Tag Archives: Ward

2018 Offseason Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

Picking second in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft are the Carolina Hurricanes, so pack your bags for the Raleigh heat! We’re heading to the Research Triangle for the Canes’ offseason preview!

With a new owner, general manager and head coach in town, the Hurricanes are certainly a difficult team to predict. Will owner Tom Dundon initiate the fire sale many have mused he might after his $420 million toy failed to live up to expectations, or will this newly-formed management team pull their heads together and realize that they truly do – at least in my opinion – have some valuable pieces that, if directed the correct way, could turn into something special?

With the 2018 NHL Entry Draft only 11 days away, something tells me we’ll have our answer sooner rather than later. For sake of argument within this piece, we’ll assume the Canes try to keep their relatively young club together and continue trying to push forward.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

With Buffalo likely drafting D Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick, new General Manager Don Waddell will have to settle for RW Andrei Svechnikov of the Barrie Colts, the consensus second-best prospect available in this year’s draft.

Fortunately for Waddell, this crop of young players is rife with talent, and Svechnikov is no exception. In 44 games played with Barrie during the 2017-18 season, the 18-year-old Russian scored a whopping 40 goals en route to a 72-point season, both of which led OHL rookies. In fact, Svechnikov’s 1.64 points per game not only led all first-year players in his league, but was also fifth-most among all players.

Svechnikov may be only the second-best player in this draft, but Carolina will be receiving a far from second-rate player.

Pending free agents

Especially given the five pending free agent forwards associated with Carolina, there’s an extremely good chance Svechnikov gets a spot on this Hurricanes roster that fell 14 points short of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

In particular, the youngster has to be licking his chops knowing 35-year-old RW Lee Stempniak has yet to sign a contract with his club of two years. Playing only 37 games to a 3-6-9 stat line, the NHL journeyman did little to convince Waddell – or any GM, for that matter – that he’s worth keeping around, especially at the $2.5 million price the Canes signed him to a couple Julys ago.

Instead, RFA F Elias Lindholm and UFA C Derek Ryan will attract much of the attention among the Canes’ free agent forwards. Should Carolina be interested in the services of either or both, it will certainly have the money to keep them around, as Waddell has a touch over $27 million to play with.

Of the two, 23-year-old Lindholm is undoubtedly the biggest target considering his 16-28-44 totals in 81 games this season. Coming off a contract that saw him earn $2.7 million, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sign a three or four-year deal worth a minimum of $3.5 million per year.

Considering he only made $725 thousand last season, RFA Phillip Di Giuseppe will likely also be retained in a bottom-six role, but his performance will need to improve unless he’d like to lose his roster spot to C Martin Necas, Carolina’s first-round pick in last year’s draft, or fellow RFA C Lucas Wallmark, the 2014 fourth-round pick who posted solid 17-38-55 totals in 45 games with the Charlotte Checkers.

Along the blue line, Carolina only has two RFAs to worry about in 21-year-old Noah Hanifin and 26-year-old Trevor van Riemsdyk, and I’m of the opinion that Waddell should do everything he can to keep them with his club. Hanifin in particular played a major role on this squad this season, as his 10 goals led Hurricanes defensemen. However, coming off a $1.775 million contract, he’ll be looking for a significant pay raise. I wouldn’t expect a contract under $4 million per year.

Amassing a career 318-244-84 record all with the Hurricanes, there’s a possibility G Cam Ward‘s 13-year tenure at PNC Arena could be coming to an end. The 34-year-old netminder posted only a .906 save percentage in his 43 appearances this season in a contract year.

Playing in Ward’s favor is the fact that Carolina does not appear to have a netminder ready to jump into the NHL from the minor leagues. Unless Waddell can pull off the Canes’ second major goaltending trade in the past two years or land a young free agent (I like the prospect of G Christopher Gibson playing behind this defense, if anybody’s wondering), Ward just might be able to hold on to his job for a year or two longer.

March 2 – Day 142 – Metropolitan grind

It’s Friday, so live it up at your local rink! No matter if you’re watching the NHL, AHL, ECHL, NCAA, juniors or any other league, any hockey on a weekend is good hockey.

Like most nights, the action begins at 7 p.m. when Montréal visits the New York Islanders (RDS/TSN2), followed half an hour later by the next pair of tilts (Buffalo at Florida [TVAS] and New Jersey at Carolina). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Detroit at Winnipeg, while another duo of matchups (Minnesota at Colorado and the New York Rangers at Calgary) waits until 9 p.m. to get underway. Finally, 10 p.m. proves to be the busiest starting time of the night, as the final three games on the day’s schedule (Nashville at Vancouver, Ottawa at Vegas [RDS2] and Columbus at Anaheim [SN360]) close out the action with a bang. All times Eastern.

After beating the Flyers last night to snap a six-game losing skid, Carolina is right back in the mix for a playoff position. Let’s see if the Canes can duplicate that success when they host division-rival Jersey.

 

Losing six games in a row is never fun, but that doesn’t matter to the 28-25-11 Hurricanes all that much now considering they are responsible for snapping Philadelphia’s six-game winning streak.

It may seem like basic analysis in the sport of hockey, but the two biggest issues facing the Canes in their past seven games has been a struggling offense paired with horrendous goaltending.

Since it’s easier to criticize goaltenders statistically, let’s start there.

10-16-7 G Scott Darling, who will likely be in net tonight since 18-9-4 G Cam Ward played in Carolina’s victory yesterday, has not been very good in the three starts he’s earned since February 15. He’s managed only an .842 save percentage and 4.01 GAA, dropping his season marks to .889 and 3.08.

Now, before you go off and start defending Darling or Ward, I would like to present you with the fact that over their past seven games, the Hurricanes’ defense have allowed only 25.71 shots against per game. That’s the best mark in the NHL since February 15 by more than a quarter of a shot.

Like I said, some rough goaltending is 100 percent responsible for Carolina allowing 3.57 goals per game over its past seven showings.

