New York’s third line ‘chemistry’ making a difference

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PITTSBURGH — Many teams don’t expect a lot of offense out of their third line, but the New York Rangers are happy to buck the trend.

The Rangers line centered by Derick Brassard with Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello on the wings provided two goals, including the game-winner, in New York’s 3-2 overtime win in Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“Since Christmas they’ve probably been our most consistent line,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “They’ve got real good chemistry, they read off one another and support one another well. Again tonight they were good with the puck, strong on the forecheck, and they scored two in overtime.”

Vigneault joked around, but the Rangers left no doubt they won the game. While it was Brassard’s overtime goal that ended it, it took video review to figure out it was his goal and not Pouliot’s follow up that ended the game.

“I thought it was in,” Brassard said. “The sound of the back post and the main post is different. I felt like it hit the inside of the goal. It doesn’t really matter, we got the job done after.”

The wackiness of the overtime winner aside, that line is one that’s been playing well for a while now and it’s one they feel helps make the Rangers a deeper team.

“I think it’s been like that for a little while,” Pouliot said. “I think playing with Brass and Zuccs, they’re such good playmakers. They know the game, they read the game, they see you wherever you are. It’s just a matter of chemistry. I don’t know, we’re just finding each other. We have a different role, every guy has a different role on that line and we’re really doing our job.”

“Chemistry” has been the buzzword for everyone on that line and they had success against the Penguins in the regular season as they scored six goals against them then. Chemistry came in handy again on Friday night after the Rangers blew an early 2-0 lead.

“I think we really enjoy playing with each other. We try to make a difference,” Brassard said. “I think we’re a pretty hard team to handle. We play four lines — three scoring lines, one checking line that’s really hard to handle. If we’re on our game, I think we’re pretty hard to handle. We always try to score more goals. We got scored on in the second period and we talked to each other said we have to get this back.”

It may have taken until overtime, but getting that one goal back helped give the Rangers the first step they were looking for in the series.

Flyers will host Penguins in outdoor game at Lincoln Financial Field in 2019

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The battle of Pennsylvania will take a new twist, as the NHL announced that the Philadelphia Flyers will be hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins at Lincoln Financial Field (home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles) on Feb. 23, 2019.

This will be the second time that these two teams play each other in an outdoor game. Last season, the Penguins beat the Flyers, 4-2, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“It’s always a special opportunity to take the game back to its roots and have NHL players skate outdoors,” Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse said in a release. “We competed against the Flyers outdoors at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh 2017 and look forward to completing the in-state ‘home-and-home’ series at Lincoln Financial Field in 2019. It should be a great atmosphere.”

This will be the fifth time that the Penguins are involved in an outdoor door since 2008. They won a shootout decision against Buffalo (2008), they lost a home game to Washington (2011), they lost in Chicago (2014) and they beat the Flyers earlier this year.

It’s the second time the Flyers host an outdoor game (the first one was at Citizens Bank Park baseball stadium). The game at Lincoln Financial Field will be the fourth outdoor game for the Flyers. They lost in Boston in overtime (2010), they dropped home decision to the Rangers (2012), and they had the loss to Pittsburgh last year.

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.

Is it time for the Canadiens to blow up their roster?

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The 2017-18 season isn’t even two months old, and the Montreal Canadiens already find themselves at a crossroads. Is it time for them to start rebuilding?

The Canadiens, who are 8-11-2 after three straight losses to Columbus, Arizona and Toronto, have over $7 million in cap space, but they have nowhere to use it. They already traded a blue-chip prospect in Mikhail Sergachev over the summer, and it’s not like their prospect pipeline is overflowing with quality either.

Clearly, losing Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov (for nothing) hurt this edition of the Canadiens.

The team just completed a six-game homestand  that they should have used to make up for their incredibly poor start to the year. Instead, they finished the stretch at the Bell Center with a mediocre 2-3-1 record (they barely beat Vegas and Buffalo, who were both playing their second game in two nights when they took on Montreal).

During the six-game home stretch, they managed to find the back of the net just 10 times (four of those goals came in the 5-4 loss to the Coyotes).

Up until this point, general manager Marc Bergevin has been unwilling to trade away his veterans for prospects and/or draft picks. That might be about to change, per Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos.

On Saturday’s “Headlines” segment, Kypreos mentioned that ownership and the front office will have a discussion about the direction of the team.

The one player that was singled out on the broadcast was Max Pacioretty, who has one year remaining (after this season) on his current contract.

Would the Canadiens be willing to move him? Maybe, but would they do so with the idea of a rebuild in mind? That remains to be seen.

You have to believe that Bergevin’s on thin ice. Despite being under contract until 2022, he has to be feeling the pressure right now. Montreal is a demanding hockey market, and although they have plenty of cap space, this team clearly isn’t better than it was last year.

The core is far from terrible. Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Carey Price and Jonathan Drouin are all quality hockey players, but they don’t have much depth up front and their defense might be one of the worst in the league after Weber. Jeff Petry has struggled, the contract they handed out to Karl Alzner appears to be a mistake, Jordie Benn, Joe Morrow and Brandon Davidson are all depth players, and Victor Mete is a promising 19-year-old that’s had his ice time cut lately.

When it comes to the center ice position, the Canadiens are still searching for answers. Drouin has been forced to learn on the job, which is far from ideal for a number one center. Behind him, there’s Phillip Danault and Tomas Plekanec, who are both better suited to be third liners.

In order to become one of the elite teams in the NHL, the Canadiens have to take a step back over the next couple of years. They might not have to rebuild from scratch because they do have key pieces, but the roster definitely needs a lot of work.

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.

Aho keeps rolling; Leddy splits two ‘Canes before scoring a beauty (video)

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After failing to score in the first 15 games of the season, Sebastian Aho has now found the back of the net in back-to-back-to-back-to-back games.

The Finnish forward opened the scoring less than two minutes into tonight’s game against the Isles. As if coming up with the first goal of the game wasn’t enough, Aho also picked up the primary assist  on Teuvo Teravainen‘s tally less than two minutes later, and Teravainen’s second of the game in the second period.

He now has nine points in his last three games and two periods, which is pretty remarkable for a guy that couldn’t buy one earlier on this season.

The start was less than ideal for New York, but they managed to salvage the period with an incredible goal.

You expect Islanders players like John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, or Mathew Barzal to score highlight-reel goals, but it was defenseman Nick Leddy that scored a beauty in the first period of Sunday’s game against Carolina.

With the Isles trailing 2-0 in the opening frame, Leddy grabbed a puck in the neutral zone, skated into Carolina territory, split Jaccob Slavin and Marcus Kruger and finally beat goalie Cam Ward.

It was Leddy’s fifth goal of the season, but probably the most impressive one of the bunch.

The Hurricanes currently lead 4-1 after two periods.

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.

Video: Jeremy Roenick clearly isn’t afraid of snakes

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If you live in the desert, you have to expect the unexpected. It sure doesn’t seem like Jeremy Roenick has an issue with that.

On Sunday, the NHL on NBC hockey analyst posted a video that would be horrifying for some (like me), as he caught a snake in what appears to be his garage.

Not only did Roenick just use two golf clubs to catch it, he also didn’t hesitate to grab it before launching it over a wall.

Clearly, JR is the only one in the room that wasn’t completely terrified of the snake.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Roenick has gone head-to-head with some form of wildlife. He also attempted to go after an alligator on a golf course once (top). Clearly, the gator wanted to no part of him.

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.