PHT Report Card

PHT Midseason Report Card: Pacific Division

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Now that the All-Star break has arrived it’s time to look back at the first half of the 2017-18 NHL season. Our team-by-team report cards will look at the biggest surprises and disappointments for all 31 clubs and what their outlook is for the second half, including whether they should be a trade deadline buyer or seller.

  • Anaheim Ducks

Season Review: A fully healthy Ducks team would be a disappointment where they are: on the Western Conference playoff bubble, currently out of the top eight. How often have we seen this team at its full potential, though? Maybe the 13 games Ryan Kesler‘s been healthy for? Less? Tough not to give the Ducks a mulligan, so that’s what they get. Grade: Incomplete.

Biggest Surprise: Their goaltending. John Gibson continues his climb up the ladder of great goalies, but he’s not the only netminder helping Anaheim scrape wins together. Ryan Miller has a .929 save percentage, even better than Gibson’s .920 mark. Even Reto Berra’s been good in rare moments where he gets NHL reps. The Ducks would be waddling in the basement without their goalies.

Biggest Disappointment: No doubt, it’s been their poor health. Again, Kesler’s only been in action for 13 games. Ryan Getzlaf‘s not much luckier, playing 26 so far in 2017-18. Others have missed serious time, too. This troubling pattern may continue if Gibson’s lower-body injury costs him serious time.

Trade Deadline Strategy: The Ducks would be wise to dip their toe in the market, but they can’t go too wild, not with some much uncertainty regarding their actual chances of making the playoffs. In other words, they might be buyers, yet it would be best to go the dollar store route. Either that, or focus on additions that can be more than rentals.

Second half outlook: Anaheim can probably just see how they play over the next few weeks and make a true decision about buy, sell, or stand pat. A five-game road trip awaits their return from the break, and they play nine of their next 11 games on the road. If they thrive despite those challenges, then the Ducks could be a very dangerous team. That’s a significant if, however, considering their poor luck so far in 2017-18.

via Getty
  • Arizona Coyotes

Season Review: So, uh, maybe it wasn’t time to take the Coyotes seriously after all.

With the worst record and worst goal differential (-54) in the NHL, this has been another dire season in the desert. Grade: F.

Biggest Surprise: Gang, Max Domi has been almost as frustrating as the Coyotes’ endless arena woes.

Domi has connected on a horrendous 2.9 percent of his SOG, generating a pittance of three goals this season. His shooting percentage has dropped in each of his three seasons in the NHL, and with 21 points in 50 games, he’s not making up for it enough in other areas.

Much like with the Coyotes, the bright side is that it’s tough to imagine things getting worse in 2018-19.

Biggest Disappointment: Look, Dylan Strome might have his problems, but is it really better for him to be buried in the AHL  considering the limited scoring options in Arizona?

His AHL stats are nutty-good: 40 points in 29 games. Yes, he could be a “Quadruple A” player, so to speak, what with a mere assist in 11 NHL games this season. Are you really going to find out when he’s averaging a miniscule 12:26 TOI, though? Even if you ultimately want to trade Strome, this is far from the optimal way to make the most of the third pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. Shades of Nail Yakupov.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Sure, you want to sell, but who’s buying?

The Coyotes don’t really have a ton of veterans to move, especially if they aren’t interested in punting on Antti Raanta. You’d also expect them to be more comfortable trading a big-deal-guy like Oliver Ekman-Larsson during the offseason, too. So aside from Jason Demers (and maybe Alex Goligoski, though he seems like he could be part of the solution), there’s only so much merchandise to move.

Second Half Outlook: The Coyotes are on track to have the best draft lottery odds. If not, they’ll be in the top three.

So why not use this time to experiment? If Rick Tocchet or his assistants want to try different things, now’s the time to tinker. They might find a few things that work … and regain a little dignity in the process.

