First and foremost, I’m sure I speak for all of us here at Down the Frozen River in extending my thanks to each and every veteran on this Veteran’s Day. Whether American, Canadian or any other nationality that values freedom and democracy, we sincerely appreciate you and your service.
To ensure the best of Veteran’s Days, the NHL has scheduled a whopping 12 contests to take place today all around the world.
To start off, there’s two matinees (Edmonton at the New York Rangers and Colorado vs. Ottawa [NHLN/RDS/SN] in Stockholm, Sweden) scheduled for 1 p.m., followed by six (Toronto at Boston [CBC/CITY/NHLN], Buffalo at Montréal [SN/TVAS], Columbus at Detroit, Florida at New Jersey, Minnesota at Philadelphia and Chicago at Carolina) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of two more contests (the New York Islanders at St. Louis and Pittsburgh at Nashville), and tonight’s co-nightcaps – Vancouver at San Jose (CBC) and Winnipeg at Arizona (SN) – get green-lit at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.
As usual, there’s quite a few matchups worthy of being featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but we can only pick one. Let’s see some of our final options:
- Colorado vs. Ottawa: It’s the second-half of the 2017 NHL Global Series.
- Toronto at Boston: F Dominic Moore called the TD Garden home only a season ago. Now, he’s back to wearing white at this rink.
- Buffalo at Montréal: Not only is this an Atlantic Division rivalry, but D Nathan Beaulieu is also returning to his old stomping grounds of five years.
- Pittsburgh at Nashville: The Penguins return to Bridgestone Arena for the first time since hoisting their fifth Stanley Cup.
Since we didn’t feature the Predators’ visit to PPG Paints Arena at the beginning of the season, there’s no way we can skip this rematch.
Last postseason was a dream come true for the Predators. Though seeded eighth in the conference, they rode an incredible 7-0-1 home record at Bridgestone Arena to their first-ever Clarence S. Campbell Bowl and Stanley Cup Finals berth.
And then Pittsburgh happened.
Though the Penguins needed every second of six games to eliminate Nashville, the Preds suffered the same fate as the Sharks a season before: being forced to watch C Sidney Crosby and the Pens hoist the Cup and skate around the rink while wearing white road sweaters.
The Predators have already had one opportunity to exact revenge when they made their yearly trip to the Steel City on October 7, but it didn’t exactly go well for them. Though they fired 26 shots at G Matthew Murray, he stopped them all to earn what is still his lone shutout on the season. His effort combined with a Penguins attack that managed four goals courtesy of F Evgeni Malkin, F Jake Guentzel, RW Ryan Reaves and D Olli Maatta.
A lot has changed for 8-5-2 Nashville since that game, as it has climbed all the way into fifth place in the Western Conference and is riding a three-game winning streak since falling in San Jose on November 1.
In particular, the Predators have a much better offense than they showed Pittsburgh the last time they met up, as they’ve managed an impressive four goals-per-game during this hot streak. W Viktor Arvidsson specifically has been at the head of this scoring onslaught with his 3-1-4 totals, but I’ve also been impressed by third-line W Miikka Salomaki recently, who has managed 1-2-3 totals with one fewer game played during this stretch after being a healthy scratch November 3 in Anaheim.
What makes Salomaki’s outburst so unexpected is his 1-2-3 totals in his last two games played comprise his entire 2017-’18 output. Heck, it even comprises all of last season’s contributions too (given, he only played five NHL games last year). It’s highly unlikely that this scoring streak will continue much longer, but the Predators certainly are not going complain about having added firepower for the time being.
As for the 9-7-2 Penguins, they enter this game on the heels of a defeat similar to the one they delivered the Predators last month, as they fell 4-1 in Washington last night. Of course, considering their lowly 2.56 goals-per-game and 3.5 goals against-per-game (both fifth-worst in the league), it’s a surprise the Pens are even in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
One of Pittsburgh’s biggest problems this season has been the position of backup goaltender, and that will probably come into play tonight since Murray played against the Capitals yesterday.
G Antti Niemi had the position at the start of the season, but his .797 save percentage and 7.5 GAA in only three starts led to him getting waived. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s G Casey DeSmith was then given an opportunity to earn his first NHL time, but he was only nominally better, managing a .8 save percentage and 4.29 GAA in 42 minutes.
