Canucks cash in on shaky penalty call, beat Predators in OT for 2-1 series lead

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Not long ago, Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis aired his grievances regarding officiating before the team’s Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks. Now one must wonder if he’ll send the league’s officials a Christmas card.

If you want my honest opinion, Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber should not have been whistled for that overtime hooking penalty on Ryan Kesler. Yet the officials might have felt obliged to give the Canucks a “makeup call” after Jerred Smithson got away with a questionable hit shortly before that penalty. It didn’t take long for the Canucks to score on that man advantage as Kesler appeared to deflect the winning goal through Pekka Rinne.

Vancouver 3, Nashville 2 (OT); Canucks lead series 2-1

It’s fair to say that Vancouver was the better team in this game, even if they won the game in a very controversial way. Kesler was clever to lock Weber’s stick into his body for a few precious extra seconds, sending the team’s best defenseman into the box in overtime. Again, the Canucks didn’t take long to shine the spotlight on that goal by winning the game.

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As usual, the game was close on the scoreboard, although the Canucks were the aggressors for most of this contest after sitting back for much of Game 2. They out-shot the Predators 15-8 in the first period but Dave Legwand scored a shorthanded goal to give Nashville a 1-0 first period lead.

Kesler finally broke through to score his first goal of the playoffs in the middle frame by tapping in a one-timer in front of a mostly-open Predators net.

Chris Higgins made it 2-1 early in the third period, but the Predators wouldn’t go away, as Joel Ward scored thanks to the type of move from behind the net that made me think of my own cheesy offense in the video game NHL ’11.

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That Ward goal notched things up at 2-2, which forced yet another overtime game. (As James Gralian pointed out, the 2011 playoffs already feature more overtime games than all of last year’s games. Yes, that is indeed pretty amazing.)

It was a tight checking overtime period until those controversial moments ended the game. Here’s what David Legwand said about the call, via Mark Spector.

“I don’t know if Timmy Peel had a date or something, but he wanted to get outta here pretty quick.”

As great as the playoffs have been, inconsistent penalty calls have been one of this year’s biggest issues. Jeremy Roenick explained the problem quite well in the video found in this post.

The outlook for both teams

Once the “we stole that one” vibe dies down for the Canucks, they’ll probably feel relief more than anything else. The team needed to earn at least one win in Nashville to feel comfortable in this series, so now they can play with house money in Game 4. Vancouver is also one of the few teams who can be pleased with their power play, which converted on 2 of 4 opportunities.

They still must improve in some areas, though. While Daniel Sedin earned an assist, each Sedin twin had a -2 rating in the contest. Kesler had a breakthrough game, so the team would love it if the twins tried to top him.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Predators react to such a dispiriting loss. My guess is that they’ll continue to bring their grinding, defensive-minded game to the ice to make things as difficult as possible for their Canucks. Nashville has a lot of good things to take from these games, even if they’re down 2-1.

You don’t have to be keenly observant to notice how great the Nashville atmosphere has been in these playoffs. Let’s just hope they opt against another “Gold Out” in Game 4, though, or all of our eyes will suffer. (This post’s main image gives you a small glimpse of that eye-straining unified color experiment, which I called the NHL’s answer to Boise State’s horrid blue field.)

This might be Alex Ovechkin’s most impressive goal scoring season yet

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It is the middle of December and Alex Ovechkin is in a familiar spot at the top of the NHL’s goal scoring leaderboard.

After scoring in each of the Capitals’ past two games, he finds himself tied with Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot with 23 goals.

He is trying to win what would be his seventh goal scoring crown (something only Bobby Hull has done) and is on pace to top the 50-goal mark for the eighth time.

Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy (nine each) have more.

Even for Ovechkin, a player that has made a habit out of scoring 50 goals and winning goal scoring crowns, it is a standout performance for two big reasons.

The first being that he is rebounding from what was (by Ovechkin’s standards) a “down” year in 2016-17 when he finished with the second lowest goal output of his career (33) and the lowest even-strength goal performance (16). Remember the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons when his goal-scoring slumped to a more human level and everyone freaked out that he was done as an elite player or goal-scorer? Same thing kind of happened a season ago, even if to a lesser extent. He rebounded then, and he is rebounding now.

The second is that he is defying age and not only besting the rest of the league when it comes to scoring goals, but also father time.

So far this season Ovechkin has already topped his even-strength goal total from a season ago (17 as of Monday) and is on a pace to score 55 goals.

[Is Alex Ovechkin clutch?]

