Tag Archives: Zucker

2018 Offseason Preview: Minnesota Wild

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Minnesota Wild and their outlook for the summer.

Just like they have for previous five seasons, the Wild’s 2017-18 campaign saw them advance to the playoffs for the sixth-straight year. And, just like they have for the previous two postseasons, the Wild’s 2018 playoffs ended in the first round (in fact, Minnesota has won only one playoff game apiece for the past two seasons) for a third-straight year.

Whether you’d call it idling, treading water or stalling, the point remains the same: the Wild aren’t getting better, and any time a team isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse.

Is this a problem that can be resolved this offseason? Or will newly appointed General Manager Paul Fenton be able to duplicate his Nashville success in St. Paul?

2018 NHL Entry Draft

With the 24th-overall pick in this year’s deep draft, the Wild are still in the running for landing an excellent prospect. Personally, I’m leaning towards Minnesota snagging D Alexander Alexeyev (Red Deer Rebels), C Benoit-Olivier Groulx (Halifax Mooseheads), D Jared McIsaac (Halifax Mooseheads) or C Jay O’Brien (Thayer Academy), pending each player’s availability.

Of the 18-year-old defensemen, Alexeyev is the more offensive-minded of the two as his .82 points per game this season is superior to McIsaac’s .72 points per game, but both would make an already dangerous Wild blue line even more lethal.

Determining the better of the two centers is a taller task, as O’Brien is still playing with his high school team (posting 43-37-80 totals in 30 games played) while Groulx has been facing tougher competition in the QMJHL (posting 28-27-55 totals in 68 games played). However, clocking in at 6-foot, 174 pounds at only 18-years-old, O’Brien just might be worth the risk to propel Minnesota forward.

Pending free agents

With both G Devan Dubnyk and G Alex Stalock under contract for at least one more season, the only way there’s something changing here is if Fenton makes a trade – and I doubt he does it.

The Wild have three pending RFA defensemen to make decisions on, the most important of which is soon-to-be 24-year-old D Mathew Dumba. The seventh-overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Dumba’s 23:49 time on ice per game is third on his club at his position, while his .61 points per game is second among Wild defensemen with at least two games played.

Minnesota has just under $7.5 million in projected cap space for this upcoming season, but more than $2.55 million of that is going to be heading Dumba’s way (that’s the price at which he signed his last two-year contract).

Without even signing D Ryan Murphy or D Nick Seeler, the Wild would have eight NHL defenseman contracts on their books. Odds are very good that at least one Minnesota defenesman will be shipped off in some sort of trade this offseason, and that number could climb all the way to three.

How am I so confident in that prediction? The Wild also have five free agent forwards to ponder, including primary target W Jason Zucker – a pending RFA. The 59th-overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft posted decent 33-31-64 totals in 82 games played (.78 points per game) from his spot on the first line, scoring the second-most tallies on the team for a career-high.

This Wild team without Zucker would be helpless, so I have a hard time believing Fenton will allow him to wear a different sweater next season if he’s committed to winning now. As such, Zucker will likely improve on his $2 million contract, even if it’s only a one-year deal to get him to his 27th birthday – the graduation into unrestricted free agency.

And just like that, we’ve spent almost $6 million of the $7.5 million available on Dumba and Zucker. As such, Minnesota is likely going to be forced into some uncomfortable trades that could likely damage the team and potentially put its six-year playoff run at risk.

One thing to keep in mind is that, as unsigned restricted free agents, Dumba and Zucker may not be necessarily off the trading table. Both (especially Dumba) will be valuable haggling pieces if the Wild decide to do a retool, but they’ll need to make sure to get the right pieces in return to avoid wasting anymore of Dubnyk’s prime.

Whiteout Whitewashing: Jets take the series with Game 5 shutout victory

 

For the first time since the birth of the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise 19 years ago, the team will see the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the city of Winnipeg, a 31-year wait has ended with thunderous applause.

For Minnesota, however, an arduous struggle has ended in back-to-back blankings at the hands of a Jets squad that far outclassed them. The Wild fought as best they could, but with the absence of Ryan Suter on defense, and the loss of Zach Parise after Game 3, the tools for them to compete with a stacked Winnipeg roster just weren’t there. Pile on some notably lackluster performances from key players like Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, and Charlie Coyle (all held scoreless in the series) and there was really no hope to overcome the juggernaut Jets.

The Wild knew to have any shot at surviving Game 5 they’d need to play the perfect road game and try to keep the Jets from building momentum and getting the raucous crowd involved. This strategy lasted all of 31 seconds.

A strong opening shift was capped off when Jacob Trouba received a cross-ice pass from Mark Scheifele at the top of the right circle, took a few strides towards the net and ripped a wrist shot past Devan Dubnyk to ignite Bell MTS Place in the first minute.

A Winnipeg penalty shortly after the goal threatened to kill the energy, but strong work on the PK kept the tide in the Jets’ favor, and shortly after the conclusion of the penalty Trouba (who had himself a game) nearly scored on an odd-man rush, before nearly tipping home a follow-up shot right after. Dubnyk was trying desperately to keep his team alive and settle things down.

Unfortunately for the Minnesota netminder, his efforts were for nothing, as on the following faceoff Dustin Byfuglien let go a wrist shot from the right point that Bryan Little redirected beautifully past an unsuspecting Dubnyk for the 2-0 lead, still just 5:42 into the game.

Still the Jets kept coming, and the Wild had no answer. A Brandon Tanev shot nearly went in off the skate of Dubnyk after bouncing off of the end boards. Then Niederreiter tried to create a scoring opportunity by dancing around one Winnipeg defender only to get blown up by Big Buff as he attempted to let the shot go. Then Tanev, apparently upset at his previous failure, stripped a fumbling Jonas Brodin of the puck at his defensive blueline and fired a quick turnaround wrister through Dubnyk before he had time to react, Winnipeg taking a 3-0 lead with 8:50 to play. Tanev’s first career playoff goal.

Just 49 seconds later things went from calamity to catastrophe when an initial attempt from Andrew Copp rebounded out high to a locked and loaded Byfuglien, who proceeded to unload a bomb that redirected off of Joel Armia (his first playoff goal, just to stick with the theme) and into the net.

It was now 4-0 with 8:01 to play in the first period, and a mercy pulling was in order. Bruce Boudreau sent Alex Stalock in to relieve Dubnyk of his nightmare, and he returned to the bench to a standing reception from his teammates. Captain Mikko Koivu walked down to the end of the bench after Dubnyk sat down, seemingly to say “We’re sorry, this is on us.” to his visibly emotional goaltender.

Winnipeg fans, however, did not share in Koivu’s sympathies, as a chant of “We Want Dubnyk” rang out not long after the resumption of play. Apparently even after a long, cold winter, Winnipeg still has plenty of salt to go around.

The period ended with the Jets outshooting Minnesota 13-7, but the play was even more lopsided than that would indicate.

Early in the second Minnesota got their proverbial “This one just isn’t going to go your way” sign from the hockey gods, as a Mikael Granlund rush drew Connor Hellebuyck out of his net, giving Granlund an open cage to tuck a wraparound into, only to see the puck sail across the crease along the goal line and bounce off of multiple Winnipeg skates just inches from paydirt, only to be cleared away.

Minnesota did finally gain some offensive traction to their credit, though the second notable opportunity was a Niederreiter rush that was met with a shot block and subsequent leveling hit by Trouba. Ironically even though they controlled a lot of the play early in the second, the Wild would not record a shot for nearly eight minutes of play.

The game’s only real notable save came from the left pad of Stalock who denied a seemingly sure-thing one-timer right on the doorstep at the bottom of the left circle from Scheifele just past the game’s halfway mark.

A Wild power play around the 11:00 mark brought some more offensive traction to the visitors, who had a few quality chances on the power play followed up by a Niederreiter breakaway all turned aside. Jason Zucker found iron on a later power play, but Hellebucyk simply couldn’t be solved.

The Jets put a stamp on the game just 32 seconds into the third with a beautiful high-low-high passing sequence from Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny, and Scheifele capped off by a beautiful one-time rip from #55 into the net from the low slot.

Sensing victory was now firmly in hand, the Winnipeg Whiteout crowd started to take over the third period. Multiple renditions of Bananarama’s ‘Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye’ were belted out in perfect harmony at numerous points in the frame, starting with the initial performance just after the puck had dropped following the 5-0 goal.

When Hellebucyk made a great stop on Matt Cullen off of a Marcus Foligno rebound, the crowd responded with the wave, then some more Bananarama.

