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Babcock rips the Leafs: ‘That effort and the execution … it’s unacceptable’

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TORONTO (AP) The Columbus Blue Jackets used a big third period to topple the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Brandon Dubinsky scored two goals and Brandon Saad added a goal and assist and the Blue Jackets beat the Maple Leafs 5-1 on Wednesday night.

Matt Calvert had a goal and two assists Oliver Bjorkstrand had a goal and assist for Columbus.

Sergei Bobrovsky made 26 saves for the Blue Jackets.

“We knew after the first that we needed to be much better,” Saad said.

“Bob (Bobrovsky) kept us in it pretty much the whole first period and throughout the game. They took it to us and we knew we had to be better in the second, limit our turnovers and create chances off of their turnovers and that’s what we did.”

Morgan Rielly scored for the Leafs, who can finish no higher than 29th place overall in the league.

Garret Sparks made 27 saves for Toronto.

Now solely alone in last place after Edmonton’s win against Vancouver, Toronto will have either the best odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick (20 percent) or the second-best odds (13.5 percent).

The Leafs haven’t had the No. 1 overall pick since 1985 when they selected Wendel Clark from the Saskatoon Blades.

The Leafs, who have two games remaining, can still finish with more points than the Oilers, though a tie would have Edmonton finish higher.

“I see where people are coming from,” Leafs center Tyler Bozak said of lottery implications before the game. “Obviously (fans) want the No. 1 pick and if you lose you’ve got a better chance of getting it so I see what people are saying. But within our room there’s not one guy in here who wants to lose.”

Entering the game having lost six of nine, the Blue Jackets scored three goals in about four minutes in the third to seal the victory.

“We ended up creating a couple turnovers, got us a couple goals to go up 2-1 and I thought we made some pretty good offensive plays to score some others,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said.

Columbus got off to a slow start and didn’t land its first shot until more than 12 minutes had gone by in the opening period.

Becoming the 46th player to suit up for the Leafs this season, Sam Carrick had the best chance early for Toronto, which controlled much of the first-period play. Carrick was found open in the slot by veteran Brad Boyes, but his shot attempt was stopped by Bobrovsky.

The 24-year-old was recalled from the AHL Toronto Marlies on Wednesday morning on an emergency basis, replacing Rich Clune.

The shots were 6-1 favoring the Leafs with about six minutes remaining in the first. With goals in the two previous games, including a pair in a Monday loss to Florida, Colin Greening had a terrific chance to score again late in the period. The 30-year-old had all kinds of space and time in the high slot, but his shot turned down by the Blue Jackets goaltender.

Due to be a restricted free agent this summer, Rielly opened the scoring with his career-high ninth goal this season. The 22-year-old has also posted career bests with 27 assists and 36 points. Rielly was fed short-handed by 20-year-old Frederik Gauthier, his blazing wrist shot beating Bobrovsky high blocker-side.

It was the first short-handed goal in Rielly’s three-year NHL career.

“It’s too bad,” Rielly said of the losing effort in the final home game of the year. “I think we wanted to come out and really have a good game here on home ice for the fans, but I don’t think we really accomplished that.”

Saad tied it less than 10 minutes later on an error by 19-year-old Leafs rookie Kasperi Kapanen. Nearly scoring his first NHL goal half a minute earlier, Kapanen turned the puck over at the Blue Jackets blue line, springing a Columbus counter-attack.

Saad blew past the Toronto defense and sent a shot through the pads of Sparks. It was his 29th goal this season, increasing a career high.

Another Leafs turnover helped the Blue Jackets to the lead late in the second. T.J. Brennan‘s backhand passing attempt was picked off just outside the Toronto blue line leading to another counter for Columbus. Dubinsky finished the scoring play, roofing a shot past the glove of the Leafs goaltender.

Columbus turned the game into a blowout midway through the third. Bjorkstrand and Calvert scored less than a minute apart, joined three minutes after that by Dubinsky, who has 17 goals this season – his most in four seasons with the Blue Jackets.

Toronto coach Mike Babcock thought the mistakes would be a good primer for many of the young players in Toronto’s lineup who would soon rejoin the AHL’s Toronto Marlies for the Calder Cup playoffs.

“You turn pucks over, you don’t play well without it, it ends up in your net,” Babcock said. “You turn the puck over you can’t win. It’s impossible. The message should be loud and clear.”

The Leafs saluted fans in attendance after the defeat, also lingering on the ice afterward to sign autographs and pose for photos.

Toronto will pick no lower than fifth at the June draft in Buffalo after selecting London Knights forward Mitch Marner with the fourth overall pick last summer.

“There’s lots of good things that are going on in the organization,” Babcock said. “But tonight wasn’t one of those things though, so let’s not kid ourselves. That effort and the execution of that effort is not good enough and it’s unacceptable.

