings tops the West and ranks second in the NHL, trailing only Tampa Bay’s 4.58 goals per game.

Leading the charge with 6-14-20 totals in those 11 games is exactly who you expected: LW Johnny Gaudreau. Only RW Nikita Kucherov (5-18-23) has registered more points in the past 22 days than Johnny HockeyTM , but he’s also had the benefit of one extra game played.

But don’t think Gaudreau has been doing it all on his own. C Sean Monahan (9-7-16), F Elias Lindholm (7-8-15), LW Matthew Tkachuk (4-8-12), suspended D Mark Giordano (1-10-11 in 10 games played) and even fourth-liner C Alan Quine (he scored a goal in his season debut last night) are all averaging a point per game or better over this run.

Defense has been a major strength of Calgary’s all season long (the Flames’ 28 shots against per game for the entire campaign ranks third-best in the NHL), and the same can be said for the Flames’ last 11 games. Led by D Rasmus Andersson and D Travis Hamonic (both averaging 1.5 blocks per game since November 17), RW Garnet Hathaway (2.6 hits per game in the past 22 days) and Monahan (his 16 takeaways in the past 11 games lead the club), the Flames have allowed only 27.18 shots against per game since November 17- the third-lowest mark in both the Western Conference and NHL in that time.

While Peters might say he appreciates that solid defensive play, no one is happier for the Flames’ success than 11-7-1 G Mike Smith. And even though the blue line is making his job easy, Smith is putting together one of the best runs of his season so far – especially in light of his season stats.

On the campaign as a whole, Smith boasts a lowly .894 save percentage and 2.88 GAA – both stats considerably worse than backup 8-2-1 G David Rittich’s .919 and 2.39, to the point that there were more than a few calling for the Czech to assume starting duties.

However, Smith’s past six appearances have been reminiscent of his incredible 2011-12 season with the Coyotes (he posted a .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA and led the team to the Western Final), as he’s won six-straight games with a dominant .936 save percentage and 1.59 GAA in those showings.

Having been in net for last night’s home win over Nashville, Smith will likely ride the pine this evening with Rittich getting the start.

Though the 15-12-2 Edmonton Oilers currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, they only trail the second wild card Vegas Golden Knights by a point (with two games in hand, no less), so it is possible for tonight’s hosts to force themselves into the playoff picture with as little as an overtime or shootout loss.

Wait, I thought the Oilers were back to being bad again. I’m so confused.

Sometimes a change of voice from behind the bench is exactly what a team needs to get in shape, because the Oilers have been playing some solid hockey since hiring Head Coach Ken Hitchcock on November 20. Before Hitchcock arrived in Northern Alberta, the Oil boasted a record of 9-10-1, but they’ve gone on a solid 6-2-1 record since then to position themselves right on the playoffs’ doorstep.

Considering Hitchcock’s history, it wasn’t unexpected that his first goal upon taking over Edmonton was teaching his club how to play defense. Instead, the bigger surprise is that the team – one rarely known for its defensive play for its entire history – actually responded and is finding success.

Under Hitchcock, the Oilers have allowed only 29.11 shots against per game, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since November 20. Injured F Drake Caggiula (averaging 4.3 hits per game during this run), D Oscar Klefbom (averaging 2.6 blocks per game in the last 20 days) and C Connor McDavid (his 12 takeaways in his last eight appearances pace the team) have all been integral in leading this strategic shift, and the results are clearly showing in the standings.

Both G Mikko Koskinen and G Cam Talbot have shown considerable improvement playing behind this revamped defense, but Koskinen seems to have gained Hitchcock’s favor as the Oilers’ starting goaltender – at least for the time being. Though he has managed a decent .925 save percentage and 2.23 GAA for the entire season, Koskinen has posted a solid .934 save percentage and 1.82 GAA in his last six starts and will get the nod tonight.

For those wondering, Talbot’s .895 save percentage and 3.12 GAA for the season have been steadily improving under Hitch as well, as he’s managed a .925 save percentage and 2.29 GAA in his last three starts.

So, it’s time for that priceless question: who wins tonight?

With both defenses playing as well as they are right now, my immediate reaction is to pick the team with the superior offense. As that is not the style Hitchcock is having the Oilers play, that leads me to lean towards Calgary earning two points despite playing yesterday and having to travel last night/this morning.

However, with so much for Edmonton to play for and the fact that this is one of the better rivalries in the league, the only thing we can truly predict is unpredictability!

March 16 – Day 156 – If defense wins championships…

There’s a couple gems tucked within this evening’s half-dozen games!

The New York Islanders visit Washington (NHLN/SN1/TVAS) at 7 p.m. to open the evening’s events, followed by Dallas at Ottawa (RDS) half an hour later. The next two tilts (Nashville at Colorado and San Jose at Calgary) don’t drop the puck until 9 p.m., with Detroit at Anaheim (SN1) waiting another hour before getting underway. Finally, Minnesota at Vegas closes out the night with their 10:30 matchup. All times Eastern.

I’d marked half of tonight’s games as potentially important at the start of the season…

  • New York at Washington: The second half of the home-and-home between these clubs goes down tonight!
  • Dallas at Ottawa: D Marc Methot was scheduled to return to his home arena of five years tonight, but a cut on his hand kept him out of Wednesday’s tilt in Toronto. Odds are the Canadian Tire Centre crowd will have to wait another year.
  • Detroit at Anaheim: When the Red Wings were in the Western Conference, this was quite the rivalry. Considering the Ducks need every point they can get right now, this game has a chance of turning nasty in a hurry.

…but none of those rivalries have quite the significance of the Pacific Division showdown in Alberta!

 

Let’s start with the 38-23-9 San Jose Sharks, the team that currently occupies second place in the Pacific Division. San Jose has been playing relatively well lately, as it has posted a 3-1-0 record over its last four games.

Just like other points in the season when the Sharks have been finding wins left and right, defense has been the biggest key to their recent success. Led by the efforts of LW Evander Kane (3.8 hits per game since March 8) and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic (two blocks per game over this run), San Jose has limited its opposition to only 24 shots against per game since March 8, the best mark in the league in that time.

As might be expected, 24-18-6 G Martin Jones has looked really, really good considering how few pucks have come his way lately. Having started each and every one of the Sharks’ last four games, he’s posted a .926 save percentage and 1.75 GAA to elevate his season marks to a .917 save percentage and 2.48 GAA.

Between San Jose’s stellar defense and the solid play of Jones, the Sharks have allowed only two goals against per game during this four-game run, the (t)third-lowest mark in the NHL since March 8.

Defense seems to be the theme of tonight’s game, as 35-26-10 Calgary – which currently occupies 10th place in the Western Conference – has also posted a 3-1-0 record over its last four games on the back of its blueline.

Behind the exemplary play of F Sam Bennett (2.8 hits per game since March 7), D Mark Giordano (1.5 blocks per game during this four-game run) and D Travis Hamonic (five takeaways in his last four showings), the Flames have done a good job of keeping scoring threats to a minimum, as they’ve allowed only 27.75 shots against per game since March 7, the fifth-best mark in the NHL in that time.

A major reason for Calgary’s return to form has been the return to health for 24-17-6 G Mike Smith, tonight’s probable starter. Smith has split his two starts since returning to action which is largely why his .926 save percentage and 2.05 GAA doesn’t seem that impressive. However, his most recent showing against the Oilers was a good one, as he posted a 28-save shutout to improve his season marks to a .922 save percentage and 2.51 GAA.

If the Pacific Division is going to send four teams to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flames definitely need to win this game. They’re currently three points behind current second wildcard Dallas, which is playing a lowly Senators team tonight. Of course, that ignores the current ninth-place Ducks, who have two points on Calgary and is also playing a weak Red Wings team tonight.

But this isn’t college sports with confusing conference and division loyalties (It’ll never make sense to me how fans of a team want to see the same opponents they pull against almost every other day of the year all of a sudden perform well. You didn’t like them yesterday, why should you today?), so don’t expect San Jose to be spotting Calgary any points tonight. Besides, this is the Sharks’ game in hand on Los Angeles, the very club they lead for second place in the Pacific by only one point. A win tonight would go a long way in ensuring San Jose would host a potential Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs.

