Tag Archives: Vlasic

Western Finals are Golden

 

 

 

 

 

With a shimmering defense that yielded only 28 shots against, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in Game 6 to advance to their first-ever Western Conference Finals.

What was so impressive about that defense is not only how it seemed to improve as the game wore on (San Jose’s best period was the first when it fired 11 shots on goal), but also how well it dominated the blue line. Almost every Sharks possession in the third period was forced to start with a dump-and-chase that, when paired with a slow forecheck, resulted in few possessions of any real worth.

However, the Golden Knights’ defense seemed to extend beyond simply D Brayden McNabb‘s five blocks and RW Ryan Reaves‘ eight hits (both the most of either team). On at least two occasions per period, San Jose would sling shots past First Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury only to hear the deafening ping of the goalposts or crossbar.

One of those instances occurred in the first period, while the game was still a scoreless tie. With approximately 30 seconds remaining before intermission, LW Evander Kane deflected D Brent Burns‘ high shot from the point only to find the crossbar – and then the right goalpost – before the puck landed in the slot to be collected by the Knights.

Snapping that scoreless draw and scoring the game-winning goal was Second Star F Jon Marchessault (W Reilly Smith and C William Karlsson), who beat G Martin Jones at the 6:33 mark of the second period. Karlsson should get a lot of credit for the marker, as it was him that stole the puck off D Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s stick to prevent the puck from leaving Vegas’ offensive zone.

After that, the play was similar to an odd-man rush in that the Sharks were already making their way towards the neutral zone, leaving Marchessault with only one defender between him and Jones’ net. With little opposition, it’s all the former Panther could do but beat the netminder five-hole.

Turning our attention back to the iron, it wasn’t only Fleury’s defensive friend, but also Vegas’ offensive weapon. With 4:22 remaining in the second period, it appeared that Third Star D Nate Schmidt‘s (Erik Haula and David Perron) wrist shot had bounced off the crossbar behind Jones and back into play.

No light went on, no celebration and no signal. No harm, no foul right?

As San Jose was driving towards Fleury’s net, the horn blasted to signify that Toronto wanted the officials to take another look at the play. As it turned out, Schmidt’s shot didn’t hit the crossbar, but it instead slid underneath and ricocheted off the camera tucked into the top of the net.

After the crowd got done booing the referees for missing the goal call (or Toronto for requesting a second look), the Shark Tank fell deathly quiet. Surely not a confidence boost for the Sharks, the writing was on the wall for the remainder of that second period, requiring San Jose to find two goals in the final frame.

Cue the previously mentioned Vegas defense, which allowed only 10 shots on goal in the last 20 minutes. Considering San Jose’s playoff life was on the line, allowing only one shot against every two minutes is an impressive feat that, when paired with Fleury’s perfect 28-save effort, shows just how dominant the Knights’ defense was.

Without even a goal to show for his team’s effort, Head Coach Peter DeBoer was forced to pull Jones (who himself had an okay night with a 30-for-32 performance [.938 save percentage]) for the extra attacker with 2:14 remaining on the clock. 23 seconds later, C Cody Eakin (F Ryan Carpenter and Schmidt) scored a tap-in on an empty net to set the 3-0 final score.

Vegas’ next opponent still has yet to be determined, but the second half of that Western Finals matchup could be cemented as soon as tomorrow night. Winnipeg leads its series against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators 3-2 and has the opportunity to close them out at Bell MTS Place in Game 6. Puck drop for that game is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Eastern and may be viewed on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.

Regardless of opponent, the Golden Knights will not return to T-Mobile Arena until Game 3 of the Conference Finals due to both Nashville and Winnipeg having a better regular-season record.

March 27 – Day 167 – A win streak must end!

Tuesdays are usually one of the busier days in the NHL’s weekly schedule, and this one is no different as nine matchups are on tap this evening.

Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. when Carolina at New Jersey drops the puck, followed half an hour later by two more (the New York Islanders at Ottawa [RDS] and Pittsburgh at Detroit [NHLN/TVAS]). 8 p.m. marks the start of a trio of tilts (San Jose at St. Louis, Minnesota at Nashville and Boston at Winnipeg), while Philadelphia at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Columbus at Edmonton is next up at 9 p.m., while Anaheim at Vancouver closes out the night with a 10 p.m. showdown. All times Eastern.

Surprisingly, there’s only two games being televised nationally this evening even though there’s some interesting narratives associated with at least three…

  • Pittsburgh at Detroit: After meeting in back-to-back Stanley Cups, the relationship between these teams and fanbases is – at least in my experience – one of mutual respect.
  • Boston at Winnipeg: D Paul Postma is currently with the Boston Bruins instead of the Providence variety and, should he be active tonight, he’ll make his first return to Winnipeg since departing as a free agent.
  • Columbus at Edmonton: After four seasons with the Blue Jackets, F Mark Letestu signed with the Oil in 2015-16. However, he’s since been traded back to Columbus, and this will be his first return to Rogers Place as a former Oiler.

As tempting as the Bruins-Jets matchup is – believe me, that’s going to be a stellar game – the fact that both teams have already clinched a postseason spot makes it a little less exciting. However, the Kings’ win last night booted St. Louis out of playoff picture, and it’ll have to beat a red-hot Sharks team to resolve that issue.

 

Due in large part to Columbus’ recent 10-game winning streak that just ended (at the hand of the Blues, mind you), 44-23-9 San Jose’s eight-game winning streak has not gotten the publicity it deserves.

Perhaps part of the reason for that is the Sharks’ schedule. No victory in the NHL is easy, but the fact that six of San Jose’s last eight opponents currently sit outside the playoff picture shows that the Sharks’ competition of late has been significantly less talented.

On the other hand, the Sharks would argue that they can only play the teams on their schedule in the order they come and that they are taking care of business during the home stretch of the regular season.

Either way, the Sharks have left little to doubt if they’re prepared for the playoffs. Earlier in the season, I had my concerns about San Jose’s playoff chances due to its less than exemplary offense.

The Sharks have put those doubts to bed over this winning streak, as their unbelievable 4.63 goals per game since March 12 has been the best mark in the NHL in that time, not to mention 1.2 goals better than the second-best Western playoff team (Anaheim) over that same stretch.

It’s hard to say which skater has been the most dominant during this eight-game run, as F Tomas Hertl has posted the most points with his 5-4-9 totals (21-23-44 for the season), but LW Evander Kane‘s gaudy 7-1-8 marks (28-25-53 for the season) have more than proven why his services were so desired at the trade deadline.

Whichever mark you think is most impressive, the best thing for San Jose is that neither player has participated on the same scoring play in Kane’s short tenure in Northern California. That means that each and every one of their points represents its own goal, so those two players have contributed to 17 of the Sharks’ most recent 37 scores. That’s over 45.9 percent of the offense from only two players, an impressive stat to say the least.

Of course, the story of San Jose’s attack doesn’t stop there, as second-liner F Logan Couture (4-4-8 totals since March 12, 31-26-57 overall) and third-pair defenseman Brenden Dillon (3-5-8 since March 12, 4-16-20 overall) are also averaging a point per game over this run.

That impressive offense has also yielded results on the defensive end, as the Sharks are possessing the puck so well they’re limiting opponents’ scoring opportunities. Pair that with Dillon (two hits per game since March 12) and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s (2.3 blocks per game over this run) defensive efforts, and you get a team that has allowed only 30.13 shots against per game over its past eight games, the 11th-best mark in the NHL since March 12.

No one has enjoyed that performance more than 29-18-6 G Martin Jones, who’s all but likely to be in net this evening. Jones has posted an impressive .919 save percentage and 2.38 GAA over his past seven starts, improving his season marks to a .918 save percentage and 2.45 GAA.

Between Jones and his skaters, the Sharks have allowed only 2.5 goals per game since March 12, the (t)ninth-lowest average in the league in that time.

However, it’s not just the Sharks that come into this game defending a winning streak. The 42-28-5 Blues have also gone five-straight games without suffering a loss, and they have all intentions of keeping their winning ways going at Scottrade Center this evening.

You’re hard pressed to find a defense playing better right now than St. Louis’. Led by the impressive efforts of W Dmitrij Jaskin (3.2 hits per game since March 17), D Colton Parayko (four takeaways in his last five games) and D Alex Pietrangelo (2.6 blocks per game over this run), the Notes have allowed only 25.2 shots per game since March 17, the best mark in the NHL in that time.

