The Original Trio reunite for a special look at the Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres, college coaches landing NHL jobs and Conference Finals takeaways. Also, we meant Andrei Svechnikov.
Nick and Connor roadmap the offseason for Pittsburgh and Boston, figure out why Washington has been so good (and Tampa), pick a winner in tonight’s Game 7 (WPG @ NSH) and explain how Vegas is going to win the Cup in their inaugural season. Also discussed, Jim Montgomery, Rod Brind’Amour, Don Waddell, the Charlotte Checkers (so Carolina as a whole) and Mark Hamill.
‘Tis the season to freak out over the teens.
It’s time for the annual conspiracy theories surrounding the NHL Entry Draft Lottery and things that require more critical thinking, like this mock draft.
It’s not easy to predict how every player– drafted or undrafted– will perform as they embark on making their mark at the professional level, but it’s worth the fun if you’re merely passing the time between the end of the regular season and the Entry Draft in June and your team missed the postseason.
Otherwise, you’re probably too focused on your team’s current playoff series to really get into a deep-dive on why your team should have taken Player A instead of Player B with the 27th overall pick in the 1st round– and that’s probably for the better. Hindsight is always 20/20 and you really shouldn’t put more stress on your heart than it is already taking from every tumbling muffin of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This is just the first of three editions of my mock draft from now until draft day (June 22nd).
This year’s NHL Entry Draft is being held at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas from June 22nd-23rd.
Draft lottery results (a synopsis): Carolina leaped into a top-three pick, as did Montreal, while Ottawa fell from second to fourth overall and Arizona fell from third to fifth.
1. Buffalo Sabres –> D Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda (Sweden)
The Sabres already have a solid group of young forwards, why not add the best player in the draft into the mix? Oh yeah, and he’s a two-way defenseman, so that’ll finally help Buffalo (think back to Tyler Myers‘s rookie season, only much, much better). At 6-foot-2, 181-pounds, Dahlin is the perfect fit on the blueline as someone who can shutdown and get the puck out of the zone.
2. Carolina Hurricanes–> RW Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie (OHL)
The second-best prospect in the draft, Svechnikov’s nothing to feel bad about, especially for the Hurricanes, who, unlike the Sabres, already have a plethora of youth and skill on the back end and will now finally have that missing piece among their forwards. He had 40-32–72 totals in 44 games with the Barrie Colts– in just his first season of Junior hockey.
3. Montreal Canadiens–> LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston University (H-East)
Tkachuk is big and strong. That’s what the Canadiens have been trying to add, but not in the right way the last few seasons. They’ve got their guy in Tkachuk, though, he’s intense, gritty and, more importantly, has scoring ability. Something Montreal has lacked for a year or two– and desperately needs in an ever-evolving speed and skill game.
4. Ottawa Senators–> RW Filip Zadina, Halifax (QMJHL)
One of the most dynamic goal scorers and underrated players, Zadina could go in the top-three, but falls into Ottawa’s lap as the perfect fit. He had 44 goals in 57 games for the Halifax Mooseheads– who just keep churning out quality player after player, year-to-year.
5. Arizona Coyotes–> RW Oliver Wahlstrom, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
A lot of experts have Wahlstrom falling somewhere near 10th overall. I’m no expert, but I do believe he’s a bit better than that. After all, Wahlstrom had 47 goals in 60 games this season and only has more room to grow with the youth infused Coyotes. He’ll fit in with his hands and scoring prowess.
6. Detroit Red Wings–> D Quintin Hughes, Michigan (BIG10)
Detroit has a need for a good, young defender and Hughes fits that bill. Torey Krug is the player that comes to mind when watching Hughes control the game. Did I mention he’s got a hard, accurate, shot like Krug too?
7. Vancouver Canucks–> D Evan Bouchard, London (OHL)
Losing the Sedins to retirement hurts a bit less when you add one of the best new-age defenders that put up 25-62–87 totals in 67 games for the London Knights this season. Bouchard should make Vancouver better at transitioning the puck up ice and getting it to their core players, like Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.
8. Chicago Blackhawks–> D Adam Boqvist, Brynas (SWE-JR)
Chicago is rather depleted on the blueline since they lost Trevor van Riemsdyk in the Vegas expansion draft. They’ve also got an aging problem, with Duncan Keith (34) and Brent Seabrook (33) signed for a long time. With proper development, Boqvist should come into his own and start carrying the Blackhawks defense in due time.
9. New York Rangers–> C Rasmus Kupari, Karpat (Finland)
The first of three first round picks, the Rangers can’t go wrong selecting the best Finnish forward in the draft. With Ryan Spooner as a pending-RFA and more to sort out this offseason, New York’s looking to make smart picks in both the now and down the road. A 6-foot-1, 183-pound center isn’t the worst place to start as they continue to transition their game with the likes of Lias Andersson, Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov.
10. Edmonton Oilers–> D Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
Peter Chiarelli wants a young defenseman that can get pucks up the ice to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl instead of having to over rely on Kris Russell to block shots. Thankfully, Dobson can be that defenseman without the Oilers having to work a potential trade with that other team in Alberta for Dougie Hamilton.
11. New York Islanders–> C/LW Isac Lundestrom, Lulea (Sweden)
In the first of back-to-back picks, the Islanders look to round-out a group of young forwards that can develop and work together.
12. New York Islanders (via Calgary Flames)–> LW Joel Farabee, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
That’s where Farabee can become the winger to Lundestrom’s line someday or something, I’m sure. New York is too busy trying to re-sign John Tavares right now, probably.
