Tag Archives: Vaakanainen

Game of the week: December 24-30

Now that the holiday break has come and gone, it’s time to get back into some hockey. Let’s take a gander at all the tilts the NHL has crammed into four days this week.

NHL SCHEDULE: December 24-30
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 24
No Games Scheduled – Christmas Eve
Tuesday, December 25
No Games Scheduled – Christmas
Wednesday, December 26
No Games Scheduled – Boxing Day
Thursday, December 27
7 p.m. New Jersey Boston 5-2
7 p.m. Columbus Blue Jackets New York Rangers 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Detroit Pittsburgh 2-5
7 p.m. Carolina Washington 1-3
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Tampa Bay 5-6 (OT)
8 p.m. Buffalo St. Louis 1-4
8 p.m. Dallas Nashville 2-0
8 p.m. Calgary Winnipeg 4-1
8:30 p.m. Minnesota Chicago 2-5
9 p.m. Vancouver Edmonton 4-2
10 p.m. Colorado Vegas 1-2
10:30 p.m. Arizona Los Angeles  1-2
10:30 p.m. Anaheim San Jose  2-4
Friday, December 28
7 p.m. Montréal Florida RDS, TSN2
7 p.m. Ottawa Senators New York Islanders RDS2
7 p.m. Toronto Columbus ESPN+
Saturday, December 29
1 p.m. Carolina New Jersey SN
4 p.m. Vegas Los Angeles SN1
4 p.m. San Jose Edmonton  
4 p.m. Minnesota Winnipeg  
7 p.m. Boston Buffalo  
7 p.m. New York Islanders Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, ESPN+, SN1
7 p.m. Washington Ottawa CITY, SN360
7 p.m. Montréal Tampa Bay SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Philadelphia Florida  
8 p.m. Pittsburgh St. Louis  
8 p.m. New York Rangers Nashville Predators ESPN+
8 p.m. Detroit Dallas  
9 p.m. Chicago Colorado  
10 p.m. Arizona Anaheim  
10 p.m. Vancouver Canucks Calgary Flames CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, December 30
8 p.m. Vegas Arizona ESPN+, SN, TVAS

Rivalries on tap this week included Detroit at Pittsburgh, Calgary at Winnipeg, Minnesota at Chicago and Anaheim at San Jose on Thursday; Boston at Buffalo and Vancouver at Calgary today and Vegas at Arizona tomorrow.

We also got the pleasure of taking in a few playoff rematches from this spring, including the previously mentioned Anaheim at San Jose tilt Thursday night,  as well as Minnesota at Winnipeg and Vegas at Los Angeles on this evening.

Finally, a few tilts involved players making homecoming trips to former longtime homes. Now a member of the Sabres after an offseason trade, F Vladimir Sobotka made his first trip back to St. Louis on Thursday, while F Leo Komarov returned to Toronto – his former home of five seasons – today.

Of all of those, the showdown I’m most interested in is taking place in the Queen City. The Bruins are the healthiest they’ve been all season, while the Sabres are looking to once again regain the form that earned them a 10-game winning streak through much of November.

Though the 20-14-4 Boston Bruins can currently lay claim to the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, they are far from comfortable or safe in that position considering the New York Islanders are only two points behind them in the standings with two games in hand.

However, playing in the Bruins’ favor is their previously mentioned return to good health. With the exception of D Urho Vaakanainen, Boston’s 2017 first-round pick who has a whopping two NHL appearances to his credit, D Charlie McAvoy and LW Brad Marchand, the Bruins have almost achieved full health once again – albeit with F David Backes taking in tonight’s tilt and the next two as well from the press box after he was suspended for a high hit against New Jersey’s F Blake Coleman on Thursday.

Yes, Boston fans, you did the math correctly: Backes will be unavailable for New Year’s Day’s Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium, nor the tough matchup with the Flames on Thursday.

Of course, there’s always the question of just how much he’ll be missed. He’s been involved in all of the Bruins’ last seven games in which they’ve posted a 3-4-0 record, contributing only four assists and a -5 rating in those outings.

Now, it might sound like I’m piling on Backes and implying that he does more harm than good when he’s on the ice. While it would certainly be a stretch to say he’d be the best player in white this evening if he were dressing, there’s no doubting the former captain’s defensive contributions. He’s top eight among Bruins forwards since December 14 in hits per game, blocks per game and takeaways (for those wondering, the forwards leading those stats in that time frame are F Noel Acciari [3.8 hits per game], F Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson [1.3 blocks per game] and Marchand [eight takeaways]).

Instead, what has been letting Boston down during its last seven games is clearly some sub-par goaltending. Despite a defense that has yielded only 28.86 shots against in its last seven showings (a mark that’s sixth-best in the NHL in that time), neither 12-6-2 G Jaroslav Halak nor 8-8-2 G Tuukka Rask – tonight’s starter – has looked all that impressive.

