Tag Archives: Vatanen

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 22

 

Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators – Game 6

Though the Ducks led in almost every statistical category, it was Nashville that won 6-3 Monday to claim its first-ever Clearance Campbell Bowl and a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Game 6 had a sour start for Anaheim before the puck was even dropped. With John Gibson sidelined with a lower body injury, Randy Carlyle and the Ducks were forced to turn to backup Jonathan Bernier, making his first Stanley Cup playoffs start.

Unfortunately for Bernier, it was baptism by fire. He faced only four shots in the first period, but he gave up two goals. The first was struck only 81 seconds into the contest by Second Star of the Game Austin Watson (Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin), his first faced of the game. Two shots and 7:26 later,  a wrist shot from First Star Colton Sissons (Third Star Pontus Aberg) set the score at 2-0.

Following Sissons’ marker, the tides turned largely in favor of the visiting Ducks. Though they didn’t find the back of Pekka Rinne‘s net in the first frame, they did fire an impressive shots on net compared to Nashville’s four. That dominance continued in the second period when Anaheim fired 13 shots, nine more than Nashville.

Even more impressive, the Ducks could have registered even more shot offerings. Led by Watson’s six rejections, the Predators blocked a total of 22 shots in the game. A large reason for Anaheim’s strong possession time was a result of its work at the face-off circle. Thanks in large part to Ryan Getzlaf‘s 73% face-off win rate, the Ducks won 62% of play resumptions.

The most important thing the Ducks ensured by keeping puck in their offensive zone? They kept pucks off Bernier.

The Ducks were finally rewarded for their hard work at the 4:45 mark of the second period courtesy of Ondrej Kase‘s (Getzlaf and Sami Vatanen) wrister on a gaping cage due to Rinne blocking a previous shot at the near post.

With the comeback halfway complete, Anaheim looked to be well on its way to forcing a Game 7 at the Pond – but that was before Sissons (Aberg and Filip Forsberg) squeezed a backhanded shot between Bernier’s wickets to reclaim a two-goal lead for the Preds.

But the Ducks weren’t dead yet. Only two minutes after Aberg’s tally, Chris Wagner (Nicolas Kerdiles and Antoine Vermette) bounced a wrister off Rinne’s head to pull Anaheim back within a goal, and Cam Fowler (Vatanen) leveled the game at three-all 8:52 into the third period.

Fowler’s goal was not without controversy though, as Rinne felt Corey Perry‘s screen was a little too snug. Though Peter Laviolette challenged the play, but the referees sided with the Ducks and decided that Perry did not interfere with the netminder.

But whether the goal counted or not didn’t matter, the Ducks could not find a fourth marker. Unfortunately for them, the Predators could – and what a series-winner it was.

After receiving a pass from Calle Jarnkrok in the neutral zone, Sissons flew up the near boards into his offensive zone. Fowler ripped the puck off Sissons’ stick, but Jarnkrok was following close enough behind to maintain Nashville’s possession in the near slot. Once Jarnkrok saw Bernier had committed to sealing the near post, he crossed a pass to Sissons, who completed his hat trick with a nasty top shelf wrister.

As the clock was winding down and the Ducks still trailed by a tally, Carlyle was forced to pull Bernier for the extra attacker to try to continue his club’s season with 2:33 remaining in regulation. Forsberg (Vernon Fiddler) took advantage only 11 seconds later to set off the loudest cheers Bridgestone Arena had ever heard.

Watson (Ryan Ellis) tacked on yet another empty netter with 1:34 remaining in the game to set the final 6-3 score.

Regardless of the Predators’ opponent, they’ll be on the road for Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Puck drop for the series opener is scheduled for Monday, May 29. Though a starting time has yet to be announced, it is expected to be at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 14

 

Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks – Game 2

With a 5-3 victory at the Honda Center Sunday, Anaheim leveled its Western Finals series against the Predators at 1-1.

Three goals is all the Predators needed to beat Anaheim in Game 1. In Game 2, both clubs had already reached that mark by the 30:41 mark.

First it was the Predators with a two-goal surge. Ryan Johansen (Third Star of the Game Viktor Arvidsson and Roman Josi) was the first to score, burying a wrist shot 4:18 into the contest. James Neal (Johansen and Mattias Ekholm) followed that up 4:14 later with a backhanded power play shot to set the score at 2-0.

Next up was an Anaheim attack, though it was split in half by the first intermission. Second Star Sami Vatanen (Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler) got the Ducks on the board with one minute remaining in the first period, followed by Jakob Silfverberg (Rickard Rakell and Cam Fowler) only 39 seconds into the middle frame.

Vatanen’s marker was a special one not only because it leveled the game at two-all and was his first postseason goal since last year’s series with the Preds, but also because it was the Ducks’ first power play goal in their last 22 attempts.

The Predators once again took the lead 7:59 into the second period thanks to a Filip Forsberg (Arvidsson) wrap-around offering, but First Star Ondrej Kase (Shea Theodore and Josh Manson) leveled the game at three-all only 2:42 later.

Neither John Gibson (.909 save percentage) nor Pekka Rinne (.846 save percentage) would yield a goal in the third period, which proved to be a major problem for Nashville considering Nick Ritchie‘s (Getzlaf and Brandon Montour) tally with 2:53 remaining in the second period.

The play started when Montour passed from the near point of his defensive zone to Getzlaf at center ice. The captain one-touched his bank pass off the near boards to the eventual goalscorer, who took possession in the face-off circle to Rinne’s right. Ritchie ripped an impressive snap shot over the goaltender’s stick shoulder for what proved to be the youngster’s second game-winning playoff goal of his career.

Through Rinne was pulled for the extra attacker with 2:08 remaining in regulation, the Predators still couldn’t manage a goal to level the game. Antoine Vermette (Getzlaf and Fowler) made sure to make Rinne pay for vacating his post by burying a wrister with 44 seconds remaining to ensure the Ducks’ victory.

After a four hour flight to Nashville (yet six hours according to a clock due to time zones), Game 3 in the now best-of-five will be played Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern time at Bridgestone Arena. Though American viewers are limited to NBCSN, Canada is being serviced by CBC, SN and TVAS.

April 9 -Day 172 – It all comes down to this

It’s all come down to this: the last day of the 2016-’17 NHL regular season. Don’t cry that it’s leaving; instead smile and laugh at the memories.

Oh yeah, and get amped for the Stanley Cup Playoffs!

To close out the season, the league has scheduled 10 games for our viewing pleasure. A trio of them (New Jersey at Detroit [SN1], Buffalo at Tampa Bay and Ottawa at the New York Islanders [RDS2]) start at 5 p.m., followed by another pair (Colorado at St. Louis and Columbus at Toronto [SN/TVAS]) an hour later. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the puck drop of three contests (Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers, Carolina at Philadelphia and Florida at Washington) and Los Angeles at Anaheim (SN1) waiting until 8:30 to get started. Finally, 9 p.m. brings with it the regular season nightcap: Vancouver at Edmonton (SN). All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New Jersey at Detroit: The day many had hoped would never come. This is the final game to be played at Joe Louis Arena. I’ll forever consider the Wings a rival to my beloved Blues, but I hope Motown gives this incredible place one more victory for old times’ sake.
  • Columbus at Toronto: As long as the Leafs can avoid a regulation loss, they’ll win third place in the Atlantic Division and avoid the mighty Capitals.
  • Pittsburgh at New York: The last rematch of last season’s playoffs will be contested in Madison Square Garden.
  • Los Angeles at Anaheim: Though the Kings‘ season is complete after today, the Ducks still have something to play for: a Pacific Division banner.
  • Vancouver at Edmonton: As long as the Oilers don’t need a shootout to win, they can surpass Anaheim for the division title if it loses to Los Angeles.

