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2018 Offseason Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Columbus Blue Jackets and their outlook for the summer.

The Jackets finished the 2017-18 season with a record of 45-30-7, capping a strong (albeit inconsistent) campaign with 97 points, earning them fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and a playoff birth as the first wild card in the East.

After taking two dramatic overtime victories in Washington to start the playoffs, the soldiers in Union Blue fell on their bayonets by dropping four-straight games (including three within the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena) to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals and were once again eliminated from contention in the opening round of the playoffs.

I mean, would they really be the Blue Jackets if they didn’t get your hopes up before firing them out of that cannon?

Though the core of a solid-if-not-spectacular team is likely to remain through the summer, the front office is now feeling the pressure of raising a team that they drug out of the trenches by the bootstraps to the next level. The fanbase will no longer accept ‘just making the playoffs’, and though there’s still plenty of promising youth onboard, some key players like captain Nick Foligno are sliding into the back half of their careers. This is a team that needs to win, and needs to do it soon.

How can they do that? I’m glad you asked. (If you didn’t actually ask, I’m still going to tell you.)

2018 NHL Entry Draft

The Jackets are decently well-stocked to try and score some talent in this year’s draft, with a pick in each of the first three rounds, along with another in both the sixth and seventh. It will be those early-round picks that are likely to mean the most to GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff, as this year’s extremely deep draft class means that you’re likely to nab some serious quality (or perhaps have a bigger bargaining chip should you decide to trade picks for another asset) deeper in than usual.

It’s not overly likely that the CBJ will look to acquire further picks, though they could perhaps look to trade up from their 18th spot in line. With Jack Johnson a pending UFA who looks very likely to be on the move (his recent time in Columbus has been tumultuous, and a change of scenery could be the spark he needs to reignite his career) come July 1, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a deal made to send his negotiating rights and that 18th pick to a team further up the draft order.

As for likely selections with whatever first round pick they happen to have (we’ll pretend that if they trade up, it will be a small swing, maybe in the 12-15 position at most), a few names stand out to me as filling potential needs.

Serron Noel, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound right winger out of the OHL (Oshawa Generals) could be a fit on a team with few natural right wingers. A solid, if not outstanding scorer in juniors, Noel is still filling out his large frame and is likely to continue improving his burgeoning offensive game, drawing comparisons to power forwards like Wayne Simmonds. An eventual perhaps third-and-fourth line RW tandem of Noel and Josh Anderson would be a lot of meat to throw at opposing defenses.

Bode Wilde, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound right shooting defenseman from the United States National Team Development Program, is a very good possibility. Regarded as one of the better all-round defenders in a draft that is not lacking them, Wilde could eventually complete a defense corps that boasts himself along with David Savard and Seth Jones down the right side. Not a bad lineup there. In particular, his booming slap shot would be a welcome addition on a power play unit that hasn’t had a true cannon since James Wisniewski‘s departure. Also, he has a sick hockey name.

My personal pick for the most likely selection comes in the form of Swedish Elite League center Isac Lundestrom. At 6-feet and 185 pounds, he’s not far off from good NHL size, and with the additional polish his defensive game could use, he’d likely have plenty of time to hit the weight room before reaching the Jackets lineup. But his elite offensive capabilities and, in particular, blinding speed address two of the club’s biggest shortcomings. He also provides versatility, having proven himself capable of playing the left wing well. Regarded by some scouts as having potentially the highest ceiling of any center in the draft, he could be a mid-round steal for Columbus.

Pending Free Agents

The UFA list for Columbus isn’t huge, but it does contain a few potentially interesting names. NHL regulars Johnson (who’s possible fate has already been discussed, so we’ll skip over him in this section), Thomas Vanek, Matt Calvert, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu are the most notable names (no offense to Jeff Zatkoff, Taylor Chorney, Andre Benoit, Cameron Gaunce, and Alex Broadhurst).