The plan was originally for him and tonight’s presumed starter G Tristan Jarry to rotate as Pittsburgh’s backup and the Baby Pens’ starter, but DeSmith’s October 29 showing in Winnipeg may put that on hold.
That leads us to backup #3 in Jarry, himself a rookie that has only two NHL starts to his name. The first start occurred this April against the Rangers in the final game of the regular season. Since the game had no impact on the postseason, he was left out to dry behind a halfhearted defense to allow G Marc-Andre Fleury rest. He lost his NHL debut 3-2 on an .88 save percentage.
Fast-forward to November 2 when the Penguins were in Calgary. Though he still has yet to earn his first win with the senior team, Jarry forced overtime with a much improved .941 save percentage. It seems that was enough to impress Head Coach Mike Sullivan, as he has yet to be sent towards Dunder Mifflin headquarters.
If the Penguins want to win, Jarry’s third career NHL start must look more like his second than his first, and his defense would be wise to do all they can to keep shots away from his crease. Considering Pittsburgh allows 31.3 shots against-per-game, that means more players are going to need to follow the lead of Reaves – whose 49 hits top the team – and D Ian Cole, who manages 1.8 blocks-per-game.
Unfortunately for Penguins fans, I simply don’t know if that’s going to happen. Everything – specifically a high-flying offense against a rookie goaltender – is leaning the Predators’ way in this contest, and that’s without taking into account the revenge Smashville so desperately wants to impart. Pittsburgh just might be in line for a second drubbing in as many nights.
Thanks to First Star of the Game RW Mark Stone‘s overtime goal, the Ottawa Senators beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden in yesterday’s back-and-forth DtFR Game of the Day.
This contest followed a nice pattern, as three goals were struck in the first period, two in the second and a final regulation marker in the third.
W Nail Yakupov (Second Star F Alexander Kerfoot and F Colin Wilson) got the scoring started by potting a power play snap shot 8:16 into the contest, but Colorado’s advantage lasted only 20 seconds before Third Star D Fredrik Claesson (F Mike Hoffman and Swede D Erik Karlsson) – a Stockholm native – scored to level the game. Finally, Stone (Stockholmare D Johnny Oduya and D Chris Wideman) tipped-in a goal with 4:50 remaining in the period to give the Senators a 2-1 advantage going into the first intermission.
The game was tied once again at the 9:41 mark of the second period courtesy of a Kerfoot (W Blake Comeau and D Samuel Girard) tip-in, and it remained level for 3:40 before F Chris DiDomenico (D Dion Phaneuf and F Tom Pyatt) claimed a one-goal lead for Ottawa once again. That 3-2 score held into the second break.
For those wondering, the only event that shows up on the box score involving the recently-traded F Matt Duchene occurred in the middle period when he was tripped by W Gabriel Bourque. The Senators could not convert either this nor their only other power play opportunity of the game.
The lone goal of the final frame was struck with 7:07 remaining in regulation. F Nathan MacKinnon (RW Mikko Rantanen and Stockholmare LW Gabriel Landeskog) is the lucky Av to take credit, as he leveled the game at three-all to force three-on-three overtime.
Overtime didn’t even last a full minute before Stone (C Derick Brassard and Karlsson) bagged his 11th goal of the season to earn the bonus point for the Sens. After resetting the play in the neutral zone to get Ottawa onside, Karlsson drove towards G Semyon Varlamov‘s net before dropping a pass to Brassard in the right face-off circle. Instead of firing the puck, he slid a quick pass across the slot to Stone, who buried a snapper on a gaping cage to end the tilt.
G Craig Anderson earned the victory after saving 16-of-19 shots faced (.842 save percentage), leaving the loss to Varlamov, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).
Since the Senators were officially the road team in today’s DtFR Game of the Day, they helped visitors in the series pull within one point of the 19-15-5 hosts.
Nick, Connor and Cap’n address the news and notes from the past week of NHL action, discuss the demise of Antti Niemi, as well as take a gamble on the Vegas Golden Knights. The Los Angeles Kings are good (and lucky, according to Cap’n) and the Montreal Canadiens are bad (very bad). Also, Dwayne Roloson was 42 in 2011 (not 39).
