NHL

PHT Morning Skate: Golden Knights retire number 58; 16-year-old Jack Hughes turning heads

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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.

• Tonight might just be Erik Karlsson‘s last home game as a member of the Ottawa Senators. (Ottawa Sun)

• The Detroit Red Wings have started winning games at the wrong time. Sure, it’s nice to see them end the season on a positive note, but their chances of winning the lottery have taken a serious hit. (MLive)

Thomas Vanek has been a great fit in Columbus, but John Tortorella would like him to shoot the puck a little more often. (Columbus Dispatch)

• Devils forward Marcus Johansson (concussion) has been activated off injured reserve. He didn’t play in last night’s game against Montreal, but it sounds like he’s close to coming back. (NHL.com/Devils)

• The one thing that could take the Bruins down is their hectic schedule. (NBC Sports Boston)

• It wasn’t too long ago that the Florida Panthers were surging. Now, they’ve seemed to hit a wall and their playoff hopes are badly damaged. How did this happen? (Sun-Sentinel)

• Like most coaches with teams eliminated from playoff contention, Joel Quenneville has done a lot of teaching this season. (Chicago Sun-Times)

• Beer league teammates and opponents react to Scott Foster making his NHL debut for the Blackhawks last week. (NBC Sports Chicago)

Kyle Okposo played football and basketball, but he quickly fell in love with the game of hockey even though his parents forbid him from playing after the Christmas tree incident. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Nobody from the Islanders organization benefits from the situation between the organization and prospect Josh Ho-Sang. (The Sports Daily)

• What does San Jose’s road record say about their chances of making some noise in the playoffs? (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• The Capitals have put Tom Wilson in a position to succeed offensively, and he’s done just that. (Nova Caps Fans)

• Now that Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins share a line together, it’s time for the the Oilers to find someone to play with Leon Draisaitl. Whether that’s via free agency or with a trade, it has to be done. (Oilers Nation)

• 16-year-old Jack Hughes looks like a star in the making. TSN hockey analyst Craig Button has already referred to Hughes as “one of the most exciting players I’ve seen in a long time.” (USA Today)

• NHL referee Dave Jackson took part in his final game last Thursday. He worked over 1600 games in 25 years of work. (Scouting the Refs)

• The Vegas Golden Knights retired no. 58 in honor of those who passed away during the Vegas shooting in October:

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.

Let’s examine the Ducks’ OT strategy of waiting out, exhausting the Oilers (Video)

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The addition of three-on-three overtime to decide regular season games is one of the best changes the NHL has made in … well … decades. It can be chaotic, fast-paced, insane fun, and a great opportunity to see the best and most talented players in the world really show off their skill and creativity. It has been so popular that the league even transitioned the All-Star game into a three-on-three mini-tournament.

The Anaheim Ducks’ strategy on Sunday night in their 5-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers was anything but exciting.

In the end it was kind of hilarious given the context of what was happening, but hardly exciting.

Let’s take a look at how they scored the winning goal to pick up a massive extra point in the standings.

After winning the opening faceoff the Ducks simply circled around in their own zone, ragging the puck around and passing to one another, for nearly a minute-and-a-half just playing an extended game of keep away.

Some facts.

  • The Ducks attempted and completed 10 passes to one another in the defensive zone
  • The puck never left the Ducks’ zone until 1:14 of the overtime period had passed
  • The Edmonton Oilers went the entire overtime period, nearly a minute-and-a-half, and never once had one of their sticks touch the puck.

The original thought — as was outlined on the Sportsnet broadcast as this was happening — was that they were probably just killing time waiting for Edmonton’s two best players, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, to leave the ice.

McDavid and Draisatl — as well as defenseman Darnell Nurse — ended up staying on the ice the entire shift. If nothing else all of that skating around and waiting tired them out. Meanwhile, the Ducks made several changes to their trio, one at a time, while they skated around in their own zone. So even though they didn’t get McDavid and Draisaitl off the ice, they were almost certainly not the freshest legs on the ice and only a fraction of what they might be when rested.

Once the Ducks decided to charge up the ice, they won the game on their first — and only — rush, ending the game when Hampus Lindholm pounced on a loose puck in the slot and snuck one through Oilers goalie Cam Talbot.

It is all kind of amazing to watch unfold.

First, it brings back some memories of when the Philadelphia Flyers refused to attack Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 alignment a few years back.

It was not quite to that extreme, but it was still at least somewhat reminiscent.