Of course, those struggles on the defensive end put even more pressure on the offense, but the attack has done little to rise to the circumstances. Even with F Teuvo Teravainen (4-1-5 totals) and RW Justin Williams (2-3-5) leading the way, the attack has managed only 1.86 goals per game over this run – the second-worst mark in the NHL in that time.

But last night, the script turned an entirely different way. In hostile territory, the Canes came away with a 4-1 victory. Williams dominated the game with two goals and three points to his credit, and Ward saved all but one of the 22 shots sent his way. The Canes will need a similar performance tonight if they want to turn yesterday’s victory into a winning streak.

Meanwhile, 33-23-8 New Jersey has posted a 6-2-0 record over its past eight showings, and it’s all because of the solid play of 15-8-2 G Keith Kinkaid – tonight’s projected starter since 17-12-6 G Cory Schneider was in net for last night’s 3-2 loss at Florida.

Taking over Schneider’s net while he was injured was not always an easy task for Kinkaid. In fact, he posted three losses in five days in early February.

However, Kinkaid has been stellar lately to win five of his last six starts, posting a solid .933 save percentage and 2.12 GAA in spite of his defense allowing 33.22 shots per game since February 13, which has been the median for the NHL since then. With that success, Kinkaid has improved his season marks to a .903 save percentage and 2.99 GAA.

Tonight’s matchup is Game 3 in a four-game regular season series between these two clubs. So far, New Jersey has had the better of the Hurricanes, as the Devils beat them 5-2 on February 15 (C Nico Hischier earned First Star honors with his three-point effort), followed only three days later by a 3-2 overtime victory at PNC Arena (F Taylor Hall provided the game-winner with 23 seconds remaining in overtime).

Of the two teams involved, Carolina undoubtedly has the most to gain currently. Should the Hurricanes earn a win in any way but the shootout and the Blue Jackets lose to Anaheim in regulation, Carolina would advance into the second wild card.

That’s not to say the Devils can’t improve tonight, though. Due to losing a regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker to Pittsburgh, New Jersey can only pull into a tie for third place in the Metropolitan Division with two points tonight, but applying any pressure to the Penguins has to have a positive result for Jersey.

With both clubs playing last night but bucking their recent trends, it’s hard to guess how this evening’s game will go. Though the game is taking place in Raleigh, I think the Devils have a good shot at earning two points this evening since Kinkaid will be back in net.


After allowing two scores in the first period, the Los Angeles Kings responded with five unanswered goals to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 at Staples Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

RW Cam Atkinson (LW Artemi Panarin) wasted no time in getting the Jackets on the scoreboard in this one, as he scored his wrist shot only 3:41 into the game. That marker was followed 9:52 later by D Seth Jones (W Matt Calvert and D Zach Werenski) doubling Columbus’ advantage with a snap shot.

After receiving what I’m sure was a serious tongue-lashing by Head Coach John Stevens, Los Angeles took control of the game in the second period starting with Second Star of the Game F Nate Thompson‘s (First Star D Christian Folin and D Dion Phaneuf) fifth goal of the season, a snapper at the 2:48 mark. 2:23 later, Third Star F Alex Iafallo (Folin and D Jake Muzzin) tied the game on a tip-in.

The final goal of the third period belonged to LW Tanner Pearson (D Drew Doughty and F Tyler Toffoli), and it proved to be an important one. With Panarin in the penalty box for hooking the eventual goalscorer, Pearson turned from goalie screen into shot re-director when he tipped Doughty’s wrister from the blue line past G Joonas Korpisalo‘s right skate and into the back of the net with exactly one minute remaining on the penalty and 3:27 remaining in the frame.

With only a one-goal advantage in the second intermission, the Kings continued to apply pressure in the third period. F Jeff Carter (Folin) scored a shorthanded backhanded shot 8:22 into the frame to set the score at 4-2, followed 8:21 later by Iafallo’s second goal of the night to set the 5-2 final score.

G Jonathan Quick earned the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage), leaving the loss to Korpisalo, who saved 29-of-34 (.853).

For the second-straight day, the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series earned a 5-2 victory. As such, the 76-47-19 hosts now have a 22-point advantage on the roadies in the series.

February 15 – Day 127 – Dust devils

Buckle up for a Thursday full of hockey! Between the NHL and the Olympics, there’s a total of 15 games going down today!

With the playoff bracket set for the women’s Olympic tournament, it’s all about the men’s action in PyeongChang today. Opening up our day’s action at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time are two Group A games: the Czech Republic vs. South Korea and Switzerland vs. Canada.

Back home in North America, the NHL is enjoying another busy Thursday. As usual, the action begins at 7 p.m. with a trio of tilts (Carolina at New Jersey, the New York Rangers at the New York Islanders and Los Angeles at Pittsburgh [TVAS/SN1]), followed half an hour later by two more (Buffalo at Ottawa [RDS2] and Detroit at Tampa Bay). A pair of games drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Calgary at Nashville and Washington at Minnesota), while Anaheim at Chicago waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Next up is Montréal at Arizona (RDS) at 9 p.m., trailed an hour later by Edmonton at Vegas (SN1) and Vancouver at San Jose at 10:30 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Returning our attention to South Korea, the American men are taking on Slovakia at 10:10 p.m., followed by the OAR against Slovenia at 2:40 a.m. Friday morning – both in Group B play. All times Eastern.

As usual, it’s a stellar slate of hockey games. Beyond the Olympic group play, two NHL rivalries drew my attention when the schedule was released this summer.

  • New York at New York: Earlier in the season, the Battle of New York looked like it was going to be a big deal. Maybe next year.
  • Buffalo at Ottawa: The same was said in the preseason about this rivalry featuring a team that had qualified for the Eastern Finals and another that looked to be improving. Maybe next year.

However, don’t read too much into that and think no important games are going on in the NHL tonight. As for the most important, look no further than the fixture atop the league’s schedule.

 

27-21-9 Carolina enters tonight’s game riding a three-game winning streak and four-game point streak that has propelled it into the second wildcard. However, that winning streak comes with a slight asterisk: those wins came against Vancouver, Colorado and Los Angeles – three teams not currently in playoff position.

