Kings take Pacific Division lead on busy night in West

3 Comments

If you want an illustration of the significant parity and “What have you done for me lately?” atmosphere in the NHL, take a look at the Dallas Stars’ Thursday night. With one regulation loss (2-1 to the Vancouver Canucks) and plenty of activity throughout the West, the Stars didn’t just lose their Pacific Division lead and the third seed that goes with it – they tumbled all the way to eighth place.

To keep things tidy, here’s an update of the West’s bubble and Pacific Division races, in order of where the teams are in the standings right now:

Kings edge Blues 1-0 in shootout, take Pacific lead

Point to the Jeff Carter trade, hiring Darryl Sutter or any number of other developments if you’d like, but the bottom line is that the Los Angeles Kings are red-hot. They won their sixth game in a row in the exact way you’d sardonically expect against the St. Louis Blues. The two punch-less/defensively savvy teams (depending upon how you look at it) enjoyed dual shutouts – Jonathan Quick made 35 saves while Brian Elliott stopped all 37 shots – before the Kings won it in the skills competition.

GM Dean Lombardi might smile, as Carter and Mike Richards scored the SO goals, overwhelming T.J. Oshie’s single triumph for St. Louis.

(4. Detroit – idle; 5. Nashvillelost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1; 6. Chicago idle)

Coyotes curb Colorado

By no means can the Kings relax on the Pacific throne because the Coyotes have the same amount of standings points (86) thanks to a 3-2 regulation win against the Colorado Avalanche – who are now in 10th place. (Chalk that up as about the only bit of comforting news for Dallas.)

The Kings hold a game in hand advantage but that’s it – for now – as both Los Angeles and Phoenix have the same amount of wins (37) and regulation/OT wins (31).

Phoenix took a 3-0 lead and nearly coughed it up as the Avalanche scored two third period goals but Mike Smith earned the 100th win of his career. (Something tells me the next 100 won’t take nearly as long if he stays under Dave Tippett’s watch.)

Falling Stars, melting Avs

This leads me to Dallas, who gave the Canucks a solid fight but still lost 2-1. Henrik Sedin was a big difference even with his brother Daniel on the mend, assisting on both Vancouver goals while Corey Schneider stopped 25 out of 26 shots.

The good news for the Stars is that while they slipped to eighth place, the Avalanche are actually less of a threat than it seems. Both teams have 85 points but Dallas has two more games in hand. Unfortunately, the 10th place team is more of a threat …

Sharks slip by Bruins

Obviously, things have been bad for the San Jose Sharks lately. And, yes, the Boston Bruins aren’t the powerhouse they were a couple months ago.

Still, collecting a 2-1 win against the defending champions in regulation is heartening. Joe Pavelski scored a goal assisted by Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau while Daniel Winnik scored his first San Jose goal.

11. Calgary Flames gain a charity point while Brent Sutter puts a trash can on the IR.

OK, with that all out of the way, here’s how the standings look:

(3) Los Angeles – 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, eight games left

7. Phoenix – 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, seven games left
8. Dallas – 85 points, 33 regulation/OT wins, eight games left

9. Colorado – 85 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, six games left
10. San Jose – 84 points, 30 regulation/OT wins, eight games left
11. Calgary – 83 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, seven games left

Overall, it looks like the Pacific will produce three playoff teams – the division winner and perhaps the seventh and eighth seeds. What do you think, though?

The Buzzer: Gallagher’s dagger

Leave a comment

Three Stars:

1. John Carlson

Alex Ovechkin scored two goals in Washington’s overtime win, but we have to dock him some imaginary three star points for collecting both tallies from his “office” on the power play. Besides, Carlsson generated more points in the Capitals’ 4-3 overtime win, generating a goal and two assists. He also fired five shots on goal and logged a hearty 26:02 time on ice.

(Neal Pionk ranked as a strong honorable mention for the Rangers, offering up three assists and four blocked shots.)

2. Michael Frolik

Frolik heralded the reunion of “The 3M Line” with a difference-making performance, scoring two early goals in Calgary’s victory against Boston. The defensively responsible forward came very close to collecting a hat trick, sending a shorthanded breakaway attempt just a little too high against Tuukka Rask.

He ended up with a +3 rating, three shots on goal, and even won his two draws.

3. John Gibson

You could easily give the third star to Ryan Kesler, who turned back the clock to score two goals (and was Frolik-close to nabbing a hat trick while barely missing an empty net from way downtown).

Gibson’s been the motor for the Ducks’ defiantly strong start to 2018-19 season, though, and the fantastic goalie fell just 34 seconds short of a shutout, stopping 34 out of 35 shots. The American-born netminder is now on a four-game winning streak.

Highlights of the Night:

OK, it’s probably the lowlight of the night, as Colton Parayko caught up an absolutely brutal turnover in the closing moments of regulation, opening the door for Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher to combine for a stunning Habs game-winner, as you can see in these highlights:

Yeesh.

Patrice Bergeron can do it all.

Factoids

Alex Ovechkin scored two goals from his “office” on the power play, and while not every multi-goal night has been as easy as that looked, it certainly comes easier to Ovechkin than anyone else:

Johnny Gaudreau hit a nice milestone by scoring his 100th goal in his 318th NHL game. He’s not far from hitting 200 assists, either.

