Mike Smith is the NHL’s First Star of the Week

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After backstopping the Coyotes to their first-ever division title, Mike Smith has been named the NHL’s first star for the final week of the regular season.

Smith started his week in style with a shutout win over the Blue Jackets, stopping all 54 shots faced to set an NHL record for most saves in a shutout performance. That also extended his shutout streak, which came to an end against the Blues on Friday in a 4-1 Coyotes win. Undeterred, Smith bounced back to stop 23 of 24 shots against Minnesota in the season finale — all told, he’s now stopped 188 of his last 190 shots faced.

“He’s embraced the No. 1 goaltender role with our team and he’s played excellent,” coach Dave Tippett said. “He had a few games there where he was basically willing us into the playoffs. His game is top-notch right now. Hopefully it goes into the playoffs and that continues.”

Second star went to Tampa Bay sniper Steve Stamkos, who on Saturday became just the 20th player in NHL history to hit the 60-goal plateau. He scored two in the final 1:03 of win over Washington, including the game-winner, then notched single goals against both Toronto and Winnipeg to reach the magic mark.

Third star went to Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. The Penguins captain had three multi-point efforts in four games last week and scored the game-winning goals against both the Bruins and the Flyers. In just 22 games this season, Crosby finished with 8 goals and 37 points. Six of those goals came in his last nine games.

Brady Tkachuk on life at BU, 2018 NHL Draft, growing up with hockey (PHT Q&A)

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It was a pretty festive Thanksgiving for Brady Tkachuk, one of the top prospects in the 2018 NHL draft class. The Boston University forward was surrounded by hockey as his family joined their cousins, the Fitzgerald’s and Hayes’s, for a great turkey day.

Growing up with relatives that have played and currently play in the NHL has been a big benefit for the 18-year-old Tkachuk, who’s an early favorite to be selected in the top five picks next June. You can bet that while there was football on television and turkey on the table Thursday, plenty of hockey talk was going on.

“If I can absorb that from everybody, I would be really happy,” Tkachuk told PHT this week. “It’s kind of awesome because it’s an extra tool I get to use. I get to talk to people that have been through it. It’s definitely awesome to have.”

Tkachuk and his Terrier squad are off to a slow start (6-7-1) to the NCAA season and after winning two of their last three, they head to Madison Square Garden Saturday night for a “Red Hot Hockey” matchup against Cornell.

We spoke to Tkachuk about his time so far at BU, preparing for this season and beyond, and one day playing against his brother in the NHL.

Enjoy.

Q. How’s life at BU been treating you so far?

TKACHUK: “It’s been awesome. I got here in early July for some summer classes just to get used to the city feel and started working out here. But it’s been nothing but an awesome experience getting to meet a new group of guys in September. We’ve got a tight group. It’s been a lot of fun.”

How would you rate your start to the season so far?

“It’s been good. I wish we would have been playing a little bit better right now, but it’s been good. Team’s starting to really pick up past couple of weekends so it’s going to be an exciting couple of weeks ahead of us.”

You mentioned it’s been a tough start for team. Can you diagnose what’s behind the slow start?

“Not really, it’s just kind of about the bounces, but recently in the last couple of weekends we’ve been really playing as a team and as a unit. We’ve been keeping things simple.”

Your dad went to BU. Matt went the junior route. Why did you choose BU and feel the NCAA would be best for your development?

“They’re both great options but I chose BU because it was the best place for me to develop. It’s playing against men [and] the NHL’s full of men so I try to work on my skills here. We’ve got a great coaching staff, a great facility, so it was the best choice for me.”

There’s a lot of draft hype around you and where you might get selected in June. When those rankings come out do you pay any attention to them?

“Yeah, I see them on Twitter, but I try not to look too deep at them. I try to focus on everyday, try to get better. It’s still a ways away, so if I could just focus on becoming better everyday I’ll be happy about that.”

What are the biggest things you worked on in the off-season heading into this year?

