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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.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 12

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

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 1

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – Game 1

By: Nick Lanciani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Minnesota Wild – Game 1

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

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

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

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

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

 

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Short list:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hockey Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 27 – Day 159 – Red hot

It happened again. The very day we detest the most: Monday.

Fortunately, the NHL is a true pal and hooked us up with a half-dozen hockey games to make it better. The action starts with three contests (Detroit at Carolina, Florida at Buffalo and Nashville at the New York Islanders [SN]) at 7 p.m., followed by Chicago at Tampa Bay (NBCSN/TVAS) half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Arizona at St. Louis, trailed an hour later by Colorado at Calgary, tonight’s nightcap. All times eastern.

A game of note this evening is the Red Wings‘ first of two straight visits to PNC Arena, as this is the game that had to be postponed in mid-December due to an issue with the arena’s surface cooling equipment.

Since we haven’t featured the Hurricanes all season and they’re quietly in contention for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, let’s make a trip to Raleigh!

 

You may not believe me, but it’s true: 33-27-13 Carolina is still in the playoff conversation with nine games left in their regular season. It may not look like it at quick glance since the Hurricanes have only 79 points, but that’s due in part to the reason they are active tonight.

Eleventh-place Carolina has two games-in-hand on 39-30-6 Boston (84 points) because of its rescheduled contest against Detroit. Should the Canes have played that game and lost, they’d be in much worse shape. Instead, they’ll trail the Bruins by only a point if they win both their games-in-hand and could be in prime position to end their seven-season playoff drought.

Of course, that ignores what the ninth and 10th place Islanders and Lightning do, but I don’t see them featured today!

Much of the reason the Canes are in the position they’re in right now is due to their three-game winning streak and their 7-0-3 record in their last 10 games. Carolina has been an offensive juggernaut since March 9, as their 37 goals for is the highest total in the league since then.

Though Jeff Skinner and his 54 points have been the Hurricanes‘ offensive leader for the entirety of the season, he’s been joined of late by rookie Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm, who both have 11 points during this recent streak.

Don’t read too much into that last graf though. Skinner is still the primary threat for 16-20-8 Petr Mrazek to focus on tonight. 10 of the left wing’s dozen points since March 9 have been goals, doubling Aho’s five and tying Nikita Kucherov for most in the league over that stretch.

To focus on Aho for a minute, the Fin has made a living on the power play with his five man-advantage points during this run – a top-five effort in that time-frame. That success has led the Canes to a 28% success rate with the extra man since earlier this month, the eighth-best mark in the NHL in that time and second-best in a dominant Metropolitan Division that features some elite offenses.

This offensive prowess is a change from what has been Carolina‘s priority all season: defense. In fact, the Canes have allowed only 203 goals against this year, which ties for the 16th-best mark in the NHL.

Nothing tells this story better than Carolina‘s 85.3% season penalty kill rate, the second-best mark in the league. The PK has been a major point of focus for second-year defenseman Jaccob Slavin. The Hurricanes selected him from Colorado College in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and all he’s done is lead the team with 37 shorthanded shot blocks this year. Not bad, kid (he’s almost exactly three months younger than me, I get to call him kid).

In fact, Slavin and Co. has been so good, 24-20-11 Cam Ward has faced only 155 shots against while his club is shorthanded, the lowest total among the 30 netminders with at least 39 appearances.

Other than Joe Louis Arena’s farewell season, the biggest story about the 30-32-12 Red Wings this season has been the prediction-turned-reality that they’ll miss the postseason for the first time in 25 years.

But that doesn’t mean the Wings are entirely incapable of good hockey. Though not as impressive as the Canes‘, Detroit is also riding a three-game streak of earning at least a point, and has a 4-1-1 record since March 16.

All but one of those six contests have been one-goal affairs, and it’s been a resurgent 9-8-1 Jimmy Howard, who just celebrated his 33rd birthday yesterday, that has led the charge. Sidelined for much of the season with a knee injury, he’s earned a .953 save percentage and 1.29 GAA since mid-March, the sixth and seventh-best marks in the league, respectively, during that stretch.

Howard has been especially exceptional when faced with an opposing power play. Though he’s faced 12 man-advantages since March 16, he has yet to allow a power play goal after saving all 12 shots he’s faced while his club is shorthanded.

As of publication of this article, it remains to be seen if Jeff Blashill will continue alternating goaltenders this evening. It’d be an odd time to stop the recent practice since the Wings played – and won – an overtime game yesterday before traveling from Michigan to North Carolina. I’d bank on seeing Mrazek in net this evening.

Offensively, nothing paints a picture like a 14% season success rate on the power play. It’s the second-worst rate in the NHL that still features Thomas Vanek – a current member of the Florida Panthers – as the third-best point-earner. Frans Nielsen and Henrik Zetterberg have been able to create symmetry at times this year, but now is not one of those moments. They’ve earned a combined three power play points since March 16. Three.

Thanks to the postponement of what became today’s game, these clubs have only met once this season. In what was the Canes‘ final visit to The Joe, Dylan Larkin scored two of Detroit‘s goals to lead the Wings to a 4-2 victory on October 25.

These teams will complete their three-game season series tomorrow night on the same surface, which adds even a bit more intrigue to tonight’s game.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Carolina‘s Skinner (30 goals for 54 points [both lead the team]) and Slavin (149 blocks for +19 [both lead the team]) & Detroit‘s Zetterberg (46 assists [eighth-most in the league]).

