Get your game notes: Kings at Rangers

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the New York Rangers hosting the L.A. Kings on Rivalry Night at 7 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

TOP STORYLINES

• Stanley Cup Final rematch…The Rangers host the Kings tonight in the first meeting at Madison Square Garden since the Rangers staved off elimination in Game 4 (2-1 win) of last season’s Stanley Cup Final. The Kings won the series in Game 5 in LA (3-2 in 2OT; series-clinching goal by Alec Martinez) to capture their 2nd Stanley Cup in the last 3 seasons.

• This is the 2nd and final meeting of the season…In the first meeting, NYR won 4-3 at LA back on Jan. 8th during a stretch where the Rangers had ultimately gone 13-1-0 including a California sweep, winning at ANA, LA & SJ in the same season for the first time in franchise history.

• Contrary to the series last postseason, it was New York, not LA, who overcame a deficit in their first meeting this season for the win…down 2-0 in the 1st, NYR scored 4 unanswered goals…Martin St. Louis is credited with the game winner (LA overcame a 2-goal deficit to win Game 1 & 2 of SCF).

• Presidents’ Trophy outlook: No team in the NHL has more points than the New York Rangers…No team has played fewer games than the Rangers…The Blue Shirts are on the verge of being the first team to reach 100 points this season (their first 100-point season since 2011-12; 109 pts).

• Since the inception of the Presidents’ Trophy in 1985-86, New York has won the award twice, most recently in the 1993-94 season, when they went on to win their last Stanley Cup.

• The last 2 Presidents’ Trophy winners had different postseason fates: the Bruins lost in the second round last season while the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup back in 2013.

• Ultimate goals…The Rangers & Kings each look to become the first team to reach the Stanley Cup Final in consecutive seasons since the Red Wings & Penguins met each other in the Cup Final in 2008 & 2009.

• Late-season surges have been the identity of LA in recent years. In each of the past 3 seasons, they have not clinched a playoff spot until the very end
of the season.

• With 10 games to go last season, LA had 88 points and sat 3rd in the Pacific Division.

• What’s also at stake for LA…The Kings can become the first repeat champ since DET won in 1997 & 1998…on the other end of the spectrum, they could become only the 4th team since the 1967-68 expansion to miss the playoffs the season after winning the Cup, joining CAR (2006-07), NJ (1995-96) & MTL (1969-70).

• Best start in franchise history…The Rangers are challenging their best regular season in franchise history…

• For NYR, the last time they won the Stanley Cup (1993-94) was a record-setting regular season in both wins (52) & points (112), both marks still stand as franchise bests. Here is NYR through 71 games in club history:

• Division title…New York needs 12 points to clinch its 1st division title since 2011-12, when they reached the conference finals, and only 2nd in the last 20 seasons.

• With 4 more points, (potentially a win tonight and at OTT on Thursday), the Rangers would secure their 5th straight postseason appearance – their longest such streak since making 10 consecutive trips from 1978-1987.

• Crunch time for LA: Though the Kings are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, they remain on the outside of the playoff picture with 10 games remaining.

• LA opened its challenging 5-game road trip with a 3-1 win vs. NJ last night.

• Though LA has a poor overall road record this season (13-14-7), they have improved of late going 8-2-1 in their last 11 road contests. The Kings only have 3 home games remaining out of their final 10.

• Rangers rolling…Teams might have longer active winning streaks than the Rangers but the Blue Shirts very well may be the hottest team in the league right now…New York has earned a point in 9 of its last 10 (8-1-1).

• During this 10-game stretch, the Rangers have still yet to allow more than 2 goals in a game and have only allowed 2 twice. This is the first time they have accomplished that since Feb. 20 – March 18, 1971 (12 GP).

• NYR in last 10 games: 11 total goals allowed

• Rangers offensive outburst…The Rangers scored a season-high 7 goals against the Ducks on Sunday night (after scoring 6 total goals in their previous 4 games and only 13 over their previous 8).