55-19-8, 118 points, 1st in the Metropolitan Division
Eliminated in the Second Round by Pittsburgh
Subtractions: D Karl Alzner (signed with MTL), F Chris Bourque (signed with Hershey Bears, AHL), F Paul Carey (signed with NYR), D Cody Corbett (signed with Idaho Steelheads, ECHL), D Darren Dietz (signed with Barys Astana, KHL), F Stanislav Galiev (signed with Ak Bars Kazan, KHL), D Tom Gilbert (signed with Nürnberg Ice Tigers, DEL), F Marcus Johansson (traded to NJ), F Garrett Mitchell (signed with Hershey Bears, AHL), D Kevin Shattenkirk (signed with NYR), D Nate Schmidt (claimed by VGK in the 2017 Expansion Draft), F Christian Thomas (signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, AHL), F Justin Williams (signed with CAR)
Still Unsigned: F Daniel Winnik
Offseason Analysis: The Washington Capitals won the President’s Trophy for the second year in a row last season, but couldn’t make it past the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs thanks to now two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh. History repeats itself sometimes, but for Caps fans the first part of this sentence already ended after the third word.
Now they look to regroup, revitalized and down a few key components from their President’s Trophy winning days– the Capitals aren’t aiming to win the regular season title; they want the Cup.
As all good teams must endure during the Salary Cap Era, the Capitals had plenty of departures from their organization and were forced to trade one of their gifted forwards in order to sign one of their other, younger gifted forwards.
Washington sent their 24th-overall pick in 2009, Marcus Johansson, to the Devils back in July in exchange for two 2018 draft picks, then used the newly found cap space to re-sign Evgeny Kuznetsov to an eight-year, $62.4 million ($7.800 million cap hit) contract extension.
Kuznetsov’s 59 point season (19 goals, 40 assists) was only one point better than Johansson’s 58 point season (24 goals, 34 assists) last year, but with Johansson’s $4.583 million cap hit through the 2018-2019 season, Washington simply couldn’t afford both almost 60-point scorers.
Andre Burakovsky was quickly signed to a two-year, $6 million ($3.000 million cap hit) bridge deal, ensuring Washington still had someone on their roster that could boost production with Johansson out of the picture. For Burakovsky, the extension comes as a way to prove to himself, Washington and the rest of the league that he’s worth it, worth more and might just yield a significant pay raise in the 2019 offseason if it all pans out.
Justin Williams left the organization for a second go-around in Carolina. “Mr. Game 7” amassed 24-24-48 totals last season, but fell victim to Washington’s tight cap space navigation this summer. With T.J. Oshie to re-sign and at 35-years-old, Williams was the odd forward out as Oshie’s stock rose to $5.750 million-a-season.
One cannot blame the Capitals for going all in, missing the mark, then having to restructure their offense in such a fashion as they did this offseason. However, one can find failure in Washington’s blue line master-plan.
Monstrous contracts for Matt Niskanen ($5.750 million through 2020-2021) and Brooks Orpik ($5.500 million through 2018-2019) remain on the books for the Capitals and they’re not getting any younger. Niskanen, 30, and Orpik, 36, are half of Washington’s top-4 defensemen now that Karl Alzner is with Montreal (again, cap space).
Dmitry Orlov, 26, remains the youngest blue liner in the US capital and has six-years remaining on his new extension this offseason. John Carlson, 27, is a pending UFA after this season and is reaching the plateau of his prime. Other than that, Taylor Chorney, 30, rounds out the rest of Washington’s defensive depth.
That’s not ideal.
Yes, Nate Schmidt was a victim of the Vegas expansion, and Kevin Shattenkirk was only a rental that signed with the Rangers, but Washington had to have been preparing for any scenario all season long, right? There’s got to be a defenseman in Hershey that’s ready to make the jump to the NHL– or at the very least, begin to transition to the senior team as a third-pair defenseman.
If the Capitals want to remain competitive, they’d better avoid aging out in their own zone, especially in the Metropolitan Division where the Penguins skate faster than Apolo Ohno.
Luckily for Washington, their goaltending duo of elite starter, Braden Holtby, and top-notch backup, Philipp Grubauer will bail them out. Except for the fact that that’s the last thing they should have to rely on.
Holtby can handle 70+ games a season, but it’s not recommended when you’re trying to play at least 16 playoff games on top of an 82 game regular season.
