All of the (good) RFAs have been re-signed, the Carolina Hurricanes keep making moves, 2020 Winter Classic logos have been revealed and DTFR’s season previews conclude with the Central Division.
Thursdays are fantastic, aren’t they? There’s only one day of work left, the weekend is on its way and the cherry on top is that there’s tons of hockey to watch in the meantime.
Nine games will be played in all this evening, starting with two (the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [SN1] and Columbus at Carolina) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by three more (Dallas at Boston [NBCSN/TVAS], Florida at Montréal [RDS] and Detroit at Tampa Bay). Another trio of contests (Toronto at Nashville, Ottawa at Minnesota [RDS2] and Anaheim at Winnipeg) drop the puck at the top of the hour and San Jose at Edmonton – tonight’s nightcap – gets the green light at 9 p.m. All times eastern.
- Detroit at Tampa Bay: In light of the Red Wings not qualifying for the postseason for the first time in 26 years, I present to you their final rematch of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
- San Jose at Edmonton: Currently tied at 93 points, this is the first of two meetings in eight days between the Oilers and Sharks, who could meet up in the Western Quarterfinals.
Sorry Wings, but you got some love already this week. It’s off to Alberta with us for the biggest game of the night.
Nothing makes for more exciting hockey this late in the season than two divisional rivals tied on points and games-played scrapping for home ice in the playoffs. The cherry on top? They very well could be fighting to host tonight’s opponent in that first round.
Thanks to the NHL’s rule book, the tie is broken by regulation+ overtime wins. Tonight’s hosts – the Oilers – have 38 to their credit. The Sharks have 41, so they’d be hosting that playoff series if it started right now.
Of course, that may or may not be the case following tonight’s events. No matter how this contest ends, we will have a clear cut third-place team in the Pacific Division with five games remaining to be played by Anaheim, Edmonton and San Jose.
Things have been better for the 43-26-7 Sharks than they are right now. Although they beat the Rangers 5-4 in overtime Tuesday night, those are the only two points they have to show for their past seven games.
Nothing has gone right for the Sharks in the last two weeks. San Jose has been outscored 27-12 since March 16, showing that the struggles are equal parts offensive and in goal.
You’ll notice I didn’t say defensive. I slightly over-exaggerated before, as the defense has actually remained consistent with their entire campaign. They’ve allowed only 201 shots (28.7 per game) to reach 33-20-6 Martin Jones‘ crease, which is pretty close to their 27.6 season average.
Instead, the issue has been Jones and backup 10-6-1 Aaron Dell. Peter DeBoer has been almost religious in alternating his goaltenders in the month of March, as Jones has made only two pairs of consecutive starts.
What has resting his backstops done for him? Dell has an .881 save percentage and 3.4 GAA. Ouch. Unfortunately, that’s good in comparison to Jones’ .862 and 4.04 GAA.
Jones’ recent struggles continue on the penalty kill, where he’s managed only an .8 save percentage against opponents’ power plays. That is the ninth-worst mark in the league among the 40 netminders with at least three appearances and has resulted in a 64.7% kill rate, the second-worst in the NHL since mid-March.
As of publication of this article, no word has been released from the Sharks whether Dell or Jones will be in net. Since Jones started his second-straight game two nights ago, I’m going to guess Dell will get the nod tonight. I do not know whether that’s the right or wrong choice, but I do know Dell has been the 11th-worst goaltender in the league since March 16, meaning Jones has been… worse.
But the issues aren’t simply limited to DeBoer’s goaltending situation. The Sharks‘ offense has been abysmal too, averaging only 1.7 goals per game. The lone standout over this stretch has been Patrick Marleau, who has buried three of San Jose‘s dozen goals in the past two weeks, not to mention tacking on two more assists.
My biggest concern is that Joel Ward, the man who has notched the sixth-most points (27) and goals (t19) all season for San Jose, did not register a point during the recently-ended skid. Perhaps it is just coincidence, but I think it is no accident that his most recent assist was on March 14 in a victory against the Sabres. The sooner he returns to form, the sooner the Sharks become the team we’ve come to expect.