The Sharks have definitely had the upper hand through the first half of the season series between these clubs, as they won both December meetings. Their first contest was on December 14 at the Saddledome where San Jose took a 3-2 victory (RW Joonas Donskoi provided the game-winning goal), followed only 14 days later by a tilt in The Tank that also ended 3-2 in favor of the Sharks – though they needed a shootout to pull off the victory (D Brent Burns earned First Star honors).

Compared to the 2.5 goals per game the Flames have managed over their last four showings, San Jose’s 2.75 goals per game over their last four tilts is slightly better. With that in mind, I’m led to believe the Sharks are in line for another tight victory tonight just like in their two previous meetings with Calgary.


With a hat trick from First Star of the Game RW Cam Atkinson, the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

With eight goals being struck in the entire contest, half of the game’s scoring occurred in the first period. RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (D Seth Jones and F Sonny Milano) got on the scoreboard first with a slap shot at the 9:41 mark, and he was followed only 11 seconds later by F Boone Jenner (D Jack Johnson and W Thomas Vanek) to give the Jackets a two-goal advantage. With 8:26 remaining in the period, F Claude Giroux (F Travis Konecny and Second Star D Andrew MacDonald) buried a clapper to pull the Flyers back within a goal, but Atkinson (D Zach Werenski and LW Artemi Panarin) scored his first of the game 6:34 later to reestablish Columbus’ two-goal lead.

If Columbus dominated the first period, Philadelphia owned the second – but not without allowing what proved to be the game-winning goal to slip under its nose. Only 14 seconds into the frame, D Shayne Gostisbehere (D Ivan Provorov and C Sean Couturier) set the score at 3-2 with a power play snap shot. 3:09 later, Atkinson (D David Savard) provided the Jackets’ all-important fourth goal.

Some plays confuse the opposing goaltender, and others just straight beat him. This is one of the latter, as Savard created a breakaway opportunity by slinging a pass from the left face-off dot in his own zone to Atkinson waiting at the far blue line. After that, all Atkinson had to do was advance towards the right face-off dot before ripping a clapper through G Petr Mrazek to the far post.

Facing a 4-2 deficit, MacDonald (D Travis Sanheim and Konecny) scored a clapper with 7:37 remaining in the frame to pull the Flyers back within a goal of the Jackets.

The third period almost escaped without the scoreboard operator needing to lift a finger (no penalties occurred in the frame either), but Atkinson wasn’t about to depart the City of Brotherly Love without some black-and-orange caps. With Third Star G Alex Lyon pulled for the extra attacker, Atkinson (Panarin and Savard) skated down the ice and completed the fourth hat trick of his NHL career with only a second to spare.

G Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved six-of-10 (.6). Mrazek was lifted following Atkinson’s eventual game-winner in favor of Lyon, who saved all 18 shots he faced for no decision.

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are on quite a run lately, as they’ve earned points in six-consecutive tilts. As such, the 87-50-19 hosts now have only a 36-point lead in the season series.

March 11 – Day 151 – I’Monahan-d it to ya, today’s slate would be more interesting after a few glasses of Bailey’s.

For those of you who expected less cringe-inducing puns with @connorzkeith on the IR, these past 3 days have surely been painful. My gracious cohorts have blessed me with the weekend’s slimmest pickings on this 4-game Sunday, so let’s just have a rundown of the games on the slate, shall we?

At 12:30pm EST (so that’s 11:30am local, on the morning of the time change, so let’s see how well the legs get moving at a typical morning skate timeslot on short rest) we have the scorching-hot Boston Bruins taking on 2003’s Chicago Blackhawks (for those of us who can remember a time where they were a bad team). An Original 6 matchup at the Madhouse on Madison would normally get the nod for Game of the Day (NBC gave it to them) but the Hawks are a shell of their former selves and are limping home to lick their wounds in the offseason while Boston runs roughshod over nearly every opponent they come into contact with. I’m not expecting a barnburner here.

At 7:30pm EST we have a tilt that could be fun, with two high-flying offenses squaring off in Pittsburgh as the Penguins host the Dallas Stars. The Penguins’ balanced attack will attempt to counter the OP Benn-Seguin-Radulov combo in a showdown that wouldn’t actually shock me if the final score was 9-8. But the possibility of a blowout snoozer (in either direction) definitely persists with a pair of teams that occasionally lay absolute eggs defensively, so I’m going to pass on this one for today’s honor.

At 9:00pm EST we have the very, very bad Arizona Coyotes hosting the ‘so bad we traded Thomas Vanek for Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte‘ Vancouver Canucks in the ‘Duel for Dahlin’. I…I just cannot be bothered to care about this game.

So then we are left with just one option, and the matchup that has earned the nomination for my first (and hopefully only) Game of the Day matchup:

Yes the old bitter rivalry between the Islanders and Flames is well-documented, and this one should live up to all the hype! [/sarcasm]

Alright, but really, this has the potential to actually be sort of fun.

Calgary is returning home after winning two straight on the road (a 5-1 thumping of Buffalo and a 2-1 victory over the Sens) for the start of a brief homestand, and are currently neck-deep in an absolute knock-down, drag-out, bare-knuckle brawl for the Western Conference wild card spots (5 points seperate 5 teams) and also trail San Jose and Anaheim by just 3 and 2 points respectively for 2nd and 3rd in the Pacific division.

Meanwhile, in Long Island (Brooklyn), the Isles are clinging desperately to their playoff dreams, as they haven’t won a game since February 16th, but have managed to snag pity points in 4 of the 8 losses. They’re a solid distance off of the final wild card spot, but the Devils team they’re chasing has been a bit shaky recently, and with their next 4 games against divisional opponents, with 3 coming on home ice (in fact they play 7 of 10 at Barclays to close out March), they desperately need to use this game to grab some momentum if they hope to mount any sort of a charge at sneaking into the postseason.

In the ‘fun-to-watch’ department, both of these squads give you no shortage of reasons to tune into this tilt. Calgary boasts a trio of 20-goal men in Michael Ferlund, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk, along with 30-goal scorer Sean Monahan. The latter is probably the most underrated pure sniper in the league today, possessing the kind of shot that leaves jaws agape and goaltenders waving hopelessly at thin air. Gaudreau is as shifty and entertaining as anyone, and routinely makes plays that make you question his relationship with physics. Throw in the young trio of offensively talented spark plugs in Ferlund, Tkachuk, and Sam Bennett (55 goals, 111 points, and 134 penalty minutes between them), and you have a fun group up front.

Even on defense the Flames have no shortage of entertainers. Captain Mark Giordano continues to make his case for the best defenseman in the league that no one has heard of, joining the flashy TJ Brodie and power play specialist Dougie Hamilton as Calgary’s trio of 30+ point d-men. Plus you can always count on some bone-jarring hits from Travis Hamonic to liven things up.

For the Islanders, the offense borders on the overpowering. New York has 3 players at point-per-game paces (okay, fine, Tavares has 67 in 68 games, whatever) and a host of others scoring more than their fair share. Captain John Tavares and linemate Anders Lee are both sitting on 31 goals this year, with Tavares’ aforementioned 67 points slightly overshadowing Lee’s 51. Josh Bailey continues his breakout campaign posting 65 points in 64 games, while new addition Jordan Eberle has posted 47 points so far, himself. But the biggest story is without a doubt rookie sensation Mathew Barzal. The diminutive youngster has posted 69 points in 68 games and is the hands-down favorite for the Calder Trophy this year.

The Isles can’t boast the same defensive firepower as Calgary, but Nick Leddy‘s 38 points outdo any single member of the Flames’ big three (although his Mike Commodore ‘Green Jacket’-worthy -33 rating beggars belief). Ryan Pulock and his 105mm Howitzer of a point shot come 2nd on the team at 21 points, but possibly most impressive has been young Thomas Hickey, who’s 20 points are accompanied by a +15 rating. On a team with a -24 goal differential, that’s immensely impressive.

The biggest divider between the two squads comes in net.

Mike Smith has been everything the Flames and their flashy-but-risky style of play could have hoped for. Posting a .921 save percentage and 2.53 GAA on the year, he has been just the steadying influence the Flames have asked him to be.

