Drew Doughty

Matthew Tkachuk suspended one game for inciting line brawl (Update)

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The Detroit Red Wings felt like the punishment didn’t fit the crime as Luke Witkowski received an automatic 10-game suspension for returning to the ice during that line brawl with the Calgary Flames. How will they feel about Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk receiving a one-game suspension for his “crime,” then?

Tkachuk had a lot to do with the brawl, as Witkowski returned to the ice because of his actions.

This marks the second time Tkachuk’s been suspended by the NHL, as he sat two games for this hit on Drew Doughty, which ultimately served as the first chapter in his hate-fest with the Los Angeles Kings:

It’s fitting with such an agitating figure like Tkachuk that the decision stands as polarizing. Some are stunned that the NHL would tack on a one-game suspension after he was ejected for his actions during the 8-2 win for the Red Wings:

It wouldn’t be surprising if, meanwhile, the Red Wings believe that it wasn’t nearly sufficient. After the game, Postmedia’s Wes Gilbertson reports that Tkachuk said that Witkowski was looking for an excuse to return and that he just gave him “a poke.”

Apparently, this time, Tkachuk also poked the bear and will have to sit one game in timeout as punishment.

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.

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Capitals vs. Sabres; Kings vs. Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Tuesday night. In the early game, the Buffalo Sabres host the Washington Capitals at 7:00 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here.

The Capitals will be playing their second game in as many nights. They’re coming off a 3-2 overtime game against the Arizona Coyotes that saw them trail 2-0 in the opening period.

But thanks to Alex Ovechkin‘s game-tying goal and John Carlson‘s game-winner in the extra frame, they were able to save the day on home ice, where things have been a little rocky for Washington.

After a slow start to the season, the Caps have now rattled off three straight wins over the Isles, Bruins and Coyotes. Things are starting to look up.

“I think we’re just kind of finding our way and figuring out what’s working for us,” Carlson said, per the Washington Post. “We’ve got to put a couple of these together. We didn’t start [the season] like we wanted to, so we’ve got a lot of work to do, but just keep finding ways to win.”

Things haven’t really been going as well for the Sabres, who are in the basement of the Eastern Conference. They also own the worst goal differential in the East and the second-worst goal differential in the league (ahead of Arizona) at minus-18.

“We think a couple little changes here and there and we’re going to be better, but we all have to demand more out of ourselves,” Ryan O'Reilly said, per the Buffalo News. “It feels like we are a little fragile right now. When things don’t go well, it’s tough to climb back.”

This is a really important stretch for the Sabres, as six of their next nine games will be played on home ice. If they’re going to salvage their season, it will have to come before the end of November.

In the late game, the Anaheim Ducks host the Los Angeles Kings at 10:00 p.m. ET. To stream that game live, click here

This will be one of the Kings’ few upcoming road games on their schedule, as they’ll begin a five-game homestand over the next couple of weeks.

Before they can start enjoying some home cooking though, they’ll need to take care of business against their state rivals, who are off to a rocky start in 2017-18.

“Yeah, it’s always fun,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said of playing the Ducks, per LAKingsinsider.com. “Good team. They’ve been probably better than us in the last three years or so. … I’m not sure what the head-to-head match has been, but they’re a division team, a division rival, they’re only just down the road there. Have a lot of support there from our fans in their building. I feel like we always show up to play there and play well.”

Unlike the Ducks, Los Angeles has enjoyed a terrific start to the year. They come into tonight’s game in top spot in the Pacific Division and they have a 4-1-1 record in their last six contests.

In fairness to Anaheim, their 6-6-2 record is a little deceiving. After all, they were without Ryan Kesler, Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm to start the year (Cam Fowler is also out of the lineup). Now, Lindholm and Vatanen are back, which should eventually help boost their record.

 “Obviously now you get a couple extra minutes because Cam is out,” said Lindholm, per the OC Register. “Even when he’s in the lineup, we usually get to play up to or close to 24, 25 (minutes). I think we both have proven we can handle it.

