Get your game notes: Kings at Avalanche

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Colorado Avalanche hosting the Los Angeles Kings at 9 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

TOP STORYLINES

• Champs still on the outside: The Kings played well over the past month, posting a 10-3-1 record since February 7th, the date their season-high 8-game win streak began (but they are just 2-3-1 since the streak ended). However, LA is still outside the playoff picture because the 4 teams ahead of them in the race (VAN/CGY in the Pacific, and MIN/WPG in the Wild Card) have also performed well in that span of time:

• Since the 1967-68 expansion, only 3 teams have missed the playoffs the season
after winning the Cup, with Carolina in 2006-07 being the most recent to do so (also 1969-70 Canadiens, 1995-96 Devils).

• What does Vegas think? Entering the season, LA had 10-1 odds to repeat as Cup champions. Now, with 17 games remaining, LA isn’t even in the playoff picture, but the Kings’ odds to win the Stanley Cup remain unchanged at 10-1 (per Vegas Insider and Bovada).

• The Kings are familiar with having an uncertain playoff standing entering the stretch run. In each of the past 3 seasons, they have not clinched a playoff spot until the very end of the season.

• LA’s schedule: Though LA has many games remaining against the teams they are chasing (3 vs. VAN, 1 vs. CGY, 1 vs. MIN), its schedule is road-heavy to close the season (11 away/6 home, including tonight). The Kings have only won one-third of their road games this season (10-14-6 record).

• Semyon’s status: Avs starting goalie Semyon Varlamov is expected to participate in the morning skate today after exiting late in the 3rd period with a lower-body injury in the Avs’ 3-2 win over the Wild on Sunday. Coach Patrick Roy said he might have suffered from cramping. He is questionable for tonight’s game.

• Varlamov had been on a tear for COL, earning the NHL’s Second Star of the Week yesterday following his 3-0-0, 0.69 GAA, .981 SV% total in wins vs. PIT, at CBJ, and at MIN.

• He has also made 22 consecutive starts dating back to Jan. 15, the longest stretch of his career and the 2nd longest active streak in the NHL (Devan Dubnyk has made 24 straight starts for MIN).

• As a precaution, Calvin Pickard was recalled yesterday from Lake Erie (AHL), and would start should Varlamov not be fit to play. Pickard is coming off a 34-save shutout in the minors on Sunday, and set a club record with his 52nd career victory in a Lake Erie uniform.

• Pickard filled in earlier in the season when Varlamov was sidelined with a groin injury, going 6-6-3 with a 2.18 GAA and .936 SV% in his 15 games.

• Colorado staying alive: After a loss to the Rangers on Feb. 12, the Avs had dropped 4 straight in regulation and found themselves nearing playoff irrelevance. Roy set a goal for the team, saying: “We don’t have to look at the standings…it’s 95 [points]” (now would need 24 pts in the final 16 gms)

• The Avs have gone 8-3-0 since that losing streak, including 3 straight wins entering tonight, but are still 7 pts out of the 2nd Wild Card (WPG). They must also pass 3 teams if they want to play past early April.

KINGS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• LA has struggled to get consistent goal-scoring from key veteran forwards of late.

• Captain Dustin Brown has seen his goal production decline in every season since scoring 28 goals in 2010-11. He has just 10 in 65 games this season (on pace for his lowest total since his rookie season in 2003-04), including 8 straight without a goal. Brown has addressed the urgency of the Kings’ current position: “I mean, given the situation we’re in, we have to get better…This group over the years have proven when we need to play really well, we can. Unfortunately, we need to figure out a way to not put ourselves in these situations.”

• Conn Smythe-winner Justin Williams ranks 4th on the team with 16 goals, but he only has 1 goal and 3 points in his last 13 games.

• Anze Kopitar, who has led the Kings in scoring 7 years in a row, only has 2 goals in his last 20 games (though he does have 12 assists in that span).

• Trade deadline acquisition Andrej Sekera has played in 5 gms for LA. He has 0 pts while averaging 18:54 TOI.

• Alec Martinez (concussion) remains out indefinitely after taking a hard hit from Cedric Paquette on Feb. 7 in Tampa Bay. He has missed the last 13 games and has been skating in a no-contact jersey.