That being said, the Hurricanes didn’t make their own schedule, they just have to play teams as they come up. And play them they have, as the Canes have been the stingiest team in the NHL since February 6, allowing only 1.75 goals against per game in that time.

As might be expected, 17-7-3 G Cam Ward has been a major part of that success, as he’s been in net for three of Carolina’s last four games. In those three starts, he’s posted an impressive .933 save percentage and 1.95 GAA to improve his season numbers to .912 and 2.6.

With the Islanders heading to Raleigh to square off against the Hurricanes tomorrow, it remains to be seen if Ward will be in net tonight or if he’ll go tomorrow. Personally, I’m pegging 10-14-6 G Scott Darling to draw the start tonight given the potency of New York’s attack. Though he only has an .894 save percentage and 2.99 GAA on the season, he will have the benefit of a stellar defense playing in front of him whichever night he’s in net.

One of the Hurricanes’ most exciting defensemen of late has been D Haydn Fleury, the 21-year-old flying all over the ice causing havoc. Though he has only played in Carolina’s last two games, he leads the team in hits-per-game (3.5) and blocks-per-game since (2.5) February 6. C Victor Rask has also been impressive during this four-game streak, as he leads the team with nine takeaways in that time.

Between the efforts of Fleury, Rask and the entire Carolina defense, the Hurricanes have allowed an average of only 28 shots against per game, the sixth-best in the NHL since February 6.

The last time we featured the Devils was also their last showing. Tuesday’s 5-4 come-from-behind shootout victory in Philadelphia snapped Jersey’s four-game losing skid that featured it losing to the likes of Ottawa and Columbus – two teams on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.

The only reason New Jersey was able to stop the bleeding is because its offense was able to keep up with the Flyers, but that’s not to say the Devils are scoring with the best of teams right now. Since February 6, Jersey has averaged only 2.6 goals per game – the (t)seventh-fewest in the NHL in that time.

Of course, if there’s one thing a struggling offense doesn’t mix well with, it’s a porous defensive end. Between a defense that has allowed a (t)12th-worst 33.8 shots against per game over its last five games or 11-7-2 G Keith Kinkaid not being 17-11-6 G Cory Schneider, the Devils are having to pay their scoreboard operator overtime lately considering they’re allowing a second-worst 4.6 goals against per game since February 6.

With no game tomorrow and Schneider likely not ready to make his return tonight, Kinkaid is all but certain to be in net this evening. As stated Tuesday, he’s struggled mightily since assuming starting duties while Schneider is recovering from his groin injury, posting a save percentage (.869) and GAA (4.8) in his last four starts that is well below his season marks of a .891 save percentage and 3.31 GAA.

Even though we’re two weeks past the All-Star Break, the NHL’s officially unofficial midway point of the season, this is surprisingly the first meeting of the season between the Canes and Devils. However, just as soon as the four-game season series gets started, it’ll be finished: these clubs will tangle for the second time only three days from now in Raleigh, followed by another game at PNC Arena on March 2 and their final meeting of the season on March 27.

Though the Devils were able to find the win column Tuesday, it’s hard to imagine an evening where they’re able to beat another surging team. I think the Canes are more than capable of earning two points in the standings today, and doing it in regulation would earn them a promotion into the East’s top wild card.


With a 2-1 victory against Team USA in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Kwandong Hockey Centre, the Canadian women swept Group A play to earn the top seed in the Olympic knockout tournament.

The best scoring opportunity of the first period belonged to Team Canada with 3:15 remaining in the frame. In fact, the opportunity was so good, the puck actually found the back of G Maddie Rooney’s net. However, the play had been ruled dead before the Canadian would-be scorer even struck her shot due to the international rule that restricts all activity by the opposition in a goaltender’s crease, leaving the score tied a 0-0.

F Meghan Agosta (F Natalie Spooner and F Brianne Jenner) broke the scoreless draw at the 7:18 mark of the second period. With D Megan Keller in the penalty box, that left the slot unprotected following a backward centering pass from Spooner from the goal line. Agosta took advantage to flip a wrist shot past Rooney.

Even though the play appeared to be offside, F Sarah Nurse (D Jocelyne Larocque) doubled Canada’s advantage with 5:04 remaining in the period by flinging a wrister from along the left boards over Rooney’s right shoulder. Team USA had an opportunity to pull back within a goal with 3:52 remaining in the frame with a penalty shot, but F Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s backhander was blocked by G Genevieve Lacasse.

Only 23 seconds into the third period, Team USA finally found its first goal of the game when F Kendall Coyne (F Brianna Decker) split two Canadian defensewomen to beat Lacasse five-hole.

Canada thought it had reclaimed a two-goal advantage with 9:08 remaining in regulation, but Haley Irwin used her skate instead of her stick to beat Rooney. The goal was taken off the board, returning the score to 2-1.

That revoked tally didn’t ultimately prove to matter, as the Americans could not find it in them to level the game in the remaining time.

Lacasse earned the victory after saving 44-of-45 shots faced (.978 save percentage), leaving the loss to Rooney, who saved 21-of-23 (.913).

With Canada technically being listed as the home team in yesterday’s game, its victory snapped a three-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the 69-41-17 hosts now have a 24-point advantage over the visitors.

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)

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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)

New Jersey Devils Logo

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)

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 11 – Day 96 – Seeing red

Usually Thursdays are among the busiest days of the week, but this particular edition doesn’t quite fit the bill with only three East Coast games to offer.

Like it usually does, the action begins at 7 p.m. with a pair of contests (Columbus at Buffalo [SN] and Carolina at Washington [NHLN]), but the nightcap – Calgary at Tampa Bay (TVAS) – gets an early start at 7:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

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

Fortunately, all three tilts are being broadcast nationally so no one gets left out on tonight’s fun. However, it is citizens of the United States that are truly the lucky ones, because they get tonight’s best matchup.

 

Hidden within this tilt between Southeast-turned-Metropolitan Division rivals is the homecoming of Mr. Game 7 to Washington for the first time since returning to Raleigh this offseason.

