Simulating the Season: Capitals stretch Metro lead after fiery affair, ‘Game of the Night’ debuts

0
54


Welcome to Simulating The Season. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the NHL has put the 2019-20 campaign on hold without a clear timeline for a return to action. As such, with the help of EA Sports’ NHL 20, we’re attempting to figure out what the rest of the season would have looked like had it not been postponed. Keep in mind, this is not a perfect science and the simulation does not take into account real world circumstances, including current injuries.

• • •

You asked. We answered.

In the one week since the beginning of our Simulating the Season series, a number of The Hockey News readers have reached out to request we make some of each night’s action available to you, the NHL-starved hockey fan. As such, Thursday marked the beginning of our ‘Game of the Night,’ which we will run through the end of the NHL campaign. Each day, we will stream one game, as voted on by the fans, from a select group of each night’s games. Be it a contest with significant standings implications, a rivalry matchup or simply a battle between two top teams, we’ll let you have the final say.

In Thursday’s ‘Game of the Night,’ the Toronto Maple Leafs hosted the New York Islanders and controlled much of the contest. But errors late ultimately proved costly. Not only did the Islanders manage to tie the outing late – former Maple Leaf Leo Komarov came through in the dying minutes – but Mat Barzal turned a two-on-one into a game-winning goal to deliver New York the come-from-behind victory. With the two points, the Islanders vaulted into the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and put two points between themselves and the Carolina Hurricanes, who are on the fringe of the wild-card race.

Elsewhere, the Capitals and Blue Jackets were involved in a fiery tilt that could set the stage for a feisty first-round series. Despite leading early and for much of the contest, Columbus’ involvement in a couple of scraps turned the tide in the game, and Nicklas Backstrom’s decision to fight (!) Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (!!) gave Washington a spark that helped send them to an eventual 3-1 victory. Th Capitals are now three points clear of the Philadelphia Flyers for the Metropolitan Division lead.

Here’s a look at Thursday’s simulated action:

STANDINGS

GAME OF THE NIGHT

Watch Simulating the Season: Toronto Maple Leafs vs New York Islanders from thehockeynews on www.twitch.tv

New York Islanders – 4 (OT)
Toronto Maple Leafs – 3

In our debut edition of Simulating the Season’s ‘Game of the Night,’ the Maple Leafs had control of much of affair, leading until the final stages of the third and even firing 61 shots Semyon Varlamov’s way. But two giveaways by Martin Marincin led directly to goals in the third, including Leo Komarov’s late overtime-forcing marker. Mat Barzal scored in the extra frame to secure the victory and hand the Maple Leafs another loss after a third-period collapse.

Three Stars
1. Semyon Varlamov, NYI (58 saves)
2. Auston Matthews, TOR (1-0–1)
3. Mat Barzal (1-0–1)

Chicago Blackhawks – 6
Minnesota Wild – 5

Through 40 minutes, the game story was the young guns getting the job done, as tallies by Dominik Kubalik and Alex DeBrincat put the Blackhawks ahead 3-1 heading into the second intermission. But all hell broke loose in the third frame. The Wild scored 21 seconds into the period, which was followed by Chicago netting three straight to stretch their lead to 6-2. What followed, though, was a run of three Minnesota goals in the final five minutes of the game to pull within one. Malcolm Subban, coming in in relief for Corey Crawford late, saved the day.

Three Stars
1. Dominik Kubalik, CHI (2-0–2)
2. Mats Zuccarello, MIN  (2-1–3)
3. Brandon Saad, CHI (0-3–3)

Washington Capitals – 3
Columbus Blue Jackets – 1

The Blue Jackets controlled play and held a 1-0 lead for 42 minutes of play, but a lack of discipline – led by fights that included Pierre-Luc Dubois and a bout between goaltender Elvis Merzlikins and the Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom – stifled any momentum the Blue Jackets had. Alex Ovechkin’s third-period goal of the season was the winner. Also notable about this one? Vladislav Gavrikov threw a whopping 11 hits. He was a wrecking ball.