Vanek’s stint in Columbus started off very well, gelling quickly with linemates Alexander Wennberg and Boone Jenner to put up great numbers in early games following his acquisition at the deadline. But the magic wore off and he was all-but-invisible during the playoffs, often looking far too slow to keep up with the game. Acquired for an absolute steal (Jussi Jokinen, a waiver wire pickup, and Tyler Motte, a throw-in on the Artemi Panarin trade that had bounced around between the AHL and the Jackets’ fourth line all year), it doesn’t hurt the organization at all to simply let him walk.

Calvert was protected from the expansion draft in place of 2017-18 40-goal scorer William Karlsson. That isn’t necessarily relevant information, but I enjoy pain. Anyway, Calvert enjoyed a so-so year, producing nine goals and a career-high (tied) 24 points in 69 (nice) games played. A solid contributor on the penalty kill, and a constant spark plug on the fourth line, his never-quit playing style has endeared him to Columbus fans, but he may have to take a hometown discount if he wants to stay.

Cole played extremely well down the stretch for Columbus after his acquisition from Pitt…Otta…it was weird, but you get the point. He basically made Jack Johnson expendable, and he has said many times that he absolutely loves the city and his new teammates. It’s of course always a matter of numbers, but don’t be surprised to see Cole back in Union Blue next year.

Letestu loves Columbus, lives in Columbus (his family never left when he went to Edmonton), and has said he would like to finish his career there. Still a more-than-serviceable fourth line center that can help your special teams units, it’s likely he’ll take a hometown discount and remain with the organization.

The RFA list is smaller, but contains three major names in Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Ryan Murray.

Jenner is a fan favorite, and one of the hardest-working 30-goal scorers you’ll ever find. But after a breakout 30-goal, 49-point 2015-16 campaign, he’s tallied just 31 goals and 65 points in 157 games since. If not for a late-season hot streak when paired with Wennberg and Vanek this season, his numbers would have been significantly lower. At times the game just seems too fast for his skating abilities, and even at just 24 years of age you wonder if he can improve it enough to stay useful. I’d expect him to get a bridge extension on a pay level similar to his current $2.9M, but Boone has a lot to prove going forward.

Bjorkstrand is coming off of his entry level contract, and I’d expect a bridge-style deal similar to what I listed for Jenner. Posting 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points this season, ‘Olli’ showed flashes of his potential, but still needs to get a little more confident in himself, and particularly in his laser beam wrist shot.

Murray is a very intriguing topic. Though ever-dependable, the former WHL standout and second-overall pick has never really hit the stride he was projected to, particularly in the offensive department. Derailed time and time again by injuries (often to his legs, which are probably the silky-smooth skating defender’s greatest weapons), Murray has played all 82 games just once in 5 NHL seasons, and has missed no less than 19 games in any other campaign.

At 24-years-old, he’s definitely still young enough to sell as ‘Still coming into his own’ and his potential ceiling should be alluring to many teams. With other good young left handed defenders waiting in the wings (Markus Nutivaara, Gabriel Carlsson, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov), the time could be right to try and swing a sign-and-trade type of deal to send Murray out in exchange for some offensive power. The Senators come to mind as a potential trade partner, as a spoil of offensive firepower up front is countered by a defense corps that is suspect at best, especially with the likely departure of Erik Karlsson. Mike Hoffman‘s name was already tied to Columbus around the trade deadline last year, but former Ohio State standout Ryan Dzingel could be a potential fit, as well.

I don’t expect a particularly busy or flashy offseason in Columbus, but Kekalainen and company can’t just rest on their laurels, either. They have a very good group that really needs just a few things to get them over the hump. Add another solid offensive threat or two to compliment the dynamic Panarin/Pierre-Luc Dubois line, sprinkle in a reliable veteran depth blueliner, and hinge your bets on a new goaltending coach for Sergei Bobrovsky (longtime man Ian Clark is departing the team this summer) helping him get past his playoff struggles, and you might be on to something.