RW Justin Williams played the last two seasons before this one with W Alex Ovechkin and company. Following a successful seven seasons in Los Angeles that earned him his second and third Stanley Cup rings (not to mention the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy), the Kings left him unsigned and he joined the Caps on a two-year, $6.5 million contract.

Beyond the simple offensive prowess he had shown throughout his NHL tenure (he’d averaged .63 points per game for his career leading up to the 2015-’16 season), Williams was brought into the Washington fold to bring the very thing it had missed in seasons past: the clutch factor. The ability to take the ice in a Game 7 knowing they had the experience and scoring touch to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998.

Williams brought exactly what the Capitals expected as far as his scoring was concerned. Having scored .63 points per game for the first 14 seasons of his career, Williams managed a .62 in two seasons with the Caps to post 46-54-100 totals during his tenure.

However, Mr. Game 7 apparently didn’t travel from the West to East Coast, because he managed only 2-1-3 totals in five elimination games with Washington. In fact, even though the Capitals clawed their way back into last year’s Eastern Semifinal against Pittsburgh from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7, all Williams can claim for his last three postseason games are six shots on goal. No goals, no assists. Heck, he even has a goal-differential of zero.

While I’m sure the Caps’ dire cap situation is the primary reason he swapped out red sweaters this offseason, Williams not delivering in the postseason like he was expected to must have factored into the decision to not resign him at least a little bit.

Regardless of the reason, Williams was presented with the opportunity to resign with the Hurricanes, the club with which he won his first Stanley Cup in 2006, on a two-year, $9 million contract. He pounced on the opportunity immediately.

So far, Williams has continued his stellar offensive production. With 7-19-26 totals alongside LW Brock McGinn and C Victor Rask on the Canes’ third line, he’s posting his .62 points-per-game while while also providing a guiding hand for a team with an average age of 26.4-years-old – 1.3 years younger than the league average according to hockeyreference.com.

That guiding hand is apparently working, because Carolina has a 19-15-8 record that is only one point behind Pittsburgh for the second wildcard spot.

We already talked on Tuesday about the impressive surge the Canes have been on lately, earning 17 points over their past 13 games with an 8-4-1 record. However, the next step for this Carolina team is to start beating some of the best teams in the league with a little bit more consistency.

The last six games the Hurricanes have played have been against teams currently in playoff position. In those contests, they’ve managed only a 2-3-1 record, and it’s due in large part to the defense meeting their match against some of the best offenses the game has to offer.

Usually, Carolina is one of the soundest defenses in the NHL. On the season, F Jeff Skinner (42 takeaways), D Jaccob Slavin (2.1 blocks-per-game) and F Jordan Staal (2.4 hits-per-game) have led the Canes to allowing only 29.1 shots against per game, the fewest in the league by half a shot.

Statistically, that defense is still unmatched. Over its past six games, Carolina has allowed only 28 shots per game, the fewest in the league since December 29. However, 11-4-2 G Cam Ward‘s numbers are plummeting from his season marks of a .907 save percentage and 2.78 GAA. How can it be that he’s managed only an .883 save percentage and 3.18 GAA in his past five starts?

Answer: solid offenses.

It is worth mentioning who these current playoff teams are Carolina has played lately: Pittsburgh (2-1 win), at St. Louis (3-2 loss), Washington (5-4 overtime loss), at Pittsburgh (4-0 win), at Boston (7-1 loss) and at Tampa Bay (5-4 loss).

Of these offenses, three are in the top-10 in goals-per-game, and for good reason: they have some of the best scorers in the league. In short, players on these teams (think RW Nikita Kucherov and Ovechkin, just to name a couple) don’t need much room to find the back of the net.

That would put the onus on Ward to perform better against these top teams to keep games close, as well as the offense to find a way to break through these clubs’ defenses with a little bit more success. However, with Carolina and Washington playing a home-and-home series tonight and tomorrow, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of 8-11-6 G Scott Darling for this evening’s matchup.

Darling hasn’t exactly been all the Canes had hoped he’d be when they acquired him this offseason, but he’ll get another opportunity tonight against the Metropolitan Division-leading 27-13-3 Capitals. Washington is rolling right now, as they’ve won five-straight and earned points in 11 of their past 12 games with a 9-1-2 record.

Just like Carolina, Washington is finding much of its success on the defensive end with solid play from RW Alex Chiasson, 24-8-0 G Braden Holtby, D Dmitry Orlov, D Brooks Orpik and RW Tom Wilson, but we tackled that conversation Sunday.

Instead, let’s talk offense.

We’ve already mentioned Ovechkin and the stellar season he’s having. Posting 27-19-46 points (a goal total that ties Kucherov for most in the NHL), he’s well on his way to having his best season since the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 campaign where he registered 56 points in 48 games.

He’s certainly been the hero during this impressive run the Caps have been on since December 12, but he’s also received tremendous support from D John Carlson and C Nicklas Backstrom, who’ve earned respective 3-9-12 and 4-7-11 marks over their past dozen games.

This offensive explosion has been happening all season for Carlson, who must have gleaned a thing or two from D Kevin Shattenkirk‘s short stay in the capital. He’s already posted 5-29-34 totals for the season in his first 43 games played, and if he continues on his pace, he may very well have a season even better than his 12-43-55 career year in 2014-’15.

Tonight marks Game 2 of four between these clubs for the 2017-’18 regular season. The Capitals made the trip down I-95 on January 2. Even though Rask managed to post a two-goal night, Ovechkin was able to match him and score the most important tally of the game: the overtime game winner. Washington won the contest 5-4.

With Darling in net on the road in a usually hostile environment, I have a hard time of seeing the Canes pulling out the victory tonight. However, they will have more than their fair shot at evening the weekend series tomorrow when theses teams square off once again in Raleigh.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Minnesota Wild snapped their four-game road losing skid by beating the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 at United Center.

Making it all the sweeter, the victory was of the come-from-behind variety, as Third Star of the Game D Brent Seabrook (D Michal Kempny and C Nick Schmaltz) – coming off his first-ever healthy scratch when Chicago played in Ottawa the day before – scored a wrist shot with 7:36 remaining in the first frame to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.