It’s such hard decision among the contests in Toronto, Anaheim and Edmonton, as all three could have a significant impact on how the postseason plays out. Since there’s so much at stake in the Pacific, I think we have to focus in on the Freeway Face-Off!

 

I’ll start this article in a similar way I began yesterday’s:

The 39-35-7 Kings enter this game in fifth place in the Pacific Division and 10th in the Western Conference, already eliminated from playoff contention. With Nashville’s regular-season campaign complete at 94 points, the best Los Angeles can do is finish seven points behind eighth place.

This game is not about them (though they have more reasons to play spoiler than Pittsburgh did last night – more on that later).

Instead, all eyes (specifically those in Southern California and Northern Alberta) are on 45-23-13 Anaheim, the club currently leading the Pacific Division with a day left of play.

Notice the phrase currently leading. That is very intentional, as the Ducks have not ordered their division championship banner yet. The job tonight is simple: don’t lose in regulation. As long Anaheim earns at least one point, the second place Oilers cannot surpass them for the division title.

Fortunately, the repercussions for not sealing the deal tonight aren’t too bad, at least immediately. If Edmonton could manage to surpass the Ducks for first in the division, Anaheim would host the third place Sharks in the first round instead of the wild card Flames.

Either way, the Ducks retain home ice in the first round.

Anaheim has definitely been trending upwards of late. In fact, the Ducks are tied with Washington for the best record in the NHL since March 12 with their 10-0-3 record.

Just like its been all season, they’ve returned to winning ways by keeping the opposition off the board. Only 24 goals have been scored on the Ducks since mid-March, the fewest in the NHL in that time.

Of course, that starts with the goaltending. Both 25-16-9 John Gibson and 20-7-4 Jonathan Bernier have been fantastic over this run, as both have save percentages and GAAs better than .93 and 2.0, respectively.

Though Bernier was extremely impressive while filling in for Gibson during his injury, it seems the usual Number 1 has reclaimed his crease as Gibson has started the last two games. I expect the owner of the superior .96 save percentage and 1.32 GAA to take to the crease again tonight, as Gibson’s effort in his past three games has been third and second-best, respectively, among the 62 goalies who have played at least two games since mid-March.

Much of the reason both goaltenders have found such success is they haven’t been overworked. Though the Ducks‘ blueline has been only slightly above-average at keeping pucks off the crease on the year (they average 29.8 shots allowed-per-game), the 395 they’ve allowed in their past 13 games is tied for fifth-fewest in the league.

Both Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen have been a big part of that play, as they co-lead the team with 21 shot blocks since March 12. Jakob Silfverberg has also been instrumental with his 11 takeaways in that time.

On the season as a whole, only two clubs have been better than the Ducks when faced with a penalty kill situation. Gibson has played a major role in that effort all year, as his .909 season save percentage against the power play is the fourth-best mark in the league among the 48 goalies with at least 25 appearances on the year.

Doing their best to play spoiler tonight will be the visiting Kings, Anaheim‘s greatest rival. Though the postseason is out of their grasp, there is probably nothing more they would like to do than harm the Ducks‘ Stanley Cup playoff chances by declining them the opportunity to outright win the Pacific Division.

Unfortunately, it’s been an up-and-down effort of late for Los Angeles. Since March 16, the Kings have matched every win with a loss for a 6-6-0 record. In fact, every game since March 31 has alternated results. The 31st was a win, the 2nd was a loss. The 4th was a win… you get the idea. April 8 was a win, so…. well, things aren’t looking good for Los Angeles if this trend continues.

Offense has been Los Angeles‘ biggest struggle not only during this stretch, but for the entire season overall. On they year, the Kings have averaged only 2.42 goals-per-game, the sixth-lowest average in the NHL. Since mid-March, that number is down to 2.25, including two shutouts.

The brightest star on the Kings‘ offense of late is easily Anze Kopitar. With 10 points in a dozen games, he’s the only forward that has contributed more than seven tallies in the past three weeks. That being said, Jarome Iginla has also been decent with his team-leading four goals during this run.

Though far from a dominant force throughout the season, Los Angeles‘ power play has been especially shoddy of late, converting only 16.7% of its 36 most recent opportunities. Just like he’s been on the entire offense, Kopitar has been the most impressive during this skid with his four power play points.

If anything positive can be said about Los Angeles‘ power play, it’s that it’s unpredictable. All six tallies since March 16 have come off a different stick, and those scorers are evenly split between the power play units.

If the season series is any indication, we’re in for a fantastic game tonight. Both clubs have won two of the four previous games between them this campaign for copied 2-2-0 records. Making things even more interesting, both teams have gone 1-1-0 on home ice.

The last time they met up was February 25 at the Staples Center. Speaking of home ice, that is the game the Kings scored four goals (including two from Tyler Toffoli) to give Jonathan Quick a 4-1 victory in his first full game of the season. He saved 32 shots faced in his first game back from his groin injury.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (55 assists [tied for third-most in the league]) and Gibson (2.22 GAA [fifth-best in the NHL] on a .924 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the league], including six shutouts [sixth-most in the NHL]) & Los AngelesJeff Carter (32 goals for 66 points on 250 shots [all lead the team]) and Drew Doughty (+8 [leads the team]).

The easy pick is obviously the Ducks, who have much more to play for, to win on home ice. The problem is you can never use such concrete logic when predicting a rivalry game of this magnitude. I’ll still take Anaheim to clinch the Pacific Division tonight, but I have no doubt in my mind that the Kings will make it as difficult as they possibly can.

Hockey Birthday

  • Jimmy Roberts (1940-2015) – This skater spent most of his 15 seasons in Montréal, though he had a lengthy tenure with the Blues as well. He was a three-time All Star and, more importantly, has his name on the Stanley Cup five times as a player.
  • Michel Parizeau (1948-) – The Rangers selected this center 10th-overall in the 1965 NHL Amateur Draft, yet he never played a game with the Blueshirts. In fact, he spent only one season in the NHL, as he played most of his eight years with the Nordiques in the WHA.
  • Rick Tocchet (1964-) – Though a longtime Flyer – albeit in two stints – after being selected by Philadelphia in the sixth round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing won his lone Stanley Cup as a member of the 1992 Penguins.

Three goals in the third period is exactly what the doctor ordered for Toronto, as it beat the Penguins 5-3 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to secure its spot in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It was not the start the Maple Leafs wanted to this game, though. Former Leaf Phil Kessel (Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl) buried a snap shot only 6:11 into the contest to give Pittsburgh an early 1-0 lead. That advantage didn’t last long though, as James van Riemsdyk (Tyler Bozak and Roman Polak) leveled with a snapper of his own only 29 seconds later. The one-all score held into the first intermission.

Only 1:29 after Tom Sestito‘s goaltender interference penalty, Bozak (William Nylander and Jake Gardiner) scored a power play snapper at the 3:30 mark of the second frame. This time, it was the Pens who had the answer, as Sidney Crosby (Jake Guentzel and Justin Schultz) leveled the match at two-all 4:25 later with a power play slap shot.