There’s not few, if any, hotter than the Hurricanes right now, and they’re doing it at the right time of the year. Especially given the fact that the Wings were involved in an overtime game yesterday, I like Carolina to continue its playoff push with a win today.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bryan Campbell (1944-) – Though this center spent most of his career in the WHA, he began his professional hockey career in the NHL. He played five seasons in the league, and spent most of that time in Chicago. He scored 106 points over 260 games, including a decent 1970-’71 season with 17 goals for 54 points.
  • Dustin Byfuglien (1985-) – It’s hard to believe, but this season marks this defenseman’s seventh season with the Thrashers/Jets organization. It seems just yesterday he was hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head with the 2010 Blackhawks.

Last night’s 6-3 DtFR Game of the Day Duck victory over the Rangers was a big one, as they converted a game-in-hand on their fellow competitors for the Pacific Division title for two points to create a two-point lead with seven games remaining to be played.

The busiest period was the first, as it featured four goals. The icebreaker belonged to Rick Nash (Marc Staal and Mika Zibanejad) and New York on a wrist shot 5:54 after the initial puck drop. That lead didn’t last too long though, as Third Star of the Game Patrick Eaves (Second Star Cam Fowler and First Star Ryan Getzlaf) pulled Anaheim even 3:01 later on a wrister. Once again the Blueshirts took a lead, this time off a Derek Stepan (Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello) slap shot, but the Ducks had another answer. Ryan Kesler (Getzlaf and Fowler) scored a power play tip-in with two minutes remaining in the frame to tie the game at two-all, which held into the first intermission.

At the 9:39 mark of the second period, Anaheim finally claimed its first lead of the game when Josh Manson (Getzlaf) scored a wrister. Making that goal even more impressive, the Ducks were shorthanded. That didn’t seem to phase New York though, as Brady Skjei (Jimmy Vesey and Zibanejad) buried only his fifth goal of the season 3:31 later to pull the Rangers even at three-all. That score held into the second intermission.

Whatever Randy Carlyle said in the dressing room, it worked because Anaheim buried three tallies and held the Rangers scoreless for the final 20 minutes. Andrew Cogliano (Kesler) takes credit for the game-winner 2:19 after the beginning of the final frame, followed only 2:04 later by an insurance tally from Eaves (Rickard Rakell and Getzlaf). To ensure the Rangers could not stage a late comeback, Nick Ritchie (Corey Perry) scored a wrister on an empty net with 98 ticks remaining on the clock to clinch the win.

Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (89.3%), leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 28-of-33 (84.8%).

Thanks to the Ducks defending home ice, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series now trial the 81-57-23 road teams by only a lone point.

January 17 – Day 94 – Making up like a country song

Welcome to Tuesday hockey, one of the seven best days for the sport in the week. There’s nine games on the schedule this evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. (Dallas at the New York Rangers [SN/SN1/TVAS] and Carolina at Columbus) and Buffalo at Toronto half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of another pair of contests (Ottawa at St. Louis [RDS] and New Jersey at Minnesota), and another pair get underway an hour later (Chicago at Colorado [NBCSN] and Florida at Calgary). The final pair of games – Nashville at Vancouver and Tampa Bay at Anaheim (SN/SN1) – drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Buffalo at Toronto: It’s the Battle of the QEW this evening, one of the Sabres‘ fiercest rivalries.
  • Nashville at Vancouver: For the last three seasons, Yannick Weber played for the Canucks, but he returns tonight wearing a white sweater.

Since I highly underestimated Cody McLeod‘s debut for Nashville, I feel I owe the Predators a feature. Looks like Weber 2.0 is our lucky guy.

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After playing the first five seasons of his professional career with the Canadiens, Weber made like a pioneer of old and headed west for brighter futures. He landed in Vancouver before the 2013-14 season.

His first season with the Canucks was not one that turned league heads, but it was important for him personally. He had a goal of proving to Montréal that he was worthy of being kept, and he made that known by notching a then career-high of six goals.

He followed that up in 2014-15 with his most impressive campaign to date, lighting the lamp 11 times and notching a career-best 21 points.

With last season being a significant step back for the defenseman, Weber once again found himself looking for a new club. He found his way to Nashville, where he’s playing on the third blueline pairing and notching a season +8, easily the best mark of his career.

Yannick and his Predators come into tonight’s game with a 20-16-7 record, the fourth-best mark in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference thanks to winning their last three games. On the outside looking in, the main concern for the Preds has been their offense that has scored only 118 goals, the 13th-fewest in the league.

Ryan Johansen has been the biggest weapon in Nashville, as he has a team-leading 30 points. That being said, it’s been James Neal that has been the most dangerous to goaltenders with his club-leading 14 goals.

Nashville‘s offensive struggles aren’t for a lack of effort. They’ve averaged 31 shots-per-game, the seventh-most in the NHL. Unfortunately Roman Josi, the man who accounts for nearly three shots per night, has a miserable 4% shot percentage – easily the worst mark of his successful career. If and when he finds his rhythm again, the Preds will surely be able to make some noise as they try to qualify for the postseason.

Playing host this evening are the 20-19-6 Canucks, the sixth-best team in the Pacific Division and 10th in the Western Conference, and it’s almost funny that the Canucks‘ last three games have ended as overtime losses.

Just like the Predators, Vancouver has struggled to score the puck this season, accounting for only 107 goals in 45 games – the sixth-worst scoring rate in the league.

Bo Horvat has tried his hardest to keep the Canucks alive in the playoff race, as both his 30 points and 13 goals lead the club. Unfortunately, that goal total only ties for 50th against the rest of the NHL, which is probably most telling of Vancouver‘s situation.

Much of the reason for the Canucks‘ struggles is due to their miserable power play. Successful on only 13.4% of attempts, they rank fourth-worst in the league. Both Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin lead the team with a whopping nine power play points. D. Sedin has been the most dangerous with the man-advantage, as he also tops the club with five man-advantage goals.