• The 7 goals at home were the most by NYR at The Garden since Mar. 6, 2011 (vs. PHI).

RANGERS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Injury alert…The Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, who suffered a vascular injury in his throat on Jan. 31 vs. CAR (and last played on Feb. 2 vs. FLA), was medically cleared to practice with the team last Tuesday.

• The next step in his recovery was skating with the team this morning, his first organized team skate since the injury. If all goes well, Lundqvist will dress for a practice on Wednesday and fly with the club for a 2-game road trip to OTT & BOS. The Rangers return home for a Sunday matinee game against Washington. It is unclear when he will make his first start back.

• Martin St. Louis (NYR) was originally expected to miss 10-14 days after suffering a lower-body injury on Mar. 15 vs. FLA. No update on his status has been given.

• Another variable in the mix which caused Lundqvist to miss practice on Friday is the fact that his wife, Therese, gave birth to their 2nd child, Juli (both girls), that day…Lundqvist posted to his Twitter account after:

“My little girl is here!!…Everyone is doing great. She did not get the memo of me returning to practice today so we’ll try that again. …”

• Rick Nash on Lundqvist, “For sure it will be great to have our leader back. He’s so competitive; that’s why he’s one of the best goalies in the world. Family comes first; that’s for sure. But now we know he will be back.”

• The Rangers have gone 17-3-3 without Henrik Lundqvist

• Winning with Cam: 27-year old undrafted goalie Cam Talbot, in his 2nd NHL season, has started 21 of the 23 total Rangers games since Lundqvist has been out. Sunday night vs. ANA, Talbot stopped 36 of 38 shots
including all 21 in the 2nd & 3rd period.

• Talbot has gone 7-1-1 in his last 9 start: 1.21 GAA, .961 SV%

• Talbot played in the LA game earlier this season: 3 GA on 31 shots

• Talbot this season: 19-7-4, 2.13 GAA (4th in NHL), .929 SV% (2nd in NHL)

• The Rangers lead the league with 11 shutouts on the season, including 5 by Talbot & 5 by Lundqvist. No other Ranger team has had two goalies each record at least 5 shutouts in the same season.

• Jennings Trophy…awarded to goalie (s) of the team with the fewest goals scored against on the season…the Rangers trail the Canadiens by 2 goals in this category for the league lead…

• Typically shared by 2 goalies (min. 25 GP necessary)…oddly enough, since Henrik Lundqvist entered the league in 2005-06, only in his rookie season has another Ranger goalie even played 25 games in a season (Kevin Weekes; 32) – Talbot has played 32 games this season.

KINGS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Marian Gaborik had 2 assists last night in New Jersey. Now in his 14th season, the 33-year-old was the 3rd overall pick in the 2000 draft by MIN. After 8 seasons in MIN, Gaborik played for the Rangers for 3+ seasons (229 pts in 255 games). He has played for the Kings since March of last season when he was traded from CBJ.

• Gaborik led all players last postseason with 14 goals in 26 games, including 2 in the Stanley Cup Final.

• Mike Richards was recalled from Manchester (AHL) over the weekend, and he played for the Kings last night (0 points, 11:41 TOI) for the first time since Jan. 21st (missed 24 games).

• Richards was waived and subsequently sent to the minors in late January (14 points in 16 AHL games). His last game for Manchester was March 8, and he had since been in Southern California for on and off-ice tests to establish a baseline for his conditioning.

• Richards is in the 7th year of a 12-year/$69 million deal through 2020 (cap hit 5.75M).

• Richards, a 2-time Cup Champion with LA, has been with the Kings since the start of the 2011-12 season.

• LA has struggled to get goal-scoring from captain Dustin Brown. The Ithaca, NY, native has seen his goal production decline in every season since scoring 28 goals in 2010-11.

• He has just 10 goals in 72 games this season (on pace for his lowest total since his rookie season in
2003-04), including 15 straight without a goal (only 1 assist in that span).