Oh, and you may want to figure out what to do with that abysmal Brandon Dubinsky contract…

March 1 – Day 141 – It’s usually too warm for Jackets in Los Angeles…

In comparison to other Thursdays, today’s slate of eight games seems to be a lighter load. However, don’t read a lower number of games played as an unimportant evening of action.

The festivities finds their start at 7 p.m. with two puck drops (Pittsburgh at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS] and Carolina at Philadelphia), followed half an hour later by New Jersey at Florida. Next up is Tampa Bay at Dallas at 8:30 p.m., with two more tilts (Nashville at Edmonton and Minnesota at Arizona) waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Chicago visits San Jose (NBCSN) at 10 p.m., while Columbus at Los Angeles (SN1) – tonight’s nightcap – gets green lit half an hour later to close out the night’s activity. All times Eastern.

Originally, I’d only marked the Columbus-Los Angeles game on my calendar as a potential featured matchup on the off-chance G Jeff Zatkoff would make his first return to Tinseltown.

Though that is extremely unlikely, we’re going to stick with that game due to the Blue Jackets, who are in desperate need of wins, facing the tough task of beating a confident Kings team that is riding a major surge after beating the Golden Knights twice in two days.

 

 

 

 

 

To beat the then conference-leader in such a quick turnaround, it takes a team – in this case, the 35-24-5 Kings – being on top of its game, and maybe a little luck too. After all, they were riding a two-game losing skid coming into the home-and-home series.

Los Angeles certainly had both earlier this week, as it posted a 3-2 overtime victory at Staples Center on February 26, followed by a dominant 4-1 win in Sin City a day later.

Perhaps the biggest component of the Kings’ statement victories were the exemplary play of both of their goaltenders. Even behind a defense that allowed an atrocious 40.5 shots per game (the second-worst of any team in the league since Monday), both 24-23-2 G Jonathan Quick and backup 1-0-0 G Jack Campbell were excellent to allow only 1.5 goals against per game, the (t)sixth-best mark in the past three days.

Of the two, Campbell was easily the most impressive, as he posted a solid .976 save percentage for a 1 GAA in his first NHL win. However, Quick will surely earn tonight’s start after his .949 save percentage, 1.94 GAA performance on Monday that elevated his season marks to a (t)ninth-best in the league .922 save percentage and 2.45 GAA.

Before discussing Columbus, Los Angeles’ offense also deserves a hat tip for averaging 3.5 goals per game against the Knights – the ninth-best attack since Monday. With 2-3-5 totals in the two games against Vegas, C Anze Kopitar deserves much of the credit. However, he’s just one of five players that averaged at least a point per game in that home-and-home series, as F Jeff Carter (2-0-2), W Dustin Brown (1-1-2), F Tyler Toffoli (1-1-2) and D Dion Phaneuf (0-2-2) joined him in that effort, but the fact that Kopitar’s 70 points on the season is 10th-most in the league is a testament to how valuable he is to his club.

Meanwhile, it seems the visiting 32-26-5 Blue Jackets have definitely put their five-game losing skid in early February behind them, as they’ve posted a 3-1-0 record in their last four games, including victories at New Jersey and against the Capitals.

Columbus’ strength all season has been in the defensive zone, and that’s been true during these last four games. Led by F Boone Jenner (3.3 hits per game since February 20), D Jack Johnson (two blocks per game in his last four outings) and D Seth Jones (seven takeaways over this stretch), the Jackets have allowed an average of only 27.5 shots against per game during this run, the third-best mark in the NHL since February 20.

Of course, defense like that makes 27-20-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky almost impossible to beat. Having started all four of Columbus’ last games (and likely to start tonight even with Anaheim on the schedule tomorrow), he’s posted an unbelievable .945 save percentage and 1.51 GAA to improve his season marks to a .92 save percentage and a (t)ninth-best in the league 2.41 GAA.

Pairing Bobrovsky and his defense together, they’ve allowed only 1.5 goals against per game since February 20, which ties division-rival Philadelphia for best mark in the NHL in that time.