Scores

Capitals 4, Rangers 3 (OT)
Canadiens 3, Blues 2
Flames 5, Bruins 2
Ducks 4, Islanders 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Flames extinguish Bruins’ hot streak

Leave a comment

For a while there, it looked like the Boston Bruins were going to being 2018-19 with a “feast or famine” approach. Would they exchange blowout losses and impressive winning streaks?

Instead, the Bruins got back into Wednesday’s game after the Flames stormed to a 3-0 lead in the first period, but Calgary ultimately prevailed 5-2.

To start things off, the Flames enjoyed some sensational work from Michael Frolik, who celebrated the reunion of “The 3M Line” with two early goals. Frolik nearly netted at hat trick during a stretch where the Flames generated two semi-breakaways on the penalty kill, but he settled for the sort of night that should make another healthy scratch unlikely.

Frolik’s face was almost as entertaining as the tic-tac-toe goal that inspired it:

There were stretches where the Bruins seemed like they might do more than save face.

Most notably, the Bruins began the third period with a healthy 5-on-3 opportunity, yet Boston failed to even register a shot on goal. (To be fair, David Pastrnak found the post, but it was still a weak showing considering the Bruins’ firepower.)

While it was a night Tuukka Rask would like to forget, the veteran goalie deserves some credit for gathering hits wits after a tough first period. One of his better bounce-back moments came when he denied Johnny Gaudreau‘s attempt to score his 101st NHL goal (he scored number 100 during a first-period flurry), a save that preceded a vicious hit by Charlie McAvoy:

Generally speaking, the two teams’ impressive top lines delivered in this one.

Gaudreau hit that 100-goal milestone, and while the Bruins roughed him up quite a bit (even beyond that McAvoy hit), created a lot of chances as usual. Patrice Bergeron scored a sweet goal and an assist, Brad Marchand found the net, and Pastrnak collected a helper to go with a disallowed tally from the first period.

The Flames’ struggles have been confounding, at times, because they’ve fallen short quite often even though they combine Gaudreau-Sean Monahan with that “3M Line” of Frolik, Mikael Backlund, and Matthew Tkachuk. In this case, that second line made the difference.

Thanks to this result, Calgary’s won four of its last five games, while Boston’s four-game winning streak comes to an end.

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.

Day at Ovechkin’s office: Capitals edge Rangers in OT

Leave a comment

The Washington Capitals outlasted the New York Rangers in what was largely a game of inches and lethal power-play units.

Matt Niskanen ultimately notched the difference-maker in Washington’s 4-3 overtime win as the Capitals ended a losing streak at two games. The rebuilding Rangers provided a pretty spirited showing, holding their own as the Capitals generated a modest 38-32 shots on goal advantage.

Here’s that Niskanen game-winner:

Each power-play unit went 2-for-4 on Wednesday, with the Capitals taking advantage of the “Death and Taxes” certainty of Alex Ovechkin scoring from “his office.” Both of Ovechkin’s power-play goals came from almost the exact same spot, with the main difference being that the second one caught Henrik Lundqvist a bit more by surprise (in part because he shot low).

John Carlson ranked as one of the Capitals’ standout performers in this win, generating one goal and two assists.

The Rangers enjoyed strong nights from their own first line, as both Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider authored one-goal, one-assist performances while creating plenty of other chances. (Jesper Fast was also busy, although he failed to generate any points.)

Circling back to that “game of inches” point, consider that Washington barely avoided a goal, as Christian Djoos saved the day early on:

While Ovechkin was close to nabbing yet another hat trick:

The Rangers and Capitals approach the 2018-19 season with very different expectations, yet each team saw their veteran goalies manage some nice stops, enjoyed strong nights from their top guns, and generally put on a nice show on NBCSN.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Will NHL reduce Tom Wilson’s 20-game suspension?

Leave a comment

Tom Wilson will get a chance to state his case to reduce his 20-game suspension via an appeal hearing with the NHL on Thursday, a process Bob McKenzie discusses in the video above this post’s headline.

To catch you up to speed, note that this is part of the appeal process where Wilson brings his case to Gary Bettman. After that, Wilson also has the option to bring his case to an independent arbitrator.

Wednesday’s New York Rangers – Washington Capitals game represents the sixth of 20 games. Note that Wilson loses more than $60K for every game he’s suspended for, so a reduction in his sentence could mean a lot of dough for the polarizing hitter.

What are his chances of getting a lighter punishment, then? As McKenzie notes, they aren’t great, particularly when it comes to Bettman cutting down a suspension.

That said, there are two cases worth noting:

  • Raffi Torres’ hit on Marian HossaIn July 2012, Wilson-like hitter Torres saw a 25-game suspension fall to 21 games for his check on Marian Hossa. This is probably the most directly comparable situation, at least when you consider the types of hits and the rap sheet for the players involved.
  • In June 2014, Dan Carcillo saw an “abuse of official” suspension reduced from 10 games to six.

Now, a neutral arbitrator might be more likely to ease the duration of Wilson’s suspension. Consider these two cases, which aren’t necessarily directly comparable:

All things considered, it’s easy to see why Wilson would go through this process. It’s quite plausible that he’ll get back into the lineup sooner and lose less money from the suspension, even if it’s not fair to call the possibility “likely.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.