Now…for the Islanders…basically the entirety of their problems can be traced to their goaltending situation. As I wrote in my season preview article many months ago, for New York it was going to come down to either Jaroslav Halak takes over the net and leads them to success, or they’re going to have a bad time.

They’re having a bad time.

Halak has managed just a .908 save percentage with a 3.23 GAA in 47 contests this year, and while backup Thomas Greiss does possess a seemingly-fine 11-7-2 record, many of his appearances have been in relief and his numbers are even more abysmal at .891 and 3.84. If the Islanders had even average goaltending, that offense would have them firmly in the playoff picture. Instead, they’re clinging to hopes and dreams.

Two hungry teams with flashy offenses and risky styles of play should make for a fun game, so I’ll put my stamp on Islanders @ Flames for today’s DTFR Game of the Day.

In yesterday’s Game of the Day segment, @nlanciani53 told you that you should watch the Washington Capitals attempt to right the ship on their west coast swing against the San Jose Sharks.

I assume he’d like me to apologize for that.

On a day full of fun games, the Sharks and Caps played to a bit of a snoozer, with Washington eventually winning 2-0 in the Shark Tank.

Philipp Grubauer managed a 23-save shutout, but teammate Alex Ovechkin was also shutout once again in his pursuit of 600 career goals. In fact, aside from Nick Backstrom tally in the final 2 minutes of the 2nd period, nobody managed to beat a goaltender the entire game, as Lars Eller‘s 2-0 dagger was scored into an empty net in the 3rd.

March 5 – Day 145 – Tastes like chicken

It’s another fun-filled Monday in the NHL, as five games are on tonight’s schedule.

The action finds its start at 7 p.m. with Calgary at Pittsburgh (SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by Toronto at Buffalo (NBCSN). Next up is Ottawa at Dallas (RDS) at 8:30 p.m., with Arizona at Edmonton waiting 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Finally, the New York Islanders visit Vancouver at 10 p.m. as tonight’s nightcap. All times Eastern.

I’d marked the Battle of the QEW on my calendar before the season started, but the Sabres have been just too disappointing this season to merit our honing in on that game.

Instead, let’s see what the Flames have to offer against the two-time defending champions.

 

After enjoying the thrills of an eight-game point streak and six-game winning streak, the last four tilts have not been a pleasurable experience for the 37-25-4 Penguins. Since February 24, Pittsburgh has earned a lowly 1-3-0 record, with that lone victory being a 3-2 overtime win over the defensively-inept Islanders on Saturday.

For those wondering, the problem has not been the Penguins’ offense. In fact, even through three loss, Pittsburgh’s offense is still managing 3.5 goals per game since February 24, the (t)11th-best attack in the NHL in that time. F Evgeni Malkin (2-4-6 totals in his last four games) and RW Phil Kessel (1-4-5 in that same time) have both been brilliant to average more than a point per game in spite of the team’s struggles, and their efforts are made only more impressive by the fact that they rarely share time on the same line except on the power play.

Instead, the issues have clearly been in net, which makes sense considering 23-13-2 G Matt Murray sustained a concussion (yes, Pens fans: another one) after taking a puck to the head in practice on February 26.

Assuming Murray will be unable to play today, a flip of a coin might be the best way to figure out if 3-4-0 G Casey DeSmith or 11-5-2 G Tristan Jarry is going to earn the nod tonight considering they’ve effectively alternated during this run (if that trend continues, expect DeSmith tonight since Jarry was in net for the overtime win on Saturday).

Statistically speaking, neither has given Head Coach Mike Sullivan a compelling reason to start either lately, as DeSmith has posted an .86 save percentage and 5.65 GAA in his last two starts while Jarry has only an .855 save percentage and 4.5 GAA to his credit in his last three appearances. Comparing them for the entire season, both have posted identical .913 save percentages, but Jarry’s 2.68 GAA is slightly better than DeSmith’s 2.73.

Fortunately for the Pens, 32-25-9 Calgary does not come to the Steel City in their top form – largely facing the same troubles currently harassing the Penguins: an injury to its starting goaltender.

23-16-6 G Mike Smith has been on injured reserve with a strained groin since February 11, which has forced 2-2-0 G Jon Gillies and 6-5-3 G David Rittich into the spotlight. Given the circumstances, they’ve performed moderately well, as Gillies has managed a .906 save percentage and 2.61 GAA in his two most recent starts, while Rittich posted an .879 save percentage and 4.13 GAA last Wednesday in Colorado.

With both netminders having fewer than 15 NHL starts under their belts, it makes sense that the skaters are doing all they can to lighten the workload for their patchwork goaltending tandem that has been put in a tough spot. Their defensive work has certainly paid off in these last few games, as D Travis Hamonic (1.7 blocks per game since February 27) and RW Garnet Hathaway (2.3 hits per game in the last three games) have led the way to allowing an average of only 29 shots against per game since February 27, the sixth-fewest in the league.

However, that attention to detail in the defensive end has come at a major cost to Calgary’s attack. In their past three games, the Flames have scored only three goals, or one per game – the fewest in the league since February 27 and an average that requires a shutout effort from those inexperienced goaltenders. Currently riding a four-game pointless skid due to focusing on defense while playing on the opposite wing, W Johnny Gaudreau‘s scoring touch is desperately needed for this Flames team.

Calgary has already hosted its half of the annual home-and-home series between these inter-conference foes. The score read 1-1 at the end of regulation, but overtime lasted only 2:19 before D Mark Giordano scored the overtime game-winner for the Flames to earn them the bonus point.

It goes without saying that both teams can benefit from earning two points this evening. Should the Pens add another win to their record, they’d advance into second place in the Metropolitan Division – one point ahead of Philadelphia (Philly will have a game in hand) and one point behind Washington (the Caps will have two games in hand).

It seems all but certain that Pittsburgh will be in the Stanley Cup playoffs this April, but the same cannot be said of the Flames, who currently trail second wild card Los Angeles by four points. With Colorado and St. Louis both ahead of Calgary in the standings, it will be a heated race between those four teams for the West’s eighth seed, meaning the Flames can’t afford to drop many points in their remaining 16 fixtures if they want to play more than 82 games this season.

In games like this one, its going to boil down to which goaltender can make the most saves, as I’m fully confident in both offenses when they put the pedal to the medal. If that proves to be the case, this game favors the Penguins heavily, as it will be tough for either Gillies or Rittich to completely shutdown Pittsburgh’s mighty attack.


The Florida Panthers’ winning ways continued in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 at BB&T Center.

It took only 2:41 of action for the Panthers to find their first goal, and it was largely due to D Radko Gudas‘ interference penalty against W Jamie McGinn. With the Flyer in the penalty box, Second Star of the Game C Aleksander Barkov (D Keith Yandle and First Star G Roberto Luongo) scored a power play backhanded shot to set the score at 1-0. 12:08 later, Third Star W Evgeni Dadonov (F Nick Bjugstad and D Aaron Ekblad) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal.

The play started in Florida’s defensive zone with Ekblad and F Travis Konecny scrapping for possession in the corner to Luongo’s left. While they were preoccupied with roughing each other up, Bjugstad sneaked into the play to take control of the puck and sling it towards center ice for Dadonov, who had read the play perfectly to set up a one-on-one situation with G Petr Mrazek. Once he was inside the left face-off circle, Dadonov used a snap shot to beat the goaltender glove side.

Only one tally was registered in the second period, and it belonged to Florida to set the score at 3-0. With 1:54 remaining before the second intermission, Dadonov (Barkov and D Alexander Petrovic) scored his second goal of the game with a snapper.

F Jonathan Huberdeau (McGinn and D Mark Pysyk) provided the Panthers their final goal of the game with a backhander at the 2:47 mark of the third period. Though Konecny (D Brandon Manning and F Claude Giroux) was able to help Philadelphia escape being shutout by scoring a wrist shot with 3:21 remaining in regulation, his marker did little to influence the final result of this afternoon tilt.

Luongo earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved 22-of-26 (.846).

Not only are the Panthers rolling, but so too are the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Yesterday’s victory was the fifth-straight by the 79-47-19 hosts, who now own a dominant 28-point lead over the roadies.

