Getty

The Buzzer: MacKinnon’s Hart push, Lundqvist stops 50

2 Comments

Players of the Night

Those are nice choices, but Wednesday provided the latest convenient reminder that Nathan MacKinnon shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle, even after missing a handful of games with injury issues.

The speedy Colorado Avalanche star helped his team win a key game in regulation against the Calgary Flames tonight. In doing so, MacKinnon scored one goal and one assist, pushing his already-career-high season points total to 71. He’s nearing his first 30-goal campaign, as this makes for his 29th. N0t bad for a forward whose shooting skill was genuinely – and honestly, fairly – questioned, eh?

MacKinnon’s 71 points come in 55 games, which translates to 1.29 points-per-game. During an 82-game season, that would translate to about 106 points. The one convenient thing about his injury is that it showed that how the Avs would operate without him (spoiler: not nearly as well).

He’s really been asserting his will lately, too. During his previous two-goal, one assist performance, he fired nine shots on goal. Tonight he generated eight. In scoring five goals and five assists for 10 points in his last five games, he’s fired 31 SOG. Dominant stuff.

  • One long-standing Ranger and one newcomer deserve consideration.

The holdover is Henrik Lundqvist, who exhaustingly made 50 saves – most in regulation – to help the Rangers with in overtime. He couldn’t hold off Brock Boeser (two goals), Bo Horvat (one goal, two assists), and the Canucks in every instance, but he was the reason why they won.

That said, Ryan Spooner is off to a tremendous start with the Rangers. After generating two assists in his debut with the Rangers, he generated three helpers on Wednesday, including an assist on the OT-clincher.

  • Solid nights in victory for Jason Pominville and Jonathan Drouin, who both notched a goal and an assist. Pominville’s goal secured an overtime upset for Buffalo over Tampa Bay.

Highlights and lowlights

Speaking of Spooner, here’s that OT-winner he set up for John Gilmour:

Jaden Schwartz to Alex Pietrangelo on what went from an insurance goal to a decisive one for the Blues:

Part of what makes the Islanders so frustrating is that they find ways to lose, even as Mathew Barzal and John Tavares do amazing things:

Johnny Gaudreau probably deserves to get more mentions in MVP talk, as well, but not for nights like Wednesday. On the bright side, he piled up PIM and provided this GIF-friendly reaction.

Then again, it’s a stealth highlight considering the fact that he’d avoided a serious injury from Sam Bennett‘s misplaced skate blade:

Factoids

Perhaps we should call them the Buffalo Spoilers?

If you have issues with Lundqvist allowing five goals but getting recognition, maybe this will help soothe such concerns:

If not, well …

Scores

Canadiens 3, Islanders 1
Sabres 2, Lightning 1 (OT)
Blues 2, Red Wings 1
Avalanche 5, Flames 2
Rangers 6, Canucks 5 (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.

Fantasy Adds & Drops: A Saad Time

Getty
1 Comment

This weekly column will aim to help you navigate through the rough waters of your fantasy league’s waiver wire. We’ll give you suggestions on which players owned in more than 50 percent of Yahoo Leagues you should pick up. We’ll also tell you which players you should consider parting ways with.

Here we go!

Adds:

Erik Haula– C/LW- Vegas Golden Knights (49 percent)

Haula is right on the cusp of being owned in half of Yahoo’s leagues, but he’s not there yet. The Golden Knights center has been flying lately, as he just saw an eight-game point streak come to an end. He currently has 20 goals and 39 points in 48 games this season, which puts him on pace to score over 30 goals and 60 points.

Nick Schmaltz– C/LW- Chicago Blackhawks (33 percent)

Schmaltz has been mentioned as a possible “add” in this column before, but he’s still owned in just under 70 percent of leagues. The ‘Hawks forward has scored in back-to-back games and he’s currently riding a three-game point streak. He’s on pace to score 61 points this season. That number might keep climbing if he keeps getting opportunities to play with Patrick Kane.

Bo Horvat– C- Vancouver Canucks (33 percent)

Like Schmaltz, this isn’t the first time Horvat has been mentioned in this column. The Canucks forward has posted four points in six games since returning from an ankle injury that sidelined him for over a month. Horvat’s offensive totals might not top Haula’s or Schmaltz’s, but he could score just as much as they do between now and the end of the season.

[More Fantasy: Rotoworld’s Waiver Wire column]

Sam Reinhart– C/LW/RW- Buffalo Sabres (23 percent)

Since being the second overall pick in 2014, Reinhart hasn’t topped 47 points. He probably won’t surpass that number this year, but there’s no reason why he can’t start producing with a little more regularity down the stretch. The 22-year-old has accumulated eight points in his last eight games, and he’s also seen his ice time increase significantly over the last three games (19:32, 18:36, 19:32). His average for the season is a shade over 16 minutes.

