Victor Hedman

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The Buzzer: Zucker tricks Habs; Lightning remain unstoppable

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Players of the Night: Devan Dubnyk and Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild

The Wild pair were the main cogs in Minnesota’s 3-0 shutout of the Montreal Canadiens. Dubnyk did his job between the pipes stopping all 41 shots he faced for his 25th career shutout. Zucker, meanwhile, netted all three goals for his first career hat trick. Zucker has now scored the Wild’s last five goals.

Highlight of the Night:

Welcome back to the goal scoring column, Brian Boyle.

MISC:

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl once again teamed up to break another team’s spirits in overtime. Edmonton has now won back-to-back games for the first time this season.

Jaromir Jagr scored his first goal with the Calgary Flames and Johnny Gaudreau chipped in three points during a 6-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.

Carter Hutton made 27 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped both Arizona shootout attempts during a 3-2 St. Louis Blues victory. Alex Pietrangelo scored his seventh goal of the season. The Blues have won 12 straight over the Coyotes.

• The Coyotes have not won in regulation in 18 games this season. Per the NHL, they’re one loss shy of tying the 1999 Calgary Flames’ dubious record.

• The Philadelphia Flyers got goals from Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier while Brian Elliott made 38 saves during a 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Giroux and Voracek each added a pair of assists.

• Chicago has not beaten the Flyers in the regular season in Philly in 14 meetings, dating back to Nov. 9, 1996.

Jakob Silfverberg scored twice 35 seconds apart early in the third period to power the Anaheim Ducks past the Vancouver Canucks 4-1. Rickard Rakell handed out three assists.

Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos scored in a span of 2:02 in the first period to power their way to a 5-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings. Kucherov and Stamkos combined for five points, with Kucherov potting his league-leading 16th goal of the season.

• Congrats to Oscar Fantenberg for scoring his first NHL goal.

• The Tampa power play is just unfair:

Factoid of the Night:

Scores:
Edmonton 3, New Jersey 2 (OT)
Philadelphia 3, Chicago 1
Minnesota 3, Montreal 0
St. Louis 3, Arizona 2 (SO)
Calgary 6, Detroit 3
Anaheim 4, Vancouver 1
Tampa Bay 5, Los Angeles 2

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy

Stricter faceoff rules have put some defensemen in an ‘unnatural’ position

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Well, this is awkward.

Stricter rule enforcement in the National Hockey League has led to more defensemen taking draws this season and, well, it has been a challenge – even for some of the best players in the world.

“It’s a little bit unnatural,” Arizona Coyotes defenseman Luke Schenn said. “It’s not something you see all the time. You see a D-man go in there, you’re probably not going to win too many of them.”

Such is life for NHL defensemen these days, thrown into the faceoff circle to do something they never figured was in their job description. Like position players taking the mound to pitch in a Major League Baseball game or NFL running backs having to throw a pass, defensemen aren’t accustomed to taking faceoffs and almost never work on it in practice. But this season, defensemen are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory much more often as officials order forwards out of the circle for failing to follow the protocol .

Faceoffs are one of the most tactical elements in hockey, a chess match played out over a couple of seconds between players who have spent much of their lives perfecting their craft to win possession of the puck. Blindingly fast work with sticks and leverage are key. It’s no place for bigger defensemen with their longer sticks, most of whom are far more comfortable handling the puck once it’s won back to them.

Eleven different defensemen have taken a faceoff so far this season and 64 since 3-on-3 overtime was instituted in 2015-16. No matter how many times it happens or how awkward, it’s on the highlight reel and becomes the subject of ribbing from teammates.

“They’re going to give you a hard time because they know it’s not something you do all the time,” Calgary Flames defenseman Michael Stone said. “If you do win one, it’s pure excitement, I think, from everybody.”

Defensemen have been involved in 92 faceoffs over the past two-plus seasons and have won only about a third of them. Maybe a few of the unlikely victories have come from being underestimated.

“It’s funny that when you get a D-man in, a lot of times those centermen relax and the D-men are all-in,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who grew up playing defense. “There’s a lot of cheers that go on when a defenseman goes in there and wins a draw.”

Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning is 6-foot-6 and a Norris Trophy finalist as one of the best defensemen in the league. He recently was pressed into faceoff duty on a penalty kill in overtime. No pressure, right?

Hedman put his stick down, beat Columbus center Nick Foligno and is now a perfect 1 for 1. He was stunned.

