Brawl fallout: Witkowski suspended 10 games, phone hearing for Tkachuk

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As a lapsed fan of the Phoenix Suns, part of me will never totally get over the time Steve Nash’s teammates were automatically suspended for barely stepping onto the court before remembering the NBA’s rules.

The NHL shares the NBA’s tendency to be sticklers about rules that don’t allow room for subjectivity, so it’s not much of a surprise that a wide variety of reporters confirm that Luke Witkowski of the Detroit Red Wings will receive an automatic 10-game suspension for returning to the ice during last night’s wild brawl. (See it in the video above this post’s headline.)

Red Wings GM Ken Holland confirmed the suspension to the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James, while Sportsnet’s John Shannon backed up his colleague Nick Kypreos’ report, just to name a few that backed up news. The suspension will run through Dec. 9.

Shannon also backs up Kypreos in this regard: the NHL will hold a phone hearing with Calgary Flames troublemaker Matthew Tkachuk. This typically calls for a shorter suspension, if the league decides to make such a call. Generally speaking, if you get a phone hearing, you’ll often have to sit a few games, with the maximum being five. An in-person hearing usually implies a heavier punishment.

Here’s the rule that Witkowski broke in the heat of the “old-time hockey” moment:

A lot of players (and to an extent, goalies) were involved in the brawl, but from the sound of things, only Witkowski and Tkachuk will miss time because of that memorable fracas from the Red Wings’ resounding 8-2 win against the Flames.

As a reminder, the returning to the ice rule was added, in part, because of moments like these:

And now, footage of that sad moment in Phoenix Suns history to tie this altogether. Not cool, Robert Horry.

(Note: in this post’s Getty Image, you’ll notice that Tkachuk’s mouthpiece is hanging out even during a line brawl. Yeah, the kid is just a natural agitator.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Brawls, Larkin’s hockey genius

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Player of the Night: Artem Anisimov

As you can read about here, Artem Anisimov enjoyed the best night of a hectic game between the Blackhawks and Rangers, generating the first hat trick of his career. That contest presented some twists and turns, with Chicago ultimately coming out on top 6-3.

Anisimov and Alex DeBrincat have been providing a big chunk of the Blackhawks’ offense lately, and its been much needed. Even while taking a lull of three games without a point in mind, the 29-year-old has eight goals and one assist in his past nine contests.

Highlights of the Night: On a Larkin

That wild line brawl between the Flames and Red Wings didn’t just take some spotlight from Detroit’s 8-2 win; it also might have distracted people from an impressive night via Dylan Larkin, a player who clearly seems to be back on track for a Red Wings team that could be feistier than many expected.

The top highlight features Larkin’s remarkable sense of timing and hockey geometry. (Was he good at geometry at school? If so, I’m jealous.)

The second reminded me of some early moments in Sidney Crosby‘s career, as Larkin used his skating ability and smarts to turn on the jets, only to make a sudden stop, assess the situation, and create a splendid play.

Some nights, Larkin is skylarking like vintage XTC. If you’re interested in violence, the real highlight of the game really was that brawl, though. If so, head here.

(Note: Johnny Gaudreau is on a hot streak of his own, albeit without the W-related results he wanted tonight.)

Caveats of the Night: The Ducks deserve a heap of credit for sticking with it, even as injuries seem to keep mounting. Or at least, might continue to mount.

Wildly underrated defenseman Hampus Lindholm is now dealing with a lower-body injury, while Corey Perry seemingly bounced back from this:

I say seemingly because, sometimes a player will return to a game in the heat of the moment. Then, when they wake up in the morning and/or have a doctor look at an injury, they realize something’s wrong and miss time. Kris Letang scored a game-winner injured, Paul Kariya famously bounced back from the Scott Stevens hit he can’t even remember, and so on. So we’ll see.

For a Ducks team that is besieged by injuries, so this is troubling.

The Ducks keep scrapping and, in this case, winning, though.

Factoid of the Night: The Mike Green resurgence: still pretty delightful.

Not enough is being made about John Gibson‘s continued climb up the goalie ranks. Where would Anaheim be without him (spoiler: probably the cellar):

Scores and more

Red Wings 8, Flames 2

Blackhawks 6, Rangers 3

Ducks 4, Bruins 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Red Wings, Flames engage in line brawl, ‘old time hockey’

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Matthew Tkachuk hasn’t even completed his second season in the NHL, and he might already have passed the likes of Tom Wilson and Brad Marchand as the league’s premier … “disturber.”