The Kings have already made their annual trip to Ohio, but they weren’t very nice house guests. Behind a two-goal (including the game-winner), three-point performance by Kopitar, Los Angeles beat the Blue Jackets 6-4 at Nationwide Arena on October 21.

Pending a regulation loss by San Jose tonight against the visiting Blackhawks, the most noticeable immediate impact on the standings this game can have is if the Kings defend Staples Center to a victory. Should both those results come to pass, Los Angeles would pull into a tie with the Sharks for second place in the Pacific Division, taking the lead on regulation+overtime victories.

That’s not to say Columbus isn’t interested in pulling off the victory tonight, as any points it earns are important in keeping pace with New Jersey for the Eastern Conference’s first wild card, not to mention putting a little bit more space between the Jackets and the ninth-seeded Hurricanes.

With goaltenders and defenses like these, this is going to be a tough, grind-it-out style of game. With that in mind, I’m leaning towards the Kings defending Staples Center to a victory due to the fact that they sport a superior offense.


Posting a four-goal period is usually a good way to win, and the Colorado Avalanche did just that to beat the Calgary Flames 5-2 at Pepsi Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Part of the reason for the Avs’ offensive explosion is the fact that they were trailing 2-0 before finding their first goal. C Mikael Backlund scored an unassisted shorthanded backhanded shot with 5:41 remaining in the first period, followed by a F Michael Frolik (LW Matthew Tkachuk and Backlund) backhander 2:41 into the second.

That two-goal advantage lasted until the 8:24 mark of the second frame when First Star of the Game F Nathan MacKinnon (LW Gabriel Landeskog and Second Star D Tyson Barrie) scored a power play wrist shot to get Colorado on the board. That seemed to be the spark the Avs’ offense needed, because D Nikita Zadorov (W Blake Comeau and F Carl Soderberg) provided the game-tying goal only 1:08 after MacKinnon’s tally.

Barrie’s second point of the game proved to be the most important, as it ended up being the game-winner. With 7:19 remaining in the frame, Barrie (RW Mikko Rantanen and MacKinnon) took advantage of a slick Rantanen pass through the slot and around D Travis Hamonic – who was trying to block a potential shot from the right face-off circle alongside G David Rittich‘s attempted save – to bury his one-timer into a gaping net.

W Matthew Nieto (Soderberg and Comeau) finished off the assault 1:18 before the second intermission, setting the score at 4-2.

No goals were scored in the final frame until 17 seconds remained in regulation. With Ritich pulled for a sixth Calgary attacker, D Duncan Siemens scored his first NHL goal with a long-range empty-netter.

Third Star G Semyon Varlamov earned the victory after saving 30-of-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage), leaving the loss to Rittich, who saved 29-of-33 (.879).

With Colorado’s home victory, it snapped a four-day point streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the 75-47-19 hosts now have a 20-point advantage on the visitors in the series.

Los Angeles Kings 2017-’18 Season Preview

Los Angeles Kings

39-35-8, 86 points, fifth in the Pacific Division

Additions: GM Rob Blake, F Mike Cammalleri, D Christian Folin, G Darcy Kuemper, Head Coach John Stevens

Subtractions: G Ben Bishop (traded to DAL), D Matt Greene (retired), GM Dean Lombardi, D Brayden McNabb (drafted by VGK), Head Coach Darryl Sutter

Offseason Analysis: If postseason berths were awarded based on goals allowed, Los Angeles would have been not only the third seed in the Pacific Division in 2017, but also the entire Western Conference. In fact, at 205 goals allowed, Los Angeles was the only non-playoff team in the entire league in the top-15 of the statistic.

Unfortunately for the Kings’ offense, that’s not the way this game works.

Last season, Los Angeles couldn’t score to save its life. Even with F Jeff Carter’s team-leading 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists), the Kings could only manage 201 markers – tying for the fifth-fewest in the league.

