A dozen games are on the schedule today, so let’s hop right in with our list!
A pair of games (Vancouver at Minnesota and Philadelphia at Columbus [NHLN/SN1]) get the action underway at 2 p.m., followed by seven (Calgary at St. Louis [CITY], Toronto at Buffalo [CBC], Ottawa at Montréal [SN/TVAS], Chicago at Florida [NHLN], Carolina at New Jersey, Boston at the New York Islanders and Arizona at Washington) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. San Jose at Nashville drops the puck an hour later, followed by Colorado at Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. Finally, the New York Rangers at Los Angeles – tonight’s nightcap – drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close out the day’s action. All times eastern.
- Toronto at Buffalo: Only two more editions of the Battle of the QEW go down this season, and one is tonight.
- Ottawa at Montréal: Speaking of rivalries, this one is kind of important since it could determine who raises an Atlantic Division banner.
- Chicago at Florida: For five seasons, Brian Campbell was a member of the Panthers‘ blueline. This offseason, he decided to return to the Windy City.
- Boston at New York: These clubs are currently tied for the second wildcard, but they won’t be after tonight.
- San Jose at Nashville: Remember last year’s Western Semifinals? The Predators would probably like to exact some revenge tonight.
Since both the Canadiens and Senators are all but locks to for this year’s postseason, let’s head back to Brooklyn with the Islanders for their wildly important matchup with Boston.
The 38-30-6 Bruins have been in the playoff picture – or right outside it – for almost the entire season. A mistimed four-game losing skid (then again, when does a four-game losing skid ever come at an appropriate time?) has felled them to the second of those two categories.
Of course, this is not the first position Boston has lost in the last month. For a long while, the Bruins actually had command of third place in the Atlantic Division, but they ceded that too to a Maple Leafs team that has won seven of its last 10 games.
The main reason for this fall from grace? I’d argue sub-par play in net by 33-20-4 Tuukka Rask. He’s been in net for all four of these contests, and the Bruins have allowed an average of five goals against. In fact, his .842 save percentage and 4.53 GAA from March 16 through last night’s action is the fifth and second-worst efforts in the NHL, respectively, in that time span.
“But Rask is a great goaltender!” said Bruins fans.
And I agree; yes, he is great. He’s also no spring chicken anymore. Rask just celebrated his 30th birthday not too long ago, which makes him older than the average goaltender throughout the 2000s (per Quant Hockey), whether by mean (28.81) or median (28.3).
Whether you’re in the camp of believing Bruce Cassidy needs to play 5-5-1 Anton Khudobin more often or Don Sweeney needs to provide a better backup than a nearly 31-year-old Russian is inconsequential to the fact that Rask needs more breaks. With 59 starts, Rask has played the third-most games in a NHL crease this season, and the other two goalies with more starts are younger than him (though not by much in Cam Talbot‘s case).
Making the exhausted netminder’s demise even more troublesome is that the defense playing in front of him is one of the better – and improving – corps in the league. Over this sour stretch, they’ve allowed only 117 shots to reach his net (29.25 per game), which is barely worse than their 25.6 average allowed per game for the entire season that ranks second-best in the league.
He doesn’t wear the Bruins‘ “C” for nothing. Captain Zdeno Chara has been at the forefront of that effort with his team-leading 124 shot blocks, followed closely behind by Adam McQuaid‘s 122. Center Patrice Bergeron has also been very impressive on the defensive front, as his 59 takeaways are second-most on the club. Brad Marchand has one more for the squad lead, but he also tops (Or would it be bottoms?) the team in the opposite statistic with his 74 turnovers.
When looking at the season as a whole, Boston usually finds more than enough success on the penalty kill, as their 84.5% kill rate is sixth-best in the league. Of course, this rough patch hasn’t been so kind. The Bruins have allowed seven power play goals against (you guessed it, most in the league in this time-span) for a measly 63.1% kill rate.
One thing that has gone Boston‘s way over the past 10 days has been their power play. Co-led by Torey Krug and Ryan Spooner‘s three man-advantage points, as well as David Krejci and David Pastrnak‘s two man-advantage goals, the Bruins have scored on 35.7% of their opponents’ penalties – the best mark in the league in that span. That’s not exactly a surprise though. Boston has been successful on 21.2% of their power plays all year, the eighth-best rate in the league.
First it was the Leafs taking advantage of the Bruins‘ fall from grace. Now it’s the 35-26-12 Islanders, a team riding a two-game winning streak.