Similar to Jones with the Sharks, the biggest beneficiary of this performance has been none other than 26-21-2 G Jake Allen, who will be earning his 10th-consecutive start this evening. With help from the lightened workload, Allen has managed an impressive .921 save percentage and 1.97 GAA in his last five starts, well superior to his season statistics of a .908 save percentage and 2.68 GAA.

Between Allen and his skaters, the Blues have allowed an average of two goals per game since March 17, the (t)second-best mark in the Western Conference and league in that time.

While the Blues’ offense hasn’t achieved rankings quite as high as the defense of late, St. Louis still sports an impressive attack that cannot be taken lightly, as five players have averaged at least a point per game over their last five showings.

There’s been no better Blues skater lately than Pietrangelo. A captain that prefers to lead by example, Pietro has posted 3-5-8 totals since March 17 to improve his season marks to 15-36-51, the (t)second-most goals and 12th-highest point total among all NHL defensemen.

Joining Pietrangelo in averaging a point per game over this five-game winning streak includes F Jaden Schwartz (2-4-6 totals since March 17, 22-33-55 overall), F Alex Steen (2-3-5 since March 17, 15-30-45 overall), F Brayden Schenn (1-4-5 since March 17, 25-38-63 overall) and D Vince Dunn (1-4-5 since March 17, 5-17-22 overall). Altogether, the Blue Notes have averaged 3.4 goals per game over their last five games, the (t)10th-best mark in the NHL since March 17.

Of these teams, the Blues definitely need to keep their winning streak alive the most considering their precarious playoff chances (more on that in a moment). Unfortunately for them, they have not performed well against the Sharks this season, as San Jose has taken both previous meetings. San Jose won the first game at Scottrade Center on February 20 with a 3-2 scored (W Mikkel Boedker provided the game-winning goal), followed by a defensive 2-0 victory at SAP Center on March 8 (Boedker again provided the game-winning goal to earn First Star honors).

Should the Notes be able to keep Boedker off the board and buck that trend, they’ll catapult themselves into sixth place in the Western Conference, good enough for the first wild card (Los Angeles would fall to the second and Colorado would end up on the wrong side of the bubble).

As for San Jose, it currently sits six points behind Vegas for the Pacific Division lead and six points ahead of third-place Anaheim. With all three teams having six games remaining to play, anything is still technically possible, but it seems likely that the Golden Knights and Sharks are locked in as the top two seeds in the division.

I know who I’m pulling for in this game, but that’s not what you came here for. The Blues are awfully confident right now having beaten both Boston and Columbus in the past week, but the Sharks are definitely playing much better right now. This game might require more than 60 minutes, but I have a feeling San Jose walks away with two points tonight.


With a three-point effort, First Star of the Game F Jon Marchessault led the Vegas Golden Knights to a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

After both squads played to a scoreless first period, Colorado let Vegas get on the board by committing a silly too many men on the ice penalty at the 4:06 mark of the second period. It took only eight seconds with the man-advantage for Third Star W Alex Tuch (C William Karlsson and Marchessault) to bury a snap shot to give the Knights the first goal. Though the Avalanche would eventually level the game 9:27 later courtesy of an D Erik Johnson (W Blake Comeau and W Matt Nieto) snapper, Marchessault (Second Star D Shea Theodore and Karlsson) would eventually find the game-winning goal with 5:44 remaining in the frame.

Barring a usually stellar offense struggling to find much success, the main reason the Avs lost is because of some boneheaded plays. This time, it was F Tyson Jost sent to the penalty box after earning a double minor penalty for hi-sticking F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare with 6:17 remaining in the period. 33 seconds later, Tuch was screaming into the offensive zone with the puck on his stick before slinging a pass towards the left boards for Karlsson. Karlsson reset the play to Theodore at the point, who tapped a pass along the blue line to Marchessault at the right point.

While all this was happening, Tuch was still at work setting up shop right in front of G Semyon Varlamov‘s crease to act as a great screen. After Marchessault advanced to the right face-off dot, Tuch leaned into the slot just enough to expose the near post, allowing the former Panther to tuck his wrist shot over the netminder’s left shoulder.

The Golden Knights cemented their victory with two insurance tallies in the final frame. Theodore (F Erik Haula and W James Neal) registered the first only 1:31 into the period, and Karlsson (Marchessault) completed the scoring on an empty net with 16 seconds remaining in regulation, setting the 4-1 final score.

G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the victory after saving 28-of-29 shots faced (.966 save percentage), leaving the loss to Varlamov, who saved 26-of-29 (.897).

Vegas’ home victory marks five-straight games in the DtFR Game of the Day series where the hosts earned at least one point, as well as a third-consecutive win. As such, the 93-53-21 hosts now have a 38-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

March 16 – Day 156 – If defense wins championships…

There’s a couple gems tucked within this evening’s half-dozen games!

The New York Islanders visit Washington (NHLN/SN1/TVAS) at 7 p.m. to open the evening’s events, followed by Dallas at Ottawa (RDS) half an hour later. The next two tilts (Nashville at Colorado and San Jose at Calgary) don’t drop the puck until 9 p.m., with Detroit at Anaheim (SN1) waiting another hour before getting underway. Finally, Minnesota at Vegas closes out the night with their 10:30 matchup. All times Eastern.

I’d marked half of tonight’s games as potentially important at the start of the season…

  • New York at Washington: The second half of the home-and-home between these clubs goes down tonight!
  • Dallas at Ottawa: D Marc Methot was scheduled to return to his home arena of five years tonight, but a cut on his hand kept him out of Wednesday’s tilt in Toronto. Odds are the Canadian Tire Centre crowd will have to wait another year.
  • Detroit at Anaheim: When the Red Wings were in the Western Conference, this was quite the rivalry. Considering the Ducks need every point they can get right now, this game has a chance of turning nasty in a hurry.

…but none of those rivalries have quite the significance of the Pacific Division showdown in Alberta!

 

Let’s start with the 38-23-9 San Jose Sharks, the team that currently occupies second place in the Pacific Division. San Jose has been playing relatively well lately, as it has posted a 3-1-0 record over its last four games.

Just like other points in the season when the Sharks have been finding wins left and right, defense has been the biggest key to their recent success. Led by the efforts of LW Evander Kane (3.8 hits per game since March 8) and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic (two blocks per game over this run), San Jose has limited its opposition to only 24 shots against per game since March 8, the best mark in the league in that time.

As might be expected, 24-18-6 G Martin Jones has looked really, really good considering how few pucks have come his way lately. Having started each and every one of the Sharks’ last four games, he’s posted a .926 save percentage and 1.75 GAA to elevate his season marks to a .917 save percentage and 2.48 GAA.

Between San Jose’s stellar defense and the solid play of Jones, the Sharks have allowed only two goals against per game during this four-game run, the (t)third-lowest mark in the NHL since March 8.

Defense seems to be the theme of tonight’s game, as 35-26-10 Calgary – which currently occupies 10th place in the Western Conference – has also posted a 3-1-0 record over its last four games on the back of its blueline.

Behind the exemplary play of F Sam Bennett (2.8 hits per game since March 7), D Mark Giordano (1.5 blocks per game during this four-game run) and D Travis Hamonic (five takeaways in his last four showings), the Flames have done a good job of keeping scoring threats to a minimum, as they’ve allowed only 27.75 shots against per game since March 7, the fifth-best mark in the NHL in that time.

A major reason for Calgary’s return to form has been the return to health for 24-17-6 G Mike Smith, tonight’s probable starter. Smith has split his two starts since returning to action which is largely why his .926 save percentage and 2.05 GAA doesn’t seem that impressive. However, his most recent showing against the Oilers was a good one, as he posted a 28-save shutout to improve his season marks to a .922 save percentage and 2.51 GAA.

If the Pacific Division is going to send four teams to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flames definitely need to win this game. They’re currently three points behind current second wildcard Dallas, which is playing a lowly Senators team tonight. Of course, that ignores the current ninth-place Ducks, who have two points on Calgary and is also playing a weak Red Wings team tonight.

But this isn’t college sports with confusing conference and division loyalties (It’ll never make sense to me how fans of a team want to see the same opponents they pull against almost every other day of the year all of a sudden perform well. You didn’t like them yesterday, why should you today?), so don’t expect San Jose to be spotting Calgary any points tonight. Besides, this is the Sharks’ game in hand on Los Angeles, the very club they lead for second place in the Pacific by only one point. A win tonight would go a long way in ensuring San Jose would host a potential Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs.

The Sharks have definitely had the upper hand through the first half of the season series between these clubs, as they won both December meetings. Their first contest was on December 14 at the Saddledome where San Jose took a 3-2 victory (RW Joonas Donskoi provided the game-winning goal), followed only 14 days later by a tilt in The Tank that also ended 3-2 in favor of the Sharks – though they needed a shootout to pull off the victory (D Brent Burns earned First Star honors).