It took until the 9:58 mark of the second period for Minnesota to level the game. D Jonas Brodin (W Jason Zucker and D Mathew Dumba) was the guilty party, scoring a slap shot from the blue line for only his fourth tally of the season.

As for the game-winner, it was fired off First Star D Ryan Suter‘s (C Mikko Koivu and F Mikael Granlund) stick 3:03 into the third period during four-on-four play. Not usually known for his scoring touch (this was only his sixth goal of the year), Suter received a cross-ice pass from Koivu above the right face-off circle that he turned into a powerful top-shelf wrister that squeezed between G Anton Forsberg‘s left ear and shoulder – an area that is almost impossible to defend.

Another major player in the Wild’s victory was Second Star G Devan Dubnyk, who saved 34-of-35 shots faced (.971 save percentage) to earn the victory. That left Forsberg with the loss after he saved 25-of-27 (.926).

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are showing life lately, as they’ve earned points in three of the last four contests. However, the series is still dominated by the 54-30-12 home teams, as they still have a 24-point advantage.

January 9 – Day 94 – It was a dark and Stormy night

With only one game on the schedule, yesterday was kind of boring. Darn you college football!

Fortunately for us, every day for the remainder of the regular season – barring the All-Star Break – has at least two games on tap, and today has way more. as it usually does, the action starts at 7 p.m. with a pair of games (Winnipeg at Buffalo and Vancouver at Washington), followed half an hour later by two more (Chicago at Ottawa [RDS] and Carolina at Tampa Bay). To clean up the evening’s festivities, the three remaining tilts (Florida at St. Louis, Edmonton at Nashville [NBCSN/SN1/TVAS] and Calgary at Minnesota) drop the puck at 8 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Vegas.

None of these games really excite me all that much, but the one that should prove to be the best of the bunch will be taking place in Central Florida this evening.

 

We all know the 30-9-3 Lightning are good. After all, they have a three-point lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and an eight-point advantage on Washington for the Eastern Conference lead.

But they’ve been even better lately. Tampa has posted a 6-3-1 record over its last 10 games, and earned points in all but one of its five-game road trip (darn those pesky Senators) that it just completed Sunday.

What’s it take to win like that on the road these days in the NHL? Apparently stellar offense, because that’s exactly how the Bolts pulled it off. Over their past five games, the Lightning have scored an impressive 16 goals. That’s the (t)seventh-most in the league since December 31.

I know what you’re thinking: “Duh the Lightning won on their offense. I mean, they average a league-best 3.64 goals per game.”

I have two notes on that:

  1. Good for you for knowing exactly how potent Tampa Bay’s attack is.
  2. The leader of the offense over this run is not who you think it is, and you probably wouldn’t pick him if I gave you five guesses.

Over their last five games, no one has been a more dominant force for the Lightning than F Yanni Gourde. Yes, Tampa’s favorite third-liner has been thunderstruck of late, as he’s posted 3-3-6 totals during the road trip to elevate his season numbers to 14-16-30.

Of course, Gourde didn’t take the weekly scoring title from a lack of effort by anyone else. Usual suspect RW Nikita Kucherov, who has league-leading 27 goals and 59 points to his credit on the year, performed just as he typically does, posting 3-2-5 totals to average a point-per-game over the past 10 days.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have 26-6-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. The second-year starter has been nothing short of phenomenal, as he tops the chart in almost every statistical category. His six shutouts (two of which occurred on the recent road trip) and 26 wins are both the best marks in the league, and his .935 season save percentage and 2.04 GAA put him in third place in those respective statistics. Pairing his stellar work with an unstoppable offense has yielded three (D Victor Hedman, F Brayden Point and D Anton Stralman) Bolts with top-10 +/- ratings, a total that is matched only by the Bruins.

And to think, we had that whole discussion without mentioning two-time Richard Trophy-winner C Steven Stamkos. If that’s not an indicator of how good this Tampa Bay team is, I don’t know what is.

Suffice to say, 19-14-8 Carolina has a tough task on its hands to climb back in front of the Penguins for the second wild card tonight (they can do it with any result except a regulation loss). However, don’t count these Canes out: they’ve posted an 8-3-1 record since December 12 on the back of a solid defense.

Let’s play that game where I know what you’re thinking again. I bet you’re looking at me like, “Good defense? Don’t the Canes allow three goals per game?”

Man, you are so good at statistics. You should write a daily hockey blog.

Yes, it’s true: Carolina’s season numbers aren’t all that impressive. Averaging three goals against per game puts the Canes among the 12 worst on the year. However, what’s hidden within goals-per-game is responsibility. Who’s been bad: the defense or the goaltender?

Answer: goaltender.

On the season, Carolina has allowed only 29 shots against per game, easily the best in the league. F Jeff Skinner (40 takeaways), D Jaccob Slavin (2.1 blocks per game) and F Jordan Staal (2.39 hits-per-game) have performed phenomenally through their first 41 games to achieve that impressive mark. However, 8-11-6 G Scott Darling proved that he is not ready to assume a starting role, having posted a .893 save percentage for a 2.97 GAA after Carolina traded a third-round pick to Chicago for him to assume that position this offseason, wasting that solid effort.

Enter 11-3-2 G Cam Ward, the Conn Smythe winner during Carolina’s 2006 Stanley Cup run a dozen years ago. Since reclaiming his starting role once again, all the Hurricanes have done is win (well, almost). With that still solid defense playing in front of him, he’s posted a 7-1-1 record since December 12 with a .917 save percentage and 2.18 GAA that, while nothing to write home about, is enough for W Sebastian Aho‘s (team-leading 13-20-33 totals) offense to get the job done.

These teams have already squared off once before, but it is not a memory Carolina remembers fondly. On October 24, the Lightning wandered into PNC Arena and smacked the young Hurricanes around more than a little bit, beating them 5-1 in the midst of a four-game winning streak. Vasilevskiy saved 31-of-32 (.969 save percentage) and F Tyler Johnson paced the offense with his 1-1-2 night. Slavin scored the only goal for the hosts.

For those wondering: yes, Darling was in net that night.

