Riding the Zamboni – Sunday, December 26th

The gifts are put away, the gingerbread is stale and everyone’s working off some sort of holiday hangover. Tonight, some of the forwards around the league seemed to be playing with the stink of egg nog on their breath while the goalies were sharp as ever. Here’s our look around the league tonight as we see the Penguins finally toss out a stinker while the Caps get back on track and a few teams fight through a blizzard to play some hockey.

Ottawa 3 – Pittsburgh 1

It was about time that Pittsburgh finally played a bad game and the combination of that and Brian Elliott playing out of his mind conspired to take out the Pens. Elliott’s 44 saves  paced Ottawa to a surprising victory. Erik Karlsson’s two goals and assist led the way offensively as the young defenseman had a hand in all of Ottawa’s goals. Sidney Crosby scored his 30th goal of the year and extended his consecutive point streak to 24 games.

Washington 3 – Carolina 2

Alex Ovechkin finally got off the goal scoring shneid. Ovechkin’s goal late in the second period proved to be the deciding goal as the Caps bounced back from their shootout loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday. The Caps needed Ovechkin to get back into the swing of scoring again as his offense has been sorely missed. Washington hopes that this goal is enough to jump start Ovechkin for the second half of the season. Ovechkin also assisted on Dave Steckel’s goal in the second. Tuomo Ruutu had a goal and an assist for Carolina as they weren’t able to get another one past Semyon Varlamov to even the game up. Varlamov made 33 saves to get the win.

Toronto 4 – New Jersey 1

Despite the blizzard outside the arena in New Jersey, the Leafs were able to keep the Devils down in the dumps thanks to Colby Armstrong’s two goals and Jonas Gustavsson’s 29 saves. The Leafs were able to chase Martin Brodeur after two periods of play and three goals on 14 shots. The Devils descent into the basement might be the only thing more embarrassing than having these two teams play the game at all in spite of the horrible weather outside.

NY Islanders 4 – Montreal 1

OK so sure, the Islanders wanted the game to be postponed but it worked out pretty well for them that it wasn’t as they stayed hot beating the Habs. Dwayne Roloson stopped 38 shots while P.A. Parenteau had a goal and an assist to lead the Islanders to victory. The Isles have earned points in three straight games and won two in a row. For a team that was the league’s worst for so long, this makes for an incredible turn of events.

Tampa Bay 3 – Atlanta 2 (F/OT)

Dustin Byfuglien has been tremendous all year for Atlanta, but he made a big mistake he’d like to take back in this one. With the game tied at two late in the third, Byfuglien took a boarding penalty that carried over to overtime. There, Vincent Lecavalier would score his second goal of the game to cinch the win for the Lightning. Steve Stamkos also added his 28th goal of the year to keep him within range of Sidney Crosby for the NHL goal lead.

Chicago 4 – Columbus 1

Marian Hossa made his triumphant return to Chicago’s lineup and looked like the guy that started the season on fire. Hossa had two assists while Patrick Sharp added two goals to lead the Hawks over the majorly slumping Blue Jackets. Marty Turco got the surprise start and made 26 saves in the victory. Mathieu Garon continued Columbus’ bad goaltending ways stopping 21 shots in the loss.

St. Louis 2 – Nashville 0

Jaroslav Halak was the show tonight for the Blues. Halak’s 32-save shutout coupled with David Backes’ two goals were all the Blues would need to turn back the streaking Predators. For Halak it’s his fourth shutout of the season and it vaulted St. Louis into third place in the Central Division.

Detroit 4 – Minnesota 1

Henrik Zetterberg helped lead the Wings past an offensively inept Wild team by scoring a goal and adding an assist. Jimmy Howard had an easy night on his way to his 19th win of the year saving just 16 shots. Kris Draper scored his first goal of the year as the Wings helped control the Wild and break their three-game win streak.

Phoenix 1 – Dallas 0

Jason LaBarbera had himself a night. The usual Coyotes backup goalie has been getting starts thanks to Ilya Bryzgalov’s absence and tonight he made 30 saves on the way to earning his first shutout of the season. Kyle Turris’ rebound goal in the second period was the only one of the game and LaBarbera’s acrobatic effort made it stand up. Kari Lehtonen saved 24 shots in the loss.