  • Calgary Flames

Season Review: The Flames are the opposite of that Godfather III line: every time you start to believe, they push you back out. After winning seven games in a row, Calgary dropped four straight. Even that wasn’t straightforward, as they grabbed a charity point in all four games. If the Flames are an emoticon, they’re a mixture of a fairly happy face and the _(ツ)_/¯. Grade: C+

Biggest Surprise: Unquestionably, Mike Smith‘s stellar play.

Now, Smith’s shown flashes of brilliance before, but injuries, inconsistency, and poor play in front of them have combined to make him seem like an uninspired choice. Especially at age 35. Instead, he’s a serious workhorse, generating the best work of his career with a .926 save percentage; Smith was an eventual All-Star, but deserved the nod from the start.

Goalies!

Biggest Disappointment: Travis Hamonic seemed like the missing piece of a would-be beautiful defensive puzzle in Calgary. Instead, it turns out that his rough 2016-17 season with the Islanders might be the new normal rather than an anomaly. Go fancy or traditional, either way, Hamonic’s stats underwhelm.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Add away.

The Flames could use supporting scoring beyond their excellent top two lines, and could use a defenseman if a useful one isn’t too expensive. The frustrating thing is that the Flames always seem to be on the verge of becoming great, yet they often slip back to good or merely OK. The West is tough, but also wide open, so maybe a move or two could push them to great in a more permanent way?

Second half outlook: The Flames have played nine more games (26) at home than on the road (17), and they’ll pay the troll toll soon. They begin a six-game road trip on Feb. 6, and the road run continues for there; from Feb. 6 to March 9, only four of their 17 games take place at home. That’s scary stuff for a team with a flimsy hold on a playoff spot right now, but maybe they really will “learn something about themselves” in the process?

  • Edmonton Oilers

Season Review: Woof.

Instead of last season’s playoff run being the start of a new era, 2017-18 makes it look like an aberration. This has just been a parade of Peter Chiarelli’s mistakes, sometimes cruelly so. Few teams could claim to be even in the realm of disappointment as Edmonton this season. Grade: F. Maybe Z?

Biggest surprise: You could forecast the Oilers regretting trading Jordan Eberle, and further regretting other moves like the Taylor Hall swap. These penalty kill numbers are just bonkers, though.

Biggest disappointment: Cam Talbot might be the NHL goalie answer to an NFL running back hitting a wall after getting too many touches. Last season, he easily topped the league with 73 games played and 2,117 shots faced (Frederik Andersen was the only other goalie who saw 2,000+), not to mention strenuous playoff work.

Whether he’s worn out or just was playing over the head, the drop has been steep. Talbot’s record is 18-17-2 with a lousy .901 save percentage. The Oilers minimal investments in a backup only compounded the problems.

Trade Deadline Strategy: There’s a post for that.

Second half outlook: In my opinion, the Oilers dug too deep of a hole for themselves for a playoff run. With that in mind, it’s another lost season for Edmonton, so the key is to set the table for 2018-19. Stop shooting yourself in the foot. Experiment with alignments involving Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, and others to see if you find something that sticks.

And cross your fingers that you infuriate the hockey world once more with a good bounce in the draft lottery, for the (checks notes) millionth time.

  • Los Angeles Kings

Season Review: If this came up at the end of 2017, the grade would be higher, but you wonder if their magic is running out. The Kings have only won three of 10 games in January, failing to get any points in those seven defeats. Still, they’re in the mix for the wild card spot, which just about any Kings fan would’ve taken coming into the season. Grade: B-.

Biggest Surprise: The instinct is to say “take your pick,” yet Dustin Brown is probably tops. Who would have thought he’d be an effective top-line winger in 2017-18? Even if you justifiably give Anze Kopitar much of the credit, it’s still a staggering development.

Biggest Disappointment: If someone told you the Kings would be battling for a playoff spot with zero goals from Jeff Carter, you’d probably need to sit down for a minute. Carter’s only played in six games this season, collecting three assists. A healthy Carter could very well make or break this season.

