Riding the Zamboni – Saturday, November 20th

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A busy night and if you’re a fan of the shootout, tonight was basically made for you. Doesn’t that make you feel special? You’re welcome. Anyhow, on with the recaps!

Los Angeles 4 – Boston 3 (F/SO)

The Kings blew a 3-0 lead but won thanks to Michal Handzus’ shootout winner and Jon Quick stopping 38 shots on the way to the win. Handzus’ goal was the only one in the six-round shootout. Handzus also had a regulation goal to get one that counts on the stat sheets. Tim Thomas may have stopped only 23 shots but many of them were dazzling saves. Don’t be too surprised if you see him show up in our “save of the night.” The win snaps the Kings’ mini-funk of three straight losses.

Tampa Bay 2 – Buffalo 1

It wasn’t pretty by any means and it wasn’t all that fun to watch, but the Lightning got one over on the Sabres with a little (a lot?) of help by Patrick Lalime. Lalime’s goaltending boner allowing Adam Hall to score the eventual game-winning goal was the lowlight of the game. As for good goaltending, Mike Smith stopped 29 shots for Tampa Bay. Thomas Vanek and Teddy Purcell also had goals in this one.

Montreal 2 – Toronto 0

Carey Price’s hot season continues as he stopped 30 shots en route to his fourth shutout of the season. Jeff Halpern and Mike Cammalleri had the goals for the Habs while they kept Jonas Gustavsson busy all night long throwing 39 shots on goal at him. Gustavsson did what he could to keep the Leafs in the game saving 37 shots. Highlight of the night came when the Habs paid tribute to former coach Pat Burns before the game with a beautiful tribute.

Florida 4 – NY Islanders 1

There’s only one real way we can sum things up for the Islanders after losing their 12th straight game.  Take it away Sesame Street.

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Mike Santorelli had two goals for the Panthers while Tomas Vokoun saved 39 shots. Good luck getting that song out of your heads though.

Philadelphia 5 – Washington 4 (F/SO)

A wild, back and forth game between these rivals was decided, sadly, in the shootout. Daniel Briere scored the lone goal in the shootout to give Philly the win. Meanwhile, Brian Boucher held strong in getting a rare start of late stopping 33 shots. Mike Richards stayed hot for Philly with a goal and an assist while Jason Chimera led the way for Washington with a goal and an assist himself.

Nashville 2 – Carolina 1 (F/SO)

Jared Smithson and Joni Pitkanen scored for their respective teams in regulation while Martin Erat had the winning goal in the shootout for Nashville. Cam Ward made 26 saves for Carolina while Pekka Rinne had a quiet night stopping just 21. The win makes four wins in the last five games for Nashville.

St. Louis 3 – New Jersey 2

The Blues took advantage of some good luck and good bounces tonight spoiling the NHL debut of Devils goalie Mike McKenna. The former St. Lawrence Universty standout and one-time Twitter superstar played strong despite the loss. Matt D’Agostini may not have scored a goal for St. Louis, but the team’s leading goal-scorer added two assists in the win. Lost in the game is the fact that Jaroslav Halak played outstanding in the win saving 35 shots in the victory to help the Blues snap out of their defensive funk.

NY Rangers 5 – Minnesota 2

The homecoming for Marian Gaborik ended with plenty of boos as was predicted and Gaborik netting just one assist and fellow former Wild favorite Derek Boogaard managed to help set up a goal with a crushing hit in the first period. An unusually sloppy game from Minnesota helped get Dan Girardi the first star of the night with two assists. Meanwhile Martin Biron stopped 26 shots in the win. Brandon Dubinsky scored his team-leading 12th goal, meanwhile Martin Havlat and Matt Cullen had a goal each for Minnesota.

Colorado 4 – Dallas 3 (F/SO)

Milan Hejduk’s two goals and Kevin Porter’s shootout winner helped pace the Avalanche past the Stars. Dallas overcame a 3-0 deficit early on to storm back and tie things up to get the loser point going to overtime, but Kari Lehtonen wasn’t able to pull out all the stops in the shootout to get the win. Brenden Morrow and James Neal each scored their eighth goal of the season in tying things up. Peter Budaj made 26 saves in getting the surprise start over Craig Anderson.