Compared to the 2.5 goals per game the Flames have managed over their last four showings, San Jose’s 2.75 goals per game over their last four tilts is slightly better. With that in mind, I’m led to believe the Sharks are in line for another tight victory tonight just like in their two previous meetings with Calgary.


With a hat trick from First Star of the Game RW Cam Atkinson, the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

With eight goals being struck in the entire contest, half of the game’s scoring occurred in the first period. RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (D Seth Jones and F Sonny Milano) got on the scoreboard first with a slap shot at the 9:41 mark, and he was followed only 11 seconds later by F Boone Jenner (D Jack Johnson and W Thomas Vanek) to give the Jackets a two-goal advantage. With 8:26 remaining in the period, F Claude Giroux (F Travis Konecny and Second Star D Andrew MacDonald) buried a clapper to pull the Flyers back within a goal, but Atkinson (D Zach Werenski and LW Artemi Panarin) scored his first of the game 6:34 later to reestablish Columbus’ two-goal lead.

If Columbus dominated the first period, Philadelphia owned the second – but not without allowing what proved to be the game-winning goal to slip under its nose. Only 14 seconds into the frame, D Shayne Gostisbehere (D Ivan Provorov and C Sean Couturier) set the score at 3-2 with a power play snap shot. 3:09 later, Atkinson (D David Savard) provided the Jackets’ all-important fourth goal.

Some plays confuse the opposing goaltender, and others just straight beat him. This is one of the latter, as Savard created a breakaway opportunity by slinging a pass from the left face-off dot in his own zone to Atkinson waiting at the far blue line. After that, all Atkinson had to do was advance towards the right face-off dot before ripping a clapper through G Petr Mrazek to the far post.

Facing a 4-2 deficit, MacDonald (D Travis Sanheim and Konecny) scored a clapper with 7:37 remaining in the frame to pull the Flyers back within a goal of the Jackets.

The third period almost escaped without the scoreboard operator needing to lift a finger (no penalties occurred in the frame either), but Atkinson wasn’t about to depart the City of Brotherly Love without some black-and-orange caps. With Third Star G Alex Lyon pulled for the extra attacker, Atkinson (Panarin and Savard) skated down the ice and completed the fourth hat trick of his NHL career with only a second to spare.

G Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved six-of-10 (.6). Mrazek was lifted following Atkinson’s eventual game-winner in favor of Lyon, who saved all 18 shots he faced for no decision.

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are on quite a run lately, as they’ve earned points in six-consecutive tilts. As such, the 87-50-19 hosts now have only a 36-point lead in the season series.

February 11 – Day 123 – It’s easy as…

Do your Sunday right with a full day of hockey.

Like yesterday, we’ll start our daily hockey schedule with group play in the women’s Olympic tournament. Scheduled for 7:10 a.m. Eastern time, Canada’s women will be squaring off against the Olympic Athletes from Russia in PyeongChang.

Back in North America, the NHL is raring to get its nine-game schedule underway, as Pittsburgh at St. Louis (NBC/TVAS) will drop the day’s opening puck at high noon. The next wave of matinees is scheduled for 3 p.m. (the New York Rangers at Winnipeg [NHLN] and Detroit at Washington [SN1/TVAS]), followed an hour later by Vancouver at Dallas. Three tilts (Colorado at Buffalo, Boston at New Jersey and Calgary at the New York Islanders [SN]) get underway at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, trailed 60 minutes later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Philadelphia at Vegas and San Jose at Anaheim. All times Eastern.

To close out this list of games, we return our attention to South Korea in time to catch the 2:40 a.m. Eastern time puck drop of Switzerland vs. Japan in the women’s Olympic tournament.

My list of important matchups? I thought you’d never ask!

  • Canada vs. OAR: The second and fourth-ranked women’s sides in the world are squaring off? No need to tell me twice.
  • Pittsburgh at St. Louis: Penguins fans have a hot-cold relationship with RW Ryan Reaves, but he’ll be welcomed with open arms today in the Gateway City.
  • New York at Winnipeg: Speaking of prodigal sons returning home, G Ondrej Pavelec – a 10-year resident of Manitoba’s capital – is back in town with the Rangers.
  • Calgary at New York: Another return to a former home arena, D Travis Hamonic makes his Brooklyn debut in a Flames sweater.
  • San Jose at Anaheim: No returns here; just a good, old-fashioned rivalry.
  • Switzerland vs. Japan: This is an important game in the battle for playoff qualification from Group B, as the loser will probably end up in the consolation tournament.

What. A. List.

Let’s shoot for what should be the most important game of the day. That means we’re headed out to The Pond!

 

With only two points separating second-place San Jose and fifth-place Anaheim, it goes without saying that every game within the Pacific Division is huge.

Beginning with the visiting 29-18-6 Sharks, life has been a bit of a roller coaster since returning from the All-Star Break. San Jose has posted only a 3-3-1 record since January 30, but it’s been decent play in the defensive zone that has kept the Sharks in their spot in the division table.

Behind the efforts of D Justin Braun (1.9 hits per game since January 30), D Marc-Edouard Vlasic (averaging 2.3 blocks over his past seven showings) and F Barclay Goodrow and F Tomas Hertl (both averaging a takeaway-per-game over this run), the Sharks have limited their opposition to an average of 31.14 shots against since the All-Star Break, the 14th-best effort in the NHL.

While that performance may be little better than average in the league in that time, San Jose is fortunate enough to have the luxury of employing 15-14-5 G Martin Jones on an almost nightly basis. In his five starts since the break, Jones has played well to post a .922 save percentage and 2.39 GAA, improving his season numbers to .911 and 2.64.

Between those two efforts, San Jose’s collective defense has allowed an average of only 2.86 goals per game since returning from break, the 14th-best performance in the NHL in that time.

Meanwhile, 27-19-10 Anaheim has done little better than San Jose since returning to action, as the Ducks have posted only a 3-2-1 record over their past six games.

When the Ducks have earned those seven points, it would seem that they earned them on the offensive end. Since January 30, Anaheim has scored an 18th-best (also known as 14th-worst…) 2.83 goals per game.

Leading that charge has been none other than F Rickard Rakell. the 24-year-old Swede has posted 4-5-9 totals in his past six showings to average well over a point per game and improve his season numbers to a team-leading 22-23-45. He’s joined by W Corey Perry (3-4-7 since the All-Star Break, 11-21-32 overall) and D Cam Fowler (0-6-6 since the break, 6-18-24 overall) in averaging a point per game over this run.

In particular, Fowler and Rakell have had some incredible chemistry of late. All six of Fowler’s assists have involved Rakell in some way, including the defenseman providing a helper on half of the forward’s most recent goals.

Tonight’s game is the important finale of the four-game regular season series between these two clubs. Posting a 2-0-1 record against the Ducks, San Jose has a commanding lead in the series, but Anaheim can still level with a regulation win this evening. The Sharks won the first meeting 2-1 on November 4 thanks to a clutch save by Jones in the sixth round of a shootout, but Anaheim matched that shootout victory with one of its own 16 days later. F Antoine Vermette scored the game-winning goal in the ninth round of the shootout to give the Ducks a 3-2 victory. More recently, San Jose dominated Anaheim to a 6-2 victory in Southern California on January 21. 14-4-3 G Aaron Dell earned First Star honors with a .943 save percentage.

Though the Sharks did have to play last night at home to a 6-4 victory against the Oilers, I like their chances at upsetting the Ducks at Honda Center. Though Anaheim has sported a slightly better offense of late by comparison, the Sharks’ defense should be able to keep it contained to earn two points.


After raising C Vincent Lecavalier‘s sweater to the Amalie Arena rafters, the Tampa Bay Lightning successfully defended home ice against the Los Angeles Kings to a 4-3 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

On a night honoring a former captain, who else to register Tampa’s first goal than Second Star of the Game C Steven Stamkos (F Yanni Gourde and F Tyler Johnson)? His snap shot found the back of the net only 65 seconds into the game to give the Lightning an early lead. However, that advantage didn’t last long, as F Jonny Brodzinski (F Andy Andreoff and C Nick Shore) pulled the Kings even only 3:57 later. Thanks to F Alex Killorn‘s (Stamkos and D Braydon Coburn) wrist shot at the 9:45 mark, the Bolts were able to set the score at 2-1 to take a one-goal advantage into the first intermission.

