Contrasting Crosby, McDavid heading into Penguins – Oilers

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As you can see in the video above, NBCSN’s Mike Milbury and Keith Jones discussed the similarities and differences in the games of Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers meet for the last time in 2017-18.

(Assuming, of course, that they won’t face off in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.)

This seems like a fun opportunity to delve even a little deeper. To start, check out this piece about McDavid’s potential to create new hockey fans with his blistering mix of skill and speed.

More than just speed with McDavid

Sometimes it almost seems dismissive to talk about McDavid’s speed. Here’s the thing, though: there are plenty of NHL players who can haul. Some struggle to finish despite having great wheels to varying degrees: Mason Raymond rarely made it work, and Penguins forward Carl Hagelin‘s seen peaks and valleys in his career in that regard.

With McDavid, it’s that he can do such high-skill things and make such smart decisions while baffling defensemen.

Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts for Sportsnet keyed in on this drill, and that story also discussed how Crosby has adapted his techniques during faceoffs (so it’s worth your click).

Evolving games

The fun thing about star athletes is that they rarely seem content with the skills they bring to the table early in their careers. John Tavares ranks among the stars known for revamping his game in big ways, and other sports apply, with Lebron James being a fantastic example.

To little surprise, both McDavid and Crosby show that hunger to not just be the best, but to keep pushing the bar higher.

Crosby’s work in the dot is an obvious example, yet the two centers share an interesting parallel in their leanings on the offensive end. To be specific, both might be pass-first by nature, yet each player is working on becoming more dangerous shooters.

When you look at Crosby’s early scoring stats, his assists dwarfed his goals. That was especially clear in his ridiculous sophomore season back in 2006-07: he scored 36 goals and 84 assists for 120 points in 79 games. Obviously, 36 goals is fantastic, and also a reminder of how much tougher it’s become to score even in the last decade. But it’s interesting to note, nonetheless, that his goals-assist ratio is closer to 1:1 as time has gone on.

So far, Crosby has five goals and six assists. Last year, he generated 44 goals and 45 assists. His actual shots on goal metrics remain reasonably similar from a volume perspective, so a lot of that improvement comes from Crosby working on his shooting skills.

McDavid may follow a similar path, particularly if he parallels Crosby in being surrounded by linemates he needs to carry (so Leon Draisaitl‘s presence could influence this situation). Last season, McDavid scored 30 goals and 70 assists for 100 points, generating the sort of clean numbers that seem to only show up in prognostications.

At the moment, McDavid’s numbers are amusingly similar to Crosby’s: also five goals and six assists. (McDavid’s played three fewer games than Crosby.)

Those five goals aren’t pure happenstance, either, as McDavid’s firing four shots on goal per contest. He wasn’t shy last season, but this represents a full SOG extra per contest. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues all season long.

Frankly, even if McDavid’s shot is good-but-not-great, coaches generally should be delighted when star players are assertive and decide to “call their own number.” (At least, they should in the often excessively deferential NHL.)

Struggling teams

Edmonton (3-6-1) obviously has the more pressing headaches, but Pittsburgh’s suffered some humbling losses despite an OK 7-5-1 record.

Considering their stats, the Oilers can only ask McDavid to try to maintain his level of play, and the same is reasonable with the Penguins and Crosby.

Ultimately, Crosby and McDavid need the Draisaitls, Evgeni Malkins, and other players to win the big team awards that number 87 keeps piling up and number 97 is chasing. Even so, it’s a lot of fun to compare stars like these, and should only get more thrilling as their careers progress.

If their histories are any indication, we haven’t seen all of their tricks just yet.

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.

The Buzzer: Tavares gets back to scoring ways

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Players of the Night: 

Jonathan Bernier, Colorado Avalanche: Bernier made quite the save on Ryan Kesler, using his paddle to stop a backhand shot after sprawling across his crease in an attempt of desperation. He also stopped 33 pucks and won his sixth straight game in the process.

Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: Jones made 29 out of 30 saves in the second and third periods in a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. His 35-save effort was a nice rebound after allowing three goals on six shots and getting yanked on Saturday.

John Tavares, New York Islanders: Tavares scored a shorty in regulation on an unassisted breakaway and then the game-winner in overtime to lead the Isles past the Habs in Montreal.

Highlights of the Night:

Tyler Seguin provided some matinee magic with this overtime winner in Boston. What a goal:

Bernier made this incredible paddle save on a poor Ryan Kesler:

MISC:

Scores:

Stars 3, Bruins 2 (OT)

Avalanche 3, Ducks 1

Sharks 4, Kings 1

Islanders 5, Canadiens 4 (OT)


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

Barzal, Tavares shine as Islanders edge Canadiens 5-4 in overtime

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The scary thing about Mathew Barzal is that he may just be gaining steam.

Any time the New York Islanders play these days, it turns into Barzal Watch (in the Twitter world: #BarzalWatch). Even if the Islanders had plummeted as of late with five losses in their past six games heading into Monday, many are just tuning in to see what the dynamic rookie is going to do.

Indeed, Barzal has been lights this season, with 44 points in 44 games prior to Monday and coming off the buzz of a five-point game on Saturday — the second time he’s done that this season.

But John Tavares, who had just one goal in nine games coming into Monday, stole some of that spotlight back with a shorthanded goal in regulation and then the game-winner in overtime in a 5-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

Tavares second of the game came 1:51 into over time and after Carey Price made quite the save to stop a redirected attempt by Tavares just before the latter scored the winner.

