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Philadelphia Flyers 2018-19 Season Preview

Philadelphia Flyers

42-26-14, 98 points, 3rd in the Metropolitan Division

Lost in the First Round to Pittsburgh (4-2)

Additions: D Christian Folin, LW James van Riemsdyk

Subtractions: C Valtteri Filppula, G Leland Irving, D Brandon Manning, RW Colin McDonald, G Petr Mrazek, G John Muse, D Johnny Oduya, RW Matt Read, G Dustin Tokarski

Re-signed: D Robert Hagg, G Alex Lyon, C Danick Martel, D Samuel Morin, G Anthony Stolarz

Offseason Analysis: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Flyers could be seriously dangerous if they get some solid goaltending.

After a rough 2016-17 campaign, the Flyers struck gold in the draft lottery, snagging the No. 2 overall pick and using it to draft top-ranked prospect Nolan Patrick. This added yet another weapon to one of the more potent offenses in the league, but questions remained about the defense and, particularly, in net.

It took a rotation of four different goaltenders (Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Petr Mrazek and Alex Lyon) to get it done, but Philly managed to punch their ticket back to the playoffs mostly on the strength of unbelievable seasons from captain Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, a breakout year from Sean Couturier, a rebound year from Shayne Gostisbehere and a ridiculous 10-1-2 month of February that took them from treading water in the Wild Card picture to solidly in third place in the Metro. A big push from Columbus nearly knocked the Flyers back into the Wild Card spot at the end of the year, but they managed to hang onto the Divisional spot by a single point.

Unfortunately, this only meant that they’d play in-state rival Pittsburgh, and while Philly would manage to take the Pens to six games, it was often a very one-sided series. Only a heroic nine-point-in-six-game effort from Sean Couturier even kept the series as competitive as it was.

With a few notable underperformers coming to the end of their contract and a fairly well-stocked prospect pool, GM Ron Hextall and crew decided to let a host of players walk into free agency, including longtime Flyer Matt Read, along with Valtteri Filppula, Brandon Manning, Johnny Oduya and Petr Mrazek, among others. Using the newly freed up cap space, they brought back former Flyer and perennial 30-goal man James van Riemsdyk, and brought in a solid defenseman in Christian Folin. JVR is certainly a known commodity, while Folin is a quiet, confident defender that has impressed under the radar over the past few years in Minnesota and LA.

Armed with yet another potent offensive weapon, and with improved depth on defense, the Flyers (yet again) look to the net in hopes of improvement. Though they boast on of the best pools of goaltending prospects in the league, they don’t want to rush the development of any of the youngsters, and will likely again turn to the tandem of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. While neither is a world-beating goaltender, they’re both more than capable of quality play.

Well…at least they would be outside of the goalie-hell of Philadelphia. Not sure what it is about that city, but it seems capable of ruining the reputation of basically any goaltender that dons the orange and black. So, maybe hope to win every game 5-4, Philly fans?

Speaking of 5-4 victories, let’s take a look at that dangerous forward corps.

While the top-six are pretty well all shoe-ins, the bottom-six does have a few positions that are definitely up in the air. Down the middle there’s likely to be strong competition for the No. 3 and 4 center spots, as Jordan Weal, Scott Laughton, Jori Lehtera and former Union College standout Mike Vecchione will battle it out with youngsters German Rubtsov and Morgan Frost (Flyers’ first round picks in 2016 and 2017, respectively). Rubtsov and Frost have yet to play North American pro hockey, so they’ll have the steepest hill to climb to try and nab a spot, and will likely head back to Juniors or to Lehigh Valley for the year. While Vecchione has only two NHL games to his credit, and isn’t nearly as well-known to Flyers fans as the remaining three, he’s a very interesting option. Boasting a strong two-way game, as well as the ability to play center or right wing, he put up terrific rookie numbers in the AHL last year and could be a strong camp away from grabbing himself an NHL roster spot.

On the wings you’ll have veterans Michael Raffl and Dale Weise competing with some young talent in guys like Oskar Lindblom, Taylor Leier, Danick Martel, and Isaac Ratcliffe. Lindblom scored some time with the Flyers last year after impressing in the AHL. Martel is undersized but not afraid to play with an edge, and does bring some decent offensive skill with him. Ratcliffe is possibly the most intriguing option. At just 19-years-old, he can still continue to hone his game in Juniors, where he’s found his offensive stride over the past two seasons. But a 6-foot-6, sub-200 pound winger with some scoring touch and a mean streak might be hard to overlook for the big club.

My projected depth chart shakes out like this:
Giroux – Couturier – Konecny
JVR – Patrick – Voracek
Lindblom – Lehtera – Simmonds
Raffl – Laughton – Vecchione
Extra forwards Weise and Weal

On defense, the biggest problem facing the Flyers to start the season is injuries to veteran Andrew MacDonald (should only miss a few weeks of the season) and promising youngster Samuel Morin (likely out until February). Until MacDonald returns they’ll lack a true top pair reliable defender to partner Gostisbehere, so that could be of concern at least in the opening weeks. While the defense corps looks to be fairly set (particularly after MacDonald returns), there are a handful of names who could challenge for a depth spot. Philippe Myers was an undrafted signing out of Juniors, who blossomed late to catch the eyes of Flyers brass. At 6-foot-5 and approximately 210 pounds, he’s got no shortage of size, but also put up respectable offensive numbers as a rookie in the AHL last season. He’s also a right handed shot, something the Flyers are a tad short on. Veteran T.J. Brennan is definitely a reliable option to fill some minutes in MacDonald’s absence, as well.

Once MacDonald makes his return, I have the Flyers defense corps shaping up as:
MacDonald – Gostisbehere
Provorov – Gudas
Sanheim – Folin
Extra defender Hagg

In net, as previously mentioned, it’s likely the Flyers will head into the season with the Elliott/Neuvirth tandem. With both vets in contract years, Philly will likely give the trio of Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Anthony Stolarz another full year of development if possible before potentially calling upon two of them to take the reigns as a tandem in the near future. Felix Sandstrom is a sleeper pick to find his way into the picture next year as well, after what will be his fourth season of SHL action in Sweden.

Offseason Grade: B-

On paper, it looks like the Flyers lost much more than they gained this year. But although there were some household names that departed, most had underperformed greatly in recent years. Hextall cleared cap space, grabbed a big fish in van Riemsdyk, and used the depth of his organization to fill the remaining holes.

The offense is deadly. The defense is young, but quite promising (particularly once it gets back to full strength). The goaltending is…well, Philadelphia goaltending. But the future in net looks incredibly bright, and Philly would be wise to not rush that future unless absolutely necessary.

A likely fringe playoff team this year, but in the next two or three years, we could see the orange and black making serious noise once again. Because the depth doesn’t stop in net, and I only mentioned about half of the recent first round picks still waiting in the wings.

Flyers stave off elimination with gutsy performance

 

Even though the Philadelphia Flyers were out-shot 32-25, they held on to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 at PPG Paints Arena in Game 5 of their first round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to force Game 6 back at Wells Fargo Center.

After 7-0, 5-1, 5-1 and 5-0 final scores in the first four contests, this rivalry series was more than due for a competitive, back-and-forth game.

Though Philly takes credit for one of those lopsided victories, Game 5 was easily the Metropolitan’s third-place team’s best effort of the postseason so far, and that might be due in large part to the stellar play of G Michal Neuvirth. Earning his first start of the series, he stopped 30-of-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage), including a dazzling glove save against C Sidney Crosby with 51 seconds remaining in regulation to preserve the Flyers’ then 3-2 lead.

Another Flyer that put it all on the line was First Star of the Game C Sean Couturier. After sitting out Game 4 with an injury suffered in practice at the hands of D Radko Gudas, Couturier (W Wayne Simmonds) scored the game-winning goal with 75 seconds remaining in regulation.

In G Matt Murray‘s defense, Couturier’s goal was a bit of a fluke. However, luck counts just as much as snipes do when they reach the back of the net, so Couturier’s wrister bouncing off D Brian Dumoulin‘s left skate and past the netminder’s glove was what proved to be the deciding tally.

Murray departed the ice for the extra attacker with one minute remaining on the clock (nine seconds before Neuvirth robbed Crosby), and W Matt Read (Second Star F Valtteri Filppula) took advantage with 18 ticks left in the game to score an empty-netter for his first playoff goal since April 25, 2014.

