Jaromir Jagr

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Aleksander Barkov on Panthers’ season, the shootout, playing with Jagr (PHT Q&A)

While things are pretty bleak in South Florida, Aleksander Barkov is continuing to shine for the Florida Panthers. The 22-year-old center is having another productive season, which has been buoyed by an increase in ice time.

Over the summer new Panthers head coach Bob Boughner told Barkov that he wanted to give him more time on special teams, and so far through 28 games he’s at career highs in power play (3:39/game average) and shorthanded minutes (1:51/game average). Known for a strong two-way game, being handed more responsibility was music to the young Finns ears.

“I don’t mind it. I like to be on the ice in every situation and try to help the team,” Barkov told Pro Hockey Talk this week. “That’s why I play hockey. I want to be good anywhere, if it’s our own end or offensive zone or face-offs or whatever. I’m trying to get better every day.”

In order to prepare for the bump in ice time and because of injuries that caused him to miss 36 games over the last two seasons, Barkov changed his summer training a bit. He wanted to make himself lighter and faster in order to not expend as much energy on the ice. He focused on running and sprints and increased the amount of stretching, all of which he believes has helped him this year, and he has 10 goals and 27 points to show for it.

We spoke with Barkov earlier this week about his two-way game, his success in the shootout and playing with Jaromir Jagr.

Enjoy.

Q. The team is currently sitting in a position you don’t want to be in at this point of the season. What hasn’t clicked so far?

BARKOV: “Sometimes we’ve been playing pretty well, but that’s not enough. We need to play well all 60 minutes. It’s so tough to win in this league if you [only] play a 40-minute game instead of 60. We have such good teams in this league that can find a way to win games. We just need to concentrate on our own game and try to play our best game every night and give everything.”

Your two-way game is very noticeable and that’s led to some Selke Trophy talk. How much of your off-season work focuses on the defensive aspect of the game?

“It comes with the territory. If you’re in good shape, you can play anywhere, not just offense or not just defense. If you play in your own end for 30 seconds you still have that energy to go in the offensive zone or in the offensive zone you still have energy to go and play in your own end and not let them score on you.”

Along with your minutes your face-off win percentage (55 percent) is up quite a bit as well. Are you approaching face-offs this season using a different technique?

“Actually, I don’t think it’s a different technique, just we have a pretty good coach, Paul MacFarland, who is helping us a lot with face-offs and he’s telling us about other players and how they take face-offs and what should work against them. Of course, a lot of practice and confidence, too. You need that confidence in the face-off [circle] when you’re taking it, you know you’re going to win or at least tie him up.”

You’re at 51 percent for your career in the shootout. Before an attempt, do you have a move in mind that you want to do or do you just react to how the goalie is moving?

“I should have a move in my mind, otherwise it will probably not [be a] goal. If I take the puck and I know what I’m going to do, it gives me a lot of confidence that I can score.”

Is there a move that you’ve worked on in practice and haven’t pulled it out in a shootout yet?

“There’s a couple move but I still need to work on them in practice a couple more times to get confident with the move. Maybe we’ll see one day.”

You’re pretty good with that Kent Nilsson/Peter Forsberg/Jussi Jokinen move.

“Yeah, it’s a pretty good one. I have a long reach so it’s tough for the goalies. I know the goalies are watching videos too and they know that I like to do that so they try to play that way, so I need to create a lot more moves so they won’t know what I’m doing.”

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You got to spend parts of three seasons playing with Jaromir Jagr. With the time you spent on and off the ice, what kind of things did you learn from him?

“He might be the guy I learned the most from. A guy like him, when he came into our team you just couldn’t believe it happened. He was my favorite player when I was growing up and now we’re playing on the same team and maybe even on the same line. It was a dream come true. Of course, playing with him and practicing with him and just being around him, you learn so much, especially about living the life of a professional hockey player and what it takes to be a good player and to get to the top.”

When a guy like Jagr enters the room, a living legend, someone who won Stanley Cups before you were even born, were you nervous around him at first?

“When I first heard he got traded to our team we had a game that night, he wasn’t there yet but still I was thinking about that the whole game. I don’t remember anything about that game except that he got traded to our team. Then he came in an hour before the next game, so they put us in the same line and we never talked before, never did anything before, just go on the ice and I think we created two or three good chances with him during the first shift. Then we just noticed it was so much fun to play with him. He tried to get us a lot better and we tried to get him a lot better, and that’s how we had success.”