It goes without saying that Rask is having the worst season of his career this year. His .911 season save percentage and 2.72 GAA are both on pace to be the worst marks of his professional career (barring, of course, his four-game 2007-08 campaign). Making matters even more dreadful for the Bruins’ faithful, Rask’s last two starts have been even more alarming, as he boasts only an .873 save percentage and 4.15 GAA in those outings.

It probably goes without saying, but he lost both of those games (4-2 against Buffalo and 5-3 at Carolina).

With a 21-12-5 record, the Buffalo Sabres have settled into third place in the Atlantic Division, though just like Boston, there’s not many points separating them from teams trying to chase them down. Montréal trails the Sabres by only two points, while the Bruins could pull within a point of Buffalo with a win tonight.

Much of the reason the Sabres are starting to fall back to Earth is their playing .500 hockey of late. Over Buffalo’s last eight games, it has managed only a 4-3-1 record, losing ground on the Maple Leafs in the division standings during Toronto’s five-game winning streak.

If anyone is to blame for Buffalo’s inconsistencies of late, it’s certainly not 8-1-3 G Linus Ullmark. He’s managed a solid .922 save percentage and 2.71 GAA for the entire season, but he’s been even better in his last three starts, winning all three and posting an impressive .953 save percentage and 1.65 GAA.

Making those numbers even more impressive, he hasn’t had the luxury of playing behind one of the league’s best defenses. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. In the Sabres’ last eight games, they’ve allowed 32.75 shots against per game, the 10th-worst mark in the NHL since December 11.

It is unclear if Ullmark or 13-11-2 G Carter Hutton will be in net tonight, but I would argue that it is this decision that will ultimately determine the outcome of this tilt. Just like Rask, Hutton has not looked particularly good lately, as he has earned only three points in his last five starts due to an average .91 save percentage and 2.78 GAA in those showings (compared to his .916 save percentage and 2.64 GAA for the season).

Should Hutton get the start, I am confident the Bruins’ offense, which has averaged 3.29 goals per game in their past eight showings, should be strong enough to earn the road victory. However, if Head Coach Phil Housley gives the nod to Ullmark, he has proven to me that he is more than able to lead the Sabres to two points.

Game of the week: November 19-25

The NHL’s unofficial deadline for playoff qualification has come and gone, but that doesn’t make this weekend’s games any less significant. Speaking of, let’s take a gander at all the tilts the NHL threw at us this week.

NHL SCHEDULE: November 19-25
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, November 19
7 p.m. Columbus Toronto 2-4
7 p.m. Dallas Stars New York Rangers 1-2
7 p.m. Buffalo Pittsburgh 5-4 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Washington Montréal 5-4 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Florida Ottawa 7-5
8 p.m. Los Angeles St. Louis 2-0
8 p.m. Tampa Bay Nashville 2-3
9 p.m. Vegas Calgary 2-7
10 p.m. Winnipeg Vancouver 6-3
Tuesday, November 20
10:30 p.m. Edmonton San Jose 4-3 (OT)
Wednesday, November 21
7 p.m. Montréal New Jersey 2-5
7 p.m. New York Islanders New York Rangers 0-5
7 p.m. Dallas Pittsburgh 1-5
7 p.m. Chicago Washington 2-4
7 p.m. Toronto Carolina 2-5
7:30 p.m. Philadelphia Buffalo 2-5
7:30 p.m. Boston Detroit 2-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Florida Tampa Bay 3-7
8 p.m. St. Louis Nashville 1-4
8 p.m. Ottawa Minnesota 4-6
9 p.m. Vegas Arizona 3-2 (OT)
10 p.m. Vancouver Anaheim 3-4
10 p.m. Winnipeg Calgary 3-6
10:30 p.m. Colorado Los Angeles 7-3
Thursday, November 22
No Games Scheduled – American Thanksgiving
Friday, November 23
1 p.m. New York Rangers Philadelphia Flyers 0-4
4 p.m. Edmonton Anaheim 1-2 (OT)
4 p.m. Winnipeg Minnesota 2-4
4 p.m. Montréal Buffalo 2-3 (OT)
4 p.m. New York Islanders New Jersey Devils 4-3 (OT)
4 p.m. Detroit Washington 1-3
6 p.m. Calgary Vegas 0-2
7 p.m. Toronto Columbus 2-4
7:30 p.m. Pittsburgh Boston 1-2 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Chicago Tampa Bay 2-4
7:30 p.m. Florida Carolina 1-4
8 p.m. Colorado Arizona 5-1
8 p.m. Nashville St. Louis 2-6
8 p.m. Ottawa Dallas 4-6
9 p.m. Vancouver San Jose 0-4
saturday, November 24
2 p.m. Washington Capitals New York Rangers NHLN
7 p.m. Winnipeg St. Louis CITY, SN360
7 p.m. Philadelphia Toronto CBC, NHLN, SN1
7 p.m. Boston Montréal SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Buffalo Detroit
7 p.m. Chicago Florida
7 p.m. Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders
7 p.m. Columbus Pittsburgh
9 p.m. Dallas Colorado
10 p.m. San Jose Vegas
10 p.m. Vancouver Canucks Los Angeles Kings CBC, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, November 25
3 p.m. Calgary Arizona SN
7 p.m. New Jersey Tampa Bay
8 p.m. Anaheim Nashville NHLN
10:30 p.m. Edmonton Los Angeles

I’m a sucker for rivalries, and there was certainly more than a few of those on this week’s slate. The Battle of New York and Governor’s Cup were waged on Wednesday, not to mention an Original Six tilt and two untitled rivalries (Vegas at Arizona and Winnipeg at Calgary). The action continued yesterday when the Rangers visited Philadelphia, followed by today’s schedule of Washington at the Rangers, Boston at Montréal and Columbus at Pittsburgh. One last rivalry is on tomorrow’s schedule when Edmonton heads to Los Angeles (once a rivalry, always a rivalry).

