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

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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.

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Revenge denied: Penguins continue to get best of Capitals

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The Washington Capitals probably want to endure “close, but no cigar against the Pittsburgh Penguins” about as much as they want to hear about falling in the second round.

Wednesday brought back painful memories in both regards.

Much like the Nashville Predators in their bid to get at least a measure of revenge for the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Capitals couldn’t beat the Penguins in their first chance in 2017-18. Instead, the Penguins narrowly prevailed by a score of 3-2.

With this result, both teams stand at 2-1-1 in this young season.

Powered by power play

When you look at the raw shot totals (36-22 in Pittsburgh’s favor), one might feel inspired to bash the Capitals for a poor effort. The even-strength numbers were actually quite even, however, as you can see via Natural Stat Trick.

The Penguins’ power play ultimately ended up being the big difference-maker. All three of Pittsburgh’s goals came on the man advantage, as they went 3-for-6 while the Capitals frequently lethal unit went 0-for-4.

Sidney Crosby ended the night with an assist while returning forward Patric Hornqvist generated two points.

First taste of Djoos

Christian Djoos‘ first-ever NHL game was as impressive as the puns related to his last name were cringe-inducing. (Maybe as if you were drinking an especially tart juice?)

It seems like the Starburst slogan was the main winner:

Djoos scored both his first NHL goal and first NHL assist. He had the primary helper on Alex Ovechkin‘s eighth goal of 2017-18. Not bad for a seventh-rounder (195th overall) from 2012.

If you’re going to throw blame around, Ovechkin probably isn’t the right target for such derision after this loss.

This time around, Matt Murray got the better of Braden Holtby, even if Holtby made a Hasek-like highlight reel stop in the first period.

***

None of that was good enough for the Capitals to manage a comeback against the Penguins, so they’ll need to wait until their next game (Nov. 10 in Washington) for their next crack at a team that just seems to have their number.

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.

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McKenzie on Penguins’ cap space, Capitals’ free agent decisions (Video)

About 1:20* into the video above this post’s headline, hockey insider Bob McKenzie shared some interesting tidbits with NBCSN’s Kathryn Tappen regarding potential future moves for the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

In the case of the Penguins, McKenzie reports that the team is happy with what they’ve seen from the wonderfully named Greg McKegg so far, but they’re still looking to add a more proven third-line center.

When it comes the the Capitals, McKenzie notes that there’s still plenty of work to do regarding pending free agents John Carlson and Lars Eller.

Let’s break down the facets of both situations.

Deadline dealers or something sooner?

So, at the moment, Cap Friendly pegs the Penguins’ cap space at about $2 million. That number could go up a bit in demoting a cheaper, younger player to the AHL, which they’d need to do if they added a player via a trade.

McKenzie is right in stating that the Penguins have a rare amount of breathing room in the Sidney CrosbyEvgeni Malkin era. They can chalk that up to making tough decisions like parting ways with Marc-Andre Fleury and having crucial bargains in Matt Murray and Jake Guentzel‘s rookie contract.

Theoretically, the Penguins could work something out for Matt Duchene, thus sparing him from absorbing more abuse from childhood heroes (has Adam Deadmarsh badmouthed Duchene yet?). That would likely require the Avalanche to retain some of Duchene’s $6M cap hit.

At least, it would now. What if the Penguins instead opted to be trade deadline buyers?

Well, Cap Friendly estimates their deadline cap space at about $9.3M.

Some rentals work out like Bill Guerin did for the Penguins, while others fall closer to, say, Alexei Ponikarovsky. If McKegg is the guy at 3C for longer, here’s how he looked coming into Thursday:

Three games played: one assist, 24-20 on faceoffs, six shots on goal, 15:38 time on ice average, solid possession stats.

Not too shabby, but when you’re shooting as high as the Penguins are, you might want to invest in some third-line center insurance.

A quick look at Eller, Carlson

Even if you don’t think John Carlson, 27, is too great in his own end, you’d probably have to admit that he’s well worth the near-$4M cap hit he’s carrying right now because of his outstanding offensive output.

The scoring side of Carlson’s HERO chart makes your eyes pop so much that you almost miss the not-so-great “shot suppression” category.

via Dom Galamini

So, the question is, how much will Carlson cost and would it be worth it to the Capitals?

Washington is carrying cap hits in Matt Niskanen‘s $5.75M, Brooks Orpik‘s $5.5M, and Dmitry Orlov‘s $5.1M on defense. Overall, they have $58.9M in cap tied up in 13 players, according to Cap Friendly.

