Get your game notes: Wild at Avalanche

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Tonight on CNBC, it’s the Colorado Avalanche hosting the Minnesota Wild starting at 9:30 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

• First-year head coach Patrick Roy led the Avalanche to their first postseason berth since the 2009-10 season, when they lost in the first round to the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks. They will be meeting the Wild in the playoffs for the third time (each club won once in the Western Conference Quarterfinals – Minnesota in 2003, Colorado in 2008). The 19-year NHL career of Roy – the all-time postseason leader in wins (151) and losses (94) – ended with a Game 7 OT loss to the Wild in 2003.

• The Avalanche jumped from 29th in the NHL standings (39 pts., .406 points %) in 2012-13 to third overall (112 pts., .683) in 2013-14, becoming the first club since the league expanded to 21 teams in 1979 to go from the bottom three to top three in a single season. The Avs matched a franchise record with 52 wins, established in 2000-01, when they won their second of two Stanley Cups (1995-96).

• Avs goaltender Semyon Varlamov set a franchise single-season record with an NHL-high 41 victories, surpassing coach Patrick Roy’s previous high of 40 set in 2000-01. Varlamov went from leading the league in losses (21 in 2012-13) to leading the league in wins in one season. Tonight, he will be making his Colorado postseason debut. He posted a 10-9 record with Washington in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

• This season, Minnesota center Mikko Koivu became the franchise career leader in points (451). Over his nine-year NHL career, the Wild captain has 19 goals and 43 points vs. Colorado (regular season and postseason), both personal highs vs. any team. In the 2008 Western Conference series vs. the Avs, he scored a goal in each of the first four games. Since then, however, he has gone without a point in his last seven playoff games (two vs. Colorado, both losses, and five last season vs. Chicago.)

• Avalanche winger Nathan MacKinnon, who led all NHL rookies in goals (24, tied with Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson), assists (39) and points (63), is the prohibitive favorite to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie when awards are handed out at the Stanley Cup Final. The last time the team of the eventual Rookie of the Year won a round in that year’s playoffs was in the 1999-2000 season when Scott Gomez won the individual award and his New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup.

• Five different Wild goaltenders picked up wins this season: Josh Harding (18), Darcy Kuemper (12), Ilya Bryzgalov (7), Niklas Backstrom (5) and John Curry (1). The last time a playoff-bound team had five goalies with at least one win during the regular season was the 2008-09 Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus was swept in four games in the first round by the eventual champion Detroit. Elias Sports Bureau

• The Wild’s season leader in goals (30) and points (60), Jason Pominville became only the third player in franchise history to reach the 30-goal mark, joining Marian Gaborik (five times) and Brian Rolston (three). The Wild were 15-8-4 when Pominville scored a goal this season, but only 6-6-0 on the road.

• Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, the first overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, will be making his NHL postseason debut tonight. Johnson, who had 39 points (nine goals, 30 assists) in his sixth season, entered the playoffs with 409 regular-season games under his belt, the second-most among all players appearing in their first playoff games this season (Blake Comeau, Columbus – 423 games).

 

Surging Vrana might be capable of even bigger things for Capitals

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

From Alex Ovechkin for Washington to Artemi Panarin for New York, you’ll see plenty of firepower during Wednesday Night Hockey’s bout between the Capitals and Rangers. Even with Nicklas Backstrom sidelined for the game, I’m here to argue that you still might not see enough of one potential rising star: Jakub Vrana.

When you give Vrana’s 2019-20 stats a quick glance, they’re already impressive.

Not only does Vrana already have 10 goals scored in 23 games, but all 10 of them have come at even-strength, tying him for third in the NHL in that category alongside players like Auston Matthews, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vrana’s former Capitals teammate Andre Burakovsky. His eight assists rounds out his numbers to 18 points in 23 games; over an 82-game pace, Vrana would author 37-goal, 66-point season.

