John Tavares

Getty

Blue Jackets score by committee to overcome Bailey hat trick

2 Comments

At this rate, it could be a special month of December for Artemi Panarin of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Panarin came into Thursday’s game with five-assist and three-assist nights so far this month, totaling two goals and eight assists for 10 points in six contests. (You can check out footage of his remarkable five-assist performance in this post.)

It remains to be seen if tonight’s performance ranks among the best in his already-impressive December, but Panarin’s 20th assist – and Zach Werenski‘s 10th goal, already – looked so pretty and dominant, you’d almost think it was out of a video game.

Here it is in video form; the additional replays really sell just how long Panarin had the puck, and the fact that he essentially circled the entire New York Islanders’ defensive zone waiting for a recipient:

This GIF might capture it better, actually:

So far, Panarin’s been more of a distributor in Columbus after piling up 30 and 31-goal seasons in Chicago, as the slick Russian winger has seven goals and 20 assists (and counting?).

Werenski, 20, is looking to top what was already an impressive first impression in the NHL. During his rookie season, Werenski scored 11 goals and 47 points in 78 games (and also suffered a hideous facial wound). As of this writing, Werenski already has 10 goals (plus seven helpers), so a 20-goal sophomore campaign isn’t out of the question, even if he is unlikely to continue shooting like a forward.

As a reminder, John Tortorella is giving Werenski and fellow talented scoring defenseman Seth Jones more room to “rove,” as he told The Athletic’s Alison Lukan (sub required) back in early November:

“It’s staying involved even more on the offense,” Tortorella said. “It’s having enough guts when we’re rotating a puck offensively in the corner to go sneak down to the other corner so we can make an east-west play and spread the offensive zone.”

When you have players as talented as Panarin and Werenski bending the defense to their whim, it’s easy to justify taking chances. As you can see, the rewards of such risks can be rich.

Update: The Blue Jackets ended up winning the game 6-4, with Panarin collecting two helpers and Zach Werenski generated a goal and an assist in total. Ultimately, it was about Columbus getting offense from multiple sources, including Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s trio of assists.

Speaking of trios, John Tavares collected three helpers while Josh Bailey almost stole the show with a hat trick.

It wasn’t enough, though, as the Blue Jackets still won. That’s a pretty impressive hatty, though.

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.

Backes ejected for head-butting; Marchand catches Tavares with late hit

Getty
13 Comments

The NHL’s department of player safety will have a couple of things to look at from the third period of the Boston Bruins’ 3-1 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday night as the Bruins were assessed a pair of major penalties, including one that was accompanied with a game misconduct.

Let us start with the latter play.

Bruins forward David Backes was ejected with just under nine minutes to play when he was called for head-butting Islanders forward Andrew Ladd during the skirmish seen below.

That is not one that you see get called very often, but it did get called here and it ended up giving Backes an early exit.

That came about 10 minutes after Bruins forward Brad Marchand was given a five-minute major for interference when he hit Islanders captain John Tavares with a high, late hit.

Video here (via Chris Abraham)

Tavares seemed to be a little shaken up initially but remained in the game.

Marchand and the Department of Player Safety are quite familiar with one another and Marchand does have a history of suspensions and fines throughout his career, so it would not be a shock if he ended up getting a phone call this weekend from the league for that hit.

Marchand has become one of the best players in the league in recent seasons, a development that makes his repeated run-ins with the DoPS all the more frustrating.

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.

Slashing crackdown, infusion of youth boost NHL scoring

Getty Images

By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

The nets aren’t bigger, the goaltenders aren’t smaller and yet scoring is up significantly around the NHL.

Through the first two months of the season, goals are up more than 12 percent from the same time a year ago, including a whopping 14 percent increase on the power play and a 38 percent spike in short-handed goals.

”That’s what the league wanted,” San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc Edouard-Vlasic said. ”The league has done everything in their power to make there more goals out there, and that’s exactly what’s going on.”

The uptick can be credited to a concerted crackdown on slashing by issuing more penalties and a league-wide move toward younger and more skilled players. The current pace of 6.01 goals per game would be the highest since 2005-06, when a series of rule changes were put in to open up the game and get more scoring to attract new fans.

”Teams try to go for it more,” said New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, whose goals-against average is 2.66, nearly 13 percent higher than it was at this point a year ago. ”Most teams are trying to go for it, have this fast hockey, leave the zone quickly and it opens it up.”

Deputy NHL Commissioner Bill Daly said general managers are pleased with the current pace, which has lasted beyond the typical high-scoring October as defenses settle in for the season. Stricter enforcement of slashing was designed to reduce hand and wrist injuries, though it has had a positive effect on offense with defenders unable to whack at puck carriers’ sticks in an effort to stop them.

”I do think that has created certainly more room for our players to be offensive,” Daly said. ”I think over time, clearly since we increased the standard for hooking and holding and interference (in 2005-06), slashing has become a way to defend and an effective way to defend, and I think this year it’s a less effective way to defend.”

Players have noticed, even if some are frustrated at the varying degrees of what rises to the level of a slashing penalty. Every referee is watching closely.

”The last five years, you could do so much more with your stick and probably now lots of players are afraid to use their sticks,” Los Angeles Kings forward Jussi Jokinen said. ”I think everybody wants to see more goals, so scoring being up, I think it’s good.”

Everyone except maybe the goaltenders may think so, but it’s not like they’ve been terrible. Four goalies who have played at least 20 games have a save percentage of .930 or higher.

”The goaltenders, they haven’t been any better than they are right now and some of them are still getting lit up pretty good,” said Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who has the league’s leading goal-scorer in Alex Ovechkin.

