Around the Rink – Wednesday, November 24th

After such a quiet night last night, the NHL is back with a vengeance. 13 games are on tap tonight to make sure there’s something entertaining on TV while you’re out getting loaded up to ensure you’ve got a fantastic Thanksgiving hangover. Pass the gravy! All times listed are Eastern.

7:00 pm

Pittsburgh @ Buffalo

Ryan Miller and Craig River are no-go’s for Buffalo. That could mean trouble for the Sabres as the Pens come rolling into town on a three-game win streak and winners of five of their last six games.

Columbus @ NY Islanders

So, let’s see. Columbus is on fire and playing great. The Isles are in the midst of a 12-game losing streak and just sent Josh Bailey, one of their top forwards, down to the AHL. Columbus should win in a walk, right? Mmm, trap game.

Washington @ Carolina

The Caps have dropped their last three games and their previous two road games ended with 5-0 losses. It’d be a good time to turn things around, right? Carolina has lost four of their last five and their last two have come in the shootout. Something’s got to give here.

Detroit @ Atlanta

A pair of teams on winning streaks pair off in this one. Atlanta is coming off wins against Washington and the Islanders while Detroit is coming off their overtime comeback win against Calgary and winners of five out of their last six. The Wings get see Dustin Byfuglien once again while Alex Burmistrov will get to face off against his idol Pavel Datsyuk. It’s like the storyline for an episode of “Family Matters” or something.

7:30 pm

Los Angeles @ Montreal

Both teams are looking to bounce back after tough losses on Monday night and the players to watch in this one might just be the goalies. Carey Price has been nothing short of amazing for the Habs and Jonathan Bernier gets the nod for L.A. It’s a big deal for Bernier because he’s a Quebec native and will have plenty of family and friends in person to see him play.

Dallas @ Ottawa

Dallas is looking to put their ugly loss to Toronto behind them and going against an unassuming but tough Ottawa team might not be the solution they’re looking for. After dropping three straight ugly games, Ottawa’s win against L.A. made for a distinct change. That being they weren’t blown out. At least Brad Richards doesn’t have to worry about trade rumors to Ottawa… Right?

Calgary @ New Jersey

New Jersey is looking to get their first two-game win streak of the season. Yeah, it’s been that kind of year. Calgary, meanwhile, has played two tough games in a row against Detroit and the Rangers and dropping both in stomach-punch fashion. Henrik Karlsson will start in goal for Calgary so the Flames defense has to tighten things up for him. For the Devils, another dominating performance might get them going for the season.

NY Rangers @ Tampa Bay

Steve Stamkos mania will ramp up once again and with the Rangers in town, impressing the New York media might help continue the craze sweeping the league. We’re OK with that. Meanwhile, the Rangers are on a mini-roll of late winning their last two games. They’re playing tough hockey but trying to bust the Lightning’s four-game win streak will be tough to do.

Boston @ Florida

What will Nathan Horton do to get back at his old team this time? When these two met earlier this year, Horton had three assists in helping Milan Lucic’s hat trick in a 4-0 B’s win. The Panthers are seemingly stuck in this pattern of winning one game and losing the next. They can’t get a winning streak going, but they don’t get a losing streak either. Zen hockey? If the pattern holds, they’ll be celebrating a victory tonight.

8:00 pm

St. Louis @ Nashville

Barret Jackman makes his return for St. Louis and for the Blues, getting their defense back healthy will be a huge boost. Jaroslav Halak hasn’t needed the help all year, but lately getting some better work in front of him would help. The Blues are on a two game win streak but Nashville has been tough on them all year. The Preds are 2-1-0 against the Blues so far this year.

Philadelphia @ Minnesota

The Flyers hit the road and land in Minnesota to deal with the Wild. The key in this one for Philly will be to stay out of the penalty box. The Wild have the second best power play in the NHL and they play things a bit tougher at home. The Wild will send out Jose Theodore against the Flyers and in his career, he’s 14-8-1 against them. There’s your random stat for the day.

10:00 pm

Colorado @ Vancouver

The Canucks will honor former goalie Kirk McLean in their ring of honor in this one and Roberto Luongo could use the inspiration. Vancouver’s dropped four straight and having to deal with the speedy and tenacious Avalanche won’t help matters. The Avs, meanwhile, have won four in a row and are third in the league in scoring. Vancouver throwing out another stinker in this one could get fans pushing the panic button.

10:30 pm

Chicago @ San Jose

Antti Niemi will get the start for San Jose against his old team and while these two faced off in the Western Conference finals last year, obviously Chicago is a different team than they were then. San Jose would like to snap their three-game skid but with Chicago coming into town after thumping Vancouver on Monday, things might get scary. Big question: Do Chicago’s shooters have the book on how to beat Niemi the way they do Luongo?

Konecny’s OT goal lifts Flyers to another win, puts them back in playoff spot

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The Philadelphia Flyers are on some kind of a roll, and now they are back in a playoff position.

They were 2-1 winners in Washington on Sunday afternoon thanks to an overtime goal from Travis Konecny, giving the Flyers their seventh win in their past eight games.

Sunday’s win helped the Flyers jump over the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, while also bringing them to within a single point of the Columbus Blue Jackets for third place in the Metropolitan Division and just two points of the New Jersey Devils for second place.

Considering that this is a team that lost 10 games in a row between Nov. 11 and Dec. 2 it is a pretty remarkable turnaround.

Since that losing streak came to an end the Flyers are 15-5-1.

The driving force behind the turnaround has been the trio of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier. Those three were relatively quiet from an offensive perspective on Sunday (Couturier did get an assist on Konecny’s winner) but the Flyers were still able to come away with the win.

The big difference maker on Sunday was goaltender Brian Elliott thanks to his 27 stops. He was at his best in the first period when he made a handful of stellar stops on Alex Ovechkin, including this point-blank stop when the game was still scoreless.

Elliott was in need of a game like this because he had not played well over the past few weeks, giving up at least three goals in each of his past seven appearances. Only once during that stretch did he record a save percentage higher than .900 in a single game, and even that game was only .903.

Ovechkin did end up scoring his league-leading 29th goal in the second period, scoring on a power the play, but it was the only shot the Capitals would get behind Elliott.

Michael Raffl also scored for the Flyers in the win.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Golden Knights keep getting better, more powerful

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Here is a sentence that would have been laughable to even suggest back in October: If the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night they will move into sole possession for first place in the entire NHL.

At this point the Golden Knights, the NHL’s latest expansion team, are no longer just a fun story: They are a contender, a legitimate one, and they only keep getting stronger as the season progresses. There is a pretty convincing argument to be made that they actually are the best team in hockey at the moment.

Entering play on Sunday Vegas is on a 15-3-3 run since Dec. 1.

What is even more impressive than the record itself is the way they are starting to dominate games.

When Vegas found its initial success it was easy to kind of downplay it as a team that was simply riding a wave of hot goaltending that would, inevitably, regress. Whenever that regression happened the expectation was that they would start to play like a regular expansion team and start losing.

For a while, there was a lot of evidence to suggest that was going to be the case.

In that first month Vegas was losing the shot bottle, it was losing the possession battle, and with Marc-Andre Fleury sidelined it was relying on a patchwork group of goaltenders to somehow steal games.

But take a look at what has happened in each month since looking at their Corsi percentage (shot attempts at even-strength) and PDO (even-strength shooting percentage plus even-strength save percentage).

The slow start is understandable. It was a new team with what was thought to be an undermanned roster that had never played together.  Since then they have steadily gone from being one of the worst possession teams in the league in the first month that got by on what was mostly percentage driven good fortune, to a team that has been, at least in January, the absolute best possession team in the league.

If you look at December and January together (the aforementioned 15-3-3 stretch) the Golden Knights are the the seventh-best possession team. They have only been outshot five times in those 21 games, and only three of those teams outshot them by more than five.

[Related: Revisiting the trades that built one of the NHL’s best lines in Vegas]

By comparison, Vegas has outshot nine teams by at least five, including seven by at least 10 shots during that same stretch.

There is still an element of some percentage driven luck here, especially when it comes to the goaltending. Fleury is not going to maintain a .945 save percentage for the rest of the season, and William Karlsson still can not miss when the puck is on his stick. He may have deserved more of a look in his previous stops in Anaheim and Columbus, but he is also not a 26 percent shooter every season.

But the fact the Golden Knights are starting to drive possession and control the overwhelming majority of the shot attempts is not only incredibly impressive, it is extremely encouraging for their outlook for the remainder of the season.

They are not just getting the results at the moment, the process driving the results is sound as well.

From the very beginning absolutely everything has clicked for them. The goaltending has been sensational, their top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith has found immediate chemistry, and they are playing a fast, aggressive style of hockey that is starting to overwhelm teams.

Even if Vegas played the remainder of the season at the level of a normal expansion team (let’s say a .400 points percentage) they would still finish with 94 points on the season. There is nothing to suggest they will play at that level. Instead, if they keep playing the way they have been for the better part of the past two months they are going to be giving Tampa Bay, Boston, and Nashville a run for the Presidents’ Trophy. In their very first season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz

Team USA general manager Jim Johannson dies at age 53

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Sad news from USA hockey on Sunday morning as the organization announced that Jim Johannson, the assistant executive director or USA Hockey and the general manager of the 2018 men’s Olympic hockey team, has died at the age of 53.

According to the announcement, Johannson passed away in his sleep early Sunday morning at his home in Colorado Springs.

“We are beyond shocked and profoundly saddened,” Pat Kelleher, executive director of USA Hockey, said in a statement released by the organization.

“As accomplished as Jim was in hockey, he was the absolute best, most humble, kind and caring person you could ever hope to meet. His impact on our sport and more importantly the people and players in our sport have been immeasurable. Our condolences go out to his entire family, but especially to his loving wife Abby and their young daughter Ellie.”

“In building the teams that achieved so much success for USA Hockey, Jim Johannson had a sharp eye for talent, a strong sense of chemistry and a relentless pursuit of excellence,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement. “The NHL family’s respect for Jim’s contributions to hockey, at all levels, is exceeded only by our shock and sorrow over his sudden passing. We send strength, comfort and condolences to Jim’s wife, Abby, his daughter, Ellie, and his many friends in our sport. As we mourn his loss, we will remember the positive outlook Jim brought to his tireless efforts to advance USA Hockey.”

He had been with USA Hockey since 2000. During his time Team USA won 64 medals (34 gold) at various international tournaments.

He helped assemble the 2018 men’s team which will be using non-NHL players for the first time since the 1994 games.

Johannson played hockey at the collegiate level for the University of Wisconsin and was a seventh-round draft pick by the Hartford Whalers in 1982. He never made it to the NHL but had a successful career in the International Hockey League playing for the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, Indianapolis Ice, and Milwaukee Admirals.

Along with being one of the top executives for USA hockey for years, Johannson also represented Team USA on the ice as a player during the 1988 games in Calgary and the 1992 games in Albertville.

He scored two goals for Team USA in Olympic competition.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at Washington Capitals

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PROJECTED LINES

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny

Michael RafflValtteri Filppula – Jake Voracek

Jordan WealNolan PatrickWayne Simmonds

Jori LehteraScott Laughton – Tyrell Goulbourne

Defense

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere

Robert Hägg – Andrew MacDonald

Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting Goalie: Brian Elliott

[NHL ON NBC: FLYERS LOOK TO STAY HOT AGAINST CAPITALS]

Washington Capitls

Forwards

Alex OvechkinEvgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson

Andrei Burakovsky – Nicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie

Chandler StephensonLars EllerBrett Connolly

Devante Smith-PellyJay BeagleAlex Chiasson

Defense

Christian DjoosJohn Carlson

Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen

Brooks OrpikMadison Bowey

Starting Goalie: Braden Holtby

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.