The Lightning absolutely dominated the second period, as they scored both goals of the frame and out-shot Los Angeles 14-9. F Cedric Paquette (RW Ryan Callahan) provided the first tally with a wrister at the 3:12 mark, followed 11:31 later by a RW Nikita Kucherov (D Victor Hedman) power play wrister that eventually became the game-winner.

With LW Kyle Clifford in the penalty box serving W Dustin Brown‘s kneeing five-minute major penalty at the 14:30 mark against D Mikhail Sergachev (Brown also earned a misconduct on the play), the Lightning’s power play was quick to jump on the opportunity. After Kucherov reset the play to Hedman at the blue line, the puck was returned to the Russian above the right face-off circle. Kucherov advanced a few paces towards G Jonathan Quick‘s net before ripping a quick wrister over the netminder’s glove.

As good as Tampa Bay was in the second period to set the score at 4-1, Los Angeles was able to match that effort in the third. Clifford (Third Star C Anze Kopitar and D Derek Forbort) registered the frame’s first goal at the 3:17 mark, followed 10:48 later by D Christian Folin‘s (Andreoff and Shore) slap shot to pull the Kings back within a goal. However, the Kings were only able to match Tampa’s second period performance – not exceed it – as they failed to find a leveling goal in the remaining 6:55 of regulation.

First Star G Andrei Vasilevskiy earned the victory after saving 44-of-47 shots faced (.936 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 13-of-14 (.929). G Darcy Kuemper started the game for Los Angeles, put he was pulled after Paquette set the score at 3-1. Kuemper saved 11-of-14 (.786) for no decision.

The Bolts’ victory snapped a two-game losing skid by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, returning a 26-point advantage to the series’ 68-40-15 hosts.

February 4 – Day 116 – The ocean is a dangerous place

This is it guys: the last day of the year that football can get in the way of hockey. It’s almost over.

Unfortunately, today’s football game just so happens to be the biggest of the year, so the NHL isn’t trying to compete too much with only three matinees on the schedule. The action begins at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time with Vegas at Washington, followed half an hour later by today’s extremely early co-nightcaps: Ottawa at Montréal (RDS/SN) and San Jose at Carolina.

Before the season even began, I had two of today’s three tilts circled on my calendar:

  • Vegas at Washington: D Nate Schmidt is back in the capital city, and he’s bringing his new friends from the desert with him.
  • Ottawa at Montréal: A rivalry game between two of the bottom-three teams in the Atlantic Division? Oh boy!

However, in an odd twist of fate, I’m actually leaning towards the activities taking place in Raleigh, N.C. today since we’ve highlighted the Capitals or Golden Knights in three of the past five featured games. To the Research Triangle!

 

No matter how often I keep doubting the Sharks, they just keep on finding ways to win. As such, they’ve earned 27-16-8 record that is good enough for second place in the Pacific Division.

At the start of the season, San Jose was priding itself on stellar play in the defensive zone while its offense struggled to find much traction. However, those roles have been swapped of late, as it’s been the attack that has led the Sharks to posting 3-2-2 record in their last seven games played.

Since January 20, San Jose has averaged a (t)seventh-best 3.29 goals per game, and it’s all due to the excellence of the first line. F Logan Couture and RW Kevin Labanc have posted respective 5-2-7 and 3-4-7 totals (improving their respective season marks to 22-17-39 and 7-22-29) to average a point-per-game over this run. F Tomas Hertl completes the line with his 2-4-6 effort.

They’ve also received some extra help from the blue line from the likes of D Brent Burns, who joins Couture and Labanc in averaging a point-per-game with his 1-6-7 totals in the past seven tilts, and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s 3-3-6 surge.

Of course, this offensive explosion has been born mostly out of necessity, as San Jose’s defense has struggled to be much better than average lately, allowing 31.86 shots against per game over their past seven tilts ([t]13th-worst in the league).

That puts the onus on 12-4-3 G Aaron Dell – who will be starting this afternoon – to keep things under control in the defensive end, but if recent history is any indicator, the offense will need to keep up its stellar production. In Dell’s last four starts, he’s posted only a 2-1-1 record with an .882 save percentage and 3.52 GAA.

Speaking of average, there’s not a better word that describes the 24-20-8 Hurricanes of late. However, sometimes average is exactly what you need to win, and that seems to be the case for Carolina, a team that has won three of its past four games.

Of the three facets of the game that have struck me as average, the one that has definitely been the best is the Canes’ offense. Carolina has averaged 2.75 goals per game since January 25 (the [t]11th-best mark in the NHL in that time).

But don’t read too much into the word average. Even though the net result of the team’s effort may fit into that description, it doesn’t mean individual players haven’t shined brightly. In fact, a whopping four players are averaging at least a point-per-game since January 25, and that group is spearheaded by F Teuvo Teravainen‘s 2-3-5 effort over the past four games to elevate his season marks to 13-28-41 – the best in Raleigh. Behind him, C Victor Rask (1-3-4), RW Justin Williams (1-3-4) and D Noah Hanifin (0-4-4) have also helped keep the Canes ahead of the opposition.

For most of the season, Carolina has prided itself on stellar defense, but it seems the Hurricanes are still a little sluggish after the All-Star Break considering they’ve allowed 31.5 shots against per game since January 25 – the exact middle of the road for the NHL in that time.

Fortunately, it seems 15-6-2 G Cam Ward is more than up to the challenge, as he’s won all three of his most recent starts. In those showings, he’s posted a .932 save percentage and 2 GAA, and he might be just the edge the Canes need to pull off a victory today.

The Hurricanes have already made their annual visit to The Tank this season during a six-game road trip. They required an overtime goal from Burns, but the Sharks were able to comeback from a 4-1 second period deficit to knock off Carolina 5-4.

Though I think it’s safe to say San Jose’s offense has definitely been ticking at a better pace of late, the Sharks’ lackadaisical effort in the defensive zone is just too much of a liability for me in this game. I think Ward leads Carolina to a victory this afternoon.


The Dallas Stars showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the Minnesota Wild 6-1 at American Airlines Center.

Making Dallas’ offensive explosion even more impressive is the fact that not a single goal was struck in the first period. Don’t think that it was for a lack of effort though, as a combined 19 shots were saved by Second Star of the Game G Kari Lehtonen and G Alex Stalock.

However, that narrative did not carry into the second period – at least not for Stalock. The Stars scored four goals in the frame in the span of only 5:08, meaning Dallas averaged a goal every 77 seconds.

F Mattias Janmark (D John Klingberg and C Jason Spezza) claimed the honor of breaking the scoreless draw with a power play tip-in 8:58 into the period, followed 39 seconds later by an unassisted slap shot from Third Star D Stephen Johns that proved to be the game-winner.

Johns ended up with the puck due to a sloppy attempt by RW Nino Niederreiter to dump the puck into the Wild’s offensive zone. With everyone headed that way, Johns advanced unimpeded into his own attacking zone before ripping a clapper from the right face-off dot past Stalock’s glove.

The third goal belonged to LW Jamie Benn (F Devin Shore and First Star F Tyler Seguin) with 8:11 remaining in the period, a power play snap shot struck 2:12 after Johns’ game-winner. Seguin (Benn and RW Alexander Radulov) completed the outburst 2:17 after the horn stopped blaring for Benn with a wrist shot.

5:40 into the third period, W Jason Zucker (F Mikael Granlund and D Jared Spurgeon) pulled the Wild back within a 4-1 deficit, but insurance goals from Radulov (Seguin) and D Dan Hamhuis (D Greg Pateryn and RW Brett Ritchie) eliminated any chance of a Minnesota comeback.

Lehtonen earned the victory after saving 30-of-31 shots faced (.968 save percentage), leaving the loss to Stalock, who saved 25-of-29 (.862). The Stars’ final two goals were charged to G Devan Dubnyk, who replaced Lehtonen for the third period. He saved seven-of-nine (.778) for no decision.

Four straight wins by the 64-37-15 hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series has given them a 25-point advantage over the roadies.

January 15 – Day 100 – Battle of California

Though the number of games on the schedule is normal for this day of the week, this particular Monday is nothing close to normal.

In addition to it being the 100th day of the season, the NHL is joining in on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations by playing three matinees this afternoon. The first – Dallas at Boston (SN) – drops the puck at 1 p.m., and it is followed two hours later by Anaheim at Colorado and San Jose at Los Angeles (NHLN/SN) at 4 p.m. Finally, the lone contest of the night is the New York Islanders at Montréal (NBCSN/RDS/TSN2), which gets underway at 7:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Nashville, Ottawa, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington and Winnipeg.

