Associated Press

The Buzzer: Kopitar scores four, McDavid’s four-point night and Olczyk cancer-free

Players of the Night:

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Two words: career night. Kopitar scored four goals, becoming the first Kings player in 25 years to do so, and thus, setting his own career-high in the process. The Kings decimated the Colorado Avalanche 7-1 in the process.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets: Bobrovsky made 33 saves en route to a shutout victory, the Blue Jackets’ 10th in a row in a 4-0 win against the Florida Panthers, who have been red-hot themselves.

Philipp Grubauer, Washington Capitals: Grubauer has been solid in relief of Braden Holtby down the stretch as the Capitals’ No. 1 gets some rest before a playoff push. He won his fourth start out of his past five since March 10, stopping all 39 shots that came his way in the shutout.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: He’s not playing for a playoff spot, and he shouldn’t get too many votes for the Hart Trophy. But McDavid still has his eyes set on Mr. Art Ross. McDavid had two goals and two assists in a 6-2 win for the Oilers over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. McDavid’s 94 points  (36 goals, 58 assists) are now just one shy of Nikita Kucherov for the NHL lead.

Highlights of the Night:

Above all else, this:

Hard work pays off:

Kopitar’s fourth:

Not everything is pretty when it comes to the Canucks. This is though:

Factoids of the Night:

Things you don’t see very often:

Poor Cam Ward:

Scores:

Blue Jackets 4, Panthers 0

Hurricanes 6, Coyotes 5

Flyers 4, Rangers 3

Lightning 7, Islanders 6

Capitals 1, Red Wings 0

Maple Leafs 5, Predators 2

Oilers 6, Senators 2

Canucks 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 7, Avalanche 1

Sharks 2, Golden Knights 1 (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

Cam Ward delivers an all-time own goal (video)

Fox Sports Carolinas
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We’ve seen some pretty interesting own goals throughout NHL history, and now Cam Ward has staked his claim for one of the strangest.

The Carolina Hurricanes goaltender scored on himself in one of the most bizarre plays ever seen in the NHL.

The puck, as you can see, hops into the skate of an unknowing Ward as the veteran netminder went out to play a puck that was rimmed around the boards.

Ward, does what he would normally do after trotting out behind his net, and gets back into his crease. Unsure of where the puck is, he drops into the butterfly. The problem is the puck is stuck in his right skate, which goes over the goal line.

It’s hard to explain, so let’s roll the footage:

The play-by-play man on Fox Sports Carolinas had a good point: Why wasn’t the play blown dead? Even if the ref has his eye on the puck, there was no way of Ward knowing what he was about to do.

Is there even a rule for that?

Either way, one of the strangest goals in recent memory counted in a game few were probably watching to begin with.

It’s probably safe to assume Ward (and goalies around the NHL) are going to find some way as to not let that happen again.

Update:

Ward admitted that giving up a goal like that bothered him.

“I’ve had some bad bounces throughout my career but I think certainly that tops the list,” Ward said, per the Charlotte News & Observer. “I can sit here and pretend it didn’t bother me but it did bother me.

“I mean, you battle all season long, you compete, and then a bounce like that happens (and) it doesn’t seem fair at the time. But the guys competed and capitalized on our opportunities. It wasn’t exactly a goaltending battle, both ways, out there.”


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

Risk, reward, and Ron Francis

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As PHT’s Scott Billeck chronicled upon word of the Carolina Hurricanes firing, er, “re-assigning” Ron Francis out of the GM position, goaltending is the one big thing that doomed Francis. At least in the big picture.

Publicly speaking, new Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon made it clear that he wants to take a hands-on role with some of the Hurricanes’ decision making. He told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that a cricket-chirp of a trade deadline wasn’t the deciding factor.

