Ryan Johansen

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

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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.

NHL on NBCSN: Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals visit Nashville Predators

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a meeting between the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here.

Both the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals enter Tuesday night’s matchup in good form. The Capitals have won five of their last six games, while the Predators have taken four of their last five.

Kyle Turris impressed in his Predators debut Saturday night, scoring a goal and assisting on another during a 5-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. While one Nashville center looks to continue being productive, another one looks to finally get going.

Ryan Johansen has eight points on the year, but zero goals. Carrying an $8 million cap hit, he’s the highest paid forward without a goal this season.

“As an individual, I’ve just got to find ways to create more,” Johansen told Adam Vingan of The Tennessean. “It’s a role that I’m counted on from the guys here to contribute offensively.”

Tonight’s game will be the fourth time Barry Trotz returns to Nashville after leaving the Predators in 2014. The franchise’s first head coach helped build the team into a playoff contender and now he’s trying to make the most out of a Capitals side that sees its championship window closing.

They’re middle of the pack in scoring (2.82 goals per game) and on special teams (18.6 percent PP, 78.6 percent PK) and surprisingly next-to-last in shots per game (28.5). These aren’t the regular season Capitals we’re used to, but when changes happen on your roster, this can be expected.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

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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.

Under Pressure: Brandon Saad

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Brandon Saad has won the Stanley Cup twice and he deserves recognition for his role in that, but when he was in Chicago, he wasn’t the player people expected to step up when it mattered most. He was a valuable forward for the Blackhawks, but not one of the team’s biggest stars.

Columbus is a decidedly different situation for him. The Blue Jackets provided Chicago with a significant package to get Saad and made a serious commitment by inking him to a six-year, $36 million contract. His $6 million annual cap hit will place him second on the team next season, behind goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Even factoring in the two titles he’s been involved in, it seems fair to say that he’s getting paid based on potential rather than past accomplishments. His 23 goals and 52 points in 82 contests last season, taken by itself, wouldn’t typically warrant that kind of payday. That’s especially true when you remember that his most common five-on-five linemates by a wide margin last season were Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, per Hockey Analysis, so while playing alongside Ryan Johansen will be a luxury, it’s not as if he wasn’t sharing the ice with highly skilled forwards already.

Of course, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a 22-year-old forward (23 in October) still has some untapped upside and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t continue to improve and become a player that looks more than worthy of that contract. But for the first time in his life, someone has bet tens of millions of dollars on the idea that will happen and a city is putting their faith in him being a player that can lead the charge.

It’s a big opportunity for him and if he lives up to expectations, then there could be quite a few more serious playoff runs in his future.

Poll: Will Columbus win its first playoff series?

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Since the Columbus Blue Jackets’ debut in 2000, they have made the playoffs twice and won just two postseason games. So it would be fair to label their 2015-16 campaign as successful if they make the playoffs, but is it unreasonable to put expectations higher than that?

Columbus had a 42-35-5 record last season and while that might not be great, it is actually impressive when you consider all the injuries that team had to endure. The Blue Jackets suffered 508 man games lost last season, which surpassed the old franchise record by over 100 games, per the Columbus Dispatch. At the other end of the spectrum, Man Games Lost put the Canadiens’ figure at just 88. The Stanley Cup finalists — Tampa Bay and Chicago — had 168 and 158 respectively.

In fact, Columbus was so unlucky that if you added up all the man games lost from the Canadiens, Rangers, Kings, and Blues, you would still arrive at a number lower than the Blue Jackets alone.

Which begs the question: How much better could Columbus have done if the team stayed healthy? We’ll never get the answer to that because the Blue Jackets made a big splash this summer by acquiring Brandon Saad. He’ll bring with a wealth of experience despite the fact that he’s just 22 years old and provide the team with another significant offensive weapon along with Ryan Johansen, Nick Foligno, and Scott Hartnell.

Then there’s also the question of if Sergei Bobrovsky will bounce back after struggled at times during the 2014-15 season. As already touched on, the Blue Jackets need him to play like an elite goaltender. If he does manage to return to his Vezina Trophy-winning form though, then that combined with their improved offense could make Columbus a headache for a lot of teams.

Of course, this is all painting the Blue Jackets in a preferable light. Team president of hockey operations John Davidson described the Blue Jackets’ injury problems last season as “just flat-out bad luck,” but perhaps enough of it was more than that to cause history to repeat itself. Maybe Bobrovsky won’t bounce back. Maybe Foligno, who shattered his career-highs last season at the age of 27, will fall back to Earth.

What do you think is the more likely scenario?

Blue Jackets’ biggest question: Will Bobrovsky play like an elite goaltender?

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While the Columbus Blue Jackets have become a stronger team offensively thanks to the rise of Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen as well as the recent acquisition of Brandon Saad, there’s no question that they still need a dominant season out of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. The problem is that might not happen.

Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy in 2013 by posting a 2.00 GAA and .932 save percentage in the lockout shortened campaign. In the process, he nearly propelled Columbus into the playoffs. He wasn’t quite as strong in his follow up campaign, but his 2.38 GAA and .923 save percentage were nevertheless impressive as well as good enough to push the improved Blue Jackets into the postseason for just the second time in franchise history.

It seemed like Columbus had found a goaltender that it could rely upon not just to be solid, but play at an elite level. The Blue Jackets’ belief in that was highlighted in January when they signed him to a four-year, $29.7 million deal that will begin this season.

Bobrovsky didn’t play at that level last season though. He suffered a groin injury that cost him part of the season, but even when he was healthy he was inconsistent. Although a late surge partially salvaged his numbers, he did still finish with a 2.69 GAA and .918 to make it the second straight season he declined from a statistical perspective.

There were certainly still positives to be found, but Columbus needs Bobrovsky to be more than a mixed bag. After all, he’ll enter this season with the second highest cap hit in the league among goaltenders, behind only Henrik Lundqvist, so it seems reasonable to describe anything other than a top-tier season as a disappointment. More to the point, anything short of that might not be enough to get Columbus back into the playoffs.

To that end though, the Blue Jackets believe they’ve dealt with the issue by modifying his summer conditioning program and have a strategy in place for how they will continue to handle his conditioning during the season.

“We all know how hard a worker he is,” Blue Jackets goaltending coach Ian Clark told NHL.com. “Some of that was he was working so hard he was exhausted.”

So we’ll see if that’s the magic bullet needed for a comeback performance.