The first round is starting to wind down, with the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings already parked in the second. The NHL isn’t taking a breather on this holiday weekend, which means that Sunday provides us with a tantalizing possibility: three teams could move on or three series could go to a decisive Game 7.
To get you ready, we have three previews. As always, all start times are Eastern Standard Time (ET).
Philadelphia @ Buffalo – 3 p.m. (NBC); Sabres lead series 3-2
Even less than an hour from game time, it’s not totally clear if Chris Pronger or Derek Roy will be able to play for their respective teams. It’s been an absolutely fascinating series so far, with every game basically being decided by one goal (not counting empty-netters).
Ryan Miller is strong in elimination games, so the Flyers better get their power play together if they hope to lock this series up at 3-3. All the excuses in the world won’t erase the disappointment of following up an Atlantic Division-winning series with a first round upset, especially since Philly handed that same fate to the New Jersey Devils in 2010.
Anaheim @ Nashville – 6 p.m.; Predators lead series 3-2
Even after Bobby Ryan scored the best goal of the playoffs (so far or will it stand up overall?), the Predators managed to win Game 5 in overtime. This places the Predators on the precipice of personal history: if they win tonight, Nashville will advance to the second round for the first time in franchise history.
Of course, that might end up being easier said than done. The Ducks seem to only get better when their backs are pressed closer to the wall, with their big-time players often coming up huge in crucial spots. It’s unlikely that this milestone will come easily for the Preds.
Vancouver @ Chicago – 7:30 p.m. (Versus); Canucks lead series 3-2
Of all the Game 6 matches today – and in the first round, really – this one is the least probable. The Blackhawks looked downright dead when they were down 3-0, yet they’ve dominated the last two games and will get Brent Seabrook back tonight.
Even though this isn’t a must-win game for the Canucks, it’s an enormous one for Roberto Luongo’s legacy. The team is sticking with him even though Chicago booted him from the Vancouver net in two straight games. Can the team’s $10 million goalie prove why he has been considered one of the world’s best for years or will he justify every joke made about his supposedly fragile psyche? The Canucks have a chance to wipe the slate clean with a Game 6 win or go into a ludicrously high-pressure Game 7. It should be fascinating to see which way this turns. Who would have thought?
You can criticize the Edmonton Oilers for taking too many perimeter shots and/or having their defensemen fire the puck far too often, and you’d probably have a point.
Still, on nights like these, you also have to acknowledge that the Oilers have also run into some tough luck and even tougher goalies. When it came to Thursday, Saros was that tough goalie, and he reminded the NHL that’s he capable of being more than “just a backup.”
The Predators (specifically Kyle Turris‘ new second line, which might need to be called a 1B line at this rate) are on a roll, beating Edmonton 4-0 to grab at least one point (7-1-2) in nine of their last 10 games.
Highlights of the Night
Nice play finished by Patrick Kane, as the Blackhawks cooled the Jets:
Jakub Vrana‘s goal was pretty sweet, and a taste of the Capitals’ recent dominance of the Bruins.
The Lightning kept their hot streak going with a W over the Coyotes.
Brayden Point gets the Lightning their … well, you probably know. Their points.
Brayden Point scored the game-winning goal for the third consecutive contest to lift the League-leading @TBLightning (23-6-2, 48 points) to their sixth straight victory, the longest active win streak in the NHL. #TBLvsARIpic.twitter.com/0G7QX9rwNi
If you’re the fussy type, you might object to the word “revenge” in the headline.
It feels wrong to say that Marc-Andre Fleury got “the last laugh” against the Pittsburgh Penguins, being that this game happened in mid-December. So feel free to soften the verbiage; maybe you’d prefer to say that Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights merely “got the best” of the Penguins.
Whatever way you slice it, there was reportedly a fascinating atmosphere in Vegas, even if the game was a bit “low-event” at times, at least when you consider sheer pucks on net; Fleury stopped 24 out of 25 shots on goal while Murray gave up two goals on 26.
This odd-angle goal by Ian Cole was the only puck to beat Fleury, who was lights out in a second straight victory since returning from concussion issues that … we thought might have been the end of the Golden Knights’ hot start.
If the scene wasn’t nostalgia-laced enough, consider that Fleury evoked the save he made against Nicklas Lidstrom in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final:
Sheesh, some of this stuff almost seems on the nose, doesn’t it?
Remarkably, the Golden Knights improve to 20-9-2 while the Penguins fell to 16-14-3. Writing that almost made me pass out from the unlikelihood of it all; honestly, if someone told Golden Knights management that their record could be 16-14-3, they’d probably take it, right?
In case you’re wondering, yes, this marks another record.
So, the Golden Knights are 12-2-1 in Vegas so far. This doesn’t guarantee that there’s some sort of … sickness that comes from playing a team located in Sin City, yet it doesn’t exactly slam the door shut on such a conversation, either.
Now, Marc-Andre Fleury? He’s done quite a commendable job of shutting the door so far for the Golden Knights. His old buddies found out the hard way tonight.
Really, it might just come down to Thursday’s win being “no frills,” as the rest of their five-game run has been pretty impressive:
Dec. 4: 5-2 win at Calgary Dec. 6: 4-2 win at Edmonton Dec. 7: 4-1 win at Vancouver Dec 12: 4-2 home win vs Toronto Tonight: 2-1 home win against Buffalo
A three-game road trip through Western Canada can sometimes be deadly; instead, the Flyers buckled up and turned things around, including winning games on back-to-back nights (and three victories in four evenings).
To some extent, the players who’ve been performing well all season are showing up during this winning streak. There have been strong outputs from Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and others who we’ve come to expect to produce.
