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The NHL’s bye week experiment is still a work in progress

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One of the big changes in the NHL this season has been the introduction of the bye week, giving every team in the league one stretch of at least five consecutive days where it plays no games.

The theory behind it was simple: The NHL season, 82 games, plus two months of playoffs if your team is good enough to keep advancing, is a grueling grind and a five-day break in the middle of the season would be a welcome break.

One of the big problems has been the fact that nearly every team that has returned from its bye week has not only lost, but hasn’t even really been competitive in its first game back as they try to shake off the rust and get back to game speed.

After all five teams returning from their bye weeks on Saturday (Montreal, Washington, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Nashville) lost their games, NHL teams are only 3-12-4 this season coming off of their bye.

The 16 teams that have lost their first games back have been outscored by a 60-23 margin (that is a minus-37 goal differential!). Eleven of those losses have been by multiple goals, including seven that have been by three or more.

Even if you include the three teams that won their first game back, NHL teams have a minus-30 goal differential (outscored 37-67) in that first game back.

This has not gone unnoticed with the NHL.

The issue was discussed during Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast with Kelly Hrudey talking about a couple of the options that have been proposed, including an extended holiday break (which NHL teams are not in favor of). One of the other ideas mentioned was a suggestion by Calgary Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy where the each conference takes its bye week at the same time, and when they return from that bye week they only play teams from that conference so nobody has a competitive advantage over the other team.

But while the record of teams coming back from the bye week has been the key talking point, the other unintended consequence that seems to slip under the radar is what that bye week in the middle of the season does to the rest of the schedule.

If your 82-game season is going to cover the same amount of time on the calendar, and you are giving teams an entire week off in the middle of the season, it is going to condense everything else the rest of the way. It is going to force teams to play more back-to-backs, have more weeks where they play three games in four nights, and add to the wear and tear at other times during the season. Making matters worse this season was the World Cup of Hockey that preceded the season, pushing the start date back an additional week later than it normally is.

Several NHL coaches have expressed some frustration with this, not only with what it does to the schedule itself and for player safety, but also for the way it has cut into practice time. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News wrote about the subject this week, quoting Bruce Boudreau of the Minnesota Wild at the All-Star game saying that he has never had fewer practices in the league as a head coach because, “you can’t kill the guys, especially your best players.”

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was even more direct.

“I think it’s 100 percent wrong for player safety,” Babcock said, via Harrington. “You’ve got so many games in such a short period of time and you’re jamming in more. To me, the more days rest you can have by not playing back-to-backs and jamming it in, the healthier you have a chance to be.”

Given the amount of attention this current set up has received, it seems like a strong bet that the NHL is going to at least look at the way the bye week is set up and how it is utilized next season and beyond.

The Buzzer: Malkin paces Penguins, Vegas keeps on winning

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Player of the night: Evgeni Malkin

Evgeni Malkin helped get things started for the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, and then he finished the game off with the overtime winner to send the New York Rangers to a fourth consecutive loss.

Malkin scored once, added three assists and even dropped the gloves in a 5-4 overtime victory, as the Penguins came back with a late — and crafty — third period goal from Sidney Crosby.

Talk about the Penguins being opportunistic on the winner. Off a defensive zone faceoff win for the Rangers, Ryan McDonagh made a terrible giveaway right beside his own net, giving the puck to Phil Kessel, who slipped it over to Malkin for the quick one-timer.

Highlight of the night:

There were a few candidates for this tonight. Phil Kessel once again showed off that tremendous wrist shot. Thomas Vanek decided to blast a slap shot on a breakaway, going post and in against the Senators. Nikita Kucherov had a perfect shot against Cory Schneider after previously setting up teammate Vladislav Namestnikov for a pretty goal versus the Devils. Yes, there were a few options.

But, we’ll go back to Winnipeg for this one. Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson not only protects the puck from Jacob Trouba on the breakaway, but then dekes out Steve Mason with the move to the forehand.

Factoid of the night:

The Vegas Golden Knights won again, giving them a 5-1 record to begin their inaugural season. That puts them in elite company.

