The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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)/
|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)|
|7:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Tampa Bay||5-6 (OT)|
|8 p.m.||Buffalo||St. Louis||1-4|
|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|
|Saturday, December 29|
|1 p.m.||Carolina||New Jersey||SN|
|4 p.m.||Vegas||Los Angeles||SN1|
|4 p.m.||San Jose||Edmonton|
|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|
|8 p.m.||Pittsburgh||St. Louis|
|8 p.m.||New York Rangers||Nashville Predators||ESPN+|
|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.
Nick and Connor review the Vegas Golden Knights draft history, praise Carter Hart’s NHL debut, talk about Scott Gordon’s introduction as interim head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, as well as the Patrik Berglund situation, Whalers Night and a teaser 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship preview.
*Editor’s note: Paris is hosting the 2024 Summer Games and Los Angeles is hosting the 2028 Summer Games. The 2026 and 2030 Winter Games host cities have yet to be selected.
Noted playmaking forward Brad Marchand had four assists en route to the Boston Bruins 4-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on the road at KeyBank Center. 2018 1st overall pick, Rasmus Dahlin, finished the night as a minus-1 and recorded two hits in his NHL debut.
Jaroslav Halak picked up his first shutout of the season in his first start and his first win as a Bruin, amassing 32 saves on 32 shots against in the victory.
Boston improved to 1-1-0 (two points) on the season and currently sits in 2nd in the Atlantic Division to the Toronto Maple Leafs with all but the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning having formally kicked off their 2018-19 regular season action.
Thursday night’s start was much better for the Bruins than Wednesday night’s 7-0 loss to the Washington Capitals.
Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara (1) kicked off 2018-19 regular season scoring for the B’s at 6:33 of the first period on a rush into the offensive zone, whereby the 41-year-old defender snuck in from the point and received a pass from Brad Marchand in the high slot that Chara wired past Hutton with a snap shot.
Marchand (1) and Charlie McAvoy (1) notched the assists on Chara’s goal. The 6-foot-9 defender has scored at least once in 20 of his 21 NHL seasons, joining seven other defensemen in NHL history to do so– Ray Bourque (22), Scott Stevens (22), Al MacInnis (21), Chris Chelios (21), Harry Howell (21), Larry Murphy (21) and current Sabres head coach, Phil Housley (21).
Chara (41-years, 200 days) also passed Jaromir Jagr as the third-oldest player in franchise history to score a regular season goal for Boston. Mark Recchi (13 goals) and Johnny Bucyk (one goal) are the only other Bruins to have scored at an older age.
Both Bucyk and Recchi played until they were 43-years-old, with Bucyk retiring in 1978 and Recchi doing so after winning the Cup with Chara and Boston in 2011.
Former Bruin (2007-10), Vladimir Sobotka slashed David Pastrnak at 13:58 of the first period and sent Boston on the power play for the first time of the night. The Bruins were 0/2 on the skater advantage Wednesday night in Washington, but they wouldn’t remain scoreless on the power play for long.
At 15:34 of the first period, Ryan Donato (1) one-timed a shot past Hutton to score Boston’s first power play goal of the year and make it a 2-0 game for the Bruins. Donato originally sent the puck to Patrice Bergeron, who in turn sent it along to Brad Marchand in transition, then Marchand dished it back to Donato to complete the scoring opportunity.
Marchand (2) and Bergeron (1) picked up their first power play points of the season in the form of assists on the first power play unit.
Unlike Wednesday night, Boston had offensive zone time and more control of the game in its overall flow– at both ends of the ice, as the fourth line of Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly and Anders Bjork worked effectively at clearing the puck from their own zone and transitioning it up the ice.
Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy juggled the lines a bit from Wednesday to Thursday, inserting Bjork in the lineup in place of Chris Wagner alongside Kuraly and Heinen, while placing Donato on the second line and Noel Acciari centering the third line surrounded by David Backes and Joakim Nordstrom at the wings.
After 20 minutes, Boston led, 2-0 on the scoreboard and in shots on goal (11-6). Buffalo had an advantage in blocked shots (2-1), giveaways (6-4) and face-off win% (57-44). The Bruins were 1/1 on the power play and the Sabres had yet to see time on the skater advantage.
Heinen slashed Casey Nelson and was sent to the penalty box at 2:47 of the second period, but Buffalo was not able to convert on the ensuing skater advantage.
Despite a heavy offensive effort by Boston, the Sabres were able to remain in a tight, 2-0 battle until late in the middle frame.
Marchand worked to keep the puck in the zone for the Bruins, while Krejci forced a pass through the low slot for an easy one-timed redirection from Pastrnak (1) into the twine as Hutton was diving across the crease to catch up with the quick puck movement. Pastrnak’s goal gave Boston a commanding, 3-0, lead at 16:16 of the second period and was assisted by Krejci (1) and Marchand (3).