Was there one piece of advice that he gave that’s stuck with you ever since?

“If I want to be the best I have to work more than anybody else. It doesn’t mean that I have to go and skate with him at 5 a.m. or 4 a.m., whatever he does. All the time, try to work on your game, try to work on your body and try to be better all the time. Of course, rest is a good thing too. But try to work as much as you can.”

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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.

The Buzzer: Backhander compliments

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Arena/expansion fun

Another positive step for an NHL team in Seattle.

Hurricanes on the way to being sold, but not moved (and more).

Notable Nights

There were a handful of strong player of the night candidates, so let’s rattle them off. Before you get angry that your guy was left out, please note that this is a lightning round, not a comprehensive list.

  • Jakub Voracek is really starting to heat up, collecting three assists in the Flyers’ 4-1 win against the Canucks, Philly’s third consecutive win. This is the second time in three games that Voracek’s managed a three-assist night, with one assist sandwiched in between for seven points in three contests.

Instead of allowing mediocre shooting luck to be his downfall (seven goals on 108 SOG for just 6.5 percent success rate), Voracek is piling up points; he now has a whopping 37 points in 29 games. You could argue that he’s the greatest catalyst for a fantastic trio with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier.

  • Two guys with two-goal nights make the list because of context. David Backes managed two tallies despite the reasonable argument that he shouldn’t be playing so soon after having part of his colon removed. Sean Monahan, meanwhile, is starting to earn the nickname Mr. Overtime.

  • Joe Thornton‘s three-point night helped the Sharks manage an impressive comeback against the Hurricanes, culminating in a 5-4 OT win. They had been down 4-2 late in the contest.

Stealing that ’70s Show

Jeff Carter‘s sadly on the shelf, but two other key cast members of “That ’70s Line” combined for a beauty. Tyler Toffoli did most of the work in befuddling the Senators – including Erik Karlsson – while Tanner Pearson scored the goal:

Backhanders: not dead yet

Boy, it seemed like there were some especially nice backhand goals tonight. Gabriel Landeskog and Steven Stamkos dueled with backhand goals in the time you’d reheat leftovers in the microwave (with Stamkos’ tally being my favorite of the two, style-wise):

Christian Dvorak broke a personal slump with one of the best goals of the night. The turnover he forced really sold it.

More Factoids

Vladislav Namestnikov and Steven Stamkos both were back to business in scoring one goal and two assists apiece, and the Lightning are just on another level. So consider those two as additional player of the night.

And one more Jumbo Joe note, because beating Jaromir Jagr in a stat is almost always a feat worth gloating about:

The Kings now lead the West with 41 standings points after rattling off their seventh win in a row on Thursday night. Impressive stuff.

Scary Moment

Along with Sidney Crosby‘s injury scare, there was this moment for the Coyotes. Yikes:

Rieder returned soon after, but like with Crosby, it’s wise to monitor the situation.

Scores

Bruins 6, Coyotes 1
Penguins 4, Islanders 3 (OT)
Flames 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Lightning 5, Avalanche 2
Panthers 6, Jets 4
Blues 3, Stars 0
Flyers 4, Canucks 1
Kings 4, Senators 3 (OT)
Sharks 5, Hurricanes 4 (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.

Michael Grabner is chasing an obscure NHL record

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In the summer of 2016 the New York Rangers signed Michael Grabner to a two-year, $3.3 million contract that probably did not get a ton of attention. So far he has proven to be a tremendous addition to the team’s lineup and has already scored 40 goals in his 103 regular season games with the team.

That includes 13 through the first 27 games this season as he tries to show that his 27-goal output from a year ago was not a fluke.

What stands out about his goal total this season is that nearly half of them — six of the 13 — have been scored into an empty net.

He very nearly scored a seventh on Tuesday night in the Rangers’ 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins only to shoot wide of the net.

No player in the league this season has scored more than two empty net goals, while only 16 players have scored more than one. Only five teams have scored at least six empty net goals at this point.

So why is this worth pointing out? Because with still 55 games remaining in the 2017-18 season Grabner would seem to have a real shot at scoring more empty net goals in a single season than any player in NHL history.

At this point the NHL record is nine empty net goals set by Pavel Bure during the 1999-00 season when he was a member of the Florida Panthers.

You have to go all the way back to the 2000-01 season to find the last time anyone scored as many as six in a full season (Jaromir Jagr did it for the Pittsburgh Penguins).

