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NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Blackhawks vs. Blues; Canadiens vs. Kings

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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 St. Louis Blues host the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:00 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here

It’s still early, but the Blackhawks and Blues are currently first and second in the Central Division standings, so this should be a pretty entertaining matchup.

Despite making plenty of big changes this off-season, the ‘Hawks have found a way to take care of business so far. No Western Conference team has scored more goals (25) than Chicago, and they owe a lot of that to Brandon Saad.

Saad was re-acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a trade involving Artemi Panarin. The move may not have been overly popular at the time, but Saad is off to an incredible start (six goals and two assists in six games). Add Patrick Kane (eight points in six games), Ryan Hartman (eight points in six games), Jonathan Toews (six points in six games) and Richard Panik (six points in six games), and you quickly understand why the ‘Hawks have been so good.

Also, don’t forget about Corey Crawford, who’s been lights out this season. He’s won four of five starts and he owns a 1.39 goals-against-average and a .960 save percentage. Referring to him as good is a heck of an understatement.

The Blues might not be as flashy as the ‘Hawks, but they’ve been impressive nonetheless. St. Louis has had to overcome injuries to key figures like Alex Steen, Jay Bouwmeester and Robby Fabbri early on this season.

They have cooled down a little though, as they’re coming off back-to-back losses to in Florida and Tampa Bay. In their defense, those were the final two games of a four-game road trip and it was a stretch of five road games (six games overall) is 11 days.

In the late game, the Los Angeles Kings host the Montreal Canadiens at 10:30 p.m. ET. To stream that game live, click here

The 2017-18 season hasn’t been kind to the Canadiens, who have now lost five games in a row. Montreal is coming off a 5-2 loss to San Jose last night.

There are some major concerns with the team right now. First, their top players haven’t been performing up to standard. Max Pacioretty, who has been an automatic 30-goal scorer over the last four seasons, hasn’t looked dangerous at all this season.

Alex Galchenyuk scored his first goal of the season last Saturday, but he hasn’t been overly impressive either. He’s been so inconsistent that head coach Claude Julien has decided to demote him to the fourth line.

And then there’s Carey Price, who has looked like a shell of himself in the early going. By now, we know that without Price, this team doesn’t have a chance of making a dent. He has a 1-4-1 record with a 3.56 goals-against-average and a .885 save percentage.

If those three players don’t get their game sorted out quickly, the Canadiens could be in for a very long season.

Things couldn’t be going much better for the Kings right now. They’re off to a 4-0-1 start, and players that struggled to produce last year have been really good this year.

Captain Anze Kopitar has eight points in five games, which is impressive. And where has this Dustin Brown been? Brown four goals and three assists in five games. Last season, he had 14 goals and 36 points. Can he keep it up? Probably not, but the Kings will continue to ride these guys for as long as they can.

Overall, it’s been a dream start for the Kings. Going from Darryl Sutter to John Stevens appears to be paying off in a big way.

“I think it’s a lot of what we hoped it would be,” Stevens said of the season so far, per LAKingsInsider.com. “We wanted to be a really solid, defensively sound team, but we wanted to have more of an attack mentality so we can do more with the puck. We’ve created some really good quality opportunities on the rush, and I think we’re starting to implement some of the things in terms of having more of an attacking mindset when we’re in the offensive zone. I think we’ve got lots of work to do with that. We want to be an aggressive team, but we want to have more of an attack mindset on our team.”

Canadiens looking to spark, not ‘bury’ Alex Galchenyuk after move to fourth line

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Alex Galchenyuk won’t be playing center for the Montreal Canadiens this year. At least that’s what general manager Marc Bergevin said last month just before training camp opened up.

Wanting to ease the drama around the Galchenyuk’s place in the lineup, Bergevin’s statement was odd given how thin the Habs are down the middle, even with the acquisition of Jonathan Drouin.

Through four games, the 23-year-old Galchenyuk has zero points and eight shots on goal while grabbing 16:21 of ice time. And after playing 18 minutes in Montreal’s opening two games, he saw a little over 14 minutes in losses to the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks.

Head coach Claude Julien has his hands full trying to spark a listless Canadiens offense that’ is averaging a goal per game through four games and is also dead last in even strength goals (two). Unlocking Galchenyuk is certainly one issue of many that the team is trying to solve.

Galchenyuk, who signed a three-year, $14.7 million extension over the summer, found himself on the fourth-line during Wednesday’s practice with Torrey Mitchell and Ales Hemsky, a move Julien is hoping will help the forward find his scoring touch again.

“Alex is having a tough start,” said Julien on Friday. “With the amount of ice time he’s had on the power play and everything else it just doesn’t seem like he’s getting scoring chances right now. I have to do what I have to do as a coach and it’s certainly not indicative of him only because there’s other guys that we think can help produce as well and they’re not.”

Averaging 3:49 of power play time (third-most on the Habs), Galchenyuk, who missed Friday’s practice with the flu, has generated four shots, tied with Jonathan Drouin just behind team leader Max Pacioretty (six).

“I think with him, as usual when you have Hemsky on your right side you’re not playing with guys who have no skill,” Julien said. “So it’s not about a situation where we’re trying to bury him. I think it’s just a situation where we need to make decisions and move players around for the time being to get us going in the right direction.”