With less than two minutes left in the period, McAvoy took a shot off the inside of the leg and required assistance skating off the ice and heading to the dressing room, but he would return to action in time for the third period.
After two periods of play, Boston led by three (3-0) and outshot the Sabres (21-17), while Buffalo led in blocked shots (6-5), giveaways (9-6) and was 0/1 on the power play.
The third period saw a heavy presence in Boston’s defensive zone, but Halak stood tall as did his defenders, who did a much better job of pressuring their opponent and taking away the puck Thursday night than they did on Wednesday.
Housley pulled his goaltender with 4:30 remaining in regulation for an extra skater, but the Sabres couldn’t muster a goal, while the Bruins kept icing the puck.
After taking a hit from Sobotka behind the net in the final minute of regulation, McAvoy was looking to stand up for himself and eventually dropped the gloves with the Sabres forward in the corner to the right side of Halak.
This, of course, all after Chara tried getting to Sobotka first and received a roughing minor as play was stopped for the fisticuffs that ensued.
Buffalo would finish the game on a 6-on-4 advantage, but the Bruins scored an empty net, shorthanded goal, thanks to Patrice Bergeron (1) with the sole assist on the goal from Marchand (4), completing No. 63’s four-point night.
The Sabres finished the night outshooting Boston (32-26) and outhitting the Bruins (25-13), but Boston led the scoreboard, 4-0, after 60 minutes. The B’s also finished with more blocked shots than Buffalo (13-8) and trailed in the face-off dot (57%-43%).
After opening the season on the road for two games at .500, Boston heads home for an Opening Day matinee matchup against the Ottawa Senators on Monday from TD Garden.
44-32-6, 94 points, fifth in the Central Division
Subtractions: RW Beau Bennett (signed with Dinamo Minsk, KHL), F Patrik Berglund (traded to BUF), C Kyle Brodziak (signed with EDM), G Carter Hutton (signed with BUF), D Petteri Lindbohm (signed with Lausanne, NL), C Wade Megan (signed with DET), F Vladimir Sobotka (traded to BUF), F Tage Thompson (traded to BUF)
Offseason Analysis: The best metaphor for the Blues’ offseason just might be a fishing analogy.
While there was certainly a big fish to be caught (for those still in the dark, Toronto signing C John Tavares is by far the catch of the summer), General Manager Doug Armstrong won the volume competition, as he cast a wide net and brought in at least four offensive additions that should see significant playing time this season.
And that’s not to say Armstrong simply acquired anyone willing to move to the Gateway to the West. To continue our fishing analogy, Armstrong’s nets had large holes to grab only the biggest of names available this summer.
Bozak and Perron represent St. Louis’ primary signings from the summer’s free agency frenzy. Bozak, a player coming off posting 11-32-43 totals in Toronto last season, and Perron, who scored 16-50-66 marks (by far a career-high in assists) with the Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights, were both signed on July 1 and would have represented an excellent offseason simply between themselves.
Maroon, who has posted more than 40 points in both of his last two seasons, was signed nine days later to a one-year deal, but it was really the July 1 trade with the Sabres for O’Reilly that set the Blues apart and set such high expectations. For the price of two bottom-nine forwards, a prospect, and two draft picks (a first in 2019 and a second in 2021), the Blues added a legitimate top-six center that has posted at least 55 points in six of his last seven seasons (an injury limited his action to only 29 games in 2012-13).
Fifty-five points, with his best being a 64-point effort in 2013-14? Aren’t expectations a little high that he’ll be the one to propel the Notes back into the playoffs?
We need to remember that O’Reilly has only played for Colorado (2009-2015) and Buffalo (2015-2018) during his career – neither of which I would say were exactly abounding in talent during his tenures. Should he earn the role of starting center (as many expect he will) over F Brayden Schenn, he’ll be playing alongside one of the best right wings in the league in Vladimir Tarasenko and up-and-coming 26-year-old F Jaden Schwartz, who posted 14-21-35 totals in 30 games to open the season before suffering a lower-body injury that sidelined him for more than a month.
If we’re looking for something that smells fishy, I’d sooner look to St. Louis’ goaltending situation. Far and away, the Notes’ best netminder last season was Hutton with his 17-7-3 record on a .931 save percentage and 2.09 GAA. Instead of resigning him, Armstrong allowed him to take his talents to the Queen City, leading to former Sabres goalie Johnson making his way to the Gateway City.
With no new starter in sight (23-year-old G Ville Husso still needs more time in the AHL to develop), that means G Jake Allen (who just yesterday was reported to be struggling with back spasms that will keep him off the ice for much of training camp) will regain his starting job even though he managed only a 27-25-3 record on an abysmal .906 save percentage and 2.75 GAA last season.
