Brayden Schenn

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The Buzzer: Red-hot lines, Murray’s tremendous save

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Lines of the Night: With combinations of forwards running wild in many cases, it might be best to break things down by the lines that dominated Thursday.

Let’s start with the painfully obvious one.

Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosNikita Kucherov

Will the Lightning’s top line ever cool down? Probably, but right now they’re basically unstoppable; they didn’t even take it easy on Ben Bishop as he made his return to Tampa Bay. Instead, the Lightning beat the Stars 6-1 thanks to that top trio.

Stamkos scored two goals and two assists to boost his points total to 35 (!) in 19 games, while Nikita Kucherov scored his league-leading 17th tally and also produced two assists. Names grabbed an assist and apparently fought Dan Hamhuis.

Gabriel LandeskogNathan MacKinnonMikko Rantanen

Some Colorado fans might have uttered “Matt WHO-chene?” for at least one night, as this top trio was ridiculous. Landeskog recorded his first career hat trick, Rantanen collected four points (1G, 3A), and MacKinnon generated one goal and four helpers.

This might just be the breakout season people were hoping to see with MacKinnon, as he has 20 points in 17 games.

It was a landslide from Avalanche captain Landeskog, if you will.

Brayden Schenn continues to ride high for the Blues, as he collected two goals and an assist. His point streak is honestly a little ridiculous:

Eric Staal (1G, 2A) had the better night, but his linemate Jason Zucker is on a tear of his own:

To keep this from getting unwieldy, we’ll leave it at that, but there are worth honorable mentions, such as top scorers for the Golden Knights (who just keep winning).

Highlight of the night: Matt Murray‘s save

There were some other great stops, goals, and hard hits on Thursday, but wow, Murray.

More factoids:

The Maple Leafs make a little history in their 1-0 OT win, which was their fifth straight W.

Roberto Luongo shuts out the Sharks for the first time in his career. You’d think San Jose would have been a victim of one of the previous 73 goose eggs …

And some relief:

More on that Coyotes win here and the Habs’ angry reactions here.

Scores

Leafs 1, Devils 0 (OT)

Islanders 6, Hurricanes 4

Coyotes 5, Canadiens 4

Penguins 3, Senators 1

Lightning 6, Stars 1

Wild 6, Predators 4

Jets 3, Flyers 2 (SO)

Avalanche 6, Capitals 2

Golden Knights 5, Canucks 2

Blues 4, Oilers 1

Bruins 2, Kings 1

Panthers 2, Sharks 0

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Do the Blues have the best first line in hockey?

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–Avalanche rookie Alex Kerfoot had an interesting Wednesday in Sweden, as he had an allergic reaction to something he ate in a small cafe. To make matters worse, he didn’t have his phone to contact anyone from the team, so he just went straight to a hospital. (NHL.com)

–The 2022 Beijing Olympics will be held in China, and the NHL is doing everything it can to grow the game in that market. There have been exhibition games there and teams have held youth and coaching seminars there, too. (NBCNews.com)

–Some Canadian filmmakers got an opportunity to take a deeper look at the North Korean National Team. Let’s just say their equipment and training methods are a little outdated though. (New York Times)

–Flames center Mikael Backlund is making just over $3.5 million in the final year of his contract. Calgary would like to keep him around, but they’re going to have to shell out a lot more money to lock him up. (The Hockey Writers)

–There have been rumblings about the availability of Oliver Ekman-Larsson via trade, but GM John Chayka made sure to set the record straight during a radio interview earlier this week. It doesn’t sound like the blue liner is going anywhere. (arizonasports.com)

Nathan MacKinnon hasn’t put up the numbers everyone expected him to over the last couple of years, but BSN Denver argues that he’s a much better player than most people think. (BSN Denver)

–Light House Hockey takes an in-depth look at a shift that got Josh Ho-Sang benched for a long time. After watching this, you’ll be able to understand why head coach Doug Weight has been frustrated with him. (Light House Hockey)

–A lot of people expected Mikhail Sergachev to stick with the Lightning this year, but there weren’t many who believed he’d have this kind of impact on the team in 2017-18. (Tampa Bay Times)

–There are a number of quality first lines in the NHL. When you break them all down, the Blues top trio of Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko might just be the best one in the league right now. (St. Louis Game Time)

–You may or may not have seen a photo of Islanders goalie Billy Smith sitting next to a pond (with all his equipment on) in the early 80’s. Well, many years later, The Score got the story behind this incredibly weird shoot. (The Score)

–Sabres goalie Robin Lehner will be honoring fallen K-9 officer Craig Lehner prior to Friday’s game. The netminder will wear a jersey with a C. Lehner nameplate during the warmup. Instead of wearing his usual number 40, Lehner will have number 43 on the back (the officer’s radio call sign). (Buffalo News)

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.