Blake Wheeler nearly made it 6-0 on a beautiful backhand tip of a Scheifele centering pass, but the hockey gods had decided enough was enough, so it found the crossbar and vacated the goal crease without further incident.

‘We Want Nashville!’ is now the chant. Bold, Winnipeg. Bold.

Later in the period a fan took a deflected puck to the face, only to be tossed a towel by Matt Hendricks (making his series debut) and signal to everyone in attendance that they were still very much alive, drawing a rousing round of applause.

The standing ovation started with 2:30 to play, and was only interrupted by an obligatory singalong to ‘Sweet Caroline’ at 2:10. The final minute of play was basically just one long explosion of noise as the city erupted into a party that I assume will still be occurring when the sun rises. On Monday.

In the end, Connor Hellebucyk posted his second-consecutive shutout to seal the series, and the Parise-less Wild fail to score a single goal. It’s hard for Minnesota to argue that injuries were the only reason they couldn’t climb this mountain, as Winnipeg faced games without Tyler Myers, Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey among others, and played the entire series without Toby Enstrom. It just speaks to their incredible depth that even when missing key contributors they could still trounce Minnesota with relative ease.

Now with a long rest ahead of them to get healthy before a likely (at least as of this writing) Second Round matchup for the ages with Nashville, the Jets have a little time to celebrate before looking towards what lay ahead.

Special shoutout to 20-year veteran and three-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Cullen, who may have just played the final game of a fantastic career.

True North Stronger: Jets edge Wild to open series; win first-ever playoff game

 

For those expecting this to be a one-sided series, Game 1 would like to have a word with you.

On the opening night of the 2018 NHL Playoffs (also known as the most wonderful time of the year) the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets treated us to exactly what we expect from playoff hockey: a hard-hitting, fast-paced, raucous affair with something for everyone.

In the end, it would be Winnipeg firing the opening salvo in the series, treating the thundering crowd at Bell MTS Place to the first playoff victory in franchise history. What a victory it was.

The city of Winnipeg hosted its first playoff series Game 1 since 1985 (insert joke about how many current players weren’t even alive) and they did not disappoint. The legendary Winnipeg Whiteout was as incredible a sight as ever, there may have been more people filling the downtown streets around the arena than there were in the arena (it’s a small venue joke and also a legitimate observation), and the Jets took the ice to an earth-shaking ovation. Pregame festivities were actually slightly delayed by a crowd that simply refused to cease their chant of ‘Go Jets Go!”

For Minnesota, the uphill battle was obvious. On the wrong end of some heavy betting odds, missing top defenseman Ryan Suter (28+ minutes of ice time suddenly unaccounted for), and likely unable to hear themselves think, the Wild’s gameplan was to hopefully control the pace and take the crowd out of it.

That did not go well in the early minutes.

Winnipeg came out flying. After buzzing offensively for the first couple minutes, they turned their focus to their other greatest weapon: Physicality. First it was a booming open ice hit on Daniel Winnik by Ben Chiarot. On the very next shift, Brandon Tanev stapled Eric Staal to the boards at one end, then linemate Adam Lowry crushed Jared Spurgeon (in his first game back from injury) at the opposite end.

Lowry was a standout in this game. He and Tanev combined for multiple quality scoring chances, and he played most of the game with the apparent mindset that if it was wearing white, it needed to die. He did leave the ice with about 50 seconds left in the first period, but returned for the second and played the rest of the game without issue. If Minnesota wants to change their fortunes (and potentially save the lives of some of their players) going forward, they’ll need to find a way to neutralize #17.

Potentially as a result of Lowry’s play, the first tv timeout was extended due to some maintenance on a pane of glass in the Minnesota end. After play resumed it was all Winnipeg for the rest of the period. If not for stellar play by Devan Dubnyk (including a spectacular robbery of Andrew Copp after he picked up a deflected point shot at the side of the net) and a great effort by Minnesota to keep most of the chances to the outside, the score could have been out of hand within the first 20 minutes.

My personal highlight of the first was Dubnyk snagging a left wing shot in his glove, before delivering a beautiful Booker T-esque spinebuster to a net-crashing Mathieu Perreault. Not much came of it, but it looked awesome and Dubnyk talking to the referee and very visibly laughing was terrific.

The shot clock read 13-4, but the scoreboard said 0-0 after 20 minutes.

Things picked up slightly in the second, as just 20 seconds in it would be Eric Staal taking the game’s first penalty (a trip on Mark Scheifele). The power play was mostly uneventful, but did include a shorthanded bid by Joel Eriksson Ek that was first negated by Patrik Laine, before ‘J.E.E.’ was absolutely obliterated by a backchecking Dustin Byfuglien.

After the power play it was Hellebucyk’s turn to save his team’s skin, as a terrible giveaway by Jacob Trouba behind his own net gave the Wild essentially a stationary 2-on-0, that luckily the Winnipeg goaltender was able to negate with a blocker save. Eriksson Ek would get another breakaway opportunity, this time avoiding being murdered by Big Buff, but would not find paydirt. The puck then went the other way and saw Kyle Connor unleash a beautiful toe-drag wrist shot from the high slot only to have Dubnyk windmill his hopes and dreams.

Just when it was starting to really look like we would see another scoreless period, Winnipeg would repeat a play they had tried on their previous power play to no avail and find success, with Mark Scheifele taking a sneaky centering feed from Blake Wheeler and ripping a one-timer past Dubnyk to finally break through with 2:23 to play.

Ironically, the Wild would outshoot the Jets in the 2nd, but find themselves trailing 1-0. But Winnipeg found itself down by one in its own right, having lost Mathieu Perreault to an upper body injury, after the diminutive centerman seemed to be the focus of some physical play throughout the period. After taking a huge open ice hit from Mikko Koivu, a tie-up and subsequent body slam from Nick Seeler seemed to be the final blow to end Perreault’s night.

After two periods of goaltenders stealing the show and solid defensive work, the doors got blown wide open in the third.

It started off the opening draw, with Winnipeg executing a perfect set play to spring Connor on a breakaway only to be denied by Dubnyk. The Wild quickly turned the tables, however, as less than two minutes into the frame it would be rookie Jordan Greenway tallying his first ever playoff point in his first ever playoff game by feeding three-time Cup winner and oldest man in the playoffs Matt Cullen for a beautiful one-timer over the shoulder of Hellebucyk to tie the game at one.

A two-minute track meet ensued, before a bad pinch by Dustin Byfuglien allowed Mikko Koivu (who got blown up by Lowry just as he chipped the breakout pass ahead) to feed Mikael Granlund to lead a 2-on-1 with Zach Parise. Granlund showed shot all the way, before feeding a pass to Parise’s stick at the last possible instant for a back-door tap-in to complete the two-goal swing and give Minnesota the lead just over two minutes after tying the game.

The once-booming Winnipeg crowd fell silent. Briefly.

Then Paul Stastny left a drop pass for Patrik Laine just inside the blueline and the 19-year-old phenom ripped a shot from the top of the circle that Dubnyk simply couldn’t catch up to. 2-2, just like that, less than a minute after the second Wild goal.

On the very next shift it looked like Winnipeg was going to take the lead right back, as Joel Armia took the puck on a cross-ice feed and got robbed blind by Dubnyk. The puck squeaked behind the Minnesota goaltender, but his teammates piled on to make sure it couldn’t find the promised land, and a big scrum followed.

The Jets would fire 15 consecutive shots on net after the second Minnesota goal, dominating most of the third period. Then with just over seven minutes left in the game, Joe Morrow would net his first ever playoff goal (and first career game-winner of any kind) with a blast from the point that deflected off of a Minnesota stick and fooled Dubnyk.

Hellebucyk and his teammates would fend off the Minnesota attack for the final minutes, including stops on a beautiful rush by Koivu, and a combined effort from Mathew Dumba and Jason Zucker to hold the fort and secure the 3-2 victory.

Minnesota has nothing to hang its head about, however. It gave a fired-up, heavily-favored Winnipeg team all it could handle, and Dubnyk showed the kind of form that can steal some games. Throw in the abundant physicality, and we’ve got ourselves a very entertaining under-the-radar series to watch.

Speaking of which, Game 2 will come to you Friday at 7:30pm Eastern on USA Network, SN and TVAS2. If you happen to miss it, though, do not fret. Our very own @kephartc will have a recap for you.

April 4 – Day 175 – Which team will Wild Wing pull for?