If a club is struggling on offense, what better place to find a scorer than the entry draft? That’s exactly where new GM Blake looked, selecting 18-year-old C Gabriel Vilardi (29-32-61 in the OHL) with the 11th-overall pick. Fans shouldn’t grow too attached to the idea of him wearing black and silver this year though, as Los Angeles’ top two center positions are locked up for at least the next five seasons (Carter will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022), barring a big trade. Both Nick Shore (6-11-17) and Nic Dowd (6-16-22) will be free agents following this season (restricted and unrestricted, respectively) and could open up a hole in the lineup for the youngster, but I’d be concerned about playing the potential future of the offense, should the scouting reports prove correct, on these more physical lines during his development. Vilardi will almost certainly be back in Windsor trying to win his second-straight Memorial Cup this season.

And that leads us to a major problem with the Kings: they are returning almost an identical roster as last year. That is just fine for the Pittsburgh Penguins or Nashville Predators, but teams like the Kings that are trying to capitalize on a two-time Cup-winning goaltender still in his early 30s – like Jonathan Quick – should be doing all they can to help him out.

General Managers in all sports face the tough job of building a competitive team, keeping a balanced budget, appeasing the owner and making the fans happy. It’s a touchy situation that often doesn’t have clear right or wrong answers.

Unfortunately, Lombardi didn’t find the right balance between those things last season. Currently, the Kings have eight forwards signed to contracts through at least the 2019-’20 season for $1.6 million AAV, at minimum. Six of those are Lombardi’s responsibility, as his attempts to keep the 2014 Stanley Cup-winning gang together and hope they rediscover that magic ultimately led to him losing his job this offseason.

Then again, it doesn’t seem Blake learned from his predecessor’s mistakes, as he is responsible for signing 25-year-olds LW Tanner Pearson (24-20-44) and F Tyler Toffoli (16-18-34) this summer. My concern with these signings is not that these players aren’t worth their contracts, but that it has only added to the logjam of talent that will make it difficult for youths like Vilardi to make the team and could make it difficult to trade pieces in the future.

Offseason Grade: C+

The Kings added Cammalleri to replace unsigned Jarome Iginla and shored up the backup goaltending position (sorry Mr. Game 1 Jeff Zatkoff, but Kuemper is better and younger), but they’re returning almost an identical lineup as last season. Unless Stevens can find a way for the offense to increase production and Quick can add four more wins than Peter Budaj could manage in his absence last year, the Kings are on their way to another postseason on the couch.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 12

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

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 1

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – Game 1

By: Nick Lanciani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Minnesota Wild – Game 1

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

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

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

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

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

 

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 1

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

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

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

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

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

October 29 – Day 23 – Back to his Beginnings

I don’t know about you, but yesterday’s Game of the Day did not end as I expected, as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 at the Verizon Center.  Phil Kessel, assisted by Evgeni Malkin and David Perron, notched the game winner at the 3:49 mark of the third period.

Washington waited to open the scoring until the 1:28 mark of the final period.  Karl Alzner assisted Evgeny Kuznetsov to his fourth goal of the season to give the Caps a one-goal lead, but it was short lived – only 24 seconds, in fact, as Nick Bonino and Olli Maatta assisted Beau Bennett to the game-tying goal.  Bonino also scored an empty netter with under two minutes remaining in the game.

Marc-Andre Fleury earned his fifth win of the season by stopping 33 of 34 shots (97.1%) to set his record at 5-4-0, while Braden Holtby takes the loss, his second of the season, after allowing two of 24 shots faced (91.7%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 13-6-3, favoring the home team by nine points.

Tonight’s schedule is another full one, with a total of eight games on the night.  The action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern when three games get started (Carolina at the New York Islanders, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Buffalo at Pittsburgh [Bell TV]), followed half an hour later by Colorado at Tampa Bay.  Beginning at 8 p.m. eastern are two games (Anaheim at St. Louis and Chicago at Winnipeg), followed half an hour later by Vancouver at Dallas.  Finally, the night begins to see its end at 9 p.m. eastern when Montréal visits Edmonton (SN, SN360, RDS).

