Five Thoughts: The tables have turned… For now

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After four games of the Stanley Cup finals we’re right back to where we started from. The series is locked up at 2-2 and now it’s a best of three race to the end. While the Bruins have smacked the Canucks around in the last two games, everyone’s done their part to protect home ice. Still, if momentum is a real thing the Bruins have all of it and then some. As for our thoughts after what turned out to be yet another wild game, there’s enough to pick at.

1. As you might expect, Roberto Luongo wasn’t a happy guy after the game. When you give up 12 goals in two games while your team is outscored 12-1, everyone should be pretty upset about things. For Luongo, he could be hammering away at his teammates on defense but he’s held off on tossing them under the bus. While Luongo isn’t the right guy to light a fire under the defense, someone should.

With an injury to Dan Hamhuis and Aaron Rome getting himself booted from the playoffs, the Canucks are working with guys Alain Vigneault would rather not have out there like Keith Ballard. Ballard had a brutal night but he’s not alone. Andrew Alberts has struggled out there and while he’s been paired up with Sami Salo, there seems to be very little in the way of communication out there between those two and some of the same mistakes kept happening in Games 3 and 4. It’s not as if Vancouver hasn’t dealt with changing defensive situations thanks to injury, they should be better prepared for such upheaval.

2. One reason why teams can win on home ice better is because they get to work the matchups the way they want to thanks to getting the last change at home. Vancouver was able to mix things up at home to tweak some of the Boston defense pairings. Remember when Johnny Boychuk was the unofficial team goat in the first two games?

The games played in Boston showed that either Claude Julien is a brilliant coach to get the matchups he’s looking for or Alain Vigneault isn’t properly doing the things he has to to minimize the mismatches that will happen. Julien did his part in Vancouver by constantly tinkering with his defensemen on faceoffs. It might start off awkward, but once the puck is dropped, the usual pairings get reset thanks to a quick change. That simple move helped keep the games in Vancouver close. The Canucks kept trying to force the issue themselves and with their defense already in disarray… Well you saw the scores.

3. Brad Marchand starting to remind everyone of another diminutive forward that mixed it up with anyone and everyone regardless of the situation. There’s a lot of Pat Verbeek in what Marchand does out on the ice and that kind of sandpaper game and skill set is something every team loves to have. Perhaps the best part of what Marchand does is that he’s able to do all of his annoying either with his words (just watch how players react to him after the whistle, I’d love to have him mic’ed up for a game but it’d likely be R-rated) or his little agitation moves.

Verbeek was known as “the little ball of hate” and we’re pretty sure if you asked anyone on Vancouver they’d say some colorful things about Marchand to back up a similar moniker for him. His play in the playoffs has been something special though as his ability to score goals and be a tremendous penalty killer have been inspiring and the Bruins have really needed that badly over time.

4. Vancouver’s got some soul searching to do and a couple of guys that could use some ethereal guidance are Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows. These two showed how great they can be earlier in the playoffs but lately against Boston they’ve gone back to old habits of falling for the petty nonsense and getting mixed up with the ancillary games that lead to nothing but trouble. If they can cut back on that stuff and go back to playing with that right mix of jerky play and high-end hockey skill the Canucks will be better off for it.

5. Ready for a fun coincidence? Before Game 3 the Bruins had Cam Neely start things off as the honorary captain to get the fans all worked up into a lather before the game started. The Bruins did right by #8 by scoring eight goals on Vancouver. Before Game 4 it was all about #4 Bobby Orr as he was the honorary captain of the night. The Bruins then shut down Vancouver by scoring four goals in beating the Canucks. Eight goals for #8 and four goals for #4.

I wonder if the Bruins want to test fate and get Raymond Bourque to do the honors before Game 6. Scoring seven or 77 goals (both numbers worn by Bourque as a Bruin) would be something else. They could just try to nail down the seven by getting both Bourque and Phil Esposito to do the honors as Esposito’s #7 is retired by Boston while Bourque’s #77 also hangs from the rafters.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins meet Rangers on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Penguins are coming off a 3-2 (SO) win on Saturday – a game they trailed 2-0 midway through the second period. It was their third straight game rallying from a multi-goal deficit. Despite earning the win against Chicago, Sidney Crosby left in the third period with a lower-body injury. He has been ruled out for this game, and his status beyond that is unknown.

Pittsburgh enters this game on a massive power play drought. They have not scored a power play goal in their previous 11 games, going 0-for-25 in that span. The total drought actually extends to the game prior to that, when they failed on their final attempt, so the Pens are 0-for-their-last-26 overall.

Rangers No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad has missed the last six games with an upper-body injury, suffered on Oct. 27 on a hit from Patrice Bergeron. Zibanejad will reportedly not travel with the team to Florida, meaning he is out for at least the next three games. He was leading the team with 11 points in nine games prior to his departure from the lineup.