There’s not much happening in the world of hockey tonight, as there’s only three games on the schedule in anticipation of an important busy weekend.

First up is Ottawa at Buffalo (SN1/SN360/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by Chicago at St. Louis (NBCSN). Finally, Minnesota visits Anaheim (SN1/SN360) at 10 p.m. to close out the evening’s festivities. All times Eastern.

In terms of percentages, there’s rivalries galore tonight. That will play an especially important role in Missouri, as there’s nothing more the Blackhawks want to do than spoil St. Louis’ playoff push.

However, the tilt that deserves the most attention this evening is taking place on the West Coast between two teams that, though they may not be rivals, are hoping to meet in the Western Conference Finals.

 

You’re hard pressed to find a hotter team in the Pacific Division than 41-25-13 Anaheim, currently the Western Conference’s first wild card. The Ducks have posted a 7-1-1 record over their past nine games to keep pace with the Kings in the race for third place in the Pacific.

As would be expected by a team with such an impressive record over the last three weeks, there’s been little Anaheim has done wrong during this run. With five skaters having scored at least six points in their last nine games, the Ducks’ offense is averaging an impressive 3.22 goals per game since March 14 to rank 12th-best in the NHL in that time.

However, the Ducks’ attack has paled in comparison to their effort on the defensive end. Led by D Francois Beauchemin (1.6 blocks per game since March 14), C Ryan Getzlaf (13 takeaways in his last eight games) and D Josh Manson (3.6 hits per game during this run), Anaheim has allowed only 30.22 shots against per game since March 14, the eighth-lowest mark in the NHL in that span.

A major note concerning Anaheim’s defense this evening is the absence of D Cam Fowler, who took a strong hit from W Blake Comeau along the boards in Sunday’s game against Colorado. He’d been averaging two blocks per game during the Ducks’ impressive streak and will leave a sizable hole for whoever fills his spot on the blue line.

That being said, it’s not like 31-18-7 G John Gibson has needed all that much help to find success. Having posted a .926 save percentage and 2.43 GAA for the entire season, his defense playing so well in front of him lately has helped him manage an even better .936 save percentage and 1.9 GAA in his last nine starts.

Between Gibson and his defense, Anaheim has allowed only 2.11 goals against per game since March 14, the third-best mark in the NHL over the past three weeks.

Unfortunately, Gibson was another victim of the Avalanche on Sunday, and his upper-body injury is going to make him unavailable for at least tonight’s game. That puts 9-6-6 G Ryan Miller, who completed the 4-3 overtime victory against the Avs, in the spotlight for the undetermined future. Miller has managed a .925 save percentage and 2.51 GAA for the season.

Based on those marks being comparable to Gibson’s and the defense the Ducks have been playing lately, I’d assume it will be business as usual on The Pond this evening provided Fowler’s replacement can perform half as well as he usually does.

Another team playing some spectacular hockey of late are the 44-25-10 Wild, the Central Division’s third place club. Minnesota has posted a 5-1-3 record over its past nine showings, including wins over Vegas and Nashville.

Both the Golden Knights and Predators are certainly capable of lighting up a scoreboard, yet they combined for only three goals in their losses to Minnesota. That’s been a normal occurrence for the Wild during this run, as they’ve allowed only 1.89 goals against per game since March 16, the (t)best mark in the league in that time.

Minnesota’s incredible defense has been a major reason for that success, as it has allowed only 28.33 shots against per game during this run – the third-lowest average in the NHL since March 16. Whether it’s been D Jonas Brodin (two blocks per game since March 16), LW Marcus Foligno (2.6 hits per game during this run) or W Jason Zucker (eight takeaways in his past nine games), the Wild excel at making life extremely difficult on opposing attacks.

Just like Anaheim, Minnesota will also be missing a vital part of its defense for the extended future. D Ryan Suter is out indefinitely with a fractured fibula suffered in Dallas Saturday night. D Carson Soucy made his NHL debut filling in for Suter in the Wild’s first game without him (a 3-0 win over the Oilers), firing three shots and throwing two hits in 15:26 of play on the third pair.

Part of the reason the Wild aren’t in terrible shape without Suter is because they have 34-15-7 G Devan Dubnyk manning the pipes. Though this campaign has been far from the 2015 Masterton-winner’s best – he has a .918 save percentage and 2.52 GAA on the season – Dubnyk has been exemplary when it matters most. In his last seven starts, Dubnyk has managed a .939 save percentage and 1.68 GAA, and he’ll be called upon tonight to stop a hungry Anaheim attack.

With the Wild making the trip into Los Angeles tomorrow night, there were questions whether Dubnyk or 10-10-3 G Alex Stalock, would be in net this evening. According to Michael Russo of The Athletic yesterday at 6 p.m. Eastern, Dubnyk has been confirmed as tonight’s starter.

Not only have the Wild already clinched a spot in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they need only one point in their remaining three games (or one St. Louis loss of any variety in its last three games) to be locked into third place in the Central Division.

That 5-7-2 record was a long time ago, wasn’t it Minnesota?

If only the future were so certain for the Ducks. Currently the Western Conference’s first wild card, there’s still a chance Anaheim could miss the postseason altogether.

Of course, two points tonight can make the Ducks’ footing a little more certain, as they would jump Los Angeles for third place in the Pacific Division with only two games to play for both clubs.

Both of the first two meetings between these sides were so close, they required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner.

Game 1 took place on December 8 at The Pond, where the Wild claimed a 3-2 overtime victory (D Mathew Dumba scored the game-winner). However, Minnesota couldn’t successfully defend home ice when the Ducks came to St. Paul on February 17, as Anaheim stole a 3-2 shootout win (LW Nick Ritchie claimed First Star honors for ending the 11-round shootout).

The fact that the Ducks have an offense that is playing slightly better lately paired with home ice advantage leads me to thinking Anaheim should earn two points tonight. However, as well as Minnesota’s defense has been performing, it just might be able to force overtime to lock in its playoff position.


Led by First Star of the Game G Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s 33-save shutout, the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Boston Bruins 4-0 at Amalie Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Between Tampa’s defense holding the Bruins to only eight shots on goal and G Tuukka Rask saving all 17 shots the Bolts managed to send his way, this game had the looks of a tight affair after the first period ended scoreless.

That all changed in the second period, as Tampa registered three of its four goals in the span of 9:26, starting with F Brayden Point‘s (RW Nikita Kucherov and Second Star D Braydon Coburn) game-winning wrist shot at the 5:01 mark.

Kucherov deserves a lot of credit for setting up this goal, as the way he skated circles around LW Brad Marchand and C Patrice Bergeron to get the puck into the offensive zone would probably be a suitable audition for hockey’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters. Once Kucherov reached the left face-off circle, he flung a pass across the zone to Point, who proceeded to rip his wrister from above the right face-off circle. Though it was a long distance, Point’s dart to the far post sneaked under Rask’s right arm and into the back of the net.

But the Lightning were far from done with that tally. D Victor Hedman (Coburn and Third Star RW Ryan Callahan) doubled Tampa Bay’s advantage 5:58 later with a slap shot, followed by LW Chris Kunitz‘ (Callahan and D Dan Girardi) wrister setting the score at 3-0 with 5:33 remaining in the frame.

Even though the Bruins out-shot the Bolts 12-3 in the third period, F J.T. Miller was the only player to score in the final frame. He buried his unassisted snap shot 2:34 into the period to set the 4-0 final score.

While Vasilevskiy was busy earning his eighth shutout of the season, Rask saved 32-of-36 shots faced in the loss (.889 save percentage).

With Tampa’s victory at Amalie Arena, the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a 100-54-21 record that is 48 points better than the roadies’.

March 19 – Day 159 – There’s a LA Lakers joke here somewhere…

After a busy weekend, only five games are on today’s NHL schedule.

The evening starts with two tilts (Columbus at Boston [SN/TVAS] and Nashville at Buffalo) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by Florida at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Los Angeles at Minnesota (NBCSN), while Calgary at Arizona – tonight’s nightcap – waits a full two hours before closing out the night. All times Eastern.

Originally, the Kings-Wild game was marked in my list of potential games for the simple fact that D Christian Folin is returning to Xcel Energy Center for the first time since departing Minnesota. While that’s not exactly a story worth covering (sorry Folin, but you’ve spent the last two games in the press box), the matchup should still prove to be the most competitive – and important – of the night. To the Land of 10,000 Lakes!

 

March has not been the month of consistency for 39-27-6 Los Angeles, as it has alternated between winning and losing on a game-by-game basis. While that is a good thing in the sense that they haven’t strung two losses back-to-back since February 22 and 24, the Kings have also failed to follow a win with another victory since February 27 and March 1.