In a similar strain to rivalries, there were also a few playoff rematches from the 2018 postseason scheduled. Winnipeg visited Minnesota yesterday, San Jose is in Vegas today and New Jersey will square off with Tampa Bay tomorrow.

Finally, in the “Homecoming” category, there was perhaps no bigger story than F Mike Hoffman – now a member of the Florida Panthers – making his first trip back to Ottawa since being traded this offseason in the middle of a kinda super weird controversy involving his fiancée. Hoffman was a Senator for seven seasons.

D Calvin de Haan and LW James van Riemsdyk are both celebrating homecomings tonight after spending six seasons with the Islanders and Maple Leafs, respectively, while Jim Montgomery – head coach of the Dallas Stars – is making his first return to the Rockies since being hired from the University of Denver Pioneers this summer.

But of all these great games, which one is worthy of being this week’s featured tilt?

 

Is it any surprise?

I mean, really: this is one of the best rivalries the NHL has to offer regardless of where these teams are in the standings, but the intensity is only ratcheted up with both teams separated by one point and fighting to keep up with Toronto for third in the Atlantic Division or one of the two wild cards.

Mix all that together, and the sparks that were all but certain are now guaranteed.

Currently occupying the Eastern Conference’s first wild card, the 12-6-4 Bruins enter this game riding a four-game point streak – a solid effort considering how many injuries they’ve suffered in the first two months of play. C Patrice Bergeron, D Brandon Carlo, D Zdeno Chara, D Charlie McAvoy and D Urho Vaakanainen (that’s right: four five defensemen [I think we have to count four-time Selke winner Bergeron as a defenseman, given these circumstances]) all find themselves on the injury report, meaning the youngsters from Providence are having to do their best filling in.

Fortunately for Boston, 8-2-2 G Jaroslav Halak has been playing like a machine despite all these injuries to his teammates. In his past two starts, Halak has managed a dominating .917 save percentage and .98 GAA to account for both of the Bruins’ last two wins. Making that all the more impressive, Boston has been allowing 33.5 shots against per game since November 16, the (t)10th-worst in the NHL in that time.

That being said, with Halak getting the start in last night’s overtime victory against the Penguins, all signs are pointing towards 4-4-2 G Tuukka Rask manning the crease this evening at Bell Centre. Rask’s last two outings have shown signs of improvement (he’s managed a .938 save percentage and 1.96 GAA in his last two appearances, both overtime losses), however his .909 save percentage and horrid 2.8 GAA for the season still cast doubts in the minds of more than a few Boston supporters.

Rask owns a 13-19-4 combined regular and postseason record against the Habs. He last beat the Canadiens on January 20 – a sixth-straight victory against his bitter rival – in a game that just so happened to take place in the same barn as tonight’s contest.

Meanwhile, the 11-7-5 Canadiens are also riding a decent run lately, as they’ve pulled off a 2-1-2 record over their last five outings.

Perhaps the brightest facet of Montréal’s game during this five-game run has been its power play. Converting on three of its past 13 opportunities, the Habs’ 23.1 percent success rate is good enough for 13th-best in the NHL since November 15.

Yup, that’s the best I’ve got.

In all honesty, there’s not much about the Canadiens’ recent play that indicates they should still be holding on to the East’s second wild card. Since November 15, Montréal’s offense has averaged only 2.8 goals per game while allowing 3.4 against ([t]11th-worst and ninth-worst in the league, respectively, in that time) – not to mention a defense that’s allowed a whopping 37 shots against per game in that stretch ([t]third-worst in the NHL).

Boston and Montréal have already squared off once this season, and it was far from a pleasurable experience for the Bruins as they were shutout 3-0 on home ice on October 27. RW Brendan Gallagher provided the game-winning goal at the 9:18 mark of the first frame, while F Max Domi and D Jordie Benn provided the two insurance goals. 7-5-4 G Carey Price, Montréal’s starter for tonight’s game, earned the shutout by saving all 33 shots he faced.

So, if neither team is playing particularly well lately, which team is going to snag two points?

Considering Price’s season stats (.895 save percentage and 3.17 GAA) are considerably worse than Rask’s and the fact that the Hab has allowed five goals in each of his last two appearances, I like the Bruins’ chances this evening. This may not be a pretty game, but Rask should be able to lead Boston to victory in Québec.