After alternating starts at the beginning of the season, the Rangers have spent the past few weeks giving chunks of consecutive starts to each of their netminders. Alex Georgiev will get the start in this game – his seventh of the season – after Henrik Lundqvist started the previous three.

[COVERAGE OF PENGUINS-RANGERS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers
WHERE: Madison Square Garden
WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 12, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Penguins-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PENGUINS
Alex GalchenyukJared McCannJake Guentzel
Dominik SimonEvgeni MalkinBryan Rust
Dominik KahunNick BjugstadSam Lafferty
Zach Aston-ReeseTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev

Brian DumoulinJohn Marino
Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz
Jack JohnsonJuuso Riikola

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

RANGERS
Artemi PanarinRyan StromeJesper Fast
Chris Kreider – Filip Chytil – Pavel Buchnevich
Brendan LemieuxBrett HowdenKaapo Kakko
Greg McKeggLias AnderssonBrendan Smith

Libor HajekJacob Trouba
Brady SkjeiTony DeAngelo
Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

MORE: Crosby out vs. Rangers, injury still being evaluated

Brendan Burke and Joe Micheletti will call the Penguins-Rangers showdown from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Paul Burmeister will anchor studio coverage with analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp.

Stars coach apologizes to Seguin, Benn for post-game comments

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After the Dallas Stars were on the losing end of a 3-2 overtime decision against the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, coach Jim Montgomery expressed some frustration with the current lack of production of his top players, and even though he never mentioned Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn by name it was pretty obvious which players he was talking about.

It was the second year in a row (around the same point in the season) the Stars’ top-two forwards were the focal points of internal criticism, facing even more scathing criticism from team CEO Jim Lites this past December.

On Tuesday, Montgomery said he apologized to the team and the individual players for what he described as an emotional mistake, while also adding, “We win as a team and we lose as a team.”

That comes via Mike Heika of the Stars’ website.

Following the game on Sunday Montgomery said he was “disappointed” in the production of the team’s top players, and was dismissive when asked if he had seen any signs of progress.

He later added, “They’ve got to decide that they want to be a difference maker.”

Seguin and Benn did not seem bothered by the criticism and acknowledged on Tuesday that they need to produce more. They have combined for just four goals so far this season, though Seguin is still producing some assists and is tied for the team lead in scoring.

Even so, it is always noteworthy when a coach singles out individual players following a loss, especially when it is the team’s best players. Even with the lack of goal-scoring from the Stars’ big-two, they have still won seven of their past nine games and collected 15 out of a possible 18 points in those games to start building some momentum following a disappointing start. A lot of the improvement has been due to their goaltending and some depth players stepping up and producing.

Related: Seguin, Benn facing more internal criticism

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.

Why Flyers fans have reason for optimism

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I’ve been on the fence about what to think of this Philadelphia Flyers team going all the way back to the offseason. There is reason to be encouraged by their roster, and there is at the same time every reason to have serious concerns about their roster.

Even now, with the team rapidly climbing the standings with eight wins in the past 11 games (including five in a row, and points in six in a row) those same feelings of confusion still exist. They are winning and collecting points — against very good teams! — but they are doing it while being completely dependent on overtime and shootouts.

Just as is the case with the St. Louis Blues and their recent hot streak (read about that here), there is an element of good fortune and luck to that sort of winning. You can’t keep relying on overtime and shootouts over an 82-game season if you want to be a playoff team and become a contender. But here’s the positive sign for the Flyers — from a big picture standpoint this season they are still exhibiting some signs that they might have some staying power. They might be a little lucky right now when it comes to their OT and shootout success, but there is also still reason to believe they have been a little unlucky to this point in pretty much every other area. At 5-on-5 play the Flyers have been one of the top-10 teams in a lot of key areas.

• Shot attempt share: 6th in NHL
• Expected goals share: 10th in NHL
• Scoring chance share: 5th in NHL
• High-danger scoring chance share: 9th in NHL

To be in the top-10 in all of those categories nearly a quarter of the way through the season is a pretty good sign and something a team can definitely build on. If a team is able to stay there, it is probably going to be a team one is a serious contender, especially if it gets even somewhat competent goaltending on top of it.

What should be encouraging for Flyers fans is they have played well this season, they have already collected a lot of points (they have the sixth best points percentage in the NHL), and you can make the argument that their four most important players — Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and goalie Carter Hart — have probably underperformed to this point, at least relative to their expectations and previous track records.

The three forwards (Giroux, Voracek, and Couturier) are the most intriguing because all three have excellent underlying numbers and shot rates (especially Giroux and Couturier) but have not yet had it translate to the point totals we usually see from them. Giroux and Couturier have been especially dominant when it comes to driving possession, while both have seen increases in their individual shot rates. There is every reason to believe they have more to offer and that their production can — and should — increase.