The struggles continue on the penalty kill, where the Canucks‘ 79.8% success rate is ninth-worst in the NHL. Even though he’s only played 31 games, Alexander Edler has been the leading shot blocker when down a man, with 18 shorthanded blocks to his credit.

For those like me who are already keeping tabs on the playoff races, this is certainly an important game – if only for a night. The biggest impact occurs if Nashville earns a victory. In that case, they for sure move into eighth place in the Western Conference and surpass Los Angeles for the second wildcard. But, if the Panthers win in regulation in Calgary, the Predators take control of seventh in the conference and the top wildcard.

Although the Canucks can’t move into playoff position tonight, they can certainly continue their climb up the standings. A regulation win moves them past Nashville into ninth place and into a tie with Los Angeles, but the Canucks lose the games played tiebreaker to remain on the outside looking in.

These clubs have only met once so far this season, and it was only a week ago in Nashville. Although the Predators did pull away with a 2-1 victory, they needed to overtime to do it.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Nashville‘s Matt Irwin (+15 and 83 hits [both lead the team]) and Johansen (23 assists among 30 points [both lead the team]) & Vancouver‘s Horvat (13 goals among 30 points [both lead the team]) and Nikita Tryamkin (84 hits [leads the team]).

Home ice does not always result in favoritism by Vegas, as Vancouver is the projected underdog a +110. Given the nice run the Predators are on right now, I have to side with the oddsmakers.

Hockey Birthday

  • Busher Jackson (1911-1966) – Although he may not have been a role model off the ice, he was certainly one of the better players of his day. The Hall of Famer played 15 seasons in the NHL, most of which in Toronto where he hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1932. By the time his career was through, he had scored 241 goals.
  • Jacques Plante (1929-1986) – The man of hockey legend, this goaltender had difficulty keeping control of all the hardware he earned over his career. Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978, he was an eight-time All Star, seven-time Vezina winner (record for the trophy), six-time Stanley Cup winner (all with Montréal) and the 1962 Hart Trophy winner.
  • Sylvain Turgeon (1965-) – Hartford selected this left wing second-overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, and he quickly produced. He scored 72 points his rookie season, the second-best campaign of his career. He played most of his dozen seasons with the Whalers and played in one All Star game.
  • Jeremy Roenick (1970-) – Everyone’s favorite center-turned-analyst was drafted eighth-overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, where he played most of his career. By the time his 20-season career was through, the nine-time All Star had scored 1216 points.
  • Aaron Ward (1973-) – Although drafted fifth-overall by Winnipeg in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, he never suited up for the Jets. Instead, this defenseman played most of his 15 seasons in Detroit where he won one of his two Stanley Cups.

If offense is your thing, you missed the game of the season in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day. A combined 15 goals were scored in 60:34 of play, with Conor Sheary earning Pittsburgh an 8-7 victory over the Capitals.

With so many goals, it’s going to be much easier just giving the game summary in list form.

*Warning: Be prepared for an obnoxious second period.*

First Period:

  1. 7:06 – Andre Burakovsky (Daniel Winnik) – Caps lead 1-0
  2. 17:09 – Nicklas Backstrom (T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin) – Caps lead 2-0

Second Period:

  1. 1:17 – Justin Williams (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson) – Caps lead 3-0
  2. 6:28 – First Star of the Game Evgeni Malkin (Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz) – Caps lead 3-1
  3. 7:12 – Sheary (Second Star Sidney Crosby and Daley) – Caps lead 3-2
  4. 8:55 – Nick Bonino (Schultz and Phil Kessel) – Tied 3-3
  5. 13:47 – Bryan Rust (Daley and Olli Maatta) – Pens lead 4-3
  6. 14:37 – Malkin (Jake Guentzel and Schultz) – Pens lead 5-3
  7. 15:07 – Brett Connolly (Taylor Chorney and Andre Burakovsky) – Pens lead 5-4
  8. 16:54 – SH – Third Star Lars Eller (Nate Schmidt and Oshie) – Tied 5-5
  9. 17:19 – PP – Malkin (Patric Hornqvist and Crosby) – Pens lead 6-5

Third Period:

  1. 5:55 – Crosby (Sheary and Rust) – Pens lead 7-5
  2. 9:29 – PP – Oshie (Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen) – Pens lead 7-6
  3. 14:38 – Eller (Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen) – Tied 7-7

Overtime

  1. :34 – Sheary (Crosby and Schultz) – Pens win 8-7

Matthew Murray holds on for the victory after saving 21-of-28 shots faced (75%), leaving the overtime loss to Philipp Grubauer, who saved eight-of-11 (72.7%). He came into the game in relief of starter Braden Holtby, who saved 21-of-26 (80.8%) before being pulled following Malkin’s second goal. Holtby obviously earned no-decision.

In addition to ending their own losing skid and Washington‘s winning streak, Pittsburgh also broke the three-game trend of road victories in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The series record now favors the home squads by five points with their 50-32-14 record.

January 16 – Day 93 – Defense vs. Offense

Happy Martin Luther King Day! What better way to celebrate than with hockey?

In all seriousness, he did a lot of powerful things for not only the United States, but the world as a whole. All people, regardless of color, ethnicity, race, religion or any other variable have a lot to thank King’s effort for.

Putting our attention back on hockey, seven games will be waged today, starting with two at 1 p.m. (the New York Islanders at Boston [SN] and Dallas at Buffalo). The matinees continue at 3 p.m. with Montréal at Detroit [RDS], followed an hour later by another pair of contests (Tampa Bay at Los Angeles [SN] and Winnipeg at San Jose). Washington at Pittsburgh (NBCSN/SN/TVAS) drops the puck at 7 p.m., with tonight’s nightcap – Arizona at Edmonton – waiting until 9 p.m. before getting underway.