February 28 – Day 140 – Volcanic eruption

Almost every game  being played tonight is being televised nationally in Canada, so I want no complaints about nothing to watch this evening. I’ll hear none of them!

As it so often does, today’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with a pair of matchups (the New York Islanders at Montréal [RDS/SN] and Buffalo at Tampa Bay [TVAS]), followed an hour later by Detroit at St. Louis (NBCSN). Next up is Calgary at Colorado (SN360) at 9:30 p.m., trailed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: the New York Rangers at Vancouver. All times Eastern.

It is true that the Blues and Red Wings are reviving their former rivalry tonight, but there’s much more pressing matters taking place in the Rocky Mountains.

 

Currently sitting a point behind second wild card Anaheim, the 32-22-9 Flames are trying their hardest to stay within an arm’s reach of the playoff picture. They’ve posted a 2-1-1 record in their last four showings, due in large part to the solid play of their defense.

Since February 19, Calgary has allowed an average of only 30 shots against per game. That’s the (t)seventh-best mark in the league in that time, and the Flames owe it all to LW Johnny Gaudreau (averaging 1.8 takeaways per game since February 19), D Travis Hamonic (2.6 blocks per game in his last five showings) and F Curtis Lazar (averaging three hits per game over this run).

Gaudreau’s effort in particular stands out to me, as he’s usually known for his production on the offensive end of the ice considering he’s managed only a +12 goal-differential with his 20-53-73 season totals. However, with 23-16-6 G Mike Smith still recovering from his groin injury, Johnny Hockey has led the charge in making life as easy as possible for 2-1-0 G Jon Gillies while he fills in for the former Coyote.

Another way to keep the pressure off a young goalkeeper thrust into the limelight is by providing some attacking support on the other end. That’s where LW Matthew Tkachuk (3-2-5 totals since February 19) and Gaudreau (1-4-5 in his last four showings) come into play, as they’ve both averaged a point per game recently to spearhead an attack that has managed 2.8 goals per game since last Monday – the 10th-best scoring average in the league in that time.

Every year keeps getting better for Tkachuk. He posted impressive 13-35-48 totals in 76 games during his rookie season to finish seventh in voting for the Calder Trophy, and he’s only improved to post 24-23-47 marks this year. If the Flames can do nothing else, they certainly know how to identify talent at the left wing position.

Meanwhile, 33-24-5 Colorado – only a season removed from one of the worst campaigns in NHL history – is just three points behind the Ducks for the eight seed in the Western Conference. Similar to Calgary, the Avalanche are 2-1-1 in their past four showings, but Colorado has been finding its success largely on the offensive end.

There is a chiropractor in Denver making a whole lot of money off F Nathan MacKinnon, because the 22-year-old has put this entire team on his back since returning from injury. He’s averaged two points per game in his last four showings, managing 4-4-8 totals in that time.

Okay, so maybe it hasn’t been all MacKinnon. D Tyson Barrie (1-5-6 totals since February 20) and RW Mikko Rantanen (2-3-5) have also been pretty solid during this run. Together, they’ve willed the Avs to scoring 2.75 goals per game over the past eight days – the (t)11th-best scoring rate in the NHL in that time.

What’s been most impressive about Colorado lately is its unstoppable power play. Posting only a middle-of-the-pack 20.1 percent success rate for the entire season, the Avalanche have boasted 46.2 conversion percentage in their past four showings.

It is largely with the man-advantage where Barrie comes into play, as it’s on the power play where he registered his most recent goal and four of his last five assists. In fact, Barrie and MacKinnon have combined on five of the Avs’ six power play goals scored during this run. Calgary’s penalty kill has been good lately (neutralizing 85.7 of its infractions since February 20), but the Flames would still be wise to avoid the sin bin at all costs tonight.

Tonight’s game is the finale of the three-game regular season series between the Avs and Flames. Calgary has already clinched victory in the first two matchups, winning 3-2 in Denver on November 25 (C Mikael Backlund provided the game-winner in the second period) and 5-1 in Alberta four days ago (Backlund took First Star honors with his 1-2-3 performance).

With Anaheim being dormant this evening, a Calgary win of any variety would propel the Flames past the Ducks into the second wild card (technically, Calgary would tie Los Angeles for third in the Pacific, but lose a games played tiebreaker). Should Colorado be the club to come away with a regulation win, the Avs would jump from 11th in the Western Conference to ninth, only one point behind the Ducks.

It is true that the Avalanche have home ice this evening, but I feel confident the Flames can earn two points tonight. However, if they can’t keep D Nikita Zadorov – the club’s leader in penalty minutes – out of trouble, Colorado’s power play will show no mercy en route to a victory.


Have yourself a game, First Star of the Game D Roman Josi! He registered five assists in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, leading the Nashville Predators to a 6-5 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Bell Centre.

Unbelievably, a game that ended with 11 combined goals featured no goals in the first period even though the Preds and Jets fired 24 shots on goal altogether.

The second period made up for that offensive drought with a whopping seven goals.

The scoreless draw wasn’t broken until the 2:45 mark of the second period, courtesy of a F Matt Hendricks (RW Joel Armia and C Andrew Copp) wrist shot. Winnipeg’s advantage lasted 6:10 before Third Star F Craig Smith (Josi) leveled the game, but C Mark Scheifele (F Jack Roslovic and LW Kyle Connor) returned the advantage to the Jets and provided a brace (Second Star C Paul Stastny and RW Blake Wheeler) by the 14:23 mark – all in the span of 1:42.

The Preds saw Winnipeg’s two-straight goals and matched them with two of their own. Only 44 seconds after Scheifele’s second goal, C Kyle Turris (W Viktor Arvidsson and Josi) pulled Nashville back within a 3-2 deficit, followed by D Mattias Ekholm (F Calle Jarnkrok and Josi) leveling the game with a power play snap shot with 2:54 remaining in the frame. W Nikolaj Ehlers (RW Patrik Laine and D Ben Chiarot) scored the final goal of the period 33 seconds after Ekholm’s marker, setting the score at 4-3 going into the intermission.

Winnipeg earned its second two-goal lead of the night at the exact midway point of the third period when Stastny (Ehlers and Laine) scored a wrister – his first goal as a Jet – but the Preds proved they are more than capable of staging even the biggest of comebacks. Only 55 seconds after Stastny’s goal, Smith (D Yannick Weber) pulled Nashville back within a goal with a wrister, followed by F Ryan Johansen (Arvidsson and Josi) burying a wrister to level the game at 5-5 with 6:03 remaining in regulation.

Just like Stastny made his presence known with his new team, W Ryan Hartman (Josi) also built some serious rapport with his new squad by providing the game-winning goal with one minute remaining on the clock.

A player hanging out near the crease almost always yields a positive result. That proved to be the case in this instance, as Hartman was able to redirect Josi’s initial slap shot from the left face-off dot – that G Connor Hellebuyck moved towards in attempt to make a save – into the gaping cage after it crossed through the crease untouched.

The most points Josi had scored in any game all season before last night was two, and he’s a major reason no team in the NHL wants to play the Predators right now. If he continues playing like this in the playoffs, there’s little doubt that his club will be well on its way to its second-consecutive Stanley Cup Final.

G Pekka Rinne earned the victory after saving 34-of-39 shots faced (.872 save percentage), leaving the loss to Hellebuyck, who saved 26-of-32 (.813).

For the fourth straight day in the DtFR Game of the Day, a road team has earned at least a point. As such, the 74-47-19 hosts now have only an 18-point advantage on the visitors in the series.

February 11 – Day 123 – It’s easy as…

Do your Sunday right with a full day of hockey.

Like yesterday, we’ll start our daily hockey schedule with group play in the women’s Olympic tournament. Scheduled for 7:10 a.m. Eastern time, Canada’s women will be squaring off against the Olympic Athletes from Russia in PyeongChang.

Back in North America, the NHL is raring to get its nine-game schedule underway, as Pittsburgh at St. Louis (NBC/TVAS) will drop the day’s opening puck at high noon. The next wave of matinees is scheduled for 3 p.m. (the New York Rangers at Winnipeg [NHLN] and Detroit at Washington [SN1/TVAS]), followed an hour later by Vancouver at Dallas. Three tilts (Colorado at Buffalo, Boston at New Jersey and Calgary at the New York Islanders [SN]) get underway at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, trailed 60 minutes later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Philadelphia at Vegas and San Jose at Anaheim. All times Eastern.