Trade Deadline Strategy: A lot like their buddies in Anaheim, Los Angeles might want to pilfer the bargain bin. Granted, a bolder move could be more plausible if a team would take on Marian Gaborik‘s troubling contract. (Gaborik’s been more spry than expected, but it’s still a scary deal.)

via Getty
  • San Jose Sharks

Season Review: With an aging-but-still-skilled core, this might be the new reality for the Sharks. They’re not fighting for the Presidents’ Trophy any longer. The Sharks are currently second in the Pacific, but by a slim margin. That might just be the way in San Jose, at least while core players can still make a difference. Grade: B-.

Biggest Surprise: Young supporting cast players such as Kevin Labanc, Chris Tierney, and Joonas Donskoi aren’t dominating, but they’re generating supplemental offense for a team with aging stars. They’re all over 20 points, easing some of the pressure on big guns, to at least some degree. (Also Aaron Dell has been great as a backup.)

Biggest Disappointment: Lower-level veterans are letting them down: Mikkel Boedker has 15 points in 40 games as a $4M player. Joel Ward has nine points and Jannik Hansen has zero goals and four assists. Paul Martin is in the AHL. There’s a lot of poorly spent money on this roster, and the fear is that it’s a forecast for the future.

Trade Deadline Strategy: With an aging core and quite a bit of projected trade deadline cap space according to Cap Friendly, why not roll the dice with some rentals? Joe Thornton‘s knee surgery practically demands it, unless the Sharks decide to totally punt.

(They really aren’t formatted to punt.)

Second half outlook: Despite being 38, Joe Thornton is a crucial catalyst for the Sharks, and he’s out indefinitely after knee surgery. Really, the Sharks might be wise to make their trade deadline deals early, as their hold on a playoff spot isn’t especially secure. Their February schedule is brutal on paper. The good news is that the Sharks are very much in this; the bad news is that they could easily fall out of the mix without Jumbo Joe.

  • Vancouver Canucks

Season Review: You kind of have to “grade on a curve” with these report cards, which is why the Canucks don’t fail. Every indication is that this season would be desolate, yet certain moments provide at least a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Still, the Canucks are tied for fourth-worst in the NHL. There’s still much work to do. Grade: D.

Biggest Surprise: Brock Boeser showed promise, but it was unclear if he’d stick with the team all year, let alone be a Calder Trophy frontrunner. Also, he has cool hair, looks like Thor, and just won the accuracy competition. That’s checking all the boxes.

Biggest Disappointment: Honestly, the Sedin twins really haven’t been that bad. This season stands as another reminder that they’re toward the end of the road, with twin expiring contracts only spotlighting that likely reality.

If that’s too esoteric, let’s go with Jake Virtanen‘s mediocre season.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Everything must go, aside from Boeser. Last year, the Canucks did fantastic work during the deadline. They don’t have as much to offer this time, but maybe they’d grab an extra asset or three anyway.

Second half outlook: This is a lot like the Coyotes’ situation. Travis Green’s made a solid impact already, but why not tinker with different ideas, maybe seeing if some AHL tricks translate to the NHL?

Let’s be honest. It’s also probably OK to lose a lot, which was sort of the original plan anyway.

  • Vegas Golden Knights

Season Review: It’s almost February, and it’s still shocking just how good this team is in its debut year. They even dealt with a ridiculous run of goalie injuries, so it’s not like every bounce is going their way. And it seems like they’re actually getting better; during the last 25 games, they’re tussling with the Bruins and Lightning for the best possession stats. Grade: Is an A+ enough? Maybe an S?

Biggest Surprise: Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal have been big parts of Vegas’ success, yet you can make very legitimate arguments that other players have been more integral to this incredible run. William Karlsson‘s play has been sassier than his hair flips: a team-leading 27 goals, and second-best 42 points (Jonathan Marchessault leads the way with 46 points, as if Gerard Gallant’s no-brainer Jack Adams run wasn’t already a slap in the face of the Florida Panthers).

Seriously though, that hair flip. Maybe we should have known …

Biggest Disappointment: n/a?

OK, fine, the Vadim Shipachyov situation was a letdown. His NHL potential will remain a “What if?” question, it seems.

Trade Deadline Strategy: What kind of odds would you have needed to bet that the Golden Knights would potentially be buyers at the trade deadline if you were asked in October?

Vegas management still faces some conundrums. Neal is 30 and David Perron will be 30 in May, so even though they’re productive players, the Golden Knights must mull over their futures. It would be tough to blame them for rewarding some of the key cast members during this magical run, yet if that backfires, it’s the sort of thing that can hamstring a young franchise.

On the other hand, if they sell those guys off, who knows if they’ll be anywhere near this good in 2018-19 and other recent seasons? Cap Friendly projects their current cap space at $8.4 million, so rentals could really make sense … though the Golden Knights still need to use their picks to build their prospect pool.

Do you double down or cash out while wondering if you’re ending a hot streak too soon? Tough questions ahead for GM George McPhee.

Second half outlook: Certain hot streaks probably will cool off. Fleury’s unlikely to maintain a .942 save percentage all season. Karlsson’s shooting percentage won’t stay at 26.7 percent forever. This team is increasingly legitimate, but there are red flags here and there. That said, they lead their division by a ridiculous nine standings points right now. Figuring out just how good they really are is crucial to the trade deadline and to extension decisions, but William H. Macy would need to cool them full-time to thwart a playoff berth at this point.

Previous: Atlantic Division / Metropolitan Division / Central Division

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: Penguins, Predators advance; West second round set

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2017 Stanley Cup Finalists move on

Penguins 8, Flyers 5 (Penguins win series 4-2)

Despite Evgeni Malkin missing Game 6 and Sean Couturier playing through a torn MCL, these two teams still provided plenty of fireworks including big goal totals, some controversial/nasty moments, and ultimately the end of the series. Jake Guentzel ended up scoring four consecutive goals to erase the Flyers’ lead and then give the Penguins enough of a cushion to close things out.

After beating their in-state rivals, the Penguins await another familiar foe, whether that ends up being the Blue Jackets or the Capitals. The Penguins have to breathe a sigh of relief that they avoided a Game 7, as that was far from a foregone conclusion for much of Sunday (despite the odd final score).

See for yourself:

Predators 5, Avalanche 0 (Predators win series 4-2)

While there was plenty of drama before the Penguins advanced, the Predators turned Game 6 into a formality pretty early on. Former Penguins forward Nick Bonino scored a goal and two assists, Austin Watson continued his strong postseason, and some usual suspects (Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson) put the game out of reach. Pekka Rinne only needed to make 22 saves to earn a shutout.

Read more about Nashville’s Game 6 win here.

West second round is set:

Nashville Predators [Central first seed] vs. Winnipeg Jets [Central second]

Vegas Golden Knights [Pacific first seed] vs. San Jose Sharks [Pacific third]

PHT will provide schedule and TV information when it becomes available.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins – At one point, the Flyers were up 4-2 during the second period. Patric Hornqvist made it 4-3, then Guentzel went on a dizzying tear where he scored four unanswered goals. Guentzel also grabbed an assist on that Hornqvist goal, so the 23-year-old generated four goals and one assist to help Pittsburgh advance (and thus avoid a Game 7 against Philly). He was a +5 in Game 6, too.

Guentzel’s clutch credentials continue to climb; he now has 19 goals and 34 points in just 31 career playoff games. Wow.

2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers – You could make a very strong argument that Couturier deserves the first star, but the tie goes to the runner/guy whose team won. If the regular season didn’t serve as a convincing coronation for Couturier to go from a very good player to a bonafide star, then this postseason should remove any doubt.

Generating a hat trick and two assists with your team’s season on the line is already a ridiculous accomplishment. To do so with a torn-up knee is jaw-dropping. And, hey, Couturier drew penalties, and probably should have drawn another one on what ended up being Guentzel’s game-winner:

3. Nick Bonino, Nashville Predators – Sidney Crosby deserves an honorable mention, as both Crosby and Bonino generated one-goal, two-assist games in helping their teams advance to the second round.

