Cam Tucker

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Stars align for unexpected Tavares vs. Dansk showdown

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The NHL released its Three Stars of the Week on Monday. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that New York Islanders captain John Tavares was named the first star.

The Islanders played three times last week, with Tavares scoring hat tricks in two of those games, becoming the third player in franchise history to achieve that feat, and recording a total of seven points. New York has also won four of its last five games, with its most recent victory coming against the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Given the numbers, Vegas Golden Knights goalie Oscar Dansk is worthy of being recognized as the second star after posting two victories last week, allowing only two goals against on 63 shots and posting the first shutout in the expansion franchise’s history.

Read more: Golden Knights hoping early season success continues as they hit the road

What’s more significant, though, is that Dansk was initially playing in the American Hockey League earlier this season and was only recalled on Oct. 19. Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban are on the injured reserve list, which has put Vegas into the situation of using a goalie with no prior NHL experience.

Through three games, including his first career NHL starts, Dansk has posted a .959 save percentage. There is no way he’d be able to maintain that over the long-term, but despite being put into a difficult situation, there is no denying that Dansk has been solid in net for Vegas over this stretch and contributed to the team’s remarkably good start, including 12 of a possible 14 points during its recently concluded seven-game home stand.

Here we are on Monday and the top two stars of last week, Tavares the proven scorer and Dansk the recent AHL call-up, are expected to face each other when the Islanders host the Golden Knights tonight.

“I’ve just been trying to work in practice and keep up with the pace with the guys,” Dansk told the CBC. “Goalie coach Dave (Prior) has been on me quite a bit, keeping me strict with everything, all the details. It’s been unexpected, but a lot of fun.”

Tavares, though, hasn’t made it much fun for opposing goalies of late.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

Former Penguins prospect Pouliot gaining confidence with Canucks

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VANCOUVER — A trade prior to the start of the season brought Derrick Pouliot to Vancouver. An injury to the club’s top blue liner, Alex Edler, presented a chance for the former Penguins prospect to get into the Canucks lineup.

Through seven games, Pouliot’s confidence is beginning to grow with the Canucks, who have started to roll over the past few games despite expectations that they would once again struggle in the Western Conference despite a number of offseason acquisitions and a coaching change.

Selected eighth overall by the Penguins in 2012, Pouliot had never played a full regular season for Pittsburgh, instead splitting his time between the minors and the NHL since joining that organization. Just prior to the start of this season, the Canucks decided to take a chance on the left-shooting defenseman, sending Andrey Pedan and a fourth-round pick in 2018 to Pittsburgh.

In Vancouver, Pouliot re-joins his old Portland Winterhawks teammate Sven Baertschi and coach Travis Green. He acknowledged that it’s nice knowing some familiar faces as he gets more familiar with his new team. On the ice, Pouliot has three assists while being used on the point on the power play.

“I feel good out there on the ice. Hockey is fun and it’s good to come to the rink every day,” said Pouliot last week, after the Canucks thumped the Washington Capitals. “The change of scenery is sometimes all you need.

“Getting more comfortable with the guys, how they play, the guys’ habits … and then just playing a regular shift, playing every night. It really helps your confidence grow and your overall game develop.”

Pouliot is so far averaging just below 16 minutes of ice time per game on the third pairing, while posting a Corsi For rating of just under 52 per cent at five-on-five, per Corsica. Known as a player that can quarterback the power play from the blue line, the Canucks have given him opportunities with the advantage at 2:51 per game in the absence of Edler.

While the Penguins were willing to move on from the now 23-year-old blue liner, Canucks general manager Jim Benning admitted at the time of the trade that they have had interest in Pouliot dating back to his junior days and the hope is that his offensive potential, which he has shown in the WHL and then when he made the jump to the AHL, will pay off in Vancouver. The belief from Benning was that Pouliot fit in well with the style Green wanted to play, and he was confident it was worth the chance as the team searches to find more offense throughout its lineup.

Pouliot also isn’t the first player struggling to make the full-time jump to the NHL that the Canucks have taken a chance on in recent years. Baertschi and Markus Granlund were both prospects in the Flames system, splitting time between the NHL and AHL but ultimately unable to secure full-time roster spots in Calgary before they were acquired in trades with Vancouver.

“I think he’s a guy that plays with a lot of confidence most of the time and he makes his plays,” said Baertschi of Pouliot.