As such, the Kings have only a 4-3-1 record to show for this calendar month, but that is certainly not the fault of any in the defensive end. Led by W Dustin Brown (five takeaways since March 1) and LW Kyle Clifford (3.4 hits per game over this stretch), Los Angeles has allowed only 29.88 shots against per game to reach 28-26-2 G Jonathan Quick since March 1, the 10th-lowest mark in the NHL in that time.

Of course, a goaltender like Quick that is faced with so few shots per game is almost always capable of making the required saves. The story has been no different lately, as he’s posted an impressive .923 save percentage and 2.27 GAA over his past seven starts, improving his season marks to a .922 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.

Even with the Kings traveling to Winnipeg for a tilt tomorrow night against the Jets, Quick will be in net this evening.

Instead, inconsistency has showed its ugly face within the Kings’ offensive ranks this month. That seems hard to believe considering C Anze Kopitar and D Drew Doughty are both averaging at least a point per game this month with respective 10 and eight points, but it’s how they reached those point totals where we start to get a clearer picture.

It’s a regular occurrence for an offensive defenseman to register far more assists than goals, so it’s no surprise Doughty has 1-7-8 marks over his past eight showings. Similarly, Doughty plays an excellent center role by being a play maker, as evidenced by his 2-8-10 performance this month.

However, it’s the fact that neither of these leaders are finding the back of the net themselves that seems to be the issue. Similarly, the Kings’ two hottest goalscorers – F Jeff Carter and LW Tanner Pearson – can only boast four goals apiece since March 1, but they play together on the second line instead of with Kopitar.

Therefore, it seems that Los Angeles’ top line is in a bit of a rut lately. With F Tobias Rieder and Brown currently listed as Kopitar’s wings, they need to get their act together to solidify the Kings’ playoff run.

In terms of record, 41-24-7 Minnesota has been experiencing a month of March very similar to the Kings, as the Wild can only boast a 5-4-0 record since turning the calendar’s page.

However, the Wild have reached their March record in a very different way than the Kings, as they have already posted a three-game winning streak this month and could match that mark with a victory tonight.

Defense has been a major part of that success, as Minnesota has done well to limit its opponents to only 28 shots against per game since March 1, the third-lowest mark in the entire NHL. D Jonas Brodin (1.9 blocks per game since March 1), D Mathew Dumba (two hits per game over this run) and W Jason Zucker (six takeaways in his last nine games) have all played major roles in that squelching defensive presence.

However, to have a record so close to .500 over this nine-game run, there’s also been more than a few Minnesotan losses this month. Those belong to 31-14-5 G Devan Dubnyk, who has not exactly been spectacular in his last seven starts. Even though he’s earned four victories this month, he’s also posted an .899 save percentage and 2.93 GAA – well below his season marks of a .916 save percentage and 2.61 GAA.

Of these two teams, Minnesota’s playoff chances are all but clinched as it has a five-point advantage on ninth-place Dallas – not to mention a game in hand (technically, tonight’s game is the Wild’s game in hand over the Stars, but it will be returned to them after Dallas plays Washington tomorrow). Additionally, there’s little forward mobility in the Central Division, as Minnesota trails Winnipeg by seven points.

Instead, the Wild are most concerned with holding on to third place in the division to ensure they play the Jets in the first round of the playoffs instead of Vegas. Currently, Minnesota has a three-point advantage on Colorado in the first wild card. With the Avs getting the opportunity to take on the lowly Blackhawks tomorrow night, the Wild need to hold serve with a victory tonight to maintain their slim advantage.

Of course, playoff seeding is the least of the Kings’ worries as they’re currently tied with Dallas at 84 points. Los Angeles needs any points it can get its hands on, but a win tonight would propel it past Anaheim for third place in the Pacific Division, as both sides would have 86 points and the Kings would win the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker.

Tonight’s game is the second of three this regular season between Los Angeles and Minnesota. The first took place December 15 at Staples Center, where the Kings effectively imposed their will to post a convincing 5-2 victory. W Marian Gaborik – now an Ottawa Senator after being traded on Valentine’s Day for D Dion Phaneuf and C Nate Thompson – led the way that night with two third period goals.

If the Kings continue their run of alternating results, they should be in line for a victory tonight considering they fell 3-0 against New Jersey on Saturday. Even facing Minnesota’s impressive defense, I think the Kings can get it done today since Quick playing that much better than Dubnyk lately.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 at Honda Center to propel themselves into third place in the Pacific Division.

Though the Devils twice pulled back within a goal of tying the game, the final result never seemed to be in doubt. Anaheim’s defense squelched almost every attempted attack by New Jersey, as its 36 shots on goals are well more than the Devils’ 17.

Of course, that defense got quite the boost by being spotted a two-goal advantage before even seven minutes had run off the clock. Second Star of the Game C Ryan Getzlaf opened the game’s scoring only 1:14 after the opening puck drop with an unassisted snap shot, and he was followed 5:23 later by W Jakob Silfverberg (D Josh Manson and Third Star D Hampus Lindholm) scoring a tip-in to set the score at 2-0.

Even though they opened the second period with 1:25 of five-on-three play, the Devils’ first comeback attempt didn’t see any real life until 9:29 remained in the second period. With W Corey Perry in the penalty box serving a too many men on the ice penalty, W Kyle Palmieri (C Travis Zajac and F Taylor Hall) buried a slap shot to pull New Jersey back within a 2-1 deficit.

Comebacks are difficult to pull off when Anaheim scores its game-winning goal before Jersey even manages its second. That’s exactly what happened when D Brandon Montour (Getzlaf and First Star F Rickard Rakell) scored a power play clapper 7:55 into the third period.

Montour and co. needed only 26 seconds of D John Moore sitting in the penalty box for cross checking Silfverberg to make the Devils pay. After receiving a pass along the left boards from Cam Fowler at the point, Rakell, moved the puck below the goal line to Getzlaf hanging out just outside the trapezoid. Before New Jersey could get its defense in the right position, Getzlaf centered a perfect pass to Montour at the top-right corner of the slot, who proceeded to rip his clapper past G Keith Kinkaid‘s glove.

Though LW Patrick Maroon (D Sami Vatanen and RW Stefan Noesen) was able to pull the Devils back within a goal with a tip-in against his former team with 9:55 remaining in regulation, a Rakell (Fowler and D Marcus Pettersson) wrist shot only 46 seconds later completed the game’s scoring.

G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 15-of-17 shots faced (.882 save percentage), leaving the loss to Kinkaid, who saved 32-of-36 (.889).

Anaheim’s regulation home victory snaps an eight-game point streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, the series’ hosts now have an 88-52-19 record that is 34 points better than the roadies.

March 13 – Day 153 – The Central teams without Ss

Only seven games are on this Tuesday’s schedule, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the lower volume means lower quality.

We find our start at 7 p.m. with Boston at Carolina (SN1), followed half an hour later by a pair of tilts (Dallas at Montréal [RDS/TNS2] and Ottawa at Tampa Bay [RDS2]). Next up is Winnipeg at Nashville (TVAS) at 8 p.m., while Colorado at Minnesota (NBCSN) waits 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Edmonton at Calgary (SN/SN1) gets underway at 9 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – Los Angeles at Arizona – completes the evening’s festivities with their 10 p.m. tilt. All times Eastern.

When the schedule was released last summer, there was a few games that stuck out to me on today’s slate.

  • Dallas at Montréal: RW Alexander Radulov returned to the NHL last season for the third time of his career, but he spent only one campaign with the Habs before commuting to the Lone Star State.
  • Edmonton at Calgary: The Flames need points in the worst way to stay in playoff discussion, but two points are never easily earned in this rivalry.
  • Los Angeles at Arizona: F Tobias Rieder spent the first four seasons of his NHL career with the Coyotes, but that tenure ended at this trade deadline when he was shipped to the Kings.

However, those games pale in comparison to the bouts taking place in the Central Division tomorrow. Since Nashville and Winnipeg are all but locked into the postseason, let’s see what the Avs and Wild can do.

 

The 36-24-8 Avalanche are on a nice little run lately, as they’ve posted an impressive 5-1-4 record over their last 10 showings. A major reason for that success is an imposing offense that has averaged 3.6 goals since February 20, the sixth-best mark in the NHL in that time span.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but F Nathan MacKinnon has been an absolute animal this season.