The Buzzer: Malkin, McDavid, Jagr, dynamic duos

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Partners of the night: It felt like partners-in-crime ruled the roost on Tuesday, so let’s focus on some dynamic duos.

Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin – one goal, two assists apiece

These two are so effective, you wonder what they might accomplish if they didn’t hate each other, right columnists? Anyway, the two forwards were involved in all three Penguins goals in a 3-1 win against the Coyotes on Tuesday, including a moment where Kessel patiently avoided batted a puck in with high stick.

The man is an artist.

Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko – one goal, two assists apiece

After collecting four assists in his last game, Schenn remains red-hot for the Blues, generating three points on Tuesday. So far, he has 18 points in his first 16 games with St. Louis. If healthy, Schenn could smash his career-high of 59 points.

This helper on a Jaden Schwartz goal was just slick.

Connor McDavid (one goal) and Leon Draisaitl (goal, assist)

These two didn’t put up the same numbers as the others, but they made some beautiful plays in combining for both of the Oilers’ goals in a 2-1 OT win against the Islanders. These are the moments you dream of when you pay two hockey players $21M combined (though McDavid doesn’t get his raise until next season):

Highlight of the Night: Pierre Luc-Dubois befuddles P.K. Subban and Pekka Rinne.

Few players make Subban look bad, so be proud, P-L-D:

Actually, P.E. Bellemare might be the real winner:

Kings – Ducks probably ranks as the true highlights of the night, though, honestly. Insane game. The highlights might as well have the same run-time as “Return of the King.”

Factoids of the Night:

Wow, Geno.

Maybe Montreal can give Carey Price a little mental health vacation?

Can Jaromir Jagr finish his career on top of this list?

Scores and more

Sabres 3, Capitals 1
Blues 3, Devils 1
Oilers 2, Islanders 1 (OT)
Penguins 3, Coyotes 1
Hurricanes 3, Panthers 1
Predators 3, Blue Jackets 1
Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2
Canucks 5, Flames 3
Kings 4, Ducks 3 (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.

The Buzzer: Crawford closes the door, Schenn on a roll

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Player of the Night: Brayden Schenn

OK, the real player of the night is probably Brock Boeser, who collected a hat trick and an assist in the Canucks’ startling win against the Penguins, but we already covered that here. We might as well spread the wealth, then, right?

The St. Louis Blues continue to get strong work from Jaden Schwartz (three assists) and Alex Pietrangelo (two goals), but Schenn has really been a smash-hit for St. Louis so far. That included Saturday’s 6-4 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, when Schenn collected four helpers. This gives Schenn 15 points in as many games with St. Louis.

Maybe we’ll look back at that bold trade as a big win for the Blues?

Honorable mention: Corey Crawford

The degree of difficulty could have been higher, as he old needed to make 24 saves, but Saturday marked consecutive shutouts for Corey Crawford, who’s been dynamite for the Chicago Blackhawks so far this season. They blanked the Minnesota Wild 2-0 on Saturday.

Highlight of the night

Antti Raanta goes from flattened:

To elated as Arizona won in a shootout, which he participated in. Here’s hoping he’s OK, then?

Also, Saturday wasn’t pretty for the Penguins, but this power-play goal sure was:

Factoid of the Night:

Some history for scorers on Canadian teams. Brock Boeser with the Canucks:

Also, Max Pacioretty‘s OT goal and Canadiens history:

Should it have counted, though?

Scores and more:

Golden Knights 5, Senators 4
Blues 6, Maple Leafs 4
Canadiens 5, Jets 4 [OT]
Capitals 3, Bruins 2
Lightning 5, Blue Jackets 4 [SO]
Rangers 5, Panthers 4 [OT]
Avalanche 5, Flyers 4 [SO]
Stars 5, Sabres 1
Blackhawks 2, Wild 0
Coyotes 2, Hurricanes 1 [SO]
Canucks 4, Penguins 2
Predators 4, Kings 3 [OT]
Sharks 2, Ducks 1 [SO]

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.