With Ward in action, it seems anything is possible for the Canes right now. However, it’s hard to pick against the league’s best when they’re at home, so I have to pick the Bolts to win this one. Perhaps Carolina can find a way to force overtime so they can get back inside the playoff bubble.


Facing a 2-0 defect going into the third period, the Columbus Blue Jackets staged an impressive late comeback to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Air Canada Centre.

Though a 2-0 advantage through 40 minutes of play might indicate the Leafs had the game in hand, that was not the case. Columbus actually out-shot Toronto 25-22 in the first and second periods, but it was the Maple Leafs who had the lead. They finally broke through Second Star of the Game G Sergei Bobrovsky with 8:51 remaining in the second period courtesy of a tip-in from Third Star LW James van Riemsdyk (D Roman Polak and C Tyler Bozak), followed 4:53 later by F William Nylander (D Jake Gardiner) bagging a power play snap shot.

Knowing the Blue Jackets would come out of the second intermission with goals on the mind, Toronto’s defense performed phenomenally to allow only four third period shots. The Leafs’ offense did their part too, keeping the puck in Bobrovsky’s end and making him stop 13 shots.

However, they couldn’t hold off the Jackets forever. F Nick Foligno (F Jordan Schroeder and D Markus Nutivaara) finally got Columbus on the board with a tip-in, leaving his squad 4:35 to find a leveling goal. F Pierre-Luc Dubois (D Seth Jones) found that leveling tally with 2:47 remaining in regulation, beating G Frederik Andersen with a wrist shot.

Since neither defense allowed another shot on goal, the game advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period. With 1:49 remaining of those five minutes, First Star LW Artemi Panarin (D Zach Werenski and Jones) had had enough and ended the game with a tip-in.

Panarin entered the zone along the left boards, but because Gardiner was covering him, he slid a pass across the zone to Werenski. The uncovered defenseman immediately drove towards the net until he was on Andersen’s front porch, forcing the netminder advance towards him to defend any possible shot. However, that left a gap between Andersen’s left skate and his goal post that doubled as the passing lane Werenski used to get the puck back to Panarin, setting up a wide open shot that was impossible to miss.

Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 35-of-37 shots faced (.946 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Andersen, who saved 30-of-33 (.909).

Though the road team won this one, the DtFR Game of the Day series is still dominated by home teams. The hosts have a 53-29-12 record that is 24 points superior to the visitors’.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 10

The prodigal son has returned, and it is time, once again, for me to assault your reading receptacles with my meaningless awards and incessant ramblings. Thanks to Cap’n for stepping in for me while I was off going to random ECHL games and concerts.

A special note: I’ve dropped the ‘Team of the Week’ section of these articles in favor of a new bit of weekly content that will be debuting here shortly. It will be replaced by a split of the ‘Player of the Week’ section, now giving one award to a skater, and one to a goaltender.

Skater of the Week: Josh Bailey

Heyyyyyyyyyy, HEYYY BAI-LEY, ooh…ahh, I wanna KNOWWWWOhhohhohh-Ohhoh, if you’ll score my goals…and assists…

Anyway, in the season’s first repeat performance, Josh Bailey again earns the nod for being the only Islander better at being underappreciated league-wide than John Tavares. The New York centerman is on a five-game point streak, four of those taking place this week. In those four games, he has four goals and four assists, including a hat trick in a losing effort to the Columbus Blue Jackets (the first time in franchise history the CBJ allowed a hat trick and won the game, a stellar 1-32-1 record for my boys in blue), and has a scarcely-believable 40 points in just 33 games this season. For reference, Bailey has previously topped the 40-point plateau only twice in a full season in his entire career. 28 years old seems a bit late for a coming-out party, but Isles fans are hardly going to complain about finally giving JT some depth scoring support.

Tendy of the Week: Brian Elliott

Possibly the only thing hotter than the Philadelphia Flyers of late is their own goaltender. Riding a six-game winning streak overall, including a perfect three-win performance this week, Ells has drastically altered the fortunes of the once-floundering Flyers, and has the Philly Phaithful at least starting to bother watching anything but Eagles games.

Starting off the week with 20 saves on 22 shots to down the Leafs, Elliott followed that up with single-goal games against Buffalo and Dallas to carry a superb .943 save percentage and 1.31 GAA through the week. The Flyers are still a few games back from the current Wild Card teams, but they hold games in hand on a good portion of the conference, and are much closer than any team that at one point lost 10 consecutive games should realistically be.

Game of the Week: Pittsburgh Penguins 1 @ Vegas Golden Knights 2, Thursday December 14th, 2017

I’m not even going to bother with the advanced stats, or play-by-play, or whatever else you think pertains to being the game of the week. This game was basically from a movie script. Recently-returned Marc-Andre Fleury facing the only team he had ever known prior to this season, he gets a hug from opposing goaltender Matthew Murray, who’s reasoning was simply “I missed the guy!”, and if you don’t love that you have no friends.

Four total former Penguins have found refuge with the upstart Knights, who continue to crush every single expert’s opinion about what an expansion team is capable of and are slowly shedding their ‘Island of Misfit Toys’ appearance in favor of being a legitimate contender.

Fleury stops 24 of 25, two of the three other former Pens tally points, and the franchise that didn’t exist last year beats the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs. Somebody call Disney.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Longtime Senator Chris Neil decided to hang up the skates this week, after a career spanning 15 seasons and over 1,000 games. One of the last of the ‘enforcer’ breed remaining, Neil was always known as one of the most complete players to wear the tough guy label, and was a highly-respected player both within his own locker room and throughout the league. All the best to Chris in his future endeavors.

In other Senators news, owner Eugene Melnyk said this week that while he has no aspirations of selling his team, he would consider relocating the franchise. While I’d imagine this resulted in numerous flaming bags of feces being placed upon his doorstep by Ottawa residents, I’m sure Quebec City natives happily sacrificed their shoes for their new hero.

Devan Dubnyk went down with a lower-body injury this week and is considered ‘week-to-week’, and if you open your window and listen very carefully, you can hear the screams of Wild fans from hundreds of miles away. (Note: If you’re in the Eastern Time Zone and north of the Ohio-Michigan border, these screams do mix in with the screams of Nordiques fans trying to remove their flaming pants.)