Okay, I’ve decided that even though you have heard this fact, I’m still going to talk about him.

Let’s just start with his season as a whole. MacKinnon has posted 32-49-81 totals this season, far and away the best numbers of his five-year career having eclipsed his 24-39-63 rookie marks that earned him the 2014 Calder Trophy a while ago. What really sticks out to me here are the 81 points he’s already registered this campaign, even with 14 games separating the Avalanche from the end of the regular season. What that means is, unless he somehow gets held scoreless through his next 14 showings, he’s all but ensured averaging a point per game for the entire 82-game season.

But wait, there’s more! MacKinnon’s marks get even better when we remember that he missed eight games with injury, meaning he’s earned his 81 points in only 60 games played. For those not so mathematically inclined, that means MacKinnon has averaged 1.35 points per game this season, the best mark in that statistic in the league. He’s also managed a cool .53 goals per game this season (well better than his previous career-best .29 in 2013-’14 and 2015-’16), which should be worrisome to Minnesota this evening considering he hasn’t potted his own score in a week.

More recently, the 22-year-old from Halifax, Nova Scotia has still been the class of the NHL. Since February 20, no player has posted numbers like MacKinnon’s, as his 8-12-20 points (that’s right, he’s averaging two points per game in his last 10 showings!) in that time are even better than division-rival RW Patrik Laine‘s 14-4-18 in as many games played.

I haven’t made my Hart Trophy pick yet, but MacKinnon is certainly going earn his fair share of votes this April.

Of course, an even bigger problem when facing Colorado is that the team is a little bit more than MacKinnon. RW Mikko Rantanen (5-11-16 totals since February 20) and D Tyson Barrie (5-10-15 in his last 10 games) have also been headline worthy lately by averaging at least 1.5 points per game during this run.

Meanwhile, things have also seemed to be going 39-23-7 Minnesota’s way in recent days, as it has managed a 3-1-0 record in its last four tilts.

Just like tonight’s rival, offense has been a major part of the Wild’s winning ways lately, as they’ve averaged an imposing four goals per game over their last four showings, the (t)third-best mark in the league since March 4.

Though there are four players averaging a point per game over this four-game run, none stand out quite like C Eric Staal, who has 37-31-68 totals on the season. The Thunder Bay, Ontario native has rediscovered his scoring touch at a ripe 33-years-old, scoring the most goals in one season since his 38-tally effort with the Hurricanes in 2007-’08.

Just to make sure you caught that, that was 10 years ago. 10.

Staal is on track for 44 goals this season, which would be one short of his career mark set in 2005-’06, his sophomore campaign. His last four games have more than kept him in line for that mark, as he’s averaging a frightening goal per game since March 4.

Joining Staal in averaging a point per game during this four-game run are third-liner F Charlie Coyle (2-2-4 totals) and top defensive pair Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter (both with 0-4-4 marks). Suter in particular has played a major role in Staal’s recent success, as three of his assists – two of which were the primary apples – have resulted in goals for the Canadian.

An added perk of Minnesota’s success on the offensive end has been its puck possession. Since March 4, the Wild’s opposing offenses have managed only 30 shots per game, the (t)ninth-best mark in the NHL in that time. Spurgeon (2.3 blocks per game over his last four games) and W Jason Zucker (averaging a takeaway per game over this run) in particular have played major roles in that defensive success.

Facing only 30 shots per outing has certainly made 30-13-5 G Devan Dubnyk look pretty good as well. Having started all of Minnesota’s last four games, Dubnyk has posted a .933 save percentage and 2.01 GAA to improve his season marks to a .917 save percentage and 2.6 GAA.

However, all this success comes with a slight asterisk. The Wild’s last four games have been played against the Red Wings (4-1 victory), Hurricanes (6-2 victory), Canucks (5-2 victory) and Edmonton (4-1 loss) – all teams on the outside of the playoff picture, of which only Carolina still has a real shot at qualifying (though the Canes’ odds are dropping like rocks in a pond). In fact, the last time Minnesota played a good team, it was against the Avalanche.

As we’ll tackle in a moment, that was not a pleasurable experience for the Wild.

With seven points currently separating the Wild from the second-place Jets, there’s little climbing Minnesota can do in the Central Division. Instead, its focus is staving off the Stars and Avalanche from its third place spot. A home win in regulation tonight would obviously be an important step towards that goal, as Dallas – which trails the Wild by only three points – is also in action tonight.

For those that like chaos in the standings (consider me a member of that party), Colorado is the team for you this evening. Not even a full year removed from one of the worst seasons in recent history, the Avs are currently holding onto a second wild card spot over the Ducks, also with 80 points, with two games in hand. With Anaheim inactive tonight, one of those games in hand is being played tonight, meaning Colorado cannot afford to leave St. Paul without at least a point for its effort.

Of course, the Avalanche would prefer to not play Nashville in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and they could jump into the first wildcard spot with a win tonight should Dallas fall in Montréal, as both clubs would be tied at 82 points with Colorado having a game in hand.

Through the first three meetings between these teams in their four-game season series, it’s been all Colorado, as the Avs have earned a 2-0-1 record against the Wild to clinch the series victory. Minnesota won the first meeting on November 24 3-2 with the help of the shootout (9-10-2 G Alex Stalock earned First Star honors for allowing no goals after the first period), but Colorado responded by posting 7-2 (MacKinnon and Rantanen both posted 1-2-3 totals) and 7-1 (MacKinnon led the way with a dominating 2-3-5 performance) victories on January 6 and March 2, respectively.

It goes without saying that the Avalanche have Minnesota’s number this season, but the comforts of home should play in the Wild’s favor to keep the Avs from hanging seven goals for a third-consecutive matchup. That being said, it’s hard to imagine a game that doesn’t end with Colorado earning two points, as MacKinnon and co. have been finding success regardless of opponent lately.


With two goals in the third period, the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

When the Flyers were caught with too many men on the ice at the 4:27 mark, it opened the door for Vegas to find the game’s opening goal. F Erik Haula (W David Perron and D Nate Schmidt) provided the tally, burying a power play wrist shot with only 10 seconds remaining before F Travis Konecny would rejoin play.

Speaking of Konecny, he would be involved in the goal that tied the game at 1-1. Only 1:27 into the second period, Second Star of the Game F Claude Giroux (C Sean Couturier and Konecny) leveled the game with a wrister, the lone marker of the frame.

Another penalty proved to be Philadelphia’s downfall in the third period. When D Travis Sanheim was caught hi-sticking Haula at the 4:30 mark, Third Star C William Karlsson (F Tomas Hyka and D Shea Theodore) needed only 90 seconds with the man-advantage to return a one-goal advantage to the Knights.

However, the referees didn’t only have gold-tinted glasses, as Vegas ended up giving up a power play goal of its own. With D Brayden McNabb in the box for hooking RW Jakub Voracek only 31 seconds after Karlsson’s goal, W Wayne Simmonds (Voracek and D Shayne Gostisbehere) set the score at 2-2 at the 7:06 mark, creating a tie that would last more than 10 minutes.

But instead of that tie holding to the end of regulation, First Star F Ryan Carpenter (C Cody Eakin and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) provided the game-winning goal with 2:40 remaining on the clock. Playing against his former club, Bellemare performed a lot of the dirty work on this goal, as he scrapped along the boards for four seconds with two Flyers before shoving a pass to Eakin in the trapezoid. Eakin one-timed a centering pass past G Petr Mrazek‘s right post to Carpenter, who fired his wrister from the face-off circle over the netminder’s glove shoulder to win the match.

G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the victory after saving 38-of-40 shots faced (.95 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved 26-of-29 (.897). With the victory, Fleury notched the 400th victory of his career, and it was made all the more sweet by coming against his former rivals.

Vegas’ victory while wearing white marks the third-consecutive win by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day. As such, the 83-50-19 hosts’ advantage in the series has been trimmed to 29 points.

January 10 – Day 95 – There’s no place like home

There’s only two games on the schedule today, but for once I’m not complaining about either failing to live up to NBC’s promotion of “Wednesday Night Rivalry.”

The action starts in Toronto when Ottawa pays the Maple Leafs a visit at 7:30 p.m. (SN/TVAS) and Minnesota at Chicago (NBCSN) cleans up the evening’s festivities half an hour later. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis and Vegas.

Is there any question of which game we’re featuring tonight? The winner of the Wild-Blackhawks game will be the eighth seed in the Western Conference! It’s off to the Windy City with us!