“Right now, we kind of have a couple of injuries. For me, I just feel that I want to bring as much as I can to the table and do as much good as I can out on the ice to help the team win some hockey games.”

Unforunately, Lindholm’s return hasn’t really sparked the Ducks into winning more games. Anaheim also has a ton of home dates this month, but they haven’t gotten off to a great start.

They opened November with a pair of home losses to Toronto and Nashville before dropping shootout decision in San Jose on Saturday night. Still, they have a great opportunity to get themselves back on track with seven of their next eight games coming at the Honda Center.

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.

L.A. Kings off to hot start

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In a sprawling interview with The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun (sub required), former Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi notes that he predicted a hot start for his old team.

Few others saw a 10-2-2 start coming for an aging roster that missed the playoffs in two of the last three seasons and hasn’t won a playoff round since their 2014 Stanley Cup run.

This post takes a look at 1) the factors playing into such a hot start and 2) what might continue versus what should change.

Stars reborn

Most obviously, Jonathan Quick has been healthy, and he’s been absolutely brilliant.

With a blistering .939 save percentage through 11 games, the American-born goalie is matching great numbers to his considerable athleticism in a way that he hasn’t always been able to manage during his polarizing career. (Mainstream types sometimes overrated Quick, while analytics-minded folks might have gone to excessive extremes to refute such praise over the years.)

With all that was going on for the Kings, it’s easy for some to forget that Quick only appeared in 17 games last season.

If healthy, Quick is a difference-maker, but he’s almost certain to slip from his lofty perch; his career save percentage is .916, and he’s come in that range for the past four seasons.

Much has already been made about the resurgence of Dustin Brown, as you can see here and here. Chances are, a lot of his success will be tied to whether or not he can stick with a revitalized Anze Kopitar on the Kings’ top line.

Expect some of the Kings’ top scorers to slip, at least to an extent, as Kopitar (18.9) and Brown (13.3) are shooting at a higher percentage than they have in some time. The drop-off may only be extreme for Adrian Kempe, though, as he’s connected on a third of his shots on goal so far.

The most fascinating transformation may be for Drew Doughty.

For years, Doughty’s all-around work has made him one of the go-to examples for a player who’s “better in reality than fantasy.” So far, Doughty has 10 points in 14 games, putting him in a position to match or exceed his career-high of 59 points. Doughty’s 6.8 shooting percentage is right in line with his career average of 6.3, so … maybe we’ll see him put up the box score numbers he’s often lacked?

The future

OK, so let’s consider team-wide elements of this Kings’ run.

Not your older brother’s Kings?

Looking at team-based possession stats from Natural Stat Trick, the Kings may not be the puck-dominant squad under John Stevens that they once were under Darryl Sutter. After leading the pack for years in stats like Corsi For Percentage – sometimes by significant margins – they’re currently in the middle of the pack.

It will be fascinating to see if this carries through 82 regular-season games, and if this ends up being “all by design” to increase high-danger chances at the expense of volume.

Some luck, no doubt

As you might expect with a team exceeding expectations, the Kings are getting a lot of bounces in their favor.

Their PDO (a team’s shooting percentage plus save percentage, which is a leading indicator of luck) is 102.3 at even-strength according to Natural Stat Trick, putting them high among the NHL’s ranks.

While their shooting percentage should come down, it’s the work of Quick & Co. in net that will be the toughest to keep going.

Not all negative

One bright spot for the Kings is that they’re on this roll with Jeff Carter either limited or out of the lineup altogether.

Carter is coming off a magnificent 32-goal, 66-point season, which marked a third consecutive year where he generated 60+ points for L.A. So far, he had three assists and zero goals in six games. With Carter turning 33 on New Year’s day, there’s some concern that he may finally be hitting the wall many snipers splat into.