The second number is the big one because if he is able to maintain that pace (do you want to bet against him maintaining it? I don’t) it would be a pretty historic performance for no other reason than the fact almost nobody scores goals at this level at this age.

Ovechkin turned 32 years old just before the start of the 2017-18 season and is still the most dominant goal scorer in the league.

This is almost unheard of in an era of the NHL.

A few things to consider, just for historical context here

• Only four players in league history have scored at least 50 goals in a season in their age 32 season or older. John Bucyk (51) did it during the 1970-71 season at age 35. Bobby Hull (51) did it during the 1971-72 season at age 33. Phil Esposito (61)  did it during the 1974-75 season at age 32. Jaromir Jagr (54) did it during the 2005-06 season at age 33. That is it. Esposito is the only one to score at least 55.

• Going back to the start of the league (1917-18) the average age of the NHL’s goal-scoring leaders in each season is 26.1. That number lines up with when players typically hit their peak performance as goal scorers (usuallybetween the ages of 22 and 26). Ovechkin is currently on a pace to do it (or at least share it) at age 32.

• If he is able to win the goal-scoring crown this season he would be just the eighth player in league history to lead the league (or share the lead) in goal scoring at age 32 or older. Only one of them has done it in the post-Original Six era. The other six: Cy Denney did it at age 32 during the 1923-24 season. Bill Cook did it at ages 35 and 36 during the 1931-32 and 1932-33 seasons. Maurice Richard did it at ages 32 and 33 during the 1953-54 and 1954-55 seasons. Gordie Howe did it at age 34 during the 1962-63 season. Esposito did it during the 1974-75 season.

• Aside from potentially leading the league at an age when most players do not accomplish that, let’s also not lose sight of the fact he is currently on pace for the third best goal scoring season of his career. Let’s just, for comparisons sake, look at the top-10 goal scorers in league history and how old they were during the top-three goal-scoring seasons in their careers.

Wayne Gretzky: 21, 23, 24
Gordie Howe: 24, 23, 28
Jaromir Jagr: 23, 33, 28
Brett Hull: 26, 25, 27
Marcell Dione: 27, 29, 31
Phil Esposito: 28, 31, 29
Mike Gartner: 25, 31, 21
Mark Messier: 21, 22, 35
Steve Yzerman: 23, 24, 27
Mario Lemieux: 23, 22, 27

There are only five seasons out of that group where one of them was over the age of 30, and only two (Jaromir Jagr at 33 and Mark Messier at 35) where they were over the age of 32.

Obviously a lot of this for this season is based on projections.

He would not only have to remain healthy (something that has not been an issue for him in his career) but also maintain his current pace to make the history he is chasing here. Obviously we can not project injuries, but as long as he stays healthy this season there is no reason to believe that he can not maintain the pace he is currently on. His shots per game numbers have increased by more than a full shot per game versus a year ago. His shooting percentage has rebounded a little. He is scoring more regularly during even-strength play. Put it all together and you have one of the NHL’s all-time greatest goal-scorers putting together one of his most impressive seasons yet.

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.

Szabados backstops Canada’s women to 2-1 OT win vs U.S.

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Goaltender Shannon Szabados says the 2-1 overtime win Sunday against the United States ranks high on her list.

The 31-year-old made 34 saves in her hometown for the national women’s hockey team. Jennifer Wakefield scored the winner on a loose puck in the crease with 27 seconds remaining in overtime.

Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored a power-play goal with 2:45 remaining in the first period. Hilary Knight tied it for the U.S. with 5:58 left in the second on an assist from Kendall Coyne.

Szabados was the goalie for Olympic gold-medal victories against the U.S. in 2010 and 2014. She held Canada in the game on Sunday when her team was outshot 25-10 over the second and third periods.

”This is probably for sure in my top five,” said Szabados, who estimated she had about 300 friends and family in the stands. ”I feel like I’ve played in some pretty big games. This was pretty incredible.”

Maddie Rooney had 24 saves in the loss at the Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers, where the announced attendance was just short of a sellout at 17,468. It’s also shy of the record for a women’s hockey game set in Ottawa at 18,023 in 2013.

”We’re a highly skilled team and we need to make sure that we go out and play fast,” said U.S. coach Robb Stauber, whose team was outshot 5-2 in the first period. ”The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February.”

Canada wrapped up their six-game exhibition series with a 5-1 record against the Americans. The rivals won’t meet again until their pool game Feb. 15 at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

”These are great games for us to tune up against each other,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. ”Obviously, it’s the best competition playing against them, we feel.”