Vancouver 3 – Edmonton 2

Kevin Bieksa’s goal with 24 seconds left in the third put Vancouver over the top and completed their comeback over Edmonton. Cory Scheneider held strong in goal for the Canucks making 19 saves as they rallied around him to play a better defensive game. Nikolai Khabibulin made 30 saves for Edmonton in the tough loss. Edmonton did have a 2-0 lead at one point in the second period until Jeff Tambellini’s late goal in the second changed the momentum the rest of the way and the Canucks took advantage.

Los Angeles 4 – Anaheim 1

The Kings exploded for four goals in the second period to seize control of the game over their crosstown rivals. Dustin Brown had a goal and an assist for Los Angeles while Jonathan Bernier made 18 saves to earn the win. Marco Sturm earned his first point as a King getting an assist on Anze Kopitar’s 15th goal of the year. Jonas Hiller was pulled after giving up all four goals in the second, finishing the game with 19 saves. Curtis McElhinney closed it out stopping all seven shots he faced.

Perreault bemoans “stupid” slash, Gudas offered in-person hearing

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WINNIPEG — Mathieu Perreault didn’t shy away from expressing his feelings after nearly being decapitated on Thursday night by Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas.

“It was kind of stupid by him,” Perreault said after receiving a vicious two-hand chop to the back of his neck in the first period of a 3-2 shootout win for his Winnipeg Jets.

The play, reminiscent of an executioner in Medieval times striking an unlucky soul with an axe at the gallows, came after Perreault and Gudas were jockeying for position in the corner in Philadelphia’s zone. The result was a two-minute minor for high-sticking, assessed to Perreault, and a five-minute major and a game misconduct for Gudas, who is no stranger to getting a phone call from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

On Friday morning, the NHL offered the 27-year-old an in-person hearing with a date and time to be determined if Gudas chooses to accept.

Gudas was most recently suspended six games in October of 2016 for a cheap shot to the head of Boston Bruins forward Austin Czarnik.

It’s important to note that the offer of an in-person hearing means the suspension Gudas is facing could sail far north of five games. Given the Czech Republic native’s history, there’s little reason to think the head of player safety, George Parros, won’t throw a very hard book at Gudas.

Perreault, meanwhile, said he dodged a bullet on the play.

“He got the meaty part of the neck. It could have been worse if he got me in the side of the face or in the skull or bone,” Perreault said. “(Gudas) apologized in the penalty box, but when you look at the replay, it looks like he did it on purpose. It wasn’t an accident. He’s been known for doing stuff like that, so I certainly don’t appreciate it. I’m sure the league will take care of it.”

It certainly could have been much worse, as Perreault alluded to in his post-game comments, and more so given that the 29-year-old only returned to the Jets lineup on Thursday after a 12-game spell on the sidelines with a lower-body ailment.

Gudas’s rap sheet in the NHL is long. Here are some of his notable transgressions:

– Dec. 2, 2015 – Gudas is suspended three games for a needless headshot to then-Ottawa Senators forward Mika Zibanejed.

– February 2016 – Gudas receives three separate game misconducts in a span of sixteen days, the last coming on Feb. 16 for yet another head shot on New Jersey Devils forward Bobby Farnham.

– Oct. 3, 2016 – Another ejection, this time for boarding. A head was spared, this time.

– Oct. 8, 2016 – Ah, but not for long. Gudas’s latest run-in with the league prior to Thursday night came last season with another targeted shot to the head, this time at the expense of Boston Bruins forward Austin Czarnik. He was suspended six games.

– Oct. 26, 2016 – Another game misconduct for — you guessed it — an illegal shot to the head.

– Nov. 16, 2017 – Gudas makes like a lumberjack and tries to take Winnipeg Jets forward Mathieu Perreault’s head off.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.

Rick Tocchet on Coyotes’ struggles, Clayton Keller, staying patient (PHT Q&A)

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The Arizona Coyotes have won just three of their first 21 games, which obviously wasn’t part of the plan going into the year. Still, things aren’t always as bad as they seem.