For at least the last two campaigns, Allen has made a horrendous habit of falling into cold streaks that extend longer than a month. In 19 appearances between December 12 and March 8 last season, Allen managed a terrible 2-14-0 record on a .897 save percentage and 3.17 GAA.
For a team with aspirations as high as the Blues’, I’m surprised this issue was not given more attention to result in a better acquisition than Johnson. While the goalie free agent market was fairly lean, Armstrong showed he was willing to make a blockbuster trade when he made the O’Reilly deal. Instead, this entire season rests firmly on Allen’s shoulders, as his incredible defense (the Blues’ 29.7 shots allowed last season was best in the Western Conference) can do only so much before he has to make a save.
Offseason Grade: B+
There’s no doubt the Blues were unhappy missing the playoffs last season. However, while they certainly did more than enough to improve an attack that already boasted three 20-goal scorers (Tarasenko, Schenn and Schwartz), I have major concerns with Allen getting handed the reins after being arguably the biggest problem last season. If he can’t rise to the challenge and return to his 2015-2016 form that led the Notes to second in the Central Division (remember, G Brian Elliott was in net when that team went all the way to the Western Finals), all this offseason work was for naught.
As a bonus interesting note, Perron has never signed a contract with any club other than the St. Louis Blues, even though he’s worn four other crests in his career and is embarking upon his third stint with the organization.
I don’t know how important that is, but now you’ll have an answer if you’re ever posed with that trivia question at your local watering hole.
Nick, Colby and Connor talk the Max Pacioretty trade, Eugene Melnyk’s latest antics, John Tortorella’s extension, Adam McQuaid and Steve Yzerman stepping down in Tampa. Also in this episode– DTFR’s official 2018-19 Atlantic Division preview.
24-45-12, 60 points, Last in the NHL
Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres have had a busy summer, but that’s what you expect from a team that significantly under-produced and finished last in the league. The only positive takeaway from last season was winning the lottery and drafting Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall.
General Manager Jason Botterill was looking to shake things up more with his roster, making three separate trades to land Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwick and Jeff Skinner. Botterill only gave up Ryan O’Reilly, Cliff Pu and a handful of draft picks. The biggest parts of all three trades for Buffalo was keeping their three first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Draft. Botterill did a great job injecting speed and proven NHL players into a roster that lacked both last season.
With the No. 1 farm system (as voted by The Athletic), there are a few players from the minor leagues who, with a good camp, could crack the NHL roster.
In particular, C.J. Smith had a strong first pro season in the AHL that became derailed with an injury. Things never seemed to click after he returned to the ice, but the promise he showed while healthy will certainly warrant a look from Head Coach Phil Housley.
Victor Olofsson has a chance at making it to the big time as well. The former seventh-round pick led the SHL last season in goals and is proclaimed to have one of the best shots in the game.
Finally, Rasmus Asplund would also be coming from the SHL and could aim for the fourth-line center position, taking the spot from Johan Larsson.
Buffalo should have a much better season this year, so it’s time for Housley, entering his second season, to show he can coach in the NHL. This is a “prove it” season for a lot of people in the Sabres organization and they shouldn’t be in 31st again this season.
The biggest question mark this year will be in goal with the Sabres signing Carter Hutton to be the new No. 1 goalie ahead of Linus Ullmark. Hutton is coming off a career year with the St. Louis Blues. He has to show it wasn’t a fluke or Ullmark will take the starting job faster than expected. If Hutton and Ullmark don’t work out, the Sabres could be in big trouble without a solution in sight.
Offseason Grade: B
Overall, the Sabres had a good offseason overhaul, but there are still questions about top-six defenseman and lineup notes. But, Botterill did his job and it now comes down to Housley to get the most out of his players and have some success. I don’t think they will be anywhere near 31st with Ottawa and Montreal existing, but I think playoff hopes are too far away for the Sabres this season. I think they’ll finish fifth in the division.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the St. Louis Blues and their outlook for the summer.
One game. One game made all the difference for the St. Louis Blues in making or missing the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and you’ll never guess what happened.
Yes, after compiling a 44-31-6 record, the Blues were ahead of the Colorado Avalanche by one point in the wild card race to secure the last spot in the postseason.
Despite a season-long lackluster performance in goal from Jake Allen (a career worst 2.75 goals against average and second worst .906 save percentage in 59 games played), St. Louis needed a win in any fashion in the final game of the regular season against the Avs to go up against the Nashville Predators in the First Round.
Instead, the club finished 44-32-6 on the season with 94 points– one point out of the wild card spot– and 5th in the Central Division.