13. Dallas Stars–> D Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL)
Whoever ends up as the new head coach in Dallas should have no problem making that offense work. It seems like the Stars could get away with highway robbery, having Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov on the same line, if they could just get things going. Having said that, Smith adds to the transition game that’s already pretty strong (and reliant) on John Klingberg.
14. Philadelphia Flyers (via St. Louis Blues)–> D Bode Wilde, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
An underrated defender, Wilde, should become a decent top-four blueliner in an already stacked group of young players for the Flyers. Now if only they could finally do something about that goaltending…
15. Florida Panthers–> C Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Hayton had 21 goals and 39 assists (60 points) in 63 games for the Greyhounds this season and should help the Panthers ease the loss of Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault to the Golden Knights last June. The only problem might be that Hayton could need a year or two, but it’s a gain, nonetheless as he’s one of the “best available” picks that slides a bit and lands in Florida’s lap.
16. Colorado Avalanche–> C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Assat (Finland)
Colorado makes out with a pretty safe pick that can take his time to develop for a year while the Avalanche continue to make some noise in the Central Division that, after Winnipeg and Nashville, looks like it’s anyone’s game.
17. New Jersey Devils–> C Joseph Veleno, Drummondville (QMJHL)
Veleno shouldn’t be overlooked as he had 22-57–79 totals in 64 games for Drummondville this season. Thankfully the Devils know talent when they see it and can continue transitioning to a youthful roster that’ll compliment Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall pretty well.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets–> C Jack McBain, Toronto (OJHL)
The Blue Jackets take a risk that’s worth it in a couple of years, focusing on a playmaker that should fit the likes of Artemi Panarin and Co. pretty well in front of The Fifth Line at Nationwide Arena.
19. Philadelphia Flyers–> LW Girgori Denisenko, Yaroslavl 2 (Russia)
Whereas the Flyers went with a defender for their first pick in the first round, they should opt for a forward five picks later. Denisenko is crafty and should really come into his own in two-to-three years.
20. Los Angeles Kings–> RW Serron Noel, Oshawa (OHL)
No doubts about it, Noel is the prototypical power-forward that fits the Kings well. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound right-winger just might fall far enough for Los Angeles’s taking. His offensive skills add to the emergence of youth in Hollywood that’s bound to regain control of the Pacific.
21. San Jose Sharks–> D Jared McIsaac, Halifax (QMJHL)
22. Ottawa Senators (via Pittsburgh Penguins)–> D Ryan Merkley, Guelph (OHL)
23. Anaheim Ducks–> C Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Halifax (QMJHL)
24. Minnesota Wild–> D Rasmus Sandin, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
25. Toronto Maple Leafs–> RW Akil Thomas, Niagara (OHL)
26. Washington Capitals–> D Mattias Samuelsson, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
27. Detroit Red Wings (via Vegas Golden Knights)–> C/LW Filip Hallander, Timra (Sweden)
28. New York Rangers (via Boston Bruins)–> D Adam Ginning, Linköping (SHL)
29. New York Rangers (via Tampa Bay Lightning)–> C/LW Ryan McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)
30. St. Louis Blues (via Winnipeg Jets)–> C David Gustafsson, HV71 (SHL)
31. Chicago Blackhawks (via Nashville Predators)–> D Alexander Alexeyev, Red Deer (WHL)
Ladies and gentlemen, the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin this month. It’s officially April. Start saving your money for either 1) playoff tickets or 2) tee times– there is no in-between.
Each month has brought a new twist to the latest forecasted standings here on Down the Frozen River and in the spirit of finishing off the season, here’s one final look at how things should pan out with one week remaining in the 2017-18 regular season.
It’s okay to tell Microsoft Excel you disagree, so by all means, take these numbers for what you want. A holistic viewpoint goes a lot further in the world of analytics and a salary cap. At this point, it’s almost worth more to focus on where your team is expected to fall in the standings than how many points they should amass on the season.
And if you’re embracing the tank, you might as well forget about it. The NHL draft lottery usually shakes things up pretty well anyway.
Anyway, here’s how the standings should shake out for all 31 NHL franchises based on their performances through March 31, 2018. Keep in mind my degree is in communication– not math. These are merely educated “I know how to use Excel to make things happen” guesses.
2017-2018 Projected Standings after Five Months
- p-Boston Bruins, 117 points (77 GP so far)
- x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 111 points (78 GP so far)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 104 points (78 GP so far)
- Florida Panthers, 89 points (77 GP so far)
- Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (79 GP so far)
- Ottawa Senators, 73 points (78 GP so far)
- Montreal Canadiens, 70 points (78 GP so far)
- Buffalo Sabres, 64 points (78 GP so far)
Surging through March despite numerous injuries, the Boston Bruins claw their way not only into first place in the Atlantic Division standings (and Eastern Conference standings as a whole), but they land themselves just their third President’s Trophy in franchise history as the league leaders at the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season.
Despite their late season hiccups, the Tampa Bay Lightning settle for 2nd in the Atlantic Division and gear up for what should be a deeper than the First Round playoff appearance.
The Toronto Maple Leafs make some noise with their second consecutive postseason appearance, but are no match for the long journey to the Cup this season (give it one more postseason, Leafs fans. Next year, it’s totally your year).