Offseason Grade: D+
The Capitals, to their credit, did not hand out a bad contract this offseason like they did in 2015 (when they signed Orpik and Niskanen at insane amounts, given their ages now/at the end of their current contracts).
But they didn’t exactly help their situation either, with roughly $2.6 million in cap space to finagle next offseason’s negotiations with Grubauer, at least two more RFAs and oh yeah, the rest of their pending UFAs.
For that reason alone, this season might be a last chance effort at winning the Cup now before they will have to blast parts of the roster to smithereens.
While trading Johansson and losing Williams in one offseason hampers their offensive production, Washington seems reliant on the fact that they know how to develop prospects seemingly out of nowhere. It wasn’t a good summer and growing pains will always be felt with a salary cap, but it wasn’t as bad as some fans feared (with Oshie, Orlov and others jumping ship in popular conspiracy theories).
The Toronto Maple Leafs got involved in a little trade deadline action on Wednesday afternoon, trading defenseman Frank Corrado to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for forward Eric Fehr, defenseman Steven Oleksy and a 4th round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Fehr is a 31-year-old forward played in 52 games with Pittsburgh this season prior to the trade and had 6-5-11 totals, as well as 14 penalty minutes.
In 561 career NHL games among the Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets and Penguins, Fehr recorded 103 goals and 99 assists (202 points).
Additionally, Fehr has been part of 60 Stanley Cup Playoffs games with Washington and Pittsburgh, notching eight goals and two assists in his postseason career. He was a member of the 2016 Stanley Cup champion Penguins team last season.
Fehr has two years left on his current contract and a cap hit of $2.000 million according to CapFriendly. He was the 18th overall selection by Washington at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
Oleksy, 31, is a defenseman who had been part of 11 games with the Pens this season, collecting one assist and 24 penalty minutes. He has played 73 career NHL games among the Washington and Pittsburgh, amassing 3-17-20 career totals. Oleksy has played in seven career Stanley Cup Playoff games, all of them with Washington in 2013, where he registered one point.
The Maple Leafs will utilize Oleksy’s services in their AHL organization, the Toronto Marlies.
Corrado, 23, has played in two games this season with Toronto and 18 games with the Marlies (AHL). While in the AHL, Corrado has recorded 1-11-12 totals.
He has appeared in 69 career NHL games with the Vancouver Canucks and the Maple Leafs and was originally drafted by Vancouver 15oth overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
In parts of six AHL seasons, Corrado has 14-37-51 totals. The arbitration eligible, pending restricted free agent on July 1st will report to Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Yesterday’s Game of the Day was a Metropolitan beat-down, as the New York Islanders absolutely took it to the New Jersey Devils, winning on a four-goal shutout.
The game-winning goal belongs to First Star of the Game Marek Zidlicky, scored at the 7:43 mark of the opening period after being assisted by Mikhail Grabovski and Josh Bailey. Third Star John Tavares notched the lone insurance goal of the first period at the 11:53 mark after being assisted by Kyle Okposo and Brock Nelson.
It was another two-goal period for the Isles in the second, with Matt Martin notching the first one at the 7:28 mark, with assists going to Casey Cizikas and Calvin de Haan. Zidlicky snuck his second goal of the game, and the final tally of the night, at the 19:17 mark, with assists belonging to Thomas Hickey and Steve Bernier. The 4-0 lead held not only into the second intermission, but to the final horn.
Second Star Thomas Greiss (9-3-2) earned the shutout victory on 27 shots faced, while Cory Schneider (13-8-4) earns the loss after saving only 15 of 18 (83.3%). He was pulled from the game after 27:28 (the third goal of the game), with Keith Kinkaid finishing up the remaining 32:32, saving 11 of 12 (91.7%).
Tomorrow’s schedule consists of five games, and the action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern when three of them drop the opening puck (Edmonton at Boston [TVAS], Washington at Pittsburgh [NHLN] and Tampa Bay at Columbus), with the other two following only half an hour later (Los Angeles at Ottawa [RDS] and Buffalo at Detroit [Bell TV]).
Two of tonight’s games are between divisional rivals (Washington at Pittsburgh and Buffalo at Detroit), and only one is between two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Los Angeles at Ottawa). Then again, this information really doesn’t matter that much, as you probably knew which matchup is our Game of the Day today.