• Jonathan Quick ranks 3rd in the NHL with 55 starts this season. He was in net for the 1-0 OTL to PIT on Saturday, stopping 17 of 18 shots in the game.

• In the first Kings-Avs meeting this season (Feb. 18 at COL), Quick stopped 42 shots in a 4-1 LA win.

• Career vs. COL: Quick is 10-4-1 with a 2.43 GAA.

AVS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Captain Gabriel Landeskog has helped keep the Avs playoff hopes alive. After 2 points, including the game-winning goal, on Sunday vs. MIN, Landeskog now has 9 goals and 6 assists in his last 12 games, a significant improvement on his play before this stretch:

• He was the 2nd overall pick in 2011, and became the youngest captain in NHL history (19 years, 286 days) when the Avs gave him the “C” in the 2012 offseason.

• 23-year-old Tyson Barrie (2009 3rd-round pick by COL) leads the team in assists (33) and is 3rd on the team in points (43) – both are career-highs.

• Though he went without a point against MIN, Barrie still has 12 points (4G-8A) in his last 10 games.

• The oldest member of the Avalanche – 37-year-old Jarome Iginla – shares the team lead in scoring with Landeskog (46 pts) after a 2 assist game vs. MIN. That performance extended his point streak to 3 games (2G-2A).

• The Avs announced Friday that 2013 1st overall pick (and last season’s rookie of the year) Nathan MacKinnon had a fractured foot and would miss 6-8 weeks, making him out for at least the rest of the regular season.

• The Avs acquired Jordan Caron and a draft pick at the deadline for Maxime Talbot and Paul Carey. Caron was the 25th overall pick in 2009 by the B’s. The 24-year-old has 0 points in his 3 games with COL, playing on the 2nd line with Iginla and Matt Duchene.

Tough night for Blackhawks in playoff race

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Even though the Western Conference Wild Card race is a jumbled mess where nobody seems determined to want to secure the two spots, and even though the Chicago Blackhawks have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL over the past month, they still have very little margin for error the rest of the way.

That is the punishment for a terrible start to the season and the challenge that is trying to gain all of that ground back in the second half. No matter how well you play in the second half, a bad first half can make it all irrelevant.

That is why Friday was such a tough night for the Blackhawks.

First, they had a head-to-head meeting with the Colorado Avalanche, one of the teams they are in direct competition with for a playoff spot in your classic four-point game in the standings. A regulation win either way would be massive for whatever team ended up getting it, and in this case it turned out to be the Avalanche who came away with a 5-3 win in what was a back-and-forth game.

J.T. Compher‘s goal with just under six minutes to play went in the books as the game-winner for the Avalanche while Carl Soderberg put the game away with his second goal of the game (and 21st of the season) with an empty net goal while the Avalanche were killing off a 6-on-4 disadvantage in the final minutes of regulation.

That leaves now leaves the Avalanche two points ahead of the Blackhawks in the standings while Colorado still has a game in hand.

As if that was not bad enough for the Blackhawks, while they were losing to Colorado the Minnesota Wild were picking two important points against the Detroit Red Wings to move back into the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, sitting one point ahead of the Avalanche and three points ahead of the Blackhawks.

With all of that in the books on Friday night, here are where things stand for the Blackhawks…

They are obviously not out of it by any means because, well, you can see standings and what the current field looks like, but that is not an ideal spot to be in.

The Blackhawks have done well to try and salvage their season and get back into the race, thanks in large part to an incredible run by Patrick Kane (who extended his point streak to 20 games on Friday) and some great play by Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, and Dylan Strome (all of whom also contributed to the offense on Friday), but there are a lot of signs that it is not really a sustainable run and that this team still has a lot of holes.

Elsewhere in this race, this was a huge night for the Avalanche who have now won three in a row and four out of their past five. Their season started to spiral away from them after a white-hot start and it is a near miracle they are still this close to a playoff spot considering they only went 8-17-6 between Dec. 1 and Feb. 12.

The Wild, meanwhile, have lost their captain Mikko Koivu to injury for the rest of the season, have made two trades involving veteran players that have almost certainly made them worse in the short-term, and have only won three of their past 12 games and are still currently in a playoff position.

The Western Conference Wild Card race, folks. It is … something.

Related: Blackhawks are back in playoff race, but are they a serious threat?

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.

