Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: Who’s gonna play for Las Vegas?

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This is a new feature on PHT. It’s like the Morning Skate, only not in the morning. 

— Up top, NBC’s promo for Rangers-Flyers on Black Friday. Hey, why is it called Black Friday anyway? Even Wikipedia doesn’t have a good answer. Black Friday. Pretty ominous way to sell some cheap TVs.

— Who’s gonna play for Las Vegas? Another good question. The owner has said he doesn’t “want a bunch of 35- or 36-year-olds that play a couple years, and then they’re done,” which may take a guy like Marian Gaborik, 34, out of the mix. Former NHL general manager Craig Button takes a crack at putting a roster together — and yes, Marc-Andre Fleury is on it. (TSN)

Corey Perry is off to a slow start in Anaheim, with just four goals in 19 games. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle thinks Perry is doing too much “standing still in the neutral ice,” which is kinda reminiscent of what Barry Trotz once said about Alex Ovechkin. (O.C. Register)

— Panthers d-man Aaron Ekblad isn’t off to the best start this season, but he’s trying to stay positive instead of “worrying about little things that happen here and there.” Know a good way to feel positive? Sign a $60 million contract.  (NHL.com)

— What is going on with the Ottawa Senators attendance? It’s the lowest of the Canadian teams, and the team’s outspoken owner isn’t very happy about it. In a related story, Go Redblacks! (Ottawa Report)

— John Scott on the new All-Star Game voting rules: “It’s good. I think, you know, something had to happen. I don’t think they wanted a situation like me to happen again. Guys from the AHL, guys who are hurt — I don’t think they should be included anymore. I think it was a one-time thing and … it’s a good rule.” (PHT)

— Gary Bettman on the new ASG voting rules: “I think it’s important for fans to have a say. Obviously, you want an NHL player at the NHL All-Star Game. And we think all of our players, in some way or another, are All-Stars.” Awww. (The Tennessean)

— The Detroit Red Wings will have to share their new downtown arena with the Pistons, who’ve been struggling to fill seats in Auburn Hills. The Pistons made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009. They were swept in the first round by the Cavaliers, just like in 2009. (The Detroit News)

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Enjoy the games!

The Ottawa Senators aren’t scoring anymore

OTTAWA, CANADA - NOVEMBER 3: Derick Brassard #19 of the Ottawa Senators looks at his options as Matt Puempel #26 battles for position against Luca Sbisa #5 of the Vancouver Canucks as Jacob Markstrom #25 guards his net during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on November 3, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

The Ottawa Senators felt they deserved better in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Florida.

“We attempted 83 shots on net, 40 shots, we had 26 scoring chances,” head coach Guy Boucher told reporters. “You can’t get more, you can’t get better quality; it’s just from there, we’ve got to continue improving our work around the net.”

But it won’t get any easier to score tonight in Montreal, where Carey Price is the projected starter for the 14-3-2 Canadiens. The Sens will enter with the NHL’s 29th-ranked offense (2.06 goals per game). That’s better than only Buffalo’s (1.89), which is apparently a “joke.”

Consider: the Sens have played 10 games this month, and they’ve yet to score more than two goals. For a team that finished last season with the ninth-best offense (2.80), what’s happening now is a significant drop-off.

On the bright side, they’ve improved their goals-against from 26th (2.94) to 15th (2.56), and their penalty killing (3rd, 88.5%) has been excellent. Stopping goals — not scoring them — is how they’ve managed to stay afloat in the standings.

But after bringing in Boucher to replace Dave Cameron, Ottawa remains among the worst possession teams in the league. The Sens’ 10-7-1 record is thanks in large part to goalie Craig Anderson (8-4-1, .928), and to a lesser extent backup Mike Condon (2-1-0, .943). The team has only won seven games in regulation or overtime, with a league-high three victories coming in the shootout.

Certainly, the Sens had to be expecting more offense from Derick Brassard, the 29-year-old center they gave up young Mika Zibanejad to get from the Rangers. At the time of the trade, Ottawa GM Pierre Dion believed his team was getting “a better hockey player at this point in time.” But through 18 games, Brassard has just seven points (2G, 5A). Zibanejad, meanwhile, piled up 15 points (5G, 10A) before getting sidelined with a broken leg.

Make no mistake, Dorion is under pressure from ownership to make the playoffs. And if you don’t believe it, recall what Eugene Melnyk said at the end of last season, just prior to Cameron’s firing.

“The status quo would just get us there again next year,” Melnyk said, “and this team cannot survive not making the playoffs.”

Just last week Melnyk expressed his displeasure at the Senators’ attendance numbers.

“Running the Ottawa Senators is not an easy business,” he wrote in response to an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen. “Consider the fact that the team is currently eighth overall in the NHL and the second-best performing Canadian team, and yet we are far from sellouts at our home games.”

For Saturday’s loss to the Panthers, the announced attendance at Canadian Tire Centre was just 14,132.

The Sens return home for another tough game Thursday, this one against the visitors from Boston.

Ottawa’s leading scorers


The Oilers are out of their ‘funk’ and ‘looking to go on a run now’

Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during first period NHL hockey action in Edmonton, Alberta, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
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These are not your same, old Oilers.

It may have looked that way from a distance, when they dropped five straight after a hot start. But the Oilers have since won two in a row, including last night’s 5-0 destruction of the Chicago Blackhawks.

With the wins, Edmonton has climbed back atop the Pacific Division with an 11-8-1 record.

“We’ve been able to snap out of a bit of a funk and we’re looking to go on a run now,” said captain Connor McDavid. “Once you get out of one of those, it is important you take off from there.”

McDavid had two assists last night, bringing his season point total to an NHL-high 24 (8G, 16A).

