NHL on NBCSN: Streaking Flyers host Blackhawks

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Philadelphia Flyers host the Chicago Blackhawks at Wells Fargo Center at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

When you consider how tight the playoff race in the Eastern Conference is, you’d probably never know how well the Flyers are playing of late.

Philly heads into Tuesday’s battle against Chicago winners of the past two games and nine of the past 12. You would think that kind of run would put some distance between them and the rest of the bunch in the Metropolitan Division but you’d be wrong. The Flyers sit in second place behind Pittsburgh just one point ahead of both the New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets and three points ahead of the Washington Capitals.

Just think of where they’d be if they hadn’t been on a roll.

Leading the way of late for the Flyers is captain Claude Giroux. Over his past seven games, Giroux has four goals and 12 points and he along with his linemate Jakub Voracek (3-6-9 over the past seven games) have turned into a solid scoring duo. Add in Wayne Simmonds’ power play scoring prowess (12 on the man advantage this season) and the Flyers offense is one to be wary of.

There’s a flipside to every coin, however, and the offense has had to be strong to help pick up Steve Mason. In his past 13 games, Mason has three shutouts (that’s good!) but also allowed 30 goals (that’s bad!).

After his hot start to the season, it’s been a little Jekyll and Hyde-ish for Mason, but more often than not the offense has picked him up. It’s a good thing to have help like that, but makes the prospect of heading into the postseason a bit daunting.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday night’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $350. Starts Tuesday at 7pm ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

The Blackhawks haven’t exactly been a house of fire lately. Since returning from Sochi, they’re 4-4-0 and while that’s OK, they’ve been jumped in the standings by both the Blues and Avalanche.

source: Getty ImagesSeeing Chicago sitting in third place in the Central Division seems weird, but it’s not like they’re in a bad place. With 92 points they’re one back of Colorado and light years ahead of the wild card (12 points to be exact). They’re basically in a battle with the Avs for home ice in the first round as the Blues are nine points ahead of them.

With that kind of setup, you can’t really blame the Blackhawks for being so blasé of late. Don’t tell Jonathan Toews that, however, as he’s got eight goals in the past seven games and has scored in two straight games. Marian Hossa’s return against Detroit on Sunday provided a lift to the offense that had just scored two goals in each of the previous three games.

It’s hard to find real faults for what the Blackhawks are doing. If nothing else, they’re still lacking a spark at center on the second line, but even with that Patrick Kane has five points in the past seven games.

Like last night’s game between the Wild and the Bruins, this one is a measuring stick for the Flyers against the Blackhawks. Winning nine of the past 12 is nice and all, but they’ll see how they really stack up against a definitive playoff team.

No suspensions, just fines for Dustin Brown, Evgeni Malkin

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At least one things seems consistent when it comes to the NHL’s fines and suspensions: Dustin Brown sure has a knack for avoiding supplemental discipline.

The hard-hitting Los Angeles Kings forward agitates and frustrates, and sometimes he hurts with polarizing hits. Yet, even with a resume full of debatable checks, Brown only has one suspension to his name.

Many expected that toll to rise to two today after an ugly looking cross-check on Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz, but that was not the case. Instead, the Department of Player Safety is only giving Brown a $10K fine.

Evgeni Malkin was also fined $5K for spearing Brown (video isn’t available at the moment, but many claim that Malkin speared Brown in the groin).

The Penguins ended up winning last night 3-1, adding to their recent upswing and extending the Kings’ losing streak to five games.

You can see the Brown incident, which drew a match penalty, in the video above this post’s headline. Brown explained his side of the story, as you can see in this post, and maybe that hearing ended up going in his favor?

“I’m going to close on him. He stumbles, toe picks. I don’t drive him into the wall or anything,” Brown said afterward via LA Kings Insider. “Also, closing on the play, at the most it’s probably a two, I think. I mean, who knows because of the protocol and all that, but it’s one of those plays where I’m going to close and he’s in an unfortunate spot.”

The bright side is that Schultz at least seems OK.

Even so, plenty of people are upset with this drawing a mere fine instead of forcing Brown to miss time, particularly in the backdrop of Andrew Cogliano seeing his ironman streak end thanks to a two-game suspension.

This isn’t just a matter of Penguins fans griping, either, as Brown tends to draw wider ire from observers in moments like these.

The Department of Player Safety is no stranger to handing out head-scratching rulings, but we’re no longer in the Brendan Shanahan days in which there would be more widespread explanations for decisions. The league seems responsive when it comes to complaints about spin-o-ramas and lengthy offside reviews, but when it comes to suspensions and fines, it seems like fans and media are still on for an uphill battle.

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.

Ryan Ellis hasn’t missed a beat for Predators

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For much of this season, people have been wondering how much higher the Nashville Predators’ ceiling might be with a healthy Ryan Ellis. Of course, we’ve seen plenty of instances in which a player comes back, but isn’t quite himself for a while, especially when a knee injury is involved.

It’s early, yet through six games, it looks like Ryan Ellis is … indeed, Ryan Ellis.

Last night’s 3-2 shootout win against the Coyotes was maybe the strongest statement so far in that regard, as Ellis scored a goal and an assist, bumping his season totals up to four points in six games.

In the process, he’s impressed his teammates and coaches, as Brooks Bratten of the team website reports.

That said, the best is yet to come, if you as head coach Peter Laviolette.

“He’s catching a moving train,” Laviolette said. “I’m sure he’d tell you he feels good. Every time we talk to him he says he feels good, but I think his game will continue to get better as he plays more and gets more ice time.”

