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Taylor Hall’s shorthanded winner puts Devils on verge of playoffs

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The score was tied 1-1 and the Montreal Canadiens had themselves a 5-on-3 power play late in the third period vs. the New Jersey Devils Sunday night. That’s the kind of good fortune you want to have when trying to win a game, right?

Well, the Habs failed to score as the first power play expired, which let loose Taylor Hall from the penalty box. Adding to Montreal’s troubles was that Jeff Petry‘s one-timer from up top was blocked by Travis Zajac, who then proceeded to send an unmarked Hall in on Carey Price for a game-changing opportunity.

Oh, what a Hart Trophy conversation we’ll be having over the next few weeks…

A huge, huge win for the Devils as they moved one step closer to clinching a playoff spot. With three games to go in their regular season, New Jersey sits in the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot with 93 points, seven points ahead of the Florida Panthers, who have five games remaining.

The Devils’ magic number now sits at four. So, yeah, you can put that “x” next to their name in the standings because it’s only a matter of time before it’s written in pen.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The win, by the way, was the eighth time this season the Devils have taken two points after entering the third period trailing.

The Devils, who own a top-10 penalty kill, now lead the NHL in shorthanded goals for with 12. That goal was also Hall’s first shorty of his 527-game NHL career. He now has six goals and 13 points during an eight-game point streak.

New Jersey could punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a victory Tuesday against the New York Rangers.

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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

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Montreal Canadiens

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE – 7:30 p.m. ET

PROJECTED LINES

Pittsburgh Penguins
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Conor Sheary
Carl Hagelin – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
Bryan Rust – Derick Brassard – Phil Kessel
Tom Kuhnhackl – Riley Sheahan – Carter Rowney

Brian DumoulinKris Letang
Jamie OleksiakJustin Schultz
Olli Maatta – Chad Ruhwedel

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[PHT’s preview]

Montreal Canadiens
Paul ByronJonathan DrouinBrendan Gallagher
Alex GalchenyukJacob De La RoseArtturi Lehkonen
Charles HudonLogan Shaw – Nikita Scherbak
Nicolas DeslauriersByron Froese/Michael McCarron – Daniel Carr

Mike ReillyJeff Petry
Karl AlznerNoah Juulsen
Jordie Benn – Brett Lernout

Starting goalie: Antti Niemi

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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.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Monday night, as the Montreal Canadiens host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

PROJECTED LINES

Philadelphia Flyers
Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Jordan WealNolan PatrickJakub Voracek
Oskar LindblomScott LaughtonMichael Raffl
Jori LehteraValtteri FilppulaDale Weise

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Petr Mrazek

WATCH LIVE – 7:30 p.m. ET

Montreal Canadiens
Max PaciorettyJonathan Drouin – Artturi Lehkonen
Alex GalchenyukPhillip DanaultCharles Hudon
Paul ByronJacob De La RoseBrendan Gallagher
Nicolas DeslauriersLogan ShawDaniel Carr

Victor MeteJeff Petry
Karl AlznerNoah Juulsen
TBD – Jordie Benn

Staring goalie: Charlie Lindgren

What should potential Pacioretty trade look like for Canadiens?

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

There have been plenty of rumblings about the Canadiens being willing to trade captain Max Pacioretty. That’s all fine and dandy, but GM Marc Bergevin has to make sure he gets the proper return if he decides to trade his scoring winger.

There should be no shortage of suitors for the 29-year-old sniper, who has one more year on his contract after this season. The fact that he has an incredibly reasonable cap hit of $4.5 million will only enhance his value. Pacioretty has scored 39, 37, 30 and 35 goals over the last four seasons, and he’s done so without a true number one center.

Let’s take a look at what a potential return should look like:

Help Down the Middle

It’s no secret that the Canadiens are lacking a true number one center. Fun fact: they are probably lacking a true number two center right now, too. A group made up of Tomas Plekanec, Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin and Byron Froese doesn’t exactly scream Stanley Cup.

Acquiring Danault from Chicago a couple of years ago was a brilliant move by Bergevin, but he’s more of a very good third-line center than a top-six guy. Drouin, who was acquired this summer, has had a hard time adjusting to center in his first season with the Canadiens. There’s no doubt that he has an elite skill-level, but even Bergevin admitted that Drouin probably isn’t a center.

Getting an established top two center for Pacioretty isn’t going to be easy (it’s probably impossible), so the team has to land a young center with enormous potential. For example, prospects like Martin Necas (Carolina), Robert Thomas (St. Louis), Gabe Vilardi (Los Angeles) are the types of players that they should be targeting. They can’t help the Habs right away, but they’re talented enough to become difference makers in the near future.

The Canadiens have been looking for that top-line center for ages, and they have to score one on a trade involving Pacioretty. He’s the biggest bargaining chip they have right now.

A Partner for Weber

Right-handed defensemen are probably harder to find than lefties, but the Canadiens have Shea Weber and Jeff Petry as their top two righties right now, so they’re fine in that regard. But they still haven’t found a left-handed blue liner that can play on a top pairing with Weber.

Of course, getting an impact prospect and a top pairing defenseman that can play big minutes probably won’t happen. Pacioretty’s a good player, but expecting two pieces of that caliber isn’t realistic, either. So, if nobody’s willing to give up a center, they need to fill their second-biggest hole, which is on defense.

Bergevin expected veterans like Jordie Benn or David Schlemko to line up next to Weber in 2017-18, and that simply didn’t work out (shocker). That’s why getting an established puck-mover should also be a priority as well.

Timing is Everything

Although the Canadiens shouldn’t be in a rush to trade their captain, timing will be everything when it comes to this move. Shipping him out of town before this year’s trade deadline could make the difference between a good return and a great return.

If a team acquiring Pacioretty had him for the 2018 playoffs and 2019 season plus playoffs, they could be willing to pay a much bigger price for him. So although they don’t have to make this trade before Feb. 26, it’s probably in their best interest to do so.

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 on Fantasy: Power play points, ponderings

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Earlier this week, I pondered Patrick Marleau‘s scoring slump, which a) really struck a nerve with Toronto Maple Leafs fans and b) spotlighted some debatable lineup choices by Mike Babcock.

One thing that sticks out with Toronto is how they handle power-play minutes, and it got me to thinking: what are some other power play tidbits that might be interesting, particularly to fantasy hockey obsessives?

Let’s dive in.

The Maple Leafs are pretty much locked into the third spot in the Atlantic, so Babcock should use the next two months to experiment with different alignments. The Athletic’s Tyler Dellow makes a fascinating argument for why Auston Matthews isn’t used on the top power-play unit, but why not use this as a chance to test a variety of scenarios?

  • Another power-play time decision that makes me scratch my head a bit: Dougie Hamilton only ranking third among Flames defensemen (and eighth overall) with an average of 2:10 per night. Mark Giordano‘s great and T.J. Brodie is quite effective, but I’d probably want Hamilton to be either tops or 1a/1b with one of those two. If that changes, it could make Hamilton that much more effective. He’s fine with 27 points in 53 games, but more reps would open the door for greater fantasy glory.
  • Now, moving onto a sensible factoid: Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL with 4:20 PPTOI, and he’s making great use of that time.

Ovechkin’s fired a league-leading 83 SOG on the PP, and he’s also missed 33 additional shots. Really, his nine PPG and 20 PPP are almost modest, at least compared to other upper echelon producers. For example: Patrik Laine (52 PP SOG) and Evgeni Malkin (56 PP SOG) lead the league with 13 PPG apiece.

  • The only power play trigger in Ovechkin’s range is Tyler Seguin, who’s fired 72 SOG on the PP, along with 22 misses. Fittingly, he only has nine PPG and 16 PPP. Even if some of Ovechkin’s and Seguin’s shots might be relatively lower-quality than others, you’d think that both forwards could be even more dangerous toward the last two months of the season (if you’re looking into high-level trades).
  • Kudos to Jeff Petry for being one of the most productive defensemen on the PP. He’s likely to cool off a bit (five PPG on 26 PP SOG is a bit much for a blueliner), so just be careful. Nice to see an underrated player get some bounces, though.
  • As long as John Carlson is healthy, he should be a strong bet to be a great fantasy find, and the power play explains some of his value. He’s been a useful volume guy before, and with a lot of money on the line in a contract year, this could be really something. Carlson already has eight goals and 41 points, his second-best output (55 is his peak) with two months remaining.

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As the fantasy season goes along, sometimes you need to look for granular advantages, and sometimes it’s helpful to note players on cold streaks who have a better chance to turn things around. Power-play time should be one of those things you monitor, especially if you notice a player who’s caught his coach’s eye and is getting better and better chances.

We might revisit this later in the season, possibly taking the monthly (or at least couple month) approach.

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.