Friday night was an offensive explosion all across the NHL. In five contests, 38 goals were recorded, 20 of which came in the second period.
Easily the biggest offensive showcase came at Scotiabank Place. After a scoreless opening period, the Senators and Penguins combined for eight in the second and 10 overall. Ottawa, led by Jason Spezza’a two goals, did the majority of the scoring on its way to a 6-4 victory. Pittsburgh has now dropped four of five and is five points behind Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia. Conversely, Ottawa has won two of three and is one point outside of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.
Another high scoring affair was played in Buffalo, as the Sabres upended the Maple Leafs, 5-4. Similar to the matchup in Ottawa, the two teams went without a goal in the first 20 minutes, but then reeled off six in the second. Buffalo was the primary beneficiary of the periods offense as they converted on three power play opportunities. The Sabres are now tied with Toronto for second in the ultra competitive Northeast.
Perhaps the most entertaining contest of the evening came in the thrilling shootout victory for the Panthers over Calgary. Florida responded from deficits on two separate occasions — once in the third down 2-1, and once in the shootout down 1-0 — before sealing the victory on a conversion by Stephen Weiss. With the win, the Panthers push their division lead to seven points, while the Flames still sit 12 back of Minnesota in the Northwest.
Saturday is looking to be another interesting day of hockey. The play begins in the afternoon, and shouldn’t conclude until the early morning hours on the east coast. In all, there are 12 games scheduled in the league; here’s what I think you should watch for.
Game of the Day: Boston Bruins at Philadelphia Flyers
This was simply a no-brainer. Forget the faulty NCAA bowl system for the afternoon, and tune into this excellent matchup of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins (20-9-1) arrive at the Wells Fargo Center as arguably the hottest team in the NHL since November 1st. Boston has won 17 of 20 since a disappointing 3-7-0 start to the campaign, and now rest comfortably atop the Northeast Division. During the streak, the Bruins have scored at least five goals in nine games, while also solidifying themselves as the top defensive team in the league.
Not surprisingly, this trend continued Wednesday in Ottawa. The Bruins used three third period goals, and another stout performance from Tim Thomas (47 saves) to pound the Senators, 5-2.
Thomas has been essential in Boston’s run, winning 11 of his last 12 starts and lowering his goals against average to 1.93 despite facing well over 30 shots in seven consecutive appearances. He may receive a bit of extra assistance Saturday however, as defensive captain Zdeno Chara will potentially return from injury. Chara has 19 points, and the Bruins are +18 with him on the ice.
But, even the great offensive and defensive presence in Boston may not be enough to cool down the Flyers (20-7-3). Philadelphia has won seven straight, and is 12-3-0 in its last 15 contests, even after losing NHL-leading scorer Claude Giroux and veteran defender Chris Pronger (out for the year).
A chief reason for the Flyers success has been their astounding offensive numbers. They have scored 30 times throughout the seven-game streak, and lead the league with 3.7 goals per game. Philadelphia converts on nearly 20 percent of power play opportunities, which also ranks in the top tier.
This isn’t an offensive attack led by only a couple players either. The Flyers have 12 guys with more than 10 points and seven that have scored at least nine goals. To keep this unit at bay, opponents are forced to solve all pieces of the puzzle.
Shockingly, today’s matchup may be more about defense, even though the NHL’s top two offensive squads are in action. When the two met on October 6th in Boston, Philadelphia capitalized on 28 saves from Ilya Bryzgalov in a 2-1 victory.
The play of Flyer goaltenders is an interesting theme this season. Admittedly, they are ranked 18th in goals allowed, and 14th on the penalty kill; but, nonetheless, they find ways to convert when it matters. Philadelphia is 10-1-3 in games decided by one goal, which inevitably means that the defense has done enough to give the offense a chance to win.
Unfortunately for Flyers fans, I can’t imagine a third straight win without Giroux to lead the way. The Bruins are 9-3-0 on the road, and their balance on both ends of the rink tends to overwhelm opponents after 60 minutes. I wouldn’t be surprised if Philadelphia pulls it off, but certainly not expecting it.
Prediction: Bruins 4, Flyers 3
Player to Watch
Evander Kane, Left Wing, Winnipeg Jets
I feel as if I haven’t given enough love to the Jets as they have quietly emerged as a contender for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. With that being said, let’s look no further then leading scorer Evander Kane. The 20-year-old is in his third season with the franchise and has continuously grown as a player. He nearly doubled his point output between 2009 and 2010, and now, in 2011 is on pace for a career high of 66. So far this year, Kane has 15 goals and nine assists for Winnipeg’s 13th ranked offense.
Today they have an extremely favorable matchup with Anaheim. The Ducks have the leagues 24th ranked defense, giving up 3.1 goals per contest. Theoretically, this is an opportunity for Kane to explode. This is especially true considering his struggles over the Jets last three games. Kane has only recorded one point, and his teams has scored just four goals. Therefore, expect a rebound performance, and a win for the club up north.