“There’s lots of really positive things that have gone on. I wouldn’t call tonight one of them.”

PHT Morning Skate: Sabres’ hot start; Coaches on hot seat

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Matt Dumba and Haydn Fleury got a tattoo to honor a friend that committed suicide. (NHL.com)

• Players and coaches deserve credit for the Buffalo Sabres hot start. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Former NHLer Chris Joseph is still fighting for the victims of the Humboldt bus crash. (The Hockey News)

Ryan O'Reilly will need to be more selfish if he wants to find the back of the net more often. (In the Slot)

• Seattle hockey fans will have to pay a high price to watch their team play in person. (Seattle Times)

• Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog sat down for a Q & A with ESPN.com. (ESPN)

Patrick Kane believes, Kirby Dach and Dylan Strome can build chemistry together. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• 32-year-old pending unrestricted free agent Nicklas Backstrom still feels young. (Nova Caps Fans)

• Sam Gagner is still trying to stick in the NHL. (Sportsnet)

• Canadian NHL markets have seen their attendance numbers drop early on this season. (Sporting News)

• How long can the Penguins continue playing the way they’re currently playing and how will they integrate their injured players back into the lineup? (Pensburgh)

• Jets head coach Paul Maurice admitted that he steals from each one of the coaches in the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Here’s how the zamboni changed the game for ice rinks all over the world. (Smothsonianmag.com)

• Which coaches are on the hot seat right now? (Scotty Wazz)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Eichel explodes for Sabres; More history for Caps’ Carlson

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Three Stars

1. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

The Sharks ended the first period up 2-0 against the Sabres, so it took quite the surge from Eichel & Co. to win that one 4-3 in OT.

Eichel was involved in all four of Buffalo’s goals, scoring two goals and two assists. That included the game-winner in overtime for the Sabres. The American-born forward ended the night with six shots on goal, a +2 rating, and went 12-10 on faceoffs.

The 22-year-old went two games without a point, but he’s still off to a hot start in 2018-19, as Tuesday pushed Eichel’s totals to 14 points in 10 games.

2. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Minnesota’s showing some signs of life with a two-game winning streak, but some of the joy was muted thanks to Devan Dubnyk leaving the game with an injury after a bad collision.

As ominous as that seems, it has to be a relief for the Wild to see Eric Staal finally have a breakthrough night on Tuesday. Staal scored two goals (including the 1-0 tally, thus the game-winner) and an assist, with those two goals being Staal’s first of the season. The 34-year-old’s been a revelation in Minnesota (peaking with 42 goals and 76 points in 2017-18), and he seemed to give the Wild a pretty sweet deal with his latest contract. Well, it’s a sweet deal if Staal’s game doesn’t sink too much; otherwise, you wonder if they’d be better off moving on and getting younger.

Anyway, this was a nice overall effort from Staal, who also had a +2 rating, five SOG, and went 8-7 on draws.

3. Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks

Like the Sabres, the Canucks fell behind early on Tuesday. The Red Wings opened up a 2-0 lead against Vancouver, only for the Canucks to explode with five unanswered goals in the third period.

Horvat contributed three of those goals. While Staal gets the higher star because all of his points came against a goalie (Horvat’s third tally was an empty-netter), it was still a strong night from Horvat.

Similarly to Staal, Horvat came into Tuesday on a quiet start, as Horvat only had two goals and one assists for three points through eight contests. He managed his first career NHL hat trick on Tuesday, pushing him to six points in nine games.

Highlight of the Night

It was already covered here (alongside a fun blooper), but it has to be David Pastrnak‘s between-the-legs goal, right?

Factoids

  • John Carlson cemented his spot alone atop the NHL’s scoring leaders list by generating two goals, pushing him to 20 points on the season as Washington beat Calgary. NHL PR points out some impressive history for Carlson, including that he joined Bobby Orr (twice) and wonderfully old-timey-named Baldy Northcott (in 1932-33) as the only defensemen to lead the league outright in scoring through 20 days. Carlson reached 20 points in 11 games, tying Orr (in 1974-75) as the second-fastest surge to 20 points for a defenseman. Only Paul Coffey hit 20 faster, doing it in 10 games in 1988-89. Sportsnet notes that Carlson’s already off to one of the best Octobers for a defenseman, and the Capitals have three more games left in the month.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury earned his 446th NHL win, breaking a tie with Terry Sawchuk for seventh all-time. Henrik Lundqvist is at sixth with 450, while Curtis Joseph ranks at fifth with 454. It should be interesting to see if MAF ends up higher than Lundqvist when they’re both done — which hopefully isn’t anytime soon.
  • Sabres wunderkind Rasmus Dahlin has 10 points through his first 10 games, landing on a short list of defensemen who managed such a short at 20 years old or younger. Another Sabres stat: Eichel scored his sixth overtime goal, already tying the franchise record at 22.

