West update: Stars move ahead of Coyotes in wild card race

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With the East impacts out of the way – long story short, the night was good for the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers and lousy for the Washington Capitals – it’s time to consider the West now that Tuesday’s late games are over.

  • It already seemed like the final wild card spot will come down to the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes, but Tuesday made it that much clearer. So far, it’s been a seesaw battle, with the Stars taking the final West wild card spot after pummeling the Capitals while the Coyotes fell to the desperate Winnipeg Jets 2-1 via a shootout. Both teams are tied at 85 standings points, but Dallas has a game in hand and tiebreaker advantages such as wins (37-36) and regulation/OT wins (34-30).
  • A 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers either dooms the Vancouver Canucks chances of catching the Stars and Coyotes or puts them in a mode where they’d probably need to win every game and get some help.
  • Again, the Jets won, so they staved off elimination for at least one more night. They’re one point behind Vancouver, so Winnipeg’s odds are even longer.
  • The San Jose Sharks gave up a 3-1 lead, fell behind 4-3 to the Edmonton Oilers and then rode two third-period goals to win 5-4 on Tuesday. They are within one point of the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division lead, although Anaheim also holds two more games in hand. If nothing else, San Jose is that much closer to at least clinching a round of home-ice advantage.

Here’s a look at how the West standings shake out after Tuesday’s action:

source:

Top pick Dahlin’s been strong for Sabres, who should unleash him

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Conventional wisdom argues that a slow approach might be a wise one with Rasmus Dahlin.

Consider that the top pick of the 2018 NHL Draft is just 18, and won’t turn 19 until April. Dahlin isn’t just adjusting to life in the NHL; the slick Swede also must deal with being in a new country, with all the culture shocks and different ice surface headaches that come with that.

So, yes, on paper, it makes sense that the Buffalo Sabres are handing Dahlin a solid-but-unspectacular ice time average of 18:07 per game.

That said, this is a young man’s game, and Phil Housley would be wise to wonder if we’re soon approaching the time when he should really extend Dahlin’s leash.

For one thing, more NHL teams are just letting their youngest, most talented players loose, and are reaping some nice rewards. The Senators could have spun their wheels with porous defensemen because experience; instead Thomas Chabot has been fantastic, helping the team avoid total embarassment. The Stars have acknowledged the writing on the wall – not to mention John Klingberg‘s injury – by handing big minutes to 19-year-old Miro Heiskanen. For all of the Blackhawks’ missteps, rolling with
Henri Jokiharju (also 19) has been both bold and shrewd.

Those teams are leaning on young defensemen in bigger roles for two reasons: 1) they’re really good and 2) those guys are just about unanimously better options than other blueliners on their flawed rosters.

Such logic could absolutely apply to Dahlin and the Sabres.

[Watch Dahlin and the Sabres vs. Lightning live: 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

To start, Dahlin’s been strong.

OK, you won’t be blown away by Dahlin’s offense. So far, he’s generated his first NHL goal and six assists for seven points in 17 games, not quite a point every other night. If that’s your only measure for a blueliner, Dahlin falls into “acceptable shoulder shrug” territory.

For a player who’s brand new and fresh from the draft, Dahlin’s deeper numbers are quite impressive, however. As you can see from places like Hockey Reference, Dahlin’s possession numbers are impressive, whether you look at the stats without context or if you consider them relative to his Sabres teammates.

While Dahlin’s getting more offensive zone starts (51.7-percent versus 48.3-percent), it’s not like he’s getting babied like Mikhail Sergachev was by the Lightning last season. That’s a pretty even workload.

There’s a solid chance that, while Dahlin is enjoying decent power play reps (2:36 per game), he might be worthy of more opportunities there. Housley might at least want to experiment with Dahlin on the penalty kill more often as the season goes along, as Dahlin’s logging just seven seconds per night shorthanded.

His smarts, skating, and skills could be quite useful in … just about every situation, particularly when you consider the alternatives.

Stop trying to make Rasmus Ristolainen, workhorse No. 1 defenseman, happen

One of the hopeful side effects of landing Dahlin was that, ideally, Ristolainen would slot into a more comfortable spot. By more comfortable spot, people mean “not as the guy far and away the most ice time on your team.” Instead, he’s averaging 25:15 per night, more than five minutes above any other Sabres skater.

If you’ve followed Ristolainen’s career, you know that his possession stats have been bad, and often slipped to “full-on disaster” territory. That’s continued by just about every metric this season.

Ristolainen hasn’t really been a spectacular scorer considering his opportunities, and it’s plausible that Dahlin may already be a slightly more useful asset on the power play.

But it’s in the other areas where the Sabres should think long and hard about taking opportunities/burdens away from Ristolainen and giving them to Dahlin and perhaps others. Maybe it would sting to see Ristolainen transition into being an offensive specialist and second-pairing defenseman at $5.4 million, but sometimes winning means acknowledging reality, even if it’s painful.

[Extended preview for Tuesday’s game]

Others aren’t knocking down the door

This isn’t just about Ristolainen.

Zach Bogosian (19:53 per game) isn’t at the point in his career where he’s likely to be worth trotting out for two more minutes per contest than Dahlin, and his shaky numbers bolster that thought. Jake McCabe (18:54 TOI average) has been solid enough at times, but I’m not so sure I’d trot him out more often than Dahlin, even at this early point. Maybe you’d want Marco Scandella (19:44) to absorb some of the tougher assignments merely to protect Dahlin’s confidence, but the Swede’s possession stats are vastly superior to the four other defensemen mentioned in this post.

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It’s not like giving Dahlin more opportunities would be a mistake Housley couldn’t walk back.