Somehow the Ottawa Senators string together a few wins to surpass the Montreal Canadiens. Meanwhile the Florida Panthers stumble just as quietly out of playoff contention as they began the season.
- y-Washington Capitals, 104 points (78 GP so far)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 99 points (79 GP so far)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 98 points (79 GP so far)
- wc1-New Jersey Devils, 98 points (78 GP so far)
- wc2-Philadelphia Flyers, 97 points (78 GP so far)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points (79 GP so far)
- New York Rangers, 80 points (79 GP so far)
- New York Islanders, 78 points (79 GP so far)
The Washington Capitals always seem to find a way to win their division. Especially in what has been Braden Holtby‘s season from hell (have you checked his goals against average and save percentage this season yet? Because if you’re a Caps fan and you haven’t, maybe you shouldn’t for your own good heading into the playoffs).
In what has equally been as difficult a season for Matt Murray in goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions should have home ice for a First Round matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets that shouldn’t go less than seven games. Best friends in real life, Mike Sullivan and John Tortorella, just might put their friendship to the test for a couple of weeks.
Both of the Eastern Conference wild cards are going to Metropolitan Division teams this season as the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers are welcomed back to the postseason with open arms.
If you’re a Carolina Hurricanes fan, next year seems enticing to break the playoff drought– and it’s only fitting, since 2019 will mark 10 years since Carolina last made the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And if you’re John Tavares, maybe you’re looking elsewhere from the abysmal New York Islanders this offseason. Say for instance, the quickly rebuilding New York Rangers?
- z-Nashville Predators, 114 points (78 GP so far)
- x-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points (78 GP so far)
- x-Minnesota Wild, 99 points (78 GP so far)
- wc1-St. Louis Blues, 98 points (78 GP so far)
- Colorado Avalanche, 94 points (78 GP so far)
- Dallas Stars, 89 points (79 GP so far)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 78 points (79 GP so far)
The Nashville Predators edge out the Winnipeg Jets in regulation-plus-overtime wins to lay claim to the Western Conference’s best regular season record and home ice through the Western Conference Final. Both teams are set for what should at least be postseason appearances extending into the Second Round.
Since Winnipeg is likely to knock out the Minnesota Wild in a quick series, let’s skip right over them to talk about the St. Louis Blues for a minute.
They thought it was a great idea to get rid of Paul Stastny at the trade deadline– giving up his dominance on the faceoff dot– and yet, here they are with a final week of the season push for the playoffs.
Of course, it helps that the Colorado Avalanche lost Semyon Varlamov and Erik Johnson to injuries (with the Johnson injury being the bigger blow to Nathan MacKinnon‘s Hart Trophy worthy season and the rest of the Avs).
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 113 points (79 GP so far)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (79 GP so far)
- x-Los Angeles Kings, 95 points (79 GP so far)
- wc2-Anaheim Ducks, 95 points (78 GP so far)
- Calgary Flames, 85 points (79 GP so far)
- Edmonton Oilers, 79 points (79 GP so far)
- Vancouver Canucks, 75 points (79 GP so far)
- Arizona Coyotes, 72 points (79 GP so far)
An expansion franchise almost clinched the Western Conference regular season title. The Vegas Golden Knights are that good and should make an impressive effort into at least the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s pure insanity, but it’s fun to watch.
If you’re a California resident, there’s good news, all three of your teams will be in the postseason (again). Just switch your hats and/or jerseys to whoever’s playing that night and hope for the best (pick San Jose, they seem like a good dark horse).
The Calgary Flames get the honor of “best of the worst teams in the west”, which I’m sure will tie into the Stampede Festival somehow– if not solely because their owner is looking to stampede out of the city and into a new arena elsewhere.
Poor Connor McDavid, it must be demoralizing to have back-to-back 100-point seasons on a team that has only made the playoffs once in his young career.
And you probably shouldn’t write off the Arizona Coyotes entirely, because they very well could make the Vancouver Canucks look worse and jump from 8th to 7th in the division by season’s end.
If you’re so inclined to see how things were expected to pan out this season back in October, you can do so here.
Get ready for a wild Tuesday of hockey! 11 games are on tonight’s schedule!
The action finds its start at 7 p.m. tonight with four tilts (Pittsburgh at the New York Islanders [SN/TVAS], Columbus at the New York Rangers, Dallas at Washington and Edmonton at Carolina), followed half an hour later by three more (Florida at Ottawa [RDS], Philadelphia at Detroit [NBCSN] and Toronto at Tampa Bay). Los Angeles at Winnipeg is next up at 8 p.m., while Colorado at Chicago waits 30 minutes before dropping the puck. 10 p.m. marks the beginning of Vancouver at Vegas, leaving New Jersey at San Jose (NHLN/SN1) as tonight’s nightcap since it drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.
A couple of the games I’d tagged on my calendar include…
- Pittsburgh at New York: It’s rivalry night in Brooklyn! Though the Isles’ playoff chances have been all but officially pronounced dead, there’s still fun to be had in playing spoiler.
- Philadelphia at Detroit: Tonight marks G Petr Mrazek‘s first return to the Motor City since being traded. With a 72-58-20 record over six seasons with the Wings, it remains to be seen how warm a welcome he’ll receive.
However, the game I’m most intrigued by is taking place in the nation’s capital between two teams in desperate need of points for totally different reasons. To the District of Columbia we go!
The 38-27-8 Stars are completing a six-game road trip tonight, and they’re still looking for their first victory since departing Big D March 9 after beating Anaheim.
This 0-3-2 skid has resulted in Dallas giving up the first wild card position it possessed almost all season – as well as the second wild card position it got forced into – leaving it on the outside looking into the playoff picture as things currently stand.
Defense is certainly not the reason for the Stars’ recent struggles. Led by D Stephen Johns and RW Brett Ritchie (both averaging four hits per game since March 11), C Radek Faksa (four takeaways in his last five showings) and D Greg Pateryn (2.2 blocks over this losing skid), Dallas has allowed only 27.6 shots against per game during this road trip – the fourth-lowest average in the NHL since March 11.
Instead, I’ve been most disappointed with the play of 12-10-3 G Kari Lehtonen, who has started three and earned the result in four of Dallas’ last five games and will be seeing even more time in net considering the lower body injury to 26-17-5 G Ben Bishop against the Jets on Sunday. Though Lehtonen has been decent all season with a .913 save percentage (slightly behind Bishop’s .916) and 2.46 GAA (slightly better than the starter’s 2.49), his .87 save percentage and 3.67 GAA in these last four showings has been anything but inspiring.
After pairing the efforts of Lehtonen and his defense, the Stars have allowed a whopping 3.8 goals per game since March 11, the seventh-highest average in the league in that time.
Of course, he hasn’t gotten much help from his offense either. With the exception of BFFs LW Jamie Benn (3-3-6 totals since March 11) and F Tyler Seguin (2-3-5 over this run) on the top line, Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has struggled to find any consistent attack out of his team, as it has averaged only 2.4 goals per game during this road trip – (t)eighth-worst in the NHL since March 11.
In other words, Lehtonen is setting games up so that the offense has to summit Mount Everest on a nightly basis, and they’re only making it 18 thousand feet up – well short of the 29 thousand foot summit.
Unfortunately for Dallas, the 41-24-7 Capitals’ offense has been gelling lately, which is a major reason that they have posted a 4-1-0 record over their last five showings.
With a team that’s averaging 4.2 goals per game over its last five showings (the [t]third-best mark in the league since March 10), it’s no surprise there’s more than a few Capitals averaging at least a point per game over this run.
In total, six players – five of which are healthy (F Evgeny Kuznetsov missed the last game with an injury to his left arm and is not likely to dress this evening) – are averaging a point per game since March 10, but none have been as impressive as C Nicklas Backstrom.
The Swedish center has been dominant lately, made evident by his 3-5-8 totals in his last five showings to average 1.6 points per game. Having spent almost the entire season on the second line, the 30-year-old continues to be one of the most underrated play-makers in the game, as four of his five most recent assists have been secondary even-strength apples.
Surprisingly, his promotion to the top line against Philadelphia on Sunday to rejoin W Alex Ovechkin did not see the instantaneous success many expected. Predictions were that Backstrom would resume setting Ovechkin up for multiple scoring chances just like in seasons past, but the only play they converted together was helpers on a D John Carlson third period marker.
Of course, that’s not to say Backstrom and Ovechkin have no chemistry at all, it’s just that their time playing together this season has been limited to the power play. Of Backstrom’s last eight points, three have occurred with the man-advantage, including providing the secondary assist on Ovechkin’s second goal of the game against Winnipeg.
Perhaps tonight, after a bit more practice to rediscover each other’s grooves during five-on-five play, they can light up the scoreboard like they want to.
With only a two-point advantage on Pittsburgh for the Metropolitan Division crown, every point the Capitals can earn over their last 10 games is priceless. Fortunately for the Caps, Pittsburgh has played just as many games as them and Washington has what seems to be a weaker schedule to close out the season with only three tilts against current playoff teams to the Pens’ five.
Playing in the same division as Presidents’ Trophy-leading Nashville, division titles are the furthest things from the Stars’ minds. Instead, they need to buckle down and win some games to stay within reach of Anaheim, which leads Dallas by two points, for the second wild card.
If the past is any indicator, the Capitals have a slight upper hand in this game given their performance at American Airlines Center on December 19. After both teams scored a goal apiece in all three periods to force overtime, W Andre Burakovsky took First Star honors by scoring the final goal in a 4-3 Washington win, his second tally and third point of the night.
The Caps’ attack is not going to think twice about taking advantage of Lehtonen’s recent struggles. Expect Washington to come away with at least a three-goal victory.
There was a little bit of everything in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 in overtime at Xcel Energy Center.
The first period almost ended with the same score it started with, but LW Tanner Pearson (W Dustin Brown and First Star of the Game D Drew Doughty) apparently wasn’t interested in that. He buried a snap shot with 1:13 remaining in the frame to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead.
That advantage doubled to 2-0 at the 6:21 mark of the second period courtesy of a power play tip-in from Second Star F Jeff Carter (D Jake Muzzin and Doughty). The Wild finally found their response 5:47 after Carter’s tally courtesy of a LW Zach Parise (RW Nino Niederreiter and D Ryan Murphy) wrist shot, and Third Star C Eric Staal (D Ryan Suter and D Mathew Dumba) sneaked a snapper past G Jonathan Quick with 56 seconds remaining in the frame to level the game at 2-2
After trailing in this game for 20:17, Minnesota finally earned its first lead with 2:31 remaining in regulation when C Joel Eriksson Ek (W Jason Zucker and F Charlie Coyle) scored a wrister to set the score at 3-2. With the Kings backs against the wall and in desperate need of points, Head Coach John Stevens was forced to pull Quick with 1:37 remaining on the clock. Los Angeles did not waste its extra attacker, as Brown (Doughty and C Anze Kopitar) buried a tip-in with 47 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 3-3.