Pittsburgh once again took a one-goal lead 6:51 into the third period courtesy of an unassisted Guenztel wrist shot, but that is what lit a fire under Toronto‘s belly. In all, the Maple Leafs fired a dozen shots on Marc-Andre Fleury‘s net in the final frame, and three got past him. Kasperi Kapanen (Matt Hunwick and Auston Matthews) leveled the game with 5:30 remaining in regulation with the first goal of his career, followed by Connor Brown‘s (Gardiner and Hunwick) game-winner 2:42 later. With four seconds remaining, Matthews scored his 40th goal of the season (only the fourth rookie under 20-years-old in NHL history to achieve that total) on an empty net to ensure the Leafs‘ victory.

Curtis McElhinney earned the victory after saving 12-of-14 shots faced (85.7%). He replaced Frederik Andersen, who had saved three-of-four (75%), after the starter was struck in the head by Sestito. Fleury saved 25-of-29 (86.2%) in the loss.

After 175 games in this 2016-’17 DtFR Game of the Day series, the 88-61-25 home teams have finally clinched the deciding victory in our featured series. The hosts have 201 points to their credit to create a five-point spread the visitors are incapable of surpassing.

April 1 – Day 164 – Ducks dominance or Oilers ownage?

Eight games will be played this penultimate Saturday of the NHL regular season, starting with Florida at Boston (SN) at 1 p.m. The other matinee of the day drops the puck an hour later and features Minnesota at Nashville. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the beginning of five contests (Ottawa at Winnipeg [SN], Toronto at Detroit [CBC/NHLN], Montréal at Tampa Bay [CITY/TVAS], New Jersey at Philadelphia and Dallas at Carolina), and tonight’s nightcap – Anaheim at Edmonton (CBC/SN) – gets underway at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Detroit: Not only is this one of the more historical rivalries in the game, but Alexey Marchenko also makes his first – and last – trip to Joe Louis Arena as a visitor.
  • New Jersey at Philadelphia: The Battle of the Jersey Turnpike rages on tonight on Broad Street.
  • Anaheim at Edmonton: Oh, you know, there’s nothing major on the line in this game. Just the lead in the Pacific Division, that’s all.

There’s no joking about it, tonight’s festivities in Edmonton are going to have a significant impact on the race for the Pacific championship. Though we were just there a couple days ago, it’s off to Edmonton with us!

 

The best way to complete our three-day stop in Alberta is by featuring the best two teams in the Pacific Division. Only a point separates the Ducks and Oilers from each other with five fixtures left on the schedule.

What makes this game even more important is this is the last time they’ll run into each other this year – barring a postseason meeting. The reason for Anaheim‘s advantage can be found in their second run-in with Oilers of the year. On December 3 – ironically at Rogers Place, the same surface on which they’ll square off tonight – Edmonton needed overtime to best the Ducks 3-2.

That overtime loss is the differential in the season series between these clubs. Since both have won two of the previous four meetings, Anaheim has a one-point advantage on the Oilers in both the series and the standings as a whole.

The 42-23-12 Ducks have been playing some fantastic hockey since mid-March. They’re riding a nine-game point streak that has seen them go 7-0-2 and climb to the top of the Pacific Division.

As has been the case all year, Anaheim has made this surge on the back of its defense and goaltending. The Ducks have allowed only 17 goals in their past nine games, which is the second-fewest in the league since March 12.

Though normally bearing the title of backup, a main reason for the Ducks‘ surge is 19-7-4 Jonathan Bernier, who has been the only goaltender to take to the crease during this run. He’s played remarkably, as his .938 save percentage and 1.86 GAA over this stretch are (t)fifth and (t)seventh-best among the 42 goalies who’ve made at least four appearances since mid-March.

What makes Bernier’s play even more impressive is he hasn’t had quite the defense that he and 23-16-8 John Gibson have grown accustomed to this season. Though not by much, Anaheim‘s blueline is under-performing by their standards as they’ve allowed 30.3 shots-per-game to reach Bernier’s crease in the past nine games, which is actually sixth-tenths more than their season average.

That slight decrease in performance can’t be blamed on Hampus Lindholm or Sami Vatanen though. They’ve been playing out of their minds of late, as they both have 18 shot blocks to their credit since March 12.

Perhaps the reason for the Ducks‘ almost indiscernible drop in defensive production is due to Cam Fowler‘s recent play.  Though he averages 1.7 shot blocks per game for the entire season, that rate has dropped to 1.3 in the last nine games.

Like I said, almost indiscernible. We’re splitting hairs here; Fowler has still been excellent, as have Lindholm and Vatanen. The Ducks still have a defense to be reckoned with, not to mention the red-hot Bernier playing in net. In short, scoring against the Ducks is not an easy thing to do.

The true mark of a good defense is a solid penalty kill, and Anaheim has one of those. It ranks fifth-best on the season and stops 85.1% of opponents’ power plays. As you’d expect, the reason for the Ducks‘ success is twofold – as in two fantastic goalies. Both Bernier and Gibson save over 90% of power play shots against. Of the 28 netminders who’ve faced 175 or more man-advantage shots this season, they’re the only two goaltenders in the league who can make that claim.

Of course, every team has a hole. For the Ducks, that issue this year is the power play, and that’s especially been the case over the last 20 days. The Ducks have found the back of the net with the man-advantage only three times in the past nine games for a horrendous success rate of 10%. Only three teams in the NHL have been worse since March 12.

43-25-9 Edmonton has also been playing incredible hockey since mid-March, especially when it has the puck on its stick. Since March 14, the Oilers have buried 37 goals – five more than Carolina, Chicago and Washington (incredible offenses in their own rights) to lead the NHL. That offensive explosion has led the Oil to a 8-1-0 mark in that time, which ties for second-best in the league.

Just like it’s been all year, Todd McLellan‘s club has utilized a two-headed attack of none other than Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Both have 16 points apiece since the 14th to co-lead the league.

Since both play a solid, unselfish game, they get credit for a lot of helpers. Patrick Maroon, the final third of Edmonton‘s top line, has been the man taking advantage of that of late, as he’s potted six beauties in the past 18 days to lead the squad.

An offense of this caliber does not mess around. Since March 14, Edmonton has taken advantage of 29% of its man-advantage situations to score nine power play goals. Four of those have been a direct result of Draisaitl’s play, though they’ve all been apples. Half of those assists have gone to Mark Letestu and the other half to Milan Lucic, both of whom join Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with two power play goals apiece to headline the Oil‘s extra-man attack of late.

Maybe the most impressive part of Edmonton‘s game during this impressive run is its effort on the penalty kill. Only two tallies have resulted due to an Oilers penalty for a 91.3% kill rate, the second-best in the league in that time frame.

While 39-21-8 Cam Talbot has been good over the stretch, the real reason for Edmonton‘s success is McLellan’s leadership. The best way to succeed at the penalty kill is to avoid it, and the Oilers have been shorthanded only 23 times in their past nine games, which ties for sixth-fewest in the NHL.

