Get your game notes: Blackhawks at Penguins

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Pittsburgh Penguins hosting the Chicago Blackhawks at 8 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

TOP STORYLINES

• Hawks look to enter break on a roll: Chicago entered last night’s game vs. Arizona having dropped 3 of its last 4 games, but the Hawks put up 51 shots in a 6-goal outburst to beat AZ 6-1 at United Center.

• Coach Joel Quenneville split up the normal All-Star pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on defense (Keith played w/ David Rundblad, and Seabrook w/ Niklas Hjalmarsson). He was pleased with the results: “I thought we had more balance, more consistency. It made the minutes more manageable across the board.”

• The Hawks also got important performances offensively:

• Andrew Shaw broke out of a 1-goal-in-22 games skid with 2 goals last night.

• Patrick Kane scored his 200th career goal and added 2 assists; he is now t-3rd in the NHL with 51 pts.

• Jonathan Toews snapped an 11-game goal drought.

• Rookie Teuvo Teravainen scored his 2nd NHL goal and added an assist – his 1st ever multi-point game.

• Penguins heading in the wrong direction: PIT is coming off a 3-2 (OT) loss in Philly last night, and the Pens have now dropped 3 straight (0-2-1 record) and 9 of their last 13 games (4-6-3 record).

• This skid over the last month has turned a 2-pt lead in the Metro Division to a 2nd-place standing, with a much tighter race:

• PIT’s fight-filled game with PHI: Defenseman Kris Letang – the team’s leader in TOI/G and 3rd-leading scorer – was checked from behind in the 1st period last night by PHI F Zac Rinaldo. Letang left the game and did not return, while Rinaldo was given a boarding major and a game misconduct.

• There were 4 fights in the 2nd period, and 93 combined PIM in the game.

• Letang underwent a concussion test, but the results were not divulged. His status for tonight is unknown.

• Rinaldo was offered an in-person hearing by the NHL for the hit, a CBA requirement if a potential suspension is to exceed 5 games. Rinaldo said after the game: “I changed the whole game, man. Who knows what woulda happened if I didn’t do what I did?”

CHICAGO TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Patrick Kane has 9 points (3G-6A) in his last 6 games after 1 goal, 2 assists last night.

• With 51 points this season, Kane is t-3rd in the NHL in scoring, 5 points behind league-leader Jakub Voracek. The highest Kane has ever finished in the scoring race is 5th (lockout-shortened 2012-13 season).

• Kane is one of 4 players this season with 20+ goals and 20+ assists (T. Seguin, V. Tarasenko, J. Tavares).

• Jonathan Toews opened the scoring last night vs. AZ, extending his point streak to 6 games (1G-7A).

• He will be one of the two All-Star Captains this weekend, along with CBJ’s Nick Foligno.

• Career vs. PIT: 8 points (6G-2A) in 6 career games.

• Corey Crawford got the night off vs. AZ, and is likely starting tonight. He has lost two straight starts (8 goals against), and has played below his normal standard since injuring his foot at a concert at the start of December.

PITTSBURGH TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Chris Kunitz scored shorthanded last night for his 500th career point.

• Kunitz career vs. CHI: 14 points (7G-7A) in 18 career games

• Evgeni Malkin had an assist last night, and now has 10 points (3G-7A) in last 8 games.\

• Sidney Crosby saw his 4-game point streak snapped last night, but he has 8 points (4G-4A), in his last 5 games.

• David Perron also had his 3-game point streak snapped last night, but he has 7 points (5G-2A) in 7 games with the team since being traded from EDM.

• Marc-Andre Fleury was given the night off last night. In his last action, he was pulled from the Penguins 5-2 loss vs. NYR on Sunday early in the 2nd period after allowing 4 goals on 17 shots.

• Fleury’s slump mirrors that of the team; since Dec. 22, he has won just 3 of 11 starts.

• Even though Fleury is on pace for over 65 starts, coach Mike Johnston denied that fatigue or overuse was a serious cause for his All-Star goaltender’s dip in performance: “It hasn’t been a concern for me. I watch him in practice and I watch him in games. Our games have been fairly spread out. There was a string there at Christmas where we had a lot and [backup Thomas Greiss] was out with the mumps. We probably played [Fleury] just a touch more, maybe one game more than we would have at that time.”

• Fleury is still on pace for a career year statistically, and has played especially well this season against the Western Conference in those 8 starts (7-1-0 record, 1.60 GAA, .947 SV%, 3 SO).

Coyotes win again, end Maple Leafs’ run at six games

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Break up the Arizona Coyotes.

After a downright depressing start to a season that opened with some hope, the Coyotes are at least gaining some self-respect, if not some respect around the NHL. That continued on Monday as the Coyotes extended their winning streak to three games.