Just like the theme had been for most of the night, the game-winning delayed until the waning minutes of overtime before showing itself. With only 34 separating this tilt from the dreaded shootout, F Adrian Kempe collected a clear by Quick from behind his net and drove the length of the ice until he was right on G Devan Dubnyk‘s doorstep. However, instead of attempting a shot from such close range, he slid a pass backwards through the slot to a trailing Carter, who ripped a wrister top shelf over Dubnyk’s right shoulder to win the game for the Kings.
Quick earned the victory after saving 24-of-27 shots faced (.889 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Dubnyk, who saved 26-of-30 (.867).
Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have saved their best for the end of the season, as tonight’s victory gave them points in nine of the last 10 games. As such, the 88-52-20 hosts in the series now have only a 33-point advantage over the visitors.
We’re reaching the midway point of March, meaning there’s only a few weeks separating us from playoff hockey! It’s time to get excited, fans!
Arenas start coming to life at 7 p.m. this evening with Dallas at Toronto (SN/TVAS), followed an hour later by Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers (NBCSN). San Jose at Edmonton (SN1) drops the puck at 9:30 p.m., while tonight’s co-nightcaps – New Jersey at Vegas and Vancouver at Anaheim – wait half an hour before wrapping up the night’s events. All times Eastern.
When the schedule was released before this season, I was most excited for the action in Alberta this evening since it was a rematch of a Western Quarterfinal matchup from a year ago. However, the game that must attract our attention is the other tilt taking place in Canada tonight.
The past two weeks have not been a stellar run for the 40-22-7 Maple Leafs, as they’ve posted a lowly 1-2-2 record over their past five games after rattling off a four-game winning streak.
For me, what has been really disappointing about Toronto – both lately and, really, for the entire season as a whole – has been its performance on the defensive end. Over their last five games, the Leafs have allowed 34.2 shots against per game, the ninth-most in the NHL since February 26. F Leo Komarov (3.6 hits per game since February 26), F William Nylander (eight takeaways in his past five games) and D Nikita Zaitsev (1.8 blocks per game in his last four showings [he missed Saturday’s home game against the Penguins with the flu]) have stood out lately, but the Maple Leafs just don’t seem to be getting consistent production in their own zone from the entire roster.
However, that is just a microcosm of Toronto’s season as a whole. In terms of shots against, the Leafs have been the fourth-worst team in the NHL having yielded 34 pucks per game. As Head Coach Mike Babcock’s side is quickly learning, Komarov (three hits per game for the season), F Mitch Marner (team-leading 66 takeaways in 69 games played) and Zaitsev (2.5 blocks per game all season) cannot carry this club on their own defensively.
What makes this current defensive play all the more glaring is the recent struggles of 33-18-5 G Frederik Andersen. Having managed a .919 save percentage and 2.76 GAA for the entire season, those numbers have dropped to an .885 save percentage and 4.21 GAA in his past four starts.
This is not an attack on Andersen, because his decline in play has to be related to the pure exhaustion of facing over 1900 shots this year. In fact, it’s almost entirely because of him that Toronto has allowed only 2.83 goals all season, the (t)12th-best mark in the NHL. Fortunately, he’s played only two games in the past 10 days and is coming off a 5-2 win in his past outing, so he should be well rested entering tonight’s affair.
Speaking of teams currently in playoff position not playing necessarily well right now, Toronto is hosting the 38-26-6 Stars this evening, a club that has posted only a 1-3-1 record in its last five games.
While Toronto has struggled on the defensive end lately, all of the Stars’ issues have occurred when they have the puck on their own sticks. Dallas has averaged only 1.4 goals per game since March 5, a mark that is tied with Vancouver for worst in the league in that time.
However, that’s not to say none of the Stars are finding success. In fact, with 2-3-5 totals during this run, F Tyler Seguin has managed to average a point per game since March 5 to elevate his season totals to 36-29-65, far and away the best marks on the club.
Unfortunately, it’s the rest of the team that is putting Seguin at risk of delaying his sixth playoff appearance by at least a season. Besides the three-point efforts of stellar linemates (at least as of puck drop last night) LW Jamie Benn and RW Alexander Radulov (with 2-1-3 and 1-2-3 totals, respectively), no Stars have registered more than two points over this five-game stretch.
One source of offensive production that has fallen quiet lately is D John Klingberg. Having posted 7-50-57 totals for the season, he’s managed only two assists in his past six showings. Whether he focuses on creating plays for the Benn-Seguin-Radulov super line or increasing the potency of the other three trios, he’ll be a big key in getting this Stars team back on track.
I have a hard time believing a team in any sport has nothing to play for when it steps onto its playing surface, but the Leafs have literally nothing to play for as far as the standings are concerned. Toronto trails second-place Boston by nine points, and the Bruins will have two games in hand after tonight’s events. Even if the Maple Leafs win out starting tonight, the Bruins would need only 18 points (nine victories) in their remaining 14 games to hold on to home ice in the first round of the playoffs. I just don’t see Boston dropping that many games in regulation, especially since it can still grasp the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
“Well,” you say, “maybe the Maple Leafs could still lose third place in the division?”