The last time these squads met was only 10 days ago on March 22 at The Pond. Both Ryan Getzlaf and Lindholm added three points to their season totals to lead Anaheim to a narrow 4-3 victory over the visiting Oilers.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Getzlaf (52 assists [fifth-most in the NHL]) and Gibson (five shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the league] and a 2.28 GAA [seventh-best in the NHL] on a .921 save percentage [10th-best in the league]) & Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (72 points [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]), McDavid (63 assists for 91 points [both lead the league] for a +26 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) and Talbot (seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] among 39 wins [third-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked the Oilers a -125 favorite to win tonight’s game. I’m going to side with the odds-makers this evening, as I trust Talbot and Edmonton‘s defense more than the Ducks‘ offense. That being said, this should be an absolutely thrilling matchup.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ken Reardon (1921-2008) – This Winnipeg-born defenseman played all of his seven-year NHL career in Montréal. Though a short career, the Hall of Famer played in three All-Star Games and hoisted the 1946 Stanley Cup.
  • Guy Trottier (1941-2014) – This right wing played only three season in the NHL, and another three in the WHA. His longest tenured NHL team was Toronto, with whom he notched 45 points in 113 games.
  • Darren McCarty (1972-) – Detroit selected this right wing 46th-overall in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent all but two of his 15 seasons in the NHL. As you’d expect from a tenured Wing, McCarty is the proud owner of four Stanley Cup Champion rings.
  • J.P. Dumont (1978-) – Selected third-overall by the Islanders in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played most of his 12 seasons in Nashville. He found his game with the Predators, as he provided a defensive presence and focused his offensive efforts on assists, earning 174.

Scoring three goals in a period is usually a formula for success. That’s the strategy Calgary employed in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to beat the Sharks 5-2 at the Saddledome.

Third Star of the Game Johnny Gaudreau (Second Star Sam Bennett) provided a sample of what was to come after the intermission by scoring a tip-in with 7:34 remaining in the first period. That was the lone goal of the frame, giving Calgary a 1-0 lead with 40 minutes remaining.

Sean Monahan (Matthew Tkachuk and Kris Versteeg) provided Calgary‘s first tally of the second with a power play wrist shot. That goal was answered 4:46 later by Marc-Edouard Vlasic (Michael Haley and Marcus Sorensen), but there was no Sharks response for what the Flames did next. Matt Stajan (Michael Stone) scored what came to be a game-winning snap shot with 7:22 remaining in the period, followed 5:31 later by an Alex Chiasson (Versteeg and T.J. Brodie) backhander. After having a one-goal lead for much of the game, Calgary entered the second intermission with a 4-1 advantage.

Melker Karlsson (Joe Pavelski and Paul Martin) pulled San Jose back within two tallies with 6:54 remaining in regulation, but even that tally was erased by Bennett’s (Chiasson and Brodie) wrister on an empty net with 34 seconds remaining in the game.

First Star Brian Elliott saved 36-of-38 shots faced (94.7%) to earn the victory. That left the loss to Martin Jones, who saved 18-of-22 (81.8%) before being pulled after Chiasson’s tally. Aaron Dell saved all 12 shots he faced for no decision.

Currently riding a two-game winning streak, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have an 83-58-25 record, which is two points better than the visitors.

February 7 – Day 111 – Pigeons not the only birds in Gotham

A whopping 11 games are on the schedule this evening, so let’s hop right in. Like it usually does, the action starts at 7 p.m. with four contests (San Jose at Buffalo, Anaheim at the New York Rangers, Calgary at Pittsburgh [TVAS] and Carolina at Washington), followed half an hour later by another set of four (Dallas at Toronto, St. Louis at Ottawa [RDS2], Columbus at Detroit and Los Angeles at Tampa Bay [NBCSN]). We keep moving west with two contests (Vancouver at Nashville and Minnesota at Winnipeg) dropping the puck at 8 p.m., followed an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Montréal at Colorado (RDS). All times eastern.

There’s a handful of good games this evening, but I expect the best one to occur at Madison Square Garden. To the Big Apple we go!

Unknown-1New York Rangers Logo

 

The Ducks make their yearly trip to the World’s Most Famous Arena with a 28-16-10 record, good enough for second place in the Pacific Division. They’ve found much of that success on the back of their defense and goaltending, as Anaheim has allowed only 133 goals in 54 games this season, the sixth-best rate in the NHL.

That all starts with 20-12-8 John Gibson, who’s having a solid campaign. He’s accumulated a .921 season save percentage and a 2.27 GAA, the (t)eighth and sixth-best efforts, respectively, among the 43 goaltenders with at least 20 appearances.

Much of the reason he’s found such success has been due to the blueline playing in front of him, which has allowed only 29.4 shots-per-game to reach his crease – the 10th-best rate in the league. That being said, the defense is working its hardest to fill some big skates. Sami Vatanen, who leads the club with 94 shot blocks, is currently fighting a lower-body injury to the point that Brandon Montour was recalled from San Diego. Cam Fowler, who has blocked 82 shots so far this year for the active-lead in the clubhouse, is being called on to fill the void.

The defensive success continues on the penalty kill, where the Ducks rank fifth-best by refusing to yield a goal on 84.3% of opposing power plays. Vatanen is usually a big player when down a man with 19 shorthanded blocks to his credit, so Anaheim will once again turn their eyes to Fowler, who’s 18 blocks when down a man are second-best.

Playing host this evening are the 33-18-1 Rangers, the fourth-best team in the Metropolitan Division and fifth-best in the Eastern Conference. Winners of their last two games, the Blueshirts have found a lot of their success with the puck on their stick, scoring 175 goals already this season – the second-most in the league.

New York‘s forwards may not turn heads when compared to the rest of the league, but they play incredibly well together. Leading the group has been J.T. Miller with 40 points, but four other skaters have at least 35 points to their credit. And he’s not even the one scoring all the goals. That job belongs to Michael Grabner, who tops the club with 23 tallies.

As might be expected, the Blueshirts‘ power play is pretty darn good. Led by Captain Ryan McDonagh and his 12 power play points, New York converts 21.3% of it’s opponents’ penalties into tallies, the ninth-best rate in the NHL. What makes the Rangers so dangerous is that opposing goaltenders don’t know who is going to take the final shot. The power play goal scoring title is shared between Chris Kreider, Rick Nash and Brandon Pirri, all of whom have five tallies with the man-advantage.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Gibson (2.27 GAA [seventh-best in the league] and three shutouts [tied for seventh-most in the NHL) and New York‘s Henrik Lundqvist (23 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league]).

It’s strength-on-strength tonight at MSG, which means the other end of the ice may prove to be more important in determining the outcome. Given the Rangers‘ strong play on the defensive end, I think the home squad holds on for the victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Peter Bondra (1968-) – An eighth-rounder selected by Washington in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing earned five All-Star selections over his 16 seasons.
  • Alexandre Daigle (1975-) – Selected by Ottawa, this center was the first pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He spent half of his 10 seasons in the league with the Senators, his longest tenure with a club.
  • David Aebischer (1978-) – This goaltender was selected in the sixth-round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Colorado. He made his debut with the club during the 2000-’01 season and was a member of the Stanley Cup-winning team.
  • Steven Stamkos (1990-) – Another top pick, Tampa Bay selected this center in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, he’s managed three All-Star selections and two Richard trophies.
  • Ryan O’Reilly (1991-) – Picked 33rd-overall by Colorado in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, this center’s crowing achievement is the 2014 Byng trophy. This season is his second in Buffalo.

In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, First Star of the Game Carter Hutton led the Blues to a two-goal shutout victory over Philadelphia.

Paul Stastny (Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Steen) takes credit for the winning goal with 4:38 remaining in the second period on a tip-in.

Second Star Kenny Agostino (David Perron and Jori Lehtera) tacked on the lone insurance tally 2:10 into the final frame on a breakaway snap shot in his first game as a Blue.