However, all this talk about the Flyers implies they dominated this contest. That is as far from the truth as it gets, as Pittsburgh certainly had its fair share of scoring opportunities. That was no more true than the first period, but the solid play by Neuvirth meant Philly was the only side to register a marker in the frame.

F Claude Giroux (RW Jakub Voracek and Filppula) took credit for the tally with a slap shot from between the face-off circles with 2:31 remaining in the period. It was an opportunistic goal for the Flyers, as the stoppage of play before Giroux’ tally was to allow F Evgeni Malkin to get off the ice after C Jori Lehtera landed awkwardly on his left leg.

Malkin would return to action following the first intermission, but was not able to score even one point to help Pittsburgh’s predicament.

Instead, it was Third Star W Bryan Rust (W Conor Sheary and C Derick Brassard) that snapped Neuvirth’s 13-save shutout with eight minutes remaining in the second period to tie the game at 1-1.

Though PPG Paints Arena never fell fully silent, Rust’s goal brought the crowd roaring back to life, and that positive energy translated to the ice 4:45 later when F Jake Guentzel (Crosby and F Dominik Simon) buried a wrister on Neuvirth to give Pittsburgh a one-goal advantage.

However, that excitement was sucked out of the building just as fast, as Guentzel’s tally was not the final one of the frame. Even though Gudas’ holding penalty against F Zach Aston-Reese with 2:58 remaining in the period had given the Penguins the man-advantage, a sloppy giveaway by RW Phil Kessel ended with Filppula flying towards Murray’s crease. The 2008 Stanley Cup Champion dropped a pass to Lehtera, but he ended up being the one scoring the shorthanded goal by scrapping out a wrister from within the crease.

Still facing elimination, the Flyers will host Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday, April 22. Puck drop is scheduled for 3 p.m. Eastern, and fans not in attendance can catch the action on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

Having spoiled the opportunity to clinch a spot in the Eastern Semifinals on home, the Penguins will surely be a bit angry when they travel east this weekend. However, they have the luxury of knowing they’ve won four-straight games at Wells Fargo Center and will continue to play with the confidence expected from a reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup champion.

Flyers even series with dominant effort by Elliott

 

No matter how many shots the Pittsburgh Penguins fired at Second Star of the Game G Brian Elliott, he would not yield as he led the Philadelphia Flyers to a 5-1 victory at PPG Paints Arena in Game 2.

When Head Coach Dave Hakstol elected to start his second line at the opening puck drop, C Sidney Crosby and the Penguins took advantage to fire two quick shots on goal. It seemed like the Pens were in line to dominate this game in a similar fashion as Game 1.

However, Elliott was there to make both saves, as well as 32 others. In all, the man known as Moose saved 34-of-35 shots faced, earning an impressive .971 save percentage.

The lone goal Elliott allowed belonged to RW Patric Hornqvist (D Justin Schultz and D Brian Dumoulin) at the 5:27 mark of the third period, then setting the score at 4-1 and not putting the final result of this tilt into question.

At the other end of the rink, this game was all about the numerous goals G Matt Murray and his defense allowed – especially when First Star C Sean Couturier, who scored three points, was on the ice.

There were major concerns coming into these playoffs that either Pittsburgh’s defense or goaltending  – and perhaps a combination of both – could be its ultimate demise. Even though Murray quelled some of those worries with his shutout in Game 1, those doubts were fully realized when Philadelphia converted 25 percent of its 20 shots on goal into tallies on the scoreboard.

The first of those belonged to D Shayne Gostisbehere (F Claude Giroux and Couturier), who took advantage of F Zach Aston-Reese sitting in the sin bin for boarding Third Star D Ivan Provorov to redirect a power play shot past Murray with 37 seconds remaining in the first period.

Couturier (Provorov and W Michael Raffl) bounced a shot off D Kris Letang to set the Flyers’ advantage at 2-0 47 seconds into the second period, but Philadelphia did most of its offensive damage in the third frame.

F Travis Konecny (RW Wayne Simmonds and Provorov) needed only 89 seconds of third period play to find the Flyers’ third goal of the game. 2:21 after Konecny’s tally, Hornqvist found a seat in the penalty box for roughing C Nolan Patrick to set up Philly’s final goal against Murray. As luck have it, Patrick (Couturier and RW Jakub Voracek) cashed in on the power play, scoring a wrist shot to set the score at 4-0.

The Flyers’ final goal of the contest belonged to D Andrew MacDonald (C Jori Lehtera), who scored a long-range wrister on an empty net to set the 5-1 final score.

Murray saved only 15-of-19 shots faced (.789 save percentage) in the loss. He’ll obviously need to improve on that mark if Pittsburgh wants any chance of advancing beyond the first round.

After making the quick trip across the commonwealth, Game 3 will take place at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday, April 15 at 3 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

March 25 – Day 165 – Battle of the Keystone State

Only five games are on the schedule today, but there’s some good ones!

The first puck drop of the day is at 12:30 p.m., featuring Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (NBC/TVAS) as the afternoon’s lone matinee. Two games get underway at 7 p.m. (Vancouver at Dallas and Nashville at Winnipeg [SN360]), followed by Boston at Minnesota (NBCSN) half an hour later. Finally, Anaheim is in Edmonton (SN1) at 9:30 p.m. to close out the weekend’s activity. All times Eastern.

Two games in particular stuck out to me when the schedule was released before the season…

  • Philadelphia at Pittsburgh: Few rivalries get the publicity of this one, so let’s see if this particular contest lives up to the hype.
  • Anaheim at Edmonton: Though rivalry is certainly too strong a word, there’s nothing the Oilers would like to do more than to harm the Ducks’ postseason chances since it was Anaheim that eliminated them in last year’s Western Semifinals.

I know we just featured the Penguins Friday night, but the Battle of the Keystone State is just too big to ignore!

 

After putting together an unsightly 1-6-1 record over the first half of March, the 38-25-12 Flyers have gotten their skates back under them over their last four games to post a much better 3-0-1 mark.

A major reason for Philadelphia’s previous bad luck was its game plan and strategy. With today’s starter 4-2-1 G Alex Lyon and 5-5-1 G Petr Mrazek filling in for 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 8-7-3 G Michal Neuvirth, all the skaters were playing back and reacting to opposing offenses.

However, that’s all changed since March 17, and the Flyers are reaping the rewards.

Instead of reacting to the opposition, Philly is now being proactive and keeping pucks in its offensive zone. Results have extended beyond simply a better record, as the Flyers impressive 4.5 goals per game since March 17 has been the best mark in the Eastern Conference in that time, as well as (t)best in the entire NHL. Additionally, this stellar play in the offensive zone has also limited opposing shots on goal, as Philadelphia’s 30 shots allowed per game since March 17 is (t)ninth-best in the league.

An impressive five Flyers are averaging a point per game over their last five showings, with none more impressive than F Claude Giroux‘ 0-7-7 marks to improve his season totals to 26-64-90. Of course, without any goals, he has linemates C Sean Couturier (1-4-5 since March 17) and F Travis Konecny (4-0-4 since March 17) for getting him on the scorecard.

However, Philadelphia’s offensive success does not stop at the first line, as RW Jakub Voracek has found the goal quite often lately on the second line with 3-2-5 totals since March 17. The third line line has also been extremely productive, thanks in large part to W Wayne Simmonds and his 2-2-4 effort in his last four games.

Meanwhile, 42-27-6 Pittsburgh is also rounding into form in preparation for the playoffs, as it has posted a decent 3-1-2 record in its last six showings.

The main reason the Pens are rediscovering their winning ways lately is because of their solid effort on the defensive end. Pittsburgh has allowed only 29.17 shots per game since March 11, the fifth-best mark in the league in that time.

D Brian Dumoulin (two blocks per game since March 11), F Evgeni Malkin (seven takeaways in his last six games) and D Jamie Oleksiak (three hits per game over this run) have played major roles in this defensive success, and they’ll certainly be under pressure this afternoon given the Flyers’ offensive resurgence.

Of course, anything the Penguins’ defense don’t stop will become the responsibility of 23-14-3 G Matt Murray, who will be making his third start since returning from injury. Though he has a .908 save percentage and 2.86 GAA to show for the entire season, he has yet to resume that form, as he’s managed only a .904 save percentage and 3.5 GAA in his last two showings.