Dahlin likely deserves more ice time in all three scenarios, but particularly at even-strength and on the power play. Instead, Left Wing Lock lists him on Buffalo’s third pairing and second PP unit.

On the bright side, Dahlin seems like he’s acing his early tests as the top pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, even if his work has been more subtle, rather than providing eye-popping early stats. He’s not inspiring ridiculous comparisons yet, like fellow Swede Elias Pettersson.

The thing is, Dahlin might be capable of much more, despite being wet-behind-the-ears. The Sabres would be wise to find out what he can handle, as moving Dahlin up the chain could make a big difference in moving up the ladder as a team.

At minimum, they might need to realize that he’s already the superior Rasmus.

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.

Looks like Bobrovsky is back to being Bob

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Whether it came from the mental strain of being in a contract year or can be boiled down to the highs and lows of modern goaltending, the bottom line was that Sergei Bobrovsky wasn’t himself to start this season.

Through his first six appearances of 2018-19, Bobrovsky allowed eight goals once, four goals in another game, three on three occasions, and two in another contest. For a goalie who’s been all-world during the regular season for some time now, it’s not too surprising that John Tortorella felt that Bob wasn’t being Bob.

Well, what about Bob now?

After Monday’s tight 2-1 win against the Dallas Stars, Bobrovsky’s done an about-face in his past six games. He’s kept opponents to a single goal in five of those six contests, including three games in a row.

A hot goalie can often make the difference between wins and losses, such as when Bob stopped Jason Spezza point-blank to preserve Monday’s regulation victory:

Torts and others have noticed that Bobrovsky has been spot-on, including in that win against Dallas.

“He was really good tonight,” Tortorella said, via the AP. “They had some point-blank chances on some of our breakdowns, and he looked in control.”

Maybe it all turned around on Nov. 1, when Bobrovsky only allowed one Sharks goal despite facing a barrage of 45 shots.

Whatever the case may be, this is a fantastic sign both for the team and the goalie. If it wasn’t already obvious that the Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky to get that extra edge most nights, note that seemingly promising backup Joonas Korpisalo has really struggled so far this season, managing a lousy .875 save percentage over seven games.

A keyed-in Bobrovsky could cost the Blue Jackets that much more money if the two sides agree to a contract behind this season, but when you consider the potential pitfalls of him walking away or being traded, maybe that’s a good problem to have?

After all, it sounds like they won’t have that same say with Artemi Panarin.

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.

Tom Wilson’s suspension reduced to 14 games, can return immediately

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Tom Wilson is back.

A neutral arbitrator has ruled that Wilson’s suspension — originally a 20-game ban for his latest hit to the head of an opponent — has been reduced to 14 games and that he is immediately eligible return to the Washington Capitals’ lineup.

The Capitals are in Minnesota on Tuesday night to play the Wild, and it is expected that Wilson will be in the lineup.

Since Wilson has already served 16 games of the original suspension due to the length of the appeals process, he will get back two games worth of salary — just a little more than $378,000.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety initially suspended Wilson 20 games for a preseason hit on St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. It wasn’t the hit itself that was worth 20 games, but the fact that it was the fourth time in less than a calendar year he had been suspended for such a play, something the DoPS argued was an unprecedented run of discipline.

Wilson initially appealed the ruling to the NHL, but it was upheld by commissioner Gary Bettman.

At that point Wilson was eligible to appeal to a neutral arbitrator.

[Related: Wilson suspended for 20 games]

That neutral arbitrator — Shyam Das — is the same one that reduced the 27-game suspension for Nashville Predators forward Auston Watson after he pleaded no contest to domestic assault charges during the offseason. Das reduced that suspension to 18 games.

Das was was previously a neutral arbitrator for Major League Baseball but was fired by the league in 2012 after overturning Ryan Braun’s suspension.

In this case Das ruled that Wilson violated Rule 48 and illegally hit Sundqvist in the head, but he did not support the Department’s reasoning for a 20-game suspension. In reaching his conclusion for 14 games, Das took Wilson’s previous suspension (a three-game playoff ban for a hit to the head of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese) and doubled it to six games because it was a playoff suspension (one playoff game is considered two regular season games in the eyes of the league), then doubled the six games because of Wilson’s status as a repeat offender. He then added two games to account for Sundqvist’s injury.

Parros and the NHL’s DoPS had tripled the value of his postseason suspension to arrive at the original 20-game ban.

Wilson’s run of supplemental discipline started last preseason when he was given a two-game suspension (both preseason games) for a hit to the head of Blues forward Robert Thomas.

In his first game back from that suspension (another preseason game against the Blues) he earned a four-game regular season suspension for boarding Samuel Blias.

His third suspension, the three-game playoff game, came 87 games after the Blias suspension.

He played in only 15 games before the hit on Sundqvist.

Overall, it is four suspensions for Wilson in a span of 105 games played, and that does not include several borderline hits in the playoffs (Alexander Wennberg, Brian Dumoulin, and Jonathan Marchessault) that received additional scrutiny but ultimately did not rise to the level of league discipline.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Seattle group remains confident arena will be ready for 2020

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SEATTLE (AP) — The potential owners of an NHL expansion franchise in Seattle remain confident arena renovations will be completed in time for the 2020-21 season.

NHL Seattle said Monday that ownership recognizes the ability to start play in 2020 is dependent on KeyArena renovations being finished on time. The group says it will work closely with the NHL to keep the league informed of progress.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told reporters in Toronto that he expects the Board of Governors to decide on Seattle expansion during a meeting in Sea Island, Georgia, on Dec. 3-4. But Daly said he’d heard the arena was targeted for completion in November 2020, which would be too late because the league does not have interest in the team beginning play at an alternate rink.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports