Sean Monahan

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Flames extend analytics darling Mikael Backlund

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The line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Micheal Ferland (Ferland for now?) probably ranks as the Calgary Flames’ most important forward trio. If you spend a little time on Hockey Twitter, you’ll probably come across someone gushing about “The 3M Line,” maybe more than the bigger guns.

(Aside: I really tried to get a Campbell’s Soup-inspired nickname for that line, but it never took off. Probably for the greater good?)

With the trade deadline looming, the Flames took a big step toward keeping that line intact, signing underrated center Mikael Backlund to a six-year, $32.1 million contract extension. He’ll go from carrying a $3.575M cap hit in the final year of his current deal to $5.35M from 2018-19 through 2023-24.

This keeps “The 3M Line” together through 2018-19, assuming the team doesn’t want to split them up at some point.

The most infamous member of the trio is the least tenured of the three: Matthew Tkachuk will see his rookie contract expire after 2018-19. Michael Frolik, meanwhile, receives $4.3M per season through 2019-20. Tkachuk isn’t likely to go anywhere, mind you, but his inevitable raise could make it tough to keep all three of those puck-hogging forwards on the same roster that also boasts Gaudreau, Monahan, and pricey blueliners like Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton.

Backlund, 28 (soon to be 29 as of March 17), is a solid piece even if you look at his scoring stats alone. The 24th pick of the 2007 NHL Draft is trying to make this his third consecutive 20-goal season, although he’s been limited to 10 in 58 games. (He’s made up the difference with 24 assists.)

If you look at his possession metrics, you’ll see that Backlund consistently tilts the ice in his team’s favor, even with heavy-to-drastic defensive usage.

Ultimately, he brings a nice mix of the subtle stuff that might slip under the radar:

With enough scoring punch that he jumps off the charts even when you’re not, well, looking at charts.

Naturally, this is an expensive contract, so there’s some risk involved. Even so, most seem happy with the deal from the Flames’ end:

If you take a look at their salary structure, there’s really a lot to like in Calgary. Now the Flames need to start putting it all together on the ice.

Once that really starts to build momentum, Backlund could be the sort of player who really makes the difference in a tough playoff series. That’s what the Flames are paying him for, really.

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.

The Buzzer: Schenn fights, scores twice; Hoffman hits 100

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Players of the Night:

Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues: Another player who scored twice on Thursday night. Schenn set the tone early, fighting Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog three seconds after puck drop in the first period. He backed that up with his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season.

Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames: Boring Sean Monahan has 27 goals on the season after scoring a brace in the Flames 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils.

P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators: Subban also score two goals, including the game-tying goal late in the third period to force overtime against the Ottawa Senators. Subban’s second goal was his 15th of the season, matching a career-high.

Nick Cousins, Arizona Coyotes: OK, last one. Cousins scored twice, and his second with 19 seconds left in the third period forced overtime, where Clayton Keller fired home the winner to give the desert dogs a 4-3 come-from-behind win.

Other two-goal scorers: Tyler Seguin, Travis Konecny and Joe Pavelski.

Highlights of the Night:

Mike Hoffman scored his 100th NHL goal in style:

Tic-tac-goal:

Kyle Turris got a nice welcome back to Ottawa:

Factoids of the Night:

A reminder of how good John Klingberg has been:

Boeser doing more things:

MISC:

Scores:

Flames 3, Devils 2

Flyers 5, Canadiens 3

Senators 4, Predators 3 (OT)

Lightning 5, Canucks 2

Blues 6, Avalanche 1

Coyotes 4, Wild 3 (OT)

Stars 4, Blackhawks 2

Golden Knights 5, Sharks 3


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Monahan is money, Zajac(!?), Command and Conacher

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Player of the Night: Travis Zajac, New Jersey Devils.

What has gotten into Travis Zajac? Did he step out of a time machine this week, and if so, was it the type that makes you a bit more monstrous, like the one from “The Fly?”

Zajac factored into all three of the Devils’ goals in a 3-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, collecting two goals and one assist. The Devils have been slipping quite a bit lately, but they’ve now won three in a row, with these last two wins being considerable.

