Jonathan Drouin

Getty

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Lightning vs. Devils; Canadiens vs. Sharks

1 Comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Tuesday night. In the early game, the New Jersey Devils host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here

The Lightning are coming off a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night. For the sixth game in a row, Nikita Kucherov managed to find the back of the net (he actually scored twice, including the game-winner).

When injuries were piling up for the Bolts last season, the Russian winger was the guy they relied on to get the job done. This season, that hasn’t changed. The Lightning are healthier than they were a year ago, but he just keeps on rolling.

Another player who’s performed well, is goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. The young netminder became the full-time starter when the Lightning traded Ben Bishop to the Kings last season. Although he had some ups and downs last year, he’s been terrific this season.

His individual numbers might not jump off the page (3.00 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage), but he’s come up with a number of big saves already in 2017-18. Last night’s game against the Wings was no different.

“He’s our starter for a reason,” head coach Jon Cooper said after the win over the Wings, per the Tampa Times. “If you want to win in this league, you have to check and you need your goaltender to bail you out on occasions. And the times we haven’t been checking, Vasy has bailed us out.”

After missing the playoffs last season, many expected the Lightning to be better now. The same can not be said for the Devils, but they’ve been one of the pleasant surprises so far.

New Jersey has a 4-1-0 record and they own a plus-8 goal differential. This young team has really come together early, and it’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to keep it together.

Rookies Will Butcher and Jesper Bratt have been nothing short of fantastic in the early going. Butcher, who the Devils signed as a college free agent this summer, has eight assists in five games. Bratt has accumulated six points in five contests, which isn’t bad for a 19-year-old drafted in the sixth round.

“He’s a good player,” forward Drew Stafford said of Butcher, per NJ.com. “You guys are seeing that. Doesn’t really surprise me anymore. He’s a heck of a player, so for him to have the success that he’s had so far — granted, it’s power play — but that’s something I feel like he can ride as far as he can.”

In the late game, the San Jose Sharks host the Montreal Canadiens at 10:00 p.m. ET. To stream that game live, click here

It’s been a tough start to the year for the Canadiens, as they’ve managed to come away with one win in their first five contests.

Despite adding Jonathan Drouin this off-season and having Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and a few others, Montreal is still the only team in the league to has played five games and scored less than 10 goals.

They scored a season-high three goals against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night, but they fell 4-3 in overtime thanks to Auston Matthews‘ game-winner.

“I think our guys are focused on what needs to be done internally, inside the dressing room, and what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Claude Julien said, per the Montreal Gazette. “I think so far they’ve done a pretty good job of that. There’s no doubt when you got some guys that are goal-scorers that haven’t scored yet … it’s a normal thing that they might be squeezing the stick a little bit. But that’s what they got to overcome and that’s what we got to try and do and improve our game as we go along here.”

Pacioretty scored a goal in the season opener against Buffalo, but he hasn’t found the back of the net since. Drouin and Galchenyuk both netted their first goals of the season on Saturday night. Three goals in five games from those three players simply isn’t enough.

This will be the first of a three-game road swing in California that never seems to treat the Canadiens well.

Things haven’t been much better for the San Jose Sharks, as they have just one win in four contests.

“It’s on us as players,” Logan Couture said, per the San Jose Mercury News. “If we’re playing well, then the lines aren’t going to change. If we’re not, then they’re going to change them around. How we play will dictate what the lineup is.

“No one’s scoring. You could say our line’s not scoring and we’re not, but no one is. As a team, we’ve got to find ways to create some more offense.”

The Sharks have scored eight goals, like Montreal, but in one less game. Kevin Labanc has three of the eight markers.

If you’re a betting person, you may want to look at the under in this one, but weird things seem to happen when east coast teams go play out west.

Enjoy the hockey!

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.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Canadiens looking to spark, not ‘bury’ Alex Galchenyuk after move to fourth line

Getty Images
7 Comments

Alex Galchenyuk won’t be playing center for the Montreal Canadiens this year. At least that’s what general manager Marc Bergevin said last month just before training camp opened up.

Wanting to ease the drama around the Galchenyuk’s place in the lineup, Bergevin’s statement was odd given how thin the Habs are down the middle, even with the acquisition of Jonathan Drouin.

Through four games, the 23-year-old Galchenyuk has zero points and eight shots on goal while grabbing 16:21 of ice time. And after playing 18 minutes in Montreal’s opening two games, he saw a little over 14 minutes in losses to the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks.

Head coach Claude Julien has his hands full trying to spark a listless Canadiens offense that’ is averaging a goal per game through four games and is also dead last in even strength goals (two). Unlocking Galchenyuk is certainly one issue of many that the team is trying to solve.

Galchenyuk, who signed a three-year, $14.7 million extension over the summer, found himself on the fourth-line during Wednesday’s practice with Torrey Mitchell and Ales Hemsky, a move Julien is hoping will help the forward find his scoring touch again.