One thing Dundon disagreed with is the idea that something happened at the deadline that caused the final rift. He said the team was considering adding before a home-heavy stretch in February, but it didn’t go well. Therefore both he and Francis decided it wasn’t worth what it would take to acquire more at the end. The cost, in terms of Carolina’s best young players/prospects, was too great.

Still, it’s tough not to notice the timing of this firing and not think that this comes down to a tepid trade deadline, and Carolina’s slow-burn team-building approach.

What can other GMs learn from Francis’ demise, beyond “Make sure you’re on the same page as your owner?” Let’s see:

Not too hot, not too cold

When a GM runs too hot with trades, he could get burned. I mean, unless that GM is Steve Yzerman or David Poile. Then other GMs should just click the “ignore call” button.

Peter Chiarelli (Oilers) and Marc Bergevin (Canadiens) both could have done well to take a cold shower instead of making moves that look worse with each passing month.

Every night seems to bring about a new insult to Chiarelli, whether it comes from Mathew Barzal generating a highlight-reel goal or Taylor Hall bolstering his Hart Trophy credentials. Bergevin, meanwhile, gets to watch P.K. Subban chase a Stanley Cup while his locker room crumbles.

It must burn Francis to see Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff make a big splash after years of people making “dayo off jokes,” with Paul Stastny‘s parallels to Francis making for especially cruel timing. While Francis only served as Hurricanes GM for four seasons, Cheveldayoff has been at his perch since 2011. Cheveldayoff bests Francis in trade volume because just about everyone does, but this was really his first major trade since moving Evander Kane for Tyler Myers in 2015. Cheveldayoff got time to wait things out; Francis did not.

During the last few years, the Hurricanes assembled an enviable warchest of defensemen, hired a competent coach who’s helped them hog the puck, and collected some nice forward assets. That’s not enough in a tough Metro division, and so the Hurricanes idle by.

While there’s some talk about the Golden Knights greasing the wheels for Francis’ exit, it’s difficult to shake the notion that the Hurricanes failed to add that “extra oomph” to their lineup while other teams did.

Sure, it might make you flinch to trade a young defenseman, whether that is Noah Hanifin or an older, still-young piece like Justin Faulk, but look at the Predators. It couldn’t have been comfortable to trade Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen, and maybe history will smile upon the Blue Jackets’ take more than Nashville’s when it’s all over. That trade, and others like it, helped Nashville go from a team of extremes to a more balanced attack. It wasn’t long before they were two wins away from a Stanley Cup.

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, stand as fancy stats darlings that haven’t tasted playoff play since 2008-09, and that was their only playoff appearance since that stunning Stanley Cup win in 2005-06.

No doubt, if you look at the Hurricanes PDO (or shooting percentage and save percentages individually, if that’s more your speed), you’ll see that they’ve been unlucky much of the time. Still, sometimes you have to “make your luck.”

(And do note that, bad goaltending aside, this team scored goals at a rate far fewer than league average. Wouldn’t that lack of punch inspire you to hit the phones a little harder during deadline time? Just saying.)

Backup plan

And, hey, it’s not like Francis took zero risks.

You can bellow about hindsight being 20/20 all you want, but there were some leaps of faith when it came to goaltending moves. For one thing, there was little evidence that Cam Ward would deliver on the two-year, $6.6 million extension he’s playing out. (Few deals truly say “We don’t have any better ideas” quite like that.)

There’s little sense arguing that Scott Darling was a safe choice, either.

Now 29, the big goalie didn’t come in with much pedigree as the 153rd pick of the 2007 NHL Draft. His pre-NHL stats are a mixed bag, though he was starting to pick up steam starting in 2013-14.

No doubt, his .923 save percentage with the Chicago Blackhawks was fantastic, yet that mark came in just 75 regular season games. It makes you wonder if the Hurricanes should have hedged their bets a bit. That said, few would have expected the Darling signing to blow up in Carolina’s face to this degree.