Kevin Labanc-LW/RW- San Jose Sharks (nine percent)

Labanc is one of those deep league recommendations. The Sharks forward has been hot of late, as he’s accumulated six points in his last five contests. With Joe Thornton on the shelf, there’s amble opportunity for some of the youngsters on the roster to step up offensively. Again, Labanc isn’t recommended in shallow leagues, but he could be a sneaky-good pickup in deeper fantasy formats.

• Bryant Rust- LW/RW-Pittsburgh Penguins (six percent)

Rust is another player worth keeping an eye on. He’s back in the Penguins lineup after missing almost a month with an upper-body injury. Rust has been skating on a line with Sidney Crosby, so that’s where his potential fantasy value will come from. He has five points in five games since his return. If he’s taken off Crosby’s line, his fantasy value will go down the drain.

Drops: 

Brandon Saad– LW- Chicago Blackhawks (67 percent)

As much as it might pain fantasy owners to admit it, Saad has been a total bust for most of the season. He got off to a hot start, but he simply hasn’t met expectations since returning to Chicago. He’s seen his ice time dip quite a bit of late, which isn’t unexpected considering he hasn’t scored in 11 games. He’s on pace to hit a respectable 21 goals, but he might not hit the 40-point mark.

Ryan Kesler– C- Anaheim Ducks (53 percent)

Kesler remains a solid two-way player, but his production simply hasn’t been there since coming back from injury. He has two goals in his last four games, but he’s also accumulated just seven points in 16 games. Picking up Schmaltz or Haula and dropping him could make sense for a lot of fantasy owners in standard leagues. Also, both Schmaltz and Haula can be slotted in multiple positions. Kesler can’t.

[Fantasy Podcast: Rotoworld Hockey’s Salute to Jagr]

Jimmy Howard– G- Detroit Red Wings (50 percent)

Howard has taken a back seat to Petr Mrazek, who has played in three straight and five of Detroit’s last six games. Mrazek even got to start two games in two nights on Friday and Saturday. That’s definitely not a good sign for Howard’s fantasy value down the stretch.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Canucks confident in GM Jim Benning’s ‘team-building mindset’

Getty Images
5 Comments

You know, it wasn’t that long ago that the Vancouver Canucks were sitting nicely in a Pacific Division playoff spot. A month ago they were seven points behind the Los Angeles Kings after a three-game winning streak. Then it all began to fall apart.

The Canucks ended December losing nine of 11 games, gaining just five points over that stretch to leave them currently tied with the Edmonton Oilers for 13th in the Western Conference. This puts general manager Jim Benning and Trevor Linden, the team’s president of hockey operations, in an interesting situation with 52 days until the NHL trade deadline.

Benning is one a few GMs around the league who does not have a contract beyond this season.  Injuries and poor goaltending have brought their pursuit of a playoff spot off the rails and put a spotlight on the pending unrestricted free agents on the roster that could net future assets for the continued youth movement.

Forward Thomas Vanek and defenseman Erik Gudbranson likely won’t be with the Canucks beyond Feb. 26. Linden said on Wednesday there haven’t been discussions about extending Gudbranson, instead waiting to see how the next 6-8 weeks shape up.

All this means that Linden is fine with Benning handling the trade deadline despite an uncertain future with the franchise.

“He came into a challenging situation and I think we’re trending in the right direction,” said Linden. “I like the job Jim’s done, but beyond that I think we’re focused on the next couple months and the deadline.”

It all sounds encouraging for Benning, whose teams have made the playoffs once in four seasons as GM, a 101-point year in 2015-16. Since then, it’s been a downhill slide as more youth has been injected into the roster. The futures of Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlen are exciting as the Sedin twins enter their final years in the NHL.

The Gudbranson acquisition in 2016 was one of Benning’s biggest moves as GM. He gave up Jared McCann and a second- and fourth-round pick in the 2016 draft. It hasn’t worked out as injuries and poor play have seen him bumped down the depth chart to the third pairing. With the direction of the team right now, it’d be wise to move him and let the kids play rather than re-sign him and cement a roster spot with an anchor.

If Linden is confident in Benning handling the trade deadline and continuing to shape the future of the franchise, there should be no concern about who the GM will be next season, right?

“Jim has always been of the mind that, at heart, he’s a guy that has a team-building mindset,” Linden added. “He’s going to continue to have his eye on the future, and that’ll be no different as we head into deadline.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canucks’ Brock Boeser suffers foot injury after blocking shot (Video)

Sportsnet
4 Comments

As the Vancouver Canucks transition their roster and let the kids take over, Brock Boeser has been a real bright spot this season. Well, right now fans are holding their collective breaths hoping that the Calder Trophy candidate isn’t too seriously hurt after blocking a Mark Giordano shot early in the second period Sunday night.

