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Nashville Predators 2018-19 Season Preview

Nashville Predators

53-18-11, 117 points, Presidents’ Trophy winners

Lost in the Second Round to Winnipeg (4-3)

Additions: C Colin Blackwell, LW Connor Brickley, RW Rocco Grimaldi, D Dan Hamhuis, C Zachary Magwood, LW Zac Rinaldo, D Jarred Tinordi

Subtractions: C Cody Bass, LW Brandon Bollig, D Stefan Elliott, D Alexei Emelin, C Mike Fisher, D Petter Granberg, LW Scott Hartnell, G Anders Lindback, C Mark McNeil, G Matt O’Connor, D Rick Pinkston, D John Ramage, C Trevor Smith, D Scott Valentine, LW Harry Zolnierczyk

Re-signed: D Ryan Ellis, RW Ryan Hartman, W Miikka Salomaki, G Juuse Saros

Offseason Analysis: The Predators had all the ingredients of a Stanley Cup winner last year. The offense was solid, the defense was stifling, and the goaltending was world-class. They boasted largely the same group that had made it all the way to the Final in 16-17, so now they had the experience and know-how that allows teams to get to the promised land. They dominated the regular season and walked into the playoffs with a Vince McMahon-like strut. Mike Fisher was so confident in their abilities to win a Cup that he quite literally decided he’d rather get back into hockey shape and unretire to join them for the playoffs rather than stay home and be Carrie Underwood’s husband (she never did return my letters about being her fill-in husband while he was away).

After dispatching of the Avs in the First Round, though, the Preds encountered a problem. They encountered (arguably) the one team that was capable of beating them: the Winnipeg Jets. The knock-down, drag-out playoff matchup hockey fans and media were begging for was to be the downfall of the Preds. Winnipeg’s unrelenting physicality, superior offensive firepower and the shattering of Pekka Rinne‘s confidence were too much for the Preds to overcome, and they’d fall unceremoniously in a 5-1 home loss after managing to force a Game 7.

Luckily for the Nashville brass, the offseason they faced wasn’t supremely daunting. Apart from a few young RFA’s and some aging role players (plus the re-retirement of Fisher), they had no real NHL-level contract concerns. The core of the team was secure heading into the 18-19 campaign. But still the sting of defeat in back-to-back potential Cup-winning years hurt, and efforts to counter a potential third year of the same had to be made.

With no draft picks until the fourth round, GM David Poile instead focused on free agency to bring immediate help to his team. When things opened up on July 1, he first tasked himself with helping them from within, re-signing wingers Miikka Salomaki (two years, $750 thousand per) and Ryan Hartman (one year, $875 thousand) and young stud No. 2 goaltender Juuse Saros (three years, $1.5 million per) to very reasonable deals. He then snagged one of his former draft picks in Dan Hamhuis, inking the 35-year-old to a two-year, $2.5 million contract to replace the departed Alexei Emelin and solidify the defense. Poile then knocked a big task off of next year’s to-do list when he signed defenseman Ryan Ellis to an eight-year, $50 million contract extension ($6.25 million cap hit) that takes hold next summer. Ellis has grown into one of the Preds’ most versatile and reliable defenders, and Poile saw no reason to wait on locking him up for the foreseeable future.

Few other signings were notable names, mostly organizational depth, although newcomers Rocco Grimaldi, Zac Rinaldo, Colin Blackwell, and AHL-contracted Brian Cooper have made noise to this point in training camp and are all still on the preseason roster heading into the final days/cuts.

Up front, the lineup will look largely unchanged from last year’s group, with really only depth positions likely up for grabs. Winger Scott Hartnell was the only full-timer from last year to depart, and 2017 first round pick Eeli Tolvanen looks poised to inherit his place in the lineup. While lacking Hartnell’s snarl, Tolvanen is a deadly shooter and spent last year lighting up the Finnish Elite League as a rookie fresh out of the USHL. With success in a men’s league and experience on North American ice, Tolvanen should be ready for an NHL roster spot. The only other notable absence, at least to start the season, will be the lack of power forward winger Austin Watson. The 26-year-old was suspended for the first 27 games of the season after pleading no contest to charges of domestic battery over the summer. It comes after Watson finally solidified his place in the Predators lineup last season, and they’ll have to make due without his size and physicality for at least the first few months of the year.

In Watson’s absense, I have the opening night forward group looking like:
Forsberg – Johansen – Arvidsson
Fiala – Turris – Smith
Tolvanen – Bonino – Sissons
Salomaki – Jarnkrok – Hartman
Extra forwards Grimaldi and Frederick Gaudreau

The defense also only lost one regular from last year, and Hamhuis should step right into that slot. Really only the No. 6 slot to his right remains a question, and while Matt Irwin and Anthony Bitetto are more than capable, they both have an uphill battle to unseat Yannick Weber based solely upon the fact that he’s the only right handed shot among them. The only problem facing the Preds here is that none of the three are on two-way contracts, so basically they get to decide who they’re most comfortable putting on waivers. In the end I think Irwin’s NHL experience could give him the edge in that decision.

Defensive lineup should look like:
Josi – Ellis
Ekholm – Subban
Hamhuis – Weber
Extra defender Irwin

In goal, it’s Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saros. Sorry I couldn’t make that any more entertaining.

Er, well, it is a contract year for Rinne. So… umm… that’ll be interesting, I guess.

Offseason Grade: B

Less really was more, here.

Poile played it smart, as he often does. He kept his spending to a minimum (the Preds should enter the season with a smidge north of $8 million to play with) and used the depth he’s accumulated to still ice one of the better lineups in the league.

The defense is arguably the best (or at least top three) in the league, and none of the top seven are in contract years. (In fact, only four forwards likely to make the NHL club are to see free agency next year, and every one of them is still RFA eligible)

Rinne is likely looking at his last shot at a Cup as a No. 1 guy (he’ll turn 36 this year), so he’ll be leaving nothing on the table.

The forward group is solid, if not spectacular. But with all that aforementioned cap space available, scoring punch can certainly be brought in sometime before the deadline if it proves to be a concern heading towards the playoffs.

We haven’t seen the last of Smashville playoff runs.

2018 Offseason Preview: Montréal Canadiens

Day 1 of our offseason preview series reaches a close with the third lottery-winning team, the Montréal Canadiens.

After finishing the season with a 29-40-13 record good enough for fourth-worst in the NHL, there’s little doubting the league’s most-storied franchise is in a bit of a funk right now. The offense was anemic (averaging a third-worst 2.52 goals per game), the defensive zone was equally as bad (allowing a seventh-worst 3.15 goals against per game) and the defense did little to make G Carey Price‘s life any easier (Montréal allowed a 12th-worst 32.3 shots against per game).

What can General Manager Marc Bergevin do to fix this mess?

2018 NHL Entry Draft

I’m of the firm belief that, barring select and rare circumstances, teams of any sport should always draft the best player available. Should Bergevin – as well as Buffalo and Carolina with their own selections – prescribe to that theory, I’d bank on Czech W Filip Zadina continuing to study his French after a season with QMJHL side Halifax.

Having played only one season with the Mooseheads, the 18-year-old was far and away the brightest rookie in his league. In 57 regular season games, Zadina posted wildly impressive 44-38-82 totals for 1.44 points per game, the fifth-best mark of any player in that league that played at least 51 games.

The tough predicament with Zadina is figuring out if he’ll join the Canadiens and begin his rookie season immediately, or if he’ll return to Halifax to develop another year in juniors. He certainly has the talent on his own, but the answer to that question has a better chance of being discovered after taking a look at how Montréal tackles free agency.

Pending free agents

The Habs have five forwards with NHL contracts that expired at the culmination of the regular season, but only RW Ales Hemsky is of the unrestricted variety. LW Daniel Carr, F Phillip Danault, F Jacob de la Rose and F Logan Shaw are all RFAs.