Goalies are a tough breed to gauge, with even mostly bright franchises whiffing at times. Still, maybe the Hurricanes were better off following their overall MO of not making bold, dangerous moves for the sake of making them? If you’re not truly certain a goalie is a franchise fit, maybe it’s better to leave your options open?

This Hurricanes situation provides additional evidence that NHL teams might be wise to put more resources into finding capable backups, whether it mean scouting, cap space, or both.

Take a look at the Calgary Flames. They defied critics by landing Mike Smith, who’s been great … only now he’s injured, and even after taking care of business against Buffalo last night, Calgary is up against a tough haul to fight its way back into the playoffs. Some of that is bad luck, some of it’s poor preparation; after all, Smith is 35 and has an injury history.

***

Look, it feels quite unfair to see Francis get such a short leash while other GMs continue to blunder away, even though they seem less capable. Even with the nitpicks in this post, it’s important to note that Francis leaves Carolina behind in a position to contend in the near future.

Sports, like life, can be cruel and unfair, though.

There’s a thin line in managing risk and reward. Ultimately, Francis couldn’t successfully walk that tightrope. It’s a reminder to other front offices just how difficult it can be to find the right balance.

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.

Scott Darling on his on-ice struggles, leaving Chicago, new ownership (PHT Q&A)

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Scott Darling‘s first season in Carolina has been less than ideal. When the ‘Canes opened the vault to sign him to a contract last spring, they expected that they’d be getting a solid number one netminder. Instead, Darling and Cam Ward have taken turns being less than stellar.

Darling realizes that he needs to be better if the Hurricanes want to make the playoffs. It’s the first time in a while that he’s hit adversity on the ice and he’s hoping that his hard work in practice and off the ice will pay off between now and the end of the regular season.

During Carolina’s recent trip through Montreal, Darling took the time to speak to PHT about his game, leaving Chicago and the team’s new ownership situation.

Q. How do you evaluate your first half in Carolina? 

DARLING: “Oh, I mean, it’s definitely not good enough. I’ve had some good games and some bad games too and some bad luck, but it’s got to be better. There’s been some uncharacteristic nights for me. I’ve been working really hard the last couple of weeks in practice and off the ice working out and stuff like that trying to be as ready as I can the next time I get in the net.”

What are the type of things that have surprised you so far this year?

“I haven’t really faced on-ice adversity in six, seven years. This is uncomfortable (laughs). It’s something I don’t like and it’s something I’m working hard to fix.”

What’s the adjustment like when you go to a new team and a new city after being in Chicago for so long?

“Oh, it’s huge. I was lucky to know a lot of the guys on the team already playing with them before. But it’s a big change in your life. I put down roots in Chicago. I’m from Chicago. I had a house there, I had a life there. So it’s a big change to uproot. New team, new city, new coaches, new system, new everything, so it’s definitely a factor, but I don’t think that’s the deciding factor on what’s going on on the ice.”

How much more difficult is it when you go up on the pay scale? 

“At the end of the day, no matter what, in the NHL you’re making good money. Especially for someone like me who’s played for a lot less. Even making league minimum was huge for me. I don’t really think about the money, it’s just more the outside. The way they look at you, the expectations, but for me personally it doesn’t affect the way I play.”

How has your relationship with a veteran like Cam Ward helped you this season?

“Oh, it’s helped me a lot. He’s a world class guy and a world class goalie. He’s talked me off the ledge a few times. He’s been through the ups and downs, he’s been doing this a long time with this team. He’s seen the dark days, he’s seen the good days. He helps me keep an even keel and keeps motivating me to keep working hard. Everything’s going to turn around. I know I’m a good goalie. I have confidence in myself. Sometimes it rains, but the sun is going to come out eventually.”

Getty Images

Is this the most adversity you’ve faced at the NHL level?

“Absolutely. At the NHL level for sure. Luckily it’s not the first time in my life I’ve had to face a little adversity. I’m just trying to stay positive because I know what I can do and I know it’s going to turn around.”