Hutton saved all 26 shots he faced for the victory, leaving the loss to Michal Neuvirth, who saved 14-of-16 (87.5%).

Road teams have earned three-straight victories in the DtFR Game of the Day series, and that surge has pulled them within seven points of the 59-37-17 homers.

January 8 – Day 85 – Are Wild Ducks much different than the domestic variety?

Happy Sunday to you. As you might guess, us here at Down the Frozen River encourage you to sit back and watch some hockey.

The action starts at 5 p.m. with two matinee games (Boston at Carolina and Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN360[), followed an hour later by Philadelphia at Columbus. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it a pair of contests (Nashville at Chicago and Edmonton at Ottawa [SN/TVAS]), with tonight’s nightcap – Minnesota at Anaheim (NBCSN) – waiting 60 minutes before dropping the puck. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh: It took seven games for the Penguins to advance past the Lightning to the Stanley Cup finals a season ago.
  • Minnesota at Anaheim: Bruce Boudreau makes his return to the Pond.

It’s been a while since we’ve made our way out to the Honda Center, and today’s contest should be fantastic. To Anaheim!

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Let’s start with Boudreau getting fired from Washington on November 28, 2011, his first head coaching gig in the NHL. He had led the Capitals to four-straight Southeast Division titles, but no playoff success. It’s a theme that follows Gabby, so much that he should probably take up a career in soccer. He’s very successful in the regular season, but never got Washington past the Eastern Semifinals.

He never had a chance to collect on unemployment, as only two days later he had traversed the country to Orange County to take over as the Ducks‘ skipper, the quickest turnaround for a coach in NHL history. Barring that initial 2011-’12 season when he was hired, Boudreau got all his Ducks in a row and returned them to glory once again. Starting with the 2012-’13 season, he again went four-straight years with a division title.

Uh oh, we’ve seen that before…

Unfortunately for Anaheim and Boudreau, even though they made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2015, they made zero trips to the Stanley Cup Finals – not to mention the most important piece of hardware the the league.

Making matters worse, all the Ducks‘ season-ending games were on the very surface they’re playing tonight. Four straight years the Ducks hosted a Game 7 at the Honda Center, and four-straight years they cleaned our their lockers the next morning.

Bob Murray, Anaheim‘s GM, ain’t about that life, so two days later Boudreau was again on the job search. That’s how he wound up in the State of Hockey, where he is well on his way to creating another dominant team. Recently, they were involved in the fabled game against Columbus (who would’ve thought that phrase would exist five years ago?) that featured two teams with 12-game or better winning streaks. The Wild simply hope he can keep that success up into the postseason.

Boudreau and his 24-9-5 Wild have full command of second place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. They’ve been able to find that success by playing some phenomenal goaltending, allowing only 82 goals so far this season, the second-fewest in the NHL.

20-7-3 Devan Dubnyk has done more than his share to get Minnesota into their current position. He has a season .939 save percentage and 1.82 GAA, easily the best effort in the league.

Dubnyk’s play has been beyond impressive since his defense has done little to help him out. Even with Jared Spurgeon‘s team-leading 68 blocks, the Wild have allowed 30.7 shots to reach their netminder per game, the 11th-highest average in the league.

Even without the help, Dubnyk keeps pucks out of his net regardless of the circumstances. Minnesota is the home of the fifth-best penalty kill in the NHL, preventing 85.5% of opposing power plays to score. Spurgeon is joined by Mikael Granlund for the mark of best shorthanded defenseman, as both have 10 penalty kill blocks to their credit.

Playing host this evening are the 21-12-8 Ducks, the second-best club in the Pacific Division. Winners of their last three games, and point-earners in their last seven, they’ve found that success on an impressive offense that has already scored 110 goals this season, the 13th-highest total in the league.

Ryan Kesler has been the man in charge of the offense, notching 34 points in 41 games. That being said, the man striking fear in goaltenders across the Pacific is Rickard Rakell, the proud owner of 16 goals in only 30 games. He hasn’t netted a puck yet this calendar year, which should worry Dubnyk.

Much of that success has been on the back of an intimidating power play. The Ducks score on 22.7% of their opportunities, the fourth-best mark in the NHL. Kesler has been just as productive on the man-advantage as he is at even-strength. He’s notched 15 power play points so far this season, just short of his entire point total. Seven of those points have been power play goals, the highest total in Anaheim.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (25 assists [most on the team]), Kesler (34 points [most on the team]), Rakell (16 goals [most on the team]), Nick Ritchie (133 hits [most on the team]), Jakob Silfverberg (+12 [best on the team]) and Sami Vatanen (74 blocks [most on the team]) & Minnesota‘s Dubnyk (1.82 GAA on a .939 save percentage [both lead the NHL], including five shutouts [tied for most in the league] for 20 wins [tied for second-most in the NHL]), Granlund (+20 [tied for seventh-best in the league]), Mikko Koivu (+20 [tied for seventh-best in the NHL]), Spurgeon (+21 [tied for fifth-best in the league]), Ryan Suter (+23 [tied for the NHL lead]) and Jason Zucker (+23 [tied for the league lead]).

I like Anaheim to win tonight’s very competitive match, even if I don’t have statistics to back my claims. Anaheim is rolling right now with their seven-game point streak. Pair that with some home cooking on The Pond, and I see a Ducks winner no matter how good Minnesota is.


Thanks to First Star of the Game Mark Letestu‘s overtime slap shot, the Oilers were able to escape New Jersey with a 2-1 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The game’s first goal actually belonged to the Devils, compliments of a backhander from Third Star Miles Wood (Travis Zajac and Steven Santini) at the 9:44 mark of the first period. New Jersey‘s lead lasted a full 33:49 before Edmonton pulled even.

With his first goal of his career, rookie Matthew Benning (Andrej Sekera and Anton Lander)  takes credit for that game-tying tally. As neither team was able to breakthrough for a winning goal in regulation, this game advanced into three-on-three overtime.

Letestu (Oscar Klefbom and Connor McDavid) struck with 61 seconds remaining before a shootout with a fantastic slap shot. He was aided by a Zajac slashing penalty against McDavid that forced a four-on-three power play.

Cam Talbot earns the victory after saving 19-of-20 shots faced (95%), leaving the loss to Second Star Cory Schneider, who saved 41-of-43 (95.3%).

Edmonton‘s road victory sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 47-26-14 in favor of the hosts. Home teams lead the visitors by 13 points.

December 15 – Day 64 – Goals on Gold on Goals

Thursdays are usually good days for hockey, and today is no different. The first of eight games drop the puck at 7 p.m. (Anaheim at Boston and Chicago at the New York Islanders), followed half an hour later by two more (Arizona at Toronto and Los Angeles at Detroit). 8 p.m. marks the beginning of a trio of contests (New Jersey at St. Louis, Minnesota at Nashville and Florida at Winnipeg), with the New York Rangers at Dallas, this evening’s nightcap, waiting 30 minutes before getting underway.

I know we just featured the Bruins Monday, but I like this little West vs. East thing we’ve been doing the last couple days. Let’s keep it going in the TD Garden.

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The 15-10-5 Ducks make their yearly trip to Beantown in second place in the Pacific Division. They’ve earned that position with an offense that has already scored 82 goals this season, the eighth-most in the NHL and second-most in the division.