Mike Yeo missed the playoffs in his first year as head coach of the Blues without any assistance from Ken Hitchcock and General Manager Doug Armstrong was left scratching his head.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Fans were left scratching their heads after Armstrong traded hometown hero Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets in a surprise move at the trade deadline in exchange for a 2018 first round pick (29th overall) and prospect Erik Foley.
Stastny’s dad, Peter– the famous Québec Nordique– was left stunned.
Armstrong replaced the first round pick that he swapped with the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2017 Draft as part of the Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first round pick and a conditional 2018 first round pick for Brayden Schenn transaction, but at the cost of one of the better faceoff-winning centers in the league.
With the 29th overall selection in this year’s draft, Armstrong will be left picking the best available or surprising everyone– yet again– and going off the board.
Hopefully for the better, considering the organization is teetering on the edge of a retooling/rebuild.
Pending free agents
What else is there to expect from a front office that’s had to move Kevin Shattenkirk and T.J. Oshie, while letting David Backes walk in free agency in years past, thanks to a tight salary cap situation?
Armstrong can make some sweeping changes by figuring out the future of St. Louis’s crease protection plan (more on that later), but he can also restructure the team’s offensive outlook by ridding themselves of some underperforming second through fourth liners.
Thankfully, the Blues have about $12.900 million to spend with the cap expected to rise this summer.
That’s not a lot to work with, but it can bring in a difference maker, while still providing enough room to work a deal that might send Vladimir Sobotka and his $3.500 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season (or an equivalent) packing via a trade.
Upshall has loved St. Louis and its fans have responded in kind, but the time is now for the Blues to make a clean break in this relationship. He’s averaged 17 points over the last three seasons. That’s not great with an aging roster.
Brodziak, on the other hand, has bounced back from shortened seasons due to injury and doubled his point total from 15 points (69 games played) in 2016-17 to 33 points (81 GP) this season.
At first look, keeping a 34-year-old that was trending in the wrong direction when he came to St. Louis in 2015-16 isn’t great, but Brodziak is proving people wrong as part of a comeback tour with the Blues (albeit lasting three seasons). If you don’t re-sign Upshall, you can at least afford to bring back Brodziak.
But we’ll see what kind of logic Armstrong is working with this offseason.
Fabbri, 22, had 11-18–29 totals in 51 GP, down from his 18-19–37 totals in 72 games in 2016-17. That’s still respectable as a bottom-six forward, however.
Jaskin, 25, had six more points this season in 25 more games played than in 2016-17. That means he had 17 points in 76 GP this season and 11 points in 51 GP last season. The Blues can move on if they’d like.
Sundqvist, 24, was acquired last June along with a first round pick as part of the Ryan Reaves trade and had one goal and four assists (five points) in 42 games for St. Louis this season. That’s not great, but he finally played the most games he’s ever seen in one season, since breaking into the NHL in 2015-16 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Soshnikov, 24, had one goal and one assist (two points) in 12 games with the Blues after being acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also had no points in three games with Toronto this season and has 8-8–16 totals in 82 career NHL games since 2015-16.
Unless Yeo can perform a miracle as a head coach, there’s no point in seeing if anything’s left in the potential tank.
Schmaltz had one assist in 13 games this season. He clearly isn’t part of St. Louis’s current plan, leaving one of two options– stick around as a depth blueliner or not return.
Edmundson set a career-high in goals (7) and points (17) in 69 games played this season. Nice. He’s a top-six defender and should see another year or two in a sweater with a giant blue music note on it.
If anyone’s willing to take on all or some of Jay Bouwmeester‘s $5.400 million cap hit with one year remaining– provided the 34-year-old defenseman waives his no-trade-clause– then St. Louis should pursue that avenue.
Okay, now for the future of St. Louis’s goaltending.
Jordan Binnington, 24, is a pending-RFA and should get a chance at the NHL level.
Then again, Carter Hutton, 32, is a pending-UFA and outplayed the 27-year-old starter, Jake Allen at times this season.
If St. Louis is fine staying the course as a middle of the road team that’ll come up short for a year or two, then there’s no need to worry and Hutton should be re-signed and see more time in net to offset Allen’s workload.
But if any of that clashes with what Armstrong and the rest of his front office envisions for the club, well… that’s the million dollar question.
A rebuild is not out of the question, but certainly frowned upon, given how star-forward, Vladimir Tarasenko is in his prime now.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Get ready hockey fans. Today has the chance to get wild.
With the exception of Pittsburgh, each and every team will be in action today, and most of those clubs (all but Boston and Florida) are playing their final game of the regular season.