All that being said about the offense as whole, the power play has actually been solid of late. Not only is a 23.5% conversion rate 10th-best in the league since mid-March, but it also well exceeds the Sharks‘ 17.2% season rate.
While the third month of the year has not gone so well for the Sharks, it’s been splendid for the 42-25-9 Oilers. They’ve taken advantage of playing only two of their 12 games away from Rogers Place to earn an 8-3-1 record in March.
Just like you’d expect from a team led by Connor McDavid, offense has been the driver to Edmonton‘s success. The Oilers have scored 42 goals since March 4, the second-highest total in the league in that time.
In addition to the stellar play of McDavid, line mate Leon Draisaitl has also been exceptional as both have 17 points to their credit this month, which ties for fourth-most in the league in that time. Don’t get confused though; the captain is still in charge of this attack, as he’s scored six of his 27 goals this month, two more than his partner in crime.
As you might expect, Draisaitl and McDavid continue their chemistry on the power play. Since March 4, the Oil has successfully converted 27% of its opponents’ penalties into goals, the fourth-best mark in the league.
The man-advantage seems to be Draisaitl’s forte, as he’s set up five power play goals in March to lead the team in extra-man points. Of course, someone has to score those assists…
That’s where Mark Letestu and Milan Lucic come into play. They are the other two forwards on Draisaitl and McDavid’s power play unit, and they’ve both buried two goals apiece in that situation this month to lead the team.
The Oilers have been just as good of late on the penalty kill with their 88.5% kill rate, so the Sharks will have their work cut out for them this evening. My advice: avoid Andrej Sekera at all costs. He’s blocked nine shots on the penalty kill to not only lead the team, but tie for fourth-most in the league in that time-span.
Thanks to forcing overtime the first time these clubs met, Edmonton trails the Sharks by only a point in the season series between them. The last time they met was January 26, the Oilers‘ lone win against San Jose this season. They traveled to The Tank and emerged with a 4-1 victory thanks to Sekera’s two goals and Cam Talbot‘s 32 saves.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (71 points [10th-most in the NHL]), McDavid (89 points on 62 assists [both lead the league]) and Talbot (seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL] among 38 wins [third-most in the league]) & San Jose‘s Burns (73 points [eighth-most in the NHL] on 45 assists [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Jones (33 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).
Vegas has marked Edmonton a -126 favorite tonight, a line I think the Oilers are more than capable of upholding. Unless the Sharks get their goaltending under control, the hot Oilers should get their fans screaming at full-throat and even more excited for their return to the playoffs.
- Doug Wickenheiser (1961-1999) – Montréal selected this center with the top pick in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, but he actually spent more of his 10-year career in St. Louis. Hockey fans truly in the know remember Wickenheiser for completing the Blues‘ “Monday Night Miracle” with an overtime goal against Calgary to force a Game 7 in the 1986 Campbell Conference Finals.
- Ty Conklin (1976-) – Some guys just seem to be born unlucky. This goaltender, who has nine years of NHL experience with six different teams (mostly with Edmonton), was a member of the 2008 Penguins team that lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to Detroit. So he could get his hands on the hardware, he joined the Red Wings the following season, who ended up losing the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh.
- Marc-Edouard Vlasic (1987-) – This defenseman was selected 35th-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, and that’s where he’s played ever since. Even though this is his 11th season, tonight’s game is only the fifth he’s ever played on his birthday in the NHL. His last was in 2013, and it was a special one: he notched his first birthday goal.
With four goals in the opening period, the Blackhawks easily beat Pittsburgh 5-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Though the scoring started quickly thanks to First Star of the Game Artemi Panarin‘s (Third Star Patrick Kane and Second Star Tanner Kero) wrist shot 3:23 after the opening puck drop, the Hawks truly took command of the game in the final six minutes of the first frame. With what proved to be the game-winning goal, Richard Panik (Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews) buried a snap shot with 5:21 remaining, followed by Marcus Kruger (Kane and Panarin) and Marian Hossa (Ryan Hartman) in the closing minute of the period to set Chicago‘s advantage at four goals.