To close out this list of games, we return our attention to South Korea in time to catch the 2:40 a.m. Eastern time puck drop of Switzerland vs. Japan in the women’s Olympic tournament.

My list of important matchups? I thought you’d never ask!

  • Canada vs. OAR: The second and fourth-ranked women’s sides in the world are squaring off? No need to tell me twice.
  • Pittsburgh at St. Louis: Penguins fans have a hot-cold relationship with RW Ryan Reaves, but he’ll be welcomed with open arms today in the Gateway City.
  • New York at Winnipeg: Speaking of prodigal sons returning home, G Ondrej Pavelec – a 10-year resident of Manitoba’s capital – is back in town with the Rangers.
  • Calgary at New York: Another return to a former home arena, D Travis Hamonic makes his Brooklyn debut in a Flames sweater.
  • San Jose at Anaheim: No returns here; just a good, old-fashioned rivalry.
  • Switzerland vs. Japan: This is an important game in the battle for playoff qualification from Group B, as the loser will probably end up in the consolation tournament.

What. A. List.

Let’s shoot for what should be the most important game of the day. That means we’re headed out to The Pond!

 

With only two points separating second-place San Jose and fifth-place Anaheim, it goes without saying that every game within the Pacific Division is huge.

Beginning with the visiting 29-18-6 Sharks, life has been a bit of a roller coaster since returning from the All-Star Break. San Jose has posted only a 3-3-1 record since January 30, but it’s been decent play in the defensive zone that has kept the Sharks in their spot in the division table.

Behind the efforts of D Justin Braun (1.9 hits per game since January 30), D Marc-Edouard Vlasic (averaging 2.3 blocks over his past seven showings) and F Barclay Goodrow and F Tomas Hertl (both averaging a takeaway-per-game over this run), the Sharks have limited their opposition to an average of 31.14 shots against since the All-Star Break, the 14th-best effort in the NHL.

While that performance may be little better than average in the league in that time, San Jose is fortunate enough to have the luxury of employing 15-14-5 G Martin Jones on an almost nightly basis. In his five starts since the break, Jones has played well to post a .922 save percentage and 2.39 GAA, improving his season numbers to .911 and 2.64.

Between those two efforts, San Jose’s collective defense has allowed an average of only 2.86 goals per game since returning from break, the 14th-best performance in the NHL in that time.

Meanwhile, 27-19-10 Anaheim has done little better than San Jose since returning to action, as the Ducks have posted only a 3-2-1 record over their past six games.

When the Ducks have earned those seven points, it would seem that they earned them on the offensive end. Since January 30, Anaheim has scored an 18th-best (also known as 14th-worst…) 2.83 goals per game.

Leading that charge has been none other than F Rickard Rakell. the 24-year-old Swede has posted 4-5-9 totals in his past six showings to average well over a point per game and improve his season numbers to a team-leading 22-23-45. He’s joined by W Corey Perry (3-4-7 since the All-Star Break, 11-21-32 overall) and D Cam Fowler (0-6-6 since the break, 6-18-24 overall) in averaging a point per game over this run.

In particular, Fowler and Rakell have had some incredible chemistry of late. All six of Fowler’s assists have involved Rakell in some way, including the defenseman providing a helper on half of the forward’s most recent goals.

Tonight’s game is the important finale of the four-game regular season series between these two clubs. Posting a 2-0-1 record against the Ducks, San Jose has a commanding lead in the series, but Anaheim can still level with a regulation win this evening. The Sharks won the first meeting 2-1 on November 4 thanks to a clutch save by Jones in the sixth round of a shootout, but Anaheim matched that shootout victory with one of its own 16 days later. F Antoine Vermette scored the game-winning goal in the ninth round of the shootout to give the Ducks a 3-2 victory. More recently, San Jose dominated Anaheim to a 6-2 victory in Southern California on January 21. 14-4-3 G Aaron Dell earned First Star honors with a .943 save percentage.

Though the Sharks did have to play last night at home to a 6-4 victory against the Oilers, I like their chances at upsetting the Ducks at Honda Center. Though Anaheim has sported a slightly better offense of late by comparison, the Sharks’ defense should be able to keep it contained to earn two points.


After raising C Vincent Lecavalier‘s sweater to the Amalie Arena rafters, the Tampa Bay Lightning successfully defended home ice against the Los Angeles Kings to a 4-3 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

On a night honoring a former captain, who else to register Tampa’s first goal than Second Star of the Game C Steven Stamkos (F Yanni Gourde and F Tyler Johnson)? His snap shot found the back of the net only 65 seconds into the game to give the Lightning an early lead. However, that advantage didn’t last long, as F Jonny Brodzinski (F Andy Andreoff and C Nick Shore) pulled the Kings even only 3:57 later. Thanks to F Alex Killorn‘s (Stamkos and D Braydon Coburn) wrist shot at the 9:45 mark, the Bolts were able to set the score at 2-1 to take a one-goal advantage into the first intermission.

The Lightning absolutely dominated the second period, as they scored both goals of the frame and out-shot Los Angeles 14-9. F Cedric Paquette (RW Ryan Callahan) provided the first tally with a wrister at the 3:12 mark, followed 11:31 later by a RW Nikita Kucherov (D Victor Hedman) power play wrister that eventually became the game-winner.

With LW Kyle Clifford in the penalty box serving W Dustin Brown‘s kneeing five-minute major penalty at the 14:30 mark against D Mikhail Sergachev (Brown also earned a misconduct on the play), the Lightning’s power play was quick to jump on the opportunity. After Kucherov reset the play to Hedman at the blue line, the puck was returned to the Russian above the right face-off circle. Kucherov advanced a few paces towards G Jonathan Quick‘s net before ripping a quick wrister over the netminder’s glove.

As good as Tampa Bay was in the second period to set the score at 4-1, Los Angeles was able to match that effort in the third. Clifford (Third Star C Anze Kopitar and D Derek Forbort) registered the frame’s first goal at the 3:17 mark, followed 10:48 later by D Christian Folin‘s (Andreoff and Shore) slap shot to pull the Kings back within a goal. However, the Kings were only able to match Tampa’s second period performance – not exceed it – as they failed to find a leveling goal in the remaining 6:55 of regulation.

First Star G Andrei Vasilevskiy earned the victory after saving 44-of-47 shots faced (.936 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 13-of-14 (.929). G Darcy Kuemper started the game for Los Angeles, put he was pulled after Paquette set the score at 3-1. Kuemper saved 11-of-14 (.786) for no decision.

The Bolts’ victory snapped a two-game losing skid by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, returning a 26-point advantage to the series’ 68-40-15 hosts.

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Pacific Division

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1. Vegas Golden Knights– 33-12-4 (70 points, 49 GP)

There isn’t really that much the Vegas Golden Knights need to do to improve down the stretch. Should they trade James Neal or Marc-Andre Fleury as some fans and media members alike wondered since the expansion draft last June? No. They shouldn’t.

These are the Golden Knights. They’re trying to win the Stanley Cup in their first season of existence. And they just might.

They’ve dismantled some of the league’s best teams on a night-to-night basis, while amassing a plus-38 goal differential through 49 games played– and oh yeah, they’re smashing inaugural season records by an expansion franchise. All of that has put them in position for making a stake as a leading horse in the Presidents’ Trophy race.

That said, if Vegas general manager, George McPhee, is presented with an offer he can’t refuse that would make his team better, by all means, he should pursue it. Addition without subtraction or whatever– they have roughly $8.100 million in salary cap space, they can afford it.

Potential assets to trade: F Cody Eakin, F David Perron

Potential assets to acquire: F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), D Ian Cole (PIT)

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2. San Jose Sharks– 26-16-8 (60 points, 50 GP)

The San Jose Sharks sit in an uncomfortable position. Yes, they’re currently 2nd in the Pacific Division, but it’s a four-horse race for anywhere between two and four playoff spots in the Pacific Division.