Remarkably, that 4-1 win came against the Toronto Maple Leafs, ending the Buds’ own run at six games.

That 4-1 margin greatly exaggerates the difference between the two teams, however. This one came down to the wire, especially as a would be 2-2 goal was disallowed. The Coyotes added insurance goals late with two empty-netters.

Instead of being lopsided, the game came down to players who were expected to be difference-makers actually making a difference.

[During their darker days, this post explained that they seemed better than their record indicated]

It hasn’t been the easiest start for hidden-gem-star Oliver Ekman-Larsson, so he must have been especially happy to score what eventually stood as the game-winner:

Antti Raanta also had himself quite a game, stopping 27 out of 28 shots as his winning streak is also at three games. Injuries and other issues plagued him to start his debut season with Arizona, but now it looks a lot more like things are going as originally planned.

Heading into a Canadian road trip that began with a 4-1 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg, this sure seemed like it would be a dreadful turn for the already-dreadful ‘Yotes. Instead, they’ve rattled off three straight wins: 5-4 at Montreal, 3-2 in OT at Ottawa, and now tonight’s victory in Toronto. You may note that two of those wins came in regulation, too.

Honestly, you can pull things back and realize that the Coyotes have been scrappy in a month of November that seemed fated to doom them.

(If this team was still the Phoenix Coyotes instead of the Arizona Coyotes, you’d probably see a lot of “rising from the ashes”-type headlines. But alas.)

They began the month winning one and losing one. Starting on Nov. 6, they went on a stretch where they played seven of eight games on the road (a stretch that ended today in Toronto). They lost the first five games of that run, but they managed to get “loser points” in two of those defeats.

Despite a tough schedule on paper, and after going a ludicrous 1-11-1 in October, the Coyotes are now 4-4-2 in November, with seven road games versus three home tilts. Maybe they were inspired by a traveling band of fans?

Now, none of that makes you think that this team is going to set the world on fire. Instead, it indicates that there’s some fight left in this squad, and maybe a nod to Rick Tocchet keeping spirits reasonably high even as things looked especially grim.

With Raanta seemingly healthy, “OEL” back on his game, and Clayton Keller continuing to tear the league up as a rookie (two more assists tonight), the Coyotes might be building some confidence, even if they can’t go too far with that at 5-15-3.

Still, they need only to look at the team they narrowly defeated in Toronto and realize that, with the right players and decision-makers, a quick turnaround is actually quite plausible.

For now, they’ll settle for a resoundingly successful road trip.

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.

Gaudreau, Monahan, Flames too much for Capitals

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When you talk about the best lines in the NHL, don’t sleep on the trio Johnny Gaudreau is leading for the Calgary Flames.

With his 10th goal of the season coming early in a Flames – Washington Capitals game that is ongoing, Gaudreau collected his 30th point of 2017-18. As of this writing, only two other players have hit that mark so far: Steven Stamkos (35 points) and Nikita Kucherov (33), the headliners of a Tampa Bay Lightning trio that’s grabbing a lot of, well, headlines.

Here’s the goal Gaudreau scored against the Caps, keeping in mind that he has plenty of time to add to his lofty totals:

To an extent, it feels like Gaudreau’s fantastic work has been sneaking under the radar, at least compared to the likes of Stamkos – Kucherov. Then again, maybe some of it has to do with the fact that his hot streak is at least somewhat concentrated in the last few weeks?

Gaudreau, no doubt, is the catalyst. His playmaking ability is often spellbinding, and he’s well beyond questions about being a flash in the pan at this point in his career. The 24-year-old came into tonight’s game with 233 points in 251 career regular-season games; he’s scored more than the likes of Joe Pavelski and Evgeni Malkin since becoming a full-time player in 2014-15, according to Hockey Reference. (He ranks 12th overall during that span.)

His linemates deserve some of the spotlight, too.

There remains a debate about how much Sean Monahan can accomplish without Gaudreau, yet the counterpoint would be to wonder if it’s really that wise to mess with such a good thing. Such an argument is especially tough to make on the heels of his first career hat trick:

While Gaudreau has eight goals and 10 assists for a whopping 18 points (and possibly counting) during a 10-game point streak, Monahan collected his 21st point of this season on the primary assist. He added a helper to that hat trick the other night, so even if he’s stopped for the rest of Monday, Monahan has five points in two games. He also generated a six-game point streak (three goals, five assists) from Oct. 27 – Nov. 9.

When people haven’t been discussing Monahan’s dependence upon Gaudreau, they’ve wondered who might be the right winger for that dynamic duo.

Micheal Ferland might spell the end of that debate.

The big 25-year-old currently has 12 points in 18 games, but he’s really been revving up his production as of late. The Flyers snapped his five-game goal streak on Nov. 18, yet he extended his point streak to six contests with an assist (5G, 3A).