 

Tonight’s tilt is Game 4 in a five-game series between these clubs. Chicago owns a 2-1-0 record against the Wild so far this season, and another win tonight would clinch the season series – an important note considering it is the second tiebreaker at the end of the season and both of these clubs are currently competing for the last wild card.

Obviously, the 23-17-4 Wild, who currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference due to losing a games-played tiebreaker with both Chicago and Calgary, will have high hopes of leveling the series this evening. But do they have much of a chance of pulling it off?

I’m worried for them the answer is no. Minnesota has lost five of its last six road games (including one at United Center less than a month ago), including an active skid of four-straight. That run since December 17 makes the Wild the fourth-worst road team in the league, and it’s all because their defense simply doesn’t travel well.

Given, it’s not like Minnesota’s defense is all that spectacular in and of itself. The Wild allow 2.91 goals against per game for the season as a whole, the 14th-worst mark in the league.

However, in their six road games since December 17, the Wild have allowed a league-worst 25 goals against, or a second-worst 4.17 per game (the Wild would like to take this opportunity to thank the Islanders for allowing 16 goals in only three road games).

A major problem is Minnesota, even with LW Marcus Foligno throwing three hits per game, D Jared Spurgeon blocking 2.67 shots per game and W Jason Zucker averaging a takeaway-per-game, has allowed an average of 35 shots in each contest away from Xcel Energy Center since mid-December, a mark that is sixth-worst in the NHL in that time.

While Foligno’s, Spurgeon’s and Zucker’s efforts are impressive on their own, it seems to me to be a lack of commitment by the rest of the team on the defensive end – especially in terms of physicality. Foligno has not been afraid to rough up the opposition along the boards, but Matt Dumba has averaged the second-most hits-per-game during this section of games with only 1.67 to his credit. While physicality is only one aspect of playing defense, it seems to be lacking from Head Coach Bruce Boudreau‘s squad.

The icing… err, frosting, since icing is a penalty… on the cake though is the fact that the Wild’s defense has allowed all these shots of late against 7-8-2 G Alex Stalock. Most of this run came while 15-9-2 G Devan Dubnyk was recovering from his lower-body injury. Given how much he was getting peppered while filling in, I’d say Stalock did pretty well in his five most recent road starts. He posted a .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA.

Dubnyk will be in goal tonight in only his second road game since returning to action. His first was that drubbing at the hands of the Avalanche where, due in large part to posing a .813 save percentage and 7.61 GAA, he lost his cool and tried to smash F Alexander Kerfoot‘s face into the ice. Perhaps the former Masterton Trophy-winner can keep his cool tonight, because his team desperately needs him to cover up for its defensive inefficiencies.

If last night’s 8-2 performance in Ottawa is any indication, it seems the 21-15-6 Blackhawks are starting to figure things out. Having won four of their past six games and earned a point in one of those losses, Chicago has surged into the second wild card and has pulled within three points of first wild card Dallas.

Since December 29, no offense has scored more goals than Chicago. The Hawks have managed an impressive 28 goals in six games, which averages into a second-best 4.67 per game behind Boston’s unbelievable 5.5 (for those that care, three of the top-five teams in goals-per-game since December 29 are in the Central Division).

While the usual suspects of C Jonathan Toews and F Patrick Kane have been impressive over this run, posting respective 5-4-9 and 3-6-9 totals, the Blackhawk that truly takes the cake is sophomore C Nick Schmaltz, who’s currently riding a four-game goal streak. He’s done it all for the Hawks lately, posting 5-5-10 totals to elevate his season marks to 12-19-31. Having already surpassed last year’s numbers, Schmaltz is poised to join the ranks of recent dominant Chicago forwards. How does one club get W Alex DeBrincat, Kane, LW Artemi Panarin (well, last season), Schmaltz and Toews all on the same team?

Just like Minnesota saved its top goaltender for the Hawks, 2-1-1 G Jeff Glass will probably be in net tonight for Chicago after 3-5-3 G Anton Forsberg played yesterday against the Sens. Playing his rookie season at 32-years-old, Glass has posted a .908 save percentage and 3.51 GAA in his first four NHL starts.

The United Center hasn’t been the imposing threat to road teams as it was only a year or two ago, but with an 11-6-2 record at home this season, I think the Blackhawks can find a way to pull this one out.


Though the Carolina Hurricanes gave them all they had, First Star of the Game F Tyler Johnson and the Tampa Bay Lightning was able to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 5-4 at Amalie Arena.

Johnson was an unstoppable force throughout the entire game, as he registered a goal in each frame. However, before he struck his tally for the first period, three others found the net. First was LW Brock McGinn (RW Justin Williams and D Jaccob Slavin), who gave Carolina the advantage 3:23 into play with a power play wrist shot. Tampa pulled the game back even 6:39 later courtesy of a wrister from D Victor Hedman (RW Nikita Kucherov and C Steven Stamkos). The exchange of goals continued with 7:50 remaining in the period when W Sebastian Aho bagged an unassisted wrister, but Johnson (D Anton Stralman and Second Star F Brayden Point) set the score at 2-2 on a tip-in 4:16 later.

In terms of playing time, Johnson didn’t have to wait too long to find his second goal of the night. Only 1:58 into the second period, he (Third Star D Jake Dotchin and Point) gave Tampa its first lead of the night with a backhanded shot. However, Carolina continued to show its resilience when D Justin Faulk (F Teuvo Teravainen and F Jordan Staal) scored a power play wrister 8:38 later, leveling the game at three-all.

The 3-3 tie held for a considerable time, even though both clubs combined to fire 26 shots in the second period. However, the draw was finally broken when Dotchin (Point and W Ondrej Palat) tickled the twine with a snap shot. 5:27 later, the Bolts went up what proved to be an insurmountable two goals when Johnson (Hedman) completed the hat trick with a wrister.

Johnson’s final goal was simply a pure spectacle of his superior speed to that of D Noah Hanifin. Hedman dumped the puck towards center ice from his defensive zone to enact a line change, but Johnson decided to race Hanifin to ensure there was no chance for icing. Once he realized he could take possession, Johnson squeezed past the defenseman, upending him in the process, to set up a one-on-one battle with G Cam Ward. The netminder fended off the first backhander from within his crease, but he couldn’t stop an immediate second try by Johnson: a wrister over his left blocker.

That’s not to say the Canes gave up on the remaining five minutes of regulation. In fact, the exact opposite is true, as F Elias Lindholm (Faulk and Teravainen) pulled Carolina back within a one-goal deficit with 1:18 remaining in the frame, but even with six attackers the Hurricanes couldn’t find a leveling marker.

G Andrei Vasilevskiy saved 28-of-32 shots faced (.875 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Ward, who saved 29-of-34 (.853).

It’s no surprise, but the 52-29-12 home teams are absolutely dominating the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts’ record in the series is 26 points better the roadies’, the same advantage Tampa Bay has on the Oilers for the Presidents’ Trophy.

December 10 – Day 67 – Scoring is hard

After an action-packed Saturday, the NHL is pulling reigns back a bit this evening, as it has scheduled only four games to be played tonight.

In fact, most of that action starts at the same time, as three (Arizona at Chicago, Buffalo at St. Louis and Edmonton at Toronto [NHLN/SN/TVAS]) of the four contests drop the puck at 7 p.m. The last matchup of the night – Minnesota at San Jose – waits until 9 p.m. before getting underway. All times Eastern.

Originally, I was planning on commemorating D Niklas Hjalmarsson‘s first return to Chicago since being traded this offseason, but that is difficult to do while he is on injured reserve (I guess we’ll have to wait until next season). Instead, we’ll make the trip out to The Tank for what should be the best game of the night between the Sharks and Wild.

 

To put things lightly, life could be easier for both of these clubs. Let’s start with the 16-10-2 Sharks, who are scrapping with the 16-12-2 Flames and 15-12-4 Canucks for third place – not to mention trailing an expansion team for home ice in the playoffs –  in the Pacific Division.

The main thing San Jose has in its favor is an incredible defense. Allowing only 2.28 goals against-per-game, the Sharks are the second-best in the NHL in the statistic, which atones for the sins of their anemic offense that manages a fourth-worst 2.67 goals-per-game.

The primary way the Sharks are finding their defensive success is by keeping pucks off 11-7-1 G Martin Jones. San Jose has limited its goaltenders’ workloads to only 29.32 shots against-per-game (the second-fewest in the NHL). That effort has been spearheaded by D Justin Braun‘s 2.03 blocks-per-game, D Brent Burns‘ team-leading 33 takeaways and D Brenden Dillon‘s 2.85 hits-per-game.

