Marcus Kruger

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Aho keeps rolling; Leddy splits two ‘Canes before scoring a beauty (video)

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After failing to score in the first 15 games of the season, Sebastian Aho has now found the back of the net in back-to-back-to-back-to-back games.

The Finnish forward opened the scoring less than two minutes into tonight’s game against the Isles. As if coming up with the first goal of the game wasn’t enough, Aho also picked up the primary assist  on Teuvo Teravainen‘s tally less than two minutes later, and Teravainen’s second of the game in the second period.

He now has nine points in his last three games and two periods, which is pretty remarkable for a guy that couldn’t buy one earlier on this season.

The start was less than ideal for New York, but they managed to salvage the period with an incredible goal.

You expect Islanders players like John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, or Mathew Barzal to score highlight-reel goals, but it was defenseman Nick Leddy that scored a beauty in the first period of Sunday’s game against Carolina.

With the Isles trailing 2-0 in the opening frame, Leddy grabbed a puck in the neutral zone, skated into Carolina territory, split Jaccob Slavin and Marcus Kruger and finally beat goalie Cam Ward.

It was Leddy’s fifth goal of the season, but probably the most impressive one of the bunch.

The Hurricanes currently lead 4-1 after two periods.

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.

Poll: Will the Hurricanes be a playoff team this season?

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

It has been eight years since the Carolina Hurricanes qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Since then they have gone through three coaches, numerous roster constructions and a still ongoing rebuilding effort.

For the past three or four years it seems as if the Hurricanes have entered the new season as a popular sleeper pick to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, and things never quite seem to work out for one reason or another (recently goaltending has been a big reason). Those expectations are back once again this season.

They had a pretty strong finish to the 2016-17 season with an 11-5-5 mark down the stretch and have an impressive young core of players in place, mostly on their defense that is stacked with a ton of already good — and very underrated — players all under the age of 24, with several of them now locked in to long-term contracts. Up front Jeff Skinner is one of the NHL’s best goal scorers, while Sebastian Aho and Victor Rask are looking like two of the best young forwards in the league. They attempted to complement that young core this summer with some pretty significant veteran additions, including Justin Williams, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Marcus Kruger and Scott Darling.

Their young players are still at an age where they have room to improve, and they made some significant additions around them (and do not forget Jordan Staal, who is still a really good player even if he carries a huge contract). Will those improvements be enough to help the Hurricanes make up eight points in the standings and get back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season?

Under Pressure: Bill Peters

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Bill Peters is a pretty good hockey coach. In his three years behind the Carolina Hurricanes’ bench his teams have always played hard, they have been competitive, they have seen great growth from their young core of players during their rebuild, and they have consistently been one of the top possession teams in the league. There are a lot of positives and a lot of reasons for optimism for what might be there in the coming seasons.

One thing there has not been: A trip to the postseason. There hasn’t been one in Carolina since the 2008-09 season as three different coaches have been unable to reach the playoffs during that stretch. So it hasn’t necessarily been just a coach thing.

It doesn’t seem that Peters is starting the season on the hot seat, and general manager Ron Francis recently gave his coach a vote of confidence heading into the season saying exactly that.

“I think Bill Peters is one hell of a hockey coach, so I would not put him on the hot seat and in that category. Not at all,” Francis said this week, via the News & Observer. “This is guy who has shown he’s a hell of a coach with a very young team. I don’t think you hold him accountable for missing the playoffs the last couple of years, based on the situation we were in and what we were trying to build.”

All fair points, and he specifically points out the playoff drought and what the team was going through.

But professional sports is still a bottom line business, and eventually results will begin to matter. Especially after the offseason the Hurricanes had that saw them bring in Justin Williams, Marcus Kruger, Trevor van Riemsdyk and goaltender Scott Darling who can hopefully fix the team’s biggest and most glaring weakness in most recent years (the goaltending position). Combine those additions with a promising young core, led by Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm and that defense and expectations are going to start to build.

Peters has also been given a leash that most NHL coaches do not get. Over the past 30 years I found only 12 other examples of coaches that coached a single team to three consecutive non-playoff seasons.

  • Three of those coaches (Terry Crisp, Curt Fraser and Rick Bowness) were coaches of literal expansion teams that were just entering the league.
  • Seven of them were fired just after the third non-playoff season.
  • One of them (Ron Wilson) was fired late in what would have been the fourth consecutive non-playoff season.
  • Wayne Gretzky was given four consecutive non-playoff seasons in Arizona before he was no longer behind the bench. His replacement, Dave Tippett, was given five consecutive non-playoff seasons after some early initial success with the team. That run ended this offseason when he mutually agreed to step away from the team.
  • Lindy Ruff made it through three non-playoff seasons in Buffalo in the early 2000s and managed to stick with the team for another eight years. But his playoff drought followed four consecutive playoff seasons, including three years where the team advanced to at least the second round and one year where they won the Eastern Conference.