• Anze Kopitar factored in all 3 Kings goals last night with 1 goal & 2 assists. He has led the team in scoring each of the past 7 seasons & once again leads LA with 57 points this season.

• Kopitar has points in 3 straight games and 12 points overall in his last 10 games.

• Andrej Sekera scored for the first time as a King last night – he opened the game’s scoring with a goal in the 1st.

• In 12 games w/ LA since being acquired from CAR, Sekera has 3 pts (1G-2A) while averaging 18:42 TOI/G.

• Alec Martinez (concussion) played his first game since Feb. 7th last night (missed 19 games). He had 3 shots on goal and registered 16:23 TOI.

• Martinez scored the Stanley-Cup winning goal last year against the Rangers in double overtime of Game 5.

• Jonathan Quick ranks t-2nd in the NHL with 62 starts this season. Since Feb. 7, his numbers are far more impressive than they were over the first half of the season including 19 saves on 20 shots last night at NJ.

Previewing the 2019-20 Toronto Maple Leafs

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Worse, but things could have been much worse considering their cap crunch — and also the rather obvious need for Nazem Kadri to get a change of scenery.

Ultimately, it’s still a step back to replace Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Jake Gardiner, Connor Brown, Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, etc. with Alexander Kerfoot, Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Jason Spezza, and so on. That doesn’t mean that the end result has to be a step backward, but it’s a minor stumble on paper.

Strengths: Yes, the Maple Leafs are paying top dollar for Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and now Mitch Marner. It just so happens that they’re more or less worth that money; fans of NHL teams have just become conditioned to see these types of guys making less than they should, thanks to the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sidney Crosby.

With Morgan Rielly and now Barrie, the Maple Leafs have some pretty potent options as far defensive scoring goes, although things get sketchy once you reach beyond the best options.

Frederik Andersen is also one of the best goalies in the NHL, and can sometimes will the Maple Leafs into games when their defense is cratering and their offense is cold.

Weaknesses: If Andersen gets hurt or struggles, the Maple Leafs’ backup options sure seem pretty dicey. Such a thought might prompt the team to wear Andersen out even if he plays well and stays healthy.

Depth on defense is a bit of a challenge, too.

Frankly, it’s tough to ignore Mike Babcock as someone who might be holding the Maple Leafs back. It’s not always huge decisions, but the conservative leaning can be a death by a thousand cuts. Not giving Auston Matthews enough minutes. Falling in love with old-school defensemen who, frankly, aren’t very good. It all adds up to a Maple Leafs setup that sometimes doesn’t feel fully optimized. I’m not convinced Babcock is a “bad” coach, yet like a lot of others, he has some bad habits.

[MORE: X-factor | Three Questions | Under Pressure]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): It’s usually not the best sign when you end a season needing a vote of confidence from your GM. Babcock came to Toronto with a big reputation and an even bigger contract, making it slightly awkward to fire him, but despite all of the personnel improvements the Maple Leafs have made, they still haven’t won a playoff series since 2003-04. Some of that comes down to facing tough opponents, including being tormented by the Boston Bruins, but patience is wearing thin. Put Babcock at a 9.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Tyson Barrie.

Marner got his wish with a contract that carries close to an $11 million cap hit; now it’s time for him to silence his doubters by showing that he’s worth that asking price. Fair or not, any cold streak will be magnified.

Nylander’s near-$7M AAV looks a whole lot better months later, but that doesn’t mean that Maple Leafs fans have totally “forgiven” him for a bumpy 2018-19 season once he actually signed. His hair choices will also be fascinating to watch.

