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Christmas Q&A: Why is it going to be a great finish to the regular season?

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Gretz: The new generation of young talent that is hitting the NHL. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have been at the top of the league for a decade, and now we are starting to see the next wave coming through, and it is an impressive bunch. Will Connor McDavid be able to hold off Crosby in the Art Ross race? Then you get to the rookie class. Last year’s group with McDavid, Jack Eichel, Shayne Gostisbehere, Max Domi, and Dylan Larkin was amazing, but this one almost seems to be even deeper and more impressive. Will Patrik Laine make a serious run at 50 goals as a rookie? Even 40 would be amazing. Seeing Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and that group develop in Toronto. Zach Werenski becoming a cornerstone piece for the Blue Jackets. The young talent entering the league right now is simply incredible and they are making an immediate impact.

Brough: Here’s why — let’s say all five Metropolitan juggernauts keep rolling and make the playoffs. That only leaves three spots for the Atlantic Division, right? Now, we’ll assume Montreal doesn’t collapse again, which leaves just two spots for Ottawa, Boston, Detroit, Florida, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Buffalo. So basically, whatever happens, some very noteworthy teams are going to miss the playoffs. Would Claude Julien survive a third straight miss with the Bruins? Probably not. If the Red Wings miss for the first time since 1990, might that franchise veer into a full-on rebuild? It’s possible. What if the Lightning or Panthers don’t make the cut? Because those teams had extremely high hopes heading into the season. So it’s going to be fascinating to watch. And, oh yeah, there could be some pretty notable playoff misses in the West as well. Looking at you, Dallas and Nashville.

Alfieri: Have you seen the parity in the league? There are still multiple teams that have a shot to win each division, and the chase for the wild-card spots in each conference are far from over. As the season goes on, we’ll find out just how serious teams like the Blue Jackets, Senators and Oilers are. You also have to believe that some of the teams that are underachieving like the Lightning, Panthers, Kings, Predators and Stars will make a run at some point. In terms of individual races, I’m excited to see if Connor McDavid, who turns 20 in January, will be able to take home the Art Ross Trophy at such a young age, and if Sidney Crosby can score 50 — or heck, even 60 — goals.

Tucker: Sidney Crosby leads the league in goals, with 23, and rookie Patrik Laine is only four goals behind. Can an 18-year-old freshman win the Rocket Richard Trophy? And oh yeah, Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin are lurking back there as dark-horse contenders for the goalscoring title as well. Can Connor McDavid take home the Art Ross in his second year? Crosby is nipping at his heels. Bigger picture, it feels like the torch-passing process is underway. And it sure is fun to watch.

O’Brien: The beauty of this season is that “parity” doesn’t mean “a lot of same-y, mediocre teams.” Instead, it feels like watching Michael Jordan and Larry Bird playing H-O-R-S-E. But, beyond that, there’s one factor that makes this home stretch unpredictable and unique: the specter of the expansion draft. Will we experience a wilder trade deadline as teams adjust expectations and try to avoid losing quality players for nothing to Sin City? Hopefully!

Halford: There’s potential for the most exciting trade deadline in a while. Already there are two clear-cut sellers in Arizona and Colorado, each with key UFA chips to play (Jarome Iginla, Martin Hanzal). The Avs might be looking for a bigger shakeup than that, too. And look at the teams that *might* miss! What would Detroit do as a seller? What about the Isles? You know there’ll be fierce competition among buyers, especially given how tight things are in the Metro, which could make for a terrific set of circumstances. Like Brian Burke said, the NHL is more exciting when there are more trades. I’ll take anything to avoid a repeat of last year, when I spent an hour analyzing Mikkel Boedker‘s potential impact on the Avs.

The Buzzer: Eichel beats McDavid; More Vegas gold

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Player of the Night: Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

So far in their careers, Connor McDavid comparisons haven’t been kind to Jack Eichel. To be fair, just about every other NHL player pales in comparison to McDavid, but Eichel gets it the worst because he was selected right behind McDavid in the 2015 NHL Draft.

McDavid’s enjoyed a deep playoff run and piled up some impressive hardware, yet Eichel got the best of number 97 for at least one night. As part of a 5-0 win for the Sabres against the Oilers, Eichel generated a goal and three assists.