Still, even if he might dip a bit, you could reasonably expect that Carter might help ease some of the regression if the bounces stop going the Kings’ way. Perhaps low-shooting-percentage guys like intriguing youngster Alex Iafallo and solid winger Tanner Pearson may heat up during times when things aren’t going so smoothly for Kopitar, too?

***

One thing people often forget is that, even in the best of times, the Sutter – Lombardi Kings rarely did things the easy way.

Putting Sutter on the bench saved the Kings’ season in 2011-12, and L.A. was ranked third in its division during both of his championship runs. This franchise hasn’t won a division since it was labeled Smythe.

The greatest value in starting 10-2-2 might be the simplest: those wins and standings points are already in the bank. Theoretically, the Kings could be run-of-the-mill for long stretches and still enjoy one of their best regular seasons in memory.

Such a stretch might allow the Kings to rest their aging core players like Kopitar, Brown, Quick, and Doughty if (in a rare event) they don’t need to scratch and claw just to clinch a playoff berth.

Actually, the real fun could also come during the trade deadline: will GM Rob Blake push the right buttons with a team whose ceiling is still difficult to measure?

Overall, the Kings are playing over their heads, but maybe not enough to soothe their haters.

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: Marleau is ready for ‘really weird’ return to San Jose

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–Trades are never easy to make, especially early in the season. Here’s three deals that happened early on over the last 10 years that ended up being pretty significant. Sergei Fedorov to Columbus happened in November of 2005. (Sportsnet)

–The ESPN hockey crew looks at the top feuds going on in the NHL right now. Whether it’s Matthew Tkachuk vs. Drew Doughty or Matt Duchene vs. the Colorado Avalanche, there are some interesting ones. (ESPN)

–Speaking of Tkachuk, he’s a really important piece of the puzzle for the Flames. His performances on the ice and his desire to win make him one of the key figures in that Calgary locker room. (flamesnation.com)

–The Oilers have been one of the biggest disappointments of the season so far, so The Score looks at three ways they can fix their offensive issues. Is it time to sign one of the veteran free agents still on the market? (The Score)

Patrick Marleau is making his first return to San Jose since signing a deal with the Maple Leafs this off-season. There’s a good chance this ends up being an emotional night for him. “Kind of just anticipating it to feel really weird, I think,” Marleau said. “Just a little awkward. But I’m going to try to use that energy for myself to be playing well and playing hard.” (San Jose Mercury News)

–When this hockey fan was seven years old, he got a signed hockey stick from J.P. Parise. 40 years later, he wanted to give it to Wild forward Zach Parise, who’s J.P.’s son. “It was a thrill to come down here and meet Zach and give him that stick and a photo of that night I got it. It will [be weird to not have it] for awhile. But instead of not having that stick at home, I have the memory of meeting Zach and the story to tell my kids, my family and my friends. That’s a pretty good trade-off.” (NHL.com/Wild)

–There has been many theories about the Golden Knights’ hot start, but here’s an interesting one. With so many of their early games having been played at home, some are wondering whether or not the “Vegas flu” is real. Do opposing players party too hard in Vegas the night before games? That’s an interesting theory. (Sinbin.Vegas)

–Samuel Morin is back up with the Flyers. He was recalled from the minors after Shayne Gostisbehere was injured against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night. (Philly.com)

–One of the reasons why NHL players aren’t going to the Olympics is because the league refuses to shut down for two weeks during the season. The NWHL stars are still going to the Olympics, but instead of shutting down, their star players just won’t play. (ESPN.com)

–There’s little doubt that Leafs sophomore forward Mitch Marner is a more dynamic offensive player than Lightning forward Brayden Point, but the stats say Point is a better all-around player. Here’s a thorough comparison between the two players. (rawcharge.com)

–A Florida Panthers fan was hit with an Octopus during Saturday’s home game against Detroit. Not cool. “It was quite heavy. It hurt me, and I was quite shaken up by it. I certainly wasn’t expecting to get hit in the head by a large animal of some type.” (WSVN.com)

–Unfortunately, NHL players don’t like to show their true personality during interviews. That’s just the way the league has trained its players to think over the years. Instead of saying anything negative, they just spit out the company line. Being a little more colorful could help grow the game, but it’s just not happening. (stlouisgametime.com)

–Daniel or Henrik? Which of the Sedin twins has been the better player during their time in Vancouver. The Hockey News recently chose Daniel, but greatesthockeylegends.com believes Henrik should have gotten the nod. (greatesthockeylegends.com)

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.

