James Reimer

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Beyond MacKinnon: A look at rising Avalanche

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The Colorado Avalanche probably wish they could push their bye week back, or cancel it altogether.

Such logic would be understandable after last night’s jarring win: a 7-2 drubbing of the Minnesota Wild. The Avs impressed their Central Division rivals, as The Athletic’s Michael Russo reports (sub required):

“They’ve got some good young players,” Eric Staal said. “They’ve got quickness. They’ve got, it looks like, a better belief in the style of game they need to play. When you’re that far behind the eight-ball the way they were last year, sometimes it’s difficult to be up for games. But they’re real competitive.”

That 7-2 mark represented the Avalanche’s fifth consecutive victory, placing them – for the time being – in one of the West’s wild card spots. Remarkably, they’ve generated 47 standings points in 41 games in 2017-18 after generating just 48 in all of 2016-17.

With all of that in mind, it might be entertaining and informative to do a deep dive on the Avalanche. Let’s look at what’s been working during the winning streak and beyond.

Nate Mac, duh

The most obvious reason is one that sticks out like a frostbitten thumb: Nathan MacKinnon‘s explosion from very good player to superstar.

We won’t beat that drum too much again, as we’ve already done so here and here. Just note that MacKinnon has an absurd 12 points during this five-game winning streak (three goals, nine assists) and is ranked second in scoring with 52 points overall.

More than Mac

Don’t look now, but Samuel Girard has five points in as many games, so Avs fans shouldn’t fret about Matt Duchene starting to heat up in Ottawa. Young players are driving much of Colorado’s success, as Alex Kerfoot would probably be getting more attention as a strong rookie in a weaker Calder year, while Mikko Rantanen continues to ascend the ranks alongside MacKinnon.

At 25, Gabriel Landeskog isn’t quite old, but he’s experienced compared to some of those other names. The sturdy Swede has 32 points in 37 games this season, just one short of tying his 2016-17 total.

Bernier up the charts

Much like James Reimer in Florida, Jonathan Bernier is a backup with some starting experience who’s taking advantage of an opportunity to shine with his team’s starter (in this case, Semyon Varlamov) on the shelf.

Bernier hasn’t been lights-out overall (still just 9-7-1 with .909 save percentage), yet he’s been burning it up during this run. The former first-rounder is on a four-game winning streak, allowing five goals and nabbing one shutout.

Power play showing some power

The Avalanche have generated at least one power-play goal in four of five games during this winning streak, generating seven overall (7-for-17).

A longer run

A five-game winning streak is only so much during an 82-game regular season. The positive thing is that the Avalanche’s run really goes deeper than this surge.

When the Avs fell 5-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 7, their record dipped to 12-13-2. Since then, they’ve only lost four times, going 10-3-1 to improve to 22-16-3 overall.

Paying the toll

One thing to note is that the Avalanche have enjoyed some home-cooking lately. Yesterday ended a six-game homestand, and they’ve played nine of their last 11 in Colorado. They’ll pay that debt back soon enough, as they’ll face a six-game road trip and nine of 10 on the road during this stretch:

Mon, Jan 22 @ Toronto
Tue, Jan 23 @ Montreal
Thu, Jan 25 @ St. Louis
Tue, Jan 30 @ Vancouver
Thu, Feb 1 @ Edmonton
Sat, Feb 3 @ Winnipeg
Tue, Feb 6 vs San Jose
Thu, Feb 8 @ St. Louis
Sat, Feb 10 @ Carolina
Sun, Feb 11 @ Buffalo

With that in mind, the Avalanche should push that much harder to avoid sleepwalking out of this break. They play one road game next Saturday and then enjoy a three-game homestand before that stretch listed above, so they might want to build a buffer for themselves.

***

The good news is that the Avalanche are wiping away the ugly memories of last season, and doing so to a degree that surprises even those who were optimistic that they could improve. The only downside is that they’re raising expectations, and that might make a dip more disappointing.

Still, they’ll take 47 points midway through a season over 48 during a full season any day.