Yeah, that’s not happening either. Florida is in fourth place in the Atlantic, and it trails the Leafs by a dozen points. Even with the Panthers’ two games in hand – which will increase to three following tonight’s tilt – the bottom is going to need to drop out on Toronto for it to become a wild card.
Instead, this game – and every other one until the end of the regular season – is effectively a live practice situation. The Maple Leafs should take these opportunities to get healthy, work out any kinks in their game and prepare for the return of C Auston Matthews and the postseason.
The same cannot be said for the Stars, as this is a very important game for them. After losing last night in Montréal in regulation, Dallas has fallen behind Colorado and is currently the Western Conference’s second wild card. Mix in the fact that three teams trail the Stars by a maximum of only three points, and Dallas is in desperate need of a victory tonight.
When the Leafs made their annual trip to Dallas on January 25, 7-4-1 G Curtis McElhinney stole headlines with his dazzling 39-save performance. Pairing that with a two-goal performance by C Nazem Kadri, Toronto earned two points with a 4-1 victory.
There’s been a few games this season where I’ve felt so confident in a prediction that I’d consider betting the house. Today is one of those times. Dallas’ offense is anemic right now, and it is coming off a miserable 4-2 performance against a bad Canadiens team last night. Mix in the fact that the Stars have a lowly 14-16-3 record on the road, and this has the clear appearance of a Toronto victory.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Colorado Avalanche earned a 5-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Xcel Energy Center.
Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it’s probably no secret which club it belonged to. With 3:38 remaining in the frame, Second Star of the Game F J.T. Compher (D David Warsofsky) buried a wrist shot to give the Avs a 1-0 advantage.
The second period was a far more evenly-matched affair, as both sides came away with a marker. The first belonged to Third Star C Mikko Koivu (F Charlie Coyle) and the Wild, as he registered a wrister with 6:04 remaining in the period to level the game at 1-1. However, that scoreline lasted only 59 seconds before D Nikita Zadorov (W Blake Comeau) provided what proved to be Colorado’s game-winning goal.
Playing under four-on-four conditions due to LW Gabriel Landeskog and D Nate Prosser taking matching roughing penalties 25 seconds before Koivu’s marker, excellent forechecking by the Avalanche created this goal. Comeau initially advanced play into his offensive zone, but a sloppy pass to F Carl Soderberg resulted in F Mikael Granlund possessing the puck in the corner to G Devan Dubnyk‘s right. However, Colorado wasn’t ready to give up on the play yet, as Soderberg engaged the Finn to dislodge possession and allow Comeau a second chance at glory. He didn’t miss, as he centered a pass to Zadorov that was one-timed past Dubnyk’s glove, off the right post and into the net.
The pattern of scoring the same quantity of goals as the period’s number reached its trifecta in the final frame, as Colorado laid it on Minnesota with three markers. Having been held off the scorecard so far, F Nathan MacKinnon (D Patrik Nemeth) scored a wrister only 11 seconds into the period to give Colorado a two-goal advantage. He was followed by Compher (D Samuel Girard and W Sven Andrighetto) and F Tyson Jost (D Tyson Barrie and RW Mikko Rantanen) later in the frame, both with power play goals to set the 5-1 final score.
First Star G Semyon Varlamov earned the victory after saving 33-of-34 shots faced (.971 save percentage), leaving the loss to Dubnyk, who saved 17-of-22 (.773).
Though they would have obviously preferred to earn two points last night, the Wild are probably the happiest of the two teams coming out of this game because they know they won’t see the Avalanche again this regular season. In four meetings, Colorado dropped only one point to dominate Minnesota all year.
Things have been looking up for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series lately. Colorado’s victory was the fourth consecutive by a visitor in the series, meaning the 86-49-19 hosts’ lead has been trimmed to 37 points (Yes, those numbers don’t line up with yesterday’s. I discovered some clerical errors that have now been resolved.).
Saturdays are a great day in the National Hockey League. Then again, Saturdays in March are pretty great in general even though we’re all going to be watching the sport on ice instead of flipping channels with that sport that started with a peach basket (ATLANTA HAD TWO NHL TEAMS!) and that Canadian guy (HOCKEY, EH!!) in Springfield, Massachusetts (AHL HOCKEY!!!).
Please ignore college basketball for one day, okay? Thanks guys.
So yeah, Saturdays are pretty great. Especially when you wake up and the heat is still running– thank you very much, power company.
While our usual DTFR Game of the Day writer, @connorzkeith, is day-to-day and recovering from minor upper body surgery, I’d like to extend a special “thank you” to @jdettro for filling in yesterday.
Thanks to the second nor’easter in about a week, I was unable to fulfill my scheduled duty of doing Connor’s job for a day as was originally planned. Luckily, the power is back on and I’m here to be the Daily Matchup boss for the day.
In the meantime, looks like New England’s going to get ravaged again by another nor’easter on Monday/Tuesday– so if this experience isn’t for you, don’t worry, my power will probably be knocked out again in a couple days.
Anyway, on with the show.
There’s a boatload of games (11, in fact) on the docket today and only one can be our DTFR Game of the Day, but if you’re trying to catch them all…
The puck drops first in the Hub of Hockey at 1 p.m. between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins nationally on NHL Network (NBCS Chicago and NESN in their respective local markets)– with the Vegas Golden Knights paying a visit to the Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning (RDS) and Winnipeg Jets at the Philadelphia Flyers all facing off at the same time.