Oh, also in Ottawa news, holy frigg did that NHL 100 Classic look cold. I mean, I know with it being Ontario there were probably shirtless locals in attendance, but I was more than happy to watch from home.

Seattle looks poised to be the next expansion city, which is great, but I’m only going to really get on board if they decide to go with popular opinion and name the team the Seattle McSeattle Faces.

Kari Lehtonen joined a fairly exclusive club this week, as one of just 33 goaltenders to earn 300 wins in an NHL career. All the props in the world to him, because as someone who has spent his entire career with mostly-lackluster teams (I mean, he played for the Thrashers), it’s one hell of an accomplishment. Kari also surpassed Miikka Kiprusoff for most games played by Finnish goaltenders in the same contest, and trails only Kipper in wins by Finns. But with Preds stud Pekka Rinne at 285 career wins, the race to catch that record could be interesting. Cam Ward also reached 300 wins this week, but only managed to hold on to the distinction of ‘Most Unlikely 300-win Goalie’ for about 24 hours before Lehtonen would steal the distinction.

November 13 – Day 41 – Lookin’ for the Promised Land

Everybody makes a big deal about Fridays that are the 13th day of a month. Since Monday is everybody’s most-dreaded day of the week, shouldn’t Monday the 13th be the unluckiest day of the year?

Think about it and get back to me.

With two games on tonight’s schedule, there’s four teams hoping I’m wrong in my assessment. The first of those – Dallas at Carolina (TVAS) – is scheduled for 7 p.m., followed by St. Louis at Calgary two hours later. All times Eastern.

We could feature a game between two teams that are already in decent position in the league table, but I’m actually more interested in the Stars-Hurricanes game if for no other reason than to say we’ve finally featured Carolina in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

 

It’s time for me to back up the heaps of praise I poured on the Hurricanes this offseason.

As ridiculous as it sounds, the real reason for my confidence in Raleigh’s 2017-’18 team goes way back to the 2015-’16 season. In March of that year, the Canes went on a quietly solid 6-2-6 run that actually ranked 10th-best in the league. Whether by F Jordan Staal‘s gritty physical play (he averaged 2.4 hits-per-game that month) or D Jaccob Slavin‘s 1.8 blocks-per-game in March, that squad played solid team defense to keep shots off G Cam Ward and earn points in six-straight games.

The Canes pulled within four points of the then-second wild card Bruins (Philadelphia eventually qualified as the eighth seed), but that momentum died and they could not improve from 10th-place in the Eastern Conference. While surely disappointing at the time, the young Hurricanes showed promise for the future.

If that comeback story sounds familiar, it’s because the Hurricanes did almost the exact same thing last year. During March of the 2016-’17 campaign, Carolina was even better than it was the previous campaign, going an incredible 10-2-5 to lay claim to the best record of the month.

What makes this surge different than the one the year before is that it was absolutely driven by the offense. The Canes scored 54 goals in the month of March, six more than both Chicago and Pittsburgh (for those wondering, doing anything offensively better than the Blackhawks or Penguins – much less both – is a very good sign). F Jeff Skinner was the primary impetus behind that attack, as he registered 12-5-17 totals – and not a one of them occurred on the power play.

Once again, the playoffs were not in the cards for Carolina. Even though they climbed into 10th-place in the Eastern Conference and trailed – who would have guessed it – the Bruins by only four points for the second wild card, the Hurricanes could not find any success in April and ended the 2016-’17 season the same way they have since 2009-’10: watching the first round on TV.

The optimism remained as strong as ever though. This still young team has now performed brilliantly in crunch time of the NHL season two years in a row, showcasing both ends of the ice. Add in the fact that Skinner, Slavin, Staal and even Ward  are all still members of this year’s club (Ward and RW Justin Williams are the only two Canes still remaining on the team from their 2006 Stanley Cup season), and Carolina seemed poised to take the next step as a franchise and return to the postseason.

That’s what inspired General Manager Ron Francis to acquire talents like G Scott Darling, D Trevor van Riemsdyk and Williams this offseason. Surely adding these solid players – who between them have five Stanley Cup rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy – would lead Carolina to the Promised Land!

As it turns out, the 6-5-4 Hurricanes have done just what they’ve done in previous seasons: get off to a slow start that necessitates those late-season pushes. For a season of excitement, 13th-place in the Eastern Conference was not exactly in the Canes’ plan.

It certainly has not been a lack of effort on the defensive end that has held Carolina back. Staal (2.3 hits-per-game) and Slavin (2.3 blocks-per-game) are still as busy as ever, and have led the Hurricanes to allowing only 29.2 shots against-per-game, the best effort in the conference and third-best in the NHL.

Instead, it’s Head Coach Bill Peters’ offense that is holding the Hurricanes back from glory. Even with Williams (2-11-13 totals) and Skinner (8-2-10) leading the way, Carolina has managed only 2.67 goals-per-game, the ninth-fewest in the league.

That all being said, perhaps the Canes are starting to turn a corner. After a rough October, Carolina is 2-1-2 in the month of November and has earned points in its last four games, including a 3-1 victory in Columbus Friday and a 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks Saturday. LW Brock McGinn in particular has been on fire during this run, as he’s supplied four of the Canes’ 10 goals since November 4 from the third line.

Another team looking to make a return to the playoffs this season is the 9-7-0 Stars, and they’re off to a much better start in achieving their goal considering they occupy seventh in the Western Conference after 16 games played.

I know I say it every time we talk about Dallas, but it still feels so weird to think about: the Stars are winning on the efforts of their defense.

*shivers*

Told you it’s weird.

The Stars have allowed only 28.8 shots to reach 7-4-0 G Ben Bishop, which is tied for the fewest in the entire league. Though his play has not indicated it’s necessary, keeping a solid netminder with a .914 season save percentage under-worked sounds like an excellent way to earn two points most nights you strap on the skates.