Strong debut for Duchene as Blue Jackets dominate Senators

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On Friday morning Matt Duchene took a short walk down the hall from the home locker room in Ottawa, leaving behind the remnants of the Senators roster, and joined his new team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, in the visiting locker room to prepare to be in the lineup later in the day.

For the Blue Jackets, it was a sign that they are trying to push all of their chips to the center of the table and attempt to go all in with what they have this season, perhaps trying to take advantage of what little time they have left with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky before they hit unrestricted free agency this summer.

For the Senators, it was a continuation of their scorched earth rebuild that is only likely to continue in the coming days with the inevitable trades of Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel.

On Friday night, both teams played as one might expect given all of the circumstances as the Blue Jackets rolled to a 3-0 win and, for the time being, returned back to a playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

It was not really a competitive game, either, as the Blue Jackets doubled up the Senators on the shot chart, scored a shorthanded goal, and just completely dominated a young, overmatched lineup.

The Senators, who have already scratched Stone and Dzingel for precautionary reasons in an effort to protect their most valuable trade assets, have been stripped of almost all of their most dangerous offensive weapons over the past year and are a shell of the team that was in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final not even two full years ago. The result in the short-term has been a skeleton roster that has been shutout twice over the past 24 hours and has been outscored by a 7-0 margin during those two games.

Overall it was a successful debut for Duchene with his new team, even if it did not result in him recording a point on the stat sheet.

He spent the night playing on the team’s top line alongside Panarin and Cam Atkinson, while his 19:12 of ice-time was third among Blue Jackets’ forwards. He recorded five total shot attempts, three of which were on goal, while Blue Jackets also held a commanding 16-8 shot attempt advantage and a 12-4 scoring chance advantage when Duchene was on the ice during 5-on-5 play.

Next up for the Blue Jackets will be Duchene’s home debut on Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks. He seems ready for what is ahead of him, telling Brian Hedger of the Columbus-Dispatch on Friday that the Cannon used to celebrate Blue Jackets’ goals “scares the sh*t out of me every time.”

Related: Blue Jackets power up for playoffs by adding Matt Duchene

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.

Penguins ready to enjoy Stadium Series, but focus is on two points

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

PHILADELPHIA — For a number of the Penguins, they can claim “outdoor game veteran” status. Twelve of them have played in at least one Winter Classic or Stadium Series game, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way with four experiences outside.

But Saturday’s Stadium Series meeting with the Philadelphia Flyers will be a business trip for the Penguins, as is most outdoor games for the road team. There are fewer family members around and not as big of a demand for tickets as it was two years ago when these teams played at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. 

The Penguins’ can’t be too concerned with the pomp and circumstance that comes with being involved in an outdoor game. There are two big points on the line as they find themselves tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets on 71 points and relegated to the second Eastern Conference wild card spot due to a tiebreaker.

“We have to approach it the same way we approach every game right now,” said defenseman Kris Letang, who’s played in two outdoor games. “We have 21 games left. Every one of them are really important.”

“This team especially, they’ve had plenty of big games in their time,” said forward Nick Bjugstad, who will be an outdoor game first-timer on Saturday. “You can’t just really look at it as such a big spectacle. Obviously, enjoy the moment, enjoy being lucky enough to be able to play an outdoor game in front of all these people, but at the same time it’s just the same mentality of every game, and the same focus that you should approach. The adrenaline will be going pretty good with all these fans, especially in Philly. I’m sure they’ll be nice and rowdy for us. It’ll be pretty fun.”

After a 4-0 trouncing by the San Jose Sharks Thursday night at home, the Penguins are eager to get back out there and erase the memory of that defeat. The loss put them at 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and flirting with the notion of a playoff-less spring for the first time since the 2005-06 season, Crosby’s rookie year.

The Penguins are aware of their current situation in the standings and head coach Mike Sullivan sees it as an opportunity for his team to embrace. The players certainly understand every game is a chance to clean up the finer details, which could help them in the consistency department going forward.

“We just have to find ourselves. Last game was not our best and we all know it,” said Patric Hornqvist. “I think this is a great opportunity for us to actually have some fun and embrace this atmosphere. [If we] make sure we do the little things right we’re going to come out on the right side.”

