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Christmas Q&A: Who has been the NHL’s MVP?

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Brough: Lots of great options, but I’ll go with Devan Dubnyk. I can’t think of a single player who’s been more important to his team’s success. Dubnyk was decent last year, but he’s been spectacular this season. And I’ll admit it, I didn’t think the Wild would be all that good. I thought the Eric Staal signing was a desperation move that was unlikely to pan out, and I saw the hiring of Bruce Boudreau as a last-ditch attempt by GM Chuck Fletcher to squeeze the last bit of juice out of an aging roster. The Wild may fall back to earth in the second half, but thanks to Dubnyk, they’ve built a comfortable cushion in the standings. It would take a pretty big collapse to miss the playoffs now.

Gretz: I think at this point it has to be Connor McDavid. You can talk about Milan Lucic‘s presence in the locker room, or Adam Larsson improving the defense, or the “shake up” that came with trading a core player in Taylor Hall, but the single biggest reason the Oilers even have a chance to make the playoffs at this point is McDavid already being one of the two best players in hockey. The Oilers’ offense runs through him, and when he is not on the ice you still seem some glaring weaknesses with this team. There are not many individual non-goalies in the NHL that can have this big of an impact on their success or failure of their team. But McDavid has already proven to be one of them.

Alfieri: I’ve gotta go with Sergei Bobrovsky. Nobody expected the Columbus Blue Jackets to be competitive this year, but they’ve been fantastic for a few reasons, and the biggest is Bobrovsky. After going through a disappointing 2015-16 season, he’s bounced back in a big way. Sure, he’s had some help, but there’s no doubt that he’s the player the Jackets could least afford to lose if they’re going to make it back to the playoffs next spring. If they want to remain in the top three of the Metropolitan Division, they’ll need Bobrovsky to keep standing on his head. I think he can do it.

Tucker: McDavid. He has to be the front-runner right now, which is remarkable because he’s only 19 years old. He’s a second-year star leading the league in points. There are other candidates, as well. Without McDavid, though, I hate to think where the Oilers would be in the standings. Probably right around where they always were, before they got him. 

O’Brien: When in doubt, go with the player you’d choose in a pick-up game, and for me, that would be Sidney Crosby. His 37 points in 28 games would prorate to a blistering 108 points over 82 games; by comparison, McDavid is on pace for about 94. The time Crosby missed due to his injury can actually help his Hart argument, too, as there’s a night-and-day difference between how the Penguins play with No. 87 versus without him.

Halford: Vladimir Tarasenko, who’s right in the thick of the scoring race. I really don’t think people understand how much he’s carried the Blues this year. Tarasenko leads the team in scoring and is 15 clear of St. Louis’ No. 2 point-getter (Kevin Shattenkirk). And it’s not like the Blues are getting great goaltending or otherworldly performances from other guys, either. Has McDavid been great? Yes, but so has Leon Draisaitl. Has Crosby been great? Yes, but so have Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. Dubnyk and Bobrovsky have been terrific too, but they’ve got really good teams in front of them. Tank, meanwhile, has been a one-man army at times.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin’s blast lifts Capitals in OT, Sheary speeds by Panthers

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Player of the night: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin has already reached double digits in goals scored in this new campaign. The Capitals’ star recorded his 10th goal of the season on Friday and it counted as the overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Capitals trailed late in the third period, but T.J. Oshie scored the tying goal and Ovechkin won it on a power play less than two minutes into the extra period, as he deployed that famous one-timer slap shot from his off-wing. This time, Petr Mrazek was victimized by the wicked slapper.

Ovechkin is now only two goals behind the entire Montreal Canadiens team — in the same amount of games.

Highlight of the night:

What a weapon speed is in today’s National Hockey League. Conor Sheary illustrated that once again, as he saw a little bit of room down the left side and flew around Alex Petrovic before making a move to the backhand on James Reimer. That goal counted as the eventual winner, as the Penguins defeated the Panthers 4-3. Earlier in the third period, Sheary and Roberto Luongo came together near the Florida net, causing Luongo’s right hand to get caught against the post, injuring the Panthers’ netminder.