The 19-year-old center is clearly his team’s MVP. In the seven games that McDavid has failed to register a point, the Oilers are 2-4-1. In the 13 games where he’s succeeded, they’re 9-4-0. They really do rely on him to create much of their offense, even if it bothers the coach that they rely on him so much.

That being said, McDavid isn’t the only one putting the puck in the net. Leon Draisaitl, Patrick Maroon, and Tyler Pitlick have six goals each; Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic have five each. And not all those guys play in the top six.

The Oilers are also doing good things defensively, like having the NHL’s sixth-best penalty killing. Last year, their PK ranked 18th. The year before, it was 28th. The addition of defenseman Kris Russell seems to have helped in that regard.

The Oilers also have the puck more, as evidenced by a score-adjusted Corsi that ranks ninth in the league. Last year, it was 21st. The year before, 23rd.

And, of course, we can’t forget the goaltending. Cam Talbot has started an NHL-high 18 times this season. He’s 10-7-1 with a .920 save percentage. If McDavid is the Oilers’ MVP, then Talbot is the runner-up.

Granted, all those starts does beg a question — how many is too many for Talbot? He’s currently the only goalie in the league that’s played over 1,000 minutes. Jonas Gustavsson is the backup; he’s only made two starts (1-1-0, .898).

For the Oilers, whether or not Gustavsson can be trusted could end up being the difference between making the playoffs or missing them yet again. After all, Talbot is only human; he’s bound to wear down if the coach keeps running him out there.

Gustavsson started 20 games for Boston last season (11-9-1, .908), before Bruins management identified the backup position as one that needed to be addressed.

“We’re going to try and get Gus more games,” coach Todd McLellan said recently, per the Edmonton Journal. “But it was tough early when we were winning to not play Cam (every game).”

The Oilers play at Denver tomorrow, before finishing their two-game road trip Friday in Arizona.

Pre-game reading: On Craig Cunningham, one of the good guys in the game

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16:  Craig Cunningham #22 of the Arizona Coyotes skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on November 16, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

This is a new feature on PHT. It’s like the Morning Skate, only not in the morning. 

Craig Cunningham is in stable but critical condition after suffering an apparent heart attack just prior to an AHL game on Saturday. The 26-year-old is a very popular player, and for many good reasons. One example: During Cunningham’s junior career in Vancouver, he visited the team’s beat writer in hospital, and that writer will never forget it. (The Province)

Martin Brodeur is learning the business of management with the St. Louis Blues. It’s not always glamorous, but he’s having fun while “getting to understand the behind-the-scenes of what it takes to put a team on the ice.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Why is the NHL expanding to Las Vegas when there are still problem franchises in Carolina, Arizona, Brooklyn, and Florida? The answer is money, but Scott Stinson wonders if it’s such a good idea. (National Post)

Larry Brooks takes the boots to the New York Islanders. “The season is young enough it cannot yet be considered a write-off. But the clock is ticking. It is ticking on Capuano, on Snow and on the Islanders.” (New York Post)

On the importance of the back-up goalie. There are a few NHL general managers who should read this. (Sports Illustrated)

Alex Burrows isn’t the most popular player in the NHL, but the 35-year-old is playing well in the final year of his contract with the Vancouver Canucks. Might there be interest at the trade deadline? (Vancouver Sun)

Niklas Hjalmarsson says he’s “playing like it’s my last contract.” But he’s actually signed through 2018-19, so don’t worry, Blackhawks fans, he’ll be around a while longer, “taking away shooting lanes, blocking shots” and doing his thing. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Tweet of the Day

Yeah, the Wild are having some trouble scoring.

Enjoy the games!

Blackhawks banking on improvement from rookies

Chicago Blackhawks' Vincent Hinostroza celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks by jumping into the glass during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday Nov. 19, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

It wasn’t so much that the Chicago Blackhawks came back from 3-0 down to beat the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, it was the manner in which they did it.

After a couple of the usual suspects, Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane, combined to make it 3-1 in the third period, it was Vincent Hinostroza with his first NHL goal to make it 3-2, and then Hinostroza again, setting up Ryan Hartman to tie things up. Marian Hossa‘s 11th of the season won it in overtime, assisted by Hinostroza, who entered the contest with zero points in 16 NHL games and left with a goal and two assists in 17.

Prior to Saturday, the ‘Hawks had mostly been living off their big guns. What they needed was exactly what they got against the Canucks — some timely production from their rookies, who’ve been tasked with replacing the likes of Andrew Shaw, Andrew Ladd, and Teuvo Teravainen.

“Yeah, when you look at Vinnie getting his first and Hartsy on a great play,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “We know these guys can score. They play the right way, you can put them in situations all over the ice and against most players in a game. There’s some progression there. Whether producing or not, playing the right way will be the best way for them to get better.”

Blackhawks rookies


In order to remain legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, the Blackhawks will need their youngsters to step up. A two-line team just isn’t going to get it done in the playoffs, no matter how great the two lines. And according to GM Stan Bowman, barring injuries, it’s unlikely there will be enough cap space to add significant pieces at the trade deadline.

“We have six first-year players on our team,” Bowman told ESPN.com. “I’m looking more at those players being better players in the spring than they are now, just through playing 60-70 games in the league. I think we’re going to be improving from within more so than we are adding from outside. I like that part of it. I like the excitement of having Nick Schmaltz or Ryan Hartman or Tyler Motte or [Vincent] Hinostroza; those guys are doing pretty well right now. We haven’t given them big responsibility yet, but I think as we go along we’re looking at that sort of as our internal improvement, so to speak.”

The Blackhawks (13-4-2) are in Edmonton to play the Oilers tonight.