The action starts with a 3 p.m. matinee featuring the New York Rangers at Philadelphia (NBC), a fun warm-up setting up the seven games (Chicago at Winnipeg [SN], Ottawa at Boston [CITY/TVAS], Montréal at Toronto [CBC/TVAS], the New York Islanders at Detroit, Buffalo at Florida, New Jersey at Washington [NHLN] and Tampa Bay at Carolina) at 7 p.m. Columbus at Nashville is the only puck drop scheduled for 8 p.m., with two tilts (Anaheim at Arizona and St. Louis at Colorado [NHLN]) waiting an hour before getting underway. Another couple fixtures (Vegas at Calgary and Vancouver at Edmonton [CBC]) find their start at 10 p.m., while the final pair (Dallas at Los Angeles [NHLN] and Minnesota at San Jose) wait half an hour before closing out this busy Saturday. All times Eastern.
With all those points on the line, any playoff spot not locked down has the chance to change hands. Today’s most important matchups include:
- New York at Philadelphia: As long as the Flyers do anything better than lose in regulation, they eliminate Florida and clinch a spot in the postseason for the second time in three seasons. What spot that’d be is anyone’s guess, as Philly could do as well as third in the Metropolitan Division or remain the Eastern Conference’s second wild card.
- Ottawa at Boston: Even with a game in hand, the Bruins are not in control of their own seeding. They need a win today and tomorrow – neither of which may come in a shootout – before they can even think about challenging for first place in the East.
- Buffalo at Florida: This game hinges on the Flyers’ result. A Philly regulation loss keeps the Panthers’ playoff hopes alive, but they still have to win today and tomorrow’s games – with at least one of those not requiring the shootout.
- New Jersey at Washington: A win ensures the Devils a minimum of the East’s top wild card, but they can climb into third place in the Metro if Columbus doesn’t earn two points or requires a shootout to beat Nashville.
- Tampa Bay at Carolina: As long as they avoid a shootout, two points for the Bolts clinches them the top seed in the East.
- Columbus at Nashville: Having already won their season series against the Devils, all the Blue Jackets need to clinch third place in the Metropolitan Division is a victory that doesn’t necessitate a shootout.
- Anaheim at Arizona: A win of any variety ensures the Ducks no worse than third place in the Pacific Division, but two points paired with a Sharks regulation loss propels Anaheim into second.
- St. Louis at Colorado: The second wild card is the only spot left in the Western Conference playoffs, and both the Avalanche and Blues are eligible.
- Dallas at Los Angeles: The Kings can do no worse than their current position as the West’s first wild card, but it’s still possible for them to jump all the way into second place in the Pacific.
- Minnesota at San Jose: With as little as a point, the Sharks will clinch second place in the Pacific – good enough for home ice in the first round.
No arena is going to be buzzing quite like Pepsi Center tonight, so it looks like we’re headed to Denver for an extremely important Central showdown!
The nice thing about this game is it’s totally independent of the rest of today’s action. Simply put, the winner of this contest is all but ensured a season that extends beyond 82 games.
However, on the last day of the year in the Western Conference, “all but ensured” just isn’t precise enough, is it?
Currently sitting in the second wildcard spot with a one-point advantage, 44-31-6 St. Louis has the inside track towards qualifying for its seventh-consecutive postseason. A win of any variety – or even a loss in extra time (more on that in a moment) – for the Blues this evening earns them a date with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators.
The reason the Blues are in that second wildcard spot is due to beating Chicago 4-1 last night to snap their four-game losing skid. Having posted a 1-3-1 record since March 30, St. Louis is very fortunate to still be in playoff consideration.
As would be expected from a five-game run like that, issues abound with this Blues squad. For starters, the offense is struggling, managing only 2.4 goals per game since March 30 to rank eighth-worst in the NHL in that time.
The biggest reason for St. Louis’ sputtering attack is that both D Colton Parayko (6-29-35 totals) and F Vladimir Sobotka (11-20-31) are in significant scoring ruts right now. Even though both players have provided at least 31 points so far this season, neither have found the scorecard during this five-game run. Additionally, D Alex Pietrangelo (15-38-53) and F Alex Steen (15-31-46) have also had their scoring issues, as neither have played anywhere near their season .6 points-per-game form during this skid, having posted only a point apiece.
However, those skaters’ struggles pale in comparison to the horrid effort 27-24-3 G Jake Allen has put forth lately, and really for his entire season as a whole. Allen has posted an abysmal .869 save percentage and 3.85 GAA in his last four starts – well off the pace of his lackluster .905 save percentage and 2.74 GAA for the season.
For those wondering if the Blues’ defense is to blame, you’d be surprised to learn that St. Louis has allowed only 27.8 shots against per game in its last four showings – the third-best average in the NHL in that time. Even with the incredible play of F Kyle Brodziak (seven takeaways in his past five games), D Joel Edmundson (2.6 blocks per game since March 30) and W Dmitrij Jaskin (3.4 hits per game over this skid) in front of him, Allen continues to let pucks by at an alarming rate that would earn most goalies a demotion to backup.