A win by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series was an important one yesterday, as it set the visitors’ record at 83-58-23 and gave them a two-point advantage on the hosts.
It’s a busy day in the NHL, so let’s jump right into tonight’s schedule. Montréal at Philadelphia (RDS) gets the action started at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by two more contests (the New York Rangers at Buffalo [NBCSN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Tampa Bay [RDS2]). 8 p.m. marks the start of Edmonton at Nashville, with Winnipeg at Dallas waiting 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Two games (Chicago at Arizona and Toronto at St. Louis) drop the puck at 9 p.m., followed an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: San Jose at Vancouver.
Tonight’s game in St. Louis is the first for Mike Yeo in charge of the Blues. Let’s see if he can get the severely under-performing club back in shape.
After taking the 2010-’11 season off, Ken Hitchcock took command of the Notes on November 6, 2011. Since then, St. Louis has done nothing but succeed, finishing no worse than second place in the division over the past five years and qualifying for the Western Semifinals twice.
Unfortunately for Hitch, the Blues aren’t on the right track towards making that a six-season streak. Even with one of the best scorers in the game, they haven’t found anywhere near the success they did a season ago. Nothing makes that point clearer than looking back at February 2 a year ago when they were featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series.
And that’s not even bringing up the goaltending situation. In fact, that’s almost certainly what cost Hitchcock his job yesterday, as Jim Corsi was also relieved of his duties.
While it’s not the way Doug Armstrong envisioned it happening, Hitchcock was never going to coach the Blues beyond this season. That’s what is making this transition so easy. Yeo was hired last summer as a coach-in-waiting, effectively securing him from the other
29 30 other teams (don’t forget, somebody has to lead Vegas!) that might have been interested in his talents.
Even the goaltending coaching change was easy. Corsi is being replaced by Martin Brodeur and Ty Conklin, two former NHL netminders that were already employed by the club, with 787 wins, 1481 games and three Stanley Cups between them. Conklin was already working with the netminders as a goalie development coach, and is now joined by Assistant GM Brodeur, one of the greatest netminders of all-time.
It’s Yeo’s second stint as a head coach. He was last seen leading the Wild, and he certainly found his share of success. After his first season when Minnesota finished fourth in the five-team Northwest Division, he qualified the Wild for the Stanley Cup playoffs three-straight times. Unfortunately for him, his club managed to run into Chicago each of those postseasons.
In case you haven’t heard, Chicago is pretty darn good. The Blackhawks refused to allow the Wild to advance any further in those three campaigns – winning the Stanley Cup twice in that span – which makes assessing Yeo’s playoff coaching abilities harder than it seems on the surface.
Yeo takes command of a 24-21-5 Blues team that currently sits in fourth place in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference. As stated earlier, the blame rests almost entirely on the Blues‘ goaltending, which has allowed 156 goals and ties for fourth-most in the NHL.
17-13-3 Jake Allen has been the man between the pipes more often than not for St. Louis. His record doesn’t show that he’s been struggling, but his .895 save percentage and 2.87 GAA, which rank 43rd and 35th-worst, respectively, against the other 45 netminders with at least 18 appearances, tells the entire story.
Those who like stats a lot know that a horrendous save percentage with a slightly better GAA can usually be attributed to the defense. That remains the case in St. Louis, where the blueline allows only 27.6 shots-per-game to reach Allen’s net – tying for the fifth-best effort in the league. Alex Pietrangelo deserves a lot of the credit, as his 96 shot blocks are not only tops on the team, but also 19th-best in the entire league.
Interestingly, it’s been Allen that elevates his game on the penalty kill, as his .887 save percentage is 15th-best in the league. That’s led the Blues to a 82.8% kill rate, which ties for 10th-best in the NHL. Defensively, Pietrangelo remains the leader with his 23 shorthanded shot blocks.
Another aspect of the game where the Blues are right on schedule is their power play. Successful on 22.1% of attempts, it ranks eighth-best in the NHL, thanks in large part to both Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko, who both have a team-leading 18 power play points. Surprisingly, it’s actually been Shattenkirk that has buried the most goals with the man-advantage, as his seven are one more than Tarasenko’s.