“Definitely working on improving my skills and strength. I think that’s really important for everybody, especially myself, because you can never be satisfied with just being yourself. I always want to be better and try to get better every day. So if I can improve one part of my game it’ll just be the little things like tighter stick-handling. If I can do that, I’ll be happy.”

Your dad was one the game’s great power forwards. What kind of things has he told you about developing that strength?

“Just being around the net. Not a lot of guys like to go to the dirty areas. If I can make plays in there I can be successful. I kind of pride myself being around the net, tipping pucks, making plays in tight and try and give and go for my teammates.”

And what kind of advice has your dad and brother given you as you prepare to take this next step in your hockey career?

“Every time I talk to my dad he gives me two rules: compete everyday and be a good teammate. I try to take that and try to work my hardest to get better and work to help my teammates get better and be there to support the guys. My brother has taught me to be a professional every day — eat like one, work like one and treat your body like one and just be focused for everything I do.”

What do you think about Matt’s on-going feud with Drew Doughty?

“I think it’s kind of funny. It’s funny to see because it’s usually me and him going at it, so now seeing him go at it with another guy, it’s funny. They’re both obviously really good hockey players, so I just watch and see it on Twitter and everybody comes up to me the next day and is like, ‘did you see your brother?’”

Finally, the Benn brothers got into it on Tuesday night during their game. Are you looking forward to that day when it’s you and Matt going at it on the ice?

“Yeah, that would be a dream. I think my mom, too, especially would be really happy to see both of us on the same ice together. That’s definitely a big goal of mine and that would be awesome to accomplish our dreams.”

MORE PHT Q&A’s:
Rick Tocchet on Coyotes’ struggles, Clayton Keller, staying patient
Tyler Toffoli on Kings’ coaching change, celebrity encounters
Brian Gionta on NHL future, representing USA Hockey again
Paul Bissonnette on personality in hockey, transitioning to radio

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: On Blake Wheeler being an underrated superstar

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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.

–Former NHL defenseman Dennis Wideman has been named an assistant coach with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. (KitchenerRangers.com)

Nazem Kadri apologized for hitting a penalty box official in the face with a stick. He said he apologized to the official a lot. (TSN.ca)

–Blackhawks forward John Hayden was fined for high-sticking J.T. Brown during Wednesday night’s game against the Lightning. (NHL.com)

–The Columbus Blue Jackets have put together a decent amount of wins, but scoring goals hasn’t been easy for them. (Columbus Dispatch)

–Houston has been rumored to be in the mix for an NHL team lately. That talk has opened up discussions about the Calgary Flames and the city’s lack of desire to build a new arena for the team. Could they be on the move? (Flamesnation.ca)

–Slapperandstats.com explains how compliance buyouts and escrow came back to bite the players over the last couple of years. (Slapperandstats.com)

Blake Wheeler is one of the more underrated stars in the NHL. Since 2015-16, only Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov and Jamie Benn have put up more points than the Jets forward. (Fanragsports.com)

–With Daniel Sedin quickly approaching his 1000th point, Vancourier.com looks at which games would be perfect for him to reach the milestone in and why.  (Vancourier.com)

–Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist has created plenty of scoring chances this season, but he’s capable of finding the back of the net with a little more regularity. His coach is pleased with his effort, now he just needs to translate that into success. (Detroit News)

–Earlier this week, the Morning Skate looked at the Top 5 moments from Auston Matthews‘ first 100 NHL games. Now, The Hockey News looks at some of the incredible numbers he’s put up during that span. (The Hockey News)

–The NWHL and CWHL have no issue admitted that they are open to including everyone. “I think that we’re our own — I don’t want to say circle or bubble — but at (CWHL) events it’s 100 percent inclusive,” Boston Blades goaltender Lauren Dahm said. “It’s OK to be who you are. Hearing stories about other leagues or just in society in general where that’s not the case is eye opening.” (Sporting News)

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.

Boeser channels Bure, leads NHL rookie scoring

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Brock Boeser has no intentions of letting Clayton Keller or Mathew Barzal walk away with the Calder Trophy.

Boeser, 20, has been lights out over the past four games for the Vancouver Canucks, scoring six times during his current four-game goal-scoring streak (he also has points in five straight) as Keller’s stock has cooled.