No that’s not counting out the Edmonton Oilers (spoiler alert– they’ll be sellers), but let’s assume the Golden Knights lay claim to the regular season division title. Then it becomes a Battle of California and Calgary for two divisional spots and either one, two or no wild card positions in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Taking a look at the Central Division… yeah, odds aren’t great that they’ll be five teams from either the Pacific or Central clinching a playoff berth, considering the Dallas Stars (60 points), Sharks (60 points), Minnesota Wild (59 points), Kings (59 points), Ducks (59 points), Colorado Avalanche (58 points) and Flames (58 points) are all separated by a measly two-points.

There’s no room for error.

With only about $5.200 million in cap space currently and pending RFA forwards Tomas Hertl, 24, and Chris Tierney, 23, to re-sign along with pending RFA defenseman, Dylan DeMelo, 24, San Jose would be smart to lock up the future of their core while accepting that they’ll likely lose some guys via trade or free agency this offseason.

Joe Thornton, 38, is currently on IR and making $8.000 million on his soon to expire contract. Joel Ward, 37, has a $3.275 million cap hit on his deal that expires on July 1st.

Could this be a last hurrah?

Again, it all depends on how the Sharks approach everything moving forward– oh, by the way, backup goaltender, Aaron Dell, is a pending-UFA at season’s end too, but Troy Grosenick looks ready enough to settle into the backup role once Dell is either traded or probably makes a lot of money for the chance to be a starting goaltender elsewhere this July.

Potential assets to trade: F Mikkel Boedker, D Justin Braun, D Brenden Dillon, G Aaron Dell, D Paul Martin, F Joel Ward

Potential assets to acquire: Cap Relief, F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT), F Klim Kostin (STL), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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3. Los Angeles Kings– 27-18-5 (59 points, 50 GP)

The Los Angeles Kings are set. They don’t really need to add as long as elite-starting goaltender, Jonathan Quick, is healthy. General manager, Rob Blake, should take a page out of Vegas’s book and sit on his hands come February 26th, that way he won’t be tempted to make any phone calls he might regret later.

It’s not like the Kings should really consider dumping what’s left of 35-year-old forward, Marian Gaborik, but they very well could– just to get $4.875 million in salary cap off of their hands. Gaborik’s 7-7–14 totals in 27 games played are pretty telling (albeit due to injury and being scratched other nights).

F Nick Shore, D Kevin Gravel and G Darcy Kuemper stand out as the only “big” names Los Angeles will have to re-sign this offseason with veteran forward, Torrey Mitchell, either working out as a long-term, year-to-year, rental or a short-term, Cup focused, investment.

Similar to San Jose, however, the Kings don’t have a lot of cap space as things stand. Los Angeles has about $3.600 million in wiggle room and really doesn’t have any holes that need to be filled.

Los Angeles should sit this trade deadline out and instead work on a plan for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in June where they’ll have to make some moves (unless the cap rises, which it’s expected to). Then again, Drew Doughty ($7.000 million cap hit) will need a new contract in 2019…

Potential assets to trade: F Marian Gaborik

Potential assets to acquire: draft picks, maybe a prospect or two

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4. Anaheim Ducks– 25-17-9 (59 points, 51 GP)

Every now and then there are teams that seemingly destroy their opponents in more ways than one while quietly existing and carrying their own weight. Injuries amounted early, but these days the Anaheim Ducks are the ones handing out the bruises– and winning… significantly.

The Ducks are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, which won’t mean anything by February 26th (unless they go on a significant winning/losing streak).

Anaheim might creep up in the standings, but what will set them apart from the rest of the Western Conference?

This is where the Ducks can shine at the trade deadline if they just add one more piece to the puzzle. It doesn’t have to be a permanent piece, but one that’ll hold them over in the event of injuries.

Let’s face it, regardless of the physical brand of hockey Anaheim plays, there will be an injury or two down the stretch that could impact their chances of postseason success.

The Sami Vatanen-for-Adam Henrique trade with the New Jersey Devils has paid off in much needed scoring throughout their lineup, but the Ducks could get more if they wanted to.

A return of Patrick Maroon to The Pond or a rental like Thomas Vanek or Michael Grabner just might put Anaheim on the fast track to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Filling out their bottom-six depth and scoring prowess, while continuing to center their game around size and skill is exactly what they could add at the end of the month.

With only about $3.100 million in cap space available, the right move might be hard to make.

Potential assets to trade: G Reto Berra, D Steve Oleksy, draft picks, prospects

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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5. Calgary Flames– 25-17-8 (58 points, 50 GP)

When the Calgary Flames are hot, they’re red hot. When the Flames are cold they’re cooler than being cool (shouts OutKast).

Of all the teams in the Pacific Division, Calgary is the most Jekyll and Hyde of the two Alberta teams. Goaltender, Mike Smith, has saved the season (literally) multiple times on nights where Johnny Gaudreau and the Flames’s offense hasn’t gotten going.

Conversely, Gaudreau has propelled his team on nights when Smith has struggled. Some nights the Flames are on their “A” game. Some nights their porous defense shows. A lot.

Calgary is too young to give up on. Guys like Troy Brouwer, Matt Stajan and Kris Versteeg provide a veteran presence both on the ice and in the locker room, but are harder to move given their modified no-trade clauses. Not that anyone’s in a rush to move them. Just being mindful of July 1st and the plethora of youth that could steal some roster spots next year, provided the Flames don’t do anything crazy in free agency.

The Flames have to get better if they want to play longer. Whether or not they decide to take action now or let things develop on their own, well, hasn’t it been long enough?

If they want to make a deep playoff run they have to manage their cap situation a lot better (and fix their defense with, say, six new defensemen?). With a little more than $2.200 million to play with in cap space come deadline day, Calgary isn’t doing this whole “let’s be buyers on February 26th” thing right.

Potential assets to trade: F Mikael Backlund, D Matt Bartkowski, F Michael Frolik, D Travis Hamonic, D Michael Stone

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT)

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6. Edmonton Oilers– 22-24-3 (47 points, 49 GP)

If you had Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, where would you expect to be in the standings?

It’s a trick question, because no matter how many Art Ross Trophies those two players combined win in their careers, you still need to fill out the rest of the roster so you can be salary cap compliant and thus able to compete in the first place.

Fortunately for the Edmonton Oilers, Peter Chiarelli is at the reins.

Check that. It’s pretty dire.

The Oilers aren’t the worst team anymore, so at least they have that going for them, but once again we’re approaching yet another trade deadline where Edmonton has a lot of cargo to jettison into the void that is the rest of the league.

While McDavid and Draisaitl will eat up $21 million in salary starting next season, the Oilers have plenty of pending free agents to sort out– which also means they have a lot of rentals to sell at the deadline.

With the right moves, Chiarelli can redeem himself in Edmonton. All it requires is a swift retool. Too bad there’s a couple of no movement clauses on the blue line, because they’re eating $9.500 million in salary that the team will probably need to re-sign Rasmus Dahlin in a few years after they win the draft lottery.

Potential assets to trade: F Mike Cammalleri, D Brandon Davidson, F Mark Letestu, F Patrick Maroon

Potential assets to acquire: F Zemgus Girgensons (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF), F Luke Glendening (DET), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Andrew Shaw (MTL), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Klim Kostin (STL), F Jordan Kyrou (STL)

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7. Vancouver Canucks– 20-24-6 (46 points, 50 GP)

Similar to the Edmonton Oilers, the Vancouver Canucks had high hopes for this season. Okay, not that high, but still.

Things haven’t exactly gone as planned, thanks in part to Bo Horvat‘s injury, yet the Canucks have one of this season’s most pleasant surprises in the league– the emergence of Brock Boeser.

Vancouver has about $1.000 million in cap space currently. For a team that’s massively under-performing with a minus-31 goal differential through 50 games played, that’s horrendous.

Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin are both pending-UFAs earning $7.000 million through the end of this season. Their playing days are safe in a Canucks uniform, given their no movement clauses and the fact that the traditional “honorary” $1.000 million (with a bunch of bonuses tied to performance) year-to-year contract extensions forthcoming– if they choose to play another year in the NHL.

There’s a lot of youth in Vancouver, so that’s promising.

Guys like Thomas Vanek and Erik Gudbranson have been the subject of those expected to be on the move from the Canucks organization and surely at least one of them will be out the door come February 26th.