But what does this say about the Oilers that the Ducks were willing to just circle around in their own zone for 80 seconds, waiting for the one true threat on the other team (well, let’s be fair to Draisaitl and say two threats) to either exhaust himself or just leave the ice entirely before they actually tried to attack? Probably that there is nobody else on that team that put any fear into the Ducks, and the two players that could never even had a chance to make a play. In a lost, disappointing season full of low points, this was probably one of the worst moments for the Oilers, watching an opponent just toy with them for an entire overtime period.

Was it the most exciting 80 seconds of three-on-three overtime that we have ever seen?

Not at all.

But it worked to perfection, probably even better than the Ducks could have hoped.

For them, that is all that matters.

————

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.

The Buzzer: Fleury worries; Blackhawks eliminated

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Injury scares

Let’s hope that Tuesday presents dodged bullets instead of long-lasting injuries.

  • You can read more about Patrik Laine not returning to the Jets’ eventual overtime win against the Kings here. The early word is that it “isn’t sinister,” whatever that means.

Here is video of the unfortunate moment:

  • The Vegas Golden Knights must hold their breath again with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. “MAF” took a shot off of his mask and did not return to Vegas’ eventual win against Vancouver. Considering his struggles with concussion issues, this is a big concern.

For what it’s worth, the team provided no official update, yet similarly to the Jets with Laine, the Golden Knights appear optimistic about Fleury avoided something serious. Either way, it puts a damper on this milestone.

Elimination updates

For the first time since the 2007-08 season, the Chicago Blackhawks won’t participate in the playoffs.

Chicago joins the Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, and Buffalo Sabres as teams with the dreaded “e-” next to their names. The Red Wings postponed that fate by beating Philly. Edmonton delayed their own, too; they match the Blackhawks’ 69 standings points but hold a game in hand.

So, expect more names to get officially crossed off the list very soon. The Canadiens and Senators also see their days numbered.

Players of the Night

  • Artemi Panarin is a key figure in the Blue Jackets’ nine-game winning streak (read about how they’ve congested the Metro races in this post). Tuesday served as one of his best nights yet with Columbus, as “The Bread Man” collected a hat trick and also generated an assist. With 68 points on the season, it looks like he’ll hit 70+ points for his third season in a row, meaning he’s done so every year in the NHL. Perhaps he doesn’t need Patrick Kane to produce points, after all?

  • Leon Draisaitl collected a goal and three assists in the Oilers’ surprisingly bombastic 7-3 win against the Hurricanes, which didn’t really require Connor McDavid to dominate (he finished with one assist). Draisaitl’s quietly been showing that, while his contract is expensive, he’s probably the last of the Oilers’ worries.

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

Highlights

Matt Benning was basically enjoying batting practice during that Oilers win:

Tremendous pass from Thomas Vanek, who now has eight points in 11 games with Columbus.

Factoids

Learn why Alex Ovechkin‘s 602nd goal is his latest milestone here.

Nathan MacKinnon continues to tear up the NHL, as he’s second in league scoring with 91 points in just 65 games after collecting two assists on Tuesday. It really feels like he’s adding to his Hart Trophy argument every single game.

Scores

Islanders 4, Penguins 1
Blue Jackets 5, Rangers 3
Capitals 4, Stars 3
Oilers 7, Hurricanes 3
Panthers 7, Senators 2
Red Wings 5, Flyers 4 (SO)
Lightning 4, Maple Leafs 3
Jets 2, Kings 1 (OT)
Avalanche 5, Blackhawks 1
Golden Knights 4, Canucks 1
Sharks 6, Devils 2

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.

Avalanche top line isn’t just about MacKinnon

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With 85 points in just 62 games played, Nathan MacKinnon isn’t just blowing away any other season he’s enjoyed in the NHL, he’s scoring at a pace that parallels some of Joe Sakic’s best moments in Colorado.

Despite missing time with an injury, MacKinnon ranks fourth with those 85 points, and his 1.37 points-per-game average is better than those of top scorers Nikita Kucherov and Evgeni Malkin. It was also clear that the Avalanche struggled with MacKinnon sidelined from Jan. 30 until Feb. 18.

Whether you go shallow or deeper, there are a lot of ways to talk up MacKinnon’s Hart credentials.

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

While you can’t ignore that MacKinnon is the speedy, clever catalyst of that wrecking crew of a top line, the other key figures deserve some love, too. So consider this an opportunity to shine the spotlight on Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and fantastic Finn Mikko Rantanen.

Strong support

Much like MacKinnon only being 22, the youthfulness of this line is the first thing that stands out.