With the Capitals owning a five-point advantage on the Penguins, odds are growing increasingly slim that Pittsburgh can win its first division title since 2013-14. However, the Pens would be unwise to take their foot off the gas just yet, as Columbus is sitting only one point behind them in third place. Since this game is Pittsburgh’s current game in hand on the Jackets, it needs to get at least one point to maintain its advantage for home ice in the first round of the playoffs (Pittsburgh has all but clinched the tiebreaker over Columbus should it be necessary at season’s end).

Speaking of Columbus, that’s exactly the team the Flyers are trailing in the playoffs right now, but that can all change with a victory today.  Additionally, a regulation win by Philly can also pull it into a tie with Pittsburgh for second place, but – similar to Columbus – the Pens have all but clinched the necessary regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker, meaning the only way the Flyers can earn home ice in the first round is by beating Pittsburgh outright in the standings.

For those that are of the opinion that this is the best rivalry in the NHL, I regret to inform you that this is the final meeting of the season between these clubs. Flyers fans are not complaining about that fact, as Pittsburgh has dominated this series to score five goals apiece in its three victories.

Game 1 was way back on November 27, and was undoubtedly the most competitive of the series so far as the Pens needed overtime to knock off the Flyers 5-4 (C Sidney Crosby provided the game-winning goal) at PPG Paints Arena.

Since then, the Penguins have hardly broken a sweat in their two trips to the City of Brotherly Love, as they beat the Flyers 5-1 on January 2 (RW Ryan Reaves earned First Star honors with his two-point second period that included potting the game-winning goal) and 5-2 on March 7 (Crosby’s three assists earned him First Star recognition).

Rivalry games are always tough to predict, and both clubs’ winning ways of late make this prediction no easier. However, Murray’s still recent return has me leaning towards the Flyers winning this tilt.


It was an impressive goaltending spectacle in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, but the Colorado Avalanche escaped with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Vegas Golden Knights at Pepsi Center.

First Star of the Game G Semyon Varlamov and Second Star G Marc-Andre Fleury were both incredible in this game, as – including the shootout – they allowed only a combined three shots past them. Varlamov earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 shots faced (.975 save percentage) – plus another three in the shootout – leaving the shootout loss to Fleury, who saved 29-of-30 (.967).

The Avalanche scored their regulation goal first, due in large part to a F Erik Haula tripping penalty against D Nikita Zadorov with 7:39 remaining in the first period. 1:31 later, Third Star F Carl Soderberg (F J.T. Compher and F Alexander Kerfoot) converted the man-advantage into a power play wrist shot.

That 1-0 advantage lasted through not only the remainder of the first period, but all the way through the second as well. However, F Jon Marchessault (D Shea Theodore) needed only 1:15 of play in the third frame to level the game with a wrister.

With no goals struck in the remaining 18:45 of regulation nor the five-minute three-on-three overtime period, this game advanced into the shootout. As home team, Colorado elected to shoot second.

  1. That sent W David Perron to center ice, but his wrister was saved by Varlamov.
  2. F Nathan MacKinnon failed to get on the scoresheet in 65 minutes of play, and that trend continued in the shootout as his offering sailed over the crossbar. Through one round, the shootout was still tied 0-0.
  3. Being partially responsible for the Avs’ regulation goal, Haula was provided an opportunity to redeem himself. Unfortunately for Vegas, he couldn’t do that as his wrister was saved by Varlamov.
  4. RW Mikko Rantanen has been Colorado’s second-most dynamic scorer this season, but it’s hard to beat a goalpost. Another round complete, the shootout score still read 0-0.
  5. Having already beaten Varlamov once, Head Coach Gerard Gallant turned his team’s fate over to Marchessault to see if he could work his magic again. Apparently, he shouldn’t go to the well twice, as the netminder was able to make his third-straight shootout save.
  6. Only one member of Colorado’s first line remained, so it only makes sense that LW Gabriel Landeskog took the Avalanche’s third shot. He apparently should have been deployed earlier, because he was the lone shooter to beat a netminder, earning the Avs the bonus point.

The Avs’ home victory makes it three-straight games with points for hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Home teams now have a 91-53-21 record in the series, 35 points better than that of the roadies.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 23

Skater of the Week: Alex Pietrangelo

How about the defenseman getting some love, huh?

In all honesty, this wasn’t even a case of picking him out for having a stellar week ‘as a defenseman’, he lead the entire league in scoring last week full-stop.

The 6-foot-3 210 pound King City, Ont. native racked up three goals and six assists in four games this past week, including a goal and two helpers on the power play. He also averaged nearly 26 minutes of ice time per game in that stretch, remaining a key cog on the St. Louis blueline with his all-around strong play.

Starting the week with a pair of assists against Anaheim on Monday, he had a forgettable outing against Colorado on Thursday with no points and a -3 rating. But after that he closed the week with a pair of stellar games, recording two goals (one on the power play) and an assist against the Rangers on Saturday, then followed up the next day with a four-point outing against Chicago, where he’d tally a goal and three assists, with two of the helpers coming on the man-advantage.

Just one point shy of tying his career-high of 51 points after just 68 games played, and having already bested his previous goal-scoring mark (he’s now at 15, having posted a prior-best 14 last season), the 28 year-old looks set to be one of the NHL’s best defenders over the next few years. His Blues team may be in a bit of a reset right now after an up-and-down campaign, but with Pietrangelo as one of their key pieces moving forward, it’s easy to think they’ll be right back at the top of the league in very short order. Plus, it’s still not at all impossible for them to sneak into the playoffs if they can finish the season strong.

Tendy of the Week: Curtis McElhinney

I tell ya, that McElhinney, he’s a pretty good backup, ain’t he?

There were more than a few terrific stretches by goaltenders this week, but I’m giving the nod to the guy you’d never expect to have a week like this. Plus, he’s a professional athlete that drives a, like, 15-year-old Volvo. He’s just the best.

C-Mac made only two starts this week, but tallied three wins (because reasons), and posted a .955 save percentage and 1.57 GAA for the week. He started the week being brought in in relief of an injured Frederik Andersen on Wednesday night against Dallas (more on that game in a minute), playing just over 30 minutes and surrendering two goals on 15 shots. Not a great stat night, but he collected the W, anyway. Then, with Andersen out the rest of the week, McElhinney got the call the next night against Buffalo, turning aside 38-of-40, and again on Saturday against Montreal where he’d blank the Habs with a 33-save shutout.

The 34-year-old career-journeyman goaltender now has a scarcely-believable 10-4-1 record this year with a 2.09 GAA and .935 save percentage. His style could be described as ‘Dominik Hasek, without the grace’, and there’s no real reason to suspect this season is any more than an anomaly in the career of a .908/2.87 goaltender, particularly one in his mid-30s, but you can’t help but root for a guy like McElhinney.

Game of the Week: Dallas Stars 5 @ Toronto Maple Leafs 6 (SO), Wednesday March 14th, 2018

Hmm, a Stars-Leafs game ended in a shootout with 11 total goals. Who could have seen that coming?

68 shots, 59 hits, a James van Riemsdyk hat trick, and a comeback home team victory, what’s not to love?

Seriously, you’re still here? Why are you not watching the highlights and/or Steve Dangle’s LFR on the game? Get outta here! GO!

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

As a member of a fanbase that once had a literal fan rally in support of essentially tactical-nuking our team’s front office, I’m fully behind the #MelnykOut movement.

William Karlsson can’t stop scoring. Part of me believes this is yet another example of my team’s eternal curse of misusing a player and then trading him away to watch him become a star (read: Jakub Voracek), but the other part of me sees a .23 shooting percentage and can’t wait to watch everyone scream about how overpaid he is in a couple years when he’s putting up 15-25-40 seasons after the Knights sign him to a 100-year, eleventy-bazillion dollar contract.

The NHL GM meetings are underway in Florida, so expect very little in the way of productive changes to rules, and expect very much in the way of surprisingly tan general managers.

@jdettro and I touched the Stanley Cup last weekend, so don’t be surprised if it rusts now.

Happy 70th birthday to Bobby Orr. I have nothing clever for this, just a birthday message.

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals Logo

1. Washington Capitals– 31-17-5 (67 points, 53 GP)

After spending a couple of months figuring themselves out and weathering the storm that’s been Braden Holtby‘s second-to-last career worst season (his 2.76 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 39 games played are better and the same as his 2013-14 2.85 GAA and .915 SV% in 48 games played respectively).