With eighth-place Calgary dormant for the night, St. Louis can get their comeback started and potentially finished all in one game. A victory tonight would pull them into a tie with the Flames at 55 points-apiece, but the Blues will have only 51 games played, two fewer than Calgary.
The Maple Leafs make their lone visit to St. Louis of the year with a 23-16-9 record, good enough for fourth place in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference. Although they’re a solid team, the reason the Leafs haven’t cemented themselves into a playoff position is their defense, the weaker of the two facets of their game. Toronto has allowed 133 goals, which ties for 20th-most in the league.
21-10-8 Frederik Andersen has started all but eight games for the Leafs, and for good reason. His .919 save percentage and 2.61 GAA are (t)13th and 22nd-best in the NHL, respectively, among the 42 goalies with 20 or more appearances to their credit.
If he had a better defense playing in front of him, Andersen would probably be a lot better. Toronto‘s bluelines allow 32.1 shots against-per-game, the sixth-highest (read: worst) rate in the league. Nikita Zaitsev has tried his hardest to build a solid defensive corps with his team-leading 81 shot blocks to his credit, but only him, Roman Polak and the injured Morgan Rielly have more than 60 blocks on their season-resumes. If I’m Lou Lamoriello, I’m looking around for a solid top-four defenseman this month before the trade deadline for the playoff push.
Interestingly, Toronto‘s defensive deficiencies are nonexistent when they’re facing a power play. Led by Polak’s 24 shorthanded blocks, the Leafs have successfully nullified 84.9% of opposing man-advantages, the third-best rate in the NHL.
The Maple Leafs‘ own power play has also been daunting. It’s a two-headed beast, consisting of William Nylander and James van Riemsdyk who both lead the team with 15 power play points. Toronto is home to the second-best man-advantage in the league, successful on 23.6% of attempts. Although Nylander and van Riemsdyk have been impressive, the man scoring most of those extra-man goals has been Nazem Kadri, who has 10 power play goals to his credit.
Although they sit outside the playoff bubble right now, a single point in the standings paired with a Philadelphia regulation loss would earn the Leafs the second wildcard, if only for a night. Two points for Toronto and a Philly overtime or shootout loss would also do the trick.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (49 points [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (three shutouts [tied for seventh-most in the league] among 21 wins [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and Auston Matthews (23 goals [tied for sixth-most in the league]).
The main issue with the Blues is their last line of defense; their goaltending. I don’t know a lot about being a goalie, but I get the vibe it’s a highly technical position that isn’t going to be resolved in 48 hours. Vegas has marked St. Louis a -120 favorite, but I don’t like those odds. If you’re a gambler, I recommend betting on the Leafs tonight.
- Kjell Dahlin (1963-) – Drafted in the fourth round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played only three seasons with Montréal, the club that picked him. It was an incredible rookie season, as he notched 71 points en route to the 1986 Stanley Cup. Due to injuries, he was never able to replicate that success and was out of the league after the 1987-’88 season.
- Arturs Irbe (1967-) – This goalie might have only been drafted in the 10th round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by the North Stars, but he was able to turn that selection into a 13-year career. The two-time All Star spent most of his career in Carolina.
- Todd Bertuzzi (1975-) – The Islanders picked this right wing 23rd-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career in Vancouver. By the time he retired, the two-time All Star notched 770 points to go with his 1478 penalty minutes.
- Jordin Tootoo (1983-) – A fourth-round pick by Nashville in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing has appeared in almost every season since 2003. He’s currently a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Just like I predicted, Calgary was able to best the Wild 5-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
The two tallies in the first period both belonged to the Flames, meaning they were in possession of their winner for quite a while. Alex Chiasson (Sam Bennett and Kris Versteeg) takes credit for Calgary‘s first goal, a deflection 4:26 after the initial puck drop. 3:43 later, First Star of the Game Sean Monahan (Johnny Gaudreau and Troy Brouwer) provided the winner with a power play wrister.
Calgary‘s win is the third-straight for the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. It improves the hosts’ records to 57-35-16, nine points better than the roadies.