According to Left Wing Lock, Galchenyuk has played nearly 20 percent of the time with Andrew Shaw and Phillip Danault at even strength. That hasn’t worked, so why would bumping him down the lineup be the ideal situation? He might get the ice time against an opponents’ lesser lines, but Hemsky and Mitchell haven’t created much where they’ve played with two shots combined between them.

Despite the struggle to find a regular home for Galchenyuk within the Canadiens’ lineup, this is no time for Bergevin to give up on his young forward. History hasn’t been kind to teams who have done that.

As Arpon Basu of The Athletic noted earlier this week, Galchenyuk is Julien’s new Tyler Seguin: a young, talented player who’s struggling to find consistency. The Boston Bruins could certainly use a Seguin in their lineup right now while the Dallas Stars are enjoying the fruits of a team not showing enough patience.

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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.

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18 going on 30: Habs’ prospect Fucale must be patient behind Price

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Being a goalie prospect with Carey Price entrenched in Montreal probably feels like trying to make headway in New Jersey during Martin Brodeur’s lengthy run (or doing the same with the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist now).

Canadiens prospect Zachary Fucale seems OK with the idea of being patient, at least according to what he told NHL.com on Thursday.

“My goal, my dream, my vision is to play in the NHL,” Fucale said. “That’s where I want to play. Every time I get to be in an NHL camp, that’s a chance to be up there. So my goal is to play in the NHL, whether I’m 18 or 30. That’s what I want to accomplish, I want to prove to the Montreal Canadiens that I can play.”

(Does anyone else picture “13 Going on 30” Photoshop scenarios after reading that quote? No? Fair enough …)

It’s an interesting scenario for Fucale, who turned 20 in May.

While Price definitely stands as a barricade to his goal of being the top guy – backup duty wouldn’t be as tough to come by – it’s clear the Canadiens organization will eventually give him a chance to prove himself.

Montreal selected Fucale with a second-round pick (36th overall) in 2013, so it’s not like Fucale is some obscure prospect.

One most easily imagines him making an impression as a backup before perhaps being traded somewhere to get a starting gig, but the young netminder is right in pointing out that things can change pretty quickly at the goalie position in the NHL.

Indeed, Price could probably relate to Fucale’s situation, as Jose Theodore was the guy in net when he was drafted back in 2005.

Ultimately, it’s wise for Fucale to take the “step by step” approach right now. Then again, does he really have a choice?

Canes coach Peters making tweaks with emphasis on being more dangerous offensively

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The Carolina Hurricanes endured a rough campaign in 2014-15 and their biggest overall issues surrounded their offense. Now going into his second season as head coach, Bill Peters hopes to address that.

“We’re going to tweak a few things from what we did last year, with an emphasis on being a more dangerous team offensively,” Peters told The News & Observer.

The Hurricanes had a number of key players that didn’t live up to expectations in that regard last season. Alexander Semin, who was bought out this summer, is the most obvious example, but Eric Staal led the team with just 54 points, which was his lowest total in an 82-game campaign since 2003-2004. Meanwhile, Jeff Skinner went from scoring 33 goals in 2013-14 to 18 last season and Jordan Staal was limited to 46 contests due to a fractured fibula.

There’s some hope that this season can be better though, in part because 20-year-old Elias Lindholm and 22-year-old Victor Rask may be ready to take another step forward.

As for the system itself though, blueliner Justin Faulk — who ranked second in the Hurricanes’ 14-15 scoring race — rose to its defense.

“It’s not a matter of trusting the system. It’s a matter of trusting the players to make sure everyone that’s in the lineup that night is ready to go,” Faulk said. “The system is there, it works. Guys believe that.”

Crosby, Toews, Weber, Price lead pack in NHL 16’s ratings

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After unveiling the top 10 goaltenders for the upcoming video game NHL 16, EA Sports has done the same for every other position.

As was the case last season, Sidney Crosby has the highest overall rating at 96, but there are some alterations after that. In 2015, Steven Stamkos ranked second overall with a 93 rating and he kept that rating for 2015-16, but he’s been leapfrogged by Jonathan Toews (94), Shea Weber (94), and Carey Price (94).

Pavel Datsyuk (93) and John Tavares (92) round out the top-five among centers. Both Detroit and Pittsburgh have two players in the top-10 with Henrik Zetterberg (92) and Evgeni Malkin (92) securing eighth and sixth place respectively.

As previously established, Weber leads the pack among defensemen and is followed by Duncan Keith (93), Drew Doughty (93), Ryan Suter (93), and Erik Karlsson (91). Nashville is the only team with two defensemen in the top-10 as Roman Josi (90) ranks ninth.

When it comes to right wingers, Corey Perry (92) got the top position, although he’s closely followed by Patrick Kane (92). Vladimir Tarasenko (91), Jakub Voracek (90), and Marian Hossa (90) make up the remainder of the top-five. Phil Kessel, who was traded from Toronto to Pittsburgh over the summer, saw his rating slip from 90 in 2014-15 to 89 following a rough campaign with the Maple Leafs.

When it comes to left wingers, it won’t surprise many to learn that Alex Ovechkin secured the top rating at 93. He’s followed by Jamie Benn (92), Taylor Hall (90), Zach Parise (90), and Max Pacioretty (89). The Dallas Stars’ acquisition of Patrick Sharp means that they now have two players in the top-10 as Sharp took the final place on that list with his 89 rating.

NHL 16 will be out on Sept. 15 in North America and Sept. 17 in Europe. If you want to see each position’s top-10 list, you can view them here.