Certainly the emphasis on slashing has helped players such as Ovechkin, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and New York Islanders star John Tavares, who can do wonders with even a few extra inches of space. Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson, who scored 10 goals in his first 15 games, said slashing is on everyone’s mind and ”guys are not getting (their sticks) up into the hands as much as they used to.”

Slashing and otherwise, there have been 173 more power plays than last season and teams are converting on 19.7 percent of them. Almost half the league is at or above 20 percent. The massive increase in short-handed goals has a lot to do with aggressive penalty kills stocked with offensive-minded players more likely to score.

”That’s one more thing that the power play has to worry about,” Capitals winger T.J. Oshie said. ”Now they don’t just have to worry about scoring goals. They have to worry about their turnovers, what plays they make, how risky they want to get because there is that chance if it goes the other way and it’s a 2-on-1, it could end up in the back of your net.”

Los Angeles coach John Stevens said teams are in ”attack mode” all the time now, and Trotz estimates that he spends three-quarters of time trying to figure out how to score more.

But risk is also inherent in the NHL getting younger and featuring so many rookie scorers such as Arizona’s Clayton Keller, Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat and Vancouver’s Brock Boeser. The average age of an NHL player is 27 and Daly said the number has dropped over the past several years. He said more scoring is a byproduct as junior hockey and college programs get better at making players NHL-ready sooner.

Team composition has also changed. There are fewer journeyman faceoff specialists and grinders, and more players kept for speed and skill.

”Just the mold of all teams is kind of changing: They’re going for smaller, skilled guys rather than guys who are two-way forwards and stuff like that,” said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who is all of 27. ”These young kids have unbelievable skill, too. It’s kind of crazy how much skill. They have things they grew up getting taught how to do those things, which we didn’t have access to when we were kids.”

For all the offense so far, there are those who don’t expect it to keep happening. Goals were up through October last season and the NHL finished averaging 5.54 per game. DeBoer said teams often tighten their systems and structure after Christmas, making it more difficult to score.

”I think it’s still early to say,” Blackhawks winger Richard Panik said. ”The game is going to get tighter. It always does before playoffs.”

PHT Morning Skate: Blues season-ticket holder suits up as emergency goalie

Tyler Stewart on Twitter
1 Comment
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• A big blow for the Vancouver Canucks, as Bo Horvat will miss up to six weeks because of a lower-body injury. (Canucks Army)

• The Penguins called up Frank Corrado from the minors because they were forced to put Justin Schultz on IR. (Pittsburgh Tribune)

• Dave Lozo argues that the NHL needs a “super team” like the NBA has with the Golden State Warriors. With John Tavares, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson about to hit free agency over the next couple of years, it’s entirely possible that those three can join forces. (Vice)

• The Tampa Bay Lightning have been really good this season, but are they even better than we realize? (TSN.ca)

J.T. Brown, Alex Ovechkin, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin are all proof that the NHL is definitely political. (Sporting News)

Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler are huge reasons for Winnipeg’s strong start to the 2017-18 season. (NHL.com)

• From top to bottom, things are pretty tight in the Metropolitan Division. Believe it or not, there’s only 11 points separating first and last place. (elitesportsny.com)

• The Calgary Flames definitely miss Kris Versteeg on and off the ice. Whether it’s the things he does during games or his ability to be the team deejay in the locker room, they can’t wait for him to be back. (Calgary Herald)

• The Hockey News compares Capitals forward Tom Wilson to a bully in 1980’s teen movies. (The Hockey News)

• Many expect the Sabres to trade pending free agent Evander Kane, but what would Buffalo’s salary cap situation look like if they signed him to an extension? Diebytheblade.com has the answer.

• Things have been rocky for Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith lately. Not only did he finish minus-4 in a game earlier this week, he’s also failed to score in 42 consecutive games. (Chicago Sun-Times)

• Devils blue liner Steve Santini had been struggling this season, but the acquisition of Sami Vatanen has allowed him to slide into a more comfortable spot on the depth chart. (NJDab.com)

• Here’s an awesome story about a Blues season-ticket holder that became the team’s emergency goalie last night. (The Score)

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.

Stamkos, Subban, Ovechkin and McDavid have early lead on All-Star voting

Getty
9 Comments

The first week of voting for the 2018 NHL All-Star game is complete, and so far the leading vote-getters are Steven Stamkos (Atlantic Division), Alex Ovechkin (Metropolitan Division), P.K. Subban (Central Division) and Connor McDavid (Pacific Division).

The 2018 game will be played in Tampa Bay on Sunday, Jan. 28.

The top vote-getters from each division, regardless of position, will be named as captains for their teams. This will be the third consecutive year the NHL will play a 3-on-3 mini-tournament made up of teams from each of the four divisions.

Here are the top-five vote-getters from each division.

Atlantic Division
1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
4. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
5. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

Central Division
1. P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
2. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
3. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
4. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
5. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Metropolitan Division
1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
3. John Tavares, New York Islanders
4. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
5. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

Pacific Division
1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
2. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
3. James Neal, Vegas Golden Knights
4. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
5. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

It is not a huge surprise that Stamkos and Kucherov are leading the voting in the Atlantic Division. The game is in Tampa and that duo has been driving the Lightning’s success this season as they have been one of the best teams in the league. Kucherov and Stamkos are the top-two point producers in the NHL as of Thursday.

Ovechkin, leading the Metropolitan Division, has the league lead in goals while McDavid is the league’s reining MVP and scoring champion. Subban is one of the most popular and marketable players in the league while also being the face of a Predators team that is one of the best in the NHL.

Probably the biggest surprise on any of the lists is Marc-Andre Fleury being fourth in the Pacific Division, mainly because he has only played in four games this season. Still, he remains a wildly popular player in two different cities (in Vegas with his current team as well as in Pittsburgh with his previous team).

Here are the PHT staff picks for each team’s captain.

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.