Dustin Byfuglien

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The Buzzer: Crosby leads Penguins; Duchene wins wild one for Senators

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Player of the Night: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins captain loves to play against the New York Islanders. I mean, really loves playing against them. After a four-point night during a 4-0 win Friday night, Crosby now has 107 points in 60 career games against the franchise. That’s the most points by any player against a single team since the 2005-06 season.

Highlight of the Night:

Reilly Smith got the Vegas Golden Knights back on the winning track with this breakaway winner during a 5-4 win over the Chicago Blackhawks:

MISC:

• Big night for two Penguins rookies as Daniel Sprong scored twice and goaltender Tristan Jarry recorded his second shutout with a 31-save evening.

• The Islanders have lost five in a row and have been outscored 25-8 over that stretch. To make matters worse, Josh Bailey left the game early on with a lower-body injury and did not return.

Andreas Athanasiou had a goal and an assist to help lead the Detroit Red Wings over the Florida Panthers 4-2. Athanasiou now has five points in his last four games. Henrik Zetterberg collected his 600th NHL assist while helping Detroit to its fourth straight win.

Dustin Byfuglien ended his 33-game goalless drought and Blake Wheeler and Jacob Trouba each had two points as the Winnipeg Jets edged the Buffalo Sabres 4-3. Winnipeg is now 14-1-1 in their last 16 games at Bell MTS Place.

Matt Duchene only need seven seconds of overtime to help give the Ottawa Senators a 6-5 win over the San Jose Sharks. Mike Hoffman had a goal and four points, Mark Stone chipped in three points and Duchene finished with a three-point night in the win. The Senators fought back from deficits of 1-0, 4-1 and 5-2.

• Congrats to Canada on another gold medal at the World Junior Championship.

Factoid of the Night:

SCORES:
Penguins, 4 New York Islanders 0
Red Wings 4, Panthers 2
Senators 6, Sharks 5 (OT)
Jets 4, Sabres 3
Golden Knights 5, Blackhawks 4

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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.

Jets’ Dustin Byfuglien finally ends 33-game goalless drought (Video)

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Dustin Byfuglien has been no stranger to scoring goals in his NHL career. He’s hit double digits in nine of the last 10 seasons, but this year he’s gone cold.

Entering Friday night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, Byfuglien had gone goalless for the Winnipeg Jets through 29 games. That drought came to an end 9:27 into game No. 30 and snapped a personal 33-game stretch without a goal.

You could see in the celebration just how relieved Byfuglien, who miss nearly a month with a lower-body injury, was to finally see that zero on the stat sheet finally change to a one in the goal category. His last one before Friday? March 30 against the Anaheim Ducks.

While it may have taken some time for his first goal, Byfuglien’s still been productive for the Jets, handing out 15 assists and leading the team’s blue liners in points per game with 0.52. If this is the start of him getting back to his usual goal scoring ways, that will be mean very good things for Winnipeg.

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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

PHT presents: Fantasy Festivus

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Ah, the holidays: a time of lists, reckless spending, and themed posts.

It’s time to dust off that aluminum pole from the crawl space, gather friends and family, and celebrate Fantasy Festivus, created by Frank Costanza of “Seinfeld” fame. For more on the sacred event, check out the video at the bottom of this post.

Actually, let’s cut out the feats of strength (maybe check this post for something similar to that?) and go straight to the good stuff: an airing of fantasy hockey grievances.

(“I got a lot of problems with you people.”)

The Montreal Canadiens, in general

Apologies to Phillip Danault, a former Blackhawks forward who’s clearly carving out his niche in Montreal … but it’s not the GREATEST sign when he’s leading your team in scoring, and with 21 points in that.

Claude Julien is a strong tactical coach, yet you could argue that some of his preferences put scorers at a disadvantage. If that’s not enough, GM Marc Bergevin has also stacked the deck against Julien, in part by removing fleeter, puck-moving defensemen for rough-and-tumble types who tend to clog up the works.

Some of it’s bad luck, no doubt.

  • We’re getting to the point where it might be time to worry about Max Pacioretty, whose puck luck has been especially troubling. He’s only connected on 5.8 percent of his shots on goal (eight goals on a ridiculous 137 SOG) so far this season.
  • Injuries haven’t been kind, with Shea Weber sidelined indefinitely and Carey Price missing an extended period of time.

Still, there are elements of these struggles that are self-inflicted.