“The guys were probably as shocked as I was that I actually won it,” Hedman said. “I could probably not do it again. I guess my timing was perfect in that moment.”

Call it perfect timing, call it luck or call it whatever you want. New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk is 3 for 4 in his career but still remembers losing his first faceoff and getting mad about it.

Of course, Boychuk has put “zero” practice time into it and has a simple, albeit ugly, strategy.

“You just tie up,” Boychuk said. “Try to tie up, at least, and smack it to the wall. Tell the person that you’re going to try to shoot it to.”

Or maybe just lose it intentionally, suggested Jake Gardiner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, so everyone on your team knows where the puck is going. Because, c’mon, this is probably not going to end well.

“Centermen are so good at faceoffs now, you’re probably going to lose it anyway,” Gardiner said. “You’re kind of just going in there and hoping for the best.”

Hedman is no faceoff specialist like Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews. And defensemen face another twist of pressure in addition to trying to a) win the draw and b) avoid taking a faceoff violation penalty trying to do something they aren’t good at:

“For a defenseman, if you lose it you’ve just got to make sure you get into your position right away and make sure you focus on playing D,” Hedman said. “Just make sure that you don’t lose it too clean that they get a scoring opportunity right away. You just try and do as good a job as you possibly can and try and win it obviously, but it’s pretty tough.”

In 19 NHL seasons, Islanders coach Doug Weight took thousands of faceoffs. But he hadn’t thought much about asking defensemen to practice faceoffs – until now.

“Later in periods it’s so prevalent getting thrown out now that you want guys that can come in and take a draw,” Weight said. “The only occasion where we’d have a D is if you’re down 4-on-3, 5-on-3. Obviously it’s a huge piece of puck possession.”

Puck possession? Sure, that’d be great, but most defensemen just don’t want to get embarrassed.

After years of practicing against his brother Mark, a forward for the Ottawa Senators, Stone wants to make sure he at least makes things interesting.

“I’m mostly just playing not to get beat clean,” Stone said. “I’m not looking to win a faceoff clean, especially on that kind of a play. You just try not to get beat clean, do whatever you can to kind of push that in the direction of your guys.”

When Washington defenseman John Carlson stepped in recently for a draw in overtime, he had a sterling record: He had won his lone NHL faceoff. But he lost this one an cursed teammates for not letting him practice faceoffs.

Even though Carlson lost his second career faceoff attempt, he scored the game-winning goal to quiet the razzing from his teammates. Hedman won his and wants his faceoff days to be over.

“Hopefully I don’t have to take any more,” he said, “so I stay 100 percent for the rest of my career.”

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Bruins vs. Rangers; Lightning vs. Sharks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Wednesday night. In the early game, the New York Rangers host the Boston Bruins at 8:00 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here.

The Bruins are coming off a 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on Monday night. The victory was their second in three games. It appears as though they’re starting to get the ball rolling in the right direction despite being without some key pieces.

They’ve been forced to deal with a significant amount of injuries to key veterans, including David Krejci, David Backes and Brad Marchand. Starting goaltender Tuukka Rask and top center Patrice Bergeron have also missed games at different times in 2017-18.

“Guys are stepping up. They see their chance, they’re getting more ice time, getting more looks,” defenseman Zdeno Chara said after the win over the Wild, per the Boston Herald. “It’s great to see that guys are taking advantage of those chances, and they want to play and earn their ice time.”

Boston currently sits in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, but they’ve only skated in 13 games this season (no team has played in less games).

After getting off to a sluggish start, the Rangers have put together some positive momentum, as they’ve won four in a row and five of their last six contests.

Alain Vigneault’s hot seat seems to have cooled down (at least a little bit) now that the team has strung together a few wins.

One of the big reasons New York has been successful over the last week or so, is because their power play has starting cashing in on their opportunities. On Monday night, they scored three power play goals against Columbus. In their last five contests, they’ve gone 7-for-19 on the power play.

“We all have to be shooters first, and I think that’s the first thing that we tell each other,” Kevin Shattenkirk said, per the New York Post.

“I’m getting very clear lanes because everyone is shielding over to Mika (Zibanejad) because he is such a threat. So it’s important that I’m chipping in and getting my shots through, because at that time they’re going to have to pick someone.”

