Five thoughts: Trouble ahead for East favorites? Kings have guts; Miller and Pavelski are huge

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After a goalie-dominated second night of the NHL playoffs, our five thoughts on last night’s action have us wondering a bit too hard for two teams that are supposed to win.

1. It’s tough to say we didn’t see this coming, but there has to be real concern for the Flyers in the Eastern Conference. They played a tough game with Buffalo before ultimately being shutout by Ryan Miller 1-0 in Game 1. The concerns aren’t with Sergei Bobrovsky as he was outstanding in defeat but rather with the Flyers power play. Taking advantage of being up a man for two minutes is huge for any team looking to win in the playoffs. Goals come at a premium in the postseason and failing to take advantage of the power play creates doubt and makes guys squeeze the sticks a little harder.

That was the case last night for Philadelphia after they went 0-5 with the man advantage including a short time five-on-three. While many (including us) were wondering how the Flyers defense and goaltending would stand up without Chris Pronger playing, it was the offense that let them down in Game 1. That’s a trend they absolutely cannot afford to see develop.

2. Same can be said of the Boston Bruins. After playing Montreal so many times during the regular season they knew what they’d be up against with the Habs. Instead, they ran into an even more staunch Montreal defense and a stoic Carey Price who didn’t let anything by in a 2-0 loss.

The B’s streakiness with their offense has been a bit of an issue again this year and against Montreal, not every game is going to be a supercharged 7-0 win or a rock’em-sock’em 8-6 fist fight. The playoffs mean things are tighter and every goal is huge. If Boston’s offense continues to be frustrated by P.K. Subban and Hal Gill, their stay in the playoffs is going to be a short one. Guys like Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic have to be less focused on Subban’s antics and just work on getting free around the net.

3. Despite it being a 3-2 overtime loss for Los Angeles, give them a lot of credit for playing the way they did. When overtime started and for most of the period, the Kings carried the play and got the better of the chances to end the game. Their offense without Anze Kopitar did well enough to create opportunities all throughout the game and they weren’t thrown off by Dany Heatley’s goal less than 30 seconds into the game. The Kings have to be sharp all series long if they’re going to pull an upset but with how they played last night, they showed the Sharks they have no fear.

Most encouraging part of the night for L.A.: How well Justin Williams played in his first game back from a dislocated shoulder. A goal and an assist for Williams will do every night.

4. If the Ryan Miller we saw against Philadelphia in Game 1 is the guy that’s going to be there each game for the Sabres, the rest of the Eastern Conference had better take note. Miller was brilliant in his 35 save shutout of the Flyers and did excellent to fight the swarming net presence of the Flyers forwards. Miller has had a rough go of it in the playoffs last year against Boston, but last night was a game that he won for the Sabres himself. The kind of lift that should provide Buffalo is immense but they’d do well to give him a bit more offensive support. Getting the lone goal from a hockey irritant like Patrick Kaleta can’t be counted on nightly.

5. If Joe Pavelski’s performance in last year’s playoffs didn’t help you shake that nagging opinion of the Sharks as “chokers” then he’s determined to prove to you again that that’s not the case. During the first two rounds of the playoffs, Pavelski was a man possessed netting nine goals and six assists including three game-winning goals, one of which came in overtime.

If he gets that goal scoring touch alive once again throughout the playoffs, The Big Pavelski will be an even bigger cult hero than he already is in San Jose. The dude abides in a big way.

WATCH LIVE: Wild visit Stars on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Friday night’s matchup between the Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app and by clicking here.

As the Stars look to get back to winning ways they likely will be without Alexander Radulov Friday night. A lower-body injury could keep him out against the Wild, which would see Roope Hintz bumped up to the top line, according to head coach Jim Montgomery. Connor Carrick remains out after not showing enough during his time in the lineup, opening the door for Roman Polak to state his case.

Making a return for the Wild will be captain Mikko Koivu after he missed Tuesday’s game for the birth of his son Oskar. Marcus Foligno will also be back.

Meanwhile, it was last April in Dallas where Wild defenseman Ryan Suter suffered a broken ankle. As he once again eats major minutes (26:12 per game) on a nightly basis, he still has some hesitatation when it comes to plays near the boards.

“At different points going back for pucks I try not to put myself in that situation quite yet,” Suter said via the Star Tribune. “That play probably happens five or 10 times [per game]. It’s hard to get around it. You’re a little more hesitant. You think about it a little bit more. Hopefully soon that won’t be on my mind.”