This success is a far cry from where New York was before Doug Weight took command of the ship. Former head coach Jack Capuano had only managed a 17-17-8 record – the worst mark in the Eastern Conference. But since then, the Isles have gone on an 18-9-4 run to climb back into the eighth place in the East. In fact, that’s the fifth-best record in the league since Capuano’s firing, better even than teams like Columbus and Nashville.
The main reason for that improvement is New York‘s potent offense. The Islanders have buried 96 goals under Weight, which ties for the fourth-highest total in the league since January 17. Behind that effort is none other than John Tavares, who’s registered 32 of his 64 points on the campaign. Anders Lee also came alive, as he’s registered 13 goals to lead the team during the Weight-era.
Ready to be even more impressed by the Islanders‘ resurgent offense? They do it almost exclusively at even-strength. In fact, New York‘s power play is borderline atrocious, as they only convert 15.8% of their opportunities – the fifth-worst rate in the league.
If recent history is any indicator, it looks like the Bruins are on their way to their fifth-straight loss, as they have yet to beat New York this year in their previous two meetings. The last time these clubs ran into each other was January 16 in Boston. Between Nikolai Kulemin‘s two-goal night (one-sixth of his season total!) and Thomas Greiss‘ 32-save shutout, the Islanders walked out of the TD Garden with a 4-0 victory.
Ironically, that was Capuano’s last game as head coach of the Isles. My, how the story has come full circle.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [third-most in the NHL] for 80 points [fourth-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & New York‘s Josh Bailey (38 assists [leads the team]) and Cal Clutterbuck (199 hits [leads the team]).
Though they might be a little tired from their shootout victory in Pittsburgh last night, I’m inclined to pick the Islanders right now. Something tells me that only one day off is not enough for Rask, and everything seems to be going New York‘s way right now.
- Ken Wregget (1964-) – Toronto selected this goaltender 45th-overall in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career with the Penguins. By the time his career was through, he’d earned a 225-248-53 record and hoisted the 1992 Stanley Cup.
- Ladislav Benysek (1975-) – This defensemen was selected in the 11th round by Edmonton in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his four-year career in the league with Minnesota. Over 161 games in the NHL, he accumulated only 15 points for a -28 rating.
With their 4-3 shootout victory against Pittsburgh in the DtFR Game of the Day, the Islanders have improved to the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
With six goals in regulation, you’d figure there’d be two a period, right? Not last night. Instead, five were struck in the second frame, and another in the third.
The scoring started 1:54 after beginning the second period when Third Star of the Game Cameron Gaunce (Matt Cullen and Phil Kessel) buried a slap shot for the second goal of his career. 2:54 later, Second Star Brock Nelson (Joshua Ho-Sang and Alan Quine) tied the game at one-all, the score that held until Lee (Bailey and First Star Tavares) scored a wrist shot to give New York the lead 4:30 later. Now it was Pittsburgh‘s turn to pull even, and Sidney Crosby (Chad Ruhwedel and Conor Sheary) was up to the task with 6:19 remaining in the frame. With five seconds remaining before the second intermission, Casey Cizikas (Tavares) found the back of the net to send the Isles to the dressing room with a 3-2 lead.
After all that action, the final goal of regulation wasn’t struck until 6:10 remained in regulation. Cullen (Gaunce and Kessel) scored his wrister to tie the game at three-all, the score that held through the remainder of regulation and the five minute three-on-three overtime period.
Looks like this one will have to be decided in the shootout. The Pens elected to go second…
- …meaning Anthony Beauvillier was up first. He scored on Marc-Andre Fleury, giving New York an early shootout lead.
- Kessel had the chance to tie the shootout, but Jaroslav Halak was up to the task and made the save.
- Weight called Tavares’ number next as if he knew the captain would score him another goal. With a 2-0 shootout lead, the Pens were in a miss-and-lose situation.
- Speaking of captains, that’s exactly who took Pittsburgh‘s next shootout attempt. Crosby had better luck than Kessel and scored his shot to keep the Penguins alive.
- Andrew Ladd took what proved to be the Islanders‘ final shootout attempt, but was unable to beat Fleury to win the game.
- Instead, Halak provided the victory by saving Nick Bonino‘s shot.
Halak saved 37-of-40 shots faced (92.5%) for the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Fleury after he stopped 43-of-46 (93.5%).
It was the second-straight DtFR Game of the Day to be decided by shootout, but the fact that this one was decided by the 80-56-23 visitors gives them a one-point advantage over the road teams in the series.