What previous experiences have you gone through that can help you get through this?

“I’ve played in the [ECHL], [SPHL], I’ve had dark days down there. At the end of the day, it’s still a great day, you’re in the NHL and you get to be here and play at the Bell Center (on Thursday). So just keeping everything in perspective and staying positive is all you can really do and that’s what I’m doing.”

Did new ownership breathe new life into this locker room? 

“I don’t if it brought new life into the locker room, but it’s changed things which is good. Just our little day-to-day stuff is getting better. The way it’s all ran for us, the resources we have, things we need, just little stuff is already changed. So it’s one less thing to worry about.”

What’s the biggest change so far?

“The big changes are on their way. Right now, just getting more food, healthier food,just little stuff like that. We’re not worried about ordering new equipment. (Thomas Dundon) is doing it right and we’re really excited to have him.”

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.

PHT Midseason Report Card: Metropolitan Division

PHT Report Card

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.

  • Carolina Hurricanes

Season Review: A lot of what we are used to seeing from the Hurricanes in recent years. They have a lot of exciting young talent, they play hard, they do a lot of things well, they always seem to be just on the cusp of making some noise … and then the goaltending falls apart. Grade: C-

Biggest Surprise: Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise at this point because they are always one of the top teams in this category, but the Carolina Hurricanes are the top possession team in the NHL at a 53.5 shot attempts percentage heading into the All-Star break.

Biggest Disappointment: It has to be Scott Darling. After being one of the top backups in the NHL during his time with the Chicago Blackhawks the Hurricanes acquired him over the summer and immediately signed him to a long-term contract extension to hopefully solve their long-standing issue in net. So far he has managed only an .892 save percentage and has played fewer games than Cam Ward.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Probably stand pat. They are not out of the playoff race by any means, but they are not really close enough to being a contender where it makes sense to be significant buyers. They also don’t really fit the profile of a seller because it is still a very young team while the only upcoming UFA that fits the profile of a rental for another team is Lee Stempniak.

Second half outlook: They enter the All-Star break four points out of a playoff spot with three teams ahead of them. They dominate possession, they are great at keeping teams away from their end of the ice, and they have some talent. If they can get even competent goaltending they could make a second half push. If not? It will just be more of the same in Carolina.

  • Columbus Blue Jackets

Season Review: They stormed out of the gate and looked like one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference but after winning 17 of their first 26 games have mostly been a .500 team over the past two months and find themselves on the playoff bubble. Grade: B

Biggest Surprise: Probably the fact that their offense has dropped so much. The Blue Jackets were sixth in the NHL in goals scored a season ago and then went out and picked up Artemi Panarin from the Chicago Blackhawks, one of the league’s most productive forwards. Panarin has been outstanding but the Blue Jackets as a team are only 25th in the league in goals scored.

Biggest Disappointment: Aside from trading William Karlsson before the expansion draft and watching him blossom into a top goal-scorer, it might be captain Nick Foligno for his drop in offense. After scoring 26 goals and finishing with 50 points a season ago he is currently on a 14/35 pace this season, while his possession numbers have also taken a hit. Given the contract he is signed for they need more.

Trade Deadline Strategy: They are almost certainly going to look to add, and they could probably use a little more offense up front. They also have to figure out a way to handle the Jack Johnson situation following his trade request. What sort of value he has, though, remains to be seen, and it is unlikely he is going to find a spot that is going to give him increased playing time over what he is getting in Columbus.

Second half outlook: They should be a playoff team, and they could still be a dangerous one, but that is all going to come down to Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky has been one of the best goalies in the league since arriving in Columbus but his career playoff performances have been a nightmare. If they are going to make any kind of a run they are going to need him to solve those postseason demons.