Hart remains the key to this team, and he always has been. He is the latest goalie in a long line of goalies that was supposed to offer a real long-term solution to a consistently cursed position, and after an outstanding rookie season expectations were sky-high for him entering this year. But he did not get off to a great start (an .864 save percentage in October), and that more than anything contributed to the Flyers’ early losing. Since the calendar has rolled over to November, however, he has started to play like the goalie the Flyers hoped he could be. He has a chance to be a franchise-shifting player simply because of the position he plays and the importance it carries.

No one would blame you if you are still skeptical of this team.

The offseason moves were, in a word, strange, and the organization as a whole has settled into a state of consistent mediocrity over the better part of the past decade. They have also been burned by a revolving door of goalies that were supposed to solidify the position only to fail spectacularly in their own special ways.

But there is at least some kind of hope that this team might be able to be something decent this season based on what we have seen from them so far. If they can keep controlling play the way have over the first month-and-a-half, combined with Hart getting himself comfortable in net, there might be something to actually build on here.

Coverage of the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Flyers and Capitals begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

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.

How Blues have kept winning without Tarasenko

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When we last checked in with the St. Louis Blues a few weeks ago the defending champs were off to a sluggishly inconsistent start and then got the one piece of news they absolutely did not need — Vladimir Tarasenko, their most impactful player and biggest star, was going to be sidelined for the next five months. It was a disappointing start to their title defense, and it seemed like it could have at least had the potential to put them in another early hole in the Western Conference they would have to dig out of.

Instead, the opposite has happened. They enter Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes riding a seven-game winning streak and have climbed back to the top of the West standings, owning what is by far the best points percentage (.750) in the conference.

Considering the injury situation it is an impressive run and quick turnaround. How have they managed to stay so hot, and can they keep it rolling? It is a nice run of success, but there are definitely some red flags that come along with it.

The power play and overtime domination has carried the offense

Two things stand out about the Blues’ current winning streak. The first is that five of those wins have come in overtime, with two of those overtime goals being scored on power play opportunities.

Somewhat related to that is the fact the power play itself is clicking at a 29.6% rate over the past eight games, the second best success rate in the NHL during that stretch. All of that is making up for the fact that the Blues have scored just 12 goals during 5-on-5 play and have one of the worst scoring rates in the league at even-strength (more on this below).

This should be a concern because you can only rely on your power play to carry you for so long, and you’re not always going to get that sort of opportunity in overtime. Overtime itself can be a huge coin flip due to the unpredictable nature of the 3-on-3 situation. Sometimes you will get the bear, and sometimes the bear will get you (this five-game OT winning streak came after losing three OT/SO games in a row earlier in the year).

Jordan Binnington has gone on a roll

This is probably the biggest part of the Blues’ recent run. Binnington has won each of his past five starts and has a .930 save percentage in the six games since Tarasenko went out of the lineup. He was one of the players off to a slow start at the beginning of the year and his recent turnaround has resulted in him putting the team on his back and carrying it.

(We should also acknowledge that Jake Allen has also contributed, winning two games during the winning streak with a very respectable .914 save percentage).

Binnington’s play has been so important because the Blues are not controlling shot attempts and scoring chances like they did a year ago. Even during this recent winning streak (since Oct. 25) the Blues are among the worst teams in total shot attempt differential (28th), scoring chance differential (28th), high-danger scoring chance differential (30th), and expected goal differential (30th). It is a small sampling, yes, but it is also a dramatic fall from where they were a year ago after the coaching change when they were one of the best teams in all of those categories. (All via Natural Stat Trick)

Something to keep in mind: Even though their defensive play isn’t quite as good as it was in the second half and in the playoffs, a lot of their struggles in these differentials have to do with what they are not creating offensively as opposed to what they are giving up. Across the board they have been the worst 5-on-5 team in the league when it comes to generating shots, chances, high-danger chances, and yes, even goals. This is an example of where they are really missing an impact player like Tarasenko, and it really puts a ton of pressure on the goalies to have no margin for error because one or two goals could be too much to overcome.

The results are good, the process is concerning

This is really what it comes down to.

The Blues are winning games right now, yes, but the process behind those wins is concerning when it comes to their long-term outlook. These points they have collected over the past two weeks are important, and they have definitely built themselves a nice cushion in the playoff race, but if they keep playing this way the wins may not be as frequent as they currently are.

At times last year the Blues looked like a team that was doing everything right with the way it played and just needed to fix its goaltending  to get on the right track. They do not have that same feel right now.

If they want to keep getting the same results this year something is going to have to change in their process to generate more offense at even-strength, and that might require a trade to help replace what they are missing with Tarasenko.

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.