The Arizona Coyotes 19-year-old rookie has failed to score in each of his past eight games after a blistering start that saw him score 11 times in 16 contests.

Keller’s slump has allowed Boeser to grab hold of the rookie scoring lead, which he did on Wednesday, scoring twice — the second time he’s done so in as many games — in a 5-2 rout of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He’s now one point ahead of Keller and Barzal, the latter of which is heating up as well with points in his past four games.

As you can see by the above video, Boeser’s release puts his name on a pedestal with few others in the NHL. The Athletic’s Justin Bourne wrote glowingly of Boeser’s shot ability on Wednesday.

Don’t see the Alex Ovechkin or Patrik Laine in that shot? Here’s more proof:

Boeser’s scoring prowess has him in the conversation with another talented Russian in Pavel Bure.

Bure, who won the Calder Trophy in 1992, scored 34 times for the Canucks that season. Boeser is on pace to hit the 40-goal mark, which would smash that record.

Boeser is the first rookie to score in four consecutive games this season. According to the NHL, only one rookie in Canucks franchise history has scored in more than four consecutive team games – Dennis Ververgaert had a six-game goal streak in 1973-74.

Boeser is scoring on nearly 21 percent of his shots, and while TSN’s Scott Cullen points out that that number isn’t likely to hold, his 2.8 shots per game are still very much conducive to goal scoring.

And winning. Boeser has three game-winning goals for the Canucks, who are 11-8-3 this season, two points out of first place in the Pacific Division in the Western Conference.


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


Free falling: Flyers lose sixth straight as growing pains emerge

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The Philadelphia Flyers feel they are right there, which is an interesting statement from a team that’s lost six straight and eight of their past 10.

Ah, the lies we tell ourselves in times of trouble.

The Flyers did fair better on Wednesday night in a 4-3 shootout loss against the New York Islanders, which prompted goaltender Brian Elliott to make the declaration that his team just needs to turn the corner.

It’s tough to turn when you’re falling backwards, however.

Indeed, finding positives when few appear to be in sight in a skid like the Flyers are in is a tough ask in the City of Brotherly Love. Flyers fans have had to come to terms with a few things this season.

It must pain fans to see Brayden Schenn lighting the lamp over and over again in St. Louis. Schenn was traded to the Blues in the offseason. The return looked half decent for a team looking to rebuild with a youth movement.

The Blues gave up two first-round picks for Schenn along with Jori Lehtera. And while it remains to be seen what the Flyers gain from the trade in future drafts, Lehtera has been an utter disappointment, one magnified many times more by Schenn’s incredible start.

Lehtera was a healthy scratch for Wednesday’s game, the second time in his past four games he’s watched rather than played. He’s sitting on two assists this season in 14 games. Schenn, by comparison, 10 goals and 30 points, including 19 in his past eight games.

It hasn’t been all Lehtera’s fault. Oh, no.

The Flyers penalty kill has been atrocious. They rank 28th in the league at 75 percent and have allowed seven goals in their past 13 kills over the past three games.

Andrew MacDonald can’t return soon enough, especially after one of their better penalty killers tried to behead a man last week.

Scoring could be better as well.

Claude Giroux has gone six games without a goal, this after scoring nine times in his first 16 games. Jordan Weal has just one goal in his past 18 games and was bumped to the fourth line on Wednesday. And ever since he 17 times in 64 games two years ago, Shayne Gostisbehere has only eight goals in his past 95 games and none in his past 13.

Ivan Provorov has been a godsend for the Flyers on defence (and Travis Sanheim is starting to blossom), but Gostisbehere’s offensive prowess from the backend would be a welcomed addition again.

But the real reason for the Flyers struggles this season might just be something they can’t control: youth.

The Flyers iced 11 players under 25 years of age on Wednesday night. Their top defenseman, Provorov, is 20 years old. Their second line centre, Nolan Patrick, is 19.

These are the growing pains of a team getting younger, and it could get worse yet before it gets better.


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