Despite being between the pipes for all four of the victories, Henrik Lundqvist‘s individual numbers are still lacking. He’s given up three goals or more in three of the four wins. He has a 3.07 goals-against-average and a .900 save percentage.

In the late game, the San Jose Sharks host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 10:30 p.m. ET. To stream that game live, click here. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning will kick off their three-game California road trip with a visit to the Shark Tank. It’s never easy for an Eastern Conference team to head out to the West Coast, but the Lightning are well equipped to do on-ice damage in any city.

The Bolts are off to an incredible 11-2-2 start. A lot of the credit will be given to forwards like Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, who have 25 and 23 points respectively in 15 games. But you can’t ignore the contributions they’ve received from Brayden Point, Vladislav Namestnikov, Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, Andrei Vasilevskiy and many others.

This team may have missed the playoffs last year, but they’re healthy and clearly on a mission. They’ve dropped just one decision in regulation since Oct. 9, and they’ve showed absolutely no signs of slowing down.

Tonight’s contest should provide us with an interesting special teams battle, as Tampa has the second ranked power play in the league, while the Sharks own the second best penalty killing unit.

San Jose has been a whole lot better on the kill this year than they were last year. To learn more about their remarkable improvement, check out this story by NBC Sports Bay Area‘s Marcus White.

The Sharks’ biggest problem is that they can’t find the back of the net with any kind of regularity. Their 36 goals rank 29th in NHL behind only Carolina and Edmonton.

On a positive note, they’ll come into this game having won four in a row. They scored just one goal in regulation during their 2-1 shootout win over Anaheim on Saturday night, but they scored four times against the Predators last Wednesday night.

Is the offense starting to come around? We’ll find out tonight.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Youth hockey coach fired for giving profanity-filled pre-game speech

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–The Ottawa Senators will be visiting Erik Karlsson‘s home country of Sweden this week, as they prepare to play the Avalanche on Friday and Saturday. Karlsson is pretty pumped about being able to show his teammates the country he grew up in. (Ottawa Sun)

–After he lost his good friend Rick Rypien to suicide, Kevin Bieksa started a website called mindcheck.ca, which is dedicated to raising awareness about mental health. On Nov. 5, Bieksa got a message from a fan on Twitter that told him she was able to see the signs that suggested her daughter was planning to kill herself, because of the information made available on the website. (Vancouver Sun)

–The Carolina Hurricanes are remarkably bad in overtime. Over the last two season, they rank third in the NHL in games played in overtime, but rank 27th in OT winning percentage. Why are they so bad in the extra frame? Head coach Bill Peters has to shoulder a lot of the blame. (canescountry.com)

–The Los Angeles Kings made an interesting hire when they added Pierre Turgeon as an offensive coordinator. He’s been a valuable addition to the team. “Your ability to connect with him as a human first and foremost is his strongest asset,” Kings forward Brooks Laich said. “He’s very personable, very light, always keeps it very enjoyable around the rink and making sure guys are having fun and then his knowledge obviously pours out from that connection.” (NHL.com/Kings)

–Since his holdout ended, Josh Anderson has been an important piece of the puzzle for the Blue Jackets. Anderson has been able to do a number of important things for his team, which means that other veterans on the roster could become expendable. (thehockeywriters.com)

–The San Jose Sharks were giving up a ton of chances to their opposition on the penalty kill last season, but they’ve been able to improve that aspect of their game dramatically in 2017-18. Not only are they better on the penalty kill, they’ve leaned on it so far. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

–Is this the year Alex Pietrangelo finally wins the Norris Trophy? People in the Blues organization hope so. “He’s one of the best defenders,” former Blues defenseman Al McInnis said. “I don’t know if there is a better defender from the top of the circles down. He plays with a long stick. He’s got great reach defending and getting pucks out of battles with that stick, getting it to the forwards.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

–Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is about to set a new franchise record, as he’s about to reach 100 points faster than any defenseman in franchise history. (Philly.com)

–In previous season, players that have made the jump from the KHL have had success. Guys like Artemi Panarin and Alexander Radulov turned their stellar play into big contract extensions. This season, the Russians that have made the leap to the NHL (Andrei Mironov, Vadim Shipachyov, and Victor Antipin) haven’t been able to stick with their respective teams. (fanragsports.com)

