Jet City Ice helps you make the most of your limited TV hockey time
with our picks for the upcoming weekend.
St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks
When: Sunday, 3/8, 4:30pm PST
Nothing like a good old-fashioned Norris Division rivalry in the run-up to the playoffs, eh? The hatred between these teams now goes back over a half-century, and with Chicago having nearly knocked off the defending champs in a 6-5 see-saw affair in February, the Blackhawks will be smelling blood in the water.
St. Louis, for its part, is trying to hold on to first place in the Central Division, with surging Colorado nipping at their heels. The two have been matching each other nearly win-for-win over the last two weeks, and are separated by a mere two points going into Sunday’s action. The Blues are without the services of veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and super-sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, but their record of late proves that this matters very little. David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, and Jaden Schwartz are leading the offensive charge, and the Blues’ defense is allowing the fewest shots against in the Western Conference. It’s difficult to find the weakness in either their lineup or their game play, and the defending Stanley Cup Champions will be a tough nut to crack.
But that’s not going to stop Chicago from trying. Arguably the game they lost on February 25th was an anomaly; Chicago went up 3-1 with goals all scored from beyond the top of the circles. Then came the Chicago collapse — relinquishing the lead, regaining it briefly, then rolling over for good — a regular occurrence this season as the Blackhawks have struggled to put in a 60 minute effort since opening day. But lately they are taking the lead and holding it, as their 6-2 win over Anaheim on Tuesday served to illustrate. The Blackhawks have scrambled back to within 4 points of the second wild card slot in the West, and knocking off the Blues would be a huge confidence boost. The hot hands for the ‘Hawks are perennial team points leader Patrick Kane and newcomer Dominik Kubalik, an off-season pickup from the Swiss pro league, who leads all NHL rookies in goals by a wide margin and is making a dark-horse bid for the Calder Trophy. Netminder Corey Crawford has responded to the departure of Robin Lehner (see below) with 4 straight wins and a .936 save percentage; we’ll see if Chicago’s inexperienced and frequently porous blueline corps can hold the fort against the Blues’ offensive onslaught.
Possible Future Seattle Players: From the Blues, one of the forwards that has no chance of being protected is left wing Zach Sanford. This is a BIG BOY, 6’4″ and 207 lbs, and he plays like it. He plants himself in front of the goal, then relies on his soft, fast hands to pick up loose change and bamboozle goaltenders. He’s eclipsed his points totals from last season with 15 goals and 14 helpers over 54 games, holding on to a plus-15 during that stretch. Sanford is a solid 2nd-line winger with size and some grit, and would be a great pickup for Seattle.
From the Blackhawks, here’s an update on our prior selections, forward Ryan Carpenter and AHL goaltender Collin Delia. Carpenter is getting just 10-12 minutes a night on the 4th line, but is the team’s PK specialist. He leads the team in short-handed time on the ice — a title usually held by a defenseman — and has a goal and two assists while short-handed. Delia has 30 starts with the ‘Hawks AHL affiliate in Rockford, and currently boasts a 2.74 GAA and .910 save percentage — though take special note of the stellar .875 shootout save percentage. The Blackhawks’ defensive corps is being held together with duct tape and bailing wire since the season-ending surgeries for Brent Seabrook and Calvin DeHaan, and the departure of Erik Gustafsson. Everyone else is either unproven, overpriced, or has a no-movement clause, so choosing a d-man is more or less impossible. The situation on Chicago’s back end will solidify — or, not — by Thanksgiving; we’ll update you then.
NHL Center Ice/NHL.tv
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Calgary Flames
When: Sunday, 3/8, 4:00pm PST
We turn to the playoff race in the Pacific now, with the division-leading Golden Knights paying a visit to Calgary, where the young and hungry Flames will try to take a bite out of (not Las) Vegas’ 5 point lead over them in the standings. The only flaw with our second choice in this edition of Game of the Weekend: it’s on at the same time as our first choice. So set your DVR’s for the Blues/Blackhawks contest and tune in here live.
(Not Las) Vegas made one of the biggest moves at the trade deadline, picking up the aforementioned goaltender Robin Lehner from Chicago to help them minimize the damage when supposed starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has an “off night”. Lehner’s acquisition is already paying dividends, with only 2 goals allowed on over 60 shots in his 2 wins since joining the team. What (not Las) Vegas needs now is the courage to relegate Fleury to the bench, so as to prevent idiotic losses like the 4-1 defeat at the hands of basement-dwelling Los Angeles. The rest of the Golden Knights’ roster is still executing the win-by-committee system that has yielded success since the team’s inception; if Lehner gets the majority of the starts down the stretch (not Las) Vegas could easily pull away in the Pacific Division race.
But you can bet that scrappy Calgary will have something to say about that on Sunday. The Flames — and for that matter, the youthful core that leads them on offense — have been streaky the entire season. They have switched to a “best-defense-is-a-good-offense” strategy, scoring a minimum of 3 goals in every game — that’s every game, wins and losses — in the last full month, including scoring 6 goals 4 times in that 13-game stretch. Unfortunately they have also allowed 4 goals or more 6 times in that string of games. So far in March they have shut out Florida and allowed only 2 against Columbus, so perhaps somebody has realized that a pure run-and-gun strategy isn’t necessarily the best idea. It definitely puts the pressure on goaltenders David Rittich and Cam Talbot when your team merely waves to you sympathetically from the far blue line as you’re getting hammered with shots. We’ll see how they approach (not Las) Vegas on Sunday, a game which may have Wild Card implications. Division rivals Vancouver and Arizona sit a mere 3 points back of the Flames, both drooling over that 3rd place position and the guaranteed playoff spot that comes with it.
Possible Future Seattle Players: From the Flames, here are your updates on our previous picks Derek Ryan, Sam Bennett, and AHL netminder Artyom Zagidulin. Ryan continues to be the odds-on favorite, with 10 goals and 29 points; a plus-minus of plus-8 on a team with most of the forward ranks in the minus column; and an impressive 52% face-off win percentage. Bennett’s FOW is 52.4% for his part, though he’s had barely one-quarter of the attempts. He has 12 points and a flat plus-minus, and sits 3rd on the team in hits. Zagidulin has a 16-6-3 record with the AHL Stockton Heat, including 2 shutouts on the year. Nobody else in the Flames’ lineup has jumped up the ranks to the degree that we would mention them here; though it should be noted that Calgary has to either re-sign or replace fully half of their defensive corps this off-season, and that will change the landscape for exposed players considerably.
(Not Las) Vegas, as we have covered ad nauseum here on Jet City Ice, is exempt from the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft; as such none of their players will be exposed.