  • New Jersey Devils

Season Review: They have cooled off considerably after their start, but they are still one of the bigger surprises in the NHL and look to be on the verge of ending their current playoff drought. Taylor Hall has been great and their young core has mostly taken a big step forward. Grade: A

Biggest Surprise: There are no shortage of surprises on this team, from Jesper Bratt emerging as one of the team’s top scorers, Will Butcher making an immediate impact, to the entire team itself. But there is no bigger surprise than Brian Gibbons already having 12 goals. He scored five in 66 career games before this season.

Biggest Disappointment: While Bratt, Butcher and No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier have all played extremely well, one young player that probably hasn’t taken the step the Devils would have liked is Pavel Zacha, the No. 6 overall pick from 2015 hasn’t taken that step yet. Granted, he is still only 20 years old so it is way too soon to write him off, but his production has regressed from where it was a year ago.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Ray Shero tends to be pretty bold when it comes to the trade deadline — or any time of year, honestly — and you can be certain he is going to be browsing for rentals.

Second half outlook: The Devils have a great opportunity to end a five-year playoff drought, but even if they don’t this season should be seen as a pretty big step forward if for no other reason than so many young players have stepped forward and shown they can be long-term pieces to build around.

  • New York Islanders

Season Review: Say this for the Islanders, they are not boring. They can score and they can’t really stop anybody from scoring. Is it a recipe for success? Well, probably not but they are right in the thick of the playoff race, even if they are entirely unpredictable.  Grade: C

Biggest Surprise: Josh Bailey has always been a pretty good player, but he is on the verge of shattering just about every career high he has ever had in the NHL. He is two points away from matching his personal best and only four goals away. He never topped 16 goals and 54 points in a season before this year and is currently on pace for 22 goals and 96 points this season. Nobody saw that coming. It is also perfect timing for Bailey as he is eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer.

Biggest Disappointment: You could point to the goaltending but no one really had high expectations for that position. Andrew Ladd is currently two years into a seven-year, $38 million contract and has nine goals in 42 games. That is … not great.

Trade Deadline Strategy: They are one of those teams that is in a really tough spot. They’re not really in a position to be heavy buyers because they’re not even guaranteed to be a playoff team. They have some major potential free agents but because they are still in the race they are not going to want to sell them. They should look to find a goaltender because with better play at the position they could be an intriguing team.

Second half outlook: A lot of it just comes down to what type of goaltending they can get. They are not going to trade Tavares or Bailey, so they are going to keep filling the back of the net like one of the top teams in the league but they have to find a way to keep other teams off the board.

  • New York Rangers

Season Review: The Rangers’ defensive strategy seems to be the same as it has been the past few years — give up a lot of shots and hope for Henrik Lundqvist to steal a bunch of games. The Rangers’ underlying numbers point to a bad team, but because they have one of the best goalies of his generations they are still in the playoff race. Grade: D+

Biggest Surprise: Michael Grabner, for the second year in a row, is one of the top even-strength goal scorers in the NHL. Sure, he has that aided by a ton of empty net goals, but he is still a fascinating — and extremely underrated — player.

Biggest Disappointment: Kevin Shattenkirk has had a really disappointing season, mostly due to injury. When he is healthy he can still be an impact player and a strong top-four defenseman, and given his contract the Rangers are going to need him to be the focal point of the blue line for a long time. They need him healthy.

Trade Deadline Strategy: If we are to believe a report from the New York Post on Friday they could be on the verge of blowing it all up, and not just potential free agents like Rick Nash and Michael Grabner, but perhaps even Mats Zuccarello and Ryan McDonagh.

Second half outlook: Henrik Lundqvist is always going to give them a chance, but it really all depends on what they do at the deadline. The Rangers bleed shots against like a bad team, but Lundqvist is always going to keep them in games and mask those flaws. If they stand pat, they could always sneak into a playoff spot. But if they jettison players like Nash, McDonagh, Zuccarello and/or Grabner it would almost certainly end their run of consecutive postseason appearances.