Blues defy big odds to rank among NHL’s best

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After an absolutely maddening run of injuries before the season even began, there was some concern that the St. Louis Blues would miss the playoffs. Instead, they’re in a position to run away with the Central Division with November about to begin.

You can forgive the Blues for setting their sights higher than that, too, even after all those false alarms about “this being the year,” to some extent stretching back to the days of Al MacInnis’ booming shot and Steve Yzerman-administered heartbreak.

Maybe it’s fitting, then, that the Blues enter Tuesday tied with Yzerman’s Tampa Bay Lightning with matching 10-2-1 records as the top teams in the NHL (and, thus, the top seeds in their conferences). They ended October with quite the win, too, topping the Pacific-leading, also-resurgent Los Angeles Kings.

Really, the Blues’ successes might be more impressive than that of the Lightning and Kings. While everything seems to be going right for the Lightning after an injury-ravaged 2016-17 campaign, St. Louis’ black-and-blue status makes its run of victories seem that much more impressive.

Alex Steen missed a big chunk of October. Jay Bouwmeester‘s status remains murky, and Patrik Berglund hasn’t returned yet. Robby Fabbri‘s season-ending knee issues deprived the Blues of a fascinating young forward. Zach Sanford lost a chance to move up the ranks and prove himself.

With all of that, the Blues are 10-2-1, but are especially hot lately: four wins in a row and a 6-0-1 points streak.

That’s pretty fantastic, and might only be an under-the-radar story because of how well-built this franchise is thanks to GM Doug Armstrong. He doesn’t get many mentions among the game’s brightest minds, yet Armstrong looks pretty shrewd as of this moment.

Let’s ponder what is going right for the Blues, and maybe also consider a few elements that make this run even more impressive.

  • The season began with a hot power play, but they’ve learned to adjust as it cooled off.

To start 2017-18, the Blues scored a single power-play goal in five straight games. That man-advantage dominance hasn’t sustained, however, as St. Louis has only generated PPGs in one of their last eight contests (2-for-3 against Calgary on Oct. 25).

  • Critics can’t just dismiss the Blues as having a cushy schedule. So far, they’ve played eight of 13 games on the road. They’ve also faced three back-to-back sets, so if anything their success should have tapered off.
  • As disruptive as those injuries must have been, this is Mike Yeo’s first real season running the Blues.

After all, Yeo was an assistant-turned-interim head coach last season. This time around, Yeo had the opportunity to implement his systems and really cement his philosophies in training camp. Perhaps that makes some difference in how the Blues are approaching each game?

  • Jaden Schwartz has been healthy, and Jaden Schwartz has been a force. With 17 points in his first 13 games, Schwartz leads St. Louis in scoring, enjoying a hotter start than star sniper Vladimir Tarasenko (14 points). Now, with a 25 percent shooting rate, Schwartz is bound to slow down a bit. The Blues would settle for him regressing if he can flirt with a healthy season.

  • Alex Pietrangelo is quietly amassing a pretty compelling Norris Trophy argument. He’s already a sneaky-fantastic, all-purpose defenseman.
  • Some hit-or-miss supporting cast members are belting our homers like Yasiel Puig. Paul Stastny is nailing his contract year so far, including 11 points in 13 contests. Brayden Schenn‘s been a great fit after the trade.
  • The biggest factor is probably the goaltending, which seems to be carrying over the momentum from last season’s turnaround once Yeo took over. Jake Allen continues to look like a legitimate number one guy, while Carter Hutton managed a .950 save percentage in his three appearances.
  • That said, there are the red flags you’d expect from a team wildly exceeding expectations. The Allen-Hutton tandem combined for the best save percentage in the NHL, and that .9475 mark at even strength will slip even if they’re outstanding all season. Other stats over at Natural Stat Trick look fishy, with their third-best PDO signaling that the party might stop or at least slow down.

Of course, the Blues can sidestep some of the plummeting one might expect from the rigors of the season by getting back some key players.

They’ll likely face challenges in their schedule, in the standings, and on the scoreboard to pair with injury headaches, as just about every NHL team hits cold streaks. They still deserve credit for a strong October, all things considered, and their reward is more than just pride: St. Louis currently leads the Central Division by seven points.

Not bad for a team that seemed like an ailing afterthought heading into the season.

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.