William Nylander

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Laying it on the lines: Maple Leafs rolling after adjustments

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It’s kind of crazy how a little tinkering can completely change the complexion of an offense.

On Jan. 23, the Toronto Maple Leafs were stuck in a rut. For the better part of the past month-and-a-half, dating back to Dec. 12, they’d essentially spun their tires.

With a 6-7-3 record during that 16-game span, something needed to change, even if they were still sitting comfortably in third place in the Atlantic Division.

Still, limping into the playoffs wouldn’t be ideal for Mike Babcock, so he did what he’s done best over his long tenure as an NHL bench boss: he adjusted.

Gone were the lines that weren’t working and in came something to experiment with.

Mitch Marner moved up to the second line. Leo Komarov dropped down to the fourth. Gone was Frederik Gauthier, who went from the fourth line to the minors. Matt Martin took a seat in the press box. And the Leafs brought up 21-year-old prospect Kasperi Kapanen, who put up good numbers in the American Hockey League.

The result looked like this:

Zach HymanAuston MatthewsWilliam Nylander

Patrick MarleauNazem Kadri – Mitchell Marner

James van RiemsdykTyler BozakConnor Brown

Leo Komarov – Dominic Moore – Kasperi Kapanen

Babcock must be quite the alchemist. His concoction has proven effective. Really effective.

Kadri and Marner have benefitted most. The former had two points in his previous 20 games before welcoming Marner on his right wing. Kadri, during the team’s 9-1-0 run as of late, now has seven goals and 15 points (including a hat trick and a five-point night on Wednesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 6-3 win).

Marner had just one goal in his previous 11 games before linking up with Kadri and Marleau. Since then, he has seven goals and 13 points.

Even Kapanen is getting in on the fun. He’s got two goals and three assists in that span playing a less offensive role on the team’s fourth line.

Babcock wanted balance, and he got it.

The Leafs, for all their offensive successes during this stretch — they’ve scored 43 goals during their past 10 games — could give Frederik Andersen a bit of a break.

Andersen is seeing a lot of rubber. In Wednesday’s win, Andersen saw 19 shots come his way in the first period and another 22 in the second. The barrage continued in the third with a further 16. Yes, the quick math says 57 total shots. The man made 54 saves.

Wednesday’s result could have been much different if not for Andersen’s heroics.

In four of the past 10 games, the Leafs have surrendered 40 or more shots.

As good as Andersen has been for the Leafs, that isn’t sustainable.

The good news for the Leafs and their fans is that Andersen is in the top-five among starters (minimum 1,500 minutes played) when it comes to goals saved above average, one of the better goalie metrics to judge how good a puck-stopper is.

Andersen is also sixth in adjusted save percentage, which takes into account shot location when determining a goalie’s save percentage, taking the traditional metric one step further.

It’s all working right now for Toronto. And within their reach is the top spot in the Atlantic Division. The Leafs are just four points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.


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: Blackhawks may have hit rock bottom

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It can only getter better from here, right?

The Chicago Blackhawks entered play on Monday night having lost five games in a row and 10 of their past 13 to fall 10 points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Things did not get much better in Arizona where they were blown out, 6-1, by a Coyotes team that had won just 13 of its first 55 games. The Blackhawks’ losing streak now sits at six games (with losses in 11 of their past 14 games) as they failed to gain any ground on any of the teams ahead of them in the standings.

They remain 10 points out of a playoff spot with still four teams ahead of them.

Not great.

It was another ugly night for the goaltending situation as starter Anton Forsberg had to be benched after giving up three goals on 13 shots, including a really ugly goal from a terrible angle by Tobias Reider to make it 3-1.

That performance came after Jeff Glass allowed three goals on 19 shots in their previous loss to the Minnesota Wild over the weekend. Glass did not do much better in relief of Forsberg on Monday by giving up three goals on the nine shots he faced.

Corey Crawford‘s absence has obviously been a huge issue for the Blackhawks. The defense is not very good and Forsberg and Glass could never be expected to adequately replace one of the best goalies in the league, and arguably Chicago’s most important player at this point. But even if Crawford returns to the lineup there just does not seem to be much chance for the team to make up all of this ground. For as much as of an upgrade as Crawford would be in net, the team in front of the goaltenders is still shaky defensively and has not exactly been an offensive powerhouse lately.

Lot of problems in Chicago right now.

Player(s) Of The Night: William Nylander and Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs have some flaws but holy cow are they a fun team to watch.

They played a wildly entertaining game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night that saw their young superstars dominate early, then let a 3-0 lead slip away, then get a game-winning goal from James van Riemsdyk to help them improve to 9-2-0 in their past 11 games.

Nylander and Matthews were the big stars of the night for the Maple Leafs.