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: Reimer’s redemption, Ovechkin the assist machine

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Player of the Night: James Reimer, Florida Panthers

What if a goalie who’s often an analytics darling saves the season for a sometimes-seemingly-anti-analytics team in the Florida Panthers? If nothing else, Reimer is a catalyst for Florida’s hot streak, as the goalie and team are both on five-game winning streaks after a 2-0 win against the fledgling Montreal Canadiens.

In Saturday’s case, Reimer stopped all 38 shots on goal for his 19th career shutout.

The Panthers have asked quite a bit of Reimer, too, so he deserves a significant chunk of the credit.

Other worthy mentions for player of the night include Alex Ovechkin (three assists), John Carlson (goal, two assists), and Tyler Toffoli (also a goal and two assists).

Best highlights:

Great passing by the Capitals, including Ovechkin:

Connor Brickley generated the celebration of the night:

Meanwhile, this was not the celebration of the night … or was it?

Factoids:

Circling back to Ovechkin, his three-assist night generated factoids both obscure and broad. This is a cool one for context, especially when you consider the fact that Ovechkin is such a prolific scorer during a time when it’s tough to put pucks in the net (especially for most other players):

It was a night of milestones for the Capitals, as Barry Trotz also became the fifth-winningest coach in NHL history.

Scores

Bruins 5, Senators 0
Panthers 2, Canadiens 0
Capitals 5, Devils 2
Blues 3, Hurricanes 2
Predators 3, Wild 0
Kings 4, Canucks 3

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: Marleau continues to turn back the clock; Vegas continues to rewrite record book

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Players of the Night: 

Patrick Marleau, Toronto Maple Leafs: Marleau scored two more goals, his 13th and 14th goals of the season. It was the 67th multi-goal game of his long career. It’s been a great season for the former Sharks forward. The man is timeless, everyone. Timeless.

James Reimer, Florida Panthers: Reimer stopped 29 of 31 shots for his fourth consecutive win. Reimer has put up a .935 save percentage or better in each of those four games.

Sam Gagner and Thomas Vanek, Vancouver Canucks: Each player had a pair of goals to their respective names in a 5-2 win for the Canucks over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Highlights of the Night: 

Marleau’s second goal of the game came off a pretty slick deke after getting the puck alone in front:

Derek MacKenzie goal finished off this slick cross-ice pass. It was a short-handed goal to boot.

Nikita Kucherov‘s no-look pass found Steven Stamkos for some Sedin-like magic:

Joonas Donskoi in a short film that needs no explanation:

Factoids of the Night: 

James Reimer is doing things in Florida:

Brock Boeser is re-writing the Canucks’ rookie record book:

MISC: 

Scores:

Lightning 3, Canadiens 1

Capitals 4, Bruins 3 (SO)

Panthers 3, Flyers 2

Maple Leafs 7, Coyotes 4

Canucks 5, Blackhawks 2

Golden Knights 3, Kings 2 (OT)

Sharks 3, Flames 2 (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

The Buzzer: Merry Christmas Edition

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Players of the Night:

Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders: Barzal recorded his first career NHL hat trick against the Winnipeg Jets and took over the rookie scoring lead with 35 points. Not a bad day.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning, John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks, James Reimer, Florida Panthers, Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights, and Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: Each of these goaltenders recorded shutouts on Saturday night. Vasilevskiy got his fourth of the season, stopping 22 shots to tie Sergei Bobrovsky for the NHL lead in shutouts; Gibson made 29 saves, including one you will see below on Sidney Crosby; Reimer stopped all 38 shots sent his way by the Ottawa Senators; Fleury kept the Capitals in check, stopping 26 shots for his first shutout of the season; and Jones dethroned the Kings, stopping all 28 shots he faced.

Dallas Stars penalty killers: The Stars appeared dead in the water after Jamie Benn and Dan Hamhuis took penalties in overtime against the Nashville Predators, but Ben Bishop and Co. weathered the storm, which included 31 seconds of 5-on-3 time, and ended up taking the game in a shootout on Tyler Seguin‘s winner.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks: Kane became the fifth player in Blackhawks history to record his 300th NHL goal on Saturday.