Barrie brings a lot of skill to the table, and should have plenty of motivation in a contract year. That said, he also has his warts on defense; Maple Leafs fans and media tend to fixate on such mistakes, and it remains to be seen if Barrie will finish 2019-20 with a high standing among hockey folk.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs, and another Round 1 exit won’t be acceptable. That might mean finally scaling the mountain that is the Boston Bruins. Even if Toronto draws someone like the Lightning or revamped Panthers, chances are it won’t be an easy challenge, yet people won’t be very interested in excuses — even good ones — if this season ends just like the last few.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Worse, and objectively, with far fewer former Rangers. It’s tough to shake the impression that the Lightning’s fixation on Rangers was an Yzerman thing, as Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi, J.T. Miller, Ryan Callahan are all out.

Some losses hurt more than others, of course, and some change was inevitable. Really, the biggest omission would be Brayden Point if he misses any regular season games waiting for a new contract.

Also, the Lightning did mitigate some of their losses with another former Ranger: Kevin Shattenkirk. The Bolts lost some firepower this offseason, but still made savvy moves, especially if Curtis McElhinney continues to be a diamond in the rough as a strong veteran backup goalie.

Strengths: With Point, Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos, the Lightning deploy some of the most powerful offensive players in the NHL, and Victor Hedman provides elite offense from the backend. They’ve also done a marvelous job unearthing overlooked talents to buttress those more obvious stars, with Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph being the latest examples. It’s pretty easy to see why Miller was expendable, even beyond cap reasons.

The Lightning also figure to have a dependable, if not outright fantastic, goalie duo in Andrei Vasilevskiy and McElhinney.

Weaknesses: That said, there have been times when Vasilevskiy has been a bit overrated, although last season’s Vezina win was fair enough.

 

The Lightning remain a bit weak on the right side of their defense, and some would argue that this team is too small to stand up to the rigors of the playoffs. I’m more concerned with the former issue than the latter, personally speaking.

Generally, you have to strain a bit to emphasize the negative with this team, though.

[MORE: Cooper under pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Jon Cooper is one of the NHL’s brighter coaches, but he’s not perfect. Could he have settled the Lightning down during that sweep, particularly to maybe keep Kucherov from losing his cool and get suspended? Either way, expectations are high, and blame will skyrocket if the Lightning fall short again. Let’s put it at a seven.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Sergachev, Shattenkirk, and Point.

Remember when people constantly teased the Canadiens about the Sergachev – Jonathan Drouin trade? That mockery has died down as Sergachev’s been brought along slowly in Tampa Bay. Could this be a year of big progress for a defenseman with intriguing offensive skills?

Shattenkirk was a flop for the Rangers, but deserves something of a mulligan for at least 2017-18, when he clearly wasn’t healthy. If handled properly, he could be a budget boon for the Lightning; that said, his potential for defensive lapses could also make it awkward to hang with Cooper.

Whether Point enters the season with a contract or finds his negotiations linger into when the games count, there will be more eyes on him than ever.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs, and lofty expectations for a deep run.

Frankly, I’d argue that the Lightning should have been more aggressive in resting their stars when it was abundantly clear that they were about 20 steps ahead of everyone else. If they’re in a similar position in 2019-20, maybe they’ll try that out? For many, anything less than a Stanley Cup win will be perceived as a failure for the Lightning. Few teams carry such expectations, but then again, few teams are this loaded in an age of salary cap parity.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

Salary cap economics squeezing out NHL’s middle class

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Stanley Cup-winning experience isn’t worth what it used to be. Neither is experience of any kind.

As NHL teams move toward paying their stars more money and relying on young players to fill the gaps, hockey’s middle class is being squeezed out. Veterans like 2018 Washington Capitals playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly are finding it increasingly difficult to land guaranteed contracts and are often forced to go to training camp on professional tryout agreements, which cover potential injuries at camp and not much else.

Hockey perhaps more than any other professional sport has put a premium on veteran players over the years. Guys who have been there before, have some grey in their beards and are valued at least as much for team chemistry in the locker room as they are for what they do on the ice.

Adding the salary cap in 2005 began the process of devaluing these so-called ”glue guys” because there is only so much money to go around. This year, that cap is $81.5 million for a team and there is no wiggle room – teams are not allowed to play if they are over the limit.