How much the results in the pre-Olympic series will matter in February is debatable. Canada lost four in a row to the U.S. in exhibitions before earning gold in overtime at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Canada opens defense of its gold on Feb. 11 against Russia, which recently had six players banned by the International Olympic Committee for doping violations and had its sixth-place result in 2014 stripped.

The Americans won the inaugural women’s hockey event at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The Canadians have won four straight gold medals since then, with the U.S teams finishing with three silver and a bronze.

The 23-player U.S. roster will be announced on Jan. 1.

Fight Video: Austrian League players drop the gloves before intermission interview

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Here’s something you don’t see every day.

A pair of Canadian players playing in the Austrian league dropped the gloves on Sunday. Okay, that’s not the crazy part. The timing of the fight is what makes this moment unique.

Right before the start of an intermission interview with Zagreb Medvescak’s Tom Zanoski, Chris DeSousa of Bolzano HC decided to crash the party.

Both players delivered a few shoves before the situation escalated in the hallway of the rink they were playing in. Eventually, players, staff and security intervened.

Both players received game-misconducts for the incident, while six other players received two-minute roughing penalties.

Stick-tap Aivis Kalnins

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.

Fantasy Adds & Drops: Flyin’ Fiala

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Every week, this column will aim to help guide you through the rough waters of your fantasy league’s waiver wire. We’ll tell you which players that are owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues you should consider picking up.

We’ll also try to help you cut ties with guys that don’t need to be owned right now.

If you have any specific fantasy hockey questions, feel free to write me an e-mail at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Here we go:

Adds:

Tyler Myers-D- Winnipeg Jets (49 percent)

Myers is right on the cusp of being owned in half of Yahoo’s leagues, but he technically still qualifies for the list. After missing most of last season, Myers has been solid for the Jets in 2017-18. He’s on pace to hit the double-digit mark in goals and he’s nearly on pace to score 40 points. Myers has also seen his ice time increase over the last couple of weeks.

Alex Stalock-G- Minnesota Wild (39 percent)

Finding a goalie on the waiver wire isn’t easy at this time of year, but the injury to Devan Dubnyk has made Stalock an intriguing fantasy addition. Dubnyk is considered “week-to-week” for now, so you know that Stalock will have a decent chance of making an impact on your lineup. He’s a solid short-term add.

J.T. Miller-C/LW/RW-New York Rangers (39 percent)

Miller has enjoyed a very successful run of late, as he’s picked up at least one point in nine of his last 12 contests. The Rangers forward has also scored in each of his team’s last two games. He has six goals on and 24 points in 33 games, which puts him on pace to score 60 points in 2017-18. The fact that he’s eligible to play all three forward positions in Yahoo leagues makes him even more of an interesting pick up.

[More Fantasy: RotoWorld’s Waiver Wired column]

Kevin Fiala-LW/RW- Nashville Predators (36 percent)

Fiala’s post-season came to an end prematurely last spring, as he fractured his left femur. After picking up just two points in his first eight games of this season, he’s really started producing of late. The Preds forward is currently riding a seven-game point streak. The 21-year-old is now on pace to score 60 points in 2017-18. He’s definitely worthy of an add in a good chunk of fantasy leagues.

Jakob Silfverberg-LW/RW- Anaheim Ducks (35 percent)

The Ducks forward missed five games because of an upper-body injury earlier this month, but he’s scored twice in three games since being back. Silfverberg got off to a slow start this year, but his team needs him to step up because of all the injuries they’ve gone through. Expect him to get a good amount of ice time going forward.

Drops:

Brent Seabrook-D- Chicago Blackhawks (61 percent)

It might be time for us to admit that Seabrook’s better days are behind him. The 32-year-old has scored one goal all season and he has just four assists in his last 14 games. Depending on the categories you’re playing, it could make plenty of sense to drop Seabrook for Myers.

[Check out the RotoWorld Hockey Podcast]

Anthony Mantha-LW/RW- Detroit Red Wings (54 percent)

It’s still a little too early to drop Mantha, but he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on. Even though he’s still on pace to surpass the 30-goal mark, Mantha hasn’t registered a point in six straight games. He also appears to be playing fewer minutes than he was earlier in the season.

Nino Niederreiter-LW/RW- Minnesota Wild (52 percent)

Niederreiter’s on pace to score a solid 28 goals this season, but his fantasy owners certainly don’t appreciate his recent stretch of one goal in 11 games. What’s even more concerning, is that he isn’t even shooting the puck as much lately. In his last three games, the Wild winger has just two shots on goal.

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.