It’s a bit of an off year for Washington, but even an off year for the Capitals is still a pretty good season, considering they’re currently first in a division that is more active than a lava lamp in terms of rising and falling.

Washington has a plus-11 goal differential through 53 games played despite the loss of Marcus Johansson in a trade with the New Jersey Devils this offseason and an injured Andre Burakovsky seeing limited time so far. That doesn’t even mention the loss of depth for the Capitals last July either– remember Justin Williams (signed with Carolina) and Karl Alzner (signed with Montreal)?

Luckily for the Capitals they only have about $412,000 in cap space as I write, so their trade deadline plans are pretty much already determined for them.

If they’re able to dump a guy like Brooks Orpik— and his $5.500 million cap hit that runs through next season– that would provide the organization with some much needed relief.

Potential assets to trade: F Jay Beagle, D Brooks Orpik

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

pittsburgh_penguins_logo

2. Pittsburgh Penguins– 30-22-3 (63 points, 55 GP)

After bouncing around the Metropolitan Division standings, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are currently four points behind first place in the division.

Much like his rival in Washington, Matthew Murray is having a season to forget. Injuries and the death of his father have taken a toll on the two-time Cup winning goaltender, limiting Murray to just 34 games thus far with a 2.97 GAA and .903 SV% (again, both career worsts– though he is in just his second full season since his 13 GP in 2015-16).

Despite their plus-three goal differential and gifted scorer (turned 2018 All-Star snub), Phil Kessel (24-41–65 totals in 55 games), the Penguins have been porous on defense. Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, is a minus-15 through 52 games played.

Only Justin Schultz (plus-5, 38 GP) and Jamie Oleksiak (plus-6, 20 GP– split between Dallas and Pittsburgh) are positive plus/minus blue liners.

Since November, Pittsburgh has been trying to move defenseman, Ian Cole– though head coach, Mike Sullivan, has been forced to play him (thereby keeping him on the Penguins roster) due to injuries affecting Schultz and friends.

Antti Niemi didn’t pan out and bring stable backup goaltending to the Steel City (he’s since departed via waivers to Florida, then Montreal). Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been left to pick up the tab with some impressive performances at times.

Midseason acquisitions F Riley Sheahan, as well as Oleksiak, have not been enough to fill holes left by Nick Bonino (the forward signed with Nashville in July) and Trevor Daley (left via free agency, landed in Detroit) respectively.

But with roughly $425,000 in cap space to work with currently, the Penguins can’t afford to make much noise on February 26th– but they should definitely snag a defenseman and rental backup goaltender.

Potential assets to trade: D Ian Cole, D Brian Dumoulin, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Carl Hagelin, D Matt Hunwick, F Riley Sheahan

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Jason Garrison (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

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3. New Jersey Devils– 27-17-8 (62 points, 52 GP)

New Jersey has almost $8.000 million to work with currently as things approach the trade deadline at the end of the month.

The Devils are one of the biggest surprises this season east of the Mississippi River.

First overall pick in the 2017 draft, Nico Hischier, has been quietly setting the tone with forwards, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha in the resurgence of youth. Travis Zajac is back in his dominant, physical, ways and the Sami VatanenAdam Henrique trade has worked out quite well for both teams.

And that’s not even mentioning Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.

Will Butcher is quite the offensive threat on the blue line and John Moore is firing on all cylinders. Despite Marcus Johansson’s concussion, New Jersey hasn’t faced much adversity in overcoming injuries this year.

There’s a lot of cap room to work with, but not a whole lot that this team can really give up to bring in the best guys on the trade market, like Evander Kane, unless the Devils are comfortable parting ways with prospects and draft picks (spoiler alert, they might be).

New Jersey really should be in the hunt for Kane, Rick Nash, Max Pacioretty, David Perron and other great offensive assets– either as the front-runner or the stealthy dark-horse that’ll make one or two big moves to carry them to glory.

The Devils have the time and space to add a veteran forward or defenseman that might eat some salary, but put them lightyears beyond their Metropolitan counterparts.

It’s a buyers market.

Potential assets to trade: F Ben Coleman, F Jimmy Hayes, D Ben Lovejoy, F Drew Stafford

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

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4. Philadelphia Flyers– 25-19-9 (59 points, 53 GP)

Aside from the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now.

Goaltender, Brian Elliott, has found his top-notch form once again while Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux are rolling along. With almost $3.000 million to spend at the deadline, the Flyers could make some improvements to their team.

Trading away Brayden Schenn was costly for Philadelphia this offseason, but thankfully Jakub Voracek and the rest of the roster decided to pick up some of the points left behind by Schenn’s departure.

Adding Jori Lehtera, on the other hand, was a big mistake– both in production value and in cap management.

The Flyers could really solidify their offense with one or two moves and probably should anchor their defense with at least a depth blue liner or two coming down the stretch. Someone like David Perron, Patrick Maroon or Nic Petan could flourish in the Philly system. Meanwhile, a defenseman like Cody Franson would help put them over the edge if someone’s injured.

Potential assets to trade: D Radko Gudas, F Jori Lehtera, F Matt Read, F Dale Weise

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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5. Columbus Blue Jackets– 27-22-4 (58 points, 53 GP)

After getting a fast start out of the gate the Columbus Blue Jackets have really cooled off. It’s not that they’re a bad team, but rather, they’re just average.

Sergei Bobrovsky can’t stop the puck and play every other position too. Otherwise, the Blue Jackets would probably be first in the division. But good news, Columbus, you’ve got some cap space to work with at the end of the month.

As I write, the Blue Jackets have about $5.000 million to work with in cap room.

That’s good enough to bring in just about any player without considering what the future impact on the team his cap hit might have (unless Jarmo Kekalainen brings in a clear-cut rental player that won’t be re-signed in July). The point is this, Columbus has enough room to mess around with something valuable at the deadline, but they’re going to have to re-sign a plethora of core/future core pieces of the franchise this offseason.

The Blue Jackets aren’t doomed– they know their future plans more than anyone else.

But what could they bring in to make this team better? Someone. Is there anyone they could snag now and really shake things up as a contender moving forward? Short answer, yes.

For all of the return of Rick Nash to Columbus talk, well, that’s not ideal. Kekalainen should consider someone like Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before taking back a guy like Nash– who will only break the franchise’s heart again in July when he goes back to the Rangers *bold prediction alert*.

Potential assets to trade: D Andre Benoit, D Jack Johnson

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF)F Blake Comeau (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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6. New York Islanders– 26-22-6 (58 points, 54 GP)

The biggest question heading into the 2018 trade deadline for the New York Islanders is the same one that’s been asked since Steven Stamkos signed his extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning– will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?

New York has expressed that they are not looking to trade Tavares should things go detrimentally south between now and February 26th, but if things do…

The Islanders have almost $1.500 million in cap space to play around with before the deadline. They also have 13 pending free agents at season’s end, meaning there’s plenty of options the franchise could pursue.

Should Tavares get a raise and a long-term deal? Absolutely.

The  Islanders could pack it up and go home on this season given their injuries, lack of defense and well, let’s just say, things aren’t going so great for the team that ranks 31st (out of 31 NHL teams) in average attendance this season.

Or they could be active in trying to scrap together a good team centered around their current stars (Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Joshua Ho-Sang and others).

Potential assets to trade: F Josh Bailey, F Jason Chimera, F Casey Cizikas, D Thomas Hickey, D Dennis Seidenberg

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)

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7. Carolina Hurricanes– 24-21-9 (57 points, 54 GP)

New Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, might call an audible heading into this year’s trade deadline and decide to spend money on the roster. With almost $15.500 million in cap space, the Hurricanes are in the best possible position to land not just one or two of the big names floating around the rumor mill, but rather three or four quality pieces.

The trouble is, who would they get rid of, since their prospects and youth are worth keeping for further development and overall organizational growth?

Jeff Skinner is someone to build around. So are Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

Lee Stempniak might make his annual trip around the league, but other than that, who are the Hurricanes actually going to offer up from their forwards? If anything, Carolina would move a guy like Noah Hanifin given the contract extensions (and pay raises) that kick in next season for Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.

Regardless, though they’re not out of contention, the Hurricanes could really use a goaltender to pull them through the stretch. This whole Cam Ward/Scott Darling thing isn’t working out.