  • Philadelphia Flyers

Season Review: A completely bizarre team. The Flyers lost 10 games in a row at one point and looked like a team that was potentially on the verge of firing their coach. Since then they have been one of the better teams in the league and have some of the top offensive players in the league. Which team is the real Flyers? Who knows. Grade: C+

Biggest Surprise: The offensive breakthrough for Sean Couturier, easily. He has always been one of the best defensive centers in the league and a decent offensive player, but this season has offensive game has taken a massive step forward and made him one of the league’s best two-way forwards.

Biggest Disappointment: Brian Elliott has been extremely hit-and-miss throughout his career, sometimes performing like one of the league’s best goalies and sometimes like … well … just an ordinary goalie. The Flyers have gotten both versions this season, and overall his .908 save percentage would be his lowest since the 2012-13 season. The Flyers need more consistency from him.

Trade Deadline Strategy: They could easily be a playoff team and they have the top-line players (Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov) to cause a lot of headaches once they get there, but they could probably use some additional depth everyone on the roster. Definitely go into the deadline as buyers.

Second half outlook: Which Flyers team are we going to get? The one that lost 10 in a row, or the one that has gone 16-6-1 since then?

  • Pittsburgh Penguins

Season Review: The Penguins were, to say the least, a massive disappointment throughout a large portion of the first half but over the past month-and-a-half have started to kick it into gear and look like the Penguins again. Their stars are really dominating right now and have been unstoppable for a few weeks now. Grade: C

Biggest Surprise: Matt Murray has struggled a bit this season and has missed some time recently due to the passing of his father, but backups Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have stepped in admirably and shown that the Penguins have some pretty incredible depth at the position, and all of it is young.

Biggest Disappointment: This is a weird one to say because he is at the All-Star game, but Kris Letang has just not looked like himself this season. It is not that he has been entirely bad, because he can still play at a high level and is producing points, but he just does not look to be anywhere near as dynamic as he has been in the past. Still recovering from the injury that ended his season a year ago? Just a rough half season? Either way, he has another level he can get to.

Trade Deadline Strategy: They are certainly going to buy. They have some salary cap space and they still have a glaring hole at third-line center. If they can find one this team is going to be one that nobody wants to see in the playoffs.

Second half outlook: They are kicking it into gear at the right time. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel are all climbing the scoring leaderboards, they are starting to find some answers to some roster questions (Riley Sheahan seems to be the answer at fourth-line center; Jamie Oleksiak has been a nice depth addition on defense), and they probably have one or two more trades to make that will further solidify the roster. The first half was a disappointment, but they are setting themselves up for a great second half.

  • Washington Capitals

Season Review: Even after losing Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt the Washington Capitals are still one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and have a pretty solid hold on the Metropolitan Division. Will they win a third consecutive Presidents’ Trophy? No, but they are still one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Grade: A

Biggest Surprise: Can it just be the simple fact they lost five pretty significant players in one offseason, have had a couple of returning players take a small step backwards, and are still multiple points ahead of every other team in the most competitive division in hockey? Every time we think the Capitals window is starting to shut they always find a way to keep showing up at the top of the league.

Biggest Disappointment: It’s not a huge concern at this point, but some of the Capitals’ top offensive players have gone a little cold recently with Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Andrey Burakovsky have combined for just six goals over the past 14 games.

Trade Deadline Strategy: As long as the Capitals have Alex Ovechkin and are near the top of the standings they are going to be buyers, especially as they keep going without actually winning the Stanley Cup. The pressure keeps building to get there and there is no doubt they will look to add. The salary cap situation will make it tough, but there is always a way to make it work.

Second half outlook: They have the best goal-scorer in the league, an elite playmaking center, a solid defense, and one of the best goalies in the NHL. They are going to win the Metropolitan Division and probably, at some point, have to face their long-time nemesis — the Pittsburgh Penguins — in the playoffs. Will this be the year?

Previous: Atlantic Division

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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.