Did you catch that Jim Benning reaction?

Sportsnet

Yup, us too, Jim.

Boeser, who leads the Canucks and all NHL rookies in scoring with 17 goals and 30 points, was ruled out for the rest of the night a short while later with a foot injury.

If you’re keeping track at home, that’s all three members of the Canucks’ BBB line that are currently injured. Bo Horvat is out until January with a foot injury and Sven Baertschi has a similar timeline after fracturing his jaw.

Depending on the severity of the injury could also impact some of Boeser’s potential bonuses in his rookie season. Ryan Biech of The Athletic had a great breakdown on Friday about how much the Vancouver stands to earn this season should he hit certain totals in specific categories. Hopefully this doesn’t keep him out long. The Calder race is better with him a part of it.

UPDATE: Canucks head coach didn’t have an update on Boeser after the game.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Injuries derail best thing about Canucks this season

Getty
6 Comments

Even if you wanted to douse the fire a bit with talk of lucky bounces, it was impossible to totally dismiss the excitement generated by the Vancouver Canucks’ young, shockingly effective top line of Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser.

As it turns out, regression isn’t what spoiled the party. Instead, two-thirds of that tremendous trio have been dealt significant injuries in a short span.

About a week ago, word surfaced that Horvat would miss about six-to-eight weeks with a broken foot. Monday’s update was similarly grim for Baertschi, as a fractured jaw is expected to cost the winger four-to-six weeks.

Here’s the update from Canucks head coach Travis Green:

You really need to crane your neck to find a silver lining in the dark clouds hanging over the Canucks, who’ve lost two straight games and five of eight.

Some will find it intriguing to see how Boeser, the Canucks’ lethal-scoring and well-coiffed winger, fares with both his partners in crime on the shelf for at least a month.

[Boeser recently channeled Pavel Bure with a sweet goal.]

To his credit, Boeser collected a goal in each of the two games with Horvat sidelined; perhaps some of his ability will simply override linemate concerns? His shot continues to befuddle goalies, as you can see from the video above and also read about in detail via this great breakdown by Justin Bourne of The Athletic (sub required).

When you consider the Canucks’ schedule going forward, what seems like a good opportunity instead becomes something of a mixed blessing.

Mon, Dec 11 @ Winnipeg
Wed, Dec 13 vs Nashville
Fri, Dec 15 vs San Jose
Sun, Dec 17 vs Calgary
Tue, Dec 19 vs Montreal
Thu, Dec 21 @ San Jose
Sat, Dec 23 vs St. Louis
Thu, Dec 28 vs Chicago
Sat, Dec 30 vs Los Angeles
Mon, Jan 2 vs Anaheim
Fri, Jan 6 @ Toronto
Sat, Jan 7 @ Montreal
Mon, Jan 9 @ Washington
Thu, Jan 12 @ Columbus
Sat, Jan 14 @ Minnesota
Fri, Jan 20 @ Edmonton
Sat, Jan 21 @ Winnipeg
Mon, Jan 23 vs Los Angeles
Wed, Jan 25 vs Buffalo
Mon, Jan 30 vs Colorado

As you can see, 2017 ends with some significant opportunities for the Canucks, as their road-weary start pays off to a lot of home-cooking in December. The new year gets off to a rocky start with that seven-game road trip from Jan. 6-21, but the overall haul without one or both of Horvat/Baertschi is reasonably friendly.

Such a stretch might end up sending mixed signals to management, however.

[Top line put on a show against Sidney Crosby and Penguins in early November.]

If the right path is to continue to rebuild while also enjoying unexpected returns thanks to youngsters like Boeser and clever work by Green, then treading water amid injuries might provide too much false hope. Yes, it must be refreshing to at least get the glimmer of a light at the end of the tunnel, but the Canucks still need to look at this situation realistically.

There’s also the possibility that Vancouver will rally, only to really hit a wall during that early-2018 road trip.

Being middle-of-the-road is less depressing in the moment than “tank mode,” yet there’s also the risk of puck purgatory: falling short of the postseason while ruining chances to add more franchise-altering young players like Boeser. He seems like quite the find as the 23rd pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, but recent history shows that you’re most likely to build a winner with lottery-level prospects rather than shrewd, late-first rounders.

Just about any way you slice it, this is a bummer for the Canucks, who lose precious weeks to better gauge a proper value for Baertschi (a pending RFA who should expect a hearty raise from $1.85 million).

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.