There’s only two contests that really stand out to me, but since the Kings and Sharks have a little bit of animosity between them, we have to take in that matchup.

 

Road trips can be tough, but 22-13-6 San Jose, which currently trails Dallas by a point for the second Western Conference wild card, managed to make the best of the situation to earn a 2-2-2 record over its past six games.

However, it’s surprising the Sharks were able to even post that record given their defense. Since December 31, the Sharks have allowed 24 goals against in six games played, and their four per-game average is (t)fourth-worst in the NHL in that time.

But the question is this: is it D Brent Burns‘ defense that is responsible for this letdown, or 13-10-4 G Martin Jones?

I’m leaning towards Jones. San Jose’s defense, led by D Justin Braun and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic (both with two blocks per game since New Year’s Eve), Burns (team-leading eight takeaways in the last six games) and D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits-per-game since December 31) has allowed only 30.83 shots against per game since New Year’s Eve, the 10th-lowest mark in the league in that time.

Unfortunately for San Jose, the little that has gotten to Jones has given him major issues. He’s posted only an .859 save percentage and 4.04 GAA in his past four starts (both bottom-10 marks in the NHL since December 31) to earn only one point in the standings. He’ll be looking to rebound tonight against a Kings offense that fires an average of only 30.7 shots on goal per game.

Speaking of the 24-14-5 Kings, who currently occupy third place in the Pacific Division, they are one of the few teams in the league currently jealous of the Sharks’ current run.

Wait, what?

That’s right, 2-2-2 is way better than the three-game losing skid Los Angeles is currently suffering. The Kings are averaging four goals against since January 4, the (t)sixth-worst in the league in that time.

In a similar question to the one we had about the Sharks, does the blame fall on 19-14-2 G Jonathan Quick or his defense?

The comparisons between the Kings and Sharks continues, as Quick has to bear the load of this losing skid. Led by F Adrian Kempe (two takeaways since January 4), D Kurtis MacDermid (3.7 hits per game since January 4) and D Alec Martinez (3.3 blocks per game in his last three games played), Los Angeles has limited its opposition to only 27.67 shots per game, the second-fewest since January 4.

Even though he’s had the luxury of a lighter work load, Quick has been absolutely miserable over his last three game. He’s managed only an .866 save percentage and 3.75 GAA during this losing skid, and he squares off against an offense that averages 32.8 shots per game.

Barring a postseason matchup, today’s game is the finale of the four-game Battle of California series. Though the Kings won the first meeting 4-1 in The Tank on October 7, San Jose has emerged victorious from the previous two games. The Sharks beat the Kings 2-1 in Los Angeles on November 12, and then 2-0 on December 23.

With two teams in a bit of a rough patch, a good rivalry victory can do a lot to get them back on track. Personally, I’m leaning towards the Kings winning this afternoon’s game with their superior defense.


With four unanswered goals, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the New York Rangers 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

At the start of the first period, it seemed like Pittsburgh was well off to a good start. Only 3:14 into play, Patric Hornqvist (Second Star of the Game Carl Hagelin and Kris Letang) buried a backhanded shot to give the Pens a 1-0 advantage. However, it was the Rangers that entered the first intermission with the advantage, as Michael Grabner scored an unassisted backhander with 4:43 remaining in the frame to level the score, and Brendan Smith (Vinni Lettieri and Paul Carey) registered his first goal of the season 3:49 later to give New York a one-goal advantage.

The Penguins’ offense apparently didn’t take too kindly to being outplayed by New York’s recently struggling corps, because they registered a whopping 34 shots to the Blueshirts’ 15 over the course of the remaining two periods.

But more shots doesn’t always lead to immediate success. Pittsburgh needed 13:15 of play in the second period before it leveled the game at two-all courtesy of a wrist shot from First Star Dominik Simon (Brian Dumoulin and Sidney Crosby), the first goal of his NHL career.

75 seconds after the goal horn stopped blaring for Simon’s marker, Third Star Phil Kessel (Conor Sheary) buried what proved to be the game-winner. The goal itself was nothing to write home about, as Kessel took advantage of Sheary’s quick pass from the corner to rip a wrister past G Henrik Lundqvist before he could even blink. However, the goal marked the 700th point of Kessel’s career.

Just think if he got a hot dog for every point to his name…

Pittsburgh’s offense continued to dominate possession in the third period and eventually added on two extra tallies. Crosby (Kessel and Jamie Oleksiak) tacked on an insurance tally with 7:27 remaining in regulation, and Hagelin (Oleksiak) scored an empty netter with 5:28 later to set the 5-2 final score.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (.929 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lundqivst, who saved 42-of-46 (.913).

The Penguins’ home victory snapped a four-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The 55-33-12 hosts in the series now have a 20-point advantage on the visitors.

January 4 – Day 89 – Dangerous waters

Thursdays in the NHL are some of the best days of the week, and the first such iteration of 2018 doesn’t disappoint with a dozen 11 games on the schedule.

The action starts – as it usually does – at 7 p.m. with the puck drop of four three games (Florida at Boston [SN360/TVAS], San Jose at Toronto, the New York Islanders at Philadelphia and Carolina at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by Tampa Bay at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). 8 p.m. marks the beginning of a pair of tilts (Vegas at St. Louis and Buffalo at Minnesota), while New Jersey at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, the role of tonight’s nightcap is split between four games (Columbus at Colorado, Los Angeles at Calgary, Anaheim at Edmonton and Nashville at Arizona) that all drop the puck at 9 p.m. All times Eastern.

You’ll notice there were a few edits in the above section. With the Nor’easter blatantly attacking New England today, the NHL has elected to postpone the Panthers’ visit to TD Garden. The game has yet to be rescheduled.

As regular readers have come to expect, here’s my list of quick headlines surrounding some of tonight’s matchups:

  • Vegas at St. Louis: In two stints, W David Perron played 422 with the Blues. Tonight marks his first return to Scottrade Center as a Golden Knight.
  • Buffalo at Minnesota: Speaking of returns, RW Jason Pominville and D Marco Scandella played a combined 700 games with the Wild over seven seasons. They’re back in Xcel Energy Center tonight, but as members of the visiting club.
  • Anaheim at Edmonton: No returns here. Just a good, old-fashioned rematch from last year’s Western Semifinals.

Of course, that list ignores two of the three games being contested by squads currently in playoff position, so there’s lots of great action happening throughout the league this evening.

One of those games between current playoff qualifiers is taking place in Air Canada Centre, and I – with a little help from @nlanciani53 – have decided that I want to feature that contest. Such is the privilege of authorship!

 

That was a tough decision. There’s so many good and important games today.

Things haven’t been going so well for the the 23-16-2 Maple Leafs of late. Though they’re still holding on to third place in the Atlantic Division (they shouldn’t fall any lower considering they have a nine-point advantage on Florida and Detroit), the Leafs are currently riding a three-game losing skid that has seen them earn only one point in an overtime loss at Colorado last Friday.

An offense that usually manages a fifth-best 3.24 goals-per-game scoring only six goals in three games is obviously a problem, but that issue is trivial in comparison to the terrible play going on in Toronto’s defensive zone over this skid. The Leafs’ 12 goals against since December 29 is the third-most in the NHL in that time.

Let’s start with the easiest position to pick apart when issues like this arise: the goaltender. 20-12-1 G Frederik Andersen is actually having one of the best years of his career posting a .921 save percentage and 2.69 GAA (his 20 wins are fourth-most in the NHL, and his three shutouts are also tied for fourth), but you wouldn’t know it from his last two games. In those contests, he managed only a .894 save percentage and 3.61 GAA.

Given, he did play at Vegas and against the Lightning, but this Toronto defense is – in my opinion – nowhere near capable of slowing down offenses of that magnitude.

However, that’s not giving the defensive corps a pass. Over its past three games, Toronto has allowed 95 shots against (31.67 per game), which is somehow an improvement on its season rate of 33.83 shots against per game. This defense simply needs more than what D Ron Hainsey (1.97 blocks per game), F Mitch Marner (37 takeaways) and W Matt Martin (3.07 hits per game) have provided so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see General Manager Lou Lamoriello find a way to add a solid defenseman before February 26’s trade deadline.

The return of D Nikita Zaitsev (2.76 blocks per game), who’s been on injured reserve since December 17 with a lower-body injury, will also be beneficial, but it’s unknown when he’ll be fit for action.

Meanwhile, the 21-12-4 Sharks have been playing extremely well lately to hold on to their third-place spot in the Pacific Division over the surging Ducks. They’ve gone 4-1-0 since December 21, and it’s all been because of some impressive defensive play. San Jose has allowed only 13 goals against over this run, the 12th-fewest in the league.