It’s no secret that he has a special ability to make people’s blood boil, with the Los Angeles Kings standing out, even if they’re far from alone. After Wednesday, you can add the Detroit Red Wings to the list of teams that simply can’t stand Keith’s rambunctious son.

Tkachuk was the catalyst or one of the catalysts for quite the wild line brawl between the Red Wings and Flames, with goalies being involved and quite the mess for the Department of Player Safety to potentially have to deal with.

Luke Witkowski might have enjoyed the carnage, but it’s reasonable to wonder if an automatic suspension is coming his way, specifically. You can see the scene in the video above this headline, and also below.

Check out the brawl from two perspectives, with one making more of a point to place blame on Tkachuk:

Yeah, that was something. Hopefully your fantasy leagues include PIMs.

For fans that want to see a rematch, well, we’ll need to see if the bad feelings can survive the statute of hockey anger limitations.

The brawl probably takes some attention away from the Red Wings absolutely drubbing the Flames by a score of 8-2. It’s been quite some time since Detroit lit up the scoreboard like this:

Via the box score, here’s how the penalties shook out (although sometimes the league will tweak these after the fact):

For all we know, this brawl and blowout could be something the Red Wings look back on if they make a playoff run.

This was the second contest of a five-game homestand, with Detroit grabbing a point in losing to Columbus in a shootout on Saturday. That’s not all: the Red Wings play 10 of their next 12 games at the swanky new digs in Detroit from Nov. 17 – Dec. 15.

Perhaps throttling the Flames and that rash of violence will light a fire under a Red Wings team that likely bristles at people who believe their best days are behind them?

As far as the Flames go … maybe this could wake some players up?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Penguins have some major depth issues that need to be addressed

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Nearly one quarter of the way through the 2017-18 season and the Pittsburgh Penguins are probably not exactly where they want to be at this point.

Entering play on Tuesday, when they will host the Buffalo Sabres, they are 17th in the NHL in points percentage, they have the third-worst goal differential (minus-18, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes) after losing games by margins of 10-7, 7-1 and 7-1, and are only a middle of the pack team in terms of their shot attempt and possession numbers. Their goals against numbers overall are ugly (largely due to the three blowout losses), but they are also only 25th in the league in goals per game.

None of that is great.

There are a lot of factors here.

The early season schedule to this point has been brutal, having already played six sets of back-to-back games (often against rested teams — including some of the best teams in the league). For a team that has played 214 games the past two seasons that is a tough way to open the season. Their backup goaltending situation early in the season was a disaster with Antti Niemi giving up goals in bunches.

It is not wrong to think that a better backup goaltending situation to start the year could have maybe produced an extra win, or that once the schedule calms down a little they will start to get back on track a little.

There is another issue at work here too that is going to need to be addressed in a meaningful way: The bottom of the roster, which was decimated by free agency and the salary cap over the summer, is giving them almost no offense to speak of. Or anything, really.

This brings back a problem that plagued the Penguins between the 2010 and 2015 seasons when they were getting bounced early in the playoffs despite having a group of All-Stars at the top of the roster.

Over the past two years general manager Jim Rutherford did a ton of work to build that depth back up and it resulted in back-to-back Stanley Cups.

This past summer a lot of that depth walked out the door in free agency with Nick Bonino (Nashville Predators), Matt Cullen (Minnesota Wild), Chris Kunitz (Tampa Bay Lightning), and Trevor Daley (Detroit Red Wings) all moving on. That also does not include the exit of Marc-Andre Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, a pretty significant departure given how bad Niemi turned out to be.

That is a lot of depth to replace in one offseason, and to this point the Penguins have struggled to do it.

Instead of Bonino and Cullen at the third and fourth center spots they opened the season with Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney (currently injured), then traded for Riley Sheahan, a player that has not scored a goal in 97 of his past 98 games.

Ryan Reaves, brought in to add toughness, is playing just seven minutes per night and has replaced Kunitz.

Looking at it from a numbers perspective it is not hard to see how much of a drop this is has been for the offense.

Let’s break their forwards and their production down into two groups of six: The top-six in terms of ice-time and the bottom-six in terms of ice-time.

During the 2016-17 season the Penguins forwards that were 7-12 in ice-time averaged .445 points per game as a group.

So far this year? The 7-12 group is at just .201. A player that averages .201 points per game over 82 games scores just 16 points in a season. A .445 player scores 36.

That is a pretty substantial drop. To be fair we are also comparing a 19-game sampling with a full season. A lot can happen over the next few months. The table below breaks down the past two full seasons, as well as this one, to show where the Penguins were after 19 games and where they ended up.