Turning 35-years-old before the 2018-19 season gets underway, there’s a chance Hemsky’s playing days could be behind him. In the last two seasons, he’s appeared in only 22 NHL games and hasn’t registered a point since his goal against the Devils on March 26, 2017. If anything, I’d expect the Oilers to offer him a one-day deal so he could retire with the team that drafted him 13th-overall in 2001.

Without a doubt, Carr and Danault should be seeing some of the Canadiens’ available $12 million slid their way, as the club’s struggles were far from a result of their play.

In the contract year of a $1.825 million, two-year deal, Danault posted decent 8-17-25 totals in 52 appearances (made only better in light of Montréal’s overall poor offense) for .48 points per game. At 25-years-old, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sign another two-year deal – this one worth at least $1.5 million per year.

In a similar strain, I’d also be just fine with seeing Carr sign for $1 million, even if it was only a one or two-year contract. Carr only played in 38 games this season, but he posted 6-10-16 totals to average .42 points per game. Carr may never develop into a top-six player, but most teams will gladly take that kind of production from a third-liner.

Back on the blue line, there’s exactly zero pending NHL free agents. That’s not exactly a good thing for Montréal considering its miserable defensive performance this season, so I would expect at least one of the Habs’ D-men to be on the move.

Even though he’ll turn 33-years-old this August, D Shea Weber is still the Canadiens’ best defenseman, but his attractiveness on the trade front is severely hampered by the eight remaining years on his $110 million contract (yes, your math is correct: Nashville signed Weber until he is 41-years-old).

Instead, D Jeff Petry might fetch a very nice return from a team lacking defense but wants to win now. He has three years remaining on his $5.5 million AAV contract and would likely fetch a similar, if not higher, price the Habs paid for him three years ago (a second and fourth-round pick).

Similar to the defensemen, Montréal has little to worry about in the goaltending department. This season is the first of Price’s eight-year, $84 million contract extension, and G Antti Niemi still has one year left on his sub-$1 million deal. Especially in light of Niemi posting a .929 save percentage in 19 appearances with the Canadiens last season, I doubt much will be changing here.

The only way this situation might be altered is if a team wants to trade for Niemi, but my guess is that sort of transaction is better suited for the trade deadline given his lackluster performances over the last few seasons.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals – May 22

 

Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators – Game 6

Though the Ducks led in almost every statistical category, it was Nashville that won 6-3 Monday to claim its first-ever Clearance Campbell Bowl and a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Game 6 had a sour start for Anaheim before the puck was even dropped. With John Gibson sidelined with a lower body injury, Randy Carlyle and the Ducks were forced to turn to backup Jonathan Bernier, making his first Stanley Cup playoffs start.

Unfortunately for Bernier, it was baptism by fire. He faced only four shots in the first period, but he gave up two goals. The first was struck only 81 seconds into the contest by Second Star of the Game Austin Watson (Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin), his first faced of the game. Two shots and 7:26 later,  a wrist shot from First Star Colton Sissons (Third Star Pontus Aberg) set the score at 2-0.

Following Sissons’ marker, the tides turned largely in favor of the visiting Ducks. Though they didn’t find the back of Pekka Rinne‘s net in the first frame, they did fire an impressive shots on net compared to Nashville’s four. That dominance continued in the second period when Anaheim fired 13 shots, nine more than Nashville.

Even more impressive, the Ducks could have registered even more shot offerings. Led by Watson’s six rejections, the Predators blocked a total of 22 shots in the game. A large reason for Anaheim’s strong possession time was a result of its work at the face-off circle. Thanks in large part to Ryan Getzlaf‘s 73% face-off win rate, the Ducks won 62% of play resumptions.

The most important thing the Ducks ensured by keeping puck in their offensive zone? They kept pucks off Bernier.

The Ducks were finally rewarded for their hard work at the 4:45 mark of the second period courtesy of Ondrej Kase‘s (Getzlaf and Sami Vatanen) wrister on a gaping cage due to Rinne blocking a previous shot at the near post.

With the comeback halfway complete, Anaheim looked to be well on its way to forcing a Game 7 at the Pond – but that was before Sissons (Aberg and Filip Forsberg) squeezed a backhanded shot between Bernier’s wickets to reclaim a two-goal lead for the Preds.

But the Ducks weren’t dead yet. Only two minutes after Aberg’s tally, Chris Wagner (Nicolas Kerdiles and Antoine Vermette) bounced a wrister off Rinne’s head to pull Anaheim back within a goal, and Cam Fowler (Vatanen) leveled the game at three-all 8:52 into the third period.

Fowler’s goal was not without controversy though, as Rinne felt Corey Perry‘s screen was a little too snug. Though Peter Laviolette challenged the play, but the referees sided with the Ducks and decided that Perry did not interfere with the netminder.

But whether the goal counted or not didn’t matter, the Ducks could not find a fourth marker. Unfortunately for them, the Predators could – and what a series-winner it was.

After receiving a pass from Calle Jarnkrok in the neutral zone, Sissons flew up the near boards into his offensive zone. Fowler ripped the puck off Sissons’ stick, but Jarnkrok was following close enough behind to maintain Nashville’s possession in the near slot. Once Jarnkrok saw Bernier had committed to sealing the near post, he crossed a pass to Sissons, who completed his hat trick with a nasty top shelf wrister.

As the clock was winding down and the Ducks still trailed by a tally, Carlyle was forced to pull Bernier for the extra attacker to try to continue his club’s season with 2:33 remaining in regulation. Forsberg (Vernon Fiddler) took advantage only 11 seconds later to set off the loudest cheers Bridgestone Arena had ever heard.

Watson (Ryan Ellis) tacked on yet another empty netter with 1:34 remaining in the game to set the final 6-3 score.

Regardless of the Predators’ opponent, they’ll be on the road for Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Puck drop for the series opener is scheduled for Monday, May 29. Though a starting time has yet to be announced, it is expected to be at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 14

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 is Connor Keith.

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 2

Montréal redeemed itself in in Game 2 by beating the Rangers 4-3 in overtime at the Bell Centre to level their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at a game apiece.

And none of it would have been possible if not for Third Star of the Game Tomas Plekanec‘s (First Star Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk) miracle goal with 18 ticks remaining on the clock in regulation. Carey Price had vacated his crease for the extra attacker, but the real advantage occurred when Shea Weber knocked Michael Grabner down along the blue line. That freed up the Galchenyuk to find Radulov in the far corner, who then set up Plekanec on the far post for a quick tip-in.

In similar fashion as far as the clock was concerned, the Canadiens waited to strike until the end of the overtime period was near. Radulov (Max Pacioretty and Weber) earned the first playoff game-winning goal of his career in the scrappiest of ways. Though the Habs captain had fired the initial shot, Second Star Henrik Lundqvist was able to keep that attempt out of his net. He was unable to contain that shot however, leaving the rebound in front of his crease ready for the taking by Radulov, who buried a wrister five hole for the victory.

Speaking of Lundqvist, he stood tall though he faced adversity all night. He knew he was in for a tough game when his stick snapped early in the first period. He was without that important piece of equipment for almost a minute, and Jeff Petry (Phillip Danault and Radulov) was able to take advantage for the opening goal of the game.

In all, the Rangers netminder saved an incredible 54-of-58 shots faced (93.1%). By comparison, Price saved 35-of-38 (92.1%) in his win.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 2

Thanks in large part to another stellar performance by Second Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins earned a 4-1 victory against the Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena to claim a two-game advantage in their Eastern Quarterfinals matchup.

Mike Sullivan is going to have quite the decision on his hands when Matthew Murray is cleared to resume play. Though last year’s Stanley Cup-winning goaltender was expected to command the Pens’ crease throughout the postseason, longtime starter Fleury has saved a combined 70 of 72 shots faced (97.2%) for two-straight victories.

Offensively, no one on the ice was finer than First Star Sidney Crosby. He posted a three-point effort on the night, including the lone tally of the first period.