As much as Sam Gagner has turned around his game, he may fall victim to the tight cap situation with pending RFAs Jake Virtanen, Markus Granlund and Sven Baertschi on the cusp of seeing pay raises. Then again, maybe Gagner’s future with the Canucks will be saved by whatever the Sedin’s decide to do (take less money).

Short of some adjustments on the blue line and letting their young forwards gain experience, Vancouver really doesn’t need that much. Full health and finding the right starting goaltender should be the main focus going into the deadline and beyond.

Potential assets to trade: D Alex Biega, F Sam Gagner, D Erik Gudbranson, G Jacob Markstrom, G Anders Nilsson, F Thomas Vanek

Potential assets to acquire: F Zemgus Girgensons (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Klim Kostin (STL), F Jordan Kyrou (STL)

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8. Arizona Coyotes– 12-29-9 (33 points, 50 GP)

Just exactly how long will we go before recognizing that the Arizona Coyotes are in a state of denial?

The perpetual rebuild has hit its lowest point so far and general manager, John Chayka, has nothing to show for some of his seemingly brilliant acquisitions in the offseason (namely, Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers, as well as Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks).

Look, neither of the trades the Coyotes made around the 2017 NHL Entry Draft were going to make them contenders for the Cup, but they should’ve at least made them move out of the basement and onto the first floor of the league.

Arizona will be selling once again and unless your last name is Hjalmarsson, Raanta or Stepan and you’re over the age of 24, there’s a good chance you could be packing a bag out of the desert (unless you get traded to Vegas, in which case, you’ll still be in the desert– only cooler because of all of the attractions around T-Mobile Arena, oh and the whole “Cup in one” mentality currently for the Golden Knights).

Potential assets to trade: F Brad Richardson, F Tobias Rieder, F Jordan Martinook, F Nick Cousins, D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D Kevin Connauton

Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, F Zemgus Girgensons (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Klim Kostin (STL), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), F David Perron (VGK)

December 14 – Day 71 – No sushi here

It’s another Thursday in the NHL packed with action, as all but seven teams will be lacing them up this evening.

Like they do most nights, the festivities find their start at 7 p.m. with the puck drop of three games (Washington at Boston [SN360], Buffalo at Philadelphia and the New York Islanders at Columbus), followed half an hour later by New Jersey at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). Three more puck drops (Anaheim at St. Louis, Toronto at Minnesota and Chicago at Winnipeg) are scheduled for 8 p.m., while a four-pack (Florida at Colorado, San Jose at Calgary, Nashville at Edmonton [TVAS] and Tampa Bay at Arizona) waits until 9 p.m. to get underway. Finally, Pittsburgh makes its first-ever visit to Vegas (NHLN/SN/SN360) at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

For those that know me, or at least keep track of this column, you probably know which two teams I call my own (I know, I’m cheating by having two. That’s what you get when your dad pulls for a team far from where you live.). So, you’re probably guessing I’m leaning towards the Penguins-Golden Knights game to see the reunion of G Marc-Andre Fleury and his old Pens pals.

However, I’m far more interested in Fleury’s return to the Steel City when he gets greeted by his former home fans and receives his 2017 Stanley Cup ring (hint: look forward to my February 6 column).

In the meantime, let’s head to southern Alberta where there’s an important Pacific Division game taking place.

 

Tell me if you’ve read this as recently as yesterday’s column: these two teams are fortunate they play in the division they do, or their playoff hopes could already be in the trash.

While the Pacific Division has been full of surprises this season (the dominance of the Kings, the Golden Knights being way better than an expansion team should and the Oilers’ fall from incredible to dumpster fire), the middle of the pack has been nothing more than… well, average.

Take for example tonight’s visitors, the 16-10-3 Sharks. San Jose is average in a very special way, because it pairs one of the best defenses in the game with an offense that can’t seem to figure out why there’s goals at both ends of the rink.

Let’s start with the good: led by the impressive efforts of defensemen Justin Braun (team-leading 1.96 blocks per game), Brent Burns (33 takeaways) and Brenden Dillon (2.85 hits per game), the Sharks allow an average of only 29.13 shots to reach 5-3-1 G Aaron Dell – tonight’s probable starter, per Curtis Pashelka of Bay Area News Group due to the Sharks traveling to Vancouver for a game tomorrow night.

Though his eight starts and 11 appearances are a fairly small sample size at this point of the season, Dell has technically outperformed 11-7-2 G Martin Jones so far, posting a superior .939 save percentage and 1.72 GAA. In fact, of the 50 goaltenders in the league with at least eight starts, Dell has been the class of the NHL and led both statistical categories.

Of course, he’s also faced the fourth-fewest shots of any of those netminders, so maybe that’s a better reflection of his defense’s effort. Either way, the Sharks have allowed only 2.34 goals against per game this season, the second fewest in the league.

But with all that good comes an equal share of bad; specifically, an offense that averages only 2.68 goals per game, the seventh-fewest in the league. I wrote about why I think the Sharks’ attack isn’t working here (hint: looking at you, Burns), but one player that doesn’t deserve a nightly tongue lashing from Head Coach Peter DeBoer is F Logan Couture. He’s been a solid player this season on an unspectacular offense, posting 15-10-25 totals that puts even the likes of C Jack Eichel, W James Neal and F T.J. Oshie behind him on the league leader board.

The longer Burns and that offense struggles, the more opportunities it gives teams like the 16-12-3 Flames to climb into playoff position. Calgary currently occupies fourth place in the Pacific Division, but only 10th in the Western Conference, which means it is not even next in line for the second wild card.

That puts a big emphasis on these division games, and there’s no time like the present to play one for these Flames. They may have only won two of their last four games, but they’re riding a four-game point streak that includes three road contests, including visits to the Air Canada Centre and Bell Centre.

Over this decent run, 13-9-3 G Mike Smith has buckled down and put on some solid performances in the crease. Starting three of the four games, he’s posted a .947 save percentage and 1.26 GAA to go 1-0-2 and improve his season numbers to a .919 save percentage and 2.6 GAA.

Due to Calgary’s defense allowing an average of 31.8 shots per game (15th-most in the league), Smith needs to be on his game most nights to give his team a chance to win. That’s especially true considering the Flames’ offense averages only 2.8 goals per game – the 11th-fewest in the NHL – even though LW Johnny Gaudreau (12-26-38 points) and C Sean Monahan (17-13-30) have been putting on a show this season.

The Flames’ struggle this year had been depth scoring, but its no surprise that’s exactly what they’ve gotten during this little run they’re on. 14 different players have found the scorecard in the past four games, including Travis Hamonic (1-3-4 season totals) and Brett Kulak (0-4-4), defensemen not usually known for their offensive contributions. If this trend can continue, maybe – just maybe – Calgary can shape up into a decent team.

If nothing else can be said about the bottom five teams in the Pacific Division, it will certainly make for an exciting trade deadline and playoff push this March if all these teams are fighting for third place. We may not know who will square off in Vegas’ playoff debut until the last day of the regular season.

As for who will get two points closer to that goal this evening, I’m leaning towards the Flames. Smith has been playing spectacularly this season and should be able to quell the Sharks’ anemic offense, and I think Calgary’s depth can keep up its scoring streak.


Though they had to pull Second Star of the Game G Tuukka Rask for an extra attacker just to force overtime, the Boston Bruins were able to get past the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 at Little Caesars Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The first goal of this contest wasn’t struck until the 9:15 mark of the second period. That’s when F Tomas Tatar (D Niklas Kronwall and F Henrik Zetterberg) buried a power play wrist shot to give the Wings a 1-0 lead that would last into the second intermission.

Thanks to F Noel Acciari‘s (F Tim Schaller) second goal of the season, the Bruins leveled the game at the 3:02 mark of the third period, but Detroit once again took the lead 8:32 later on a special teams goal. Third Star F Dylan Larkin (F Darren Helm and D Trevor Daley) took advantage of RW David Pastrnak‘s indecisiveness to score a breakaway shorthanded backhanded shot. Pastrnak (First Star LW Brad Marchand and D Torey Krug) was provided the opportunity to redeem himself though, and he leveled the game at two-all with 86 seconds remaining in regulation with Rask pulled for the extra attacker.