Short list:

  • Montréal at Detroit: For those who love their Original Six hockey, here’s your game of the day.
  • Washington at Pittsburgh: Eastern Semifinals rematch? Check. Rivals? Check. Just met last Wednesday? Check.

I would apologize for featuring yet another CapsPens matchup, but the reason we watch these is because they’re always exciting. To PPG Paints Arena we go.

Washington Capitals Logopittsburgh_penguins_logo

 

Thanks to beating the Flyers 5-0 yesterday for their ninth-straight victory, the 29-9-5 Capitals are not only the hottest team in hockey, but also the best in the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference and league.

Though it’s taken a little longer than many expected for them to reach that position in the table, they’ve done it on the back of their incredible goaltending that has allowed only 82 goals, the fewest in the NHL.

That goaltender is 21-8-4 Braden Holtby, winner of last season’s Vezina Trophy. He’s found his success on a .933 save percentage and 1.85 GAA – the third and second-best efforts, respectively, in the NHL with at least 17 appearances.

He’s certainly been good, but with blueliners like Washington‘s, all he has to do is act as a last-line-of-defense. Led by Karl Alzner‘s team-high 81 blocks, only 27.8 shots-per-game reach Holtby’s crease, sixth-fewest in the league.

That success has carried into the penalty kill, where the Caps are second-best in the league. Much of the reason they don’t yield a power play goal on 86.5% of opposing opportunities is due to Alzner’s 21 shorthanded blocks, the most on the club.

Playing host this evening are the 26-11-5 Penguins, the third-best team in the Metropolitan. Losers of their past three games, when the Pens find success they play some phenomenal offense. They’ve scored 143 goals already this season, the second-most in the league.

As we’ve come to expect since they started playing together in the 2006-07 season, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been the two-headed monster known as the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even though they don’t share a line in even-strength play, both skaters have notched a team-high 46 points. Of course, Crosby has been the more dangerous of the two with a team-leading 26 goals to his credit.

As for the power play, Pittsburgh is also a very formidable foe. They’re successful on 22.8% of attempts, the fourth-highest conversion rate in the NHL. This is where Phil Kessel and his team-leading 18 power play points shine, but Crosby is once again the main goalscorer, with nine extra-man goals in his pocket.

The main spot the Penguins still need to improve on is their unattractive penalty kill. Even with Ian Cole‘s team-leading 19 shorthanded blocks, Pittsburgh prevents only 78.2% of opposing power plays, the sixth-worst rate in the league.

These clubs have already met three times this season, and Washington has a 2-0-1 lead in the series. Although the Capitals have beaten Pittsburgh by at least three goals the last two times they’ve met, both of those games were at the Verizon Center. Pittsburgh won on Opening Night on their home ice, albeit in a shootout.

Some players to keep an eye on include Pittsburgh‘s Crosby (26 goals [most in the league] among 46 points [tied for third-most in the NHL]), Kessel (28 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]), Malkin (46 points [tied for third-most in the NHL], including 28 assists [tied for sixth-most in the league]), Matthew Murray (.925 save percentage [tied for fifth-best in the NHL] for a 2.28 GAA [10th-best in the league]) and Justin Schultz (+20 [tied for ninth-best in the NHL]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (30 assists [fourth-most in the league] among 42 points [10th-most in the NHL]), Holtby (six shutouts [most in the league] on a 1.85 GAA [second-best in the NHL] and a .933 save percentage [third-best in the league] for 21 wins [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]), T.J. Oshie (+21 [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Alex Ovechkin (21 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL]).

Thanks in part to having a home ice advantage this evening, Vegas favors the Penguins at -120. That being said, the Capitals are playing out of their minds right now and I expect them to complete the upset this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Brenden Morrow (1979-) – The 25th-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Dallas, this left wing played most of his 15-season career with the club that drafted him. By the time he hung up his skates, he’d notched an impressive 575 points.
  • Jason Ward (1979-) – Although drafted higher than Morrow at 11th-overall by Montréal in the same draft, this right wing did not find as much success. He only played eight seasons in the NHL to accumulate 81 points.
  • Jamie Lundmark (1981-) – This center was the ninth-overall pick by the Rangers in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, and although he played most of his games in New York, he actually spent one more season in Calgary. He finished his six-year NHL career a point shy of 100.
  • Matt Duchene (1991-) – Colorado selected this center third-overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and with the Avalanche he’s played all his 532 games. Although he has 402 points over his career, this has not been a great season for assists. His .32 assists-per-game this campaign is the second-worst of his career.

Thanks to three-straight unanswered goals, the Wild can truly claim to be the best in the west, beating Chicago 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It was the home Blackhawks who got on the board first, thanks to a wrister from First Star of the Game Patrick Kane (Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin) at the 4:33 mark. It was the lone goal of the first frame.

4:16 after returning to the ice, Chicago doubled their lead when Kane (Anisimov) buried another wrister, but it wasn’t long (2:07, to be exact) before Third Star Nino Niederreiter (Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin) scored a power play wrister to pull Minnesota back within a goal. With exactly nine minutes remaining in the second period, Chris Stewart (Jordan Schroeder and Ryan Suter) pulled the Wild even with a wrist shot. The two-all score held into the second intermission.

Only one goal was struck in the third period, belonging to Jason Pominville (Marco Scandella) 5:08 after play resumed for the winning goal.

Second Star Devan Dubnyk earned the victory after saving 33-of-35 shots faced (94.3%), leaving the loss to Corey Crawford, who saved 29-of-32 (90.6%).

Minnesota‘s victory is the the third-straight by the road team in the DtFR Game of the Day, setting the series record at 49-32-14 in favor of the hosts by four points.