It was an excellent play that started with Conor Sheary ripping the puck away from Sergei Bobrovsky behind the goaltender’s net. After Bobrovsky had given up on the play to return to his goal line, Sheary passed to Third Star Jake Guentzel (who took credit for the game-winner in the second period), who was waiting on the near side of the crease. Bobrovsky committed to saving a Guentzel shot, so the rookie dished across the crease to Crosby, who powered home an easy wrist shot.

 

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild – Game 2

It may not be what many predicted, but the Blues emerged from two games at the Xcel Energy Center with a two-game lead in their Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup against Minnesota thanks to a 2-1 victory.

Both clubs’ defenses were the true stars of this game. Neither Jake Allen (21 saves, 95.5%) nor Devan Dubnyk (22 saves, 91.7%) faced more than 24 shots, and a combined 27 shot blocks were earned between the two teams. The brightest blueliners were Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko, as both rejected three shots apiece from reaching Allen’s crease.

Another blueliner that earned his pay was Joel Edmundson, who seems to be taking over Kevin Shattenkirk‘s former position of two-way defenseman. Assisted by Patrik Berglund and Magnus Paajarvi, he fired a slap shot from the blueline to give the Notes an early lead in the second period.

Zach Parise (Eric Staal and Ryan Suter) made sure St. Louis would not escape the frame with the lead, though. Taking advantage of Alex Steen and Scottie Upshall sitting in the penalty box, Staal collected his own rebound and slid a pass between Allen and a sprawled Bouwmeester to Parise waiting at the top of the crease. The wing elevated his wrist shot bar-down over Allen to level the game at one-all.

With 2:27 remaining in regulation, Jaden Schwartz (Alex Pietrangelo and Kyle Brodziak) provided St. Louis its second tally of the night. The Blues’ captain dished to Schwartz from the red line, who entered the offensive zone slow enough to allow David Perron to screen Dubnyk. Schwartz did not simply use that screen, he used Perron. He fired his wrister five hole… on Perron… to find the back of the net before the Minnesota netminder even knew a shot was fired.

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 2

With a 2-0 victory over the Sharks at Rogers Place, Edmonton pulled even at one game apiece in its Western Conference Quarterfinal and earned the celebration it had been waiting 11 years for.

The Oilers scored only four shorthanded goals during the regular season, but both tallies they registered in the victory were on the penalty kill. One of those – the opening goal of the game – belonged to First Star of the Game Zack Kassian. He was the best player on the ice all night, sticking his nose in every play and throwing six hits – including two bone-rattling blows on Logan Couture and Brenden Dillon.

His shorty was a direct result of a Joe Pavelski fumbled puck early in the second period (It was that kind of night for the Sharks. They managed only 16 shots on goal). The wing collected the puck at the Sharks’ blueline, but Pavelski tried to steal it right back.

Unfortunatly for San Jose, his steal landed right on Mark Letestu‘s stick, who returned the puck to the streaking wing for a one-on-one showdown against Martin Jones. Kassian elected to fire a snap shot from between the face-off dots, beating the netminder low for the winner.

The usual star of the Oilers would not be outdone. Just like Kassian, Third Star Connor McDavid registered the first goal of his playoff career in a shorthanded situation. Assisted by Darnell Nurse and Second Star Cam Talbot, he fired a snapper from the far face-off dot after screaming up the boards to beat Jones low.

March 19 – Day 151 – We’ve turned into David Copperfield

There may be fewer games on today’s schedule compared to yesterday’s 10-game slate, but these matchups are no less important. The action starts at 1 p.m. with two games (Columbus at New Jersey and Florida at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS]), followed by Minnesota at Winnipeg at 5 p.m. Colorado at Chicago (NHLN) drops the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, trailed by two more (Carolina at Philadelphia and Ottawa at Montréal [RDS/SN]) half an hour later. Finally, Los Angeles at Calgary (SN1) acts as tonight’s nightcap, getting underway at 9:30 p.m. All times eastern.

In what is probably a first in the short history of the DtFR Game of the Day series, today’s featured game is nearly an exact replica of yesterday’s, as we follow the Canadiens and Senators from Ottawa to Montréal.

 

Since we just featured this matchup, today’s preview is going to look a little bit different. To start, the best way to set today’s matchup is with a recap of yesterday’s:


For the second night in a row, the road team won the DtFR Game of the Day with on a shootout victory. Last night, it was the Canadiens who beat Ottawa 4-3.

No goals were registered in the first period, but three were scored in both the remaining frames. Andrew Shaw (Phillip Danault and Shea Weber) got the scoring at the 22:37 mark of the game, but Third Star of the Game Derick Brassard (Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman) buried a power play wrist shot 9:59 later to level the game at one-all. With 6:08 remaining in the second period, Ryan Dzingel (Alexandre Burrows and Second Star Erik Karlsson) scored a wrister to give the Senators a 2-1 lead they would take into the second intermission.

With two goals in 31 seconds, the Canadiens flipped a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead. 6:15 into the period, Danault (Artturi Lehkonen and Shaw) scored a wrister to tie the game at two-all, followed by a Brendan Gallagher (Andrei Markov) wrister to set the score at 3-2. With 4:57 remaining in regulation, Karlsson (Marc Methot and Brassard) buried his wrister to set tie the game at three-all, which would hold through the rest of timed play.

Off to the shootout!

  1. The best way to score in the shootout is to put a puck on net. Bobby Ryan apparently did not get that memo.
  2. First Star Paul Byron took advantage of Ryan’s mistake, burying his shot into Craig Anderson‘s net. The Habs led the shootout 1-0 after the first round.
  3. Turris tried to level the shootout for Ottawa, but Carey Price was up to the task and did not yield a tally, earning a sink-to-win scenario for Montréal.
  4. Alexander Radulov is not one to shy away from pressure in the shootout, and he proved that once again by scoring the unofficial game-winning goal.

Price earned the victory after saving 28-of-31 shots faced (90.3%), leaving the shootout loss to Anderson, who saved 29-of-32 (90.625%).

Those two straight shootout-winners by the 78-53-22 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series is part of a larger four-game winning streak, which has expanded their lead to five points over the series’ hosts.


That may have been the first blemish the Senators‘ record has suffered at the hands of Montréal this year, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have a two-point lead on the Habs in the season series.

Of course, the most important two-point lead belongs to Montréal. That lead, of course, pertains to the Atlantic Division.

That’s what has made this weekend’s series so important. Although the Habs have led the division for almost the entire season, the competition between these two clubs has been very tight for the entire year. The Sens are right behind the Habs, and could claim the division lead with a victory tonight due to their game-in-hand.

Goaltending is the strength of both these clubs, as made evident in last night’s meeting. Since 21-8-2 Anderson and 32-17-5 Price both played in yesterday’s prolonged game, it will be intriguing to see if they get the nod again today or if 18-12-6 Mike Condon and/or 8-6-3 Al Montoya make an appearance.

Had yesterday’s meeting not gone into a shootout, I would’ve been very confident in guessing that Montoya would continue to ride the bench this evening. Of course, the extra work could have Guy Boucher and Cluade Julien reconsidering their original plans.

Offensively, there’s no secret who leads the home Canadiens. It’s easily been Max Pacioretty and his 60 points – including 33 goals, another club high. Although he didn’t get on the scorecard last night against Anderson, the Habs‘ captain has a knack for scoring against the Sens. He’s registered 11 goals for 22 points over his career against Ottawa, including a hat trick plus two assists on April 4, 2014.

Ottawa‘s main offensive threat doesn’t even technically play offense. Of course, it’s the one-and-only Karlsson. He’s notched 65 points this season, the second-highest total among blueliners league-wide. Turris has a slight edge over Mark Stone in the Sens‘ goal-scoring race, but that’s due in part to the right wing missing four more games than the proud owner of 23 tallies.

Yesterday’s game may not have been the best example, but Montréal should have a special teams advantage in tonight’s game due to Ottawa‘s struggles on the power play. The Senators convert only 17.8% of their man-advantages, which is the 10th-worst rate in the NHL.

That being said, the Sens have definitely been on the upswing in the last month. Since February 19, Ottawa has converted 21.4% of their power plays, a 3.6% improvement in comparison to their season average.

Regardless of who wins this very important game, it looks to be certain that these clubs will finish first and second in the division. Boston has 82 points to its credit (which trails Ottawa by only four points), but all three teams have been playing solid hockey of late.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Montréal‘s Pacioretty (33 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Price (32 wins [tied for sixth-most in the league] on a .922 save percentage [seventh-best in the NHL] and a 2.28 GAA [tied for eighth-best in the league) & Ottawa‘s Anderson (.929 save percentage [tied for third-best in the NHL] for a 2.25 GAA [seventh-best in the league]) or Condon (five shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]) and Karlsson (51 assists [third-most in the league]).

While it proved correct to pick the Canadiens last night, a quick, incomplete search implies that oddsmakers are not so against the Senators with Anderson is involved in play. That being said, I’m still leaning towards Montréal in what should be another tight, exciting game.

Hockey Birthday

  • Vladimir Konstantinov (1967-) – This 11th-rounder in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft may have lasted only six seasons with Detroit, but it was a successful six years. That was no more true than his final season in the league when he hoisted the 1997 Stanley Cup.
  • Tyler Bozak (1986-) – This center has played his entire eight-year NHL career with the Maple Leafs, and he’s en route for the best campaign in that time this season. His 31 assists this season is already a career-high, and his 47 points is only two points short of matching his two-time high (last in 2014-’15).

March 18 – Day 150 – The previewiest of playoff previews

Saturdays are known for being action-packed, and today does not disappoint with its 10 contests. The first two games (Colorado at Detroit and Columbus at the New York Islanders [NHLN]) are matinees and drop the puck at 1 p.m. They’re just a sampler of excitement to come, as five matchups (the New York Rangers at Minnesota [NHLN], Chicago at Toronto [CBC/CITY], Montréal at Ottawa [SN/TVAS], Washington at Tampa Bay and Nashville at Carolina) get underway at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. St. Louis at Arizona gets green-lit two hours later, followed by Vancouver at Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. and Anaheim at San Jose at 10:30 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Colorado at Detroit: It’s an old-school, former Western Conference rivalry between teams that have seen better days.
  • Chicago at Toronto: For the first time in a long while, the Blackhawks‘ lone visit to the Air Canada Centre should provide a thrilling contest.
  • Montréal at Ottawa: The Atlantic Division lead is on the line in this rivalry tonight, the first half of a home-and-home series this weekend.
  • Anaheim at San Jose: Another rivalry, this one takes place in another competitive division: the Pacific.

I tried to come up with a better reason for any other game, but this weekend’s home-and-home between the top two teams in the Atlantic Division is just too big to ignore. Off to the Canadian capital!

 

Talk about a playoff preview. Not only does tonight’s game offer a look into a potential second round meeting between these two clubs, but the fact that they square off again tomorrow night at the Bell Centre gives a full sense of how that series could play out.

Oh yeah, and these teams aren’t necessarily fond of each other to start with. As if this weekend’s games couldn’t get more exciting, they just found a way too.

Of course, the 39-23-8 Canadiens cast a large, imposing shadow in light of both what they’ve done in their history as well as what they’ve simply done this year. They’ve topped the Atlantic Division for effectively the entire season, and it’s all been on the back of their incredible goaltending which has allowed only 174 goals against, which ties for seventh-fewest in the NHL.

A major reason for that is the fact that 31-17-5 Carey Price calls Montréal home (shh, we’re not talking about how he’s originally from Canucks-country). Joint-winner of the 2015 William M. Jennings Trophy, he has a .922 season save percentage and 2.27 GAA, the seventh and eighth-best rates, respectively, among the 40 goaltenders with at least 27 appearances.

Price is excellent on his own, but it doesn’t hurt to have one of the better defensive corps in the league playing in front of him. Led by Shea Weber and his team-leading 143 shot blocks, that’s exactly what Cluade Julien has at his disposal, as the Habs‘ blueline has allowed only 29.8 shots against per game, which ties for the 10th-best effort in the league.

If you like goaltender matchups, this weekend’s series is the one for you. The 39-23-7 Senators have been stuck in Montréal‘s shadow for most of the season, even though they trail the Habs for first place in the Atlantic by only one point. They are another team that prefer to grind out a victory, as they’ve allowed only 176 goals against – the ninth-fewest in the NHL.

Although 21-8-1 Craig Anderson had resumed his starting responsibilities since rejoining the Sens, he’s been forced to miss the last two games with a lower body injury. With that in mind, I’d guess that 18-12-6 Mike Condon – a former Montréal goaltender – will once again be called into the fray. The second-year player is definitely the second-best netminder Guy Boucher has had at his disposal this season, but he hasn’t been abysmal. In fact, Condon’s .914 season save percentage and 2.49 GAA (those numbers include his short time with Pittsburgh earlier in the year) ranks 25th and 18th-best in the league, respectively, among the 50 other goalies with at least 18 appearances.

Beyond experience, what makes Condon’s task a little more difficult than counterpart Price’s is the fact that Ottawa‘s defense is not on par with that of Montréal‘s. Even with Erik Karlsson‘s league-leading 187 shot blocks, the Senators still allow 30.3 shots to reach their netminder’s crease per game, which is the 15th-highest average in the league.

Another facet of the game where the Sens definitely do not have an advantage over the Canadiens is in the power play. Though led by Karlsson’s 23 power play points, Ottawa has converted only 17.7% of its man-advantages into goals – the 10th-worst rate in the NHL. That being said, Mike Hoffman has been a shining star on the power play, as he has buried a dozen goals with the extra-man, which ties for fourth-most in the league.

It’s been all Ottawa so far this season when these two clubs have met, as the Senators have a three-point advantage in the two-game series. The last time they squared off was on November 22 in Montréal where, thanks to Karlsson’s game-winning third period goal, the Sens won 4-3.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (33 goals [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Price (31 wins on a .922 save percentage [both seventh-best in the league] and a 2.27 GAA [eighth-best in the NHL]) & Ottawa‘s Condon (five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Karlsson (50 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL]).

Vegas is favoring a lot of road teams this evening, and Montréal is one of them – Ottawa‘s line reads +100. In light of the previous two meetings between these clubs, it would seem tough to favor the Habs, but the fact that Condon was not involved in those games is enough for me to go with the club wearing white.

Hockey Birthday

  • Stanley Cup (1892-) – You might have heard of this. It’s only the most desired trophy in the sport of hockey, if not all sports. You know, nothing major.
  • Guy Lapointe (1948-) – Speaking of the Stanley Cup, this defenseman hoisted it six times, all with the club he played a majority of his career with: Montréal. The four-time All Star was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.
  • Guy Carbonneau (1960-) – The Canadiens certainly have an affinity for Guys, as they drafted this center 44th-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. He played in Montréal for most of his 19-year career, and won two of his three Stanley Cups with the club. He also won three Frank J. Selke Trophies.
  • Kimmo Timonen (1975-) – Although selected by Los Angeles in the 10th-round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman ended up being a four-time All Star. He spent most of his career in Nashville, but was a member of Chicago‘s 2015 Stanley Cup winning team.
  • Zdeno Chara (1977-) – Although now known most for his 11 seasons with the Bruins, this defenseman was actually selected by the Islanders 56th-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. He’s a six-time All Star and hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2011 to go with his 2009 James Norris Memorial Trophy.

A 10-round shootout, decided by Zemgus Girgensons, earned the Sabres the bonus point in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat Anaheim 2-1.

The first goal of the game was struck by Rickard Rakell (Third Star of the Game Cam Fowler and Brandon Montour), a backhanded shot with 8:12 remaining in the first period. It is Rakell’s 31st goal of the year, an total made even more impressive since he missed 11 games this season.