WHAT: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars
WHERE: American Airlines Center
WHEN: Friday, October 19th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVESTREAM: You can watch the Wild-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

WILD
Jason ZuckerEric StaalMatt Read
Zach Parise – Mikko Koivu – Mikael Granlund
Nino NiederreiterCharlie CoyleJordan Greenway
Nate ProsserEric FehrJ.T. Brown

Ryan Suter – Matt Dumba
Jonas BrodinJared Spurgeon
Nick SeelerGreg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

STARS
Jamie BennTyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov/Roope Hintz
Devin ShoreJason SpezzaTyler Pitlick
Mattias JanmarkRadek FaksaBlake Comeau
Jason Dickinson – Roope Hintz/Gemel SmithBrett Ritchie

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg
Marc MethotMiro Heiskanen
Julius Honka – Roman Polak

Starting goalie: Ben Bishop

Golden Knights make big gamble on Alex Tuch

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Last season, the Vegas Golden Knights didn’t just set themselves apart by being a hard-charging, hungry group that raised the bar for what an expansion team could accomplish in pro sports. If you’re a believer that “greed is good” in sports, then Vegas was Exhibit A, as the team flourished with a ton of players having a lot to prove.

Well, the days of this team having a remarkably clean slate feel just about over.

The latest long-term, Vegas gamble happened on Friday, as the Golden Knights handed a seven-year, $33.25 million contract extension to 22-year-old winger Alex Tuch.

Tuch is closing out his current contract at $925K, so his $4.75M cap hit will kick in starting in 2019-20.

Wow.

Before we get into the Tuch deal specifically, let’s consider the massive amount of money the Golden Knights invested in a growing group of players, between deals that have kicked in or will begin next season.

Active, mid-to-long-term deals:

Jonathan Marchessault, 27: $5M cap hit through 2023-24
Reilly Smith, 27: $5M through 2021-22
Shea Theodore, 23: $5.2M through 2024-25
Colin Miller, 25: $3.875M through 2021-22
Brayden McNabb, 37: $2.5M through 2021-22
Paul Stastny, 32: $6.5M through 2020-21

Hefty extensions beginning next season:

Tuch, 22, $925K this season, $4.75M through 2025-26
Max Pacioretty, 29, $4.05M this season, $7M through 2022-23
Marc-Andre Fleury, 33, $5.75M this season, $7M through 2021-22

Phew, right?

Keep in mind that, heading into their first season, the Golden Knights only inherited one of the contracts above (getting Smith from Florida), while Marchessault and McNabb were extended during the season. Golden Knights GM George McPhee has been rolling the dice, then, by signing the majority of these contracts after the team enjoyed that stunningly successful run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

Committing to hot streaks can burn long-standing franchises, let alone one just beginning its second season in the NHL. While the Patches extension was more palatable term-wise than many feared, it’s still risky. The Marc-Andre Fleury extension, meanwhile, stands as a massive risk.

With MAF, the questions revolve around how much “The Flower” really has left. Conversely, we just haven’t seen much of Alex Tuch.

The Golden Knights are committing to Tuch three years into his UFA phase, and essentially until he’s 30, after seeing him play in just 84 regular-season games and 20 playoff contests at the NHL level. All of Tuch’s production came from last season, when he scored 15 goals and 37 points in 78 contests with Vegas (along with pitching in 10 games during that postseason run).

That’s not a lot of data to go off of, so the Golden Knights are taken a major leap that the best is yet to come from the big forward, who the Wild selected 18th overall in 2014.

The best-case scenario is that the Golden Knights will have answered many of their bigger questions contracts-wise, aside from that of William Karlsson, whose fuzzy situation was delayed with a one-year deal. There’s the possibility that Tuch will be almost as much of a bargain as Marchessault and Smith, who are giving Vegas quality work, in their primes, for just $5M per season.

The worst-case scenario is that Vegas robbed itself of a chance to see Tuch prove himself with one more season of work.

And, zooming out, the Golden Knights might be banking a little too much on rekindling at least some of the magic of their improbable, almost-impossible first season in existence.

To an extent, it’s a matter of human nature, and more foolish teams could have gone in even deeper, possibly maintaining all of Vegas’ additions while also keeping aging wingers James Neal and David Perron around. The Golden Knights showed at least some discipline – they also didn’t shoot themselves in the foot by possibly committing too much, too early to William Karlsson – but the question is, are they showing enough?

Tuch stands as one of the key test cases, but at least this risk allows people to make an array of bad Vegas/gambling jokes. (Hey, that’s human nature, too, really.)

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.

Rolling chair hockey, fat cartwheels as Dallas Stars face Dude Perfect

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As a Certified Old, I have to admit I didn’t know what “Dude Perfect” is, and perhaps I still don’t know.

(Apparently they’re a sports entertainment group featuring former college pals from Texas A&M who have a massive YouTube following. They describe themselves as “five best friends and a panda,” so that’s a big plus.)

Whatever the case may be, the Dude Perfect gang took on Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, and Jamie Benn in a competition of multiple quasi-sports. You can watch the tightly-contested group of odd contests in the video above, as it’s a good time.