Pittsburgh at San Jose – Game 3 – Donskoi wins first Finals game for Sharks

Pittsburgh Penguins LogoUnknownThe San Jose Sharks held serve in the Tank by beating the Penguins 3-2 in overtime to pull themselves within a game of a tied series.

Two quick icing penalties in the opening minutes were almost two too many to overcome for the Penguins, but they were able to get the puck out of the zone just long enough to get in a quick change.

Following that, Pittsburgh occupied much of the play leading up to Second Star of the Game Joel Ward’s hi-stick against Conor Sheary at the 2:58 mark in the Sharks‘ defensive zone.  San Jose‘s penalty kill responded exceptionally well, not allowing any shots on Third Star Martin Jones’ net.

The Penguins seemed to prefer even sides, as only 31 seconds after Ward returned to the ice, Ben Lovejoy snuck an on-edge wrister past Jones’ stick for the opening tally.  His play started along the goal line when Brenden Dillon attempted the clear the puck along the near boards.  The puck didn’t have the Wheaties to cross the blue line and was intercepted by Lovejoy, who trickled his wrister into net.

The Sharks finally notched their first shot of the game just past the eight minute mark, but rookie goaltender Matt Murray was certainly up to the task, deflecting the puck out of harm’s way to a teammate’s stick.

That shot provided all the confidence the Sharks needed though, as Justin Braun, assisted by Joe Thornton  and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (his 11th helper of the playoffs), scored 26 seconds before the midway point of the frame to level the contest.  He received a screen from Melker Karlsson so perfect that Murray didn’t know Braun had fired the puck until he heard it in the net behind him.  Thornton was the lucky recipient of a scrum along the near boards and centered to Braun, who quickly ripped his wrister over Patric Hornqvist’s diving block and past Murray’s glove shoulder.

Following the leveling goal, although Phil Kessel and the Pens had an exceptional breakaway opportunity, it was San Jose who had extended plays in their offensive zone, but the Penguins notched a total of 12 blocks to keep the Sharks‘ second goal off the board.

After 20 minutes, the Penguins led in shots (14 to six), face-offs (52%), blocks (12 to five) and giveaways (four to eight), while the Sharks had takeaways (nine to two) and hits (20 to nine) to their credit.

Due to play taking place almost exclusively outside the offensive zones for both teams, the second period failed to see a shot on goal until 4:14 had passed.

The Sharks eventually took control of most of the first half of the period, including finding yet another post after beating Murray five-hole, but the netminder and his defense did well to keep the score tied at one-all.

The Sharks headed to the power play with 9:18 remaining in the second frame when Carl Hagelin was found guilty of tripping Karlsson.  Although the Sharks had two fantastic opportunities, the score remained tied after a successful Penguins penalty kill.

Even though the Sharks played a superior period filled with multiple plays of extended time in their offensive zone (they led shots in the period nine to six), it was the Penguins who exited the frame with the 2-1 lead off a Hornqvist tip-in (his eighth tally of the playoffs) off another Lovejoy shot and the hockey assist from Olli Maatta.  Maatta reset the play from the near boards to Lovejoy at the point, who fired the puck at Jones’ net.  Along the way, Hornqvist redirected the puck under the netminder’s arm to give the Pens the lead going into the final 20 minutes of regulation.

San Jose also led face-offs (they took the game lead – 52%), giveaways (five to nine) and hits (10 to three), while Pittsburgh took won the period’s blocks (eight to six) and takeaways (five to three).

The Penguins entered the third frame exactly how they wanted to – with a lead.  So far this postseason, they’d done that 11 times, and had a 10-1 record in such instances.  Further increasing their confidence, the Sharks were 1-4 in the five games where they’d entered the final 20 minutes trailing.

Nick Bonino gave the Sharks four minutes of the man-advantage at the 4:48 mark when he not only hi-sticked Thornton, but also drew blood.  Though the Sharks played an exceptional power play, the Penguins almost completed both kills.  But that is all for naught since, just as Bonino’s sentence was about lifted, Ward scored a slap shot to level the game, assisted by First Star Joonas Donskoi and Thornton (his 17th helper of the postseason).  Thornton passed to rookie Donskoi from his own defensive zone, who completed the transition across the neutral zone with a pass to Ward.  The winger advanced as far as the point before firing his screaming slap shot past Murray.

Following Ward’s tally, the game very much became a back-and-forth affair with neither team establishing a solid, long-term  presence in their offensive zone.  The Sharks finally had an opportunity around the 15 minute mark, but a poorly timed icing ended their threat and allowed the Penguins to transition from being reactive to proactive.

No more goals were struck in the frame, sending the Stanley Cup Finals to the second straight overtime game.  After a third frame that favored the Sharks, it was the Penguins who began the extra time in control of the game.  In the first six minutes, the Penguins fired a solid five shots to San Jose‘s one.  That is not to say that Murray’s services were not required though.  Even as the Sharks earned more opportunities, the rookie continued to answer the call and keep his team in the contest.

Overtime ended up lasting 12:18 before Donskoi earned the Sharks their first ever Stanley Cup Finals win.  He went top shelf over Murray’s shoulder after an approach from behind the goal line for his sixth goal of the playoffs, assisted by Chris Tierney.

There were two intriguing statistics in this game: shot totals, specifically those of the Penguins, and hits, those focusing on the Sharks.  It has been heavily featured in the analysis of their run, usually because the Pens‘ totals strongly led the opposition.  This evening was more of the same, as the Pens led shots 42 to 26.

The Sharks have had much more success this postseason when being the more violent of their opposition.  Tonight?  47 hits to Pittsburgh‘s 17.  Doing this helped to slow the speedy Pens down and eliminate many of their dump-and-chase plays.