MORE 2019 STADIUM SERIES:
Why Scott Gordon chose Elliott over Hart for Stadium Series start
Rain could be an issue for Penguins-Flyers Stadium Series game
Scott Hartnell Q&A

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage on-site in Philadelphia alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick.

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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.

Why Scott Gordon chose Elliott over Hart for Stadium Series start

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

PHILADELPHIA — Through Scott Gordon’s four-minute explanation as to why Brian Elliott will start Saturday’s Stadium Series game against the Pittsburgh Penguins over Carter Hart you could feel how tough of a decision it was for him.

Having coached Hart at AHL Lehigh Valley until both were promoted on the same day back in December following the firing of Dave Hakstol, Gordon has seen Hart’s growth as a professional on two levels now. 

Since the recall of Hart and “interim” tag put on Gordon, the Flyers have taken 35 out of a possible 60 points to put themselves just in a bit of a race for an Eastern Conference wild card spot. Those postseason hopes, however, took a big hit this week with back-to-back losses to Tampa Bay and Montreal this week, leaving them seven points back with 21 games to go.

Hart had to be pulled in both games with Elliott impressing the head coach in relief.

“The hard part [is] if I had to go with my heart, 100 percent, the easy decision is to pick Carter,” Gordon said Friday after the Flyers’ practice at Lincoln Financial Field. “I think the world of him. I’ve been so impressed with how he’s been able to come up here and play, and it really bothered me to have to make the final decision as to not playing him. Two weeks ago it was looking like that was going to be the decision.”

Hart was disappointed, but understood Gordon’s choice of playing Elliott.

“For sure, you want to play. You want to play every game,” Hart said. “Right now, even though it’s an outdoor game, it’s a crucial two points for us. The last two games I haven’t been at my best and Brian’s done a good job coming in relief both times. It is what it is, you can’t control that. What you can control is how you respond to it. 

“It’s disappointing, but you’ve got to approach it the right way and can’t let it set you back. You’ve just got to come back ready to work and we’ve got a lot of hockey coming up and that’s where the focus is at.”

When Gordon broke the news to Hart on Friday, he made sure to emphasize just how valuable the 20-year-old netminder has been to the Flyers. He was called up during a rough time in the season and carrying the expectations that he was the franchise’s “goalie of the future.” He’s exceeded those expectations so far and has played himself into the Calder Trophy conversation while helping the team make a late-season charge at the playoffs.

Gordon wanted to choose Hart as Saturday’s starter, but approached the decision as if it were any other regular season game. If any of his goalies were pulled two games in a row he was going to switch it up for that third game. Outdoor game or not, he was making his choice in the best interest of the team at the moment.

“This game on Saturday, we’re looking at Moose [Elliott] the way he played the last two games, he’s played really well, and if he’s able to get us a win [Saturday], when it’s all said and done it’s about what’s going to get us into the playoffs and that would be the first step,” Gordon said. “Does he give us the best chance? Based on performance right now, yeah. If we base it on performance from a week ago or last Sunday, we’re probably talking about Carter. Right now, given the way it’s gone, I just felt like I wanted to give our team the best chance for Saturday to win.”

(You could ponder the thought that this is a way for the Flyers to showcase a healthy Elliott before Monday’s NHL trade deadline.)

Elliott found out he was starting just before the Flyers took to the ice late Friday afternoon. He had missed two months due to a lower-body injury and worked himself back, which included a brief AHL stint.

After how the last two games went, the 33-year-old Elliott wasn’t sure what Gordon’s decision would ultimately be. He would have been happy just to play a backup role and sit on the bench. Now he’ll be between the pipes in front of 70,000 fans under the lights.

“Going back and getting a chance to play these last two games and feeling good about it and feeling good about my game, I know it was a tough decision to make,” Elliott said. “[Hart] was a big part of getting this team to this situation that we’re in and chasing a playoff spot right now. It’s a tough decision. I don’t envy that has to make it.

“For me, you just have to put all those things to the side and try to enjoy the moment and go out there and try to be the best for the guys in front of you.”

MORE 2019 STADIUM SERIES:
Penguins ready to enjoy Stadium Series, but focus is on two points
Rain could be an issue for Penguins-Flyers Stadium Series game
Scott Hartnell Q&A

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage on-site in Philadelphia alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick.

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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.