Phil Kessel

Three (News) Stars of the Week: Kessel, Blue Jackets and Luongo


“Three (News) Stars of the Week” will run every Friday. It’s our way of acknowledging the week’s big NHL stories that gave us lots of page views, thereby increasing PHT’s attractiveness to advertisers.

source: Getty Images

Third star: Phil Kessel is playing well

Toronto’s top sniper leads the NHL with seven goals and 12 points. Not coincidentally, the Maple Leafs are 4-1-1, second in the Northeast division – a good start for a team that hasn’t experienced the playoffs since 2004. Kessel was even a big story in Toronto’s 6-2 loss Thursday night in Boston. The TD Garden faithful chanted “Thank you, Kessel” following a goal by the Bruins’ Tyler Seguin, one of the players the Bruins drafted with the three picks Toronto sent Boston for Kessel. Predictably, this caused everyone to look back on the trade and debate it all over again.

source: AP

Second star: Columbus is bad

The Blue Jackets are the NHL’s biggest early disaster. Still winless after six games following a summer that saw the club jack up the payroll by millions and millions of dollars, the team president has already been forced to give a public vote of confidence to the general manager and the coach, and the general manager has been forced to give a public vote of confidence to the coach. The fans, meanwhile, have confidence in nobody. Now veteran forward Vinny Prospal is angry at how the young Blue Jackets are playing, and things don’t get any easier tonight when Columbus takes on the undefeated Red Wings in Detroit.

source: Getty Images

First star: Roberto Luongo is a polarizing figure among Canucks fans

Tuesday night at Rogers Arena, Vancouver’s all-star goalie surrendered four third-period goals in a 4-0 loss to the Rangers. The game featured a spectacular 40-save shutout by Henrik Lundqvist at the other end of ice, a contrast in goaltending success that didn’t sit well with a handful of Canucks fans who jeered and Bronx cheered Luongo. The fans’ discontent overshadowed the actual game and the next day Luongo was asked by the rabid media how it felt to be booed on home ice. He replied that it didn’t bother him because he was used to it by now. The Canucks, it should be noted, are one of the best teams in the NHL and came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup in June. Starting goalies don’t typically get used to being booed on teams like that. Then again, all-star goalies don’t typically have as many disastrous playoff games as Luongo has had with the Canucks. Then again, hockey is a team game. Then again, when you’re being paid like Luongo’s being paid, you have to bail your team out once in a while. Then again…you get the point.

Kyle Connor expected to be healthy scratch for Jets

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Jets rookie Kyle Connor played just 10:09 in Sunday’s outdoor loss to the Oilers, and tonight in Dallas it appears he’ll be a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career.

Connor was not among the 12 Winnipeg forwards taking line rushes this morning. The 19-year-old has just one assist in his first five games as a Jet. He’s a minus-5 and has also struggled in terms of possession, as evidenced by his 38 percent Corsi.

The 17th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Connor spent one year at the University of Michigan before leaving school to turn pro. He’s eligible to be sent to the AHL this season, something the Jets are no doubt considering.

Winnipeg has a number of potential call-ups on its farm club, including Marko Dano, Quinton Howden, Andrew Copp, Nicolas Petan, and Jack Roslovic.

Babcock’s had his fill of goalie questions, thanks

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Head coach Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on prior to the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
1 Comment

Mike Babcock is aware Toronto’s goaltending hasn’t been good this season.

He’s also aware that Toronto’s goaltending hasn’t been good the last few seasons.

Thing is, he doesn’t want to talk about it.

“It’s five games in, isn’t it?” Babcock replied on Tuesday, when asked about the Leafs’ shaky netminding so far, specifically the play of Frederik Andersen. “Let’s just take a deep breath here.”

And here’s a transcript of what followed (courtesy Sportsnet)!

Reporter: The guy on Saturday night said the Leafs goaltending has been lousy this year.

Babcock: Who did?

Reporter: The guy on Saturday night — Don Cherry.

Babcock: Oh, OK. Well now that I know where I’m getting my facts from, here we go. Come on. Let’s move on. What’s next here? Holy [expletive].

Reporter: No, but seriously, it’s been an issue for this market probably since Ed Belfour left, and I’m wondering if there’s anything to that.

Babcock: But I’m not dealing with that. This is what I would tell you. We think we have a really good goaltender. At the World Cup I had three outstanding goaltenders, and they all talked about how much time it usually takes to get ready.

Our guy didn’t have that opportunity because of his injury. We’re real comfortable with him. Do we think he’s played as good as he’s capable of playing? No. Do we think he’s going to? Yes.

Babcock’s right to suggest it’s too early to start grading Andersen. First, there’s the adjustment from playing behind a good team in a small market (Anaheim) to playing behind a “growing team” in a massive, pressure-packed market like Toronto.

There’s also the additional pressure that came with Andersen’s acquisition price (a first- and second-round pick) and his subsequent contract extension (five years, $25 million).

The injury suffered playing for Denmark in Olympic qualifying was definitely a setback, as there’s no doubt some games for Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey would’ve better prepared Andersen for the season.

Still, it’s hard to look at his numbers — 1-0-3, .879 save percentage, 3.63 GAA — and not be at least a little concerned.

Unless you’re Mike Babcock, that is.

Related: The list of struggling netminders is a long one, as it’s been goals galore to start the year

Elliott gets the start in return to St. Louis

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24: Matt Stajan #18 and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames congratulate Brian Elliott #1 after a shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Flames defeated the Blachawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Brian Elliott will be in Calgary’s crease against his old team tonight in St. Louis.

Even though Elliott played last night in Chicago, it was an easy decision for Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan. Elliott had easily his best game of the season against the Blackhawks, stopping 31 of 33 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory. The 31-year-old turned away all seven Chicago shooters in the breakaway competition, helping the Flames to just their second win of the young season.

“I definitely wanted that one,” Elliott told reporters afterwards. “We haven’t been playing like we wanted to and the guys came out and had a heck of an effort.”

Elliott started 164 games for the Blues during his five years in St. Louis. Last season, he backstopped them to their first conference final since 2001. He was then traded to Calgary in June, paving the way for Jake Allen to become the full-time starter in St. Louis.

Related: The list of struggling goalies is a long one

Crosby on track to make season debut tonight

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 30: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins waits for a face-off against the 
New Jersey Devils during the third period at the Prudential Center on January 30, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
1 Comment

Yesterday, Sidney Crosby participated in a full-contact practice.

Today, it appears he’ll make his season debut when the Penguins host the Panthers tonight in Pittsburgh.

“He had a strong practice this morning,” head coach Mike Sullivan said, per the club. “Everything is pointing in the right direction. If he’s comfortable, he could play.”

Crosby has missed just six games due to the concussion he sustained during practice on Oct. 7. Given his history with concussions, if he plays tonight, it has to be considered a best-case scenario. Certainly, there had been fear he could be out much longer.

For the record, Crosby told reporters he’ll be a game-time decision.