But it’s not like Jones needs all that much help. He’s posted a .91 season save percentage and 2.41 GAA this year to rank (t)12th- and sixth-best, respectively, among the 37 netminders with at least 10 starts.

That all being said, it looks like San Jose is having a dream season in comparison to the Wild, who have yet to find consistent traction and officially jump into the Western Conference’s playoff picture.

Of course, Minnesota does not have the privilege of playing in the less intense Pacific Division, but that’s no excuse for an offense that manages only 2.92 goals-per-game, the 14th-fewest in the league.

The Wild have a real problem with creating depth scoring. There’s no doubt that second line C Eric Staal (10-13-23 totals) and first-liner W Jason Zucker (14-10-24) have been impressive, but F Mikael Granlund ranks third on the team in points with only 6-11-17 totals a year removed from his incredible 26-43-69 effort.

Until Minnesota can figure out a way to get Granlund back to form, I feel they’re going to continue to struggle. It’s for that reason that I think the Sharks are going to come away with the victory today.


No amount of hype could prepare us for such a competitive matchup in the DtFR Game of the Day, but the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to hold on for a 4-3 overtime victory at Amalie Arena over the Winnipeg Jets.

With the obvious exception of overtime, both clubs managed a goal-per-period to create an exciting, turbulent environment. That mood found its start at the 1:23 mark of the first period when F Andrew Copp (F Adam Lowry and F Brandon Tanev) buried a wrist shot to give Winnipeg an early lead. That advantage lasted until 63 seconds remained in the frame when F Yanni Gourde (First Star of the Game F Brayden Point and F Tyler Johnson) scored a power play tip-in to level the game at one-all.

Tampa Bay carried that positive energy into the second period, and finally earned its first lead of the night when Third Star D Mikhail Sergachev (Johnson and W Ondrej Palat) scored a wrister with 3:41 remaining in the frame. The game was once again leveled 1:23 later courtesy of a tip-in from birthday boy LW Kyle Connor (D Josh Morrissey and RW Blake Wheeler), setting the score at 2-2 going into the second period. Considering it was his 21st birthday, I’ll bet more than a few of his teammates bought him a beer after the game to celebrate.

The Bolts scored goals on both sides of the first intermission, so it is only logical that the Jets would match that effort around the second. Winnipeg took a 3-2 lead at the 7:02 mark of the frame courtesy of a wrister from Second Star W Nikolaj Ehlers (D Jacob Trouba and RW Patrik Laine), but the score was once again tied 1:49 later on a RW Nikita Kucherov (D Jake Dotchin and C Steven Stamkos) wrister. After that quick scoring spurt, both defenses clamped down to allow only a combined 14 shots in the third period.

For such a competitive game, it’s a surprise overtime didn’t last longer. However, Point (D Anton Stralman) was able to score a backhanded shot only 36 seconds into three-on-three play to earn Tampa the overtime victory.

Point’s goal was a result of some brilliant agility and puck control. After receiving Stalman’s pass at the red line, he deked around F Bryan Little to set up a one-on-one with G Connor Hellebuyck. Not content to simply fire a wrister at the netminder, he patiently waited and pulled the puck across the crease from Hellebuyck’s left to right before flipping a backhander between the goalie’s right arm and leg and into the back of the net.

G Andrei Vasilevskiy earned the victory after saving 17-of-20 shots faced (.85 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Hellebuyck, who saved 24-of-28 (.857).

This contest was the fourth-consecutive in the DtFR Game of the Day that required more than 60 minutes to determine a victor. With the hosts winning, they extend their record in the series to 38-22-7, 16 points better than the away sides.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 6

Player of the Week: Nathan MacKinnon

Remember that kid from the same town as Sidney Crosby that got drafted #1 overall by the Avs a few years ago? Yeah, I’m betting more of you than would care to admit didn’t.

MacKinnon has sort of fallen off the radar in recent years, though playing for a perennial also-ran in a smaller market can certainly take some blame. A promising rookie campaign was followed up by 3 less-than-stellar seasons, and MacKinnon sort of disappeared from the spotlight. Always producing enough to stay out of the doghouse, but never matching the lofty expectations, he seemed doomed to float around on a mediocre team and risk hearing the ‘bust’ associated with his name.

But this year MacKinnon has come out firing, and has helped the Avs to be…well, at least less bad than predicted. With 22 points in 19 games (in addition to eight on the power play, one shorthanded, and a rare +1 rating on a team that isn’t exactly the first word in positive goal differentials), he has shown flashes of the firepower that landed him that #1 draft spot.

In 3 games this week, MacKinnon tallied 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points, including a 5 point night during the Avs’ 6-2 shalacking of Washington, and the game-winning OT goal against Detroit Sunday night. Take out a scoreless effort against Nashville, and it becomes an even more impressive week for the 22 year old.

With Matt Duchene gone, the Avs will look to MacKinnon to continue to carry the offensive load, so let’s see if he can pull that spotlight back his way and remind a few people of his existence.

Team of the Week: Winnipeg Jets

*insert horrible cliche’ something akin to ‘flying high’ here*

What has gotten into these guys, eh?

Winnipeg soared (oh no) through their three-game week with a perfect 3-0-0 record on the back of a ridiculous string of “Iceman” (stop) Connor Hellebuyck performances. Stopping 97 of 102 shots faced, and never allowing more than two goals in any game, the young netminder backstopped his team right to fourth place in the league. Patrik Laine (1G, 2A) and Joel Armia (1G, 3A) carried point streaks through the week (resisting “Maverick” and “Goose” reference), but perhaps more impressive was the balance of scoring throughout the team, as only three players that played in all three contests were held scoreless over the week.

The Jets are in the discussion for Canada’s best team. I’m not actually sure why that’s significant, but I’ll (barrel) roll with it. Hard to say whether or not the success will continue, I mean, at some point they have to use Steve Mason in net again, but Winnipeg has the afterburners lit (please help) for now.

Fans are just hoping that things don’t end up going inverted.

Game of the Week: Buffalo Sabres 4 @ Pittsburgh Penguins 5 (OT), Tuesday November 14th, 2017

In a game that saw nine goals, 77 shots, 63 hits, eight power plays (with three resulting goals), and the winning team never officially having the lead for an actual amount of time, the Sabres gave the defending Cup champs all they could handle.

Only 3:45 into the first period it would be Evander Kane converting on a 2-on-1 with Jack Eichel that would set the tone of Pittsburgh chasing the game. Sam Reinhart would add to the Penguins’ deficit later in the period when, while on the power play, he would jump on a rebound created by Marco Scandella‘s shot hitting the end boards at approximately 17,000 mph. But with just 19 seconds remaining in the first Patric Hornqvist would capitalize on a weird bounce of his own, collecting a misplayed puck from Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner and firing it off the Ryan O’Reilly‘s leg and into the net to halve the Buffalo lead.

But just 16 seconds into the second Sidney Crosby would make a drop pass to no one behind his own net, allowing Jack Eichel to pick up the puck and deposit it into the Pittsburgh net before Matthew Murray had any inkling of impending doom. Conor Sheary would draw the Pens back to within one just over four minutes later, before Crosby would atone for his earlier sin to even the score with a PPG at the 17:15 mark of the middle frame. In the dying minutes of the second, however, Ryan Reaves would take an elbowing penalty, and Benoit Pouliot would capitalize on the power play with just seven seconds remaining in the period to regain the Buffalo lead.

Lehner and the Sabres spent most of the third period trying to hold onto their lead, getting outshot 13-6 in the final frame, but with just over six minutes to play Evgeni Malkin would send the most picture-perfect saucer pass you could ever hope to witness across the ice to Phil Kessel who would make no mistakes and draw the game even. Conor Sheary would then win the game just 16 seconds into overtime, after Crosby dominated board play behind the Buffalo goal and sent a feed directly to his tape, sending the Pittsburgh fans into a frenzy and this Jackets fan who remembers last year’s first round series-clinching goal far too clearly into the fetal position.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Radko Gudas got a 10-game suspension for being Radko Gudas, Luke Witkowski got a 10-game suspension for being Luke Witkowski, and Matthew Tkachuk got a two-game suspension for being Matthew Tkachuk.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will feature the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. This, partnered with the Flyers hosting the Penguins in the first announced Stadium Series game, goes to further prove that Gary Bettman acknowledges the existence of approximately 7-8 of the 31 teams in the league.