–Vice Sports’ Dave Lozo makes a case to move each one of Canada’s NHL teams to the United States. For example, here’s what he had to say about moving the Maple Leafs: “The longer the Leafs stay in Toronto, the more likely it is the media creates a scandal about Auston Matthews staying out too late or William Nylander eating too much falafel or Morgan Rielly spelling his last name incorrectly all these years out of protest against Justin Trudeau.” (Vice Sports)

David Pastrnak is a very useful player for the Boston Bruins, but he made some questionable decisions with the puck in the third period of Monday’s game against Minnesota. It’s something they have to figure out in the near future to take his game to the next level. (NBC Sports Boston)

–International women’s hockey has been dominated by Canada and the United States, and heading into next year’s Olympics, the two teams will see a lot of each other. Both sides do everything they can to get every little advantage over each other. (New York Times)

–A youth hockey coach was fired after giving his team a profanity-filled pre-game pep talk. The whole thing was caught on video. (Denver Post)

–Lightning defender Victor Hedman came up clutch for his team in a game against Columbus, but not in the way that you might think. Hedman actaully managed to win a face-off against Nick Foligno in a crucial moment of the contest. (Rawcharge.com)

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.

With Tortorella in town for Cup memories, is this best Lightning team since?

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When sports teams milk nostalgia, like the Tampa Bay Lightning did on Saturday by remembering their 2003-04 Stanley Cup run, it often comes with that tinge of sadness that is part of the word’s meaning.

With John Tortorella watching on from the opposing bench of a very good Columbus Blue Jackets squad, the Lightning’s 5-4 shootout win brought about some different feelings tonight. Granted, coughing up a lead made it tenser than the Bolts probably hoped for, yet it also opened the door for Steven Stamkos to collect the shootout-winner.

The Stanley Cup memories and Tortorella’s presence inspire a bold question: is this the best team the Lightning have boasted since that championship run?

Before we dive into that, here’s video of the ceremony:

And a shot of modern players in those slightly-old throwbacks:

The game itself was a thriller, as the Blue Jackets stormed back from a 4-2 deficit to tie things up 4-4, forcing an eventual shootout. Former Tortorella acolyte Dan Girardi delivered a thunderous check on Matt Calvert during the contest:

Remarkably, the Lightning have reached some pretty high marks even though they haven’t sipped from the silver chalice since the season before the NHL went dark. They’ve enjoyed three deep runs since Torts left town:

2010-11: Finished second in their division (103 points), fell to Boston Bruins in Game 7 of a memorable Eastern Conference Final. The Bruins eventually won it all.

2014-15: Finished second in their division (108 points), lost to the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

2015-16: Finished second in their division (97 points), lost to Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of Eastern Conference Final. Penguins won it all.

Those three deep runs are a helpful reminder that there have been some very good Lightning teams, from Guy Boucher’s brief run to a transition away from Martin St. Louis under Jon Cooper’s reign. It’s interesting to note that the eventual champions knocked out the Bolts in all three of those runs, likely inspiring some fun/wistful “What if?” discussions for hardcore fans in Tampa.

Let’s consider a few facets of this Lightning team, which may just be their best since 2003-04:

  • They’re running away with the Atlantic Division so far. As strong as those previous seasons were, the Bolts peaked in the playoffs. Maybe the Lightning can combine strong regular season work and postseason play, much like in those championship days?
  • They have an identity in net. Do not underestimate how well Andrei Vasilevskiy has been so far in 2017-18. The Ben Bishop – Vasi combo was very strong, but there are advantages to having a clear-cut top guy.
  • A deadly duo: Some of the best Lightning teams have deployed some dynamic duos. St. Louis and Stamkos constituted a prolific partnership, yet Stamkos – Nikita Kucherov might be even better. In a fun twist, Stamkos has taken the Marty role early on, as he’s been more of a facilitator to Kucherov.
  • Interesting supporting cast members: In retrospect, the magic of “The Triplets” line may have largely come from Kucherov. Still, there are some nice players who may be able to help generate some points for the Lightning, with Brayden Point seemingly being GM Steve Yzerman’s latest deft discovery.
  • A brilliant, dangerous defenseman: As great as Dan Boyle was, Victor Hedman is truly special. The addition of Mikhail Sergachev may also help the rest of the blueline maintain a solid level of play.

It’s too early to say that the 2017-18 Lightning will rank among the best in team history. Stamkos and Kucherov need to stay healthy and productive. Cold streaks are bound to come.

Even so, nights like these make it tough not to at least think about such comparisons.

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.