And Zajac’s been a notable factor in each of the past two wins, fighting Radko Gudas and shockingly holding his own:

Highlights of the Night:

Are we certain that Mike Hoffman isn’t Swedish? Feels like a relevant question, considering his expert use of the Peter Forsberg Postage Stamp move:

Unusual scene for the Lightning on Saturday: Cory Conacher drew a penalty shot while taking a high-sticking infraction to his face. He got repairs, scored on that penalty shot, and then the Bolts received a two-minute power play. Weird. (Also: Conacher has been pretty hot for Tampa Bay recently.)

Sweeet save by Tuukka Rask, who continued his personal point streak of 20 games.

Tough to top the bottle-bashing goal:

Factoids:

The Stars’ scoring is about as imbalanced as the score of their 6-1 win against the Wild.

In his young career, Sean Monahan has 131 regular-season goals. He’s scored 10 of them in overtime.

Henrik Sedin is a few ahead of his twin Daniel Sedin (who’s currently at 1,276 regular season games). Daniel could hit 1,300 if he plays most of the Canucks’ remaining games.

Scores:

Canadiens 5, Ducks 2
Senators 4, Flyers 3 (SO)
Jets 3, Avalanche 0
Bruins 4, Maple Leafs 1
Blues 1, Sabres 0
Panthers 3, Red Wings 2
Devils 3, Penguins 1
Islanders 4, Blue Jackets 3
Predators 5, Rangers 2
Stars 6, Wild 1
Lightning 4, Canucks 2
Flames 4, Blackhawks 3 (OT)
Kings 6, Coyotes 0

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.

The Buzzer: Kuemper shines for Kings; More goalie interference confusion

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Player Of The Night: Darcy Kuemper, Los Angeles Kings

After losing seven of their past eight games the Los Angles Kings entered play on Wednesday night in pretty desperate need of a win.

Playing a Flames team that has been on a roll, and having to do so without starting goalie Jonathan Quick, it seemed as if it was going to be a challenge. Fortunately for them backup goalie Darcy Kuemper was up to the challenge.

Kuemper was great for the Kings on Wednesday stopping 30 of the 31 shots he faced in the Kings’ 2-1 overtime win.

The Kings found themselves trailing 1-0 early in the third period — and getting outplayed for the most part — but Kuemper was able to keep them in the game long enough for Jake Muzzin to tie the game on the power play.

Tanner Pearson then scored the game-winner in overtime with only 27 seconds to play.

Kuemper has been pretty outstanding in a backup role for the Kings this season. After his effort on Wednesday he is now up to a .934 save percentage on the season.

Following Wednesday’s win the Kings are now in a three-way tie with the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild for the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with 57 points. The Avalanche and Wild both own the tiebreaker over the Kings at the moment, with the Avalanche currently occupying the playoff spot.

More Goalie Interference Confusion

Another night, another controversial ruling on a goaltender interference review.

This one took place in the third period in Chicago when Nick Schmaltz scored a game-tying goal for the Blackhawks. It came as Artem Anisimov toppled over top of Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen and the call on the ice (a good goal) was upheld. It seems like it could have easily gone the other way, and it had to be frustrating for the Maple Leafs after a recent Auston Mathews goal was overturned for what seemed to be far less contact.

The call ended up helping the Blackhawks get to overtime and collect a point in the standings. They still sit six points out of a playoff spot with four teams ahead of them, but that point could still prove to be big later in the season.

Highlight Of The Night

Sean Monahan opened the scoring for the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night with his 22nd goal of the season and it was a thing of beauty. Check out the slick passing going on here between Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Michael Ferland.

It ended up being the only goal the Flames scored in a 2-1 overtime loss, but it was still a beautiful play.