When Pittsburgh fired Head Coach Mike Johnston Saturday morning, you saw this one coming. Johnston led the club to a 15-10-3 record so far this season (58-37-15 during his 110-game tenure), which has the Pens in fifth place in the division and ninth in the conference.
Even though Jim Rutherford went out and traded for Phil Kessel (nine goals [second-most on team]) as well as ascertained a few other offensive skaters, Johnston’s Penguins simply did not produce, which should take most of the blame for him being relieved of his duties. So far this season, they’ve only scored 66 goals (led by Evgeni Malkin’s 13), but even more distressing is the 858 shots (led by Kessel’s 90) they’ve put on goal (trails the league average by 13). While the number isn’t terribly under the league average, their 7.7% shot percentage speaks volumes, as it trails the league average by 1.2%.
Probably the biggest issue of Pittsburgh‘s game has been the power play. They’ve scored only 15 goals (led by Malkin’s six) on 96 opportunities, for a 15.63% success rate that trails the league average by 3.49%. One saving grace about the Pens‘ man-advantage has been that they have yet to give up a shorty all season.
What has kept Pittsburgh in the midst of the playoff hunt this season has been Marc-Andre Fleury (13-9-2) and the defense. They’ve only given up 65 goals so far this season, a number that makes most teams jealous. Not only have Fleury and co. saved 92.9% of the 887 shots they’ve faced this season, but they’ve also had Ian Cole’s team-leading 60 blocks to keep even more from reaching the net.
Even when a man-down, the Pens have still done well in keeping the opposition off the board. They’ve only given up 15 power play goals on 95 attempts, saving a strong 84.21% of attempts.
Johnston’s replacement was found within the organization, albeit four hours up the road in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Mike Sullivan had only been the head coach of the Baby Pens for this season, but he had led his AHL squad to a 19-5-0 record (best winning percentage in the league) and the top of the Atlantic Division. In addition to playing 12 years of professional hockey (including part or all of 11 seasons in the NHL) he was head coach of the Boston Bruins for two seasons from 2003-’06 (04-’05 was the lockout) where he amassed a total record of 70-56-15-23. He also coached the Vancouver Canucks for six games during the ’13-’14 season when John Tortorella was suspended, earning a 2-4-0 record.
Another indicator that management is expecting more goals scored is Wilkes-Barre/Scranton‘s offensive strength. The Baby Penguins have scored 89 goals so far this season, a total that is second in the conference and third in the league, while being backed by the second-best defense and goaltending in the league. Sullivan will be expected to enact that same game plan with the senior squad, especially since the defense is already present.
It will be trial by fire for Sullivan’s first game though, as he is going up against the division-leading and second-best in conference 20-6-2 Washington Capitals. Washington plays a tough game on both ends of the ice, but their defense and goaltending has been their strongest asset this season and will be a good test for Sullivan’s new system.
So far this season, Washington has given up only 62 goals, thanks in part to Karl Alzner’s 62 blocks and Braden Holtby (18-4-1) and co.’s incredible play. Of the 766 shots that have made their way to the net (102 fewer than the league average, but on two-less games), Holtby and Philipp Grubauer have saved 92.4%. Even when down a man, the Caps have still kept the opposition off the board 83.54% of the time, giving up only 13 tallies.
The offense has been no joke either, as they’ve put 854 shots (led by Alex Ovechkin’s 138) on goal so far this season for 83 tallies (9.7%), led by Ovechkin’s 14. Probably the scariest facet of Washington‘s game is the power play, as they’ve scored on 21 of 90 opportunities (23.33%), led by Ovechkin’s four.
Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Pittsburgh‘s Fleury (13 wins [tied for fifth in the league], two shutouts [tied for seventh in the league] and .927 save percentage [eighth in the league]) and Washington‘s Holtby (18 wins [leads the league], 1.9 GAA [leads the league] and .93 save percentage [tied for sixth in the league]), Evgeny Kuznetsov (+15 [tied for second in the league]) and Ovechkin (14 goals [tied for seventh in the league]).
Based on the stats alone, Pittsburgh‘s weak offense should not be able to keep up with Washington‘s, but it is always hard to tell how a team will react to a new coach. Unlike the first coaching change of the year in Columbus (which, interestingly, involved the coach he replaced in Vancouver), I think this one was a good move by management that will hopefully yield positive results for an organization that intends to be a part of the playoff discussion.