Ryan O’Reilly (Jake McCabe and Second Star Jack Eichel) is the man responsible for leveling the game at one-all. He buried a slap shot with 4:25 remaining in the second period after Eichel’s 29th assist of the season.

Since I’ve already spoiled the surprise of the shootout, let’s jump right there, as none of the 30 combined shots in the third period or overtime found the back of the net.

  1. As the home team, the Ducks had the opportunity to go first in the shootout. They sent out Jakob Silfverberg, who’s shot was saved by Anders Nilsson.
  2. Speaking of saves, that’s exactly what First Star Jonathan Bernier did to Tyler Ennis. The shootout score stayed at 0-0.
  3. Next up was Ryan Getzlaf, who buried his shot for Anaheim.
  4. O’Reilly was quick to hold serve for the Sabres, once again tying the shootout at one-all.
  5. Rakell: saved by Nilsson.
  6. Eichel: saved by Bernier. Shootout still tied at 1-1.
  7. Corey Perry missed the net.
  8. Sam Reinhart: saved by Bernier. Still tied at 1-1.
  9. Patrick Eaves: saved by Nilsson.
  10. Evander Kane missed the net. 1-1 still.
  11. Fowler: saved by Nilsson.
  12. Matt Moulson missed the net. Yup, still 1-1.
  13. Antoine Vermette: saved by Nilsson.
  14. Brian Gionta: saved by Bernier. You know the shootout score by now.
  15. Ryan Kesler: saved by Nilsson.
  16. Evan Rodrigues: saved by Bernier. Still tied at 1-1.
  17. Brandon Montour broke the monotony by beating Nilsson, forcing a miss-and-lose situation for the Sabres.
  18. Under that pressure, Dan Bylsma sent out Rasmus Ristolainen, which proved to be the right choice. The defenseman continued the shootout by tying it at 2-2.
  19. Nick Ritchie: saved by Nilsson.
  20. Girgensons found the game-winner on his stick, pulling the Sabres within eight points of the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Nilsson earned the victory after saving 39-of-40 (97.5%) shots faced in regulation and overtime, leaving the shootout loss to Bernier, who saved 30-of-31 (96.8%).

After all that, the 77-52-22 road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a four-point advantage on home teams, due in part to their three-game winning streak.

March 2 – Day 134 – Subban’s back

Now that the trade deadline is behind us, it’s time to clamp down and see how the 39 remaining days of the regular season are going to play out.

That watch starts with a bang tonight, as there’s 10 games on tonight’s schedule. The action gets underway at 7 p.m. with five games (New Jersey at Washington, the New York Rangers at Boston [NBCSN/TVAS], Florida at Philadelphia, Minnesota at Columbus and Arizona at Buffalo), followed half an hour later by two more (Nashville at Montréal [RDS/SN] and Colorado at Ottawa [RDS2]). The New York Islanders at Dallas drops the puck at 8:30 p.m., trailed two hours later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Toronto at Los Angeles and Vancouver at San Jose.

Short list:

  • New York at Boston: You know, it’s just an Original Six rivalry between two playoff contenders.
  • Nashville at Montréal: The game many in Quebec have been waiting for: the return of  P.K. Subban.
  • Colorado at Ottawa: Patrick Wiercioch also returns to his former home arena of five seasons tonight.

No discussion. There’s no way we’re not watching Subban’s return to the Bell Centre.

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It was one of the biggest probably most unexpected trades of the 2016 offseason. Marc Bergevin decided to swap defensemen with the Predators, shipping Subban to the Music City in exchange for Shea Weber. Nothing else was involved in the trade – no money or salary retention, no picks or prospects. Just man for man.

Subban was drafted 43rd-overall by the Habs in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and he has playing regularly in the league since the 2010-’11 season. Known for his offensive abilities just as much as his defensive play, he scored 278 points over his seven seasons in Montréal, and helped them to five playoff appearances, including two Eastern Conference Finals appearances.

One of those Conference Finals appearances was in 2010. Subban’s first taste of the playoffs was only his third NHL game played, but that didn’t seem to phase him. In the 14 games he appeared for the Habs before they were eliminated by Philadelphia, he notched eight points – the second-most on the team by a blueliner, and with five fewer games than Roman Hamrlik.

But unlike other blueliners who are often caught sacrificing their defensive responsibilities to get their names on the scoreboard, Subban rarely makes his goaltender a victim of his play. He’s blocked a total of 685 shots in his career and has a +29 rating since ’10-’11, the 21st-best mark among defensemen with at least 154 points to their name in that time. That came to a point in his 2012-’13 campaign, when he won the Norris Trophy with 38 points and 49 shot blocks.

Given the fact that both clubs seem to be headed to the playoffs this season, neither team has lost the trade in the short-term. But it is surprising that the Canadiens would give up Subban, who is going to turn 28-years-old in May, for Weber, who turned 31 in August. Four years isn’t much in the “real world,” but in sports that’s a huge number. It could be argued that Weber has more experience, but what more does Subban really have to learn? Plus, Subban has so much more hockey to provide his club. Thanks to this trade, the Predators should be a threat in the Central Division for years to come.

Speaking of the Preds, they enter tonight’s game riding a four-game winning streak with a 32-22-9 record, the third-best mark in the Central Division. Offense has been the name of the game this season in Nashville, as the Predators have managed 186 goals in 63 games – the eighth-best scoring rate in the league.

Smashville‘s first line truly lives up to it’s club’s nickname, as they are the true backbone on this team. Both Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen have notched 49 points so far this season to co-head the squad in the statistic, but it’s been Forsberg who has been the most dominant player in a gold sweater. He’s buried 26 goals to lead the side, and is on pace for eight more. If he can reach that total (which he’s trying hard to do, scoring 10 goals in his last five games), it would set a new career-high by beating last year’s 33-goal mark.

Themselves riding a three-game winning streak, the Canadiens boast a 35-21-8 record for their season’s mark, good enough for first place in the Atlantic Division. Nashville‘s vaunted offense will face a stiff test this evening, as the Habs like to play defense – and they do a pretty good job of it. They’ve allowed only 161 tallies against in 64 contests, which ties for the sixth-best rate in the NHL.

Of course, that effort starts in net, where the Canadiens are pleased to employ 27-16-5 Carey Price. A team knows they’ve found a good goaltender when he’s having an average year by his standards, but is still one of the best in the league. He has a season .92 save percentage and 2.37 GAA, the (t)ninth and 11th-best effort among the 43 netminders with at least 24 appearances.

It doesn’t hurt that he has a defense in front of him that ties for 12th-best in the league at limiting shots on his net. Led by Weber’s 130 shot blocks, the Predators allow only 30 shots-per-game to reach Price’s net.

Although the offense as a whole hasn’t been anything to write home about, the Habs‘ power play is still one of the best in the league. Led by Weber’s 21 points with the man-advantage, Montréal ties for 10th-best on the power play with a 21.5% success rate. 11 of Weber’s points have been goals, which leads not only the team, but is also tied for fourth-most in the entire NHL (most among blueliners).

The Candiens have already made their yearly visit to Bridgestone Arena, but it wasn’t an easy trip. They needed an overtime winner from Captain Max Pacioretty to claim a 2-1 victory over Nashville on January 3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Montréal‘s Pacioretty (31 goals [tied for second-most in the league]) and Price (.92 save percentage [10th-best in the NHL] for 27 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league) & Nashville‘s Johansen (39 assists [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and Pekka Rinne (25 wins [10th-most in the league]).