“The way I know him from back in junior is he’s exactly the same player, still. Maybe a little more mature now. But he still wants to make plays. Sometimes you don’t expect that exact play but he’s still going to make it and that’s what makes him such a good player.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

Habs forward Scherbak undergoes knee surgery

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Looking to build some momentum after Saturday’s win over the New York Rangers, the Montreal Canadiens received some bad news on Monday.

Prospect forward Nikita Scherbak has been lost for six weeks after undergoing surgery on his right knee. The 21-year-old forward suffered the injury during Thursday’s game against the L.A. Kings and was subsequently held out of the lineup versus the Rangers.

A first-round selection of the Habs in 2014, Scherbak was recalled just over a week ago after posting a promising nine points in six games down in the AHL to start this season while Montreal was mired in a funk. In two games this season with the NHL club, Scherbak has yet to record a point.

The Habs are about to close out what’s been a mostly disastrous month of October. It started with a shootout win over Buffalo but then regressed into an ugly, bordering on embarrassing, seven-game losing streak that put general manager Marc Bergevin on the hot seat.

Montreal has since snapped that losing skid, with wins in two of its last three games while showing signs of breaking free of its struggles on offense with a combined 10 goals scored in those two victories.

The Habs are on the road Monday, as they face the Ottawa Senators.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

McLellan critical of Oilers amid early-season struggles

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The Edmonton Oilers still have 72 games remaining on their schedule, which would give the impression that they have plenty of time to turn around what’s been a disappointing month of October and climb the Western Conference standings.

But after another loss, this time to the Washington Capitals on Saturday, head coach Todd McLellan expressed an urgency to his team, noting that their struggles, particularly on offense, can no longer be dismissed as a short-term issue that will simply correct itself with time.

“There’s nothing early about this. Let’s not kid ourselves,” McLellan told reporters after a 5-2 defeat to Washington, in which the Oilers built up an early two-goal lead and then faltered in the second and third periods.

“There’s a lot of points that have gone by and you never get them back. They have the same value now as they do at the end of the year. It’s tough falling behind in a game. It’s also tough falling behind in the season. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and we’re going to have to play better than we have. We don’t have enough players playing at their capabilities — or at least what we believe their capabilities are — to consistently win.”

The biggest issue right now is scoring. Edmonton is 30th in the NHL averaging only 2.20 goals-for per game, and has been plagued by a lack of secondary scoring. Connor McDavid has 11 points and has contributed to 50 per cent of the Oilers goal totals so far.

With the Oilers struggling in that department, there was a report Saturday that the club is disappointed with the Ryan StromeJordan Eberle trade from this summer. That deal may have opened up available cap space for Edmonton to get Leon Draisaitl under contract with a hefty raise, but it also removed a player that was a proven scorer. Strome, now 24 years old, had one impressive season with the New York Islanders, but also endured up and down times there as well.

The Oilers are nearing the time when a decision must be made on right winger Kailer Yamamoto. The 19-year-old rookie has appeared in seven games with three assists, and is still eligible to be returned to junior at the nine-game threshold without using up the first year of his entry-level contract.

The Oilers also have 2016 fourth-overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi playing down in the American Hockey League. The 19-year-old right winger’s point total — three assists in seven games — is hardly overwhelming, but the 14 shots on goal he’s put up over the last two games would suggest he may be finding a bit of a groove down there and on the cusp breaking out in the goal column.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

Report: Golden Knights suspend Shipachyov for leaving AHL team

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There has been another twist in the Vadim Shipachyov – Vegas Golden Knights saga.

Per Eric Engels of Sportsnet, the 30-year-old Russian forward has been suspended after leaving the Chicago Wolves, the minor league affiliate to the Golden Knights, and that if a trade does not soon take place, Shipachyov’s contract with Vegas could be terminated and he could return to Russia.

The Golden Knights signed Shipachyov to a two-year, $9 million deal in May. Shipachyov had spent his entire professional career in Russia, posting lofty numbers playing for St. Petersburg SKA, especially over the last three years, making him an intriguing player for the expansion franchise as he transitioned to the North American game.

Recalled from the AHL two weeks ago, Shipachyov made his debut against Boston and scored in that game. In three games with Vegas, he had only the one goal, and never made it to the 11-minute mark in ice time in each of those contests.

Earlier this week, the Golden Knights sent Shipachyov back down to the minors but also reportedly gave him and his agent permission to seek a trade out of Vegas, as this working relationship continued through a rather lengthy rough patch.

While this has been taking place off the ice, the Golden Knights have continued to rack up the wins, with eight in nine games to begin their inaugural season.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.