Chicago 7 – Vancouver 1

Remember when I said during the goalie preview that Roberto Luongo would have to get over his Chicago problem sometime? Yeah… That wasn’t tonight. The Hawks ran Luongo out of the game after getting up 4-0 and Cory Schneider didn’t provide much in relief. Fernando Pisani was the secret star of the game scoring two goals. Patrick Kane had a goal and two assists while Marian Hossa quietly added three assists. Corey Crawford had his shutout bid spoiled in the third when Mikael Samuelsson scored on the power play. After the game, the Canucks were upset that the Blackhawks were putting out their top power play unit while up 6-0 and on a 5-on-3 power play. Our advice to Vancouver: Suck it up and learn how to finally beat the Blackhawks. After all, we didn’t read about any complaining from Chicago after they were thumped 7-2 the night before in Calgary.

Columbus 3 – San Jose 0

Not a bad night for the Blue Jackets. Mathieu Garon stops 35 shots in earning his third shutout of the year and team captain and superstar Rick Nash scores a hat trick. This feels like a thesis paper kind of game wherein we finally get a shutout and a hat trick in the same game. Now I know how Pigman in the movie “PCU” felt when doing his thesis on the Michael Caine-Gene Hackman theory. The Blue Jackets might want to play the rest of their games on the road as they’ve now got a 6-1-0 record there this year and have beaten the Sharks twice.

The Buzzer: Nikita Kucherov just keeps scoring goals

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Player of the night. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning have played six games this season. Forward Nikita Kucherov has scored a goal in all of them.

He continued that goal scoring streak on Monday night in the Lightning’s 3-2 win in Detroit by scoring a pair of goals, including the game-winner to help lift them to their eighth consecutive win over the Detroit Red Wings.

With that win the Lightning now have the best record in the NHL, while Kucherov’s seven goals are the second most in the league, trailing only Alex Ovechkin (nine).

Kucherov has seen his production increase every year he has been in the NHL. He set a career-high with 40 goals a year ago and seems like he is on track to top that mark this season. Now playing in his age 24 season he should be right in the thick of his prime years in the NHL. When it comes to pure skill and offensive production there are only a handful of players in the league that can top what Kucherov is doing.

Highlight of the Night.

Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilievsky stopped 29 shots on Monday night but perhaps none were better than this pad save to rob Tomas Tatar right on the door step.

Vasilevskiy had a slow start to the season but has been outstanding in his past two games, stopping 57 out of 60 shots in the Lightning’s wins over the St. Louis Blues and Red Wings.

Factoid of the Night.

Justin Abdelkader scored on a penalty shot for the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night becoming the first Red Wings player to do that in nearly 10 years.

Ten years?! That seems like a heck of a long time between penalty shot goals for a team.

Misc.

Mike Green continued his incredible start to the season by scoring his first goal of the season for the Detroit Red Wings. He is now up to nine points in five games this season.

Steven Stamkos picked up a pair of assists in the win for the Lightning, giving him eight on the season. Once he starts scoring goals (he only has one so far) he is going to be a force. His absence a year ago was a big reason why the Lightning fell just short of the postseason. With him back healthy they now have two of the top offensive players in the league (Nikita Kucherov).

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Detroit Red Wings 2

Leon Draisaitl lands on injured reserve for Oilers

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After missing his team’s 6-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, the Edmonton Oilers announced on Monday that forward Leon Draisaitl has been placed on injure reserve.

He was injured one week ago in a game against the Winnipeg Jets and has been sidelined with an eye injury and concussion symptoms ever since. It’s a big blow to an Oilers team that is off to a slower than expected start having won just one of their first four games.

Draisaitl signed an eight-year, $68 million contract over the summer making him a significant part of the Oilers’ core alongside Connor McDavid. He finished the 2016-17 season as one of the top offensive players in the league and is going to be counted on to help carry the offense again when he is healthy. The Oilers don’t have a ton of forward depth and are going to need McDavid and Draisaitl to be the focal points once again if they are going to live up to the preseason hype that made them one of the odds on favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

Before he was injured this season Draisaitl had recorded one assist in three games.

