Valtteri Filppula

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Brent Burns and Ryan Johansen are still searching for their first goals

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Over the past two seasons Brent Burns held a commanding lead over every other defenseman in the league when it came to scoring goals.

His 56 goals during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons were 19 more than the next closest defenseman, Shea Weber, during that stretch.

The gap between him and Weber was as large as the gap between Weber and the No. 25 defenseman, John Carlson of the Washington Capitals. He has been such a dominant player offensively that he was also the seventh-leading scorer in the league regardless of position. He has produced goals and points like an elite forward and doing so as a defenseman. Other than Erik Karlsson there is not another defenseman in the league that is capable of that.

His dominance the past couple of seasons is what makes it so shocking that nearly a quarter of the way through the season he has yet to find the back of the net for the San Jose Sharks despite putting 65 shots on goal. Only eight players in the league have more shots on goal. He finished in the top-two in each of the past two seasons.

Given the standard Burns has set for himself over the past few years, as well as the fact he is still averaging more than four shots on goal per game (an absurd number for a defenseman) this drought to open the season seems to be nothing more than a cold streak due to some poor shooting luck. Burns is typically around a seven to eight percent shooter, which should have him at about five goals at this point given the number of shots on goal. In each of the past three seasons he had at least five goals at this point in the season.

Given the shot volume and his willingness to keep putting pucks on the net, as well as the fact he still has a 54 percent Corsi rating, it seems quite likely that he is probably on the verge of an offensive breakout.

Burns is not the only top player in the league still searching for his first goal at this point.

Down in Nashville, where the Predators are starting to get on a roll with wins in five consecutive games, top-line center Ryan Johansen is heading into game 18 this season without a goal.

Johansen’s goal drought is a little different than Burns’ at this point.

While Burns seems to be more about some percentage driven bad luck, Johansen simply is not giving himself many opportunities to score goals.

As of Wednesday Johansen has registered just 23 shots on goal in his first 17 games. Among forwards that have played at least 300 minutes of hockey this season only one (Valtteri Filppula) has recorded fewer shots on goal than Johansen.

Part of the lack of shots is the fact he has spent a large portion of the season playing alongside Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, two of the Predators’ best goal scorers and most willing shooters, resulting in Johansen taking on more of a playmaking role.

But he could also probably stand to be a little more selfish in some situations as he himself admitted this week to Adam Vingan of the Tennessean.

“Sometimes shooting the puck creates more opportunities for the guys on my wing and creating more opportunities to score goals,” said Johansen, who has 22 goals since being traded to Nashville nearly two years ago. “I think sometimes, especially at the start of this year, I’ve been a little too passive.

“I need to find ways to bring pucks to the net more often, which will lead to more opportunities for my wingers and more rebounds and chances and things like that.”

Overall his line is playing really well. They dominate possession, the other two guys are scoring goals, and the Predators as a team are starting to find success. After the addition of Kyle Turris and the return of Nick Bonino to the lineup they now have one of the best center trios in the Western Conference.

Still, with Johansen carrying around an $8 million per year price tag the Predators would probably like to see a little more goal production — and pucks at the net — from Johansen.

It is not like he doesn’t possess natural goal scoring ability, either. This is a guy that score 33 goals in the NHL as a 21-year-old then followed it up in his age 22 season with 26 more. When he was doing that he was averaging more more than 2.6 shots on goal per game. He is now barely averaging more than one shot per game. He can be that sort of goal scorer again, but not until he starts taking a few more shots when the opportunities present themselves.

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.

Simmonds goes from game-time decision to game-winner for Flyers vs. Oilers

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With extra protection on his face and at least a couple ailments slowing him down, Wayne Simmonds wasn’t even a sure-thing to play for the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. In true hockey player fashion, Simmonds ended up being the difference-maker.

(That’s so hockey, right?)

Simmonds finished off some fantastic work from Jori Lehtera and Valtteri Filppula to score the decisive goal in the Flyers’ tight 2-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers this afternoon:

The gritty-but-talented winger also made his usual havoc in front of the net as part of Philly’s vaunted power play, ultimately getting the primary assist on Claude Giroux‘s goal:

This victory moves the Flyers to 5-3-0 in this young season, with three wins coming in their last four games. They’ve shown an ability to limit opponents lately, too; the Flyers have only allowed three goals in as many games and five in their last four.

While the Flyers stayed in the merciless Metro’s arms race, the Oilers feel punchless once again.

Their only goal was somewhat random, as Patrick Maroon made a great play, and a rare tally without the help of Connor McDavid:

It doesn’t really kill the trend of the Oilers relying far too much on McDavid and his top line. Maroon and McDavid fired eight of Edmonton’s 24 shots on goal in this contest, with another eight coming from the Oilers’ blueline.