Potential assets to trade: G Scott Darling, D Noah Hanifin, F Lee Stempniak, F Derek Ryan, draft picks

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ),  D Mike Green (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

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8. New York Rangers– 25-24-5 (55 points, 54 GP)

Look, the New York Rangers are still (technically speaking) in contention– but they absolutely shouldn’t waste another year of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career in the National Hockey League without a Stanley Cup.

The team they have right now? Yeah, they aren’t winning.

They’ve aged out. The core’s been decimated by the Vegas expansion draft and some offseason moves (namely trading Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona after losing Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in June).

Not every player is washed up.

Some will find better homes and rejuvenate their careers before potentially signing with the Rangers in free agency and going back “home” *ahem, Rick Nash*.

Others will simply be a superb rental/long term participant in a franchise, like Michael Grabner.

Basically I’m saying that all the guys New York’s been rumored to trade should get traded and the team can pull off a quick turnaround with their up-and-coming youth, plus whatever they get in return for Nash, Grabner and Co.

And with only about $1.400 million in cap space, the Rangers could have some fun blowing things up (partially).

Build around Mika Zibanejad and friends. Do it, New York. Do it now.

Potential assets to trade: F David Desharnais, F Michael Grabner, D Nick Holden, D Ryan McDonagh, F Rick Nash, G Ondrej Pavelec, D Marc Staal, F Jimmy Vesey, F Mats Zuccarello

Potential assets to acquire: D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

January 31 – Day 112 – High Flyer-ing offense

There may only be three games on the schedule today, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a quality matchup.

The action starts at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time when the New York Islanders visit Toronto (SN/TVAS), and it is followed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: San Jose at Detroit and Philadelphia at Washington (NBCSN).

As I discussed with @nlanciani53 in a recent podcast, it’s time to see just how good this Flyers team actually is, as they face a good test in a rivalry game with the Caps this evening. Let’s take a look into this matchup, shall we?

 

Since December 29, there have been few teams in the Eastern Conference as successful as the Flyers. They’ve posted a 9-3-0 record to surge into the second wildcard, with impressive wins coming against the Lightning in Tampa Bay, St. Louis, the Devils in New Jersey, Toronto, the Devils again and the Capitals in Washington (more on that below).

In other words, Philadelphia hasn’t been picking up wins against scrubs.

All credit for this success is due to the Flyers’ offense, which is scoring the puck at an unbelievable pace (3.33 goals per game, the fourth-best average in the league since December 29) and maintaining possession to limit 5-6-1 G Michal Neuvirth‘s – tonight’s starter with 19-11-7 G Brian Elliott on injured reserve –  workload to an average of only 27.83 shots per game (the lowest mark in the NHL during this run).

As for who’s been behind this attack, all signs point towards C Sean Couturier. Philly’s top center has posted 9-7-16 totals in his last 12 games played to improve his season marks to 26-23-49. In fact, his 26 markers are so impressive, they rank (t)fifth-best in the league.

F Claude Giroux and W Jakub Voracek have also been stellar during this run of success, as they’ve respectively posted 1-13-14 and 1-11-12 totals to join with Couturier in averaging at least a point per game since December 29. Of course, their success is no surprise considering they both rank among the league’s top-three in assists and top-10 in points.

Meanwhile, 29-15-5 Washington has been busy all season proving the doubters wrong, as all the team has done after a tough offseason is lead the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.

However, the Caps did not have the best of runs leading into the All-Star Break. Though they earned points in four of their five games, they posted only a record of 2-1-2 in their last five games.

The biggest reason for this lull in an overall very successful season seems to be the play of 25-9-2 G Braden Holtby. Starting three of those five games, he led the Capitals to only one victory with a .91 save percentage.

Fortunately for him, his defensive corps played a big part in helping him post a 2.66 GAA in those tilts, which is exactly in line with his season mark. Behind the stellar efforts of D Dmitry Orlov (team-leading 1.4 blocks per game and five takeaways since January 12) and D Brooks Orpik (three hits per game over this run), the Capitals have limited his workload to only 30.8 shots against per game during this five-game stretch, the 13th-best effort in the NHL in that time.

Tonight’s tilt is Game 3 of four between the Caps and Flyers this regular season. Though Philly trails in the standings, it has had its way in this series so far, as it has won both the previous two games. They first met on October 14 at Wells Fargo Center, where the Flyers exploded to an 8-2 victory (Voracek took First Star honors with three assists). More recently, Philadelphia traveled to the capital on January 21 to post a 2-1 victory, courtesy of a F Travis Konecny overtime game-winner.

The Flyers have certainly been the more dominant team leading into the All-Star Break. Add in the fact that they haven’t lost to the Caps yet this year, and I have a hard time picking against Philly’s offense.


With three goals in the span of 53 seconds in the third period, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Calgary Flames 4-2 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

This was an odd game in that the number of goals scored in each frame matched the period’s number, and that scoring in each frame was limited to only one team.

Make sense?

Allow me to explain: in the first period, only one goal was scored. Since W Reilly Smith‘s (First Star of the Game F Jon Marchessault and Third Star C William Karlsson) power play tip-in put the Golden Knights up 1-0 with 3:57 remaining in the frame, that meant Vegas was the only team to score in that frame.

Off to Period 2, which featured two markers. Both of those goals belonged to the Flames, as Second Star F Sam Bennett (RW Troy Brouwer) leveled the game 6:02 into the frame with a wrist shot. Calgary then earned its first – and only – lead of the game 12:41 later, courtesy of a LW Matthew Tkachuk (D Dougie Hamilton and F Michael Frolik) wrap-around shot. The 2-1 score held into the second intermission.

Things were looking very good for the Flames in the third period. They still had their one-goal lead with under two minutes remaining in regulation. Worst case scenario, this game went to overtime… right?

Unfortunately for them, the game’s pattern caught up to Calgary in a big way, starting with F Erik Haula‘s unassisted wrist shot with 1:46 remaining on the clock to tie the game at 2-2. The game-winning goal was struck only 10 seconds later, courtesy of Marchessault (Karlsson and Smith).

C Mikael Backlund thought he had this play all wrapped up along the boards in front of his own bench. Karlsson had the puck, but he was coming in to disrupt the play and potentially set his club up for a breakaway opportunity. However, just before he could engage, Karlsson backhanded a pass to Marchessault to set him up for a breakaway opportunity of his own. After getting around D Mark Giordano, Marchessault took advantage of his one-on-one opportunity against G Mike Smith to rip a wrister from the slot top-shelf over the netminder’s glove.

Now trailing by a goal instead of leading by that margin, Flames Head Coach Glen Gulutzan was forced to pull M. Smith with 59 ticks remaining in the game. He was off the ice for only six seconds before W David Perron (F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and D Shea Theodore) capitalized on the gaping cage to set the 4-2 final score with a wrister.

G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the come-from-behind victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the loss to M. Smith, who saved 31-of-34 (.912).

Road teams are staging quite the comeback in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’ve won six of the last seven games. This streak has pulled them within 17 points of the 60-37-15 home teams.

January 18 – Day 103 – The House that Lindros Built

As usual, Thursday is the best day of the work week for hockey, as we have 10 games on the schedule.

As it usually does, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. this evening with four tilts (Washington at New Jersey, Boston at the New York Islanders [SN360], Toronto at Philadelphia [TVAS] and Dallas at Columbus), trailed half an hour later by another trio (Buffalo at the New York Rangers [NBCSN], St. Louis at Ottawa [RDS] and Vegas at Tampa Bay). Arizona at Nashville is the next fixture up at 8 p.m., followed an hour later by San Jose at Colorado and tonight’s nightcap – Pittsburgh at Los Angeles (NBCSN/SN360) – at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Even with eight teams on the bye, there’s still more than a few games on the schedule today that deserve attention. However, all pale to today’s action at… Wells Fargo Center?

 

G Bernie Parent‘s number 1. D Mark Howe‘s 2. D Barry Ashbee, LW Bill Barber and C Bobby Clarke‘s numbers – 4, 7 and 16, respectively – have all been honored too.

And tonight, the Flyers add C Eric Lindros‘ number 88 to the list of retired numbers now hanging in their arena’s rafters.

Only the best get away with controlling their fate before even signing their first contract, so Lindros was building his resume before even taking to the NHL ice. He was drafted by the Québec Nordiques in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, but insisted that he would never play for the Northmen.