Jones earns the win after saving 40 of the 42 shots he faced (95.2%), while Murray takes the overtime loss after saving 23 of 26 (88.5%).

After earning their first win, the Sharks are now focused on leveling the series and making it a best of three.  They’ll get that opportunity this Monday at 8 p.m. eastern, which may be viewed on CBC, NBC or TVAS.

San Jose at Pittsburgh – Game 2 – Sheary’s OT winner gives Pens 2-0 lead

UnknownPittsburgh Penguins LogoThe Pittsburgh Penguins entered Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals on a three game winning streak, and First Star of the Game Conor Sheary’s overtime goal over the Sharks extended that streak to four.

Game 1 featured the Penguins coming out to a hot start.  This time, it was the Sharks who had the pep in their step after Jeff Jimerson left the ice, most evident in the opening minutes when Chris Tierney centered a beautiful pass right in front of Matt Murray’s crease to Joel Ward, but his ensuing shot was held by Murray to end the attack.

The Penguins responded well around the 5:30 mark when Sidney Crosby attacked the zone off a breakaway pass, but Martin Jones, just like Murray, was up to the pressure and deflected the attempt into the netting above the glass.

An alarming play for the Sharks occurred a few minutes before the midway point of the period.  When simply trying to reset the play by sending the puck to the point, the offending blueliner not only allowed the puck out of the zone, but also become a giveaway that Jones was required to make a save on.

Following that play, Pittsburgh certainly seemed to have the upper hand in play.  In the span of two or three minutes, Second Star of the Game Phil Kessel alone fired at least three shots on Jones’ net spread out over a couple shifts.  By the time nine minutes remained in the period, Pittsburgh had already fired nine shots to San Jose‘s three.

The first power play of the game was awarded to the Pittsburgh Penguins due to Paul Martin misfiring on a pass to send it over the glass with 7:51 to go in the first period.  With the exception of a Kris Letang fan on an shot attempt, Jones and the Sharks did well to not yield any quality scoring chances.

A quality penalty kill inspired the Sharks to reclaim the energy of the frame.  With a little over five minutes remaining, Tomas Hertl’s wrister rang the post, but the score remained at the scoreless draw.

San Jose led some important statistics for the frame, including blocks (seven to four), takeaways (two to one), giveaways (three to five) and hits (18 to 14), but Pittsburgh had 11 shots (five more than the Sharks) and face-offs (57%) to keep the game scoreless.

The second period began as much more of a back-and-forth affair, with both squads earning quality chances due in part to the long change, even if it didn’t show up in the shot totals.  Play also became noticeably more chippy, with the hits being harder and the 50-50 pucks along the board becoming more intense.

Pittsburgh got on the board first after 28:20 of play.  Kessel gets credit for the tip-in on Nick Bonino’s initial shot (it ended up being his 13th assist of the postseason) to a wide open net (Jones had already attempted a save towards the near boards), with another assist from Carl Hagelin.  Bonino advanced the puck into the zone, followed immediately by passing to Kessel.  The wing tried to return the favor, but his pass was intercepted by Logan Couture, who passed deeper into the zone to Roman Polak.  Polak’s lazy pass to Brenden Dillon was almost intercepted by Kessel, but his pressure on the defender led to Hagelin completing the steal and passing to Bonino.  Bonino, originally drafted by the Sharks in 2007,  tried to reach across Jones’ crease, but couldn’t complete the play.  Since Jones had tried to close off the post on Bonino’s side of the cage, he was out of position for Kessel’s final tip-in attempt, giving the Pens a 1-0 lead.

Half a minute later, Martin was found guilty of his second penalty of the night, this one a hi-stick on Evgeni Malkin.  The seventh best penalty kill of the playoffs continued to stand tall, refusing to yield an insurance goal on some impressive stick checks, blocks and takeaways.

With a minute remaining and during an impressive Pittsburgh possession, Ian Cole committed interference against Couture (though those clad in black and gold would argue he embellished the infraction).  Impressively, it was the Pens who had more opportunities on the Sharks‘ power play leading into the second intermission, but neither scored, leaving the score favoring the home side by a tally.

Pittsburgh took control of the period in blocks (six to five), shots (12 to five) and face-offs (55% for the entire game), while the Sharks maintained their aggressive play by throwing 12 hits to Pittsburgh‘s 11. The squads split takeaways and giveaways, with both teams doing one of each.

Even though San Jose had a full intermission to draw up a power play plan, they could not convert on the residual 48 seconds of the man-advantage to start the third frame.

San Jose had an exemplary break away opportunity after 4:12 of third period play, but once again Tierney’s attempt found iron, far from the first time a San Jose shot had met the same fate.

Kessel did the same thing around the midpoint of the period.  He beat Jones five-hole, but the puck barely caught the left post at the proper angle to not deflect into the net, but away from it.

Throughout the period, San Jose had possessions in the offensive zone on par with some of the solid chances they had in the first period, but each time Murray and the Pittsburgh defense refused to allow the Sharks their first strike.

San Jose finally got on the board with 4:05 remaining in regulation, courtesy of a Third Star Justin Braun snap shot (his first tally of the playoffs) assisted by Couture (his 18th helper of the postseason) and Ward.  The goalscorer collected the puck in the near corner and dumped back behind Murray’s cage to Couture with a little influence from Ward.  After fighting off pressure from three Penguins, he returned the puck to Braun, who was positioned beyond the near face-off circle.  He immediately fired his snapper to beat the netminder glove side.

San Jose was certainly motivated by their tally as they dominated most of the remaining play of regulation.  Specifically within the final minute, there were two individual scrums in front of Murray’s crease, but neither time could the Sharks break the draw, making Game 2 the first overtime contest of the Cup Finals.