In each of the past two seasons both groups were slow starters relative to where they ended up at the end of the season. But it wasn’t just a matter of players getting better or seeing their production in crease. In both instances there were pretty significant changes made to the roster.

In 2015-16 pretty much everything about the team changed after the first quarter of the season, from the head coach (Mike Johnston to Mike Sullivan) to almost half of the roster (Carl Hagelin, Trevor Daley, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Justin Schultz all being called up or added to the roster during the season).

In 2016-17 it was the call-up of Jake Guentzel that ended up making a huge difference (as well as the return of a lot of injured player).

The point here is if the Penguins are going to have any chance of another repeat run they are going to need to make similar changes at some point before the trade deadline.

In their two years as the Penguins’ third-and fourth-line centers Bonino and Cullen each averaged 15 goals and between 30-40 points.

Right now McKegg and Sheahan are on a four-goal and 11-point pace … combined.

The Penguins didn’t go from postseason disappointments to Stanley Cup champions the past two years because players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin got better or became better leaders or became more clutch. They were the same as they have always been (great). They became Stanley Cup champions again because players like Crosby and Malkin were still great, and they had a great supporting cast of players around them.

This is not to suggest the Penguins would necessarily be in a better situation with Bonino and Cullen and Kunitz at this point. Cullen is 41 years old and has one goal so far in Minnesota. At some point he will slow down. Bonino has played in just five games for the Predators due to injury and the Penguins never could have matched that contract offer under the salary cap. (Keeping Kunitz instead of adding Reaves probably would have been smart).

Their production from the past two seasons still existed and was a big part of the Penguins success. That is production they are not getting and are unlikely to get from the current cast of players in those roles as replacements.

There are some areas where improvement can come from. Sidney Crosby is going to play better. Kris Letang can (and probably will) play better. Prospect Daniel Sprong is off to a great start in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and could be on the Guentzel path to the NHL at some point later in the season.

The third-and fourth-line center spots, however, have become offensive black holes and with Reaves only playing seven minutes a night (sometimes significantly less) they are pretty much playing with an 11-man forward group.

All of those areas need to be addressed if another postseason run is going to happen this season.

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 Power Rankings: The Lightning, then everybody else

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A little more than one month into the NHL season and we are starting to see which teams are good and which teams are … well … not.

We are still at a point where one or two teams could emerge from the bottom of the pile or fall from the top, but once the NHL season gets to Thanksgiving there typically is not much change in the standings. At least not much of a significant one.

With that said, there should be no question at this moment as to who the best team in the NHL is. It’s the Tampa Bay Lightning, and really, there might not be anybody close to them.

At times this season the Lightning have looked like an on-ice version of the Harlem Globetrotters and have just been toying with their opponents. Entering the week the Lightning have the best record in the league (three points ahead of the next best team) and own a plus-25 goal differential. That is 11 goals better than any other team in the league.

Two of their four losses have come on the second end of back-to-backs (with one of them coming against a team that had been rested for three days). Their current four-game winning streak includes a perfect road trip through California that saw them beat the Kings, Sharks and Ducks (two of those teams are excellent at the moment) by a combined score of 12-4. The fourth win in that streak is against Columbus, another likely contender in the NHL this season.

They have the NHL’s leading goal-scorer (Nikita Kucherov has a three-goal lead over John Tavares) and the top-two point producers (Steven Stamkos and Kucherov), both of whom are at least seven points ahead of the No. 3 scorer in the league (Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler).

As if the talent up front is not enough, their starting goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy has a .930 save percentage in 15 starts.

Right now in the NHL it is Tampa Bay, then everybody else fighting for second.

So where is everybody else at the moment? Let us take a look.

Positively terrifying

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They are, quite simply, the best team in the NHL right now for all of the reasons mentioned above.

The rest of the best right now

2. St. Louis Blues — I had little expectation for the Blues heading into this season, largely due to their injury situation, but they still have the second best record in the league, the second-best goal differential, and one of the best lines in hockey.

3. Los Angeles Kings — Dustin Brown has found the fountain of  youth. He has topped 30 points just once in the past five years with 36 being the high point during that stretch. He is pretty much halfway to that total just 18 games into this season.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs — They hit a little bit of a rut a couple of weeks ago but have come back strong with four straight wins. What is truly impressive is three of those wins heading into the new week came without Auston Matthews.

5. New Jersey Devils — The Devils are … fun?! Seriously, what is this? Who is this team? Fifth in the league in goals scored and coming off of a 7-5 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Brian Gibbons, out of the NHL for two years, somehow has eight goals so far.