Once Nordiques’ owner Marcel Aubut finally got the message after Lindros continued to play for the Oshawa Generals in the OHL and joined Team Canada for the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in France, the centerman was sent to Philadelphia in exchange for four players, the rights to C Peter Forsberg, a first-round pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft and $15 million.

Adding a bit of levity to the situation, G Ron Hextall – the Flyers’ current general manager – was one of the players traded to Québec for Lindros… #awkward.

Anyways, Lindros was an incredible rookie, posting 41-34-75 totals in 61 games played to finish fourth in 1993 Calder Trophy voting behind RW Teemu Selanne, C Joe Juneau and G Felix Potvin. Lindros also placed ninth in Hart Trophy voting – an award he eventually won in 1995 alongside the Pearson Trophy following a 29-41-70 46-game season.

In terms of total production, Lindros reached his ultimate form during the 1995-’96. In 73 games played, The Big E scored 47 goals en route to 155 points – both career highs. It was Year 3 of four of Lindros averaging 1.5 points per game.

Unfortunately, the closest Lindros came to getting back to that production was in 1998-’99 when he posted 1.31 points per game over 71 contests. Beyond the first five seasons of his career, Lindros’ career was an almost constant downhill slide due to the multiple serious injuries he sustained. Among other injuries, four concussions, a collapsed lung and a torn ligament in his wrist led to Lindros retiring following the 2007 season.

Those setbacks – in addition to a bad relationship with General Manager Bobby Clarke – led to his rights being traded to the Rangers (Lindros wanted to be traded to Toronto, but Clarke wouldn’t complete the deal. Lindros protested and did not sign a two-way contract for the 2000-’01 season, leaving him on the couch.) before the 2001-’02 season. Lindros would play three seasons with the Rangers, the 2005-’06 campaign with Toronto and 49 games during the 2006-’07 season with Dallas before retiring.

However, that tumultuous end to his career doesn’t blemish what he achieved while playing in Philadelphia, posting one of the best opening five seasons of a career. According to his Wikipedia page, Lindros needed the fourth-fewest games to reach the 300 (210 games) and 400 (277) point plateaus, the fifth-fewest to reach 500 points (352) and the sixth-fewest to reach 600 points (429).

For fans of teams that were regularly downed by the Flyers during Lindros’ tenure, it’s scary to think about that team with an uninjured Big E for more than his eight-year tenure.

It may be hard to believe considering the Flyers are currently in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, but 20-16-8 Philadelphia is actually rolling lately. Before Tuesday’s 5-1 loss in Madison Square Garden, Philly had won four-straight contests.

When the Flyers are winning (like they are right now), the offense is the biggest driver in their success. Even adding in Tuesday’s loss, Philadelphia has managed a second-best 4.4 goals per game since January 4.

Five players are averaging at least a point-per-game to propel this run, but no player has been better over Philly’s last five games than C Sean Couturier. He’s posted incredible 7-2-9 totals since January 4 (25-20-45 overall) to lead the NHL in goals in that time. Of course, someone has to set him up for those goals, and that’s usually been linemate F Claude Giroux (1-7-8 totals during this run, team-leading 14-40-54 overall), who’s provided the primary assist on three of Couturier’s seven most-recent tallies.

Of course, by focusing only on those two, Toronto runs the risk of ignoring RW Jakub Voracek. That would be extremely unwise, as Voracek’s 45 assists on the season (he has 8-45-53 totals overall) are the best in the NHL. In fact, Couturier, Giroux and Voracek all rank in the top 10 of the NHL in at least one statistic, including the Captain’s second-most assists, which explains why Vorcek has been assigned to the second line to promote more offense with F Valtteri Filppula and W Michael Raffl.

While the 25-17-4 Maple Leafs – who are in third place in the Atlantic Division – are also riding a streak of earning points in four of their last five games, it hasn’t been anywhere near as pleasant an experience. With the exception of last Wednesday’s 4-3 regulation loss against the Senators, all four of the remaining games have required extra time, and that pill is made even harder to swallow by Toronto winning only two of those – both in the shootout.

To put it lightly, Toronto is doing the bare minimum right now as far as the standings are concerned. The same could be said for its offense, which has averaged only two goals-per-game over its last five outings – the (t)third-worst mark since January 5.

But this offensive drought has nothing do with effort – in fact, quite the opposite. 16 of the 19 skaters the Maple Leafs have employed since January 5 have at least one point to their credit, and both C Tyler Bozak and F William Nylander have posted 1-3-4 totals.

I would argue the biggest problem is C Auston Matthews is having just a little slump. Though he has scored two goals in his last five games, he’s currently riding a three-game goalless skid. Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but the Leafs also haven’t won a game during that skid.

I think not.

Tonight’s game completes the three-game series between the Flyers and Leafs, and if history is any indicator, this tilt will end with a 4-2 score just like the previous two matchups. Led by Jakub Voracek, the Flyers invaded Toronto on October 28, and then matched that effort on December 12 in a home contest dominated by Giroux.

Considering the positive mojo the Flyers have in their back pockets, the excitement around the Lindros number retirement ceremony and Matthews’ struggles, it’s hard to pick against the hosts this evening.


Habs-turned-Bruins-turned-Habs Head Coach Claude Julien didn’t get the result he wanted in his first return to TD Garden, as the Boston Bruins beat his Montréal Canadiens 4-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though it wasn’t the best of showings by Montréal, it did manage to take an early lead in the contest courtesy of D Jakub Jerabek‘s (W Charles Hudon and F Paul Byron) first career goal. He struck his tip-in 31 seconds into the game. However, that lead would only last 6:19 before RW David Pastrnak (First Star of the Game C Patrice Bergeron and Second Star LW Brad Marchand) leveled the game with a wrist shot.

That 1-1 tie held until the 2:37 mark of the second period. That’s when F Ryan Spooner (C David Krejci and LW Jake DeBrusk) got lucky and banked a centering pass to either DeBrusk or D Matt Grzelcyk through G Carey Price‘s crease off F Jonathan Drouin‘s right skate and into the back of the net. His pass-turned-backhanded shot proved to be the game-winning marker, his third such goal of the season.

Boston tacked on two insurance tallies in the third period, one a power play wrister by Marchand (Bergeron and D Torey Krug) 3:40 into the frame and another a wrister by Krejci (F David Backes) into an empty net with 3:14 remaining in the contest.

Third Star G Tuukka Rask saved 21-of-22 shots faced (.955 save percentage) in the victory, leaving Price – who saved 28-of-31 (.903) – with the loss.

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are starting to resume command of the series. The 57-34-12 hosts have won three of the past four contests and extended their lead over the visitors to 22 points.

January 12 – Day 97 – Gagner is “to win” in French, so…

There’s one more day until the first wave of byes end! Get ready for an explosion of games tomorrow!

However, that still means today’s list of matchups is rather short. Only five pucks are going to be dropped this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (Vancouver at Columbus and Calgary at Florida) and Washington at Carolina half an hour later. Next up is Winnipeg at Chicago at 8:30 p.m., followed by Edmonton at Arizona acting as tonight’s nightcap. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Vegas.

You’ll notice none of these games are being broadcast nationally in either Canada or the USA, which is a real bummer. Hopefully you live in one of these 10 markets.

As for which tilt we’ll feature here, my list of two candidates was trimmed to one by the still ongoing saga between RW Jaromir Jagr and the Calgary Flames, who was scheduled to make his return to Sunrise today. Since we featured the Canes and Caps yesterday (you can just use that preview for today’s contest), let’s take in F Sam Gagner‘s return to Ohio.

 

Life is not always easy for a first-round pick.

Just ask Gagner, who was the sixth-overall selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft – you know, the same draft with LW Jamie Benn, F Patrick Kane, LW Max Pacioretty, D Kevin Shattenkirk, W Wayne Simmonds, D P.K. Subban, RW Jakub Voracek… the list goes on to include a total of 93 skaters and four goaltenders that have seen time in the NHL.

It was a good draft class with some exceptional talent, but not a great one – look to 2003 for a better example of a draft with more depth.

By simply arranging the draft class by points they’ve scored so far in their careers, Edmonton picking him sixth is right on the money. He’s posted 149-272-421 totals over the course of his 11 seasons in the league, which puts him behind Kane (797 points), Benn (556), Voracek (539), Pacioretty (434) and Simmonds (424).

However, how is it Gagner, who provides .57 points-per-game, is one of the three players listed above that is no longer with the club that drafted him?

The obvious answer is just to say “Oilers” and move on, but Gagner’s story did not immediately end up in Columbus.

Gagner signed a three-year extension with the Oil before the 2013-’14 season, but he played only one year of that deal before being shipped to Tampa Bay for RW Teddy Purcell. The Bolts apparently never wanted him, because he was shipped off only an hour later to Arizona for a sixth-round pick.

Year two of that three-year deal was spent with the Coyotes as a right wing – not his usual center position. The results of that experiment in 2014-’15 were fairly poor given his 15-26-41 totals playing off the puck, but General Manager Don Maloney insisted Gagner could not play his natural position in the NHL and decided to trade him to Philadelphia that offseason for D Nicklas Grossmann and D Chris Pronger – who, by the way, hadn’t seen the ice since the 2011-’12 season even though his contract expired this most recent offseason.

For those counting at home, Arizona received 58 games played in the 2015-’16 season out of that trade.

Oh yeah, and Maloney was fired after that year. There’s also that.

And so, Gagner completed a hat trick of teams in as many seasons all on the same contract. It was a miserable campaign in Philly that saw him register only 16 points in 53 games (he spent time in the AHL that season as well), and he was allowed to test free agency.

No one wanted Gagner. Nobody. Free agents can begin signing contracts on July 1, but he didn’t earn a spot on a team until August 1. The former first-rounder signed a one-year, $650 thousand contract with Columbus, making $225 thousand fewer than he did during his first three seasons in the league.

The Jackets had nothing to lose in this situation and everything to gain. They had missed the 2016 playoffs entirely, falling all the way to last in the Metropolitan Division and 15th in the Eastern Conference a year after missing the postseason by only nine points. If Gagner failed to produce, the Jackets could easily waive him and he’d almost assuredly end up in Cleveland with their AHL affiliate.

To put things plainly, Columbus General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen looked like a genius after this deal. The Blue Jackets enjoyed their greatest season of all-time by reaching the 100-point plateau for the first time in franchise history, and Gagner was one of the biggest players. He posted fifth-best 18-32-50 totals, setting a career-high in points and tying his career-best in goals.

However, the money just wasn’t there for the Jackets to keep Gagner around for this season. For the second offseason in a row, he was a free agent. But this time, Gagner was one of the first players signed. He was brought into the Vancouver fold on a three-year, $3.15 million deal, and is currently centering the Canucks’ top line.

Unfortunately, Gagner hasn’t been able to bring along the Jackets’ spark to the 16-21-6 Canucks, who currently occupy second-to-last in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. Short of his stint with the Flyers, he’s having the worst season of his career, posting only 7-12-19 totals through 43 games played (.44 points per game).

Of course, it’s hard to say that Gagner is having a bad year on his own accord. His 19 points are enough to place him sixth on the team, and rookie sensation RW Brock Boeser is the only player on the squad with more than 30 points to his credit.

Vancouver is experiencing an especially rough patch in its season right now, as it is in the midst of a seven-game road trip (tonight is Game 4) while also suffering a five-game losing skid that has seen it earn only one point.

As you might expect from a team where 19 points is good enough for sixth-most on the squad, offense is a major issue for the Canucks. During this five-game losing skid, they’ve managed only eight goals, meaning they’re averaging a third-worst 1.6 goals per game since December 30.

What makes things even more frustrating is that the little offense the Canucks are getting is coming from only two players: the legends themselves, LW Daniel Sedin and C Henrik Sedin. D. Sedin has been extremely impressive over his last three games, as he’s managed 2-2-4 totals for a three-game point streak, and H. Sedin has thrown in three assists in that span as well.

Meanwhile, this hasn’t been the best of runs for 25-17-3 Columbus either. The Jackets have earned only a 3-4-1 record over their past eight games, and they now trail Washington, which has a game in hand, by four points for the Metropolitan Division lead.

It’s not very often that I’m disappointed with Columbus’ overall defensive effort, but for the second time in a row of me featuring the Jackets, that’s where I’m having concerns.

Over their past eight games, the Blue Jackets have allowed 24 goals. Those astute at math notice that is an average of three goals per game (well over the 2.69 Columbus has averaged all season), which ties Chicago for 12th-worst since December 27.

One of, if not the biggest issue over this run has been the penalty kill. Over its past eight games, Columbus has successfully defended only two-thirds of its 18 shorthanded situations, making the Jackets the fifth-worst kill over the past 16 days.

G Sergei Bobrovsky has posted only an .844 save percentage against the power play since December 27 (the 22nd-worst among the 61 netminders to face a power play situation in that time), but he’s also had to face a fifth-most 32 power play shots.

With D David Savard being the only Blue Jacket with more than three shorthanded blocked shots and a total of only four total takeaways in that situation, Columbus needs to find a way to get its penalty kill under control in a hurry.

Bobrovsky played yesterday to a 3-1 loss in Buffalo, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see 4-4-0 G Joonas Korpisalo draw tonight’s start. That being said, I’ve made that prediction once already this week and it didn’t pan out, so we’ll see what Head Coach John Tortorella decides to do.

With the Canucks sporting a 20.7 power play conversion rate that is 12th-best on the season, this may not be the easiest of home games for Columbus. Throw in the fact that Korpisalo, who hasn’t faced an NHL shot since December 31, could be in net tonight, and Vancouver has a very real shot at earning two points this evening.


With a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Carolina Hurricanes have moved into the Eastern Conference’s second wild card.

This was a game full of solid defense and counterattacking by the Canes. Even though they out-shot the Capitals 33-28 for the night, it felt like Washington was earning much stronger possessions and longer time in the offensive zone.

That was no more apparent than in Carolina’s first goal of the night. With F Josh Jooris in the penalty box for holding D Madison Bowey, the Caps were on the power play. However, when D John Carlson attempted to reset the play to W Alex Ovechkin at the blue line, C Jordan Staal intercepted the pass to set himself up for a one-on-one duel with G Braden Holtby. Staal won that battle, squeezing a backhanded shot between the netminder’s legs for his second shorthanded tally of the season, the most he’s scored in one campaign as a Hurricane.

Carolina took the lead with 8:27 remaining in the second period, but that advantage wouldn’t last for long. Third Star of the Game C Lars Eller (F T.J. Oshie and D Christian Djoos) was able to level the game 4:32 later with a slap shot from above the face-off circles. The one-all score held into the second intermission.

What other line to score the game-winning goal than RW Justin Williams‘? The former Capital didn’t earn a point on the play, but his protégé Second Star C Victor Rask did with his unassisted wrist shot with 9:06 remaining in regulation.

Because the Caps were facing a delayed penalty, it was a six-on-five situation for the Canes. D Justin Faulk fired an initial wrist shot from above the face-off circles that Holtby was able to deflect, but neither he nor any other skater clad in red could take possession of the loose puck. That’s what allowed Rask to one-time a wrister from the left face-off circle, beating Holtby short side.

Washington tried valiantly to find another leveling goal up its sleeve, but Head Coach Barry Trotz was eventually forced to pull Holtby as regulation was beginning to come to an end. That’s what allowed W Sebastian Aho (F Elias Lindholm) to bury a wrister with 89 seconds remaining in regulation to set the score at the 3-1 final.

While the Canes executed their game plan to a T, the player most deserving of praise was First Star G Scott Darling. Having lost his last two starts, he won this one by stopping 27-of-28 shots faced (.964 save percentage). Holtby took the loss, saving 30-of-32 (.938).

That’s the second-consecutive win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The 54-31-12 home teams still hold the advantage in the series, but the visitors have now pulled within 22 points.

November 27 – Day 54 – Battle of Pennsylvania

Welcome to the last week of November! I know you think you need to be doing your Christmas shopping, but you have all of December to do that. Instead, sit down this evening and watch some hockey.

If you’re wise and followed my instructions, the NHL has scheduled five games for your viewing pleasure. Two of them (Florida at New Jersey and Philadelphia at Pittsburgh [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) start at 7 p.m., followed by Columbus at Montréal (RDS/TSN2) half an hour later. Minnesota at Winnipeg continues the half-hour intervals by dropping the puck at 8 p.m., as does Anaheim at Chicago, which waits until 8:30 p.m. to close out the evening’s action. All times Eastern.