Factoid of the night:

It was a milestone night in Winnipeg for Blake Wheeler and coach Paul Maurice.

Scores:

Vancouver 4, Buffalo 2

San Jose 3, New Jersey 0

Washington 4, Detroit 3 (OT)

Pittsburgh 4, Florida 3

Winnipeg 4, Minnesota 3

Anaheim 6, Montreal 2

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Video: Price takes out his frustration, as the Habs were crushed again

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It’s gone from bad, to worse, to an absolute nightmare for the Montreal Canadiens.

A three-game trip through California is never fun for opposing teams, but this was misery for the Habs. They were outscored a combined 16-5 in three games against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, with few, if any positives beyond the second period in a 6-2 loss in Anaheim on Friday.

Montreal hasn’t won since its season opener on Oct. 5, and is now on a seven-game losing skid, unable to generate much offensively with a league worst 10 goals scored through seven games before tonight, while giving up plenty of goals at the other end.

That is a recipe for disaster and even though it’s still early in the season, this has to be a major concern for coach Claude Julien and, in particular, general manager Marc Bergevin.

Read more: Is there a trade to be made between the Penguins and Canadiens?

Down by three after the first period, Montreal had 30 shots on goal during the middle frame and managed to trim Anaheim’s lead down to one heading into the third period. And then, just when it seemed like maybe they were on a path toward an inspirational comeback on the road, it all fell apart.

Three straight goals for Anaheim, with journeyman forward Derek Grant scoring the first two goals of his NHL career — in game No. 93.

As you can probably tell from the clip below, Carey Price was visibly irritated, as he whacked his goalie stick against the post after the sixth Anaheim goal.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Canucks defeat the Sabres, as the losing continues in Buffalo

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The Buffalo Sabres remain stuck on just a single win to begin the season. Jack Eichel is sick of losing, but the losing continues.

Returning home from a four-game road trip out west, the Sabres had an opportunity ahead of them to get back into the win column. The Vancouver Canucks, hardly a powerhouse in any way, were in town. They had played — and lost — the night before in Boston. And then the Sabres went out and were thoroughly outplayed in a 4-2 loss that, one could argue, flattered the hosts.

They weren’t able to take advantage of an early lead after Justin Bailey was allowed access to the net off the rush. They couldn’t hold the lead after Eichel dangled Ben Hutton and then scored on a shot Jacob Markstrom should’ve stopped. They gave up yet another short-handed goal, putting that number at six for the Sabres just eight games into the season.

Instead, Buffalo spent most of the night in its own end, giving up 37 shots through two periods. Hard to pin this, in any way, on goalie Chad Johnson.

“First of all, I thought we didn’t defend well and close quick enough in our defensive zone. We were a little bit slow there tonight. We need to be more aggressive and on the puck,” said head coach Phil Housley after the game.

While the Sabres were badly outplayed, one of the deciding moments in this game was a controversial video review in the second period. Vancouver took the lead on a goal from Daniel Sedin, although Housley challenged for a potential offside after it looked like Jake Virtanen didn’t have control of the puck as he entered the zone.

The linesmen looked over the play for a lengthy review before officials came to the conclusion that Virtanen did have control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line. The goal stood and the Canucks controlled the remainder of the game.

“I disagree with the call, totally,” said Housley. “In my opinion, he knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession.

“But I call that 10 out of 10 times offside and I would continue to challenge that again.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Roberto Luongo leaves game with apparent injury, as Panthers fall to Penguins

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The Florida Panthers lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Making matters worse was the fact their goalie Roberto Luongo left the game in the third period with an apparent hand injury.

The injury occurred after a collision in the crease with Penguins forward Conor Sheary.

Luongo immediately went down to the ice in pain. A replay from above the net showed Luongo’s right hand getting caught in an awkward position against the post after coming into contact with Sheary as he cut through in front of the crease in pursuit of the puck.

The injury forced James Reimer off the bench and into the game with the Panthers trailing by a goal. MacKenzie Weegar tied the game for Florida before Sheary scored the eventual winner about eight minutes later, on a night when the Penguins fired 48 shots on the two Panthers goalies.

Luongo gave up three goals on 36 shots before leaving the game. The Panthers now head out on the road. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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