As a UFA with some big scoring numbers, Carlson could command a nice raise. The Capitals showed courage in letting Karl Alzner walk, so it will be fascinating to see what they do with Carlson.

Personally, Lars Eller is a very nice player, but possibly a luxury at his current rate of $3.5M. In a way, allowing him to walk might sting just as much because he’s been a handy answer to what was once a long-standing Capitals question at third-line center.

Still, the Capitals need only look to the Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks to realize that successful NHL teams sometimes allow valuable players to walk.

***

All of these cases are pretty interesting to watch. These two teams remain prominent because of their stars, but also their willingness to adapt.

* – Before that, McKenzie shares some interesting numbers and analysis about the league’s crackdown on slashing. Stay tuned for post on that, possibly on Thursday.)

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.

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WATCH LIVE: Penguins – Capitals on Wednesday Night Rivalry

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Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby. The reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners in Washington Capitals (2-0-1) hosting the repeat champions in the Pittsburgh Penguins (1-1-1) in the latest edition of “Wednesday Night Rivalry” on NBCSN. What more could you want?

Well, OK.

These teams also boast some absolutely fantastic supporting cast members, even after each franchise said goodbye to notable contributors during the summer.

Many believe that Nicklas Backstrom is now the Capitals’ catalyst, but they also boast a fantastic one-two punch down the middle with Evgeny Kuznetsov helping Ovechkin get off to his resounding start. Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Phil Kessel provide Pittsburgh with plenty of firepower.

Oh yeah, there’s also the goalie battle of Matt Murray vs. Braden Holtby.

Puck drops around 7:30 p.m. ET, but you can also get ready for the action with some analysis before the game. Along with watching on NBCSN, it’s also available online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

For an even deeper dive on this always-fun rivalry, check out PHT’s preview from earlier today.

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.

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Saturday was awful for great goalies

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Look, there were some good-to-great goalies who enjoyed strong Saturday performances.

Jonathan Quick continued his strong beginning to 2017-18, getting two wins while allowing a single goal as the Kings beat the Sharks 4-1. Corey Crawford snubbed the dangerous Columbus Blue Jackets in Chicago’s 5-1 victory. Braden Holtby got the better of his regular Vezina rival Carey Price. The Nashville Predators still have no answer for Matt Murray. There’s no denying that Marc-Andre Fleury is off to a special start for Vegas, too.

Even in defeat, Craig Anderson sparkled in Ottawa’s shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings. He gave Jonathan Bernier‘s stupendous stop a run for its money here:

Still, as you can see in the video above this post’s headline, it was often a brutal evening for some big-name goalies.

In some cases, the evenings were crushingly short, too, leaving those netminders to stare out in disbelief on the bench as games played out.

  • Henrik Lundqvist only made it through one period against the Toronto Maple Leafs, at times looking shocked that he even stayed out that long. Lundqvist yielded five goals on 17 shots as Toronto dominated early; at one point the Leafs crowd gave Lundqvist a “Bronx cheer” after making a save. Frederik Andersen would end up feeling Hank’s pain, as the Rangers stormed back to tie things up 5-5 heading into the third. The dumb, fun, Leafs also made it a tough night for Lundqvist’s backup, Ondrej Pavelec.

It’s been a very rough start for Lundqvist so far, who might miss having a backup like Antti Raanta to pick up his pieces.

  • Do you think Holtby gets annoyed by all the Carey Price hype?

While Holtby stopped 38 out of 39 shots to frustrate the Montreal Canadiens in Washington’s 6-1 win, Price couldn’t slow down red-hot Alex Ovechkin. Like Lundqvist, Price only made it through one period. In that case, he gave up one Ovechkin hat trick plus a T.J. Oshie goal. After a fantastic debut, this one hurt for the Habs.

  • At least in the cases of Lundqvist and Price, they were facing an onslaught of shots and scary offenses.

Cam Talbot sat on the Oilers’ bench with his mask still on after allowing three goals on just seven shots. It seemed like the Vancouver Canucks were going to embarrass Edmonton, but instead they just humiliated Talbot. Laurent Brossoit didn’t give up a goal, but Vancouver held off Connor McDavid & Co. for a 3-2 upset.

  • Robin Lehner fared a little better than his more highly regarded colleagues, almost making it through half of the Sabres’ eventual 6-3 loss to the Islanders. Still, the angry goalie gave up four goals on 16 shots before making way for Chad Johnson.