The beauty of a hockey club always keeping two goaltenders on the active roster is the ability to turn to one when the other is struggling. Why Head Coach Mike Yeo hasn’t given starts to 17-7-3 G Carter Hutton more often is truly baffling. After all, Hutton’s .931 season save percentage and 2.09 GAA are both best in the league among qualified goaltenders, not to mention the fact that he earned the only win in St. Louis’ last five outings – last night’s 4-1 victory against Chiacgo.
I must admit, as a sided supporter of this club, I would have much preferred to see Allen play last night’s game against the Blackhawks – a game that ultimately didn’t matter considering the Blues could still qualify for the playoffs with a win tonight – and have Hutton ready to go today.
Unfortunately for Yeo and the Blues, they’ve made their bed and now they must lay in it – no matter the result.
As for the 42-30-9 Avalanche, they need something a little bit more than just any old victory tonight to qualify for the playoffs: they have to win this game in regulation. Neither overtime nor a shootout is acceptable for Colorado as, even though it’d be tied with the Blues at 95 points if it won, it would lose either the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker (in the case of a shootout victory) or the season series tiebreaker (St. Louis has earned six points at the hand of the Avalanche, yielding only two).
As luck would have it, Colorado enters tonight’s game riding a similar 1-2-1 record since March 30. However, the similarities end there, as the Avs have been recording losses for far different reasons.
While the defensive skaters have not played exactly well lately – allowing an average of 34 shots against per game since March 30 to rank (t)sixth-worst in the league in that time – they’ve been more than bailed out by the excellent play of 18-13-3 G Jonathan Bernier. Having assumed starting duties since 24-16-6 G Semyon Varlamov went down with a knee injury, Bernier has managed a .905 save percentage and 3.26 GAA in his last four appearances – marks roughly in line with his .912 save percentage and 2.87 GAA for the entire season, especially when we factor in that the Avs have allowed only 2.75 goals per game since March 30 ([t]10th-best in the NHL in that time).
Instead, the biggest problem for Colorado lately has been its sputtering offense, which has scored only 2.75 goals per game in its past four outings to rank (t)12th-worst in the NHL since March 30.
It’s never a good sign when a potential Hart Trophy candidate gets held goalless for multiple games in a row, so one can only imagine the frustration F Nathan MacKinnon (38-57-95 totals) is experiencing right now during his nine-game goalless skid – his longest rut of the season. Further accenting MacKinnon’s scoring troubles, linemate LW Gabriel Landeskog (24-35-59) has also been held to only two assists during this four-game run.
A few more players that have had their issues lately include F Carl Soderberg (16-19-35 totals) and F J.T. Compher (13-10-23), not to mention a fractured patella that will keep D Erik Johnson (9-16-25) off the ice for the next six weeks. Compher and Soderberg are both riding six-game scoreless skids in their bottom-six roles, putting even more pressure on MacKinnon’s line to come alive and carry the team.
As mentioned before, Colorado has certainly had its struggles this season against St. Louis, as the Blues have posted a 3-1-0 record in their first four meetings.
The first matchup occurred way back on October 19, a little over two weeks before the F Matt Duchene trade that allowed the Avalanche to assume their winning form. With that in mind, it only makes sense that the Blues won that game at Pepsi Center 4-3 (D Robert Bortuzzo‘s first goal of the season proved to be the game-winner).
The last three games have occurred a bit more recently. Game 2 was scheduled for January 25 at Scottrade Center, where St. Louis earned a 3-1 victory (Steen earned First Star honors with his one-goal, two-point night). The Avs were back in Missouri exactly two weeks later, suffering an embarrassing 6-1 loss at the hands of the Notes (D Vince Dunn led the way with a three-assist effort).
That loss in particular surely stung, as Colorado made sure its last visit of the season to St. Louis didn’t end in a similar fashion. As such, the Avs won March 15’s showdown by a decisive 4-1 score (Varlamov earned First Star honors with his 44-save performance).
With this game boiling down to whether St. Louis’ goaltending or Colorado’s offense can return to form fastest, I’m going to bet on the home team with a day’s rest every time. Mix in the fact that I’ve trusted MacKinnon to bounce back far more than Allen all season, and the Avalanche look like as good a lock as any for the postseason.
With a 5-3 victory over the Dallas Stars at Honda Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks have jumped back into third place in the Pacific Division with only only one day of play remaining in the Western Conference.
If it weren’t for a disastrous first period for the Stars defensively, the score would have better reflected just how competitive this game was. Even though both teams managed only a goal apiece in both the second and third frames, Anaheim earned its victory by notching three markers in the opening 20 minutes.