Much of that success can be attributed to Corey Perry, who has a team-leading 26 points to his credit. However, most of those have been assists, which has left the door open for Ryan Kesler to lead the club with 12 goals.

The Ducks have truly been a juggernaut when they have a man advantage. In that situation, Anaheim has found the back of the net 23.5% of the time, the third-best rate in the NHL. Kesler and Perry both have a dozen power play points to their credit to lead the club, but Kesler’s have been more impressive as he’s potted seven man-advantage tallies – the most in Anaheim.

The Ducks still struggle on the penalty kill, as their 80.6% neutralization rate is tied for eighth-worst in the league. If it weren’t for Sami Vatanen and his squad-leading 12 shorthanded blocks, nobody in Anaheim would have more than nine shot blocks in that situation. That is indicative of the effort the Ducks have put into their kill, and is also what will hold them back from making a deep playoff run if they leave it unresolved.

Playing host tonight are the 16-12-3 Bruins, the third-best club in the Atlantic Division. They provide a good matchup for the Ducks tonight, as their strength has been on the defensive end where they’ve only allowed 74 goals, which ties for the ninth-fewest in the NHL.

15-5-3 Tuukka Rask has been in net for all but one of Boston‘s point-earning games. While that might be cause for concern for his stamina going forward, it certainly makes his success so far this season even more impressive. His .93 save percentage and 1.9 GAA are ninth and fifth best among the 41 netminders with 12 or more appearances.

I know I say it every time we feature the Bruins, but the main reason Rask has bounced back from such a poor season last year is due to the defense playing in front of him that has allowed only 27.5 shots-per-game, the fourth fewest in the league. Rookie Brandon Carlo deserves much of the credit, as his 52 blocks lead the Bruins.

That success has bled into the penalty kill, where Boston‘s 86.4% kill rate is third-best in the NHL. The rookie continues his impressive debut campaign in this department as well, as his 16 shorthanded blocks lead the Bruins.

Boston‘s power play also ranks third in the league, but unfortunately it’s third-worst. They’ve found the back of the net on only 13.2% of opportunities, even though they’re led by three players (David Krejci, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak) with five man-advantage points apiece. Pastrnak has been the most impressive with the extra man, as he’s scored four power play goals.

Some players to keep an eye tonight include Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf (22 assists [second-most in the NHL]) & Boston‘s Pastrnak (19 goals [second-most in the league] for a +17 [tied for third-best in the NHL]) and Rask (three shutouts [tied for second-most in the league] among 15 wins [tied for third-most in the NHL] on a 1.9 GAA [fifth-best in the league] and a .93 save percentage [ninth-best in the NHL]).

I’ve never bet on sports, much less a spread or line, but if I understand correctly the Bruins opened a -127 favorite, but Vegas has since pulled the contest off the board. I like the Ducks to earn the road victory for no other reason than Boston played an overtime game in Pittsburgh yesterday.

Hockey Birthday

  • Mario Marois (1957-) – Although he was originally drafted by the Rangers in the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft, this defenseman spent much of his career in his hometown with the Nordiques. After 955 games over 15 seasons, he retired with a career +10 on 433 points.

For every punch in yesterday’s Game of the Day, the opposition had a counter-punch. That forced a shootout, where the Sharks were able to steal a 4-3 victory in Ottawa.

Only 5:57 into the game, Joe Pavelski (Logan Couture and Joe Thornton) buried a snap shot to give San Jose an early lead, but Bobby Ryan (Ryan Dzingel and Second Star Dion Phaneuf) and the Senators were able to answer 64 seconds later with a wrister to tie the game at one-all.

The Sharks took the lead once again with 8:30 remaining in the second period with a wrist shot from First Star Brent Burns (Brenden Dillon), but Ottawa was able to answer 5:57 later when Kyle Turris (Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman) buried a snap shot to tie the game a second time.

Phaneuf (Erik Karlsson and Stone) gave the Senators their first lead of the night when he scored a power play snapper with 3:46 remaining in regulation, but San Jose stole a page out of their book when Chris Tierney (Burns and David Schlemko) netted a wrister 1:18 later, knotting the game a third time. Neither club was able to manage another goal in regulation or three-on-three overtime, which forced a shootout.

The Sens took the first attempt…

  1. …but Turris’ shot was saved by Martin Jones.
  2. Mikkel Boedker failed to take advantage, and his miss did not even test Mike Condon.
  3. Ryan met the same fate as his teammate, once again leaving the door open for the Sharks.
  4. Pavelski failed to take advantage though, as Condon was able to make the save.
  5. Karlsson was up next, and Jones gobbled up his third-straight shot.
  6. San Jose‘s Burns couldn’t end the shootout, but he probably would have had a better chance if he’d put his attempt on frame.
  7. Jones seems to have a hobby of saving Senators‘ shootout shots, as Chris Neil met the same fate as the three previous Sens.
  8. Third Star Kevin Labanc earned that distinction for a reason: he earned the bonus point for the Sharks by scoring the lone shootout goal.

Jones earns the victory after saving 28-of-31 (90.3%) shots faced, leaving the shootout loss to Condon, saving 26-of-29 (89.7%).

The third-straight victory by the visiting team in the DtFR Game of the Day series as pulled the roadies within 11 points of the hosts, who still have a 36-20-10 record.

November 9 – Day 28 – Quackin’ Jackets, or not so much?

Let’s watch ourselves some hockey tonight. While the selection is small at only three games, there’s some quality matchups being contested, starting with Anaheim at Columbus at 7 p.m. Half an hour later, Ottawa visits Buffalo (SN/TVAS), followed by Chicago at St. Louis (NBCSN), this evening’s nightcap.

Short list:

  • Anaheim at Columbus: Jared Boll was a Blue Jacket for the last nine seasons, but he now finds himself sitting on the opposite bench.
  • Ottawa at Buffalo: It seems like every game for Buffalo has been a rivalry, of late. Tonight’s contest against Ottawa is another one.
  • Chicago at St. Louis: Another rivalry only magnified by last season’s playoff meeting.

Oh… That’s all the games going on this evening. Like I said, you can’t go wrong with whichever game you choose to watch tonight.

As far as the game DtFR will focus on, I’m leaning towards the AnaheimColumbus game since Boll will only play in Nationwide Arena once this year, and we’re a little partial to him for sharing Charlotte, N.C. as our hometown.

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Columbus selected the right wing 101st in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He notched 40+ points in three of his four junior seasons, but Boll turned out to not be quite the striker in the pros. Like many before him who have suffered the same fate, he turned to his physical play to continue to earn a spot on the Jackets‘ roster and a paycheck.

Over his nine seasons in Columbus, Boll threw 967 hits – 107.4 per season and 1.9 per game. That translated into 1195 minutes in the penalty box – 132.8 minutes per season and 2.31 minutes per game. For those of you that don’t like stats and numbers, this set – especially the penalty minutes – screams an enforcer position.

This offseason, Boll signed with Anaheim, who currently sits at 6-5-2. What has been most-impressive about the Ducks this season has been their defense, which has allowed only 30 goals against.

John Gibson has started in net for all but three of the Ducks‘ games, and has earned a 5-4-0 record on a .914 save percentage and 2.43 GAA.

Not very good numbers.

It has been the blue line that has stood strong. Anaheim has allowed only 378 shots to reach Gibson and co. in 13 games. Limiting opposing offenses to only 29.1 shots per game is an impressive move, given that the average team in the league allow 30.2 per game. Sami Vatanen has led the charge with 29 blocks to his credit, but he is the only Duck with more than 20. I’ve said it every time I’ve featured Anaheim, but the remainder of the blue line needs to protect their young goaltender if they want to find success.