San Jose may have only fired the puck nine times in the third period, but it led Pittsburgh‘s attempts by a trio of shots, but the Pens still fired the puck nine more times throughout regulation.  Overall, regulation favored neither team statistically, with the Sharks leading in blocks (16 to 14), giveaways (four to eight) and hits (42 to 35), while the Penguins won shots, face-offs (54%) and takeaways (eight to five).

Although the Sharks were thankful to get the game to overtime after trailing for almost half the game, it was the Penguins that not only had more experience, but also more success.  They’d won three of their five overtime playoff games (although only one of those losses was charged to Murray), while Jones and the Sharks were a win-less 0-3.

Overtime lasted a whopping 2:35 before Sheary won the game over Jones’ glove.  Crosby won the face-off from the far boards (his 11th helper of the playoffs), which was collected by Letang.  The defenseman quickly passed to the winger at the top of the far face-off circle, who fired his wrister for his second goal of the Stanley Cup Finals – a goal in each of the Penguins‘ wins.

Murray earns the win after saving 21 of 22 shots faced (95.5%), while Jones takes the overtime loss, saving 28 of 30 (93.3%).

Game 3 is scheduled for an 8 p.m. eastern puck drop three days from now.  That Saturday’s game may be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

San Jose at St. Louis – Game 5 – Sharks score six goals to pull within a win of the Stanley Cup Finals

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The two highest scoring postseason teams went at it again Monday night, and did not disappoint as the Sharks won 6-3 to pull within a win of the Stanley Cup Finals.

St. Louis started the night with three straight shots before the Sharks could register their first almost four minutes into play.  It didn’t matter though, as Shot No. 2 found the back of the net on a Tomas Hertl backhander, assisted by Marc-Edouard Vlasic and First Star of the Game Joe Pavelski.  Third Star Joe Thornton won the face-off at the far dot, which was collected by Pavelski heading towards the point.  He passed back to the far boards to Vlasic, who fired a slap shot towards Jake Allen’s net before Troy Brouwer could apply pressure, but Hertl redirected the puck before it reached the crease to get past Allen’s glove.

Following that tally, the Sharks certainly took control of the game, as they had another great scoring opportunity around the 6:30 mark.  A San Jose forward collected a rebound in front of a fairly open net, but he elevated the puck too much and it sailed over the cross bar.

Jaden Schwartz leveled the game at the 7:04 mark with a wrister, assisted by David Backes (his seventh helper of the postseason) and Patrik Berglund.  Off an initial shot from Kevin Shattenkirk, Berglund collected the rebound around the near face-off dot.  He turned around and shot again at Martin Jones’ net, which was once again blocked.  From his usual spot right in front of the crease, Backes passed along the goal line to Schwartz, who fired past Jones’ stick side to tie the game at one-all.

With 4:52 remaining in the frame, Brouwer fired a wrister out of midair to give the Blues their second tally.  He was assisted by Paul Stastny (his ninth playoff helper), who had fired the initial shot that became the airborne rebound off Jones’ pads, and Alexander Steen.  Steen advanced the puck into the zone before running into Hertl, but passed just in time to Stastny who fired from between the face-off dots.  Brouwer one-timed his shot from the near face-off circle to beat Jones stick side.

Just like San Jose, the Blues fed off the momentum of that tally to keep the puck almost predominantly in the offensive zone.  Although it did not turn into their third goal, the Notes were certainly happy to keep the Sharks off the board for the remainder of the frame, sending the game into intermission at 2-1.

Although St. Louis led on the scoreboard, San Jose statistically had the advantage through the first frame.  Their 10 shots were one more than the Blues‘, helped by winning 56% of face-offs.  Defensively, their five blocks were two more than St. Louis‘, the same differential as their takeaways (the Sharks had three of those).  Giveaways and hits also favored San Jose, as the Sharks committed one fewer turnover and threw four more blows.

The first power play of the game occurred at the 2:38 mark, but it was three players earning seats.  Tommy Wingels hit an unaware Shattenkirk, who didn’t take kindly to it and initiated a fight.  He was also charged with roughing, which was served by the innocent Second Star Robby Fabbri.  The Blues were two seconds from killing the penalty, but Joel Ward was able to score a wild puck to tie the game again at the 4:37 mark.  He was assisted by Vlasic and Paul Martin.  Martin received a pass at the point and passed to Vlasic, waiting at the top of the near face-off circle.  His initial shot on Allen’s net was saved, but wildly bounced off the crossbar and the net-minder’s back.  Ward’s quick stick was able to complete the score to level the game at two-all.

St. Louis earned their chance at the power play at the 8:03 mark when Justin Braun held Fabbri, partially because he had thrown a solid hit and fired a quality in the preceding seconds.  The Sharks‘ penalty kill stood tall though, so the score remained tied at two.

The second fight of the night was between Roman Polak and Dmitrij Jaskin.  The two were tumbled together in the St. Louis offensive zone and, while they were still on the ice, Polak threw a right punch at Jaskin’s head, and again once they’d gotten  up.  Polak was charged with roughing, and both with fighting, giving the Blues a second power play.

In their first power play attempt, the Blues didn’t notch a shot on goal.  They learned from their mistakes and scored on this one with 8:02 remaining in the frame.  Fabbri takes credit for the tally, assisted by Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo (his seventh playoff helper).  Fabbri begins the play retreating back to the blue line before passing across the zone to Pietrangelo.  After getting to the near face-off dot, he passed across the zone to the rookie defenseman in open ice, who found Fabbri at the point to score five-hole on Jones, making him only the second Blues rookie with 15+ points in a postseason.