Second Star of the Game W Jakob Silfverberg (First Star D Josh Manson and F Andrew Cogliano) got the scoring started early, burying a tip-in only 2:28 into the game to give Anaheim an early lead, and that advantage doubled to two only 4:05 later when F Rickard Rakell (C Ryan Getzlaf and C Adam Henrique) scored a power play tip-in with RW Alexander Radulov in the penalty box for slashing Getzlaf. Though D Marc Methot (Radulov and LW Jamie Benn) was able to score his first goal of the season to pull Dallas back within a goal with 8:47 remaining in the period, C Derek Grant (Silfverberg and D Hampus Lindholm) sneaked a tip-in past G Mike McKenna with only 20 ticks remaining on the opening frame’s clock to set the score at 3-1 going into the first intermission.
Scoring started to slow down in the second period, but that’s not to say there weren’t any important goals scored. In fact, the most important tally – the game-winner – was struck 4:36 into the frame courtesy of Manson (Getzlaf and W Corey Perry).
Perry deserves a lot of the credit for this goal, as it was him that intercepted Radulov’s pass along the blue line to spring a breakaway opportunity for Anaheim. Once Perry reached the right face-off dot in his attacking zone, he dropped a pass to Getzlaf who one-timed a wrist shot toward McKenna’s far post. The netminder completed the save with his right shoulder, but he left a juicy rebound that Manson converted into an easy backhanded goal considering McKenna had drifted beyond his crease.
Facing a three-goal deficit, the Stars got to work on the offensive end with C Radek Faksa (D Greg Pateryn and F Tyler Pitlick) potting a wrister at the 7:49 mark, setting the 4-2 score that held into the second intermission.
Whatever Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said in the dressing room, it obviously inspired Benn (D John Klingberg), who buried a wrister 2:52 into the third period to pull Dallas back within a goal of tying the game. However, the Stars’ inability to find that leveling goal paired with Cogliano’s (Silfverberg and F Ryan Kesler) wrister with 5:25 remaining in regulation ensured Anaheim two more points in the standings.
G Ryan Miller earned the victory after saving 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage), leaving the loss to McKenna, who saved 28-of-33 (.848).
The 102-54-22 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a five-game point streak – a run that has expanded their advantage over the roadies in the series to 51 points.
Given what day this is of the season and the number of games on today’s schedule, there’s only one thing that can be said:
You know what, I’ll let you figure it out.
Anyways, there’s nine contests on the slate for today, beginning with five (Ottawa at Buffalo [RDS], Los Angeles at New Jersey, Toronto at Philadelphia [TVAS], Colorado at Washington and Edmonton at Columbus) at the usual 7 p.m. start time. Next up are the two 8 p.m. games (Tampa Bay at St. Louis [NBCSN] and Calgary at Minnesota), followed by Florida at Chicago (SN) half an hour later. Finally, Carolina makes its first annual trip to Vegas at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.
There were two games I had circled at the beginning of the season…
- Ottawa at Buffalo: It’s rivalry night in the Queen City between the Eastern Conference’s two worst teams! Get excited Upstate!
- Carolina at Vegas: For a combined three days, C Marcus Kruger and D Trevor van Riemsdyk were Golden Knights. Does this count as a homecoming?
… but they pale in comparison to tonight’s action in the Gateway to the West.
What a gauntlet the league-leading 21-6-2 Lightning have faced of late. It was only Saturday that they escaped with an overtime victory against an impressive Jets squad that plays a similar style to them.
There’s no denying how dominant the Bolts have been through their first 29 games, and that’s especially apparent when they have the puck on their own sticks. Tampa averages 3.75 goals-per-game to lead the league, thanks in large part to the incredible efforts of its top line. RW Nikita Kucherov (20-21-41 totals), F Vladislav Namestnikov (12-15-27) and C Steven Stamkos (12-30-42) have been nothing short of incredible, and it doesn’t hurt that they have F Brayden Point (12-14-26) and company backing them on the second line.
As I pointed out this weekend, this offense is also acting as the Lightning’s best defense, because it’s keeping pucks off 19-4-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy – not that he needs much help, as his .93 season save percentage and 2.24 GAA are both among the top four performances of any goaltender in the league with at least nine starts.
But we discussed all this this weekend. Let’s talk about Tampa’s special teams, which – as you would probably guess – are among the best in the NHL.
The Lightning are the league’s deadliest when they have the man-advantage, as they convert a 28.44 percent of opposing penalties into goals, a mark that is over two percent better than Nashville’s second-best effort.