Factoid Of The Night

William Nylander‘s penalty shot goal on Wednesday night gave the Toronto Maple Leafs a 3-2 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks. That goal came just six seconds into the extra period and tied the NHL record for fasted overtime goal during a regular season game. It is a feat that has been accomplished five times in league history. Somewhat stunningly, two of those goals have happened this season. Along with Nylander, Detroit Red Wings forward Andreas Athanasiou also scored six seconds into overtime in a game earlier this season. [NHL Public Relations]

Scores

Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Chicago Blackhawks 2

Los Angeles Kings 2, Calgary Flames 1

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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.

NHL Power Rankings: Here come the Flames

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Expectations were high for the Calgary Flames entering this season.

They have a promising young core of talent centered around Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Dougie Hamilton, then spent a bunch of money to bring in Travis Hamonic and Mike Smith over the summer. Hamonic, along with Hamilton, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie seemed to give them one of the better defensive units in the NHL (at least as far as the top-four is concerned) and Smith was expected to solidify a goaltending position that had been a pretty big sore spot the past couple of years.

When we last checked in with our power rankings two weeks ago the Flames were looking like one of the bigger disappointments in the league. They were on the outside of the playoff picture and looking like they were running out of time to make a big move in the standings.

But a six-game winning streak can change a lot.

Entering the week the Flames find themselves in the No. 2 spot in the Pacific Division and have built a four-point cushion over the first non-playoff teams in the West. One of those teams (San Jose) still has four games in hand on them, but the Flames are finally starting to resemble the team they were expected to be over the summer. They are 9-2-1 in their past 11 games.

Gaudreau is blossoming into a superstar while Smith has been on a roll in net over the past few weeks.

They made one of the biggest jumps in this week’s rankings.

Here is a look at where everyone else falls this week.

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Losing Victor Hedman for 3-6 weeks is going to hurt in the short-term, but the Lightning have their bye week for the first week of that timetable and have given themselves a huge cushion in the standings. They have the offense and goaltender to withstand that loss for a couple of weeks.

2. Vegas Golden Knights — Yes. Somehow Vegas gets included in the elites now, too. I only saw somehow because this story is still insane. An expansion team. A legitimate Stanley Cup contender more than halfway through the season. Madness. Entering Monday the Golden Knights are 14-1-2 in their previous 17 games, a stretch that includes games against Anaheim, Nashville (twice), Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, St. Louis and Washington. They are going to get a big test here with a four-game road trip including games against Nashville and Tampa Bay.

The Rest Of The Best

3. Washington Capitals — After losing a lot this offseason it was supposed to be a step back this season. That step back still has them on pace for 109 points and another Metropolitan Division title. As the NHL standings sit today, their reward for that would be a first-round matchup against … the Pittsburgh Penguins.

4. Boston Bruins — Given the offseason seasons for Mathew Barzal and Brock Boeser it is going to be tough for him to get a lot of attention in the Calder Trophy race, but Charlie McAvoy has been just as impactful as both. If not more impactful.

5. Nashville Predators — P.K. Subban should be one of the leaders in the clubhouse for the Norris Trophy at this point. His defensive play right now is laughably underrated.

6. Winnipeg Jets — It is really impressive how much offensive talent the Jets have, and how much of it is still young. Kyle Connor is scoring at a 30-goal pace over 82 games as a 20-year-old rookie and nobody even really mentions him much. If the goaltending can hold it together they will be a fascinating team to watch.

7. Los Angeles Kings — Jonathan Quick has at times been a little overrated in his career, but his performance this season has matched the reputation he has built. It’s almost as if he’s been a little underrated this year.

Just A Step Below

8. St. Louis Blues — The Blues need more from Jake Allen. A lot more. Carter Hutton has been really strong in a backup role this season and it’s probably time to give him a few more starts and ride the hot hand.

9. Calgary Flames — What a difference a couple of weeks can make in a team’s outlook for the season.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — Jack Johnson wants a trade, but it is hard to see him bringing much of a return. Not only because every team knows he wants out, but because he is probably best suited as a third-pairing defenseman. There doesn’t seem to be a lot for Columbus to gain here and it’s hard to see Johnson getting more playing time on a team that will give him a better chance to win than Columbus will.