It’s still frustrating to see Alex Galchenyuk average just 15:03 TOI per game, being that he’s tied for third in scoring with Brendan Gallagher, another useful forward logging less than 16 minutes per night.

Julien might get angered by turnovers and other mistakes made by offensive-minded players who sometimes fail at trying to make something happen, but what about all of the chances that never happen with more modestly skilled players? This is a frustrating lesson in hockey’s version of “You need to spend money to make money.”

If you’re in an auction league, hopefully you didn’t budget too much for Montreal.

More grievances

  • Brent Burns‘ slow start – Now with six goals and 22 points, Burns has mostly worked his way out of an early-season slump, although he still might not be delivering at the level many expected if they used a third, second, or even first-round pick on the bearded one. But, oh, that start. A guy who scores like a prolific sniper took until Nov. 24, his 21st game of 2017-18, to finally score a goal.

If you traded Burns while he was really slumping, then an extra lump of coal. If you took advantage of his tough times in an advantageous trade, then you’re smart and possibly a good listener.

  • Erik Karlsson kinda sorta being human – He’s still awesome, and arguably still the best defenseman in the NHL, but Karlsson’s struggled this season. Maybe the whole “missing part of his ankle” thing limits his scoring?
  • Dustin Byfuglien is like those blueliners, only hurt and thus unable to redeem himself.
  • Misc. underachievers – Whether it be because of injuries, inconsistency, or both, Ryan Getzlaf, Rasmus Ristolainen, Cam Atkinson, and quite a few others have disappointed us. Shame.
  • Matt Duchene – C’mon, Duchene. He’ll start producing more regularly but (fidgets like an impatient child).
  • Especially painful plus/minus guys – Look, I agree that plus/minus is a really weak stat, yet most fantasy leagues still use it.

With that in mind, some stars are hurting. Oliver Ekman-Larsson has more minuses (-25) than points (19), sporting the NHL’s worst minus. You can summarize Jack Eichel being on an island in many ways by noting his -13 rating, despite all of his rage and efforts.

Again, you can mostly chalk this stuff up to being on bad teams and also power-play proficiency not helping that category, but it still stings in fantasy.

  • The Carolina Hurricanes falling short of the hype – Year after year, this team’s youth entices preseason hype like a puck-based siren call. So far, fantasy owners have been better off filling their ears with beeswax. Scott Darling‘s been a disappointment in particular, going 8-10-6 with an ugly .896 save percentage.

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So, consider that an abridged list of grievances; we’d be here all day if every grievance needed to be named.

Surely there are others who’ve burned you this season, however, so shake your fist (or Festivus-themed aluminium pole?) at anyone I missed in the comments. Also feel free to celebrate feats of strength if you’re in a merrier mood.

You don’t even need to pin George’s dad to share your own thoughts. It’s a Festivus miracle!

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.

Byfuglien’s loss is Trouba’s gain with Jets

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Theoretically, you could attempt to make the “injuries open up the door for other players to succeed” argument just about all the time, but aside from a Kurt Warner discovery here and there, most of the time a star player being out week-to-week is abysmal for a team.

The Winnipeg Jets can’t be thrilled to learn that Dustin Byfuglien is considered week-to-week thanks to a lower-body injury, with PHT’s Scott Billeck reporting that they hope to get the bulky blueliner back sometime around the Christmas holiday.

The domino effect could be bad overall, yet this actually is one of those cases where an injury could open a door for a player capable of much more, as Jacob Trouba stands to gain some significant offensive opportunities with Byfuglien on the shelf.

That much was already made clear today, as Trouba took Byfuglien’s spot on the top power-play unit. As of this writing, Byfuglien was averaging a team-leading 3:34 PP TOI per contest this season, towering over Trouba’s average of 1:22 per night.

You could make a reasonable argument that finances might have played a role in Byfuglien getting such an opportunity advantage, as Buffy is taking in (an increasingly scary) $7.6 million through 2020-21, while Trouba’s 2017-18 will play a significant role in how much of a raise he receives from his borderline-insulting $2.8M mark.

If all things were equal, would Byfuglien get this much leash, considering somewhat disappointing totals (zero goals, 15 assists)?

[Are the Jets merely cold or is this reality starting to hit them?]

Look, it’s likely that Byfuglien was going to get some bounces, much like Brent Burns finally is getting in San Jose. Still, considering the focus Winnipeg’s incredible forwards can draw, you’d ideally want to see Byfuglien fire at least a few pucks in the net.