“Alex is having a tough start,” said Julien on Friday. “With the amount of ice time he’s had on the power play and everything else it just doesn’t seem like he’s getting scoring chances right now. I have to do what I have to do as a coach and it’s certainly not indicative of him only because there’s other guys that we think can help produce as well and they’re not.”

Averaging 3:49 of power play time (third-most on the Habs), Galchenyuk, who missed Friday’s practice with the flu, has generated four shots, tied with Jonathan Drouin just behind team leader Max Pacioretty (six).

“I think with him, as usual when you have Hemsky on your right side you’re not playing with guys who have no skill,” Julien said. “So it’s not about a situation where we’re trying to bury him. I think it’s just a situation where we need to make decisions and move players around for the time being to get us going in the right direction.”

According to Left Wing Lock, Galchenyuk has played nearly 20 percent of the time with Andrew Shaw and Phillip Danault at even strength. That hasn’t worked, so why would bumping him down the lineup be the ideal situation? He might get the ice time against an opponents’ lesser lines, but Hemsky and Mitchell haven’t created much where they’ve played with two shots combined between them.

Despite the struggle to find a regular home for Galchenyuk within the Canadiens’ lineup, this is no time for Bergevin to give up on his young forward. History hasn’t been kind to teams who have done that.

As Arpon Basu of The Athletic noted earlier this week, Galchenyuk is Julien’s new Tyler Seguin: a young, talented player who’s struggling to find consistency. The Boston Bruins could certainly use a Seguin in their lineup right now while the Dallas Stars are enjoying the fruits of a team not showing enough patience.

————

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.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Mike Green, NHL points co-leader, and other odd early stats

Getty
6 Comments

Here’s a sign that it’s very early in an NHL season: two defensemen are among the league’s scoring leaders, and their names aren’t Brent Burns or Erik Karlsson.

Nope, instead, there are five players tied for first in the league with eight points before Friday’s games kick off: Alex Ovechkin, Alex Pietrangelo, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ryan Hartman, and Mike Green. Pietrangelo and Hartman have played five games while Green and the Ovechkin – Kuznetsov combo have been on a roll for four.

Kuznetsov and Green both subsist off assists with eight, while Ovechkin’s mind-blowing sniping gives him eight goals and zero helpers through a week-plus.

Yep, pretty weird stuff.

Consider this a little time capsule of trends that (cough) might not last through the entire 2017-18 season. Not that it wouldn’t be fun for Green to finish with 164 assists and Ovechkin to hit 164 goals, mind you.

That would call for an HBO 24/7-inspired joy ride reunion, eh?

Um, anyway …

Snakebitten

While the season is young, we’re also at the point where fans are starting to get impatient with struggling stars/important players. Let’s take a look at some guys with high shooting volume and no goals to show for it.

Morgan Rielly and Jonathan Drouin: 17 SOG apiece in four games, zero goals.

Rick Nash and Charles Hudon: 16 SOG in four GP, zero goals.

Jakob Silfverberg and Duncan Keith: 15 SOG, zero goals.

Taylor Hall: 14 SOG, zero goals.

Poor Rick Nash. Considering his crazy-low career playoff shooting percentage numbers, he might be worthy of induction into an imaginary Hall of Fame for bad bounces.

Anyway, it’s one thing for defensemen to have low shooting percentage numbers; Rielly and Keith could both enjoy fine seasons, even if they continue to shoot at a low clip (though zero percent would, naturally, be infuriating). Those forwards, on the other hand, should start getting some breaks.

Drouin must be especially steamed, as he’s likely dying to score his first goal in a Montreal Canadiens uniform, what with the big trade and big extension. If you need further evidence that the Habs are better than their scoring stats would indicate, consider that promising forward Hudon is similarly stalled despite firing four SOG per game.

(It’s still confounding that the Vegas Golden Knights balked on Hudon. But that’s the NHL.)

GWG

Whoa, Brandon Saad and James Neal both already have three game-winning goals. Last season, Rickard Rakell was the only guy in double digits with 10, so Neal and Saad afforded themselves two tremendous head-starts.

(They have a solid chance of sticking at the top of those rankings if they stay healthy.)

Fun with goalies

These goalies are likely to see plenty of time, even as backups, so three perfect save percentages might not last very long: Laurent Brossoit (on 19 saves) along with Aaron Dell and Anton Khudobin (nine apiece).

As far as goalies who’ve seen more than relief duty, here are three who should settle down a bit, even if they’re in position to possibly have strong seasons:

Sergei Bobrovsky – .985 save percentage in two games

Marc-Andre Fleury – Remarkable .963 in 3GP

Corey Crawford – .956, and he’s done it in four. (Jimmy Howard‘s right behind him with .955 in three.)

Conversely, here are four goalies who seem quite likely to rise above the 90 percent mark as the season goes along:

Frederik Andersen – .871 save percentage in 4GP

Matt Murray – .885 save percentage in 4GP

Carey Price – .889 save percentage in 4GP

And, special mention, Steve Mason – .831 save percentage in 2GP, and a 6.56(!) GAA.