Two hours later, the Arizona Coyotes visit the Colorado Avalanche at 3 p.m. An hour after that, the St. Louis Blues try to climb back into the playoff picture against the Los Angeles Kings on NHL Network at 4 p.m. Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks square off at four in the afternoon as well.
If you’re content with watching NHL Network all day and sitting through the thousands of J.G Wentworth commercials, then you can treat yourself to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 p.m. on NHL Network in the United States (CBC, Sportsnet & TVAS in Canada). If that’s not your thing, perhaps the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers are more of your cup of tea, because they’re also getting underway at seven o’clock.
The New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators face-off an hour later (8 p.m.) at Bridgestone Arena and the Minnesota Wild wrap up the night in Edmonton against the Oilers at 10 p.m. on CBC and Sportsnet in Canada. All times Eastern.
Here’s a few important ones circled on my calendar:
- Chicago at Boston: Tommy Wingels will be in the lineup for the first of this home-and-home series weekend matchup against his former team. Also, Boston’s without David Backes, Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy, so there’s that.
- Montreal at Tampa: If you like good Atlantic Division matchups, this is usually one of them, even if the Canadiens are in a rebuild.
- Winnipeg at Philadelphia: The Jets are scary good and the Flyers are physically scary, what’s not to love in the City of Brotherly Love?
- Arizona at Colorado: You would’ve laughed at me if I mentioned this last season, but the Coyotes are ruining their draft lottery chances by winning a lot lately and the Avalanche might be a wild card team this year, so…
- Washington at San Jose: Both of these teams have 81 points on the season and are 2nd in their respective divisions (Capitals in the Metropolitan, Sharks in the Pacific). Fight it out!
- Pittsburgh at Toronto: This could be a playoff matchup if the Leafs make it that far. In any case, it’s a Battle of Mikes behind the bench– Mike Sullivan and Mike Babcock.
Plenty of great match-ups to chose from, but only one can be our Game of the Day, after all. As such, let’s turn our attention to SAP Center, shall we?
Saturday afternoon is a great time to tune into the Washington Capitals at San Jose Sharks. Other than the whole “2nd place theme” going on, the Capitals are riding into San Jose on a two-game losing streak (a 4-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday and a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday).
Washington is being outscored by the entire State of California (so far), 7-1. Braden Holtby‘s had no brakes going down the tracks all season and it doesn’t appear his defense is doing anything to help.
After allowing three goals in a little over 25 minutes against the Ducks, Holtby was pulled. Philipp Grubauer then only faced eight shots on goal, turning all of them aside.
An empty net goal was enough to seal their fate at Honda Center, however.
Head coach, Barry Trotz, gave Grubauer a nod of confidence in giving him the start against the re-surging Kings, but the night did not go as planned for the team with the league’s leader in goals– Alex Ovechkin with 40 goals thus far– being held off the scoresheet in both SoCal games.
Grubauer allowed two goals before the Capitals gave up yet another empty netter in the closing minutes at Staples Center.
For all intents and purposes, Ovechkin is two-goals shy of 600 career NHL goals.
If he’s able to get at least two pucks past a San Jose goaltender on Saturday, he’ll become just the 20th player in NHL history to score 600 goals.
Looking to recapture the momentum of their 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium last week, Washington could use two points in regulation against the on-again-off-again Sharks.
San Jose, in the meantime, enters Saturday night 2-1-0 in the month of March, outscoring opponents 11-6. A 7-2 victory at home against the Chicago Blackhawks yielded itself to an embarrassing 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Shark Tank.
Trade deadline acquisition, Evander Kane, has fit in pretty well with the Northern California based franchise, amassing 1-4–5 totals in four games since trading in his Buffalo Sabres gear for a new teal-colored sweater.
In fact, Kane has fit in so well, he’s rejuvenated the Pavelski line with Joonas Donskoi on the other wing.
Jones will likely see his seventh straight start, but that’s no worry for the plus-14 goal differential Sharks now that Burns has begun to find his rhythm alongside… Joakim Ryan!?!
The 24-year-old rookie defenseman has three goals and nine assists (12 points) in 58 games played and is a plus-10 this season.
Veterans Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun are carrying their weight on the second defensive pair. Each of them are plus-7’s so far. Meanwhile Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo (try saying that ten times fast) solidfy the bottom pairing on the blue line.
It’s kind of hard to imagine where Joe Thornton will return to the lineup the way San Jose has been playing as of late. Then again, maybe that’s not a bad thing for someone who’s 38-years-old and still looking for his first Stanley Cup.
As long as the top-six forwards (Kane, Pavelski, Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture and Mikkel Boedker) don’t disappear when it counts, the Sharks should be poised to be a nice dark horse as long as they reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs down the stretch.
Despite being cash-strapped and weaker on defense, the Washington Capitals are putting together a solid season. Trotz’s team is offensively driven. It might just be enough to finally match the Pittsburgh Penguins style of constant offense in the Second Round of the postseason– but I’d hate to get ahead of ourselves.
Washington’s led the Metropolitan Division and they’re looking to regain the division lead with a win in any fashion on Saturday and a Penguins loss in regulation to Toronto later that evening.
In any case, whoever ends up in the Stanley Cup Final will have to go through a rigorous Western Conference team.
For San Jose, it could be three long rounds. For the Capitals, it might be any of the California teams they’ve played this week and, well, they’ve got some work to do.
Regardless, the Sharks want to stay hot and remain competitive– firmly in the grasp of a Pacific Division playoff spot instead of a wild card manifestation. Look for San Jose to take a bite out of Washington’s goaltending with their recent scoring prowess and 3-1-0 record through four games of their six game home stand.