Vegas is siding with home ice and defense tonight, as they’ve marked Montréal a -130 favorite. That’s a line I have to agree with. Both teams seem to be on the upswing at the right time, but an always strong Bell Centre crowd will propel Le Grand Club to victory.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bill Quackenbush (1922-1999) – This Hall of Fame defenseman played 14 seasons in the NHL, almost evenly splitting time between Detroit and Boston (he played more games for the Bruins). An eight-time All-Star, he won the 1949 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy.
  • Claude Larose (1942-) – A long-time Canadien, this right wing was a member of five Stanley Cup-winning clubs. He played in four All-Star games in his 16-year career and registered 483 points.
  • Eddie Johnstone (1954-) – Selected by the Rangers in the sixth-round of the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft, this right wing played 10 seasons in the NHL. His best campaign was in the 1980-’81 season when he scored a career-best 68 points, and he was rewarded with his lone All-Star appearance.
  • Raimo Summanen (1962-) – Another sixth-rounder, this left wing was selected by Edmonton in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft. He may have only played in five NHL seasons, but he was a member of the Oilers‘ 1984 Stanley Cup-winning squad.
  • Tomas Kaberle (1978-) – Players drafted in the eighth-round are not expected to be this good, but Toronto found a stud in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. This defenseman, who spent most of his career with the Maple Leafs, was named to four All-Star Games, and also hoisted the 2011 Stanley Cup.
  • Henrik Lundqvist (1982-) – Speaking of late picks, this goaltender turned out to be okay. King Henrik was selected by the Rangers in the seventh-round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, and the rest is history. A three-time All Star and the winner of the 2012 Vezina Trophy, the only accolade missing from his resume is a title.
  • Jay McClement (1983-) – St. Louis picked this center 57th-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s currently playing his third season in Carolina. He’s registered 243 points in his 12-year career.
  • Ryan Shannon (1983-) – This center played only six seasons in the NHL, but he managed to hoist the Stanley Cup in his rookie season with Anaheim‘s 2006-’07 club.

If you didn’t heed our advice and watch yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, you missed an absolutely phenomenal contest. The most surprising part of Chicago‘s 4-1 victory over the Penguins? It was Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling that was the First Star of the Game, not hat trick-scoring Patrick Kane, who was left with Second Star honors.

Kane’s (Third Star Nick Schmaltz) first of three tallies were struck 28:49 into the game, giving the Hawks a one-goal lead. Pittsburgh fought back with three minutes remaining in the second period when Scott Wilson (Ron Hainsey) buried a slap shot so fast that the referee didn’t see the puck enter the net (Toronto had to stop the game for an official review), but Richard Panik (Duncan Keith) reclaimed the lead for Chicago with one of the best goals of the year. That 2-1 lead held into the second intermission.

Kane took credit for both the insurance goals in the final frame. The first (Schmaltz and Artemi Panarin) was a snap shot, and the second was an unassisted backhander on an empty net.

Darling earned the victory after saving 36-of-37 shots faced (97.3%). Marc-Andre Fleury also had a better game than the numbers indicate in the loss, saving 25-of-28 (89.3%).

With Chicago‘s home victory, DtFR Game of the Day hosts have pulled within 10 points of the 70-44-22 roadies.

February 25 – Day 129 – Bring a broom

If Saturdays are good for nothing else, they’re definitely fantastic for hockey.

Even better, we’re treated with a wide sample of matinee action today. Anaheim at Los Angeles (NHLN/SN1) gets things started at 4 p.m., followed an hour later by a trio of contests (Washington at Nashville [SN], the New York Islanders at Columbus and the New York Rangers at New Jersey). The usual starting time of 7 p.m. marks the puck drop of Montréal at Toronto (CBC/CITY/TVAS), followed 60 minutes later by Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (NBC/SN/TVAS2). Finally, today’s co-nightcaps (San Jose at Vancouver [CBC/SN1] and Buffalo at Colorado) drop the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Anaheim at Los Angeles: The Freeway Face-Off resumes at 1 p.m. local time.
  • New York at New Jersey: The Battle of the Hudson River also rages on at the Prudential Center.
  • Montréal at Toronto: These rivals go way, way back.
  • Philadelphia at Pittsburgh: So do these enemies, but tonight’s game will not take place at PPG Paints Arena. Instead, it’s under the lights at Heinz Field.

I know the NHL loves its outdoor games, but the best game happening today is easily the one in Hogtown between two of the best teams the Atlantic Division has to offer.

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Nevermind the fact that these teams have been competing since 1917, how could a rivalry not emerge between the two largest cities in Canada, especially when they’re separated by only 337 miles 542 kilometers?

Montréal makes their second and final trip of the regular season to the Air Canada Centre with a 32-21-8 record, the best mark in the Atlantic Division. Defense and goaltending has definitely been the name of the game in the City of Saints this season, as the Habs have allowed only 156 goals in 61 games, which ties them for the eighth-best rate in the NHL.

Of course, that always starts with the goaltender, and the Canadiens have a good one in 25-16-6 Carey Price. His .918 save percentage and 2.43 GAA are not only the best of the two netminders Claude Julien has at his disposal, but they also tie for 11th and 12th-best in the league, respectively, among the 43 goalies with at least 23 appearances.

What makes Price special is the fact that the defense playing in front of him is, although above average, not one of the elite units in the league. They allow 29.8 shots-per-game to reach his crease, which ties them for only 11th-best in the NHL. Shea Weber has been at the forefront of that effort with his team-leading 127 shot blocks. At the rate Weber is on, he is on pace for a total of 171 blocks by the end of the regular season, the second-highest mark of his career.

Surprisingly, that effort does not carry over to the penalty kill at all, as the Canadiens rank ninth-worst in the league when down a man. Even with Weber’s 34 shorthanded blocks (which ties for third-most in the NHL), Montréal only stops 80.3% of opposing power plays.

Of course, if they’re allowed to, the Habs usually have a good chance of earning that goal back. Successful on 21% of attempts, Montréal ranks 10th-best in the league on the man-advantage. That effort has been headlined by Shea “Special-Teams-Mastermind” Weber, who has 19 power play points to lead the team. 11 of those points have been goals which tie for fourth-most in the NHL in addition to – you guessed it – leading the squad.

Hosting them this evening are the 28-20-12 Maple Leafs, the third-best team in the Atlantic. This team has certainly accumulated some offensive firepower, as they’ve taken credit for 186 goals so far this season, the fifth-most in the NHL.

The ringmaster of that attack is the next NHL stud, rookie Auston Matthews. He’s already accounted for 52 points this season and shows no sign of slowing down. One of his favorite things to do is shoot the puck, but Toronto isn’t complaining. Even though he leads his club in shot attempts, he has the fourth-highest shooting percentage  (13.3%) for 28 goals, the clubhouse lead.

When was the last time the Leafs could claim the best power play in the league? Regardless, it’s happening right now, as their 23.1% success rate is .3% better than Minnesota’s. While one rookie leads the even-strength effort, another has taken an interest in the five-on-four play. William Nylander has 19 power play points to his credit to lead the squad, but it’s actually Nazem Kadri he’ll need to keep an extra-close eye on. Kadri has potted 10 goals with the extra man this season, which leads the team.

The penalty kill has also played extremely well this season for Toronto. Led by Roman Polak‘s 29 shorthanded shot blocks, the Leafs have correctly battled 83.5% of opposing power plays, which ties for eighth-best in the NHL.

The Canadiens have already clinched the season series between these clubs this year with a perfect 3-0-0 record. The last time they met was January 7, when the Habs won 5-3 on this very surface thanks to Alexander Radulov‘s one-goal, two-point performance.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (28 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Price (25 wins [ninth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Matthews (28 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]).

It’s not a huge spread, but being favored is always a club’s preference. Vegas has marked the Maple Leafs as a -114 favorite to win this evening, and I believe they’ll be able to keep up their end of the bargaining. Regardless of how well their special teams will play or home ice advantage, this is big hurdle for this team. Toronto does not want to get swept by one of their biggest rivals this season, and they’re going to put everything on the line tonight to win.