While he’s been riding some hot puck luck since 2018-19 with a 15.1 shooting percentage, the overwhelming message one gets from diving deeper into Vrana’s stats is that the Capitals should strongly consider finding more ways to get him on the ice.

[COVERAGE OF RANGERS-CAPITALS BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Despite Vrana’s 18 points in 23 games, he’s only averaging 14:15 TOI per game, which is a career-high and slight uptick from last season’s average of 14:02. Beyond getting some bounces, Vrana’s breakthrough in simple counting stats can probably be chalked up to an increasingly itchy trigger finger. After peaking with 1.96 shots on goal per game last season, Vrana’s getting almost one extra puck on net per evening, averaging 2.78 SOG per game (64 SOG in 23 GP).

It’s unclear if you can derive that from playing a more confident game, getting decent reps with a tremendous playmaker like Evgeny Kuznetsov, or if perhaps someone in the Capitals organization gave Vrana a directive to shoot more. Either way, it’s working out quite nicely, as he’s a significant part of the Capitals’ early work as the NHL’s most dangerous offense at even-strength.

Again, though, I must ask for more.

Just about every number seems to point a neon flashing arrow at “More Vrana.” His heat map at Micah Blake McCurdy’s Hockey Viz is, well, almost off the charts:

Wow.

Admittedly, it would be tough for Vrana to crack the Capitals’ top power play unit, and he’s getting some reps on the second unit (1:35 per game), but his all-around game makes me wonder if more PK work would be warranted.

It’s not as though Vrana is getting totally buried in the Capitals’ lineup, yet with Washington in a strong position (few teams enjoy the luxury of “Can we win the division again?” being one of their burning questions in November), I’d be tempted to see if Vrana would thrive in an even larger role.

And, hey, if all of that is boring … the skill is pretty obvious, too. Not everyone can pull off a Datsyukian shootout move, right?

Just saying.

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.

My Favorite Goal: Malik’s stunning shootout winner vs. Capitals

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Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers and personalities remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, Scott Charles remembers Marek Malik’s wild shootout-winning deke against the Capitals in 2005.

14 years ago, the shootout was still a new phenomenon in its first year of existence.

The NHL implemented the game-deciding method after a lockout to add a unique level of excitement and create a stand-alone moment within the game for players to showcase their individual skills. Fans have seen plenty of breakaway attempts and penalty shots throughout the years, but the concept of a singular moment with the game on the line created a buzz.

Many NHL stars struggled to adapt to the one-on-one event while several unknown players became heroes overnight.

Marek Malik of the New York Rangers used his opportunity to cement his legacy in the organization’s history.

Rangers coach Tom Renney elected to send Malik over the boards in the 15th round on November 26, 2005 when New York squared off against the Washington Capitals.

Renney had few options at the time because shooters are not allowed to shoot twice unlike international competitions. But when the six-foot six-inch offensively challenged defenseman took the ice, a moment about to be etched into NHL history.

The big fellow skated to the right, majestically slid the puck between his legs and released a wrist shot that sent Madison Square Garden into a frenzy for the second time that day!

“I was expecting to see a shot,” Renney remembered. “I certainly was not expecting, as was no one else in the building expecting to see what he did. It was completely out there and maybe that was the right approach. Maybe Malik was having just enough fun watching all of this as I think we all did. It kind of didn’t matter so go try something. He did and it worked.”

The Rangers and the NBA’s Knicks often play the same day at MSG, but on this Saturday both teams left the venue with thrilling victories. Nate Robinson drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer to propel the Knicks to an overtime win against the Philadelphia 76ers prior to Malik’s beauty.

Malik had the chance to become a fan favorite because Jason Strudwick answered the bell in the round prior.

Bryan Muir of the Capitals scored and Renney had to make a very difficult decision; he needed to find someone to respond. The three remaining players who hadn’t shot yet were Strudwick, Darius Kasparaitis and Malik.

“He (Kasparaitis) kept looking at me every time I looked toward that end of the bench,” Renney said. “I was doing everything I could to not make eye contact with him. Kasparaitis was doing everything he could to make eye contact with me and Strudwick was doing everything he could to not make eye contact with me. There was a certain irony in all of that.”