Of tonight’s matchups, three are divisional rivalries (Carolina at the Isles, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Chicago at Winnipeg) and only one game featuring two teams currently in playoff position (Vancouver at Dallas).

Those games being noted, there is another matchup that strikes my fancy, as it is the first return of an ex-coach to play against his ex-team.  That man is none other than Dan Bylsma, who is featured in the BuffaloPittsburgh matchup.

Buffalo Sabres LogoPittsburgh Penguins Logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know, we watched Pittsburgh yesterday, but this is a significant return.  Although under slightly bizarre circumstances, Bylsma is the last coach to lead the Pens to the Stanley Cup.  Plus, it’s Game of the Day’s first opportunity to see Jack Eichel in action, so I shouldn’t hear any complainers.

Coach Bylsma returns to the home arena of the team he led to the 2009 Stanley Cup with only 25 regular season games coached after replacing Michel Therrien mid-season.  Winner of the 2010-’11 Jack Adams Award, Bylsma is the winningest coach in team history (252 wins, 20 more than Eddie Johnston), as well as the coach with the highest win percentage (67%).

As we all know, the reason for Bylsma’s departure from the Triangle was not his regular season success, but his post-season letdowns.  Under his direction, the Penguins improved every regular season until the 2013-’14 season, beginning in his first full season with a .616 point percentage that grew to .75 by the time of his release.  However, his postseason win-loss percentage is a different story.  During his tenure the team won the Cup, then fell in the conference semifinals, followed by falling in the conference quarterfinals twice in a row, improving to the conference finals, then finally the semifinals.  While some teams would love to make the playoffs on a consistent basis and make it past the first round most of the time, the Pittsburgh teams he coached were built to win, and only one cup did not satisfy ownership.

The Buffalo Sabres are currently 3-6-0 coming off a 4-3 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday.  While folks in Upstate New York may be excited to usher in the Eichel Era, there have been some growing pains so far this season.  The team has scored four goals less and given up five over the league average.  The offensive production may be more due to bad luck though, as the Sabres have put 283 shots on goal so far this season, 21 over the league average, but only 6.7% of those attempts are finding the back of the net.

Probably the most exciting part about this Sabres team is their power play.  The special teams have accounted for nine goals so far this season (three over the league average) on 36 opportunities, giving them a 25% success rate that exceeds the league average by 6.39%.

Sadly, this positive comes with its own negative, as the penalty kill is vastly inferior to the rest of the NHL.  Buffalo has given up seven power play goals so far on only 23 opportunities (seven under the league average), giving them an atrocious penalty kill percentage of 69.57%, 11.82% under the league average.  Fortunately for the Sabres, they have been limiting penalties to a minimum to avoid man-down situations as much as possible, but penalties do happen and this statistic may be a monkey that hangs on the squad’s back for the entire season.

As explained yesterday, Bylsma’s old team is leaning heavily on Fleury and the defense, and there has been no indication that Jeff Zatkoff will see his first playing time tonight, although I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he did, given that Fleury has played every minute of all nine games this season.

Some players to watch in this one include Buffalo‘s Jake McCabe (two even strength goals [leads team] and 40% shot percentage [leads team]), Ryan O’Reilly (eight points [leads team], five assists [leads team], four power play assists [leads team]) & Sam Reinhart (+2 Corsi rating [leads team] and three even-strength assists [leads team]) and Pittsburgh‘s Malkin (seven points [leads team], four assists [leads team], three even-strength assists [leads team], two game-winners [leads team] and 13.6% shot percentage [leads team]) and, should he play, Fleury (five wins [tied for third in league], one shutout [tied for sixth in the league], 1.9 GAA [eighth in the league] and .936 save percentage [ninth in the league]).

Conventional wisdom points to the Penguins being favored in this one, but I think Pittsburgh‘s poor power play provides the Sabres a way to keep this one closer than expected.