Whether it’s been the work of fourth-liner RW Brett Ritchie and his 2.6 hits-per-game or D John Klingberg‘s 1.8 blocks-per-game, that work in the defensive zone may prove important tonight. After the completion of tonight’s game, the Stars board a plane for Sunrise, Fla. (ok, they’re probably going to fly into Miami) for a Tuesday night tilt with the Panthers.

What that means for tonight’s game is Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has to choose which game to start backup G Kari Lehtonen, who has a 2-3-0 record on a .914 save percentage and 2.4 GAA. Considering the Panthers’ offense scores a solid 3.31 goals-per-game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lehtonen take on the Canes tonight, especially since he beat Carolina in both meetings last season.

With two teams playing some of the best defense around, this game is going to boil down to who has the better offense. Since that is the case, I’m going to bet on forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin every time. Dallas should win tonight.


With two goals in the third period, the San Jose Sharks pulled off the 2-1 comeback victory against the Los Angeles Kings in the Staples Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

If not for D Tim Heed‘s hooking penalty against F Tyler Toffoli at the 7:49 mark of the first period, perhaps the Kings never would have found their lone goal. Instead, W Dustin Brown (C Anze Kopitar and D Drew Doughty) took advantage of the man-advantage only 41 seconds later to give Los Angeles a lead it would hold for nearly 40 minutes.

Though the Sharks fired 19 shots at Second Star G Jonathan Quick through the first two periods, they didn’t find their first goal of the game until the 5:42 mark of the third period. F Melker Karlsson (F Tomas Hertl and F Logan Couture) took credit for breaking through Quick’s defenses with a wrist shot to level the game at one-all.

With 7:10 remaining in regulation, fourth-liner RW Joel Ward (F Barclay Goodrow and D Joakim Ryan) scored the third-and-final goal of the night with his left skate. Caught in the corner by Doughty and F Brooks Laich, Ward shoved a pass up the far boards to Ryan at the point that he returned back down the boards to Goodrow, who was near the left face-off circle. The forward than tried to snap a pass to W Timo Meier on the opposite side of Quick’s crease, but it was intercepted by Ward’s skate and redirected right into the net.

First Star G Martin Jones earned the victory after saving 26-of-27 shots faced (.963 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 31-of-33 (.939).

The Sharks’ road win is a big one in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as it pulls the 21-17-3 road teams even with the 20-16-5 hosts.

Carolina Hurricanes 2017-’18 Season Preview

Carolina Hurricanes

36-31-15, 87 points, seventh in the Metropolitan Division

Additions: G Scott Darling, C Josh Jooris, C Marcus Kruger, D Trevor van Riemsdyk, RW Justin Williams

Subtractions: G Eddie Lack (traded to CGY), G Michael Leighton (signed with TBL), D Ryan Murphy (traded to CGY), F Andrej Nestrasil (signed with HC Neftekhimik), D Matt Tennyson (signed with BUF)

Offseason Analysis: I’ve been high on the Hurricanes all offseason, but now is the time to put everything in writing.

I’m beyond excited, but let’s simply tackle the transactions to get started.

In the crease, Carolina made arguably its biggest move by bringing in Darling from Chicago to replace Lack, who was eventually traded to Calgary. For the Canes last year, Cam Ward’s 29-year old backup started 18 games for an 8-7-3 record with a .902 season save percentage and a 2.64 GAA. Meanwhile, 28-year-old Darling started 27 contests in Corey Crawford’s place for an 18-5-5 with a .924 save percentage and 2.38 GAA.

Given that Darling is certainly the goaltender of the future – and maybe even the present, taking into account 33-year-old Ward’s decline over the past two seasons – Carolina definitely improved in net.

The Hurricanes also made a major move on defense, as they allowed Tennyson to sign with Buffalo to make room for van Riemsdyk. At 27-years-old, Tennyson notched only six assists last season for a -13 rating over 45 games. Meanwhile, the former Blackhawk (noticing a trend yet?) notched 16 points in only 58 games played (he missed over a month of action with an upper-body injury) for a +17 rating. The scoring numbers may not be much of a change, but the fact that Chicago generated one more goal that it allowed while he was on the ice is far more attractive than the Canes’ efforts last season while Tennyson was playing.

Net result of a 26-year-old van Riemsdyk taking over Tennyson’s spot: an improvement I’d make any day.

And lastly, the forwards. As if General Manager Ron Francis hadn’t already gotten Head Coach Bill Peters enough new toys to play with, he also made an effort to add Mr. Game 7 – yes, the same Williams that scored the final goal in Carolina’s Stanley Cup-winning game in 2006 – to a two year, $4.5 million AAV deal. Last year in Washington, the soon-to-be 36-year-old notched 48 points evenly split between goals and assists, but his experience may be an even bigger asset for an offensive corps that had an average age of 25.6 years-old before he was added to the mix.

Even though he’s not an alumnus of the Blackhawks’ organization, I’m sure he’s going to fit in just fine.

But what makes all these additions exciting is how well the club they’re joining performed at the end of last season. From March 9-30, the Hurricanes amassed an incredible record of 9-0-4 – the best in the league during that span – by scoring over 3.5 goals-per-game for 46 tallies (that’s six more than even Edmonton’s mighty offense managed in that time).

That offensive assault was spearheaded by 2011 Calder winner F Jeff Skinner and his 12-3-15 performance (37-26-63 for the season) over that stretch, so he may need a similar start to the 2017-’18 season to prevent another slow start that has plagued Carolina in the past.

Last year, the Canes were only 9-9-4 by the end of November; they were an even worse 8-12-4 over the first two months of the 2015-’16 season. Together, the Hurricanes missed the playoffs by only a combined 18 points. If not for those slow starts, perhaps this campaign could be Carolina’s third-straight playoff appearance.

Offseason Grade: B+

All in all, Francis’ offseason acquisitions may not be quite as good as Jim Nill’s considering how much work was needed in Dallas, but he was no less effective. Carolina only improved their young core this offseason and are prepared to make some serious noise in the Metropolitan Division – but therein lies the problem. Given the competition in that division, the Canes could struggle to bust into the playoffs this season as a top-three seed, but they should be well in the hunt for a wildcard seed.