Barzal was at it again early in the first period as the Islanders jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead.

Barzal fed Anthony Beauvillier with a nice lead pass and the latter ripped home his eighth of the season just down the road from where he grew up in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, beating Carey Price with New York’s first shot of the game.

It was Barzal’s 30th assist of the season and he followed that up with his 16th goal of the year on the Islanders just over five minutes later for the two-goal advantage. Barzal finished with three points and now has 10 in his past three games.

The Canadiens entered the game 2-0-1 in their past three games but were without Phillip Danault due to a puck to the head on Saturday and Andrew Shaw, who was injured in the same game.

Despite their recent success, things looked grim early on, with Price allowing two goals on four shots.

The Hab battled back, first by forcing a turnover in New York’s zone, allowing Jakub Jerabek to quickly find a wide open Nicolas Deslauriers out front to make it 2-1.

Another defensive breakdown by the Isles led to the tying goal as Paul Byron snatched his 12th of the year on a rebound.

Barzal grabbed his third point of the night early in the second period as the Isles restored the lead with Adam Pelech‘s first of the season at 2:37. And the Islanders led by two for the second time as John Tavares scored shorthanded 1:59 later on New York’s 10th shot.

The Canadiens, down two again, needed a second comeback and they put it together beginning with Jonathan Drouin‘s marker with 34 seconds left in the second period.

Montreal completed the comeback on the power play in the third, with Max Pacioretty scoring his 14th at 13:01.

Andrew Cogliano chokes up talking about the end of his iron-man streak

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An emotional Andrew Cogliano said having his iron-man streak ended by suspension was a “tough pill to swallow.”

Speaking to Fox Sports’ Kent French prior to the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, Cogliano choked up when asked about how tough the past 24 hours had been like for him.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow, I’m not going to lie,” Cogliano said, fighting back tears. “I’ve played hard and I’ve battled. I’m a professional in that I’ve played a long time and I’ve now missed a game.”

Cogliano was suspended Sunday for two games following an illegal check to the head of Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe in a 4-2 Ducks win on Saturday.

The ban ended the NHL’s fourth-longest games played streak at 830 games for Cogliano, who had never missed action in his 11-year NHL career before Monday.

Cogliano was a 134 games shy of Doug Jarvis’ record of 964 consecutive games played, which the Ducks forward would have reached at the start of the 2019-2020 if he remained healthy.

“First and foremost I think, I probably initiated contact too late,” Cogliano said. “I’ve been very open about that with this process, and I made a mistake at that time.

“As I think about the hit though, I watch it and I still see that my body doesn’t change through the process of it. I think my shoulders are low, my elbows are low, my knees are bent and I’m in a pretty set position. As it evolves, he tries to make a play back across my body, which ends up maybe initiating some head contact near my upper back area. That’s what I see. I think there’s no injury, he came back and played. At the end of the day from what I’ve seen, it is a situation where we closed the gap on each other a little bit.”

Despite the hit, which clearly showed Cogliano nail Kempe in the head well after the puck had left the vicinity, Cogliano was surprised about hearing he was going to have a chat with the league.

“I was told after the game from Bob [Murray] that I was going to have a hearing or have a call,” Cogliano said. “I was surprised because no one said anything after the game to me otherwise. There was no media talking about it or nothing was brought up, so I was more surprised about that. Initially, I was thinking back on it, wondering what happened and wondering if I did anything bad.

“Obviously, you never want to injure anyone on the ice. That’s a fact. I’ve played 11 years and that’s one thing that I have stood behind and I’m glad he played the rest the game. From my end, there’s zero intent to do any sort of head contact or hit a person to injure them. I think it was a situation where I admitted to initiating contact too late and I think it was something that happened that ended up being very unfortunate for me.”

Cogliano said his teammates, and at least one Ducks legend, have offered their support.

“I’m probably being too dramatic about it. I’m sorry my emotions came out for whatever reason. I have had a lot of support.” Cogliano said. “I think there has been a lot of people that have reached out and initiated that I have done something special. The more I look back on it, it’s pretty cool. I think that playing 830 games in a row, not a lot of guys can say that and I think that’s something that I will hold to my heart.

“I appreciate all the texts. [Teemu] Selanne has been a big advocate in terms of reaching out. I may be making too big a deal of it, but I think when you go through the process and think back about coming to work and playing every single game for 11 straight years, it holds some value and holds some value to a lot of the guys in the league. Like I said, this is the last way I wanted it to go out. I’m glad he wasn’t injured and I’ll take the suspension, move on and come back and help my team.”


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

WATCH LIVE: New York Islanders at Montreal Canadiens

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PROJECTED LINES

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Anders LeeJohn Tavares – Alain Quine
Anthony BeauvillierMathew BarzalJordan Eberle
Michael Dal Colle – Brock NelsonShane Prince
Jason Chimera – Tanner Fritz – Cal Clutterbuck

Nick LeddyScott Mayfield
Adam PelechSebastian Aho
Thomas HickeyRyan Pulock

Starting goalie: Thomas Greiss

PREVIEW FOR ISLANDERS-CANADIENS

MONTREAL CANADIENS
Alex GalchenyukJonathan DrouinDaniel Carr
Max PaciorettyPaul ByronCharles Hudon
Artturi LehkonenTomas PlekanecBrendan Gallagher
Nicolas DeslauriersByron Froese – Jacob De La Rose

Karl AlznerJeff Petry
Jordie BennJakub Jerabek
Victor Mete – David Schlemko

Starting goalie: Cary Price