The Dallas Stars took yesterday’s DTFR Game of the Day against the Anaheim Ducks by a score of 2-1 at American Airlines Center.
Ryan Getzlaf (10) kicked off the game’s scoring, giving Anaheim a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission. Corey Perry (27) and Rickard Rakell (29) notched the assists on Getzlaf’s goal at 17:16 of the 1st period.
Benn (23) scored the game winning goal on another Stars power play at 14:50. Dallas blueliner, John Klingberg (50) reached the 50-assist plateau and Seguin (28) picked up his 2nd point of the night on Benn’s game-winner with a little more than five minutes remaining in regulation.
Dallas netminder, Kari Lehtonen, picked up the win with 26 saves on 27 shots against for a .963 save percentage. Ducks goaltender, Ryan Miller, allowed two goals on 37 shots for a .946 SV% in the loss.
The Stars were 2/2 on the power play, while Anaheim failed to convert on three man-advantages. Dallas travels to Pittsburgh for a Sunday night matchup at PPG Paints Arena on NBCSN (7:30 p.m. ET).
Anaheim is off until Monday night on home ice at Honda Center against the St. Louis Blues (10 p.m. ET).
Welcome to my first (and probably last after how bad that pun was) attempt at the ‘Daily Matchups’ column.
The weekend is here and the NHL has a limited schedule, but some solid games are on tap this evening.
The night begins at 7:00 p.m. with the Red Wings from Detroit making a short drive down to Columbus to take on the streaking Blue Jackets. Action continues at 7:30 p.m., with a Canadian clash between the Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames. Our Game of the Day selection begins at 8:30 p.m. Buckle your seatbelts because the Anaheim Ducks are visiting the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center and precious points are on the line. Drink your coffee if you plan to watch Minnesota v. Vancouver. The nightcap game starts at 10:30 p.m.
If you take a glance at the standings, you will quickly realize that the Ducks and Stars are in must-win mode. Both teams currently have 80 points, which is good enough for a playoff position, but there are plenty of teams behind them looking to change that. This is the point in the season that teams are in desperate need of points and are looking for any way to win.
The last time these two teams played, it was a bit of a snooze-fest. Anaheim took a 1-0 decision, with the lone goal coming off the stick of Hampus Lindholm. With the circumstances being a bit different this time around, expect a little more back-and-forth action this evening. It is worth noting that the Ducks are on the second half of a back-to-back, while the Stars have had a couple days off. It is entirely possible a well-rested Ben Bishop shuts down his end of the ice, making this a one-sided affair.
Anaheim enters tonight’s game at 34-22-12 after dropping last night’s contest to the Nashville Predators. The Stars have managed a record of 37-24-6, entering tonight’s game coasting through a two-game losing streak.
For the Ducks, your player to watch will be goaltender Ryan Miller. He is the likely starter, coming into tonight with a 2.52 GAA and a 0.925 SV%. The defensive corps will need to step up against talented offense if they want to help Miller keep pucks out of the net.
For the Dallas Stars, look for the offensive tandem of Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and Jamie Benn to go to work. They have all eclipsed 55+ points on the season and are more than capable of taking advantage of a weary opponent.
As already alluded to, last nights Game of the Day was a victory for the home team. The Predators and Ducks met at Bridgestone Arena, as Nashville went for their 10th consecutive win. Anaheim needed a win to continue their playoff push, while Nashville still has hopes for a President’s Trophy.
The Predators had a strong start out of the gate, earning them a 2-0 lead after twenty minutes. Craig Smith got them on the board at 5:26 of the first period, with assists going to Turris and Hartman. Ryan Johansen lit the lamp at 15:20 to double-up their lead.
In the second period, there was plenty of back-and-forth play, but neither team would find twine. That is, until the Predators took a penalty towards the end of the second frame. The Ducks looked to capitalize on this opening, but instead, gave up a short-handed goal. Austin Watson was the contributor here, widening the gap to 3-0.
Entering the final stanza, Anaheim needed some help. They mustered up a big third period to shorten the lead. Rickard Rakell scored at 6:04 of the third, with Nashville now holding the dreaded 3-1 lead. To make things a bit more interesting, Rakell found twine at 16:35 to cut the deficit once again. Getzlaf assisted on both goals, earning himself two points on the night. The valiant rally wouldn’t be enough, as Viktor Arvidsson slammed the door shut. His score in the final two minutes would be the last tally, earning Nashville a 4-2 win.
After adding some offense earlier in the day on Monday, the Winnipeg Jets added some depth to their blue line.
Defenseman, Joseph Morrow, was traded by the Montreal Canadiens to Winnipeg in exchange for a 4th round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Morrow, 25, has five goals and six assists (11 points) in 38 games for the Habs this season. In the midst of a career year, Morrow’s role as a blue liner has wavered since his days as a hopeful prospect.
In 103 career NHL games between the Canadiens and Boston Bruins, he has 7-13–20 totals.
The 6’0″, 190-pound defenseman signed with Montreal as a free agent in July after spending 2013-17 with the Bruins organization. Before that he was acquired by Boston in the now infamous Tyler Seguin trade with the Dallas Stars on July 4, 2013.
The Edmonton, Alberta native was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1st round (23rd overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Montreal now has ten picks in the 2018 Draft including four in the 2nd round and three in the 5th round.