The Oilers host the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

It is not yet known how long he will be sidelined.

SPHL gets creative, adopts ‘pick your opponent’ playoff format

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When discussion about the NHL’s playoff format comes up, there is a section of fans who would like to see the league allow for an even greater reward for top teams other than home-ice advantage.

That idea has become a reality thanks to the Southern Professional Hockey League.

The 10-team SPHL announced on Monday that they are overhauling their opening round and turning it into what’s being dubbed the “Challenge Round.” The top three teams will get to choose their first-round opponent during a “Challenge Round Selection” event which will be broadcast to fans on Sunday, April 8, the day after the regular season concludes. After the top three seeds select their opponents, the No. 4 team will be matched against the leftover side.

Every playoff series, including the President’s Cup Final, will remain best-of-three with re-seeding taking place for the second round.

The idea for this change came to SPHL commissioner Jim Combs over dinner in June with Axel Bammer, Chief Operating Officer of the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga. When Combs heard that the league’s top teams get to pick their opening round opponent, he could imagine the buzz and interest it would generate. (Sweden’s Elitserien did this in the past as well.)

A week after meeting with Bammer, Combs met with the league’s owners and received zero pushback about the idea. The new playoff format was widely embraced as the group felt this was the future of the hockey.

Feedback has been mixed on the change. But Mike Campos, who covers the SPHL for The Sin Bin, sees it being a big plus for the league.

One of the benefits of being at the bottom rung of the professional hockey ladder (second-lowest, if you consider the FHL a pro league) is there is flexibility to implement radically new ideas other leagues can not. If the “Pick Your Opponent” format change generates buzz among fans and rivalries between teams resulting in a spirited postseason, the decision could be a winner for the SPHL.

As Campos notes, lower levels of hockey allow for plenty of onnovation while not straying far from the fundamentals of running a hockey league. This new format will certainly make the end of the regular season much more interesting and provide bulletin board material for teams and storylines heading into the playoffs. It’s an idea worth exploring, and the SPHL is no stranger to implementing ideas that catch on elsewhere.

It was the SPHL where 3-on-3 hockey began over a decade ago. It was deemed a silly gimmick at first, but now that we’ve seen it at the NHL level for two seasons, it’s clearly a welcomed change — one that’s made overtime hockey must-see television.

Combs said the league will see how it this playoff format idea plays out in April before deciding whether to keep or tweak it in the future.

So what do you think? Would you want to see the NHL go in this direction for the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Stick-tap Scotty Wazz

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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With Perreault out four weeks, Jets call on prospect Kyle Connor

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Kyle Connor has been a scorer just about everywhere he has played — the USHL, the University of Michigan, and the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League.

He’s only had a brief taste of life in the NHL, playing 20 games for the Winnipeg Jets last season, scoring two goals and five points.

The 2015 first-round pick hasn’t yet experienced the same success at the NHL level, although he’s about to get another opportunity with the Jets after getting recalled on Monday. The move comes after Winnipeg placed Mathieu Perreault on injured reserve. He’s expected to miss up to four weeks.

Perreault has yet to play a full 82-game schedule with the Jets because of injuries, but he’s been an important player when available, with consistent production and strong possession numbers. That said, the 20-year-old Connor is a promising prospect with the potential for significant upside, especially considering the role he should find himself in.

Per NHL.com on Monday, Connor skated on the wing with Bryan Little and sophomore scorer Patrik Laine. That, it would appear, is Winnipeg’s second line, which gives them a difficult top-six group of forwards — the top line consisting of the red-hot Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler — for the opposition to face.

“Speed. That’s the big piece that he can add to that line,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “Patrik’s such a great shooter. Bryan’s a really quick player. What Perreault did well was he got in and he got on it. He was quick enough to get in there to create some offensive zone time and allow those guys to do the things they do well and Kyle should be able to add that.”

The Jets have won three in a row, with Connor Hellebuyck giving them a trio of impressive performances in net. They host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, although according to Sara Orlesky of TSN, Steve Mason is expected to get the start.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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