What has kept Anaheim alive offensively has been their strong power play. Successful on 27.9% of attempts, the Ducks have the third-best man-advantage in the league and should be feared. Ryan Kesler has led the special teams with four power play goals to his credit.

Columbus enters the night with a 5-3-2 record. Just like Anaheim, the Blue Jackets have been finding success on the defensive end by allowing only 21 goals.

Sergei Bobrovsky has been playing out of his mind so far this season, earning a 5-3-1 record in his nine starts. His three losses haven’t entirely been his fault though, as he owns a season .947 save percentage and 1.79 GAA – both ranking top-six in the league among goaltenders that have played three or more games. Even more impressive is the fact that he faces an average of 33.3 shots per game, well above the league average.

It will be interesting to see if Bobrovsky can continue his stellar play as the season progresses and if the Jackets could by buyers at the deadline – but hey, that’s still four months away!

One place the Jackets don’t need to improve at right now is their power play. The Ducks‘ is good, but Columbus‘ 39.3% success rate is way better. In fact, it’s best in the league, beating second-best Philly by 11%. Cam Atkinson has lead the charge for the Blue Jackets on the power play, notching four extra-man goals.

The penalty kill has also been extremely good for the Jackets. Columbus has found themselves in the penalty box 32 times this season, but they’ve refused to yield a goal on 90.6% of those attempts for the second-best rate in the league.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Anaheim‘s Jonathan Bernier (.939 save percentage [sixth-best in the NHL] for a 2.03 GAA [ninth-best in the league]) and Ryan Getzlaf (11 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL]) & Columbus‘ Bobrovsky (three shutouts [tied for most in the league] on a .947 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] for a 1.79 GAA [fifth-best in the league]) and Alexander Wennberg (11 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked Columbus as a -119 favorite coming into tonight’s game. Going back to last season, I don’t know if I’ve ever favored the Jackets before in this series, but I agree with the odds-makers. Columbus is a hot team right now, being opportunistic and refusing to yield opposing tallies. It will be interesting to see if this is just a hot streak or a real threat in the Eastern Conference.

Hockey Birthday:

  • Bill Guerin (1970-) – Over 18 seasons, Guerin played 1263 games at right wing, most of which – 30.1%, in fact – were with the Devils, the team that drafted him fifth overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. He’s hoisted the Stanley Cup three times, most recent of which was last season as Assistant General Manager for Pittsburgh.
  • Carl Gunnarsson (1986) – The Swedish defender of the St. Louis Blues, the team he’s playing his third season with. Tonight will be his 447th career game, and he’ll be looking for his second point of the season this evening against Chicago.

A late Canadiens goal was the difference in yesterday’s Game of the Day, leading them to a 3-2 victory over the arch-rival Bruins.

After no goals were struck in the first frame, the Habs broke the draw with a power play slap shot from Shea Weber (Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec) 3:58 after resuming play. That lead lasted only 50 seconds before Colin Miller scored an unassisted wrister to level the score for Boston. The third-and-final goal of the second frame was struck at the 5:08 mark, 20 seconds after Miller’s, when Alex Galchenyuk‘s (Alexander Radulov and Second Star of the Game Paul Byron) backhand found the back of the net to give the Canadiens a 2-1 lead they would take into the second intermission.

The score was tied once again 6:38 into the final frame when Third Star David Pastrnak (John-Michael Liles and Brad Marchand) scored a power play slap shot. The Bruins nearly forced overtime, but Byron’s (Galchenyuk and Radulov) backhander with 62 seconds remaining earned Montréal two more points in the standings to further cement their spot at the top of the league.

First Star Carey Price earned the victory after saving 41-of-43 shots faced (95.3%), while Zane McIntyre saved only 20-of-23 (87%) in the loss.

Montréal‘s Game of the Day victory is their fourth out of four appearances and the second-straight for the home team in the series. It improves the home squads’ record to 17-10-3 and expands their lead over the roadies to eight points.

November 4 – Day 23 – Friday nights have to improve soon… right?

It’s Friday!

Everybody’s getting off work, including most of the hockey players as there’s only six games going on this evening. The limited action finds its start at the usual time of 7 p.m. with Montréal visiting Columbus (RDS), followed half an hour later by Winnipeg at Detroit (NHLN/TVAS). When those games are complete, you can flip over to Arizona at Anaheim, which drops the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

If the standings are any indicator, the most competitive game of the night should be taking place in Orange County, so we’ll head there.

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While it is not  major, one aspect of this game that does make it a touch more intriguing is the presence of Jamie McGinn. The left wing started last season in Buffalo, but was traded at the deadline to the Ducks to bolster their forward situation. He scored 39 total points all last season – the best season of his career – but only two in the postseason as Anaheim fell in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

This off-season, he tested free agency to eventually sign with Arizona. Already this season McGinn has found the back of the net twice en route to a three-point campaign so far.

The addition of McGinn does not appear to be a major solution for the Coyotes, as they are the proud owners of a 4-6-0 record. In fact, goal scoring really hasn’t been the issue for the Coyotes as much as it has been their defense and goaltending.

Already this season in only 10 games played, Arizona has given up 37 goals, a total that exceeds the league average by 10 scores. That responsibility starts with the man between the pipes: Louis Domingue. Before last night’s shootout victory over Nashville, the 24-year-old goaltender had saved only 88.7% of the shots he’d faced for a 3.95 GAA – not numbers becoming an NHL starting goaltender, or at least one that will keep his job for long.

But he is far from the only one to take credit for the Coyotes‘ struggles. Before last night’s game, Arizona‘s goaltenders have been tasked with blocking 312 shots – approximately 35 per game. When the league average is a touch under 29, that’s a lot. Connor Murphy‘s 18 blocks have been good, but more skaters than him and Alex Goligoski need to contribute defensively.

Based on last year’s efforts, the team they’re facing tonight, the 4-5-2 Ducks, would be the perfect team to emulate, as Anaheim‘s 188 goals allowed last season was best in the NHL.

That was last year though. They’ve regressed to the mean so far this campaign, allowing 28 tallies after 11 games. John Gibson has a .911 save percentage to his credit, good for a 2.58 GAA. Gibson does have the luxury of Sami Vatanen playing in front of him, whose 26 blocks are tied for ninth-most in the league, but it could be argued that the top-two blockers for Arizona are doing better than Vatanen and Cam Fowler (13).

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Anaheim‘s Gibson (one shutout [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Arizona‘s Oliver Ekman-Larsson (five goals [leads the team]).

The Ducks are a solid favorite coming into this game with an impressive -208 associated with their name. With a line like that, it is probably unwise to pick against them.

Hockey Birthday

  • Howie Meeker (1923-) – Although he is the lone surviving member of Toronto‘s 1947 Stanley Cup-winning team, playing hockey was just the beginning for the nine-year right winger. After a stint as the Leafs‘ coach, the right wing transitioned to the broadcast booth, announcing for Hockey Night in Canada for almost 30 years.
  • Michel Therrien (1963-) – This is Therrien’s 11th season coaching in the NHL, and seventh with Montréal. He spent four seasons with Pittsburgh, including leading the Penguins to the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals. His replacement the following season, Dan Bylsma, finished the work Therrien started and led the Pens to their third title.
  • Dustin Brown (1984-) – Drafted 13th overall by Los Angeles in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Brown has spent his entire career with the Kings, already winning two Stanley Cups. Interestingly, although he was signed in 2013 to an eight-year contract, Brown was relieved of all captaincy duties this season after leading the team since 2008.