Some of these top-heavy struggles come down to the structure put in place by GM Peter Chiarelli. Still, you wonder if head coach Todd McLellan needs to make some tweaks where he can, as the Oilers are asking a lot of a small group. (Ryan Strome continues to be a disappointment, as he didn’t register a single shot on goal after showing some life with nine SOG in his past two games.)

There’s also the impression that the Oilers sorely need Leon Draisaitl to carry his own line whenever he can return from concussion issues. Even in their slump-breaking victory on Thursday, they needed two McDavid assists, including one of the best you’ll ever see.

The Oilers close off a three-game road trip in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, then maybe they’ll get a chance to gather their wits with a five-game homestand (though their opponents aren’t always the easiest).

Meanwhile, the upstart Flyers aim to win four of five during a solid homestand. What a difference a goal (and Wayne Simmonds) makes.

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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Predators complete ‘crazy comeback’ against Flyers

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The banner went up and the home team came back to win in a thrilling finish. All in all, a perfect night for the Nashville Predators and their fans.

Filip Forsberg scored his second goal with 35.6 seconds left and the Predators rallied by scoring twice in the final 1:17 to beat the Philadelphia Flyers 6-5 on Tuesday for their first victory of the season.

“This season, being down 0-2, it was a huge game for us,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. “Good start to the game and then let it slip a little bit and then a huge comeback. I feel like we’ve done that many times. It’s a pretty hard way to play. Emotionally and everything, it was a big win for us.”

On the night they raised their Western Conference championship banner, the Predators blew a 3-0 lead as the Flyers scored five straight goals.

Read more: Nolan Patrick’s first career NHL goal helps spark Flyers comeback

But then Forsberg scored his first of the game 50 seconds after the Flyers took a 5-3 lead, and Scott Hartnell jammed in his second goal tying it with 1:17 left on a 5-on-3 that was actually 6-on-3 with Rinne pulled. When Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol challenged for offside and lost, the Predators had the man advantage, and Forsberg scored the winning goal top shelf.

Hakstol was surprised he lost the replay review.

“Otherwise, I wouldn’t have made the challenge,” he said.

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said the team practiced the 5-on-3 situation Monday, with the sixth attacker a bonus.

“Our guys did a really good job,” Laviolette said.

Craig Smith and Nick Bonino also scored, and P.K. Subban had three assists for Nashville. Forsberg also had an assist on Hartnell’s tying goal as Nashville won its fifth straight home opener.

Valtteri Filppula scored twice for the Flyers, and Andrew McDonald, Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny each added a goal. Philadelphia finished 2-2 on its first four-game road trip to open a season since 1971.

The Predators, losers at Boston and Pittsburgh, raised the banner 19 years to the day of the first game in franchise history.

Mike Fisher , the captain who retired in August , joined current captain Roman Josi in unveiling the banner before it was raised to the rafters. Then country star Trace Adkins performed the national anthem, and Nashville’s mayor came out to wave a towel as the Predators continued their playoff tradition for at least the home opener.

Then the Predators gave their fans reason to keep cheering, with Smith scoring a power-play goal with a wrister past Brian Elliott at 4:17 of the first period. That gave Nashville its first lead this season, and the Predators took eight of the first 10 shots.

Nashville scored first in the second period, too. Hartnell beat Elliott with a slap shot off the rebound of teammate Pontus Aberg‘s shot at 3:08 for a 2-0 lead. Mattias Ekholm skated across the crease, and his backhand shot went off Elliott to Bonino, who easily tapped the puck in for a 3-0 lead and his first goal since leaving Pittsburgh for Nashville this offseason .

Then the Flyers turned the celebration into a game. McDonald scored his first goal on a slap shot at 10:19, and Patrick, the second overall pick in the June draft, got his first career goal 16 seconds later on a wrister. Philadelphia took advantage of its third power play in the period when Filppula scored on a wrister at 15:05, tying it at 3.

Konecny scored on a breakaway at 5:03 followed by Filppula’s power-play goal for a 5-3 lead that seemed safe until Forsberg pulled Nashville within a goal 50 seconds later to set up the amazing finish.

“Obviously, a crazy comeback,” Forsberg said.

The Flyers picked up two penalties on the same play with 2:41 left, giving Nashville a 5-on-3 advantage. Hakstol lost his challenge for offside, and a delay-of-game penalty gave Nashville the man advantage.

“We gave it away,” Elliott said.

 

Penguins, Rangers, Capitals headline PHT’s mighty Metro Division preview

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The Metropolitan Division hasn’t just produced the last two Stanley Cup winners (Pittsburgh Penguins) and last two Presidents’ Trophy winners (Washington Capitals).