Bonino collected assists on the first two goals for Nashville, then he found the net for his first goal of the night/second tally of the series. This marks the first three-point game of Bonino’s postseason career, which is really something considering how much success he enjoyed with Crosby, Guentzel, and the Penguins during his two Cup runs with Pittsburgh.

Factoids

Guentzel’s night was special in many ways. Here’s one historical angle:

The Predators aren’t the only team going for their first Stanley Cup. But you already knew the Golden Knights haven’t won one yet, of course:

Monday’s games

Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET (CNBC)

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.

Predators hammer Hammond, close out Avalanche

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Andrew Hammond hamburgled a Game 5 win for the Colorado Avalanche, but the Nashville Predators ended Colorado’s Cinderella season in rancid way by a score of 5-0 on Sunday.

The Presidents’ Trophy winners flexed their muscles in Game 6, and it must be a huge relief to avoid a Game 7. That’s especially true since the scary-good Winnipeg Jets await them in the second round as a rested bunch.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Early on in Game 6, a toss-up of a goalie interference call didn’t go Nashville’s way. That ended up being a mere footnote, however, as Mattias Ekholm made it 1-0 about 16 seconds later. Ekholm’s goal ended up standing as the game-winner, though the Predators eliminated any doubt about the outcome pretty quickly on Sunday.

After channeling the magic of his “Hamburglar” run with Ottawa in 2014-15 thanks to a 44-save performance in Game 5, Hammond suffered in Game 6. The journeyman goalie might lose some sleep over some of the Predators’ goals, including a deflating 3-0 tally by Filip Forsberg.

Credit the Avalanche for making the Predators sweat overall, even if Nashville made things look pretty easy in Game 6.

It would have been prettier for Nashville to dispatch Colorado casually via a sweep or a quick five-game series, but the Predators may get some value from being tested. They also won games in different ways:

  • Nashville advanced despite a disappointing showing from its second line, with Kyle Turris (just one assist in six games) and Kevin Fiala (one goal, one assist in series) being especially quiet. That’s mostly a bad thing, but it also shows that the team can withstand a cold spell from some notable players.
  • The Predators enjoyed some strong work from supporting cast members including Austin Watson and Colton Sissons. Both players generated at least a point-per-game against the Avs, with Watson contributing four goals (including a key tally in Game 6). Nick Bonino was also fantastic in support for Nashville, generating his first three-point playoff game with a goal and two assists. Depth is a calling card for the Predators, and that came through in the first round, although the specific supporting cast standouts might surprise some.
  • Pekka Rinne experienced ups and downs, yet he seems to be heating up lately.

While the Avalanche’s season ended with a whimper in Game 6, they gave the Predators a tougher fight than many expected. There’s a lot of room to improve, but this scrappy bunch has something to build on during the summer.

That said, the Predators showed their higher gear during the last two games in particular, and Hammond could only steal one game for the Avs.

This was a solid squabble to warm Nashville up for the postseason, but the Predators will need to play at a very high level if they want to cool the Jets. After holding off the underdog Avs, the Preds must steel themselves for a heavyweight bout against Winnipeg.

It should be fun … at least for those of us who get to watch. For those on the ice, the second round is expected to feel more like the main event.

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.

Flyers’ once-deadly power play wilted against Penguins

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No doubt about it, Flyers fans have a beef about the goal that really set the stage for the Penguins to put Game 6 – and the series – out of reach on Sunday.

Perhaps Sean Couturier would have received an embellishment infraction during the exchange, but either way, it sure seemed like Kris Letang took another penalty on Couturier just moments after leaving the penalty box for a different infraction. No call was made, and just moments later, Jake Guentzel scored to push the score to 6-4.

Things got weird after that as the Penguins eliminated the Flyers via an 8-5 score in Game 6, but plenty of Philly fans probably wonder “What if?” on that goal. Flyers players seem to agree that Letang deserved a penalty.

You can debate that call and different breaking points until you’re blue in the face, but the real “What if?” question might revolve around special teams. To be specific, the Flyers’ power play really let them down in that just-expired series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Flyers were held without a power-play goal in five of the six games during this series. The lone exception was Game 2, when the Flyers went 2-for-3 in a 5-1 win.