Highlights of the Night:

John Gibson did this to Sidney Crosby tonight:

Barzal’s hatty deserves its spot here:

Taylor Hall scored on this ridiculous deke. Poor Anton Forsberg:

Alexander Radulov‘s shootout goal was pretty filthy:

Factoids of the Night: 

More Barzal:

Vegas keeps, well, Vegasing.

Brock Boeser smashes Pavel Bure’s record by 15 games:

“Merry Christmas to me,” Brock Boeser said, probably.

MISC: 

Scores: 

Bruins 3, Red Wings 1

Islanders 5, Jets 2

Oilers 4, Canadiens 1

Lightning 3, Wild 0

Panthers 1, Senators 0

Devils 4, Blackhawks 1

Ducks 4, Penguins 0

Hurricanes 4, Sabres 2

Blue Jackets 2, Flyers 1 (SO)

Golden Knights 3, Capitals 0

Avalanche 6, Coyotes 2

Stars 4, Predators 3 (SO)

Sharks 2, Kings 0

Blues 3, Canucks 1

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!


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

For the Florida Panthers, Michael Hutchinson could be the perfect fit

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If the Florida Panthers are in the market for a goaltender — and they are, according to reports  — Dale Tallon might want to give the Winnipeg Jets a call.

The Jets hold the keys to the top goaltender without a job in the NHL this season. His name? Michael Hutchinson (a man feared by Chicago Blackhawks fans).

If one thing has become abundantly clear early in this current NHL season, it’s that organizational goaltender depth is something every team should be grooming.

Many teams have, or are currently, figuring out where they stand in this department. The Vegas Golden Knights have been hardest hit, so much so they had to use an emergency recall on a goaltender still trying to find his way in the Western Hockey League earlier year.

But the likes of Carey Price, Matt Murray and, most recently, Roberto Luongo, have given their respective teams no option but to look within (or claim Antti Niemi off waivers, which two of those three teams have done this year). The Canadiens found relief in Charlie Lindgren and Tristan Jarry has been a stud for the Penguins.

But Luongo’s injury might just force the Panthers in a different direction. James Reimer hasn’t been the model of consistency this season and has failed to take the starter’s reins in Florida and run with them. With Luongo on the shelf for the long-term and the fact that looking within isn’t likely to help in the Sunshine State, perhaps a phone call to Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff could help turn the Panthers’ fortunes.

Hutchinson has been on a tear with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, where he ranks first in save percentage with a whopping .951 and is second only to Toronto Marlies netminder Garret Sparks in goals-against average with a 1.73. In 11 games played, Hutchinson has lost just once in regulation and holds a 9-1-1 record and his rich vein of form earned him AHL’s goalie of the month honours for November.

Hutchinson has played so well that when Steve Mason went down with a concussion last month, there was a low chance that Hutchinson would be recalled. He simply wouldn’t clear waivers when Mason makes his eventual return and the Jets would be out an asset that looks increasingly likely to garner a decent return.

‘Hutch’ certainly fits the Panthers’ criteria, suggested by TSN insider Bob McKenzie: He’s 27, a young netminder that comes with 99 games of NHL experience including some meaningful action when he helped the Jets secure a playoff spot during the 2014-15 season when Ondrej Pavelec went down with injury, winning 21 games in what was his coming out party.

Hutchinson has cooled off over the past two seasons, playing second fiddle to Pavelec in 2015-16 and then Connor Hellebuyck last season. When the Jets signed Steve Mason on the first day of free agency in July, it was all but assured that Hutchinson would start the season in the AHL and ride out the final year of his contract.

It’s become clear in Winnipeg that Hutchinson didn’t like being sent down. Most don’t. He has yet to give an interview to scribes this season.

But despite being upset, he’s handled it (mostly) the correct way: take it on the chin and go out and be a professional on the ice.

It could end up being the right fit at the right time for both parties. The Panthers need someone to steady the ship. Hutchinson, in the final year of a two-year contract, needs some NHL games to make his case for a spot on an NHL roster next season.

And the Panthers aren’t bringing Niemi back.


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