Even though the Bruins never led in this game, Marchand (Krug) gave the Bruins their 15th win of the season with what our in-house Bruins expert @nlanciani53 is calling nothing more than “a typical Marchand breakaway backhander.”

We’ll take his word at it.

Rask earned the victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to G Jimmy Howard, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have now won two-straight contests. As such, they’ve pulled within 14 points of the 39-23-9 hosts.

November 7 – Day 35 – The day Western Canadians aren’t so friendly

It’s Tuesday in the NHL, so you know what that means: lots of games to be watched!

In total, there’s nine games on tonight’s schedule, starting with six (Washington at Buffalo [NBCSN], St. Louis at New Jersey, Edmonton at the New York Islanders [TVAS], Arizona at Pittsburgh, Florida at Carolina and Nashville at Columbus) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. Vegas at Montréal (RDS/TSN2) waits half an hour after those games begin before dropping the puck, followed by Vancouver at Calgary at 9 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Anaheim (NBCSN) – finds its start at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s action. All times Eastern.

What a slate of games! Just about every contest has a compelling reason to watch:

  • Edmonton at New York: For four seasons, F Ryan Strome called the Big Apple home. After an offseason trade, he’s wearing different shades of blue and orange.
  • Arizona at Pittsburgh: As assistant coach with the Penguins, Rick Tocchet won two-consecutive Stanley Cups. Now he’s trying to find a similar magic as the Coyotes’ head coach.
  • Nashville at Columbus: There’s few motivations stronger than playing against the team that cut you. Just ask LW Scott Hartnell.
  • Vancouver at Calgary: Ever since the Flames moved to Alberta, games against the Canucks have been circled in red.
  • Los Angeles at Anaheim: Round One of the Freeway Face-off goes down tonight on The Pond!

Somehow, the Flames have escaped being featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series for the past 34 days. With a rivalry game tonight, that number will not grow to 35.

 

Ever since the Flames’ first trip to Vancouver on February 1, 1981 representing the city of Calgary, the lore surrounding this rivalry has only grown by the game.

This matchup is far more than a simple Pacific Division rivalry. It’s a contest between coastal and midwest living; a battle between political parties; a war for the Art Ross Trophy.

If a hockey game could determine which way of life is superior, it would seem Calgary’s way of living has won out in the past. In all, the Flames, since moving to southern Alberta, have earned a 113-77-26-13 regular season record against their arch-nemeses that is further supported by their 21-17 postseason record.

In total, these clubs have met in the postseason seven times since 1982, with the Flames winning all but two of those series – including the last two. Their most recent playoff meeting occurred in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and was highlighted by Game 2’s 132 penalty minutes. D Deryk Engelland, now a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, was the primary on-ice offender in the fight, but the league eventually ruled that Flames Head Coach Bob Hartley played an even bigger role and fined him $50 thousand. Calgary won the series in six games.

That being said, the turn of the millennium was a positive one for the Canucks. They won seven-straight season series against Calgary starting with the 2007-’08 campaign – including sweeping the Flames 5-0-0 in 2013-’14. But, all good things must come to an end as the Flames have since regained an advantage and won the last three season series.

To make things even more exciting, this is also a fairly important early meeting between these clubs in regards to the Pacific Division, and even the Western Conference. Both squads have already earned 16 points in the standings to join the three-way tie for third place in the division and their also in a seven-way tie for fifth in the conference.

Technically, since the 7-5-2 Canucks have won only one game via shootout compared to the 8-6-0 Flames’ two, Vancouver is the superior team in the standings. As such, they currently occupy the West’s first wild card – an envious position only a month into the season, to be sure.

When things are going Vancouver’s way, it’s been one of the best in the league at preventing its opposition from finding the back of 4-4-2 G Jacob Markstrom‘s net. Though his .918 save percentage is far from being worth writing home to Gavle, Sweden about, he’s managed a 2.3 GAA that is sixth-best in the NHL among goaltenders with at least seven starts.

Of course, it doesn’t seem he’ll be writing home about tonight’s game anyways, as he lost 3-2 at home to the Red Wings last night. Instead, hockey sense leads me to believe 3-1-0 G Anders Nilsson will earn his fifth start of the season tonight. Though he’s had limited time, Nilsson has arguably been the stronger of the two netminders, as his .943 save percentage and 1.89 GAA are both second-best in the league among netminders with at least four starts.

Regardless of who starts, the Cancuks are going to rely on their solid defense to keep things under control. Whether it’s D Alex Biega, RW Derek Dorsett and D Erik Gudbranson‘s combined 80 hits or D Michael Del Zotto‘s 2.2 blocks-per-game – or, more likely, a sum of those parts – the Canucks are among the league’s best at keeping shots off their netminder, allowing a fourth-best 29.5 per game.

Meanwhile, everything seems to be coming up spades for the Flames of late, as they’re winners of their last three games, all against stiff Metropolitan competition.

The key to this winning streak: solid play in the defensive zone. Since October 29, Calgary has allowed only six goals in three games – the third-fewest in the NHL in that stretch.

That’s all the result of the incredible play by 8-5-0 G Mike Smith.

Yes, the same Smith that posted a rough 19-26-9 record in Arizona last year.

He’s been one of the top-three goaltenders in the NHL for the past nine days, as a .943 save percentage and 1.92 GAA earned him a perfect 3-0-0 record over that stretch. For the season, Smith has managed a solid .931 save percentage and 2.32 GAA to be in the discussion for top-10 goaltenders of the campaign so far.

Perhaps the key to Smith finding success is playing for a new team. During his first season with the Coyotes (who then represented simply the city of Phoenix from their arena in Glendale instead of the entire state of Arizona) in 2011-’12, Smith earned a 38-18-10 record on a .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA for easily the best performance of his 12-season career.

For those Flames fans wondering, Smith is under contract through next season. Do with that information as you see fit.

These clubs have already met once this season, playing to a 5-2 Flames victory at Rogers Arena on October 14. LW Johnny Gaudreau, D Mark Giordano, D Dougie Hamilton, D Travis Hamonic and C Sean Monahan all registered goals for Calgary, while only RW Brock Boeser and Dorsett could find the scorecard for the Canucks.

Though the score of their last meeting may not indicate it, this game has a grind-it-out, defensive style written all over it. These types of games are my favorite without featuring a rivalry. Throw in the animosity and the fact that the Flames have already earned a win in the series away from the Scotiabank Saddledome, and this should be a nasty tilt. I like the Flames to hold on and win since the Canucks played last night, but we should be in for a thriller.


Thanks in large part to a three-goal explosion in the first period, the Winnipeg Jets beat the Dallas Stars 4-1 at the American Airlines Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Winnipeg found success in Texas. After all, the arena is not only sponsored by the world’s largest airline, but also nicknamed The Hangar.

Whether that had anything to do with this game or not, the Jets didn’t take long to take control, as they had a one-goal lead after only 26 seconds of play courtesy of a C Mark Scheifele (First Star of the Game RW Blake Wheeler and LW Kyle Connor) wrist shot. With his fourth power play goal of the year (seventh overall), RW Patrik Laine (Wheeler and Scheifele) doubled Winnipeg’s advantage 4:46 later. Finally, only 57 seconds before heading to the dressing room for first intermission, Connor (Wheeler) scored a wrister to set the score at 3-0.

If not for F Bryan Little‘s hi-sticking penalty against C Jason Spezza, maybe Second Star G Connor Hellebuyck could have earned his first shutout of the season. Instead, Third Star LW Jamie Benn (D John Klingberg and RW Alexander Radulov) buried a backhanded shot 4:13 into the second period to pull the Stars back within a 3-1 deficit.

Even though Dallas fired a total of 23 shots in the final two periods, they could not sneak another goal past Hellebuyck. That fact became especially painful with 13 seconds remaining in the game, as Scheifele (Wheeler and D Jacob Trouba) slung a shorthanded snap shot from the blue line into an empty net to set the 4-1 final score.

Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 33-of-34 shots faced (.971 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Ben Bishop, who saved 22-of-25 (.88).

Impressively, road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have won five of the last seven games to pull within four points of the 18-13-4 hosts.