Lightning round: team stats

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.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Lightning look to use Dan Girardi as a top-pairing D. In 2017.

Getty
8 Comments

After years of debate, it seemed like most of the hockey world agreed recently that Dan Girardi might be a little … overmatched as an NHL defenseman. Even his biggest proponents would probably acknowledge that years of wear-and-tear have left him limited.

Even so, the generally shrewd Tampa Bay Lightning handed Girardi a polarizing two-year, $6 million contract. There might have been talk of Girardi scoring well based on their own internal metrics. It was weird.

MORE: After being bought out by the Rangers, Girardi wants to show he can still ‘play and contribute.’

The bottom line is that at least someone in the organization disagrees with the consensus against Girardi. And that voice – or those voices – proved loud enough to allocate precious cap space to him.

To really hammer home that belief, consider this: it looks like he’ll line up with popular PHT Norris pick Victor Hedman on the top pairing tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Now, it’s true that there are some extenuating circumstances. The Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith notes that Jake Dotchin, Hedman’s most common preseason partner, looks to be a surprise scratch for the Bolts. It seems like Dotchin is still in Jon Cooper’s dog house for some murky “team rules violation.”

Perhaps it’s a balm for Bolts fans that Cooper told Smith that combos might be temporary?

“You look all around the league, I don’t know if there’s a d-core that has stayed completely intact,” Cooper said. “Maybe Nashville, but (Ryan) Ellis is hurt. Different guys have got to play and get a different feel for each other. It’s Game 1, there’s 82 in a season. You hope chemistry comes because we don’t know if this is going to stay together the whole time. But you’ve got a good veteran guuy that can protect the net and you’ve got a horse that leads the charge out there. For tonight, that’s how it’s going to go.”

Still, the Lightning clearly hold Girardi in higher regard than … just about any objective measure.

You might not see a more dramatic disparity between two HERO charts than Hedman vs. Girardi. Confession: I didn’t know that a player could score poorly enough on shot suppression to not even show up on the chart.

via Dom Galamini

OK, again, Hedman will make most defensemen look bad. And maybe there’s some thought that he can carry Girardi around; the other pairings appear to be Anton StralmanMikhail Sergachev and a less inspiring third duo of Andrej Sustr and Braydon Coburn, with Slater Koekkoek joining Dotchin in street clothes.

What about Girardi against, say, Dom Galamini’s standards for a bottom-pairing duo?

via Dom Galamini

Yeah, also not great.

Again, the Lightning’s lineup will probably look more sensible once Dotchin leaves timeout.

Still, as much as injuries and bad luck plagued the Lightning, it’s a little troubling to see certain patterns from Cooper & Co.

Sergachev could very well end up filling a serious need for the Bolts. Still, while Jonathan Drouin seemingly always struggled to gain Cooper’s approval, an extremely limited player like Sustr keeps getting chances, often taking away opportunities for defensemen with better potential. If Girardi serves a similar role, Lightning fans could grow increasingly frustrated, particularly if this places excessive pressure on Andrei Vasilevskiy to save the day.

It’s not the end of the world that Girardi is starting with Hedman, especially if it’s a short-term thing.

For a team that’s often seen as brilliant, decisions like these do make people scratch their heads, however.

PHT Morning Skate: A make or break season for Marc Bergevin in Montreal?

Getty

— Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has drastically overhauled his team over the past two seasons with some blockbuster trades (P.K. Subban for Shea Weber; Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin) and some massive contracts (re-signing Carey Price, signing Karl Alzner in free agency). As Eric Engels of Sportsnet points out the Canadiens are extremely unique in how they are almost purposely designed to be reliant on their goaltender (both in a financial sense and in the way the team plays on the ice), while the team has seen progressively worse results when it comes to its ability to go deep in the playoffs. Put it all together and you have what could be a make-or-break season for the Canadiens’ GM. [Sportsnet]

Auston Matthews is coming off one of the best rookie seasons in recent NHL history. Now he is being tasked with helping to deliver the first Stanley Cup in Toronto in more than 50 years. No pressure, kid. [Sports Illustrated]

— Defenseman Nikita Zadorov was a healthy scratch for the Colorado Avalanche in their season opener after arriving in training camp late and not getting back up to speed in time. The Avalanche had more than $9.4 million in salary sitting out as scratches on Thursday. It did not stop them from defeating the New York Rangers by a 4-2 margin thanks to a two-point night from Matt Duchene. [Denver Post]

— If it seems like there have been a lot of hat tricks so far this season, that is because there have been. The 2017-18 season is the first time since 1917-18 that four different players have recorded hat tricks in season opening games.

— The first goal in Little Caesars Arena history belongs to Anthony Mantha. The Detroit Red Wings won their debut game in their new building over the Minnesota Wild by a 4-2 margin. [YouTube]

— The Chicago Blackhawks routed the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night by a 10-1 margin. Patrick Kane had a couple of highlight reel assists during the game.