Scores:

New Jersey 5, Tampa Bay 4 (SO)

San Jose 5, Montreal 2

Pittsburgh 5, New York 4 (OT)

Philadelphia 5, Florida 1

Toronto 2, Washington 0

Vancouver 3, Ottawa 0

Nashville 4, Colorado 1

Columbus 5, Winnipeg 2

Dallas 3, Arizona 1

Vegas 5, Buffalo 4 (OT)

Carolina 5, Edmonton 3

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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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Sharks send Habs to their fifth straight loss

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Make that five straight losses for the Montreal Canadiens.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and an assist on Shea Weber‘s power play blast, giving the Habs center a two-point night. That’s one of the few bright spots, as Montreal lost by a score of 5-2 to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

This was a battle of two teams struggling to start the new season, with each sitting on only one victory. For the Habs, that victory was back on Oct. 5 in their season opener against Buffalo.

Since then, however . . .

And it isn’t about to get any easier for the Habs. This was the start of a stretch that includes three games in four nights against the bruising California teams — the Sharks tonight, the Kings tomorrow, and the Ducks on Friday. It could still get worse before it gets better.

For the Sharks, who were led Tuesday by Logan Couture‘s four-point performance and Joe Pavelski‘s first goal of the season, they end their five-game home stand on a positive note after losing three of the previous four games.

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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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Wayne Simmonds leaves Flyers game for ‘precautionary reasons’ with lower-body issue

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The Philadelphia Flyers earned a 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, thanks to a four-goal outburst in the second period.

And Philly forward Wayne Simmonds earned a decision over Micheal Haley in a quick fight during that middle frame, too.

While the Flyers got the win, the news wasn’t all good with respect to Simmonds, however, as he was removed from the game for precautionary reasons because of a lower-body issue, the team announced.

Beyond that, the Flyers said they will know more about his status by either tomorrow or Thursday. That puts a bit of a damper on the win.

Not only is the 29-year-old Simmonds one of the toughest players in the league, unafraid to drop the gloves or throw big hits from time to time, but he’s an important part of Philadelphia’s offensive attack, as well. A productive member of the power play, he’s flirted with the 30-goal mark on three occasions while in Philly and reached that mark in each of the past two seasons.

And he’s done that on a contract that includes an annual cap hit of just under $4 million.

Simmonds was also off to a strong start in 2017-18 with five goals and seven points in six games.

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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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Rangers’ losing streak continues with OT defeat vs. Penguins

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The New York Rangers needed a win.

Their slow start is among the surprises early this season, as the Rangers have now lost four in a row with only one win to their record through seven games so far. They’ve had trouble scoring. Mistakes at inopportune moments have been costly.

Facing the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, the Rangers had a brutal start and a brutal finish in a 5-4 overtime loss to their Metropolitan Division foes.

Phil Kessel scored just 43 seconds into the game, utilizing that dangerous wrist shot off the rush to beat Henrik Lundqvist top corner. By the end of one period, it was 2-0 Pittsburgh.

Despite a second-period comeback, with three goals in under three minutes, and taking the lead in the third period, the Rangers couldn’t hang on and the Penguins won in overtime.

Sidney Crosby scored a crafty tying goal with only 56 seconds remaining in regulation, waiting for the Rangers defender to touch the puck negating what would’ve likely been called a hand pass on Pittsburgh before firing a no-look backhander toward the net from behind the red line. The puck deflected in off Lundqvist, helping send this one to overtime.

Evgeni Malkin capped off a four-point night with the overtime winner.

“Right now it’s a little bit challenging as far as putting a whole game together for us,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault following the game. “But this group is very accountable … and I’m very confident that if we keep doing a lot of the things we’re doing right now, we’re going to be on the right track.”

A trio of Rangers recorded their first goals of the season. That included David Desharnais, Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich, although the latter played less than 10 minutes on Tuesday, despite nearly four minutes in power play time, and of course the goal.

The Rangers host the New York Islanders on Thursday. Another loss, and one has to wonder how hot the seat may be getting under Vigneault.

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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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