If you haven’t noticed, Eichel’s been playing some of the best hockey even before Tuesday. With 10 points in his last five games, he’s enjoying the most productive stretch of his young career.

It was outrageous to place Buffalo’s blame on Eichel, so hopefully this torrid run at least turns down the volume on his critics.

Highlights of the Night:

We saw the nasty side of Brad Marchand with this questionable hit, but this goal was very, very nice:

This Shea Theodore outlet pass is so slick, it’s almost tough to keep your eye on it. William Karlsson scored yet again, and the Golden Knights won once again.

You may also enjoy Travis Konecny’s overtime game-winner, which you can check out here.

Factoids

The Boston Bruins’ run continues, while the Avalanche’s winning streak ended.

Vegas Golden Knights zero in on more records for expansion teams. Remarkable stuff.

From remarkably great to almost unspeakably bad: how can the Oilers’ penalty kill be this ineffective?

Some key bits from tonight

Panthers, Stars brawl.

Canadiens end Avalanche’s winning streak at 10.

Flyers edge Red Wings in OT.

Possible injury for Joe Thornton?

Goalie injuries also cause for concern.

Scores

Bruins 3, Devils 2
Penguins 3, Hurricanes 1
Canadiens 4, Avalanche 2
Flyers 3, Red Wings 2 (OT)
Blues 3, Senators 0
Lightning 4, Predators 3 (OT)
Stars 6, Panthers 1
Sabres 5, Oilers 0
Canucks 6, Kings 2
Golden Knights 6, Blue Jackets 3
Ducks 6, Rangers 3
Jets 5, Sharks 4 (OT)

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.

Fights: Stars, Panthers pile up season-high 138 penalty minutes

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When you think of the Dallas Stars against the Florida Panthers, a few things might come to mind:

  • No state income taxes, if you’re an unrestricted free agent.
  • “Non-traditional franchises.”
  • Going further on that point, arguably examples of Gary Bettman’s vision in expanding the league’s scope.

You probably don’t think “blood rivals,” but maybe Tuesday will change that. Perhaps it was triggered in part by a misunderstanding about James Reimer‘s injury, or maybe because Antoine Roussel is Antoine Roussel, yet either way, things got pretty nasty between the Stars and Panthers on Tuesday.

The two teams piled up a whopping 138 penalty minutes in this one, which is great for lovers of chaos and/or fantasy hockey owners.

According to Sportsnet’s stats, that’s the highest combined PIM for a game so far in 2017-18. Somehow Matthew Tkachuk wasn’t even involved.

Again, it was a little senseless, which admittedly is sometimes the most entertaining form of violence.

¯_(ツ)_/¯

The Stars pummeled the Panthers 6-1, by the way.

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.

Sharks’ Hertl ejected; Joe Thornton injured?

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Brad Marchand isn’t the only player who delivered a questionable hit on Tuesday, as Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks is also likely to draw the attention of the Department of Player Safety.

Hertl received a game misconduct and major penalty for boarding Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, as you can see in the video above this post’s headline.

For whatever it’s worth, Hertl, 24, hasn’t been suspended in the NHL. It seems like Kulikov suffered at least some ill effects from the hit.

Some put at least a portion of blame on Kulikov for turning his back before the check.

Is the major penalty sufficient or should Hertl sit for that hit?

Update: The Jets ended up beating the Sharks 4-3 in overtime, but the bigger concern for San Jose is that Joe Thornton might be injured. More information may not come for a while.

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.

Should Brad Marchand be suspended for elbow on Marcus Johansson?

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Much has been made of Brad Marchand cleaning up his act, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Boston Bruins forward has totally stopped blurring the line between “physical” and “illegal” play.

Marchand was everywhere in the Bruins’ 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, and that was mostly in a good way, scoring a goal and an assist, easily leading all forwards with 20:06 time on ice.

Devils fans were unhappy when Marchand wasn’t penalized for a highly questionable elbow on forward Marcus Johansson. You can watch the infraction in the video above this post. You can also see it in GIF form below.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that the Department of Player Safety is aware of the elbow, and supplemental discipline may come:

Again, many recall other incidents with Marchand, so plenty were unhappy with the situation:

What do you think? Is a suspension appropriate in this case?

More on the Bruins:How will they cope without Charlie McAvoy?

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.