Jet City Ice helps you make the most of your limited TV hockey time with our picks for the upcoming weekend.
New York Rangers vs. Boston Bruins
When: Friday, 11/29, 10:00am PST
As we have been watching the Leafs’ coaching calamity, and Dallas’ offense turn from a peashooter into a shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missile, and Calgary starting to show promise then yanking the football away from their Charlie Brown fans, and St. Louis’ injury-hampered quest for a Cup repeat, the Boston Bruins have been quietly amassing a 16-3-5 record and making everyone in the Atlantic Division shake in their boots. It isn’t hard to figure out why: their best players are being their best players — Brad Marchand, David Pasternak, and Patrice Bergeron top the stat sheet; their defense is keeping the Bruins’ goal differential at a league-leading +30; and their goaltenders both have a win percentage at or above .800. Montreal ran face-first into the Boston buzz-saw on Tuesday, enduring an 8-1 slaughter that saw starter Carey Price give up 5 goals on 11 shots and get yanked in the 2nd period. 12 Bruins put a point on the board; 6 Bruins had multi-point nights. When the B’s are on, there is little that can be done to stop them.
That’s the challenge facing the New York Rangers during NBC’s “2019 NHL Thanksgiving Showdown” happening right around the end of your first cup of coffee when you awaken from this year’s turkey coma. The Rangers aren’t setting the house on fire lately. They started their weekend by losing to bottom-feeding Ottawa on Friday, then turned around and beat a slumping Montreal team on Saturday in a topsy-turvy tilt that saw the Rangers go down 4-0, score 3 to get within 1, drop back by a goal to start the third period, then notch 3 unanswered goals to take it 6-5.
That game was a Jet City Ice Game of the Weekend last Friday. Woe be to thee who ignores our suggestions.
The skin-of-their-teeth wins over Minnesota and Carolina were the precursors to their date with destiny in Boston on Friday. It will be interesting to see what the Blueshirts can muster to close out their 5-game, 8-day stretch against the B’s. Boston may still be without Patrice Bergeron for this one, so perhaps that is an Achilles’ heel the Rangers can exploit. Though judging from the results with Montreal, I doubt it.
Possible Future Seattle Players: On the Bruins, if I say the name Anders Bjork you immediately think, “Swedish defenseman.” But he’s a winger from Wisconsin. He began with the US National Team Development Program on his way to Notre Dame University, when he was a late-round draft pick of the Bruins. He has been steadily progressing through the Bruins’ farm system, and this season seems to have found a home on Boston’s third line with Charlie Coyle and Brett Ritchie. He’s got good speed, he shoots left but plays his off side and thus likes to fade away into the right side circle for the one-timer, and has a powerful wrist shot. He has shown he can score in Providence and his time in the NCAA, so if the Bruins can’t protect him, he’s one to keep an eye out for.
From the Rangers, last week we mentioned Tim Gettinger, but we’ll turn to the blueline corps today and direct your attention to Ryan Lindgren. A product of the Shattuck St. Mary’s hockey program — boasting alumni including Zach Parise, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Toews, and some kid named Crosby — he, too, became part of the USNTDP before starting his college career with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. A second-round pick of the Rangers in 2016, he has established himself as a consistent performer with the Hartford Wolfpack and is beginning to find his form in the NHL. Given some time and the right environment, he could develop into a good top-four defenseman. He’ll be a restricted free-agent at the close of the 2020-21 season; it will be interesting to see if New York decides to include him on their protected list. If not, Lindgren would be a good young talent to add to the Seattle lineup.
NHL Center Ice/NHL.tv
Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks
Saturday, 11/30, 7:00pm PST
Sunday, 12/1/ 7:00pm PST
It’s a weekend home-and-home Pacific Division blitzkreig! Surging Edmonton takes on a Vancouver team struggling to get out of their recent funk in a Saturday/Sunday extravaganza. The Oilers remain the West’s offensive powerhouse, with Dynamic Duo Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl continuing to hog 2 of the league’s top 3 spots for goals, assists, and points. The goaltending duo of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith are holding steady, though their previously league-leading stats are waning. However the Edmonton blueliners seem to think the best defense is a good offense — the team’s goals-for leads the Western Conference; but their goals against are middle of the pack. The Oilers were feeling cocky after a come-from-behind 4-3 shootout win over second-place Arizona on Sunday (another Game of the Weekend recommendation — can we pick ‘em, or what?), and perhaps were looking past the Avalanche (a fatal mistake of many teams, and sure enough the Avs prevailed 4-1). The Oilers may get a boost with the possible return of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the lineup after recovering from a hand injury.
Vancouver, meanwhile, is struggling to find out what the key to their success or failure is. The last two weeks has transpired thusly: they suffered beat-downs from Colorado and Dallas (twice); followed that up by clobbering Nashville and out-skating the Eastern Conference-leading Capitals; then lost 2-1 to a demonstratively weaker Philadelphia team. The latest embarrassment is the game against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, when they re-discovered their offensive touch and put up 6 goals, but still lost 8-6. What gives? The players, coaches, media, and fans are all throwing up their hands wondering what goes right when they win and what goes wrong when they lose. Head coach Travis Green is juggling the lineup somewhat, some youngsters are being sent down and called up, but none of these moves are likely to move the needle. They’d better sort it out before this two-game meeting with the Oilers, or they’re going to be on the unpleasant side of a 9-0 game before they know it. Hopefully a light bulb goes on in somebody’s head before they drop the puck on Saturday.
Possible Future Seattle Players: We’ve featured Edmonton a fair bit here lately, so let’s wind things up with a goaltender. Mikko Koskinen is a lock to be protected in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, so when you look to see who else they have in the stable you find a little gem named Dylan Wells. He plays bigger than his 6’2” frame, and sees the puck very well. My concern is he commits to the butterfly too early, but his range post to post with his pads is fast and full, he has quick hands, he performs well against odd-man rushes, and has good up-and-down speed. This is his second season playing with Bakersfield in the AHL, and so far he has put up respectable numbers. Seattle is required to choose at least 3 goalies in the draft. Wells would be a low-risk, high-upside selection, and since he’ll be just 23 at the time of the draft he’ll still have a lot of time to live up to his potential.
From Vancouver, I think Ron Francis might be looking at an AHL defenseman with a name I am not even going to try to pronounce — Olli Juolevi. He was chosen 5th overall by Vancouver 3 years ago, and from his performance with the OHL London Knights it’s easy to see why. Juolevi is a playmaking defenseman, his stats overflowing with assists, and also with very positive plus-minus numbers. After two years in Ontario he returned to his native Finland for a season where his solid play continued, then turned pro in North America with the Vancouver farm team in Utica. He plays very upright, is sturdy on his skates, has good visibility of the ice surface, and is able to maneuver well in traffic even with the puck. Juolevi has a ways to go before he’s NHL ready, but he’d be a steal if we can grab him from the list of exposed players in Vancouver that will otherwise be an extensive array of mediocrity.