Adam Gretz

Getty

WATCH LIVE: New York Rangers at Chicago Blackhawks

Leave a comment

Two Original Six teams will be facing off on Wednesday Night Rivalry when the New York Rangers visit the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Rangers enter the game on a roll with wins in eight of their past 10 games, including six in a row. They look to keep that streak going against a Blackhawks team that has been trending in the opposite direction with a 5-8-1 mark in its past 14 games.

Pavel Buchnevich has been especially strong for the Rangers in recent games with five points in his past three games, including three goals (one in each of the past three games).

You can watch the game live on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET or on the NBC Sports app.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Preview: Rangers look to push their winning streak to seven against Blackhawks.

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.

Vegas’ goaltending situation is starting to get absurd

Getty
8 Comments

Do you have any goaltending experience? Yes. You. You, the person reading this right now.

If you do, the Vegas Golden Knights might be calling you soon as all of their goalies keep suffering all sorts of calamities that are knocking them out of the lineup one by one.

After Maxime Lagace had to leave Tuesday’s 8-2 loss in Edmonton after giving up seven goals and appearing to be injured the team had to turn to 19-year-old Dylan Ferguson to finish the game.

In doing so, Ferguson became the fifth different goalie to appear in a game for the Golden Knights this season.

They have only played 17 games.

Now there remains a chance that he might have to start Thursday’s game in Vancouver, as noted by Sportsnet’s John Shannon on Wednesday.

If you want to include Calvin Pickard, whom the Golden Knights selected in the expansion draft but traded before he ever had a chance to play in a game for the team, they are sort on their sixth goalie of the season.

This, of course, is absurd.

A big part  — perhaps the biggest part — of Vegas’ early season success was the fact they were getting exceptional goaltending. Given that Marc-Andre Fleury was the top player they acquired in the expansion draft and was expected to be one of the initial building blocks of the franchise that was probably the plan all along.

Get a good goalie, give what will almost certainly be an undermanned team at least a chance to win on most nights, then go from there.

For a while, things were going according to plan.

Then Fleury suffered a concussion in his fourth game and has not played since.

From there the team turned to its new backup, Malcolm Subban. After getting absolutely lit up in his only two NHL appearances prior to this season Subban stepped into the lineup and was exceptional until he, too, ended up getting injured with a lower-body injury.

That opened the door for Oscar Dansk, and he too exceeded all expectations until he too ended up getting injured in a loss to the New York Islanders. He has not played since, either.

Between the three of them, Fleury, Subban and Dansk had posted an 8-1-0 record with a combined .934 save percentage before they were all knocked out of the lineup.

At some point when a team — in this case an expansion team — gets this far down its goaltending depth chart it is going to start to become a problem. The Golden Knights are just 2-5-1 with Lagace in net while his .860 save percentage has been by far the worst in the NHL among goalies that have appeared in at least eight games.

With decent goaltending Vegas could probably continue to be an interesting team, especially as a lot of their top forwards continue to score at a pretty respectable rate. There is only so much they can do, however, when the team is literally running out of goalies and turning to their fifth and sixth string goalies.

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.

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

Getty
1 Comment

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.

The Arizona Coyotes should not be this bad

Getty
1 Comment

On Tuesday night the Arizona Coyotes will play their 20th game of the season when they take on the Winnipeg Jets, winners of five of their past seven games.

The Coyotes will enter the game with just two wins on the season.

None of those wins have come in regulation, only defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime back on October 30 and the Carolina Hurricanes in a shootout on November 4.

In total, they have collected just seven out of a possible 38 points.

This is not only the worst start in the NHL this season (they are five points behind the second worst team at the moment, a Florida Panthers team that has played in three fewer games than the Coyotes) it is the worst start any team has had in the NHL over the past 10 years.

Only one other team during that stretch has failed to reach at least the 10-point mark through its first 19 games, the 2013-14 Buffalo Sabres, also with seven. That was one of the Sabres teams that was going through the scorched earth rebuild that saw the team get torn down to its most basic foundation in the front office’s efforts to tank for draft position.