Just as they do at even strength, Kucherov, Namestnikov and Stamkos have led the charge on the power play with their combined 46 extra-man points. Makhail Sergachev has also made his presence known on the Bolts’ second unit, as he’s managed 2-8-10 totals – the fourth-best effort on the team.
Perhaps one of Tampa’s biggest weaknesses is when it is on the penalty kill. If that is the case the rest of the league should be alarmed, because the Lightning successfully defend 82.6 percent of their infractions to rank eighth-best in the NHL. Vasilevskiy in particular has performed spectacularly when his club is shorthanded, managing a .924 save percentage against the power play to rank (t)fourth-best among the 32 goaltenders with at least 14 starts.
Before we jump into talking about the 21-8-2 Blues, it needs to be noted that they’ll be without three players this evening. In addition to D Jay Bouwmeester missing tonight’s game to rest an injury, F Jaden Schwartz and D Alex Pietrangelo are both on injured reserve with respective ankle and lower body injuries suffered blocking shots.
It certainly wouldn’t be without reason if the Notes’ offense struggles with these injuries, as they average a 3.29 goals-per-game average that ranks sixth-best in the league.
On that end, the biggest injury is certainly to Schwartz, who is posting career-best 12-21-35 totals. In his place, RW Vladimir Tarasenko moves up onto the top line with F Vladimir Sobotka and
Vladimir C Paul Stastny. While Schwartz is a tough act to follow, there’s little reason to believe Tarasenko won’t thrive in that role, as his 14-19-33 performance from playing on the second line is already the third-best on the team. Instead, I’ll be interested to see if F Brayden Schenn, St. Louis’ leading scorer with a 16-37-37 effort, can turn W Dmitrij Jaskin (4-7-11) into a real scoring threat while filling in for Tarasenko.
Of course, this offense is not simply reliant on spectacular play from its forwards. Pietrangelo is also very active in the attacking zone, as his 7-16-23 totals are not only the most among St. Louis blueliners, but also the fourth-best marks on the entire team. In fact, Pietrangelo ranks fifth in defensive scoring across the league, behind only the likes of Drew Doughty, John Klingberg, Kris Letang and Nick Leddy (for what its worth, the Blue Notes’ captain has scored more goals than any of those players).
Fortunately for St. Louis, it has just the player to slide into his role as the top two-way defenseman on the team: D Colton Parayko. Currently owning 3-14-17 marks, the third-year player has put his arguable sophomore slump behind him and is well on his way to surpassing his solid 9-24-33 rookie performance. Should he continue on his current pace, Parayko is on track to post 8-37-45 totals that would exceed Pietrangelo’s effort in his third year in the league (yes, that was the lockout season – we’re going off points-per-game in this instance).
As far as defense, not much should change for the team that features the reigning Second Star of the Week in 17-6-2 G Jake Allen. Allen is riding a four-game winning streak and has not lost in regulation since December 1 against the Kings, posting a .939 save percentage over the five games since then. As long as the Blues don’t see a significant drop in its defense that has allowed an average of only 29.45 shots against-per-game (the third-fewest in the NHL), Allen should be able to keep his end of the ice under control.
Now, what makes this contest extremely exciting is that the winner will take the lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy. Both are tied at 44 points currently, but the Bolts do own a “games played” tiebreaker, having laced up their skates two fewer times than St. Louis. Considering the Lightning already beat the Blues 2-1 on October 14, St. Louis will no doubt want to exact revenge on home ice.
As for if that actually happens, I’m having a tough time making that prediction. With their injuries, I’m concerned the Blues’ lackluster special teams will take too much of a hit this evening, so I think Tampa Bay will come away with the road victory.
The New York Islanders exploded out of the gates to beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 at the Barclays Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
When facing a goaltender of the likes of G Braden Holtby, quick passes become a necessity. That’s exactly what provided Ladd the opportunity for his eighth goal of the season. de Haan collected a drop pass from Eberle at the blue line and began crashing towards the goal line. But, instead of throwing a wrist shot on Holtby from an angle with low odds of success, he instead slid a centering pass across the crease to Ladd, who was camping out near the left goal post. Before the netminder could slide across his crease, Ladd had already buried his wrister.
The Capitals finally got on the scoreboard at the 8:23 mark of the third period courtesy of D Dmitry Orlov (F Chandler Stephenson and F Jay Beagle), but they couldn’t claw any further back into the game before the end of regulation.
First Star G Jaroslav Halak earned the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (.969 save percentage), leaving the loss to Holtby, who saved nine-of-12 (.75) before being pulled following Tavares’ tally. G Philipp Grubauer saved all 17 shots he faced for no decision.
New York’s regulation win is the first in six games in the DtFR Game of the Day series, snapping a five-game run of contests requiring more than 60 minutes. Hosts in the series now own a 39-22-8 record that is 17 points better than the roadies’ efforts.