Just as it’s easiest to pick on a netminder while his team is not playing well, G Martin Jones earns a lot of the praise for a winning Sharks team. He’s started three of San Jose’s last five games and posted a solid .928 save percentage and 2.18 GAA. Those solid outings have improved his season numbers to a .914 save percentage and 2.57 GAA.

Just like Andersen, Jones has three shutouts to his credit on the season (tied for fourth-most in the league), but he has the luxury of a solid defense playing in front of him. On the season, the Sharks have allowed only 30.08 shots against per game, the fifth-fewest in the NHL.

Defensemen Brent Burns (40 takeaways), Brenden Dillon (2.75 hits per game) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (1.91 blocks per game) have been the biggest players for this corps, but there’s been significant contributions from almost the entire squad. Three players average more than 1.5 blocks per game

What Toronto has going in its favor is the fact that the Sharks’ offense is borderline miserable, averaging only 2.7 goals-per-game – the worst of any team currently qualifying for the playoffs. Though San Jose was able to beat the Maple Leafs 3-2 in The Tank on October 30, I think Toronto can defend Air Canada Centre this evening with the return of its usually dominant offense.


The Chicago Blackhawks ended their six-game road trip on a high note in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the New York Rangers 5-2 at Madison Square Garden.

Though the final score doesn’t indicate it, this was a very competitive contest to the bitter end. Both the first and second periods ended with a tied score, and the Hawks managed to score not one, but two empty net goals to inflate their goal differential.

First-liner F Vinnie Hinostroza (Second Star of the Game C Jonathan Toews and D Jordan Oesterle) opened the scoring with 3:51 remaining in the first period by burying a slap shot, but New York was able to level the game exactly two minutes later courtesy of a D Nick Holden (F Paul Carey and F Boo Nieves) clapper.

Chicago once again took a one-goal lead 8:56 into the second period thanks to C Nick Schmaltz‘ (Third Star F Patrick Kane and W Ryan Hartman) deflection, but the Rangers were equally up to the task. With D Brent Seabrook and F Lance Bouma both in the penalty box (Seabrook for cross checking W Mats Zuccarello and Bouma serving G Jeff Glass‘ delay of game penalty), C Mika Zibanejad (W Pavel Buchnevich and Zuccarello) took advantage of a five-on-three opportunity to level the score for the Blueshirts with a clapper.

The third period proved to be the deciding frame, and it was First Star F Patrick Sharp (F David Kampf and W Alex DeBrincat) who provided the deciding goal. 2:24 into the period, he ripped a snap shot high cheese over G Henrik Lundqvist‘s glove hand to set the score at 3-2.

Try as they might, the Rangers couldn’t find a way to level the game for a third time. They fired 11 shots at Glass in the third period, but to no avail. As time was winding down, Head Coach Alain Vigneault pulled Lundqvist to try and tilt the scales in his club’s favor.

Instead, all it did was allow Toews (W Brandon Saad and F Tommy Wingels) and Kane (Hartman and Schmaltz) to score empty netters to set the 5-2 final score.

Glass earned the victory after saving 23-of-25 shots faced (.92 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lundqvist, who saved 30-of-33 (.909).

Chicago’s victory is the second by a road team in the last three DtFR Game of the Days. The series still favors hosts however, as home teams have a 50-28-11 record that is 23 points superior to the roadies’.

December 23 – Day 80 – Californian Christmas contest

Pack your hockey watching in today, because the NHL goes on hiatus until Wednesday. What are we supposed to do with our lives?

But don’t be alarmed, the league scheduler didn’t forget to tuck a present under your tree: it’s a loaded schedule today, as every team except the Flames are in action.

The action gets an early start today, as both Detroit at Boston (SN) and Winnipeg at the New York Islanders drop the puck at 1 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time brings with it eight contests (Montréal at Edmonton [SN/TVAS], Minnesota at Tampa Bay, Ottawa at Florida [CITY/SN360], Chicago at New Jersey, Toronto at the New York Rangers [CBC/NHLN], Anaheim at Pittsburgh, Buffalo at Carolina and Philadelphia at Columbus), while three more (Washington at Vegas, Colorado at Arizona and Nashville at Dallas) wait until 8 p.m. to get underway. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – St. Louis at Vancouver (CBC/SN) and Los Angeles at San Jose – drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

What a slate of games! Here’s a few that stuck out to me before the season even got started…

  • Detroit at Boston: The first of two Original Six matchups today, though this one pales in comparison to the other.
  • Toronto at New York: If Original Six games are your scene, you need to be in Manhattan.
  • Los Angeles at San Jose: The Battle of California rages on this evening in The Tank.

If only we hadn’t featured the Maple Leafs and Rangers already this week, I would totally be making the trip to Madison Square Garden for what should be an excellent game. But since we did, I have my eye on the activity in the Golden State this evening.

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing gets me into the holiday spirit quite like a nasty intrastate rivalry.

There are few teams nastier than the 22-10-4 Kings, who have thrown 901 hits already this season – the second-most in the league behind Edmonton’s 947 blows. That effort has been led by Dustin Brown, who has delivered 101 of those 901 hits (11.2 percent), the 11th-most in the NHL.

That physical nature has obviously been a major component of Head Coach John Stevens‘ game plan, and that plan has worked to a T considering the Kings allow a league-best 2.31 goals against-per-game to earn first place in the Western Conference.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have 17-10-1 G Jonathan Quick in net stopping pucks. In his seven December starts, he’s posted a .926 save percentage and 2.12 GAA to improve his season numbers to .928 and 2.23. His performance on the season puts him among the top-10 goalies regardless of how much or little time they’ve spent in the crease (76 in all), and third-best among the 39 netminders with at least 11 starts.

To make matters even tougher on the Sharks, Los Angeles is one of the hottest teams in the conference right now, as it has earned a 7-2-1 record over its last 10 games – an effort matched only by second-place Vegas.

Speaking of those Sharks, they’ve earned an 18-11-4 record that is good enough for third place in the Pacific Division. When they’ve found success this season, the Sharks have played some of the bets defense in the NHL, allowing only 2.52 goals against-per-game.

While the Kings have a great defense built on violence and a stellar goaltender, San Jose employs a more traditional defensive plan based on limiting shots on 11-8-3 G Martin Jones‘ net. Jones and backup 7-3-1 G Aaron Dell see an average of only 29.94 shots against per game, the fourth-fewest in the league.

Defensemen Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (both with 1.9 blocks per game), Brent Burns (team-leading 37 takeaways) and Brenden Dillon (2.75 hits per game) have been the major leaders in that defensive effort, but a total of seven players average at least 1.5 hits, and another group of nine block at least one shot per game. This entire team has bought into Head Coach Peter DeBoer, and that effort has kept them afloat in the division despite averaging only 2.79 goals per game, the second-worst among the 16 teams currently in playoff position.

These teams have already met twice this season, and both have won one game on the road. Los Angeles won the first game at The Tank 4-1 back in October, while the Sharks exacted revenge in mid-November to win 2-1 at the Staples Center.

Given a home team has yet to defend their arena in this series, I’d be led to believe the Kings will earn two points this evening. Throw on the fact that they statistically play better on both ends of the rink, and I’d say they’re a lock.


Though the Calgary Flames staged a two-goal comeback attempt in the third period, the Montréal Canadiens held on to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at the Scotiabank Saddledome 3-2.

The Habs employed a strong and steady attack throughout this contest, as they managed a goal per period to slowly wear down the Flames. Scoring his first NHL goal since February 20, 2016, First Star C Byron Froese (D Jordie Benn and F Alex Galchenyuk) provided Montréal its first period goal on a deflected shot with 9:15 remaining in the frame.

The second period’s goal belonged to none other than LW Nicolas Deslauriers (Froese and W Daniel Carr). He buried his wrist shot behind G Mike Smith at the 8:44 mark of the period to give the Canadiens a 2-0 advantage.

Though it was only an extra insurance goal at the time, Third Star RW Brendan Gallagher (LW Artturi Lehkonen and C Tomas Plekanec) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with a wrister at the 3:10 mark of the third period. After collecting the puck in the trapezoid, Lehkonen began wrapping around the backside of Smith’s net from his right to left. However, instead of completing his play with a shot on goal, he elected to pass to Gallagher through the crease, who needed two shots to get the puck past Smith and into the twine.

But this game was far from over at that point. Calgary finally got on the board after 49:42 of action courtesy of a W Micheal Ferland (F Michael Frolik and C Sean Monahan) wrister.