With 2:52 remaining, Shattenkirk earned a seat in the sin bin for hooking Hertl as he was streaking towards Allen’s crease, although I would guess that many folks in the Bay Area would have been inclined to award a penalty shot.  The net result was the same, as the Sharks struck on their second power play with their second power play goal with 1:27 remaining in the frame to level the score again.  Pavelski takes credit with a slap shot, assisted by Thornton and Logan Couture (his 14th playoff assist).  Patrick Marleau collected the puck along the near boards and dumped further into the goal to Couture, who won a scrum against Carl Gunnarsson to pass behind the net to Thornton.  Thornton centered a pass to Pavelski, setting him up to beat Allen over his glove.

Three more shots in the period turned into an extra goal for the Sharks, especially when paired with eight takeaways, only two giveaways and 30 hits through 40 minutes.

The Sharks took a 4-3 lead only 16 seconds after returning to the ice when Pavelski tipped-in his second goal of the game, assisted by Brent Burns (his 13th postseason helper) and Hertl.  Off another face-off win (this one courtesy of the goalscorer), Thornton collected and dumped off to Burns, who fired a shot on Allen.  Allen blocked the attempt into the near corner where it was collected by Hertl, who returned the puck to Burns at the top of the zone.  Burns fired once again from the blue line, which Pavelski redirected under Allen’s glove.

A bad situation got worse for St. Louis when they were caught with too many men on the ice, giving the Sharks the opportunity to go three-for-three on the power play this game.  Vladimir Tarasenko took the seat in the box for the Notes at the 4:52 mark.  It lasted only 41 seconds before Marleau tripped Parayko, setting the game at four-on-four for 1:19 and ending that opportunity.  The four-on-four was exciting, with both teams having solid opportunities, but no score.

St. Louis‘ 41 seconds of the power play was equally as unsuccessful as the Sharks‘, so the score remained 4-3.

With 54 seconds remaining in the regulation, Chris Tierney scored a wrap-around goal on an empty net to secure the victory, assisted by Thornton (his 14th playoff helper).  Another empty netter was struck from mid-ice 21 seconds later by Ward, his fourth of the playoffs, setting the score at the 6-3 final.

Jones earns the win after saving 18 of the 21 shots he faced (85.7%), while Allen takes the loss, saving 21 of 25 (84%).

Game 6 will take place on May 25 in San Jose at 9 p.m. eastern.  It may be viewed on CBC, NBCSN or TVAS.

San Jose at St. Louis – Game 1 – Elliott saves 32, earns Game 1 victory

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First Star of the Game Brian Elliott allowed only one goal to earn the St. Louis Blues a 2-1 home win over the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

The first penalty of the game was at the 5:36 mark, a holding penalty against Melker Karlsson, courtesy of Third Star Jori Lehtera.  The Sharks‘ ensuing power play was unsuccessful, as the Blues and Elliott made three saves.

With 8:25 remaining in the first period, the Blues almost struck with their first tally of the night with a Patric Berguland deflection off his chest, but he was ruled to have interfered with goaltender Martin Jones.  The call was challenged by the Notes, but upheld.

Logan Couture was charged with tripping with 6:04 remaining in the period.  St. Louis made him pay 1:08 and one shot later when Second Star David Backes redirected a shot past Jones with his head and stick, giving the Blues the one-goal lead.  Kevin Shattenkirk takes responsibility for the initial shot, assisted by Jaden Schwartz.

Only 34 later, the Sharks leveled when Thomas Hertl (his third tally of the playoffs) and Joe Pavelski redirected Brent Burns’ initial slap shot from the blue line (his 12th helper of the playoffs).

Steve Ott headed to the box with 2:42 remaining for slashing Justin Braun, but once again the Blues‘ penalty kill was up to the task, holding the score at one-all going into the first intermission.

Although the score was tied St. Louis overall dominated play during the first frame, with a solid five scoring chances to San Jose‘s lone chance.  The Blues notched 11 shots on goal to the Sharks‘ eight, six hits to San Jose‘s five, no giveaways to San Jose‘s one and four takeaways to the Sharks‘ one.

With 9:15 gone in the second period, the Sharks committed a turnover in the neutral zone, collected by Lehtera.  Lehtera advanced the puck into the offensive zone before firing his slap shot from the far face-off zone past Jones’ glove elbow (his second of the postseason), giving them another one-goal lead.

Elliott was very fortunate with 1:13 remaining in the second period when he attempted to freeze the puck, but it trickled under his glove and pads.  Before the Joel Ward and the Sharks could capitalize, the referee blew the play dead, leaving the score at 2-1, which held to the second intermission.

Although they had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard, the Sharks dominated the second period.  The frame started very back-and-forth, but San Jose ended up firing 16 shots in the period to St. Louis‘ five in addition to extending their game total leads in face-offs (29-23), giveaways (two to four) and blocks (10 to eight).

Paul Stastny was sent to the box at the 8:44 mark for hooking Pavelski.  The Blues had not one, but two shorthanded scoring opportunities, but the score remained 2-1 with 9:16 remaining in regulation.

St. Louis earned their third period shot at the power play 20 seconds after Stastny returned to the ice when Hertl was caught tripping Colton Parayko.  Just like San Jose, the Notes were not able to produce with the man-advantage, so the score remained a one-goal differential.

Jones left the ice for the extra attacker with 2:30 remaining in regulation, but Elliot and the St. Louis defense was up to the task to secure the 2-1 victory.

Elliott earns the win afters saving 32 of 33 shots faced (97%), while Jones takes the loss, saving 21 of 23 (91.3%).

Game 2 between these squads will occur Tuesday night at 8 p.m. eastern at Scottrade Center.  It may be viewed on NBCSN, SN and TVAS.