Even that Sabres team won three of its first 19 games and one in regulation.

The Coyotes are still a team going through a rebuild and with an extremely young roster. They have seven players that have appeared in at least seven games (including six that have appeared in at least 14 games) that are age 22 or younger. A roster that young is almost certain to experience a lot of growing pains and the playoffs were probably not a realistic goal at the start of this season anyway.

It still should not be this bad because there is some real talent on this roster.

Right now they have the leading front-runner for the NHL’s rookie of the year in Clayton Keller, currently one of the top-five goal-scorers in the NHL. They added a number of established veterans (good ones!) this summer including Derek Stepan (a true top-six center), Niklas Hjalmarsson (a strong defensive defenseman), Antti Raanta and Jason Demers. They have a top-tier defenseman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson. There was already a respectable core of young players in Max Domi, Christian Dvorak and Tobias Rieder in place.

It is not a totally hopeless situation on paper.

So what is happening here, and why are they off to such a terrible start?

For one, goaltending has been a pretty significant issue due to an injury to Raanta and a revolving door of backups behind him.

Louis Domingue (traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday), Adin Hill, and Scott Wedgewood are a combined 1-10-1 this season and as a trio have managed just an .876 save percentage.

No team has a chance to win with that level of goaltending.

The Coyotes scored at least three goals (including two games with four goals) in five of those 10 regulation losses that the Domingue, Hill, Wedgewood trio has started.

Three or four goals in regulation is usually enough a hockey game, or at least get a point. Teams that score either three or four goals in a game this season have a points percentage of .646. A team with a .646 points percentage over an 82-game season would be a 106 point team in the standings.

When the Coyotes score three or four goals in a game this season (including the eight games started by Raanta)?

They are only at .142 in those games.

With even slightly better goaltending in those games there might have been a couple of extra wins right there. Even just plain bad goaltending would have probably made a difference as a .900 save percentage from those goalies would have sliced nine to 10 goals off of their goals against total for the season.

There is also an element of some bad shooting luck from some of their top forwards, including Stepan.

Prior to this season Stepan has been a remarkably consistent point producer that has always been a lock for at least 55 points and around 20 goals.

Four of the Coyotes’ top-six forwards in terms of shots on goal (Stepan, Domi, Dvorak, Brad Richardson, and Jordan Martinook) currently own a shooting percentage under 5 percent. As a group that quintet  has scored on just six of their 187 shots on goal.

That is a shooting percentage of just 3.2 percent from a group of, mostly, their top forwards.

Prior to this season that group had a career shooting percentage of 9.9 percent.

If they were shooting at their normal career averages on the same number of shots that would be an additional 12 goals from that group alone.

Put all of that together with a young, inexperienced team that still has some holes to fill and you have the worst start in the NHL in more than a decade.

So what are the Coyotes at this point?

They are a rebuilding team that has been hurt by two big injuries to key veterans (Raanta, Hjalmarsson), crushed by bad goaltending, and has had a few of  itstop players start the year on a cold streak shooting.

They should not be an historically bad team like their early season record would seem to indicate. They also are not because there is a chance a lot of these early trends from a percentage perspective reverse.

When that happens the results should start to improve too.

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.

Here are the jerseys the Senators and Canadiens will wear for their outdoor game

NHL
8 Comments

On Dec. 16 the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators are going to play outdoors at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa in the NHL100 Classic as part of the league’s 100th anniversary celebration.

On Tuesday, both teams unveiled the jerseys they will be wearing for the game.

Here they are, apparently placed on someone’s workbench.

Both jerseys feature some silver in reference not only to the Stanley Cup, but also for the Senators as a tribute to the Ottawa Silver Seven, the NHL’s first dynasty.

The Canadiens jersey features the year of each of their 24 Stanley Cups written in the silver stripe on the sleeve, while the Senators jersey honors the 11 Stanley Cups that were won in Ottawa in the early days of the league.

What are your thoughts on these new looks?

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.