”It’s sad because these veteran players are monumental to the team,” St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. ”Especially these guys that have won, too, like Devante Smith-Pelly. He’s been in every situation. He’s a guy that you’d want to have because he’s going to help and he’s been in these situations. When it comes around again, it’s not going to faze him.”

Smith-Pelly and Andrew MacDonald in Calgary, Troy Brouwer in Florida, Matt Read in Toronto and Drew Stafford in Minnesota are among the experienced NHL players on camp tryouts this year. Even more are settling for one-year, prove-it contracts like 2019 Cup winner Patrick Maroon (31 years old) and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (30) with Tampa Bay, Derick Brassard (31) with the New York Islanders, defenseman Ben Hutton (26) with Los Angeles and forward Riley Sheahan (27) with Edmonton.

Shattenkirk went from making $7 million last season with the Rangers to a one-year contract worth $1.75 million.

”There’s something for me to prove,” Shattenkirk said. ”I think I have a huge chip on my shoulder right now.”

This is all related to how the salary cap is managed.

Across the league, there are 32 players who chew up 10% or more of his team’s $81.5 million salary-cap space – with more potentially on the way when Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen and Winnipeg’s Patrick Laine sign deals. For example, Connor McDavid accounts for over 15% of Edmonton’s cap space.

It is a trend that shows the value of elite talent but it means there is less money to go around for complementary players who are not on entry-level contracts. A handful of players also have expressed concern that restricted free agents are making more out of their entry-level contracts than ever before, further scrambling available money for support players.

”Teams, they want to take a shot on a young guy that has got an upside they see,” O’Reilly said. ”It’s tough because there’s so many good players out there that aren’t getting jobs because of it.”

Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, 31, and Patrick Kane, 30, eat up almost 26% of the Blackhawks’ cap space. They combined to win the Stanley Cup three times, but their deals and rich ones given to defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook tend to be blamed for a lack of depth in Chicago, which has missed the playoffs the past two seasons.

Toews said he understands the economics of the league aren’t getting any easier for players as they get older.

”It’s tough,” Toews said. ”It just goes to show you can’t take anything for granted, even though you’ve been in the league or you’re a proven player at this level. You start getting into your 30s … you realize that the league’s only going to get younger, it’s only going to get stronger, it’s only going to get better.”

It’s not just older players, either. Smith-Pelly is 27, Joe Morrow is 26 and trying to make the Rangers and fellow defenseman Alex Petrovic is 27 as a long shot to get a contract with Boston.

Grinding forward Garnet Hathaway played the past two seasons on one-year deals in Calgary making under $1 million each year. He went into free agency a bit nervous but was able to land a four-year, $6 million contract and some security with the Capitals, who also signed Brendan Leipsic to a one-year deal and Richard Panik for four years after each player had bounced around the league.

”Contracts are hard to come by in this league,” Hathaway said. ”It’s such a competitive league. Guys I know personally that have gone through it, they’re some of the most competitive guys. It’s guys who have played in this league a long time and have great careers. You wish them the best of luck, but it’s competitive.”

Sabres’ Brandon Montour out rest of preseason with hand injury

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour will miss the remainder of training camp because of a hand injury and it’s uncertain whether he’ll be ready for the start of the season in two weeks.

The Sabres released no details of Montour’s injury on Thursday.

The team said it will provide an update on his status at the end camp. It’s unclear when Montour was hurt after he logged more than 17 minutes in a 4-1 preseason loss at Columbus on Tuesday.

Montour is a fourth-year NHL player and projected to play a top-four role on Buffalo’s blue line. He was acquired in a trade with Anaheim in February.

Buffalo will start the season minus defensemen Zach Bogosian and Lawrence Pilut, who are recovering from offseason surgery.

The Sabres also announced forward Scott Wilson and defenseman Casey Fitzgerald are listed day to day with lower body injuries.