Hockey Birthday

  • King Clancy (1903-1986) – This defenseman spent most of his 16-season NHL career with the original Senators franchise. Hoisting two of his three Stanley Cups with the club, the Hall of Famer is now memorialized in the NHL by having a leadership and humanitarian award named in his honor.
  • Anton Volchenkov (1982-) – Another defenseman that spent most of his career in Ottawa, this Russian was selected 21st-overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Sens. Although he has not yet formally retired, he has not made an appearance in the NHL since the 2014-’15 season.
  • Justin Abdelkader (1987-) – This left wing was selected 42nd-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Detroit, and he’s been there ever since. His best season was in 2014-’15 when he accounted for 23 goals and 44 points, both career-highs.

With three-straight unanswered goals in the first frame, the Flames bested Florida 4-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

A whopping five goals were struck in the first period, starting with Nick Bjugstad‘s (Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith) power play slap shot for the Panthers only 4:54 into the game. That 1-0 lead is all the motivation the Flames needed to start their scoring stampede. Sam Bennett (Michael Stone and Second Star of the Game Troy Brouwer) pulled the game even 4:03 after Bjugstad’s tally, and Mikael Backlund (Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik) gave the Flames a 2-1 lead with a wrist shot. The goal that proved to be the game-winner belonged to Deryk Engelland (Frolik and Tkachuk), the third Calgary goal in 4:54 of play. With 2:40 remaining in the period, Third Star Aleksander Barkov (Jonathan Huberdeau and Smith) pulled Florida back within a goal with a pure snap shot, setting the score at 3-2.

Brouwer (Matt Stajan and Lance Bouma) tacked on an additional insurance goal, the final of the game, in the second period to secure Calgary‘s 4-2 victory.

First Star Chad Johnson earned the victory after saving 36-of-38 shots faced (94.7%), leaving the loss to Roberto Luongo, who saved 24-of-28 (85.7%).

For the past seven days, all road teams featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series have done is win. That streak has improved the visitors’ record to 67-43-21, eight points better than home teams in the series.

February 18 – Day 122 – No, he’s your friend now!

The best day of the week – at least for hockey – is finally upon us! 11 games are taking place today, starting with St. Louis at Buffalo at 1 p.m. The final matinees of the day drop the puck an hour later (Washington at Detroit [NHLN] and Winnipeg at Montréal [CBC/SN/TVAS]), followed by three (Edmonton at Chicago [NHLN/SN], the New York Islanders at New Jersey and Ottawa at Toronto [CBC/TVAS]) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. 8 p.m. marks the beginning of a trio of contests (San Jose at Arizona, Tampa Bay at Dallas and Nashville at Minnesota), with the co-nightcaps – Florida at Los Angeles and Calgary at Vancouver (CBC/SN) – dropping the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Winnipeg at Montréal: Wait, wasn’t Claude Julien just coaching against the Canadiens on Sunday? Yes, yes he was.
  • New York at New Jersey: If he’s active tonight, this will be Stephen Gionta‘s first game in the Prudential Center wearing white after six seasons with the Devils.
  • Ottawa at Toronto: Have you checked the standings recently? This isn’t just a rivalry game, it’s a scrap for Atlantic Division positioning!
  • Calgary at Vancouver: Matt Bartkowski was a member of the rival-Canucks last season, but he could make his Flames debut tonight against them.

I’m very disappointed today is Julien’s first game back as the Habs‘ coach, as the Battle for Ontario should be spectacular. Nonetheless, we always feature a coach’s first game with his new squad after a mid-season change, so we’re off to the Bell Centre.

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Ah, the twists and turns of Julien’s career. 11 years removed from an uninspiring playing career from an NHL standpoint, Julien began his NHL coaching career with none other than the Montréal Canadiens. Hired midway through the 2002-’03 season to replace Michel Therrien (yes, seriously. Therrien) in the midst of a campaign that ended with a 30-35-8-9 record, he managed to qualify the Habs to the Eastern Conference Semifinals only a year later.

That apparently wasn’t enough to keep him his job, as he was released at the halfway point of the 2005-’06 season even though he laid the groundwork of a team that qualified for the playoffs in its second-straight campaign.

His next stop was with the Devils the following season, but it was a short one. Even though he led New Jersey to a 47-24-8 record, he was cut three games before the playoffs.

That was just fine for the Bruins, who signed Julien almost three months later. Of course,  that’s both his most noteworthy and longest-tenured assignment. He was Boston’s bench boss for over nine-and-a-half seasons, leading them to four division titles, a Presidents’ Trophy, two Stanley Cup Finals appearances and, of course, the franchise’s sixth Stanley Cup.

It seems to be in Julien’s best interest to not have a winning record, because after leading the Bruins to a 26-23-6 record, the league’s then-longest-tenured coach was released on February 7.

The irony of the whole situation is that not only was Julien hired once again by the Canadiens mid-season, but that he once again replaced Therrien. Even more bizarre, Therrien had the Habs rolling this season, notching a 31-19-8 record before being released this Valentine’s Day.

Of course, part of the reason for this change must be that Therrien was also in charge of last year’s Canadiens team that started their campaign 9-0-0 yet failed to end the season within 10 points of playoff position. That, and the Habs are currently riding a two-game losing skid and are 3-6-1 in their last 10 contests.

Regardless of the reason he’s back in The City of Saints, Julien takes over a club that plays sound defense with good great goaltending to boot, as the Habs have allowed only 148 goals against in 58 games, the eighth-best rate in the league.

Of course, the man that deserves the most credit is goaltender Carey Price, who has earned every bit of his 24-14-5 record. With a .917 season save percentage and 2.46 GAA, he is not only the best netminder in Montréal, but also the 14th and 13th-best in the NHL in those regards, respectively.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an above-average defense playing in front of him. Led by Shea Weber and his 120 shot blocks, the Habs allow only 29.9 shots-per-game to reach Price’s crease, the 12th-best effort in the league.

Surprisingly, that overall effort does not carry over to the penalty kill, as the Canadiens are eighth-worst in the NHL at only a 79.4% success rate. With his 33 shorthanded shot blocks (tied for second-most in the league), Weber has kept up his spectacular play when a man down, but the rest of the squad needs to help limit the opposition’s scoring chances for Price, who has faced the fourth-most power play shots in the league.

Fortunately for the Canadiens, they’re able to earn back those goals allowed on the penalty kill with a powerful power play of their own. Successful on 21.4% of attempts, Montréal is eighth-best in the league with a man-advantage. The leader of that effort is special teams ace Weber, who has 18 power play points to his credit, including a team-high 10 extra-man tallies.

26-29-5 Winnipeg just seems to have the worst luck of late. Thursday night they were in victim and fell prey to Sidney Crosby, a man intent on earning his 1000th point in front of his home crowd. Two days later, they have to go up against a coach making his debut with his new club – a circumstance in which four other men have found victory. If the Jets want to win this game, they’ll have to shore up their defense, which has allowed 190 goals this season – the most on the league.

As far as goaltending is concerned, 18-15-2 Connor Hellebuyck takes most of the fall for the Jets. Although he has a winning record and is the best Winnipeg netminder, he has a .91 season save percentage and 2.8 GAA to his credit – only the (t)29th and (t)34th-best efforts, respectively, among the 47 goalies with at least 19 appearances.

Unfortunately for the Jets, it gets worse before it gets better. Even with Dustin Byfuglien‘s team-leading 99 shot blocks, Winnipeg still allows 31 shots-per-game to reach Hellebuyck’s crease, which ties for the 10th-highest rate in the league.

Pair two deficiencies on the same end of the ice together, and you yield a poor special teams unit. That’s the situation the Jets face, as they’re third-worst in the NHL on the penalty kill, successful on only 76.7% of attempts. Even though he’s injured, Toby Enstrom still tops the team with his 23 shorthanded shot blocks. Instead, Jacob Trouba will be called upon to rally the troops to keep as many pucks as possible out of Hellebuyck’s crease, as his 18 shorthanded blocks are second-most on the team.