Elliott is responsible for all five of the Flyers wins during this run, allowing eight goals in five contests. Early on, he had to put on a show at times (stopping 43 shots against the Flames), yet he’s only needed to turn aside 39 of 42 shots for his last two wins.
Before the goal, Nolan Patrick saved Brian Elliott from another brutal goal after a bad play with the puck. pic.twitter.com/WPUJ4AH5Ru
Overall, it’s been an up-and-down first season in Philly for Elliott, a goalie who teams seem almost strangely eager to give up on.
Last season, Elliott played a huge role in the Calgary Flames turning their season around to make the playoffs, including generating 10 wins in the month of March. Ultimately, the team saw enough between a tough start and some postseason struggles to cast the veteran netminder aside.
Perhaps Elliott is a lot like his still-new team in the Flyers: best when people leave you for dead.
The Detroit Red Wings raised eyebrows when they protected Jimmy Howard in the expansion draft instead of Petr Mrazek, and things haven’t really turned around since then. Rumors are starting to swirl that a seemingly inevitable split might be brewing in the form of a trade.
The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports (sub required) that teams are calling the Red Wings – though not “banging down the door” – regarding Mrazek, and Custance reasonably asserts that Detroit should play him a bit more to try to raise his standing.
If you consider how much Mrazek’s reputation has slid, Custance’s opinion can really only be denied by a franchise that … is in complete denial?
Mrazek, 2012-13 to 2015-16, 94 games played (via NHL.com): 46-30-8, nine shutouts, .920 save percentage.
Mrazek, 2016-17 and 2017-18, 60 games played (also via NHL.com): 20-25-10, two shutouts, .899 save percentage.
Quite a disparity between Good/Early Mrazek and Bad/Recent Mrazek, eh?
Things get more interesting when you note that TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that, given the right offer, the Red Wings would be willing to retain salary with Mrazek. That’s crucial with Mrazek carrying a $4M cap hit heading into restricted free agency. Custance reports that Mrazek might cost a suitor a third-round pick, although salary retention might bump the asking price to a second-rounder.
Rather than ruminating on the Red Wings’ poor handling of Mrazek/unwillingness to truly embrace a rebuild, it would be more fun to picture the most enticing or interesting destinations for the puzzling puck-stopper.
Please note that these aren’t confirmed potential destinations, this is just for entertainment purposes. For the record, the Red Wings would be foolish to let Mrazek walk for nothing, even if they don’t get quite the level of draft pick they’re reportedly hoping for.
Feel free to add in other teams that would make sense to you and/or the respective GMs.
Right now, the Penguins have approximately $670K cap space and Cap Friendly projects their trade deadline space at $3.1M, so this would likely be a retention situation.
If any team understands the value of having a Plan B in net, it’s the Penguins. Now, Tristan Jarry‘s been quite proficient (.919 save percentage), but with Pittsburgh in win-now mode for the near future, it might be worth bringing in Mrazek as insurance for Matt Murray. Both of the Pens’ runs required two goalies to shoulder the burden, after all.
There’s reason to believe that the Czech netminder could be a good stylistic fit, too, as his athleticism may come in handy for a team that can be a bit, um, leaky in the defensive end.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have Arizona.
Perhaps the Coyotes still believe in Antti Raanta, yet this season hasn’t gone well, in part because the former Rangers backup suffered some unfortunate injuries. Even if they do, the Coyotes might see some logic in getting a few months to look at Mrazek, possibly setting the stage for an ideally cheap platoon of Raanta – Mrazek?
Custance describes Mrazek as a rental, in part because of the nature of his contract. Even so, what if the Coyotes got some time with him, liked what they saw, and then simply convinced him to take less than $4M per year with an extension? Stranger things have happened, and the Coyotes could use all the help they can get.
Mrazek also tends to get love from “fancy stats” folks on occasion, and Coyotes GM John Chayka sometimes gets lumped in with such methods of thinking. So maybe he’s eyeballing Mrazek as we ponder hypothetical teams.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is under a lot of pressure as he’s reportedly needing a new contract, and now occasional-meal-ticket Devan Dubnyk is considered week-to-week. Money is tight in Minnesota, but even with a winning streak in mind, they likely want a little help beyond Alex Stalock.
Really, management might see some parallels between Dubnyk and Mrazek. Both goalies quietly put up nice numbers on shaky teams, only to see things fall apart. Dubnyk revitalized his career; maybe Mrazek could do that in helping Minny secure a playoff spot?
Theoretically, the Wild might just need Mrazek the most.
OK, this entry’s a little bit stranger, but hear me out.
So, what if one or two of these rebuilding/in-between franchises wants to test things out with Mrazek? Maybe the Red Wings could earn a better return in taking on Varlamov or one of those Philly goalies, even though they’re signed through 2018-19.
(In the case of Neuvirth/Elliott, their salaries might not even be much of an issue as slightly expensive backups if Detroit finally cleans house, or merely begins to clean house.)
Much like with the Coyotes, these teams would likely be most interested in deciding if Mrazek could be a part of the future. We’ve seen Flyers GM Ron Hextall take on Steve Mason in a similar situation as a reclamation project, and that worked out quite well, at least at first.
(Philly’s current winning streak would probably put such thoughts on the backburner, but still.)
Look, I had to mention the Oilers, as you can’t picture trades without at least penciling a token Peter Chiarelli groaner.
There’s at least some logic to the prospect of Edmonton nabbing Mrazek, too.
Cam Talbot‘s struggling mightily, and with his $4.167M cap hit expiring after 2018-19, he’s not necessarily guaranteed to be Edmonton’s guy any longer. Especially since Edmonton needs to make every buck count after doing the opposite for so many years.
What if Mrazek could get hot and save Edmonton’s season, or at least give Talbot time to get things together? Surely that’s worth (checks notes) way too much? Uh oh, someone take the phone away from Chia …