Kings bicker over who covers Erik Karlsson; We all win

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With Halloween approaching, hockey fans are already getting rare glimpses into the lighter side of NHL players. Still, it’s a special sensation when something whimsical actually happens during a game.

Such was the case in 3-on-3 overtime during the Los Angeles Kings’ eventual 3-2 shootout win against the Ottawa Senators last night.

Even if you (understandably) give a lot of credit to Anze Kopitar, the resurgence of Dustin Brown has been one of the least expected, under-the-radar stories of this early season. Perhaps some of what makes Brown effective is knowing his limitations, however, as even Erik Karlsson had a laugh when Brown told Drew Doughty that he wanted no part of Karlsson with all of that open nice:

The #Kings debating who will cover #ErikKarlsson in overtime is everything 😂😂

A post shared by TSN (@tsn_official) on

Tremendous. Since we’re on the subject of lighter moments, this Minnesota Wild fan possibly becoming a Vancouver Canucks fan should brighten your day:

That face is the understated, hockey version of “kid going nuts after getting a Nintendo 64.”

(Hold on, let me search for my childlike wonder for a second.)

Circling back, the first clip seems like a decent excuse to take a really quick look at how Karlsson and Brown are doing so far.

Erik eases back in, as much as Karlsson can ease back in

So far, it seems like Karlsson is still a special player, even with a chunk of his ankle bone missing (again, hockey players).

Through four games, it seems like business as mostly usual for the freakishly talented defenseman. Karlsson has six assists in those contests, with a healthy 13 shots on goal. The Swede averages just under three SOG per contest for his career, a big part – but not the only element – of why he tends to be such a possession monster.

While Guy Boucher is likely easing Karlsson back in (at least relatively speaking, as the Senators still need him badly), the clever coach might want to consider saving number 65’s energy for the playoffs. At least if this team has the breathing room for such luxuries.

In 2015-16, Karlsson approached Ryan Suter-like useage by averaging an absurd 28:58 TOI per game. Last season, Karlsson was down to 26:50, while he’s currently averaging 25:50. That really might not be such a bad bar to set for all of 2017-18.

Brown does it for Kings

Looking at Dustin Brown’s career stats, it’s almost as if the last lockout broke him. He scored 29 points in 46 games in 2012-13, and then his numbers stayed in that range even during full seasons.

So, cut to 2017-18 and Brown has five goals and 11 points in nine games, of course.

With a 14.3 shooting percentage, some of this is luck. He hasn’t been in the double digits in shooting percentage since that 2012-13 campaign, when he connected on 12.7 percent.

It’s not just his scoring and shooting luck that’s going up. Brown has 35 SOG in nine games, close to four per night. He only averaged 2.19 per contest last season. He’s generally been a player who fires the puck quite a bit, so while that number should slip, it might not go down as much as you might expect.

… At least, if he sticks with Kopitar. The Selke-level center isn’t just boosting Brown’s scoring opportunities through the roof, he’s also transforming Brown’s overall opportunities. Since 2013-14, Brown has clocked in at about 16 minutes of ice time per night. In 2017-18, he’s at 20:03.

Again, much like Kings trying to pass the Karlsson matchup torch around, it’s plain to see that Kopitar deserves an enormous chunk of the credit here. Still, with Jeff Carter on IR and the Kings still fairly challenged from a depth standpoint, Los Angeles is likely to give that top line every chance to keep things going, so the Brown rebound could be a real(-ish) thing.

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.