The bottom line with Peters is this: A good coach that probably isn’t to blame for the team’s recent lack of success, but given the shelf life of coaches in the NHL and how few of them get to stick around for this many seasons without the playoffs, and the offseason additions made by the front office, the team is going to have to start winning. Soon.

Poll: Will Blues compete for Central Division title next season?

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This post is part of Blues Day on PHT…

The St. Louis Blues went through a number of changes last offseason. They key veterans David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott in free agency, and no one really knew how it would affect them on the ice.

After struggling pretty badly in January, they fired head coach Ken Hitchcock and they ended up replacing him with coach-in-waiting Mike Yeo.

At the time of the firing, the Blues were clinging to the final Wild Card spot in the West. In the end, they were able to move up to third place in the Central Division.

Thanks to some masterful goaltending by Jake Allen, they were able to knock off the Wild in five games in the opening round, but they fell to Nashville in round two.

The Blues didn’t make a ton of changes to their roster this summer. They acquired Brayden Schenn from Philadelphia at the draft and they added winger Beau Bennett in free agency.

Is it enough to come away with the Central Division crown?

Both the Blackhawks and Wild finished ahead of them in the standings last season. The ‘Hawks made some major changes to their roster, as they dealt Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Scott Darling and Marcus Kruger away. They’ve also already lost Marian Hossa for the season, too.

The Wild got off to a fantastic start last season, but they crumbled down the stretch and were no match for the Blues in the postseason.

As of right now, the biggest threat for the division crown is probably Nashville.  The Predators didn’t have a great regular season, but they managed to find a way to come together during a run to the Stanley Cup Final. They also added Nick Bonino, Scott Hartnell and Alexei Emelin this offseason. Notable losses include: James Neal, Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson.  How will a long playoff run affect the Preds going into next season?

The most intriguing team in the division might just be Hitchcock’s new team, the Dallas Stars. They spent some money upgrading their roster, as they landed goalie Ben Bishop, winger Alex Radulov, center Martin Hanzal, defenseman Marc Methot. The Stars have had a tough time keeping the puck out of their own, so if Hitchcock and his new acquisitions can help them in that area, they’ll be tough to stop.

The Winnipeg Jets have an up-and-coming roster with plenty of skilled players. They signed Steve Mason to help young goalie Connor Hellebuyck out, but will that be enough? The Jets will likely be a dangerous squad in the near future, it just might not be this season.

And as for the Colorado Avalanche, well, let’s just say they still have a ton of work to do before we can put them in the conversation for the division title.

The Blues aren’t going to be the favorites to land the Central Division crown. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a shot. The key to this whole thing might just be Allen, who has always struggled with consistency at the NHL level.

If Allen can play anywhere close to the way he did during the playoffs (1.96 goals-against-average, .935 save percentage), they’ll have a chance to do some damage.

The biggest question is, did he just catch lightning in a bottle, or is he finally starting to take his game to the next level?

Alright, it’s your turn to have your say. Vote in the poll below and leave your opinion in the comments section below.

Poll: Will the ‘Hawks regret trading Panarin?

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This post is part of Blackhawks Day on PHT…

After being swept by the Nashville Predators in the opening round of the playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks made some pretty significant changes to their roster.

Scott Darling, who would have likely walked in free agency, was traded to Carolina, while Niklas Hjalmarsson, Artemi Panarin and Marcus Kruger were also traded away. On top of that, a strange allergy will keep Marian Hossa out of the lineup all season, so that’s another player who won’t suit up for them in 2017-18.

The Hjalmarsson and Panarin deals were both surprising, but there’s no denying that the Panarin deal probably hurt Blackhawks fans the most. After all, he scored at least 30 goals in each of his first two seasons and he put up 77 and 74 points.

The 25-year-old was a fixture on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov. More often than not, the trio was Chicago’s most dangerous and dynamic line.

The whole trade was pretty interesting. Chicago shipped Panarin, prospect Tyler Motte and a sixth-round pick in 2017 to Columbus for former ‘Hawk Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg and a fifth-round pick in 2018.

As dynamic as the young Russian is, Saad is no slouch either. The ‘Hawks drafted the 24-year-old in the second round  of the 2011 draft. Since he entered the league in 2012, he’s surpassed the 20-goal goal mark three times, including a 31-goal season back in 2015-16.

Each player’s contract situation also played a factor in this deal. Both make $6 million per season, but Panarin has two years left on his deal while Saad is under contract for four more years.

Although these two players are different, it appears as though this is a trade that makes sense for both sides. Chicago may have traded the “shiftier” player away, but Saad can create offense too, and the fact that he’s under contract for two extra years is also a plus.

Still, there are plenty of people who think the ‘Hawks made a mistake by making this trade.

How do you feel about this transaction? Vote in the poll below and feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section.