Nylander scored a pair of goals while Matthews added three assists in the win.

How far can the Maple Leafs go playing this style of hockey with that defense? That is up for a lot of debate, but with that group of forwards and Frederik Andersen playing the way he is (and he was very good once again on Monday night, even while giving up three goals) they will have a chance against anybody.

Player Of The Night Part 2: Vincent Trocheck, Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers offense came through in a big way on Monday night with seven goals, with five of those goals coming from Vincent Trocheck and Evgeny Dadonov.

Trocheck was the big star by recording a hat trick in the win.

Highlight Of The Night

Aaron Ekblad opens the scoring for the Florida Panthers in their win over the Edmonton Oilers with a bank shot from an impossible angle.

Factoid Of The Night

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have combined to score 12 goals for the Edmonton Oilers over the past six games.

The Edmonton Oilers record in those six games: 1-4-1.

If a team has two players combine for that many goals over that many games it seems almost statistically impossible to only get one win out of that stretch.

Scores

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 3

Arizona Coyotes 6, Chicago Blackhawks 1

Florida Panthers 7, Edmonton Oilers 5

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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.

 

The Buzzer: Connor McDavid drops four on the Lightning

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Players of the Night:

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: Oilers haven’t had much to smile about this season. Lacklustre play, lacklustre results and a season likely devoid of the playoffs. But on Monday, they got a chance to flash a grin. McDavid went into McJesus mode and dropped four goals and five points on the Tampa Bay Lightning. McDavid now has 21 goals and 40 assists on the season. Smile, Edmonton, even if only for a while.

Kevin Fiala, Nashville Predators: Fiala must like New York. It seems New York likes him. Fiala scored twice on Monday against the Islanders, two days after he put up a brace against the Rangers on Saturday. Fiala is now up to 17 goals on the season, six more than he had in his rookie season last year. And there’s lots of time left to keep advancing that number.

Auston Matthews and William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs: Both scored twice, both added an assist and the Maple Leafs won a shootout 7-4 against the Anaheim Ducks.

* Honourable mention goes to Corey Perry, who recorded an assist on each of Anaheim’s four goals in the game.

Highlights of the Night:

Stoned:

Dan Hamuis getting his due on Monday night:

McJesus:

If you think McDavid’s hat-trick goal was filthy, check out this one:

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Maple Leafs 7, Ducks 4

Predators 5, Islanders 4 (OT)

Stars 2, Rangers 1

Oilers 6, Lightning 2


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: 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.

Nylander’s OT penalty shot sends Blackhawks to another loss

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The Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs both entered Wednesday’s game mired in slumps, and, well, somebody had to win this one.

That somebody turned out to be the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime, 3-2, thanks to a William Nylander penalty shot just six seconds into the extra period.

Right off the opening faceoff Nylander found himself on a breakaway only to have his shot attempt disrupted by a Duncan Keith slash.

Nylander was awarded the penalty shot and beat Blackhawks goaltender Jeff Glass for the goal.

For Nylander it was his 10th goal of the season and snapped what had been a five-game goal drought. It was also just his second goal in the past 12 games.

The Maple Leafs held a 2-1 lead midway through the third period and lost it when Nick Schmaltz scored to tie the game on a controversial goal that was reviewed for goaltender interference. As Schmaltz scored, Blackhawks forward Artem Anisimov fell on top of Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen. Toronto coach Mike Babcock immediately challenged the play for goaltender interference but the play was upheld.

Here is a look at it. Judge for yourself if it should have counted.

While the Maple Leafs are pretty solid in their playoff position after Wednesday’s win (they are now 13 points ahead of the fourth-place team in the Atlantic Division), it is a completely different story for the Blackhawks.

The big story for them is that they have now lost four games in a row and five of their past six.

They are 4-9-1 over the past month and even with the point they picked up on Wednesday night still sit six points out of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with still four teams ahead of them.

Getting at least one point helps a little, but it is not going to be anywhere enough. They need wins. A lot of them. They need to start getting them fast.

It is not just the point deficit that is the problem, it is the fact we are beyond the halfway point of the season and there are still a number of teams ahead of them. Those points are almost impossible to make up at this point in the season.

After Wednesday’s game the Blackhawks have 51 points through their first 48 games of the season. Over the past five 82-game seasons (skipping over the 2012-13 lockout season) there have been 70 teams that had 52 points or less through their first 48 games. Only 10 of them ended up making the playoffs. That is less than 15 percent. If you’re a Blackhawks fan and want to feel a little optimistic after Wednesday’s game, that extra point did help a little because had they not gained it and been stuck on 50 points through 48 games. Only seven percent of those teams made the playoffs over that stretch.

That is the mountain the Blackhawks are facing right now, and they are still without their starting goalie for the foreseeable future.

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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.