6. Ottawa Senators — Everybody complains about watching them play but all they do is collect points. It is not pretty, but this is pro sports. Teams don’t have to apologize for doing what they need to do to win.

Teams on the rise

7. Winnipeg Jets — Could this be the year the Jets finally turn all of that individual talent into something good?

8. New York Rangers — What a difference a couple of weeks can make. After a disastrous start the Rangers have ripped off six wins in a row. Big time move in this week’s rankings.

9. Nashville Predators — No team improved more in the big Matt DucheneKyle Turris-Colorado trade than the Predators thanks to the addition of Turris at the expense of nothing significant from their roster. The defending Western Conference Champs enter the week 7-3-1 in their past 11 games.

10. San Jose Sharks — Entering Monday the only team that has beaten them over their past seven games is the Tampa Bay juggernaut. Just when you think the Sharks are going away they always find a way to still be hanging around in the Western Conference.

11. Washington Capitals — Don’t look now but here come the Capitals! After a slow start they are starting to look like the team that has dominated the regular season the past two years. Entering the week 6-2 in their past eight games while only allowing 16 goals during that stretch.

12. Montreal Canadiens — The overall record still stinks, I get it, but like the Rangers the Canadiens are starting to erase all of the memories from a miserable start to the season with wins in seven of their past 10 games. That qualifies as a team on the rise even if there are a lot of teams in the league that still have a better overall record.

Teams still looking good

13. New York Islanders — Nikita Kucherov’s start has kind of hidden the fact that John Tavares is scoring goals whenever he feels like it as well. Mighty fine time for a contract year, eh?

14. Calgary Flames — Mike Smith is giving the Flames exactly what they need in net. If he can continue to do that they are going to be a tough out in the Western Conference with that defense and that young talent up front.

15. Dallas Stars — I may have underrated them a bit a couple of weeks ago. They are solid, and in a bizarre twist from recent Stars teams are 20th in the league in goals scored and third in goals against. John Klingberg is playing fantastic hockey right now.

Teams on the decline

16. Columbus Blue Jackets — I still like this Blue Jackets team an awful lot and think they can be right there at the end of the season when it comes down to winning the Eastern Conference, but they have slipped a bit in recent weeks with just five wins in their past 12 games.

17. Vegas Golden Knights — Being down to their fourth and fifth goalies is not helping, but they are starting to expansion team results in recent weeks. They still have a lot of forwards playing really well and producing.

18. Philadelphia Flyers — Brian Elliott has started to look better in his recent starts. With their top forwards going the way they are this could still be an interesting team if they can get that goaltending spot solidified.

19. Chicago Blackhawks — After starting the season 3-0-1 with 21 goals in their first four games the Blackhawks are just 5-8-2 with only 32 goals in the 15 games since.

20. Anaheim Ducks — Injuries have decimated this team this season and they just keep getting worse with Ryan Getzlaf being sidelined for another two months.

Still need some work

21. Pittsburgh Penguins — The schedule with all of these back-to-backs is hurting them. So is the bottom of the roster. The depth problems that plagued them from 2010 through 2015 are back in a bad way.

22. Minnesota Wild — It has been the Jason Zucker and Devan Dubnyk show lately, but other than them nobody else is really doing much of anything to help the cause.

23. Carolina Hurricanes — Everything about this team looks good. They are exciting. They play hard. They once again have dominant underlying numbers. But there is still something missing.

24. Vancouver Canucks — They had a great start to the season that seemed to have them exceeding expectations but things are starting to return to normal for the Canucks. The early start was a mirage.

25. Boston Bruins — A very top-heavy roster. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are great, but where else is the offense going to come from?

26. Detroit Red Wings — Anthony Mantha has been a nice bright spot so far this season with a team-leading 16 points. He has been especially strong lately with eight points, including four goals, in his past seven games.

27. Colorado Avalanche — They picked up some intriguing young players in the Matt Duchene trade but an already bad team ended up getting worse in the short-term.

28. Buffalo Sabres — They have scored more than two goals just twice in the past seven games.

29. Edmonton Oilers — Not to keep hitting this same point over and over again, but Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have more points than every player on the Oilers not named Connor McDavid.

30. Florida Panthers — Only two wins in their past nine games with 37 goals against.

31. Arizona Coyotes — In their first 19 games of the season the Arizona Coyotes have exactly zero wins in regulation. Their only two wins, as of Monday, coming by way of overtime or a shootout. That is … really something.