It’s also a division that runs deep. The Columbus Blue Jackets took the league by storm in 2016-17, and while Sergei Bobrovsky might not be sensational again, many still believe they’re legit. The New York Rangers and New York Islanders still boast significant strengths, while the Carolina Hurricanes are dark horse candidates once more.

Even the New Jersey Devils keep adding promising talent.

Let’s preview what might once again be the best division in the NHL.

Also, check out these other previews: Atlantic Division, Central Division, PHT’s picks and predictions.

Carolina Hurricanes

Poll/looking to make the leap

Columbus Blue Jackets

Poll/looking to make the leap

New Jersey Devils

Poll/looking to make the leap

New York Islanders

Poll/looking to make the leap

New York Rangers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Philadelphia Flyers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Pittsburgh Penguins

Poll/looking to make the leap

Something noteworthy from today:

Washington Capitals

Poll/looking to make the leap

Hextall deserves to see Flyers rebuild through

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This post is part of Flyers day at PHT…

If you look at GM Ron Hextall’s playing career, you might have expected the Philadelphia Flyers to continue their charming-yet-maddening run of impulsive, often-reckless moves. After all, Hextall echoed Billy Smith in goalie-stick-swinging rage.

Instead, Hextall’s almost writing the blueprint for how to rebuild a team in a tasteful way. Almost to the point where you wonder if his absence may partially explain the erosion of the Los Angeles Kings’ salary structure.

(Hextall was even rebuilding on the fly without the typical run of lottery ball luck, but that trend changed in Philly’s favor when they ended up with the second pick and Nolan Patrick.)

Let’s consider the great job Hextall is doing, even if there’s some fear that someone else might ultimately get the greatest credit if management grows impatient with this incremental approach.

Cleaning up

Hextall inherited an absolute mess in Philly, and he’s been making lemonade out of Bobby Clarke’s lemons.

Moving Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn for Jordan Weal and a third-rounder felt like wizardry. The assets he managed for Kimmo Timonen, Brayden Schenn, and Braydon Coburn brought the Flyers a mix of picks, solid roster players, and financial breathing room.

Even mixed moves seem to point to better things in the future.

One imagines the Flyers getting a little more than they did when they took Valtteri Filppula off of Tampa Bay’s hands, especially since the Bolts didn’t retain salary in the process. You’d expect Jori Lehtera‘s time with Philly to be short, as the team seemingly took on his contract merely to get nice picks from the Blues for Schenn.

Prospects and picks

Hextall has assembled quite the war chest of prospects that mixes quantity with, ideally, quality choices.

Even heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, the Flyers currently hold an extra choice in the first, fifth, and seventh rounds. That’s promising, especially since they’ve already made a lot of picks.

Take a look at their draft history during the last three years.

2015: two first-rounders, zero second, two third-rounders, two fourths. Nine picks.
2016: Normal number of picks, except: three second-rounders and two sixth-rounders. Ten picks.
2017: two first-rounders, plus Isaac Ratcliffe, who was close to a first-rounder at 35th. Also two fourth-rounders. Nine picks.

And, again, they currently hold 10 choices in 2018. If the Flyers can aim those “darts” with even any accuracy, things look good for the future.

Still some problems

The troubling thing is that the Flyers don’t exactly look like a no-brainer playoff team in 2017-18. (Vote on that subject here.)

They’re standing as something of a fringe team even as they still spend quite a bit of money; they’re only about $5 million under the cap ceiling right now, according to Cap Friendly.

Still-troubling spending is part of the reason why Claude Giroux ($8.275 million per year) is under pressure. It’s not necessarily that Giroux and Jakub Voracek ($8.25M) are bad, but there are questions about one or both of them slipping, and with contracts that begin to look frighteningly long.

Combine those deals with Andrew MacDonald‘s $5M punchline of a cap hit and that’s about $21.5M on the books, just like that.

There’s a path to greater financial freedom, especially if they part ways with Filppula ($5M) and Lehtera ($4.7M). Hextall’s run of strong goalie moves continues with the cheap pairing of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth after Steve Mason‘s surprisingly impressive run, and Philly isn’t locked into any Bryzgalovian deals in net.

So there are a lot of positives, even if it still feels like Hextall is hitting the “backspace” button on some salary cap death sentences.

Who gets to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

The Flyers boast a bounty of prospects, especially on defense; plenty of teams likely look at that farm system with some envy.

Will everything fall into line at the right time, though? Key forwards such as Giroux, Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds might see declines in the near future, to the point that Hextall must be willing to at least consider bold moves there, too.

Philly is getting close to the finish line as far as cap struggles go, which means that, sooner or later, they need to start making bigger gains toward being a stable contender. Hextall deserves to see it through, but we’ve seen more than a few examples of a GM laying the groundwork for someone else to put together the finishing touches.