This is also only the sixth time a player has scored at least six in a season. The rest of the list includes Bure, Jagr Wayne Gretzky (three different times), Keith Tkachuk (twice) and Mario Lemieux.

Only Bure (nine), Tkachuk (eight), and Lemieux (seven) have scored more than six.

There are a couple of ways to look at this. The first is that the empty net goal total is, obviously, inflating his goal total. But is that really a bad thing? After all there is a lot to be said for being a player that has that much trust from a coach to be out there in that situation protecting a late one-goal lead, and Grabner is obviously out there a ton. It would also seem to be a situation where Grabner’s speed would be an asset when it comes to getting to loose pucks, getting free and being able to put the game away.

A major, earth-shattering development if he does it? Not at all. Still a fun little thing to watch at the season progresses.

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.

These GMs are paying dearly for bad gambles

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Earlier today, PHT spoke about the resounding, uncomfortable parallels between Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel struggling to start this season (or at least struggling to find team success).

One can see a similar phenomenon occurring with some NHL GMs who made bold, polarizing moves to craft their teams in their images. In each case, their teams are likely to rebound – at least to some extent – yet it’s remarkable to see the similarities in how they’re being burned for, essentially, making unforced errors.

Ugly growths for Peter Chiarelli

Look, it’s not just about the Adam LarssonTaylor Hall trade, or even the Ryan StromeJordan Eberle move.

Instead, we’re looking at an Edmonton Oilers team built in the image of what GM Peter Chiarelli believes is a modern winner. Players like Hall and Eberle are gone, in part, to make room for Milan Lucic and Kris Russell. With more than $8M in cap space according to Cap Friendly, the Oilers assumed that they didn’t need to make additional moves during the summer – particularly to improve their defense – and there’s debate that it’s already too late to make a push.

In this salary cap age, sometimes you need to wave goodbye to quality players, but Chiarelli has instead moved younger, possible core guys out for older, slower, less effective pieces. I’m not the first to make this joke, but Chiarelli is the “general disappointment,” not the team. He’s the one who shopped for questionable ingredients.

The Oilers are asking too much of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Cam Talbot (who carried a ridiculous workload last season). Merely look to Tuesday night to see the strain for these players.

Bergevin in a bind

The parallels between Chiarelli and Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin are, honestly, almost startling. (Bergevin’s the better dresser, though.)

Bergevin’s bet big on the Canadiens in the short term. Most obviously, he moved a younger star defenseman in P.K. Subban for an older one with a scarier contract in Shea Weber. Even the Mikhail SergachevJonathan Drouin trade made the Habs older.

In many cases, the Habs suffer from old-school thinking in similar ways to the Oilers. The addition of Karl Alzner is divisive in that way, and it hasn’t gone well. Nathan Beaulieu isn’t a world-beater, but he can play a transition game that can help him fit in with the modern game, and the Canadiens gave him up for a pick. Andrei Markov walked to the KHL.

Much like $20M soon going to Connor McDavid + Leon Draisaitl, we can debate the Carey Price extension, especially with his health faltering, but those are the risks many NHL teams take. The thing that really stings Montreal is the unforced errors Bergevin’s made in crafting a team that plays “the old way” in some cases.

It hasn’t been pretty.

Another parallel between the Canadiens and the Oilers is that they both have cap space used for (???). It brings up a painful thought: Bergevin and Chiarelli, two swashbuckling traders, probably couldn’t get things done early this season. It’s basically the worst of both worlds for fans of the Canadiens and Oilers.

This quote from Bergevin via The Athletic’s Apron Basu (again, sub required), almost feels like he’s becoming slowly, painfully self-aware:

” … So it’s hard to make trades, it’s just the way it is,” Bergevin said. “There’s a few here and there, but at the end of the day teams want to keep their core players. That’s just the way it is.”

Bad defenses, a feeling of desperation mixed with little room for moves, and all this cap space going to waste. Yeah, this is sounding familiar. Both teams are also suffering with goalie headaches, with Carey Price ailing and Talbot struggling.

Thank goodness Dale Tallon’s back?

Of course, in both cases, asking for an Oilers/Canadiens trade is a “careful what you wish for” proposition.

Just look at the Florida Panthers and reinstated GM Dale Tallon, who showed an almost charming lack of self-awareness in discussing his return to a team that … still seems rudderless.

The Panthers allowed Jaromir Jagr to walk in free agency and gave Jason Demers, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault away for little more than mulligans.

Last season, Florida saw crushing injuries to Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau while experiencing a slew of front office headaches. Tallon’s been able to resume control, and in doing so, going back to … wait for it … and old-school design.