Scores

BOS 4 – TOR 2
BUF 4 – SJS 3 (OT)
FLA 4 – PIT 2
ARI 3 – NYR 2 (OT)
VAN 5 – DET 2
NSH 6 – ANA 1
MIN 3 – EDM 0
LAK 3 – WPG 2
VGK 2 – CHI 1 (SO)
WSH 5 – CGY 3

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• 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.

Two goals, two extremes: Pastrnak beauty and Murray blunder

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You don’t often hear the phrase “keep your eyes on the puck.” Greg Wyshynski basically wrote a hockey book about watching how things develop away from the puck, for instance.

Tuesday presented one great highlight reel moment, and one for the bloopers, and you may note that the key figures involved either kept their eye(s) on the puck or couldn’t quite manage it.

To start, you have Boston Bruins star David Pastrnak in the moment that will probably linger in the memories of more hockey fans beyond Tuesday. After being robbed of an impressive goal thanks to an offside review early against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pastrnak made a tremendous between-the-legs move to score for Boston, and add to his gaudy goal-scoring start.

Also notice that Pastrnak was able to keep his eye on the puck as it went into the net, as he gestured as such while others seemed bewildered — maybe by him being audacious enough to make that move.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray. He allowed a goal he’ll undoubtedly want back against Noel Acciari of the Florida Panthers, and it’s about as close to hockey’s version of “losing a baseball in the lights” as I think you’ll see:

It’s hard not to feel for Murray there, and one cannot help but feel pity for any goalie facing Pastrnak lately.

Pastrnak’s Bruins ended up beating the Maple Leafs 4-2, while Murray’s Penguins fell 4-2 to the Panthers.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• 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.

NHL over/under: How many goals will Pastrnak, Neal finish with?

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Entering play on Tuesday night David Pastrnak (Boston) and James Neal (Edmonton) sit on top of the NHL’s goal scoring leaderboard with nine goals each. They have been two of the hottest players in the league to start the season and are in action on Tuesday looking to increase their lead.

Pastrnak’s climb to the top isn’t all that surprising given how good he has been the past few years. He is coming off of his third consecutive 30-goal season and is part of one the league’s top lines alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. He scored 38 goals in just 66 games last season, a pace that would have had him pushing the 50-goal mark had he stayed healthy. Including his start this season, he has scored 52 goals in his last 82 regular season games played dating back to the end of the 2017-18 season.

He is simply one of the best finishers in the league and is just now entering what should be his peak years for offense.

Neal’s early success is a little more surprising.

He has always been a good goal scorer, but was coming off by far his worst season in the league in Calgary, scoring just seven goals in 63 games. He has already blown past that number this season.

With both players pacing the rest of the league so far, let’s try to project what they might be capable of for the entire season.

Let’s start with Pastrnak — As already mentioned, he has a recent track record of being a lethal goal scorer and is surrounded by two elite players in Boston. Their line is driving all of the offense in Boston right now and Pastrnak is at the center of it. He entered the season looking like a lock for at least 35 goals as long as he was able to stay healthy. Nothing he has done so far has shaken that belief. As is the case with most players on a nearly goal-per-game hot streak, he is carrying a shooting percentage well north of 30 percent, a number that is no doubt going to drop as the year goes on. Even the best players don’t shoot above 20 percent (and even that is an outrageously high number for a full year) for a full season, while Pastrnak himself has consistently settled around the 14 percent mark.

So let’s use some simple math here: If Pastrnak maintains his current 3.38 shots per game average (he easily could) and shoots at his normal 14 percent on those shots, that would be an additional 35 goals on top of what he already has this season. That would give him 44 goals, just shy of the pace he was on last year without the injury and that seems like a pretty fair projection.

Can he hit that? Or exceed it? And can he continue to make a run at knocking Alex Ovechkin from his goal scoring throne?

What about Neal? — Everything disappeared for Neal in Calgary last season. His shot volume plummeted, his shooting percentage cratered, he seemed like a player that was just totally out of it and had seen his career wash out. But given his track record there was always a chance he could rebound, and the Oilers are the team that is benefitting from it.

He is back to averaging close to three-and-a-half shots per game (up a full shot from Calgary) and so far is riding the same shooting percentage wave that Pastrnak is in Boston. He also has the added bonus of getting to play on Edmonton’s power play (an area he has always excelled) alongside Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. That is going to help a lot, but not so much that he keeps scoring on 30 percent of his shots.

The Oilers have 72 games remaining on their schedule. With his same shot rate and career average shooting percentage that would put Neal on a 35-goal track for this season, a number that the Oilers would have almost certainly signed up for in the preseason when they made the trade.

Can he get there? Or will he exceed it?

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.