You can see that Laviolette’s confidence is increasing in Ellis being Ellis by checking his game log. In his first three games back from injury, Ellis received 18:43 or less in time on ice. In the past three games, he’s received at least 21 minutes of ice time, with last night’s 22:33 representing a season high.

So far, Ellis’ possession stats are where you’d like to see them, another heartening sign that he can help Nashville much like he did before: on both ends of the ice.

There’s still an element of being eased into the mix, mind you. Through his first six games, Ellis began 61.6 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, a huge bump from last season’s 47.7 percent and his career average of 52.1 (via Hockey Reference).

It should be fascinating to see how Ellis’ deployment tracks through this season. If Laviolette feels like he needs to be sheltered a bit all throughout 2017-18, it might not be such a bad thing, as P.K. Subban is putting up Norris-worthy all-around numbers, Mattias Ekholm is trusty in his own zone, and Roman Josi might benefit from an offensive-minded deployment himself.

Few teams enjoy the sort of luxuries the Predators enjoy on defense, at least when Ellis is available.

Even with their top line of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, and Filip Forsberg all somewhere between banged-up and actually injured, the Predators are currently on a four-game winning streak and play five of their next six games in Nashville.

Things are looking up for this Predators team, as they’re in a strong position to take the Central Division, and just seem to get stronger as each month goes along.

If Ryan Ellis being Ryan Ellis is legit instead of being a mirage, then the rest of the NHL better beware.

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.

Nugent-Hopkins’ injury: blessing in disguise for Oilers

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In the short term, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being sidelined for five-to-six weeks with cracked ribs is awful news for the Edmonton Oilers, especially since the initial outlook was more positive.

Let’s be honest, though: only the most delusional Oilers observers really give them much of hope of salvaging the 2017-18 season. They’re basically in “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” territory by just about every measure.

So, allow me to be optimistic about the bigger picture while burying the current: RNH’s injury could be a blessing in disguise, at least if the Oilers receive the bat signal about their lost season.

This would be how it could be beneficial.

The Oilers probably won’t be able to bungle an RNH trade

Look, it’s plausible that Nugent-Hopkins could be part of a trade that helps the Oilers at some point. They can’t totally disregard that notion, not when they’ve made some cap mistakes and the solid center carries a $6 million cap hit.

That said, does anyone trust GM Peter Chiarelli with an RNH trade at this point? (We might need to hide your car keys if you do.)

It almost feels like every day or so is another slap in the face for Chiarelli, as Mathew Barzal tears it up for the Islanders and Taylor Hall is enjoying an All-Star season for the Devils. RNH being out might just save the Oilers from themselves, especially if Edmonton sees front office changes this summer. Might as well hit the “pause” button on trading actual core pieces after losing that game over and over, right?

Inflate Ryan Strome?

OK, this category might give the Oilers too much credit, but maybe they’d consider it.

It seems like Ryan Strome might be the beneficiary of RNH’s lost opportunities, particularly on the power play. As a pending RFA, there’s concern that this might actually hurt Edmonton.

What if the Oilers do a “pump and dump” with Strome, instead, driving up his value and then trading him to a contender? If Strome went on a hot streak, maybe a team would want him as a rental considering his cheap $2.5 million cap hit would be even cheaper at the deadline (he’s already down to about $1M according to Cap Friendly).

Get the memo: you’re a seller

Maybe RNH’s injury stands as that final push for the Oilers to sell at the trade deadline.

Chiarelli’s track record of player for player trades is … not great. That said, he’s done OK with smaller deals, buying low on the likes of Cam Talbot.

The Strome example might be too outside of the box, but moving an affordable, productive player like Patrick Maroon is very conceivable. Mark Letestu is another expiring contract that might bring at least moderate interest from around the NHL.

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As bad as things are for the Oilers, they don’t necessarily need to panic and blow everything up. If this eliminates the chance of RNH being moved, it might not be such a bad thing, as the franchise might as well get its ducks in a row before they make that decision.

In the meantime, they can undergo less of a rebuild and more of a spring cleaning.

With the right moves on the peripheral, they might just be glad that RNH is still around. By not dodging an injury, the Oilers may have just dodged another bullet.

After all, they keep shooting themselves in the foot.

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.

Kings’ Dustin Brown earns hearing for boarding Justin Schultz (Video)

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Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings will speak with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Friday following his game misconduct for boarding Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz.

The hit occurred midway through the third period of the Penguins’ 3-1 win Thursday night. Brown was handed a major for boarding and ejected from the game.

“I’m going to close on him. He stumbles, toe picks. I don’t drive him into the wall or anything,” Brown said afterward via LA Kings Insider. “Also, closing on the play, at the most it’s probably a two, I think. I mean, who knows because of the protocol and all that, but it’s one of those plays where I’m going to close and he’s in an unfortunate spot.”

Schultz did not return to the game but head coach Mike Sullivan said he was in the locker room afterward and it seemed like he was going to be fine.

Brown sees Schultz is on his knees by the boards and it isn’t like the Kings forward’s momentum takes him into the Penguins defender. He gets his hands raised as he cross-checks Schultz into the boards. As Jim Fox said during the broadcast, the DoPS wants players to avoid or minimize contact along the boards. This hit was completely avoidable.

“I fell, I’m facing the wall and then all of a sudden my face gets driven into the dasher there,” Schultz said via the Post-Gazette. “I don’t know why. There was plenty of time to not do that.”

The NHL has suspended Brown only once in his career, so he’s not considered a repeat offender here. Still, he’s going to be sitting for at least one game, possibly two, beginning Friday night in Anaheim.

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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.