Philly went 2-for-21 overall during the series, generating a pitiful power-play percentage of 9.5. Only the Kings and Golden Knights were less productive with the man advantage, and that was during a skin-tight four-game sweep where goals were incredibly hard to come by (that series featured 10 goals total, three fewer than the Flyers and Penguins scored in Game 6 alone).

It’s especially remarkable that the Flyers also went 0-for-13 on the power play at home during this series. With their season on the line, that unit only managed two power-play shots on goal in three opportunities in Game 6, looking especially indecisive despite also receiving a 4-on-3 opportunity.

Now, heading into this series, the Penguins were expected to hold an advantage on special teams because of what could be a historically potent PP unit of their own. Still, it’s troubling that the Flyers rarely exploited what was a far from spectacular Penguins penalty kill. Pittsburgh’s PK unit was in the bottom third of the NHL percentage-wise since February, setting the stage for two strong power plays to trade blows. That didn’t happen as much as expected, with the Flyers’ failures ending up being fatal.

A question of personnel?

If you want to point to one factor, ponder Wayne Simmonds‘ lack of involvement.

The fantastic front-of-the-net presence implied that he might be undergoing surgery soon, which probably explains both his limited usage and limited production. Simmonds failed to score a single goal during this series, finishing with two assists in six games.

(Strangely, that matches his production from his last playoff appearance in 2015-16: zero goals, two assists in six games.)

Blame it on struggles or a lack of health, but either way, the Flyers were turning to different players when a man up.

It’s no surprise to see big PP TOI numbers for Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Shayne Gostisbehere. The notable swap is Nolan Patrick, who joins those Flyers in the four minutes per game range, while Simmonds was only logging about two minutes per night.

Patrick has come a long way as his rookie season goes along, yet Simmonds is one of the NHL’s true wizards in the dirty areas right in front of the net. Simmonds has generated at least 11 power-play goals for five straight seasons with the Flyers for a reason.

Would things have been different if Simmonds was truly healthy? It’s a fair question, but you also wonder if the Flyers didn’t make enough adjustments to get their once-potent power play back on track.

***

In looking back at this series, the Flyers will certainly want to solidify their goalie situation, a seemingly eternal conundrum for this franchise.

Sometimes it comes down to getting the right players and goalies in place, something that GM Ron Hextall must wrestle with during the summer. Still, there are also questions about putting the right players in the right situations, and in many cases that comes down to coaching.

Ultimately, a lukewarm power play hurt the Flyers’ chances of trading haymakers with the prolific Penguins. Maybe it’s a mere matter of small sample sizes, yet Philly’s failings in that area should at least prompt some soul-searching over the summer.

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.

Sean Couturier played through torn MCL, still had hat trick in Game 6 loss

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Sean Couturier was the Philadelphia Flyers’ best player in Games 5 and 6 of their first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In the former, he was a beast on the penalty kill and scored the game-winning goal with a minute to play in regulation. In the latter, he had a hat trick and five total points (factoring in to every single one of the Flyers’ goals) in their 8-5 defeat. He did everything he could have possibly done to try and force a Game 7 in the series.

He did all of that while playing on a torn MCL.

Had this been the regular season that sort of injury probably would have sidelined him for at least four weeks.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Couturier revealed the nature of his injury following the loss on Sunday. He was injured in practice before Game 4 of the series when he was involved in a collision with teammate Radko Gudas. It kept him out of the lineup in what would be a 5-0 loss for the Flyers. He returned for Game 5, and even though he was obviously limited he still played an incredible game.

He was even better on Sunday.

This was a breakthrough season for Couturier as he doubled all of his previous career highs offensively, scoring 31 goals and recording 76 total points.

He is also a finalist for the Selke Trophy which is awarded to the NHL’s top defensive forward. It is the first time he is a finalist for the award.

Related: Guentzel scores 4 goals as Penguins, eliminate Flyers in Game 6

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.