A few personal highlights:

  • The entire rolling chair hockey segment, in general, but especially Seguin’s little goal-scoring dance/shimmy.
  • Jamie Benn doing what sure looked a lot like a fat cartwheel after a golfing triumph.
  • Klingberg getting razzed for his hair. Watch out if the Dude Perfect dudes ever find out about this phase.

Anyway, the video is a good time, so enjoy it in the clip above this post’s headline.

The Stars will face off against the Minnesota Wild in a game of non-rolling-chair hockey at 8 p.m. ET tonight on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

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.

Reviewing Erik Karlsson’s start with Sharks

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The San Jose Sharks must have felt some real relief last night.

Not only did they beat the Buffalo Sabres by a convincing 5-1 score, but their power play finally looked about as good on the ice as it looked in nerdy hockey daydreams.

Even so, The Erik Karlsson Experiment remains a work in progress. The Sharks are merely 3-3-1 to begin the 2018-19 season, and Karlsson’s failed to score his first goal with San Jose, settling for four assists in seven games.

That’s such a small sample size that it would be silly to get too concerned … but it’s a small-enough sample that we can also take a look at his work from a game-by-game basis without numbing your scrolling finger:

Oct. 3: 5-2 loss to Ducks (more here).

Peter DeBoer wasn’t shy about rolling Karlsson out during his debut, as the Swede logged 26:48 TOI in what was a frustrating loss to the Ducks.

Karlsson failed to score a point in his first game, suffering a -2 rating, firing one shot on goal, delivering a hit, and blocking two shots.

Oct. 5: 3-2 OT win against Kings.

Karlsson’s second game for San Jose was a busy one. Along with grabbing his first assist with the Sharks, Karlsson logged almost 30 minutes (29:27 TOI), had a +1 rating, fired four SOG, and blocked four shots.

That helper came during Kevin Labanc‘s overtime game-winner, so it was an eventual first point in teal.

Oct. 8: 4-0 loss to Islanders.

Boy, California-area teams have endured some strangely lopsided losses against the would-be woeful Islanders, haven’t they? (The Kings lost 7-2 to the Isles last night).

In what was Karlsson’s on-paper worst performance with the Sharks so far, he failed to generate a point while posting a -3 rating in 28:27 TOI. Karlsson didn’t pull the trigger much in this one, either, managing just one SOG.

Oct. 9: 8-2 win against Flyers.

So, on less rest, the Sharks turned around and bombarded a team that’s expected to be pretty good in the Flyers. Yes, the beginning of an NHL season is often strange; why do you ask?

Despite a relatively modest amount of ice time (23:34), Karlsson produced his only multi-point output of his stay with San Jose so far, collecting two assists. He also fired three SOG, delivered four hits, and enjoyed a +2 rating.

Oct. 11: 3-2 OT loss to the Rangers.

In 26:26 TOI, Karlsson was unable to generate a point in that tight loss to New York. While he finished the night with a -2 rating, Karlsson was pretty active, firing three SOG.

Oct. 14: 3-2 loss to Devils.

This seems like another especially frustrating game for Karlsson and the Sharks. He was whistled for four penalty minutes, and couldn’t notch a point despite landing six SOG. Karlsson finished this loss with a -1 rating in 25 minutes and four seconds of ice time.

Oct. 18: 5-1 win against Sabres.

Last night, Karlsson generated an assist and two SOG in a more limited 20:59 TOI. Interestingly, DeBoer decided to split Karlsson and Brent Burns up on two different power-play units, and it sure seemed to pay off, with San Jose going 3-for-7.

Logan Couture believes that it was a good tweak, as The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz reports (sub required).

“I think changing that up and having both of those guys on different units to get the middle of the ice where they’re both comfortable — it felt better as a participant on the power play, and I’m sure it looked better from up top,” Couture said. “Both those guys are comfortable in that spot. They both wanted to be there. I think that gives us two strong units now.”

Oh, Karlsson also made this move last night:

***

So, the game-by-game approach indicates that things are hit-or-miss, as expected from his full seven-game stats.

There are plenty of bright sides, though. For one thing, Karlsson’s possession stats seem as strong as usual, and it looks like DeBoer is going to find ways to get him on the ice in offensive situations.

Some deeper stats should also reassure Karlsson and the Sharks about how his puck luck should soon improve.

Karlsson’s even-strength PDO is a very unlucky 90.7 (100 is something of a cut-off for normal luck), while his on-ice shooting percentage is just 6.3-percent, far below his career average of 8.5. Even Karlsson’s critics would likely acknowledge that he hasn’t been getting many bounces early on in his Sharks career.

Does that mean that the Sharks will find the perfect balance to get the most out of Karlsson, Burns, and their other talented players? That remains to be seen, but expect better results from Karlsson himself, possibly very soon.

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.