As more minutes ticked off the clock, hope began to dwindle once again among the C of Red, but a power play wrister from LW Matthew Tkachuk (C Mikael Backlund and LW Johnny Gaudreau) with 1:53 remaining in regulation reignited the Flames faithful. However, that comeback would fall just short, as Calgary could not level the game even with Smith pulled for an extra attacker.

G Carey Price earned the victory after saving 21-of-23 shots faced (.913 save percentage), leaving the loss to Smith, who saved 32-of-35 (.914).

The Canadiens’ win away from the Bell Centre is a rare one for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day of late. Winning only their second in eight days, the roadies now trail the 45-26-9 hosts by only 19 points.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 12

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer – unless noted otherwise –  is Connor Keith.

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 1

On nights like these, it doesn’t matter who the goal comes from. All that matters is that it goes in the net. That was the case for the Rangers, who bested the Habs 2-0 at the Bell Centre to take an early lead in their playoff series.

After collecting a face-off Tomas Plekanec had originally won for Montréal, Second Star of the Game Tanner Glass sneaked an unassisted backhanded shot over Third Star Carey Price‘s glove shoulder at the 9:50 mark of the first period for what proved to be the netminder’s only goal allowed on the night. Michael Grabner (Jesper Fast) provided the lone insurance tally on an empty net with 70 seconds remaining in regulation.

We knew coming into this series it was a matchup between two incredible goaltenders in 31-20-4 First Star Henrik Lundqvist and 37-20-5 Price, and they didn’t disappoint, combining for 59 saves. Lundqvist saved all 30 he faced for the 10th postseason shutout of his career.

New York truly took command of this game after the first intermission, limiting the Canadiens to only 15 shots over the remaining 40 minutes. Even when the Habs were able to control the posession, the Blueshirts would not let them get a shot on Lundqvist’s net, managing 24 blocks – led by Dan Girardi‘s four.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – Game 1

By: Nick Lanciani

After going 0-3-1 against the Ottawa Senators in the regular season, the Boston Bruins opened up their edition of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2-1 victory on road ice.

Fresh off of his two-game suspension for the last two games of the regular season, Brad Marchand scored the game winning goal with 2:33 to go in the 3rd period– capping an almost two-minute long shift.

Ottawa Senators goaltender, Craig Anderson, played a stellar game despite the loss. Anderson made 23 saves on 25 shots faced for a .920 save percentage.

Both teams swapped tremendous chances in the first 20 minutes, but neither Boston’s David Pastrnak, nor Ottawa’s Derick Brassard could score on back-to-back breakaway chances. After an eventful 1st period which nearly witnessed Bruins forward– and Ottawa native– Ryan Spooner pocket one in the twine with about four seconds to go, the score remained tied at 0-0.

The Sens kicked off the series’s goal scoring in the 2nd period with a goal from Bobby Ryan (1) at 10:28. Ryan crashed the net and followed up on one of his own chances, firing the puck short side by Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask. Erik Karlsson (1) notched the only assist on the goal.

For the first time since May 10, 2014 an NHL team was held without a shot in a single period in a Stanley Cup playoff game, as Boston did not record a shot on goal in the 2nd period. The Anaheim Ducks, by the way, were the last team to do so in their matchup with the Los Angeles Kings. The Ducks wound up winning the game 2-0, however.

After going without a goal in his last 15 games of the regular season, Frank Vatrano (1) found the back of the net with 15:05 to go in the 3rd period in his first career Stanley Cup Playoff game. Riley Nash (1) and Adam McQuaid (1) were credited with the assists on the goal.

Vatrano became the 6th Bruin since 1999 to score in his playoff debut and Boston tied the game, 1-1.

Late in the 3rd period, Marchand (1) put the Bruins ahead for the first time in the game with the game-winning goal off of a blocked shot by Dion Phaneuf. Patrice Bergeron (1) and Pastrnak (1) collected the assists on Marchand’s 17th career NHL playoff goal.

Boston’s Rask made 26 saves on 27 shots against for a .936 save percentage in the win. The Bruins lead the series 1-0 with Game 2 scheduled for Saturday at Canadian Tire Centre and can be viewed on NBC/TVAS/SN at 3 p.m. ET.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 1

When Matthew Murray went down in warmups, things were looking grim for the Penguins, at least for their playoff opener. Instead, First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury saved all but one shot faced to lead Pittsburgh to a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena.

Just like Pierre McGuire said during the broadcast, sometimes the best trade a club can make is the very one they don’t. Trade rumors swirled about the Penguins’ former first-overall pick all season, but he turned in a 31-save performance and a Game 1 victory for First Star honors.

Jeff Zatkoff, anyone? Maybe Fleury has too much playoff experience to be the Pens’ new “Mr. Game 1,” but the story is beginning to sound eerily similar to last year’s Cup run.

Offensively, the Pens showed one period of greatness after a sluggish opening frame. The Jackets held them to only three shots on the opening 20 minutes – including none in the last 14:49 – due in large part to their 23 first period hits .

The Penguins came out on fire after the intermission, notching all three of their tallies. Only 1:15 after returning from the dressing room, Bryan Rust (Second Star Phil Kessel and Third Star Evgeni Malkin) broke the ice with a snap shot. Kessel’s assist was especially impressive, as he used his skate to pass to the right wing.

Rust’s tally was followed only 2:30 later by Kessel’s (Justin Schultz and Malkin) eventual game-winner. Kessel’s tally was a strong power play wrist shot from the near face-off dot over Sergei Bobrovsky‘s glove shoulder.

Nick Bonino (Patric Hornqvist and Olli Maatta) provided Pittsburgh’s final tally with 3:35 remaining in the frame.

Columbus finally got on the board with 7:19 remaining in regulation courtesy of Matt Calvert (Josh Anderson), but the Jackets couldn’t convert any more of their 32 shots on goal into markers.

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Minnesota Wild – Game 1

Overtime game-winners in the playoffs can come from the most unlikely of sources. In Game 1, it was First Star of the Game Joel Edmundson that gave St. Louis the 2-1 overtime victory over the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.

No matter how hard Minnesota’s offense tried, it could not get past Second Star Jake Allen. The Blues’ goaltender saved 43 straight shots faced for an unblemished effort.

That is, until only 23 seconds remained in regulation. Zach Parise (Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund) scored a wrist shot to match Vladimir Sobotka‘s (Alex Steen) snap shot at the 6:21 mark of the second period to force the first overtime period of the 2017 postseason.

Similar to the Notes’ long playoff run a year ago, the Wild found its success when it made its presence known. Led by Jared Spurgeon and Chris Stewart‘s four checks apiece, Minnesota threw an impressive 28 hits in regulation to St. Louis’ 13, which led to 11 takeaways.

In all, Allen saved 51 shots faced before Edmundson (Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz) scored the game-winning wrister. It wasn’t the prettiest play the Blues have ever run, but they aren’t complaining. Tarasenko was crashing Third Star Devan Dubnyk‘s crease, but lost control of the puck before he could manage a shot. Fortunately for him and his club, the loose puck found the defenseman’s stick and he easily scored on Dubnyk’s stick side.

 

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 1

The Sharks arguably entered the playoffs in their worst slump of the season, but those losing ways just might be behind them. San Jose beat Edmonton 3-2 in overtime at Rogers Place to take an early one-game lead in their first round series.

San Jose’s worst fears were realized in the first period, as Edmonton’s offense made it known that it has no trouble picking Martin Jones apart when he’s off his game. Both Oscar Klefbom (Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic) and Lucic (Mark Letestu and Connor McDavid) scored in the opening frame to give the Oil an early 2-0 lead.

Playoff experience is one of the most valuable things a club can have. Whether it was the Oilers’ offense not having much of it or the Sharks’ defense being able to match the hosts’ efforts (Edmonton managed only nine shots on goal after the first period), San Jose was able to fight its way back into this contest by constricting Edmonton’s attack. As a result, Joel Ward (Joonas Donskoi and Marc-Edouard Vlasic) took advantage of Drake Caggiula‘s hooking penalty late in the opening period to score a power play wrist shot 1:43 into the second.

Paul Martin (Tomas Hertl) completed the comeback 5:22 into the final frame. He buried the rebound off Second Star of the Game Cam Talbot‘s left pad after Hertl’s inial shot to tie the game at two-all and force the second extra-time game of the night.

It only took 3:22 of extra time, but that playoff experience was truly apparent in that time. San Jose fired six shots to the Oilers’ two, and the final one, a snap shot by First Star Melker Karlsson (Joe Pavelski and Valsic), was able to get past Talbot for a Sharks victory.