Last week, The Athletic’s Craig Custance wrote about (sub required) Trouba being willing to sacrifice offensive opportunities this season, even in a contract year. An anonymous NHL executive read many minds in wondering if Trouba was capable of more than he’s shown so far this season.

“I could see a guy like Trouba segueing into a more offensive role. Where he is today, I don’t think is necessarily the ultimate barometer,” said one Eastern Conference executive. “They have a pretty good team. They play a great team game. The forwards are awesome. Sometimes you have to just give it to (Patrik) Laine and watch.”

Perhaps that’s true, but again, players like Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Nikolaj Ehlers create havoc for opposing defenses. Sometimes such threats force teams to cheat a little bit to try to reduce their chances, conceivably opening up potentially precious extra moments for other skilled players to take advantage of unusually large windows of opportunity.

Trouba’s game has clearly gone more conservative at times this season. You can see it even in just shooting; Trouba’s averaging 2.3 shots on goal per contest, down from 2.57 per night last season. That might not seem massive, but wouldn’t you expect a healthy dose of greed to push Trouba closer to three SOG per game, especially since it might actually benefit Winnipeg for a talented player to fire the biscuit that much more?

A cynical observer might wonder if the Jets were trying to have their cake and eat it too here: hold off on Trouba getting a bigger offensive push until after he signs his next contract, while reaping the benefits of having at least one more season of employing a top-pairing defenseman for less than $3M.

[Jets salary cap outlook, and more on how much Trouba could cost.]

Sly observers will see that Trouba is an excellent two-way piece, but when it comes to contract negotiations, sometimes a lack of goals and assists can mysteriously hurt a blueliner’s bottom line.

All of these factors make this tweak awfully interesting for Trouba, not to mention other Jets players, including the wonderfully named Tucker Poolman.

Deep down, Jets management might not want this experiment to be too successful, honestly.

In other Jets injury news, Steve Mason has been activated from IR. Check out more Jets fun from Billeck at NHL.com.

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.

Is it a slump or is regression setting in for the Winnipeg Jets?

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Might regression be hitting the Winnipeg Jets at the moment?

It’s a question Jets fans are asking themselves after a three-game road trip that produced just a single point and a goose egg in the win column.

It’s the first time the Jets have lost three straight all season. In year’s past, this wouldn’t have come as much surprise, but the Jets have thrown the status quo out the window this season and have sung a different tune.

The analytics would suggest the Jets were due for a fall back to earth.

For most of the season, they’ve been near the bottom of the league in terms of Corsi, with only recently climbing up that ladder with a help of a very lopsided game against the Ottawa Senators.

Regression in goal is also starting to happen, and a lot of Winnipeg’s early-season success had to do with how well Connor Hellebuyck had been playing.

Hellebuyck has been sensational most of the season and his 15-3-4  record supports that. But his save percentage has been trending in the wrong direction lately. In five of his past six starts, Hellebuyck has only achieved a .900 save percentage or better once, and that came in that 5-0 shutout against the Senators.

Nov. 27 vs MIN: .895
Nov. 29 vs COL: .885
Dec. 1 vs VGK: .871
Dec. 3 vs. OTT: 1.000
Dec. 5 vs DET: .844
Dec. 9 vs TBL: .857

The Jets give up a lot of shots, so the odds that Hellebuyck’s early season numbers would survive throughout the year were low.

The sky is by no means falling in Winnipeg. The Jets showed they can go toe-to-toe with the league’s best on Saturday. Overtime has just been the bane of their existence this season with a 0-5 record in free hockey.

The Jets touched the summit of the Western Conference last week, a pipe dream around these parts in recent times. They also possess two of the league’s top point-producers (Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler) and one of the league’s top goal scorers (Patrik Laine), not to mention having a rookie just outside top 10 in rookie scoring (Kyle Connor).

Prior to the road trip, Winnipeg’s power play had scored eight times in 19 attempts.

The Jets have also been largely healthy. Defenseman Toby Enstrom is the midst of an eight-week spell in the press box — and there’s a pending diagnosis coming for Dustin Byfuglien after he left Saturday’s game in Tampa Bay with a lower-body injury — but the Jets gotten by relatively unscathed thus far and managed well when Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry missed several games.

The Jets have made too many strides this season to regress too far away from where they are right now. Asking a team to go from outside the playoff line to tops in the division might be asking a tad too much. But with that said, the Jets are simply a good team these days and stacked with high-level talent.


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