The Battle of the QEW usually favors the home team, but that was not the case in yesterday’s Game of the Day when Toronto beat Buffalo 2-1.

The Maple Leafs waited only 4:08 before scoring their first goal of the night. Second Star of the Game Mitchell Marner (Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk) takes credit for the tally with a solid wrister. The lone score of the frame, Toronto took the 1-0 lead into the dressing room.

1:50 after returning to the ice, Marner struck again with an unassisted wrister to notch the eventual game-winner. It took that winning status only 4:08 later when Third Star Marcus Foligno (Johan Larsson and Sam Reinhart) buried a backhander to set the score at 2-1, the same score that held the remaining 34:02.

First Star Frederik Andersen saved 42-of-43 (97.7%) shots faced to earn the victory, while Robin Lehner falls after saving 27-of-29 (93.1%).

Toronto‘s first win in the DtFR Game of the Day series pulls the road squads within two points of the hosts, but the home team still has a winning 13-9-3 record.

February 13 – Day 121 – Duck… Duck… Hawk!

It took overtime, but the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to hold home ice to beat the Nashville Predators 4-3.

It was actually the Preds that scored first.  Mike Fisher’s snap shot connected at the 9:40 mark of the first, assisted by Viktor Arvidsson and Mattias Ekholm (his 19th helper of the season).  Nashville‘s 1-0 lead held to the intermission.

Tampa leveled the score 8:22 after resuming play, courtesy of a J.T. Brown wrister, assisted by Valtteri Filppula (his 20th helper of the season) and Andrej Sustr.  The Bolts took the lead only 1:45 later when Nikita Kucherov fired a backhander for his 22nd tally of the season, assisted by Nikita Nesterov and Ben Bishop.  The Lightning took their 2-1 lead into the second intermission.

Nashville leveled the score only 4:01 after resuming play from the break when James Neal found the back of the net with a wrister for his 20th goal of the season, assisted by Third Star of the Game Roman Josi and Barret Jackman.  They then took the lead at the 7:46 mark with a wrister from Filip Forsberg, assisted by Mike Ribeiro and Josi (his 29th helper of the season).  With only 27 seconds remaining in regulation, the Lightning leveled the game with a slap shot from Second Star Steven Stamkos, assisted by Victor Hedman and Kucherov (his 25th helper of the season).

Overtime only lasted 1:04, as First Star Tyler Johnson’s wrister, assisted by Hedman (his 28th helper of the season) and Stamkos, was pure.

Bishop earns the win after saving 27 of 30 (90%), while Pekka Rinne takes the loss after saving 24 of 28 (85.7%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 54-27-10, favoring the home squad by 35 points over the roadies.

It’s another busy Saturday for the greatest hockey league in the world, with 10 games on the docket today.  New Jersey and Philadelphia drop the opening puck of the day at 1 p.m. eastern, followed an hour later by the only other afternoon matinee, Boston at Minnesota.  Four games get started at the usual starting time of 7 p.m. eastern (Toronto at Vancouver, Nashville at Florida, the New York Islanders at Carolina and Ottawa at Columbus), followed an hour later by Washington at Dallas.  Anaheim at Chicago starts at 8:30 p.m. eastern in NHL Network.  Edmonton hosts Winnipeg at 10 p.m. eastern, followed half an hour later by this evening’s nightcap, Arizona at San Jose.

Three of tonight’s games are between divisional rivals (New Jersey at Philadelphia, New York at Carolina and Arizona at San Jose), and another set of three are games between current qualifiers (Nashville at Florida, Washington at Dallas and Anaheim at Chicago).  The AnaheimChicago game is also a rematch of the Western Conference Finals.

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This will be Anaheim‘s fifth appearance in the Game of the Day series, where they currently own a 1-1-2 record.  Their most recent appearance in the series was a 4-1 victory over the Senators on January 13.  Chicago has played many more games (16 so far, in fact), and much more recently.  Their 4-2 loss on home ice to the Stars on Thursday set their Game of the Day record at 9-6-1.

In addition to meeting in last season’s Western Conference Finals, the Blackhawks and Ducks are also connected by a mid-season trade that sent Ryan Garbutt to Anaheim in exchange for Jiri Sekac.

Garbutt had two goals, four assists and 94 hits in his 43-game Blackhawks career before being sent to Orange County, where he’s already notched three goals and an assist in eight games played.

The 26-19-8 Anaheim Ducks currently sit in third place in the Pacific Division and sixth in the Western Conference.  So far this season, they’ve played the fourth-best defense in the league, but it’s been paired with the fewest goals scored in the league.

Sami Vatanen may lead the team with only 85 blocks, but the Ducks have allowed only 1462 shots to reach 12-8-2 John Gibson and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.7% for only 125 goals against, fourth-least in the league.  That defensive strength has directly stemmed from Anaheim‘s penalty kill, which is the best in the league, killing 88.71% of opposing power plays for 21 extra-man goals against.

Although the offense has been improving of late, it still ranks worst in the league in goals scored.  Led by Corey Perry’s 145 shots, Anaheim has fired 1618 attempts for 122 goals (led by Perry’s 21 tallies).  The power play has also been fairly poor, as it ranks 11th-worst in the league.  The Ducks have only scored on 17.88% of their opportunities for 27 extra-man goals (led by Perry’s six).

Anaheim lost their most recent game 4-3 in a shootout in Columbus on Thursday.  A win today provides the Ducks the opportunity to move into second place in the division should the Sharks lose, but if Anaheim loses and Vancouver wins, the Ducks‘ lead for third in the division is reduced to only two points.

The 36-18-4 Chicago Blackhawks currently lead both the Central Division and the Western Conference by a lone point over the Stars, and trail only the Washington Capitals, by eight points, for the Presidents’ Trophy.  They play the fourth-best offense in the league, paired with the seventh-best defense.  A more in-depth analysis of their game can be found in Thursday’s post.

With their 4-2 loss to the Stars, the Blackhawks are currently riding a two-game losing skid.  A Blackhawks win paired with a Stars loss to the Capitals expands Chicago‘s lead in the division and conference to three points, but a loss could provide the Stars the opportunity to reclaim the title of ‘Best of the West.’

As stated before, these teams met in the Western Conference Finals last season, where the Blackhawks won in Game Seven en route to their Stanley Cup.

These squads have already met twice this season, with Chicago winning both games in overtime.  Most recently, they met in Anaheim, where the Blackhawks won 3-2 with extra time.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Anaheim‘s Ryan Getzlaf (35 assists [tied for seventh-most in the league]) and Gibson (2.13 GAA [sixth-best in the league] and four shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league]) & Chicago‘s Corey Crawford (seven shutouts [most in the league], 31 wins [second-most in the league], .929 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the league] and 2.17 GAA [tied for eighth-best in the league]), Patrick Kane (77 points [leads the league], 44 assists (second-most in the league], 33 goals [second-most in the league] and +23 [tied for fourth-best in the league]) and Artemi Panarin (52 points [tied for seventh-most in the league]).

Another night in Chicago, another same old prediction.  Although the Stars bested what I predicted, I fully expect the Hawks to take care of the Ducks in the United Center.