Speaking of underperforming teams that Gary Bettman loves, holy smokes are the Canadiens a dumpster fire. Complete disarray from the product on the ice all the way up to upper management, it’s almost like having possibly the worst defense corps in the league suddenly becomes extremely worrisome when you can no longer rely on the best goalie in the world to win every game for you because his limbs are falling off.

Some guy that apparently makes rap music (to steal a line from Dave Mustaine: “Two words combined that can’t make sense”) did a hockey-themed thing on SNL. I didn’t know who he was so I didn’t care.

Editor’s note: Poor Chance the Rapper.

Jason Zucker still hasn’t stopped scoring goals, but rest assured now that I’ve realized that he had been on the bench of my fantasy team throughout this entire hot streak, he’s 110% guaranteed to go colder than Red Deer in January.

Edmonton and LA made waves by trading Jussi Jokinen and Mike Cammalleri straight up for one another, in an absolute blockbuster of a deal circa 2009.

The Blue Jackets signed winger Cam Atkinson to a seven-year deal, mere hours after Aaron Portzline reported the two sides were apparently nowhere even remotely close to a deal. (This is newsworthy/funny to me, Cap’n, and pretty much no one else)

The Golden Knights used their 5th goalie of the season on Tuesday night, as Maxime Lagace seemed to be dealing with an injury during a blowout loss to the Oilers. WHL emergency call-up Dylan Ferguson played the final 9:14 of the 3rd period, allowing one goal, but living a dream in the process. Ferguson was all of us, citing that he was starstruck when Connor McDavid went out of his way to give the 19 year old netminder a tap on the pads and a “Good job, kid” at the end of the game. Lagace has played since, and Malcolm Subban is back off of IR, so it’s likely…okay, fairly likely…that Ferguson has seen the last of his NHL experience, at least for the time being.

November 4 – Day 32 – Another Saturday, another rivalry

I made a snarky comment in yesterday’s column about the NHL holding out on its fans by scheduling only two games on Friday.

Boy was I just served.

There’s a full slate of games on tap this Saturday – 13, to be exact, which is just as many as Thursday. It all gets started with our lone matinee of the day at 2 p.m. when Vegas makes its first-ever visit to Ottawa (TVAS2). The real fun begins at 7 p.m., as that’s when six games (Toronto at St. Louis [CBC], Montréal at Winnipeg [SN/TVAS], Washington at Boston [NHLN], Columbus at Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers at Florida and Colorado at Philadelphia) will drop the puck, followed by two more (Buffalo at Dallas and Chicago at Minnesota) an hour later and Carolina at Arizona at 9 p.m. The West Coast finally gets involved at 10 p.m. with the beginning of Pittsburgh at Vancouver (CBC/SN), trailed half an hour later by tonight’s co-nightcaps: Nashville at Los Angeles and Anaheim at San Jose. All times Eastern.

As usual, there’s a compelling reason to keep tabs on almost every game. That especially goes for the action at the Xcel Energy Center and SAP Center this evening, as rivalry games always bring out the best in every player involved.

I’m in the mood for a heated rivalry game. Since we just featured the Ducks yesterday, lets see what action the State of Hockey has to offer this evening.

 

Thee straight playoff meetings has a way of creating more than a bit of animosity between two clubs – especially when the same team won all three series.

Interestingly, as the Western Conference table currently stands coming into tonight’s game, neither club has the chance of seeing the other during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs because they’re both slated to be golfing come this April.

The chance of that situation holding for the rest of the season is unlikely, and that makes tonight’s game even more important as the 6-5-2 Blackhawks and 5-4-2 Wild work to climb the Central Division standings.

When Chicago has found success this year, it’s all been by the work of 6-4-0 G Corey Crawford – even in spite of his defense. Even though the Hawks allow a third-most 34.5 shots-per-game to reach their own crease, the Windy City is home to the (t)sixth-best goals-against average in the league at 2.62.

Forget being the better of the Blackhawks’ two goaltenders, or even the best in the Central Division. Heck, saying Crawford’s .941 save percentage and 1.92 GAA is at the top of the Western Conference (yes, even better than G Jonathan Quick) does not even do him justice. Among all 29 netminders in the NHL that have started at least six games, Crawford is number one in both statistics.

Given the 32-year-old’s performance for the season, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Hawks’ penalty kill is also among the top-10 in the league. Even though Crawford’s .918 save percentage against the power play is only fifth-best in the league, Chicago has killed 83.3 percent of opposing man-advantages to tie for ninth-best in the NHL. If D Brent Seabrook, who leads the team with 2.4 blocks-per-game, can find a way to inspire his defensive corps to be even just a little stiffer while shorthanded, this Chicago team can keep riding its goaltender’s career season to a 10th-straight playoff appearance.

This evening, Crawford will face a good test against an offense that knows what it’s doing, as Minnesota’s 3.36 goals-per-game is the third-best effort in the West.

What makes the Wild so difficult to defend against is their unpredictability. D Jared Spurgeon currently leads the team in production with his 2-7-9 totals from the top defensive-pair. Minnesota’s leading forward is its top-line center Mikko Koivu, who is equally potent passing and shooting – made evident by his 4-4-8 totals.

Both Koivu and Spurgeon’s seasons might be foreseeable, but it’s the fact that third-liner W Chris Stewart‘s 6-2-8 campaign begins the list of depth scorers that makes the Wild so potent. Utilizing his incredible .273 shooting percentage, he’s provided 16 percent of the Wild’s goals from his spot on the third line. Add in the fact that Minnesota is also home to players like C Eric Staal, D Ryan Suter and W Jason Zucker, and you have a team that is capable of scoring regardless of which personnel is on the ice.

Though this contest is being played at Xcel Energy Center, I’m leaning towards Crawford being able to ensure a victory for his Blackhawks.


The Nashville Predators have won their last two games played at the Honda Center, as they beat the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Preds found a fast start to the contest, as they registered their first goal only 6:26 into the matchup courtesy of a LW Scott Hartnell (First Star of the Game D Roman Josi and W Pontus Aberg) tip-in. Anaheim nearly made it to the dressing room for first intermission with the opportunity to regroup after giving up only one goal, but Josi (C Colton Sissons and C Frederick Gaudreau) scored a snap shot with 49 seconds remaining in the frame to give Nashville a two-goal advantage.

Just like in the first period, the Predators were quick to pounce on the Ducks at the start of the second frame. Scoring his first goal of the season, D Matt Irwin (D Yannick Weber and Gaudreau) gave Nashville a 3-0 advantage 3:05 into the period. Anaheim finally got on the scoreboard 79 seconds thanks to F Antoine Vermette (W Ondrej Kase and LW Nick Ritchie) and his wrist shot, but could not build any momentum off the marker. That led to 12:56 of scoreless action.

Ritchie proved important in breaking the game’s scoreless skid, but it wasn’t in the Ducks’ favor. Instead, he earned a seat in the penalty box (his second of the period) for slashing Gaudreau with 3:35 remaining in the frame. 55 seconds later, W Viktor Arvidsson (D Mattias Ekholm and LW Kevin Fiala) registered what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Arvidsson owes every bit of his successful slap shot to a patient Predators power play. Fiala was working with the puck in the right face-off circle and along the boards, but he simply didn’t like the look he was getting at G John Gibson‘s net with D Hampus Lindholm in his way. He eventually returned the puck to Ekholm at the point, who slid a pass across the zone to Arvidsson at the top of the opposite circle that the wing whipped past Gibson’s glove into the back of the net.

Whether he was working to match Arvidsson’s power play goal or Josi’s late-period heroics, Lindholm (F Rickard Rakell) scored a slapper with 15 seconds remaining on the second frame clock to pull the Ducks back within a 4-2 deficit.

Anaheim fans finally had a chance to truly believe their club had a chance at the 7:41 mark of the third period when Second Star W Jakob Silfverberg (C Derek Grant and Third Star F Chris Wagner) notched a slapper to pull the Ducks back within a goal. But, try as they might with their 13 shots-on-goal, the Ducks simply could not find a way past G Pekka Rinne, eventually forcing them to pull Gibson. D P.K. Subban (Rinne and F Austin Watson) took advantage of the empty cage with 18 seconds remaining in regulation to ensure a Predators victory.

By saving 35-of-38 shots faced (.921 save percentage) – not to mention earning his first point of the season – Rinne did all he could to earn his sixth win of the season. On the other side, Gibson took the loss after saving 25-of-29 (.862).

Nashville’s win away from Bridgestone Arena earns another two points for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but visitors still trail the 17-11-4 hosts by six points.