Even though Strudwick lacked confidence Renney selected him anyway.

“I was thinking there was no way I was going to score,” Strudwick said while chuckling. “I remember Tom calling my name I pretended I did not hear him. He looked over and I was like ‘Oh God.’ Over my career I wasn’t really an offensive type guy. Part of me was praying someone would have scored earlier to just end it, but part of me was thinking I actually want a chance at this.”

Malik’s shootout goal encapsulates the spirit of the unlikely hero. A reminder of the underdog moments of triumph hockey can create.

Depth defensemen and bottom-six forwards are often overlooked and viewed as replaceable players, but the ‘Malik Deke’ was another reminder how talented each NHL player is despite their role on any team.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY FAVORITE GOAL
McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final
Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Senators’ Bobby Ryan to enter NHL/NHLPA player assistance program

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The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced Wednesday morning that Ottawa Senators forward Bobby Ryan will be stepping away from the team indefinitely while he enters the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program.

The league and union said in a release there “will be no further comment at this time.” The Senators are in Montreal to face the Canadiens Wednesday night.

Ryan did not play Tuesday night in Detroit, one day after he left practice early. Senators head coach D.J. Smith said the forward wasn’t feeling well, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

“Bobby is an important member of the Ottawa Senators family and he has our full support as he tends to this matter,” said Senators GM Pierre Dorion.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Panarin continuing to deliver for Rangers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

A strong offensive season for Artemi Panarin in his first year on Broadway may go to waste if the Rangers don’t find a way to get themselves into the playoffs. But this year is a transition one for the franchise, as they incorporate new faces and plenty of youth in hopes of making big strides in the future.

Panarin’s done all he’s been ask to do through 18 games. He leads the Rangers with nine goals and 23 points and has continued to produce in the absence of Mika Zibanejad, who will miss his 10th straight game Wednesday against the Capitals but is expected to return to the lineup soon.

Helping Panarin deliver the bread has been Ryan Strome, who’s second on the team in scoring with six goals and 18 points. The duo have worked together so well that head coach David Quinn isn’t sure he’ll remove Strome from the top line once Zibanejad is healthy.

“Stromer’s a smart player, I think they complement each other well,” Quinn said. “[Panarin] enjoys playing with him. [Jesper] Fast has given that line a little bit of honesty, a little bit of a straight-line approach to the game where those two guys might be a little more East-West. I think the line in general has a good balance to it.”

When the Rangers went free agent shopping in the summer, they had already added to their blue line with the additions of Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox. General manager Jeff Gorton was looking for a difference-maker and Panarin fit that mold perfectly.

[COVERAGE OF RANGERS-CAPITALS BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

“I think the past couple years we’ve been looking for a guy to lean on a little bit,” said Fast, the third part of New York’s top line. “You have a guy who’s always like creating and always is a threat in the offensive zone every time he gets the puck. That’s what we’re getting from him right now.”

Entering Wednesday, Panarin is riding an 11-game point streak (5-12–17) and has gone pointless in only three games this season. He’s been an offensive dynamo for his entire career, hitting at least 74 points in each of his four NHL seasons. His talent makes those around him better, and that’s all the Rangers can ask as they look to develop a lineup that can turn into a consistent winner.

“He challenges you to be better based on how skilled he is,” Strome said. “You want to keep up to him and make plays. It’s been really fun, honestly.”

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Capitals-Rangers from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury and NHL insider Bob McKenzie.

NHL on NBC analyst and 2019 NHL Hockey Fights Cancer ambassador Eddie Olczyk discusses his career and fight with colon cancer in an interview with Kathryn Tappen in a 30-minute special Wednesday at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN following Wednesday Night Hockey. Olczyk was named the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer ambassador earlier this month and November marks Hockey Fights Cancer Month throughout the league. You can watch it live here.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.