On Thursday morning, Pro Hockey Talk had an opportunity to catch up with Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet. We chatted about the rough start to the season, Clayton Keller‘s incredible rookie season, the positives he’s seen in his team’s game, and much more.

Enjoy.

PHT: Coach, you came from an environment where you won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins. You’ve come to Arizona and you’re now coaching a team that’s trying to find themselves. What’s been the most difficult part for you mentally?

TOCCHET: “You want instant success. Obviously, the last couple of years have been unbelievable for me, so you come to this and you want the same thing to happen, but it doesn’t happen that way. It’s a process. That’s the one thing I like about the organization, we’re not going to accelerate to win short term. They’re willing to take hits now for the process of it. That’s something I’ve gotten better at in the last two or three weeks. I know it hurts to lose.

“I still don’t think we’re a two-win team. I think, with some solid goaltending early in the season, we’d have four or five wins by now. Saying that, I think it’s just a process we have to stick with.”

How far do you think this team is from being a playoff team?

“I don’t know. I could tell you it’s three years or two years, but I don’t know. All I know is that I want these young kids to improve. I feel certain guys are playing better. I think some guys are starting to get it.

“The biggest challenge for us is to keep doing the right things when you lose. Because when you lose, you change your game sometimes, you try different things that you shouldn’t try. And that’s the biggest challenge for me, is to make sure that these kids do the right things and that this team does the right things because eventually it’s going to help.”

I know two wins in your first 20 games isn’t how you drew it up, but what are some of the improvements you’ve seen in your team since the start of the season?

“Well, some of the top teams we’ve played (against), where it’s 2-2 with five minutes left. We look at the scoresheet at the end of the game and they had 15 chances, we had 15. So we’re playing even up for 45-50 minutes, but it’s that 10 minutes where we lose the game because of consistency or the other team just has great players, too. It’s something that we have to learn to play 60 minutes. It’s hard to win in this league and it’s hard to play the right way for 60 minutes, and that’s what we have to learn here. It’s about mindset.”

I think everyone knew Clayton Keller was a skilled player, but how surprised are you to you to see him play close to a point-per-game pace 20 games into the season?

“Yea, he’s been really good. What marvels me is that he’s a 19-year-old kid. He’s only going to get stronger, and he’s going against top players against other teams and how he’s coming out of the corners with pucks. He’s got the puck on his stick and he’s making plays. That’s what’s really been surprising to me.

“I didn’t know he was going to be this good this quick. The arrow is just pointing (up), he’s only going to get better. The only thing I keep teaching him is don’t get frustrated. Because when you lose and you’re not getting points-the last couple of games he hasn’t gotten points- you get frustrated, and I don’t what that frustration to affect his game.”

Everyone sees the offensive ability in his game, but is there something he does that flies under-the-radar a little bit?

His poise in the corners. As a small guy, sometimes you think ‘ah, he’s not a good corner guy,’ but when he gets in the corners somehow he has elusiveness. Like, he gets out of the corners with the puck, he doesn’t just throw pucks away, he’s not scared. He’s been going in the corners with some really good defensemen and I think he’s done a nice job coming out of it, making a play. He doesn’t throw pucks away.

“Usually, young guys when they first come up they get the puck, they throw it away. They don’t realize how much more time they have sometimes. I think he’s exceeded that for me.”

How have you changed from when you were the head coach in Tampa Bay (2008-2010)?

“I think I’m more decisive. You have to tweak your lineup, you have to tweak certain concepts, but I’m totally different. I know the way I want to play, I’m not going to change (it), I know it’s successful. I know the certain players that I want and the team I want to become.

“In Tampa, I think I listened outside too much to other people. Obviously, you have to listen to the people in your organization, but I know this is the way I want to play and I’m very decisive about it.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Blind hockey is ‘the greatest thing ever’

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

–Marissa Brandt was born in South Korea, but she was adopted by an American family when she was just four years old. Now, she’ll be representing South Korea at the upcoming winter Olympics What a journey! (Sports Illustrated)

–Offensive numbers have increased this season, but there isn’t a clear reason for that. The Sporting News’ Andrew Berkshire believes it could have something to do with defensive systems reaching their limit. (Sporting News)