Oh yeah, and gutting the sort of depth you need to succeed when that awesome Barkov line can’t do everything, kind of like Edmonton struggling when McDavid can’t do everything. This all sound familiar, doesn’t it?

***

Seriously, the parallels get creepier the deeper you dive.

The three teams even boast nearly identical records. Both the Oilers and Panthers are 7-11-2 as of this writing, while the Canadiens sit at 8-11-2.

Now there are differences at hand; it seems like the Canadiens and Oilers are at least regretting decisions, while there’s some (at least public) defiance from Tallon. It’s also fair to expect improvements in each situation, especially with Montreal and Edmonton.

And that brings us to an important question: are these teams learning any lessons about giving up skill and speed? For all we know, it might be too late for this season, but McDavid, Barkov, and others are still easily young enough that their teams can get back on the right path.

That might not happen if their teams keep making the same, critical mistakes.

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.

Gaudreau, Monahan, Flames too much for Capitals

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When you talk about the best lines in the NHL, don’t sleep on the trio Johnny Gaudreau is leading for the Calgary Flames.

With his 10th goal of the season coming early in a Flames – Washington Capitals game that is ongoing, Gaudreau collected his 30th point of 2017-18. As of this writing, only two other players have hit that mark so far: Steven Stamkos (35 points) and Nikita Kucherov (33), the headliners of a Tampa Bay Lightning trio that’s grabbing a lot of, well, headlines.

Here’s the goal Gaudreau scored against the Caps, keeping in mind that he has plenty of time to add to his lofty totals:

To an extent, it feels like Gaudreau’s fantastic work has been sneaking under the radar, at least compared to the likes of Stamkos – Kucherov. Then again, maybe some of it has to do with the fact that his hot streak is at least somewhat concentrated in the last few weeks?

Gaudreau, no doubt, is the catalyst. His playmaking ability is often spellbinding, and he’s well beyond questions about being a flash in the pan at this point in his career. The 24-year-old came into tonight’s game with 233 points in 251 career regular-season games; he’s scored more than the likes of Joe Pavelski and Evgeni Malkin since becoming a full-time player in 2014-15, according to Hockey Reference. (He ranks 12th overall during that span.)

His linemates deserve some of the spotlight, too.

There remains a debate about how much Sean Monahan can accomplish without Gaudreau, yet the counterpoint would be to wonder if it’s really that wise to mess with such a good thing. Such an argument is especially tough to make on the heels of his first career hat trick:

While Gaudreau has eight goals and 10 assists for a whopping 18 points (and possibly counting) during a 10-game point streak, Monahan collected his 21st point of this season on the primary assist. He added a helper to that hat trick the other night, so even if he’s stopped for the rest of Monday, Monahan has five points in two games. He also generated a six-game point streak (three goals, five assists) from Oct. 27 – Nov. 9.

When people haven’t been discussing Monahan’s dependence upon Gaudreau, they’ve wondered who might be the right winger for that dynamic duo.

Micheal Ferland might spell the end of that debate.

The big 25-year-old currently has 12 points in 18 games, but he’s really been revving up his production as of late. The Flyers snapped his five-game goal streak on Nov. 18, yet he extended his point streak to six contests with an assist (5G, 3A).

Logically, Ferland makes some sense for Gaudreau – Monahan. Neither of those forwards bring a lot of beef to the table, and Ferland has also shown some signs that he possesses the ability to finish the chances they can set up. As fun as it is to watch Jaromir Jagr with those two, Ferland might end up being the best fit for them since Jiri Hudler’s better Flames days.

(Ferland didn’t get an assist on Gaudreau’s goal, so he’ll need to generate some offense as this game goes along to keep his impressive streak going.)

***

Stamkos, Kucherov, and Vladislav Namestnikov probably carry the championship belts as the best scoring line in hockey, at least right now. One of the delightful things about this relatively high-scoring start to the season is that there are plenty of contenders for that imaginary title, and Gaudreau’s group shouldn’t be shortchanged in such debates.

Update: Monahan added a goal of his own (the eventual game-winner, with a primary assist by Gaudreau) as the Flames ran away with this one by a score of 4-1. Matthew Tkachuk made his presence felt as well with two assists.

About the only bummer was that Ferland’s point streak ended.

So, Gaudreau finishes the night with 31 points on the season, including 19 during this 10-game streak. Monahan now has 22 points (with six in the last two contests).

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.