March 30 – Day 162 – The Oilers have surpassed the Jones

Thursdays are fantastic, aren’t they? There’s only one day of work left, the weekend is on its way and the cherry on top is that there’s tons of hockey to watch in the meantime.

Nine games will be played in all this evening, starting with two (the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [SN1] and Columbus at Carolina) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by three more (Dallas at Boston [NBCSN/TVAS], Florida at Montréal [RDS] and Detroit at Tampa Bay). Another trio of contests (Toronto at Nashville, Ottawa at Minnesota [RDS2] and Anaheim at Winnipeg) drop the puck at the top of the hour and San Jose at Edmonton – tonight’s nightcap – gets the green light at 9 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Detroit at Tampa Bay: In light of the Red Wings not qualifying for the postseason for the first time in 26 years, I present to you their final rematch of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

  • San Jose at Edmonton: Currently tied at 93 points, this is the first of two meetings in eight days between the Oilers and Sharks, who could meet up in the Western Quarterfinals.

Sorry Wings, but you got some love already this week. It’s off to Alberta with us for the biggest game of the night.

 

Nothing makes for more exciting hockey this late in the season than two divisional rivals tied on points and games-played scrapping for home ice in the playoffs. The cherry on top? They very well could be fighting to host tonight’s opponent in that first round.

Thanks to the NHL’s rule book, the tie is broken by regulation+ overtime wins. Tonight’s hosts – the Oilers – have 38 to their credit. The Sharks have 41, so they’d be hosting that playoff series if it started right now.

Of course, that may or may not be the case following tonight’s events. No matter how this contest ends, we will have a clear cut third-place team in the Pacific Division with five games remaining to be played by Anaheim, Edmonton and San Jose.

Things have been better for the 43-26-7 Sharks than they are right now. Although they beat the Rangers 5-4 in overtime Tuesday night, those are the only two points they have to show for their past seven games.

Nothing has gone right for the Sharks in the last two weeks. San Jose has been outscored 27-12 since March 16, showing that the struggles are equal parts offensive and in goal.

You’ll notice I didn’t say defensive. I slightly over-exaggerated before, as the defense has actually remained consistent with their entire campaign. They’ve allowed only 201 shots (28.7 per game) to reach 33-20-6 Martin Jones‘ crease, which is pretty close to their 27.6 season average.

Instead, the issue has been Jones and backup 10-6-1 Aaron Dell. Peter DeBoer has been almost religious in alternating his goaltenders in the month of March, as Jones has made only two pairs of consecutive starts.

What has resting his backstops done for him? Dell has an .881 save percentage and 3.4 GAA. Ouch. Unfortunately, that’s good in comparison to Jones’ .862 and 4.04 GAA.

Jones’ recent struggles continue on the penalty kill, where he’s managed only an .8 save percentage against opponents’ power plays. That is the ninth-worst mark in the league among the 40 netminders with at least three appearances and has resulted in a 64.7% kill rate, the second-worst in the NHL since mid-March.

As of publication of this article, no word has been released from the Sharks whether Dell or Jones will be in net. Since Jones started his second-straight game two nights ago, I’m going to guess Dell will get the nod tonight. I do not know whether that’s the right or wrong choice, but I do know Dell has been the 11th-worst goaltender in the league since March 16, meaning Jones has been… worse.

But the issues aren’t simply limited to DeBoer’s goaltending situation. The Sharks‘ offense has been abysmal too, averaging only 1.7 goals per game. The lone standout over this stretch has been Patrick Marleau, who has buried three of San Jose‘s dozen goals in the past two weeks, not to mention tacking on two more assists.

My biggest concern is that Joel Ward, the man who has notched the sixth-most points (27) and goals (t19) all season for San Jose, did not register a point during the recently-ended skid. Perhaps it is just coincidence, but I think it is no accident that his most recent assist was on March 14 in a victory against the Sabres. The sooner he returns to form, the sooner the Sharks become the team we’ve come to expect.

All that being said about the offense as whole, the power play has actually been solid of late. Not only is a 23.5% conversion rate 10th-best in the league since mid-March, but it also well exceeds the Sharks‘ 17.2% season rate.

It’s been all about the first power play unit – specifically Brent Burns, Marleau and Joe Thornton. Each have a goal and two assists on the man-advantage since the 16th to lead the squad.

While the third month of the year has not gone so well for the Sharks, it’s been splendid for the 42-25-9 Oilers. They’ve taken advantage of playing only two of their 12 games away from Rogers Place to earn an 8-3-1 record in March.

Just like you’d expect from a team led by Connor McDavid, offense has been the driver to Edmonton‘s success. The Oilers have scored 42 goals since March 4, the second-highest total in the league in that time.

In addition to the stellar play of McDavid, line mate Leon Draisaitl has also been exceptional as both have 17 points to their credit this month, which ties for fourth-most in the league in that time. Don’t get confused though; the captain is still in charge of this attack, as he’s scored six of his 27 goals this month, two more than his partner in crime.

As you might expect, Draisaitl and McDavid continue their chemistry on the power play. Since March 4, the Oil has successfully converted 27% of its opponents’ penalties into goals, the fourth-best mark in the league.

The man-advantage seems to be Draisaitl’s forte, as he’s set up five power play goals in March to lead the team in extra-man points. Of course, someone has to score those assists…

That’s where Mark Letestu and Milan Lucic come into play. They are the other two forwards on Draisaitl and McDavid’s power play unit, and they’ve both buried two goals apiece in that situation this month to lead the team.

The Oilers have been just as good of late on the penalty kill with their 88.5% kill rate, so the Sharks will have their work cut out for them this evening. My advice: avoid Andrej Sekera at all costs. He’s blocked nine shots on the penalty kill to not only lead the team, but tie for fourth-most in the league in that time-span.

Thanks to forcing overtime the first time these clubs met, Edmonton trails the Sharks by only a point in the season series between them. The last time they met was January 26, the Oilers‘ lone win against San Jose this season. They traveled to The Tank and emerged with a 4-1 victory thanks to Sekera’s two goals and Cam Talbot‘s 32 saves.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Edmonton‘s Draisaitl (71 points [10th-most in the NHL]), McDavid (89 points on 62 assists [both lead the league]) and Talbot (seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL] among 38 wins [third-most in the league]) & San Jose‘s Burns (73 points [eighth-most in the NHL] on 45 assists [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Jones (33 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked Edmonton a -126 favorite tonight, a line I think the Oilers are more than capable of upholding. Unless the Sharks get their goaltending under control, the hot Oilers should get their fans screaming at full-throat and even more excited for their return to the playoffs.

Hockey Birthday

  • Doug Wickenheiser (1961-1999) – Montréal selected this center with the top pick in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, but he actually spent more of his 10-year career in St. Louis. Hockey fans truly in the know remember Wickenheiser for completing the Blues‘ “Monday Night Miracle” with an overtime goal against Calgary to force a Game 7 in the 1986 Campbell Conference Finals.
  • Ty Conklin (1976-) – Some guys just seem to be born unlucky. This goaltender, who has nine years of NHL experience with six different teams (mostly with Edmonton), was a member of the 2008 Penguins team that lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to Detroit. So he could get his hands on the hardware, he joined the Red Wings the following season, who ended up losing the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh.
  • Marc-Edouard Vlasic (1987-) – This defenseman was selected 35th-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, and that’s where he’s played ever since. Even though this is his 11th season, tonight’s game is only the fifth he’s ever played on his birthday in the NHL. His last was in 2013, and it was a special one: he notched his first birthday goal.

With four goals in the opening period, the Blackhawks easily beat Pittsburgh 5-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though the scoring started quickly thanks to First Star of the Game Artemi Panarin‘s (Third Star Patrick Kane and Second Star Tanner Kero) wrist shot 3:23 after the opening puck drop, the Hawks truly took command of the game in the final six minutes of the first frame. With what proved to be the game-winning goal, Richard Panik (Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews) buried a snap shot with 5:21 remaining, followed by Marcus Kruger (Kane and Panarin) and Marian Hossa (Ryan Hartman) in the closing minute of the period to set Chicago‘s advantage at four goals.

Kero tacked on an additional goal 3:32 into the third period, followed 2:14 later by an shutout-snapping backhanded shot from Bryan Rust (Ian Cole and Matt Cullen).

Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (96.875%), leaving the loss to Marc-Andre Fleury, who saved 31-of-36 (86.1%).

A win by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series was an important one yesterday, as it set the visitors’ record at 83-58-23 and gave them a two-point advantage on the hosts.