The Canadiens have already made their yearly trip to Winnipeg, and it was a successful one for them. Led by Artturi Lehkonen‘s two-goal, three-point performance, the Habs claimed a 7-4 victory on January 11.

Some players to keep an eye on this afternoon include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (28 goals [third-most in the league]) and Price (24 wins [ninth-most in the NHL]) & Winnipeg‘s Patrik Laine (27 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Mark Scheifele (58 points [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]).

It’s hard to argue with Vegas on this one: Montréal is favored to beat the Jets at -165. Although both teams struggle on the penalty kill, only the Habs can be counted on to take advantage. Pair that with their overall solid defense, and it should be a Julien winner. Hopefully Montrealers have a short memory are forgiving of him coaching their rivals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Andy Moog (1960-) – Just because you’re a seventh-rounder doesn’t mean you’re not a good player. Selected by Edmonton in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, this goaltender proved just that, as he earned the 1990 Jennings Trophy to go with his four All-Star selections and three Stanley Cups.
  • Alexander Mogilny (1969-) – Buffalo selected this right wing 89th-overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, so that’s the number he wore throughout his career. The Russian was named to four All-Star teams, and also won the 2003 Byng Trophy to go with his Stanley Cup in 2000.
  • Nik Antropov (1980-) – Another Russian, this center was the 10th-overall selection in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto. He spent most of his 13 seasons with the Leafs and notched 465 points before hanging up his skates for good in 2013.
  • Cody Hodgson (1990-) – Another center selected 10th-overall pick, this Canadian was drafted by Vancouver in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. That being said, he’s spent a majority of his career in the Sabres‘ system.

With Second Star of the Game Brandon Dubinsky‘s overtime winner, Columbus retained it’s undefeated record when hosting the Penguins this season, winning yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 2-1.

Both regulation goals were struck within five minutes of each other. Ryan Murray (William Karlsson and Josh Anderson) takes credit for the Jackets‘ tally, burying his backhand only 1:33 after resuming play after the first intermission. Ian Cole tied the contest 4:40 later, set up by Evgeni Malkin‘s face-off win.

Dubinsky (Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones) needed only 64 seconds of three-on-three overtime before registering the Jackets‘ only shot, a pure snap shot that found the back of Third Star Matthew Murray‘s net.

First Star Sergei Bobrovsky earns the victory after saving 38-of-39 shots faced (97.4%), leaving the overtime loss to Murray, who saved 37-of-39 (94.9%).

Columbus‘ victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series and improves the hosts’ record to 64-42-18, five points better than the visitors.

February 12 – Day 116 – Atlantic animosity

It’s Sunday Funday! Six fixtures are on tap today, starting with San Jose at New Jersey (SN1/SN360) at 12:30 p.m. Detroit at Minnesota (NBC) drops the puck at 3 p.m., followed three hours later by the final two matinees of the day (Dallas at Nashville [TVAS] and Colorado at the New York Islanders). Finally, this evening’s co-nightcaps (Montréal at Boston [NBCSN/RDS/SN] and Vancouver at Buffalo) drop the puck at 7:30 p.m. to finish up the day. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • San Jose at New Jersey: Last season, David Schlemko played for the Devils, but now he visits the Prudential Center wearing white.
  • Detroit at Minnesota: Thomas Vanek is also making his first return to a former home arena today, but he spent two seasons with the Wild.
  • Montréal at Boston: Oh yeah, there’s also arguably the most important rivalry in hockey being played tonight.

Take a guess which game we’re focusing on.

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The rivalry between these two doesn’t need to be set up; each game simply adds to the history.

The Canadiens come into tonight’s game with a 31-18-8 record, good enough for first place in the Atlantic Division (shh, we’re not talking about how Ottawa only trails them by six points with four games in hand). Although they’ve been exemplary on both ends of the ice, it’s been their offense that has truly been impressive. The Habs have registered 164 tallies this season, which ties for sixth-most in the league.

The man leading that charge is none other than Captain Max Pacioretty, as his 50 points are eight more than second-place Alexander Radulov. Pacioretty also claims the scoring title, and by an even wider margin: his 28 tallies are double those of Paul Byron and Radulov.

Much of that success stems from a dominant power play. Scoring on 22.1% of attempts, the Canadiens tie for the fifth-best effort in the NHL. While Pacioretty commands the even-strength play, Shea Weber has taken the man-advantage to heart with his team-leading 18 power play points. 10 of those have been goals, which is also the team-high with the extra-man.

If there’s one place the Habs should try to improve before the trade deadline, it should be their penalty kill. Even with Weber’s team-leading 32 shorthanded shot blocks, Montréal stops only 79.2% of opposing power plays – the ninth-worst rate in the league.

Every time I think about writing off the 28-23-6 Bruins, they go and do something like the two-game winning streak they’re riding right now. When Boston has found success this season, it’s been on the offensive end where they’ve notched 151 tallies, which ties for 14th-most in the league.

Brad Marchand has been at the middle of it all this season, as his 57 points are tops in New England. For those that are good at math, they’ll note that’s a point-per-game; he’s one of seven players with at least 47 games played that can stake that claim. That being said, it’s been youngster David Pastrnak that has turned the most heads this year with his team-leading 25 goals.

Even more impressive than the Bruins‘ offense has been their penalty kill. Led by Captain Zdeno Chara‘s 27 shorthanded shot blocks, Boston stops 85.9% of opposing power plays – the second-best rate in the league.

It’s hard to argue that Montréal doesn’t have the Bruins‘ number this season. In their last three meetings, the Habs have accumulated a 2-0-1 record, including a 4-2 victory the last time they met in the TD Garden. Boston‘s best effort against the Canadiens was the last time they played, when they forced overtime before falling 2-1 at the Bell Center.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (57 points [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]), Pastrnak (25 goals [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and Tuukka Rask (five shutouts [tied for third-most in the NHL] among 26 wins [tied for sixth-most in the league] on a 2.32 GAA [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) & Montréal‘s Pacioretty (28 goals [third-most in the league]) and Carey Price (24 wins [ninth-most in the NHL]).

Vegas trusts Boston to earn a home victory this evening, marking them with a -135 line. The Bruins certainly have new life under Bruce Cassidy and are riding their winning streak, but I’ve grown leery when they’re playing at home given they’re only 14-13-0 at the TD Garden. I suppose I’ll take the Bruins to win, but the Habs will probably still force overtime.

Hockey Birthday

  • Owen Nolan (1972-) – Even though he hasn’t played since 2010, this right wing is still the third-most recent United Kingdom-native to play in the NHL. He was the first overall pick in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by Quebec, but the five-time All Star played most of his career in San Jose.
  • Jonas Hiller (1982-) – Although this goaltender’s most recent NHL club was the Flames, he’s spent most of his career in Anaheim. He has a career 197-140-37 record in 374 starts.

Yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day featured one of the four upsets of the day when the Sabres bested Toronto 3-1 at the Air Canada Centre.

Buffalo employed an impressive blitz technique, scoring three goals in the first period before the Maple Leafs had a chance to think. First Star of the Game Evander Kane (Sam Reinhart and Third Star Jack Eichel) takes credit for the first tally with a snap shot only 4:13 after the initial puck drop, followed 55 seconds later by Reinhart’s (Kyle Okposo and Eichel) game-winning power play snap shot. Kane (Eichel and Justin Falk) also took credit for Buffalo‘s final tally of the game, a snap shot with 1:58 remaining in the frame.

Mitch Marner (Tyler Bozak and Nikita Zaitsev) was the lone Leaf to get on the scoreboard, scoring a power play wrap-around shot with 4:03 remaining in the second period, but Toronto could not find another tally before the final horn.

Second Star Robin Lehner earns the victory after saving an incredible 43-of-44 shots faced (97.7%), leaving the loss to Frederik Andersen, who saved 20-of-23 (87%).

The Sabres‘ win is the second-straight by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, which pulls the visitors within six points of the 61-39-18 season mark by home teams.