Landeskog has been around the block already, so it might be surprising to realize that the sturdy Swede is only 25. He made an immediate impact in the NHL, going from being the second pick of the 2011 NHL Draft to winning the Calder Trophy in 2011-12. Amusingly enough, Landeskog collected exactly the same goals (22) and points (52) during that rookie campaign as he has so far in 2017-18, although in this case he’s gotten there in 66 instead of 82 games.

Rantanen, 21, is quickly developing into one of the better young scorers in the NHL.

After failing to score a point during a nine-game audition back in 2015-16, Rantanen emerged as one of the lone bright spots for the Avalanche last season, scoring 20 goals and 38 points in 75 games, averaging more than 18 minutes of ice time per night.

This season, Rantanen’s made another quantum leap. He already has 25 goals and 74 points in 69 contests. Rantanen was especially impressive during last night’s 4-1 win against the Blues, scoring two goals and two assists.

That game also provided a moment that illustrated that they’re dangerous in their own right, as Landeskog sent a tremendous stretch pass to Rantanen, who finished the play with a great backhand goal.

While we’re at it, MacKinnon’s brilliance and an injury absence also pushes Tyson Barrie‘s explosive output under the radar. Consider how big of a gap there is between Barrie, the Avalanche’s top line, and Colorado’s other scorers:

MacKinnon: 85 points, 35 goals
Rantanen: 74 points, 25 goals
Landeskog: 52 points, 22 goals
Barrie: 48 points, 10 goals in 56 games

Alexander Kerfoot: 36 points, 15 goals
Carl Soderberg: 33 points, 15 goals

MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog are the only Colorado players with 20+ goals so far in 2017-18. Despite being limited to 56 games, Barrie is tied for 10th place among NHL defensemen in scoring with 48 points. His .86 point-per-game pace is the best among all NHL defensemen who’ve played in at least 20 games.

Now, it’s totally valid to point out that MacKinnon is still the driving force; this post is by no means a way of refuting his MVP argument. Both Landeskog and Rantanen saw their scoring rates slow down with MacKinnon on the shelf for a couple weeks, for example. Instead, the point is that MacKinnon is the leader of a truly impressive trio, with Rantanen in particular standing out as a fantastic “Robin” to his “Batman.”

Contract concern

Actually, the Avalanche may want to find out how Rantanen might operate without MacKinnon, even if they wait until 2018-19 to do so. So far, Rantanen’s been tethered to MacKinnon. According to Natural Stat Trick, only about 96 minutes of MacKinnon’s even-strength ice time has come without Rantanen. The two joined forces for most of 2017-18, too.

The Avs are fighting for playoff positioning, so it would be foolish to gamble on this current chemistry by breaking up lines right now.

But, in 2018-19, it might be wise to see how Rantanen can produce without MacKinnon. The Avalanche already have Landeskog ($5.57 million cap hit through 2020-21) and MacKinnon (ridiculous bargain of $6.3M through 2022-23) locked up to long-term deals, yet Rantanen’s rookie deal runs out after 2018-19.

The risk is that, by chaining him with MacKinnon, Rantanen’s value might be inflated. You could see such a scenario play out with the Oilers, as Leon Draisaitl was able to ramp up his stats during his contract year riding shotgun with Connor McDavid.

Finding two forwards with high-level chemistry is fantastic, yet in a salary cap league, sometimes you want to spread the wealth. If Rantanen ends up costing a lot of money, the Avalanche would be wise to gauge how much offense he could produce as the driving force of his own line.

Again, you can file this under “good problems to have” but it’s something GM Joe Sakic, head coach Jared Bednar, and other Avalanche front office members should at least consider.

***

To reiterate, MacKinnon is “the guy” for the Avs. As he goes, so does Colorado.

Even so, Rantanen and Landeskog deserve a cut of the credit, too, as they’re enjoying fantastic seasons in their own right. This trio could very well make the Avalanche an upset threat in the playoffs as well.

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.

Fantasy impact of 2018 NHL Trade Deadline: West

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PHT’s James O’Brien wrote the first part of this two-part fantasy series, yesterday. He broke down how the trade deadline affected teams in the Eastern Conference. You can read that story by clicking here.

Today, we’ll take a look at how the moves the Western Conference teams made will affect the fantasy world.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks made a minor move as they shipped Chris Wagner to the Islanders for Jason Chimera, who won’t be lighting the fantasy world on fire anytime soon. Anaheim will have to continue leaning on guys like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell and company to lead the charge offensively if they’re going to make the playoffs.

Arizona Coyotes: The ‘Yotes made a minor-league move, but nothing that will have any affect in fantasy leagues. Arizona will continue to be a graveyard for fantasy production between now and the end of the season.

