Due for Revenge or Doomed to Repeat: A Look at December 30th’s NHL Grudge Matches

Updated: December 30, 2009 at 12:16 pm by Jeff Tay


It is very likely that every team in the NHL has at least one; a team that has absolutely had their number over a recent stretch of history. Even the mighty San Jose Sharks have had (surprisingly) the Phoenix Coyotes to contend with over the past two seasons; a team that has beaten them in 4 of their last 6 meetings, and most recently took them all the way to a shootout at home.

Sometimes these trends can be perplexing, and we as fans or prognosticators would like to pass them off as anomalies; fluky events that are not likely to reoccur. Other times though, we may see them as surefire tendencies, and come to conclude that one team simply matches up well against the other. The real truths behind these situations though, are probably somewhere between these two extremes.

There is one other issue which makes these games even more difficult to predict though, and that is, when does a team—after losing a sustained streak of head-to-head meetings with another team—finally find the right mix of motivation and strategic adjustment to ultimately break the trend?

Unfortunately, there may or may not actually be a general answer to this question, and there definitely won’t be one in this article. For the moment, we may just have to make due with looking at each situation on an individual basis.

December 30th, 2009, features 4 of these one-sided series, and here are looks at their past records, their present circumstances, and their future forecasts:

Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers

The Past: Advantage Rangers

The New York Rangers have won 4 straight, and 6 of the last 10, meetings against the Flyers. It is the 4 straight that are the most significant here, as the Flyers were held to just a single goal in 3 out of these 4 games. The Flyers have produced plenty of shots on goal in these games (37, 31, 38, and 25), and so it appears that Henrik Lundqvist has been a big factor in the recent run of success that the Rangers have had.

The Present: Doomed to Repeat

The Flyers continue to put up shots on goals in bunches, averaging 34 per contest over their last 5 games. Meanwhile, Henrik Lundqvist continues to stop just about every shot that he faces, averaging 31 saves a night over his last 5 appearances. Not much has appeared to change here in favor of the Flyers. The Rangers not only have a clear edge in goaltending, but have also been slightly more consistent on offense than the Flyers have been in recent weeks.

The Future: Due for Revenge

If the Flyers ever manage to get it together, they will eventually buck this trend. They certainly have the talent to compete with the Rangers, and they have produced more than the necessary amount of shots on goal to beat them in their recent head-to-head meetings. The Flyers will need to put together complete games though, in which they both score and defend effectively, instead of just doing one and not the other, and for now, this is not the type of hockey that the Flyers are playing.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New Jersey Devils

The Past: Advantage Devils

The Devils have not only won all 3 meetings with the Penguins this season, but they have done so in dominant fashion, winning 4-0, 4-1, and 4-1. New Jersey has also won 6 of the last 10 head-to-head. The Penguins have had no success on the powerplay against the Devils so far this season, going 0 for 12, and they have also conceded 3 powerplay goals to the Devils on just 8 powerplay opportunities (37.5%). Special teams appear to be the difference in this recent series.

The Present: Doomed to Repeat

The Penguins’ powerplay looked great when they went 3 for 8 against Ottawa right before Christmas, but these performances have been few and far between. Pittsburgh’s powerplay is shockingly operating at a league-worst 15.2%, and just 11.2% on the road. Their penalty killing has been above average (83.2%), but has given up a goal in 8 of their last 10 games. The advantage on special teams still goes to the Devils here, who have a top 5 powerplay (21.9%) and a penalty killing unit that has killed 16 of its last 17 (94.1%). The Penguins have also lost 3 of their last 4 games, while the Devils have won 8 of their last 10. Pittsburgh is up against a juggernaut here.

The Future: Due for Revenge

On paper, the Penguins might have the deadliest looking powerplay in the league. They are also stacked with talent, and own the most recent set of Stanley Cup Championship rings. They will eventually break through, and turn this series around; just not while the Devils are playing at a level above them.

Atlanta Thrashers vs. Boston Bruins

The Past: Advantage Bruins

In terms of wins and losses, this series has been completely one-sided. The Bruins have not lost to the Thrashers in 8 straight meetings, spanning two calendar years. There have been some close games though, including two shootout victories, and two other one-goal games. Last season, the Bruins were a vastly better team than the Thrashers, as they were the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, but the Bruins continued success over the Thrashers this season has been somewhat surprising. The Bruins, who have a tendency to play more lower-scoring affairs, have actually beaten the Thrashers at their own game this season, winning 4-3 in a shootout as the visitors, and 6-4 most recently as the home team. Atlanta has simply been unsuccessful in their attempts to run-and-gun with Boston, unable to keep the puck out of their own net when needed.

The Present: Doomed to Repeat

The Thrashers continue to struggle defensively, and have not given up less than 3 goals in 7 straight games. They have also not won in regulation for an entire month, and are being outshot by the opposition on most nights—not a formula for success given their quality of goaltending. Meanwhile, the Bruins have been a very streaky team for most of the season, but they have found a lot of success against teams that have been willing to trade chances with them. In recent high-octane affairs, the Bruins have managed a 4-5 shootout loss to the Blackhawks, 5-2 and 7-2 victories over the Maple Leafs, and a 4-1 win over the Lightning in which the shots-on-goal were 40-39. The Bruins should feel very comfortable playing against the Thrashers.

The Future: Doomed to Repeat

The Thrashers don’t appear to be a team that can play tight defensive hockey when needed. Their Over/Under record this season has actually been 21-12 in favor of the Over, and every single one of their games has had a posted total of at least 6.0! The Bruins have excelled under these conditions, and the Thrashers aren’t too likely to take too many future games from Boston in this manner.

Los Angeles Kings vs. Calgary Flames

The Past: Advantage Flames

Calgary has won 8 of the last 10 meetings between these two teams, dating back to January of ’08. During this stretch, the Flames have been, for the most part, a better team than the Kings, who have spent most of their time at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. The key to the Flames’ success against the Kings though, has really been on the defensive end, as they have held L.A. to 2 goals or less in 7 straight meetings. On many of these occasions, the Kings were held to less than 30 shots on goal, and when they weren’t, Miikka Kiprusoff was there to shut the door. Calgary hasn’t needed to score much to beat the Kings over the past two seasons.

The Present: Due for Revenge

If there’s ever a good time to pick off the Flames, it would be now. Calgary has won just 3 of their last 10 games. Kiprusoff continues to be stellar in net for Calgary, but has shown some recent blemishes, including a .692 save percentage in a game against Vancouver, a .789 save percentage in a game against Nashville, and to go a little further back, a .875 save percentage against (drum roll) the L.A. Kings on December 7th. The Kings have lost 3 straight games themselves, so they don’t exactly have a ton of momentum on their side either, but in a battle of two struggling teams, it’s truly anybody’s game to win, and the reign of Flames dominance might be over for the time being.

The Future: Due for Revenge

The L.A. Kings have been a great surprise this season, as many of their younger players are making transitions towards NHL stardom. Meanwhile, the Calgary Flames have allowed their number one pre-season concern to catch up with them; their lack of depth on offense. This series figures to be a lot more even from here on, as the gap in talent has gotten narrower.

There are plenty more of these one-sided series scattered throughout the NHL. Each one probably exists for a reason though, and that reason could always provide a hint as to what the future has in store for the teams involved. So, just remember to keep your eyes peeled for the teams that have each others’ numbers.