I know we just featured the Penguins Saturday, but there’s no way we can miss the season’s first iteration of the Battle of Pennsylvania.

 

To keep the story short, there’s only a few things these teams can agree on:

  1. Hockey is a good game.
  2. Pennsylvania is a good state commonwealth.
  3. Mark Recchi is a good guy.

Beyond that, there’s very little these rivals see eye-to-eye about. Of course, what should one expect from teams that have met 316 times in regular or postseason play (played to a 172-114-30 record in favor of Philadelphia, by the way).

Looking at the overall numbers, the Flyers have certainly had their way with this series. In addition to already owning the overall series by almost 60 games, they’ve also beaten Pittsburgh in four of their six playoff series, including winning three-straight from 1989-2000.

You’d think Pittsburgh having players like C Sidney Crosby and F Evgeni Malkin would have had a way of leveling the playing field for the Pens of late, but every good rivalry has a way of dulling stars’ impact. Even though the Pens swept Philadelphia 8-0-0 during Malkin’s rookie season in 2006-’07, the Flyers have amassed a slightly superior 34-27-8 regular season record against the Penguins since Crosby first donned the black-and-gold.

The difference? Two points.

That’s right, a win by the Penguins tonight at PPG Paints Arena would level the Battle for Pennsylvania series during the Crosby Era – as if 12-10-3 Pittsburgh needed more motivation than it already had sitting a point outside of the playoff picture.

When we featured the Pens’ game against the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning a couple days ago, I mentioned that one of their problems seemed to be a dry spell by Crosby. Of course, he went out and proved me wrong, as he scored two goals and tacked on another assist to lead G Tristan Jarry to his first-ever NHL victory.

But there’s still another wound to poke on this squad: defense. Pittsburgh has allowed 3.4 goals-per-game this season, which is the fourth-highest in the entire NHL.

That being said, it seems even that problem might slowly be resolving itself. The Penguins search for a backup goaltender has been well documented, with offseason signing Antti Niemi failing miserably and already playing for his third team of the year. Since Jarry has been called up, the goaltending duo of him and starter 11-7-1 G Matthew Murray has found much more consistent play, as they’ve combined for a 2.89 season GAA.

Of course, it still seems probable that General Manager Jim Rutherford will eventually pursue a trade that allows him to send Jarry back to the AHL and resume playing consistently alongside fellow prospect Casey DeSmith, but his solid play has allowed management to take its time and find a good deal instead of rush into a bad decision.

Of course, that’s a discussion for another day, because it’s likely that Murray resumes starting duties this evening.

Compared to his rookie campaign and his 13 starts in 2015-’16, he’s left much to be desired in his first season as Pittsburgh’s undisputed number one, as he’s managed only a .906 save percentage and 2.94 GAA that ranks 14th and 11th-worst, respectively, among the 34 goalies with at least 10 starts.

But Murray is not the only contributor to Pittsburgh’s defensive woes. Even though D Kris Letang leads the team with 17 takeaways and RW Ryan Reaves throws 3.1 hits-per-game, Murray has already faced 595 shots this season, the eighth-most among that group of 34 goalies.

One of the odder things going on in Pittsburgh nowadays is D Ian Cole being a healthy scratch, as he leads the team with 1.8 blocks-per-game. He hasn’t dressed for the past two games, and word on the street from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey is that he’ll watch tonight’s game from the press box.

It’s peculiar that a defenseman so committed to keeping pucks away from his netminder that he’s only managed three points this season is the one being punished. Head Coach Mike Sullivan has yet to publicly show his hand (he claims Cole needs to improve his game), but the longer this goes on, the transaction rumors will only increase.

As for the 8-9-6 Flyers, they wish they were in as enviable a position as Pittsburgh to be unhappy with only being a point outside playoff position. For the umpteenth season in a row, Philly burst out of the starting gate to only find itself six points from the bottom of the conference.

A major reason for this slide has been the Flyers’ play over the second half of November. After beating the Blackhawks 3-1 on November 9, Philadelphia has earned only an 0-3-4 record since.

While the offense hasn’t been very good over this stretch (they’ve managed only 2.14 goals-per-game), it’s been the play on the defensive end that has been the true burden, as the Flyers have allowed 25 goals against in their past seven games.

Much of the responsibility for this struggle falls on the shoulders of 6-5-5 G Brian Elliott, who has started all but one of the games in this stretch for a .909 save percentage and 2.77 GAA that is actually better than his season marks of .905 and 2.85.

Unfortunately, that nominal improvement is simply not good enough behind an offense that scores only 2.83 goals-per-game on the season. Until the other three lines behind Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek decide to play hockey, General Manager Ron Hextall can only look forward to a trip to Dallas for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft to see if he can find a skater that can actually contribute (shots fired, F Nolan Patrick).

The reason Murray can put up comparable numbers to Elliott and still win is because of the goal support he receives from RW Phil Kessel, and it’s for that reason that I believe Pittsburgh will snap its two-game losing skid to the Flyers and beat them for the first time since February 25.


Though they needed the shootout to do it, the New York Rangers were able to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 at Madison Square Garden in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Vancouver’s offense was ticking throughout this entire game, as it managed a goal in all three frames. W Loui Eriksson (C Henrik Sedin) took credit for the first period’s marker, burying a wrist shot 7:54 into the game.

The Canucks doubled their lead at the 7:21 mark of the second period courtesy of RW Jake Virtanen‘s third goal of the season, an unassisted wrister. However, this tally did not go unanswered, as Second Star of the Game RW Jesper Fast (D Nick Holden and D Brendan Smith) scored a wrister with 2:20 remaining before the second intermission to pull the Rangers back within a goal.

All the offensive action that ultimately mattered in the third period occurred in the opening 5:05 of the frame. W Michael Grabner (W Mats Zuccarello and D Kevin Shattenkirk) took his turn first, bagging a wrister only 19 seconds after emerging from the dressing room to level the game at two-all. The Rangers weren’t even for long though, as Third Star F Sam Gagner (W Thomas Vanek) returned the lead to Vancouver only 41 seconds later. First Star LW Jimmy Vesey (W Rick Nash and F Kevin Hayes) scored the final goal of regulation at the 5:05 mark, and it was an important one: Vesey’s backhanded shot tied the game at three-all and forced three-on-three overtime and, ultimately, the shootout.

As for how the shootout went down…

  1. Vanek took the opening attempt for the Canucks, but his wrister was saved by G Henrik Lundqvist.
  2. That provided Zuccarello an opportunity to earn a mini-break, but just like Vanek, his wrister was saved by G Jacob Markstrom.
  3. Vancouver’s second shooter was C Bo Horvat, but the shootout remained tied thanks to Lundqvist’s save.
  4. C Mika Zibanejad apparently grew tired of seeing all these saves, as he ensured Markstrom couldn’t get his mitts on his shot by sending it wide of the net.
  5. RW Brock Boeser finally found the first goal of the shootout for the Canucks, which forced a miss-and-lose situation for New York.
  6. Put in a pinch, Head Coach Alain Vigneault turned to Shattenkirk, who hadn’t scored a shootout goal since the 2015-’16 season. The defenseman ended that skid to continue the tiebreaker.
  7. Now in a sudden death situation, F Markus Granlund was sent out to win the game for the Canucks. Lundqvist had other ideas and was there to make the save.
  8. W Pavel Buchnevich‘s offering met the same fate: saved by Markstrom.
  9. LW Sven Baertschi started round five with a bang, as he beat Lundqvist to force New York’s second miss-and-lose situation.
  10. Cool under pressure, Nash sent the shootout on to the sixth round by beating Markstrom.
  11. Though he was able to score in regulation, Gagner couldn’t beat Lundqvist in the shootout.
  12. F J.T. Miller hasn’t scored a goal since November 2, and his luck didn’t change here. His offering was saved by Markstrom.
  13. Another skater, another save: this time, Lundqvist stopped D Ben Hutton in round seven.
  14. He was the one to force overtime, and he was the one to end the shootout: Vesey beat Markstrom to earn two points for the Blueshirts.

Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 29-of-32 shots faced (.906 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Markstrom, who saved 17-of-20 (.85).

After being on the wrong end of a two-game winning run two days ago, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a two-game winning streak of their own. That has elevated their record to 29-19-6, 10 points better than the visitors’.