11. New Jersey Devils — They enter the week on a six-game losing streak. Time to panic, or just a small speed bump during  a long season full of peaks and valleys? They are still scoring goals so that is a good sign they can turn things around again.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs — They still have flaws, but it is amazing they are a top-five team in goals scored while getting only 14 goals from William Nylander and Mitch Marnrer and with Auston Matthews missing 10 games. Crazy depth up front.

13. Colorado Avalanche — One of the hottest teams in the NHL at the moment. Six game winning streak and 11-3-1 in their past 15 games. They are currently on the outside of the playoff picture, but they are only two points back and have two games in hand on the team they are chasing.

The Middle Ground

14. Pittsburgh Penguins — The Penguins are really on to something with this Sidney Crosby, Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon line. It has also added a lot more balance to their forward lines. With Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel all rolling now the Penguins look like the Penguins again.

15. Dallas Stars — Alexander Radulov isn’t getting enough attention this season. He is on track for a career year offensively, is driving possession, and has generally been pretty outstanding for the Stars.

16. San Jose Sharks — Still having a hard time getting a feel for the Sharks. They are not bad, they are not really anything special, they are currently on the outside of the playoff picture … but they also have only played in 41 games and have multiple games in hand on everyone. They are not out of it by any stretch.

17. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal‘s resurgence in Minnesota the past two years has been a pretty stunning development. He looked like he was done toward the end of his time in Carolina.

18. Philadelphia Flyers — Sean Couturier is on pace for 47 goals while playing dominant, shutdown defense. The goal scoring might end up being a bit of an outlier in his career (he is not a 19 percent shooter every year) but it is still a remarkable season for him.

19. New York Rangers — They have always been dependent on Henrik Lundqvist but right now they are taking that to an entirely new level. The defensive strategy just seems to be “pray that Lundqvist stops everything.”

20. Chicago Blackhawks — Like the trade for Anthony Duclair. Fresh start on a talented team might be good for him, and the Blackhawks could certainly use another young forward to fly around and create offense. But is the defense good enough to get them in the playoffs, especially with Corey Crawford‘s status still in question?

21. Anaheim Ducks — If they get healthy — and stay healthy — they could still be a team to watch out for in the second half. As of Monday they are two points back of a playoff spot. The challenge will be overcoming the five teams ahead of them at the moment.

22. Carolina Hurricanes — Just when it looked like they were ready to make a big move in the East they dropped six out of eight. Still a lot of intriguing talent and the new owner seems like he is fired up and can bring plenty of excitement. There is a core here you can win with.

23. New York Islanders — They might not make the playoffs, they still have to re-sign John Tavares and Josh Bailey, but Mathew Barzal looks dynamite. They fall so low because they are really cold right now and have lost a lot of ground in a short period of time. Still very much in the playoff race, but trending in the wrong direction.

Better Luck Next Season

24. Detroit Red Wings — They enter the week 5-2-0 over their past seven games, trying to show some signs of live. That is good news. The bad news: Even with that nice little run they are still probably out of the playoff race.

25. Florida Panthers — Aleksander Barkov got a much deserved spot on the Atlantic Division All-Star team. A true bright spot for the Panthers and a foundational player to build around for a long, long time.

26. Edmonton Oilers — They won two in a row heading into the bye week but the mountain standing in front of them for a playoff spot is still a massive one.

27. Montreal Canadiens — Don’t look now but Max Pacioretty is starting to turn it around. He has points in four consecutive games, including three straight with a goal.

28. Vancouver Canucks — It’s still the Brock Boeser show in Vancouver.

29. Ottawa Senators — After scoring at least 15 goals in each of the past four seasons Erik Karlsson has only three goals in 37 games this season. That is by far the worst goal-scoring pace of his NHL career. The only other time it was that low was his rookie season when he only played in 60 games as a 19-year-old.

30. Buffalo Sabres — The big thing worth watching now is where does Evander Kane end up before the trade deadline?

31. Arizona Coyotes — The Coyotes are on track to be one of the worst teams in recent memory. Only 27 points through 45 games and a minus-55 goal differential.

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.