Calgary Flames: Nick Shore was on the move for the second time in the month of February. The 25-year-old is a great depth piece, but don’t expect to contribute much offensively. He’s another player that won’t alter the fantasy landscape. Like Anaheim, if the Flames make it to the postseason, it’ll be because their top guns take them there (that means you Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan).

Chicago Blackhawks: Shipping Ryan Hartman to Nashville has opened up a spot on the wing. It looks like Tomas Jurco is going to get an opportunity to skate on the ‘Hawks second-ish line with Artem Anisimov and Anthony Duclair.

Trading Michal Kempny away to Washington on Feb. 19 seems to have opened up a roster spot for Carl Dahlstrom. The 22-year-old has three assists in eight games, but he’s still a little raw.

Colorado Avalanche: Outside of acquiring Ryan Graves from the Rangers, the Avs didn’t do much on deadline day. That means that Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen will continue to be the difference makers on a much-improved Avs team.

There were rumblings about Tyson Barrie potentially being on the move, but GM Joe Sakic decided to hold on to his offensive blue liner.

Dallas Stars: Jim Nill surprisingly didn’t make a move to help his team make a push for a playoff spot.

Edmonton Oilers: With Patrick Maroon now out of the picture in Edmonton, the Oilers are forcing Connor McDavid to carry Anton Slepyshev and Milan Lucic. All kidding aside, Slepyshev is a big body with some skill, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together at the NHL level yet. Assuming he continues playing with McDavid, he should get a nice little fantasy boost down the stretch. As for Lucic, not even McDavid can resurrect his fantasy stock. Sorry Connor, you’re on your own.

The Oilers were also able to land Pontus Aberg in the days leading up to the deadline. The former Predator has been skating on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Michael Cammalleri, so they’ve put him in an interesting position offensively, too.

Los Angeles Kings: GM Rob Blake made a couple of decent-sized moves earlier in February, but he didn’t do anything on deadline day. Obviously, Dion Phaneuf has fit in quite nicely since joining the group, as he’s picked up three goals and three assists in nine games with his new team.

Tobias Rieder, who was acquired in a trade with Arizona for goalie Darcy Kuemper, has had a tougher time adjusting to the Kings. He has just one goal in five games, but he’s been playing on a line with Adrian Kempe which is interesting.

Minnesota Wild: Chuck Fletcher seemed to learn from last year’s mistakes, when he made a splash for rental forward Martin Hanzal. That didn’t work out, so all the Wild did on deadline day was ship Mike Reilly to Montreal for a pick in 2019.

Nashville Predators: We talked about Hartman before, but he should get a significant fantasy boost now that he’s on the Predators. He’s been skating on a line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg, so he should be in a much better situation to produce. He racked up the game-winning goal in Tuesday’s win over the Jets and he also registered an assist against Edmonton on Thursday.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks arguably got the best bang for their buck when they landed Evander Kane. If they don’t sign Kane to an extension, they lose a second-round pick. If they do bring him back, it’ll cost them a first-rounder in 2019. The former Sabre has been skating with Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi. It doesn’t sound like the Sharks will bring him back, but maybe he’ll change their mind. Kane has picked up three assists in his first two games with his new team. Maybe he’ll put some life into Pavelski, too.

St. Louis Blues: Well, the Blues shocked the hockey world and some of their players when they sent Paul Stastny to Winnipeg. Losing Stastny will hurt the Blues playoff chances and it’ll hurt them offensively too because they’ve lost a playmaking center.

Vancouver Canucks: Jim Benning was able to find a taker for Thomas Vanek, but they failed to get a draft pick for him. Tyler Motte is the youngster they got in the deal (they landed Jussi Jokinen too, but yeah). The 22-year-old will get every opportunity to become a regular with Vancouver, but he doesn’t augment their offense in any way.

They also sent Philip Holm to Vegas for Brendan Leipsic.

Vegas Golden Knights: The NHL’s newest team surprised some people when they traded three draft picks to land Tomas Tatar from Detroit. Tatar spent most of his first game with Cody Eakin and Tomas Hyka, but don’t be surprised if he’s thrown into more of an offensive role as the games go by.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets augmented their depth at center by adding Stastny from a division rival. On top of going to a contender, Stastny also has been slotted on a line with wingers Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. That should help him produce a little more regularly even if he’s on Winnipeg’s third line. He had a goal and an assist in Tuesday’s loss to Nashville. Having a playmaker like Stastny should also help both youngsters he’s playing with.

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.