Logically, Ferland makes some sense for Gaudreau – Monahan. Neither of those forwards bring a lot of beef to the table, and Ferland has also shown some signs that he possesses the ability to finish the chances they can set up. As fun as it is to watch Jaromir Jagr with those two, Ferland might end up being the best fit for them since Jiri Hudler’s better Flames days.

(Ferland didn’t get an assist on Gaudreau’s goal, so he’ll need to generate some offense as this game goes along to keep his impressive streak going.)

***

Stamkos, Kucherov, and Vladislav Namestnikov probably carry the championship belts as the best scoring line in hockey, at least right now. One of the delightful things about this relatively high-scoring start to the season is that there are plenty of contenders for that imaginary title, and Gaudreau’s group shouldn’t be shortchanged in such debates.

Update: Monahan added a goal of his own (the eventual game-winner, with a primary assist by Gaudreau) as the Flames ran away with this one by a score of 4-1. Matthew Tkachuk made his presence felt as well with two assists.

About the only bummer was that Ferland’s point streak ended.

So, Gaudreau finishes the night with 31 points on the season, including 19 during this 10-game streak. Monahan now has 22 points (with six in the last two contests).

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.

Sebastian Aho has found his scoring touch again

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There was a time just over a week ago that people were hitting the panic button on second-year Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho.

Many of these people fell into two groups:

Group No. 1 consisted of Hurricanes fans desperate for their young budding star to get going and rekindle the scoring touch he possessed last season

Group No. 2 was made up of Aho’s fantasy league owners, thousands across North America, who were growing impatient with the 20-year-old’s unproductive start to the season.

And then there was Aho himself, but he chose to stay positive despite the drought.

“I think I’ve played better and better every day, and I think the goals are coming,” Aho told The News & Observer in Raleigh at the beginning of November. “I just need to stay positive. Just relax my game. Obviously, work hard, but still when I get the chances just relax.”

The above concerns of all parties involved were genuine, of course, Hurricanes management, too, were likely chomping at the bit as they awaited the Finn’s scoring touch around the net.

Perhaps Aho just doesn’t like running with the big pack out of the gate. Slow and steady, as the old saying goes. Despite the lack of pucks behind goalies, Aho has been a strong possession player this season and his expected goal numbers are equally as good.

Aho also has his brief history in pro hockey on his side.

Indeed, Aho’s rookie season didn’t start much different. Last season, it took the Finn 13 games to score his first NHL goal, but he managed to finish the season with 24, an impressive number from a new commodity.

He was only off that pace by two games this season.

It took him 15 games (over four-and-a-half hours of ice time) to register his name and number in the goal section of the scoresheet.

It was just a matter of time, and now, he just can’t help himself.

Aho has been on a tear since that Nov. 13 coming out party where he scored his first marker and added two helpers in a dominant 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars.

After adding another goal and another apple on Sunday, Aho now has 13 of his 17 points this season in his past 10 games. He’s also the proud owner of a four-game goal-scoring run.


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

Flyers’ Radko Gudas disagrees with 10-game suspension

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Radko Gudas is just like you and I in the sense that he also expected a big suspension for slashing Mathieu Perreault of the Winnipeg Jets in the back of the neck. He was a right as the NHL Department of Player Safety announced on Sunday that he will sit for 10 games and be docked $408,536.60.

While the Philadelphia Flyers defenseman knew a suspension was coming, he didn’t think it would be as many as 10 games.

“I was surprised. I did not expect that, no,” Gudas said on Monday via Flyers TV.

All of Gudas’ previous encounters with the DoPS involved bad hits, usually to an opponents’ head. This was the first time he’ll sit due to bad stick work.

[Radko Gudas suspended 10 games]

“Before, I never used my stick in any way like that,” he said. “It was unfortunate.”

Despite the ugliness of the slash, Perreault was fine and hasn’t missed any games for the Winnipeg Jets. He was well-aware of Gudas’ rap sheet and while he said the defenseman apologized, he was weary at the thought it wasn’t intentional.

[Perreault bemoans ‘stupid’ slash]

“He apologized in the penalty box, but when you look at the replay, it looks like he did it on purpose,” Perreault said last week. “It wasn’t an accident. He’s been known for doing stuff like that, so I certainly don’t appreciate it. I’m sure the league will take care of it.”

Gudas won’t be able to return to the Flyers’ lineup until Dec. 12 and it doesn’t look like he’s going to appeal. It will be interesting to see what happens the next time he runs afoul of the NHL rulebook given this latest suspension.

“I don’t agree with it, but I accept their decision,” Gudas said. “There’s not much else I can say.”

————

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.