–It wasn’t easy for Lightning fans to see the team trade Ben Bishop away last season. It clearly ended up being the right choice because Andrei Vasilevskiy has been nothing short of remarkable. (Tampa Times)

Jaden Schwartz is one of the funny guys in the Blues locker room, but he’s also dealt with his share of tragedies. A few years ago, his sister, Mandi, died, and that was obviously a difficult time in his life. Schwartz thinks of her every day and he continues to live out their hockey dream. (ESPN)

–The Coyotes have been the worst team in the NHL this season. As if that’s not enough, now they’re being accused of not paying employees enough, spying on their workers, and firing people for bringing up concerns over their pay. (AZCentral.com)

–Now that the three-way trade between the Sens, Preds and Avs is nearly two weeks old, Adam Gretz looks at the impact each part of the deal has had an on their respective club. (Fanragsports.com)

–Canucksarmy.com has had enough of the “stats vs. eye test” debate. “The thing is, hockey analytics is an evidence-based endeavour, and by definition, that means that there is plenty of evidence out there to back up its claims. How often do you see people that denounce the predictability of hockey analytics back up their claims with evidence?” (Canucksarmy.com)

–Blueseatblogs.com explains why yelling “shoot the puck” isn’t always the best solution. After all, passes that cross the slot line have a much higher chance of going into the net. (Blueseatblogs.com)

–You’re probably familiar with the term “putting money on the board”. If you’re not, it basically means that players or coaches offer money to teammate(s) if they win a game against a former team. It could be one reason why the Golden Knights have been so good this year. (Sinbin.Vegas)

–Here’s a nice story out of Connecticut, where hockey for the blind has arrived. “In the 13 years since I’ve been blind, it’s the most freedom I’ve felt,” Jim Sadecki said. (Fox61.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Red-hot lines, Murray’s tremendous save

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Lines of the Night: With combinations of forwards running wild in many cases, it might be best to break things down by the lines that dominated Thursday.

Let’s start with the painfully obvious one.

Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosNikita Kucherov

Will the Lightning’s top line ever cool down? Probably, but right now they’re basically unstoppable; they didn’t even take it easy on Ben Bishop as he made his return to Tampa Bay. Instead, the Lightning beat the Stars 6-1 thanks to that top trio.

Stamkos scored two goals and two assists to boost his points total to 35 (!) in 19 games, while Nikita Kucherov scored his league-leading 17th tally and also produced two assists. Names grabbed an assist and apparently fought Dan Hamhuis.

Gabriel LandeskogNathan MacKinnonMikko Rantanen

Some Colorado fans might have uttered “Matt WHO-chene?” for at least one night, as this top trio was ridiculous. Landeskog recorded his first career hat trick, Rantanen collected four points (1G, 3A), and MacKinnon generated one goal and four helpers.

This might just be the breakout season people were hoping to see with MacKinnon, as he has 20 points in 17 games.

It was a landslide from Avalanche captain Landeskog, if you will.

Brayden Schenn continues to ride high for the Blues, as he collected two goals and an assist. His point streak is honestly a little ridiculous:

Eric Staal (1G, 2A) had the better night, but his linemate Jason Zucker is on a tear of his own:

To keep this from getting unwieldy, we’ll leave it at that, but there are worth honorable mentions, such as top scorers for the Golden Knights (who just keep winning).

Highlight of the night: Matt Murray‘s save

There were some other great stops, goals, and hard hits on Thursday, but wow, Murray.

More factoids:

The Maple Leafs make a little history in their 1-0 OT win, which was their fifth straight W.

Roberto Luongo shuts out the Sharks for the first time in his career. You’d think San Jose would have been a victim of one of the previous 73 goose eggs …

And some relief:

More on that Coyotes win here and the Habs’ angry reactions here.

Scores

Leafs 1, Devils 0 (OT)

Islanders 6, Hurricanes 4

Coyotes 5, Canadiens 4

Penguins 3, Senators 1

Lightning 6, Stars 1

Wild 6, Predators 4

Jets 3, Flyers 2 (SO)

Avalanche 6, Capitals 2

Golden Knights 5, Canucks 2

Blues 4, Oilers 1

Bruins 2, Kings 1

Panthers 2, Sharks 0

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.