Three Stars
1. Alex Ovechkin, WSH (1-1–2)
2. Braden Holtby, WSH (31 saves)
3. Vladislav Gavrikov, CBJ (1-0–1)

Nashville Predators – 8
Colorado Avalanche – 3

Our bonus game saw the Predators positively dismantle the Avalanche in a game that was far less close than even the lopsided score suggests. Through the first 40 minutes, Nashville was playing the role of the Andre The Giant and Colorado the part of local jobber. The Predators passed the puck around with ease and leapt out to an 8-1 lead – seriously, 8-1 – after 40 minutes. Colorado, ahem, stormed back with a pair in the third. But it was far too little, far too late.

Three Stars
1. Craig Smith, NSH (1-2–3)
2. Ryan Johansen, NSH (2-0–2)
3. Matt Duchene, NSH (0-3–3)

Carolina Hurricanes – 4
St. Louis Blues – 3

The Hurricanes made a surprising decision to start Anton Forsberg, but he played well above expectations tonight. The Blues scored two early, but Forsberg made 44 stops in an the Hurricanes probably shouldn’t have won. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, Jordan Binnington had a rare off night and allowed four goals against in the second period, making just 17 stops in the loss. Carolina’s depth did most of the scoring, surprisingly.

Three Stars
1. Anton Forsberg, CAR (44 saves)
2. Brock McGinn, CAR (1-2–3)
3. Jordan Martinook, CAR (1-1–2)

Boston Bruins – 4
Los Angeles Kings – 2

With the Lightning threatening to catch up to the Bruins atop the Atlantic Division, Boston found a way to put some space between them and the second-place club by doubling up Los Angeles. A three-goal second period powered by who else but David Pastrnak did the trick for the Bruins and Jaroslav Halak stopped 18 of the 20 shots that came his way.

Three Stars
1. David Pastrnak, BOS (2-0–2)
2. Chris Wagner, BOS (1-1–2)
3. Anders Bjork, BOS (1-1–2)

Florida Panthers – 2
Buffalo Sabres – 1

For the fourth game in a row, Chris Dreidger was the story for the Panthers. In fact, it’s hard to see why the team would start Sergei Bobrovsky at this point even if Florida does make the post-season. It wasn’t a spectacular game by any means, but a late-game charge by the Sabres forced Dreidger to make 11 saves in the final three minutes. Jack Eichel can’t do everything by himself, though.

Three Stars
1. Mark Pysyk, FLA (1-1–2)
2. Chris Dreidger, FLA (29 saves)
3. Linus Ullmark, BUF (25 saves)

San Jose Sharks – 9
Montreal Canadiens – 2

There’s nothing left for the Sharks or Canadiens to play for beyond pride, but Montreal might want to just shut it down for the year after this one. Woof. San Jose jumped out to a five-goal lead in the first period thanks to a pair from Brent Burns and one from each of Evander Kane, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, and it was a cakewalk from there. The Canadiens didn’t score until early in the third, and at that point, the Sharks had already stretched the score to 8-0. Ugly.

Three Stars
1. Erik Karlsson, SJS (1-4–5)
2. Logan Couture, SJS (1-3–4)
3. Brent Burns, SJS (2-1–3)

Calgary Flames – 1
New Jersey Devils – 0

Again, the story was Mackenzie Blackwood. The Devils’ rookie goaltender did everything but score, posting 39 saves in a one-sided but one-goal affair. The Devils posted just 11 shots, and none in the third period, so it was all Blackwood in the final stanza. It can’t get much worse for the Devils, but at least offer some support for your goaltender.

Three Stars
1. Johnny Gaudreau, CGY (1-0–1)
2. Mackenzie Blackwood, NJD (39 saves)
3. David Rittich, CGY (11 saves)

Want more in-depth features and analysis? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.