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Looks like Canada is sticking with Crosby, Bergeron and Marchand line

If you’ve even lightly followed hockey over the years, you’re probably aware that coaches shuffle their lines quite often.

Still, from the sound of things, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun and others believe that Mike Babcock will stick with the Team Canada line combination of Sidney Crosby and two Boston Bruins (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand).

Considering the star power available to Babcock, that might not seem like the sexiest combination, but sometimes it’s as much about chemistry, communication and cohesive styles.

Apparently this trio was something Babcock’s had in mind for months, and it’s no surprise to see the pairing of Crosby and Bergeron.

The two have been linked since as far back as 2005, and it seems symbolically fitting that a Hockey News story about Bergeron being more or less lucky to be there is a dead link. Bergeron is a nice scorer who also ranks as perhaps the absolute best two-way forward in the NHL.

Marchand, then, is the interesting addition, even considering his familiarity with Bergeron. His inclusion raises eyebrows even with those 37 goals from 2015-16.

“He earned his way on this team with the way he played last season,” Bergeron said, according to TSN. “He took a big step forward. He’s improved year to year, but last season he became truly an elite player in my mind.”

Bergeron and Babcock aren’t the only ones who can see why the talented-yet-pesky winger would be a good fit for such great linemates. Jonathan Toews played up Marchand’s all-around credentials, too, as NHL.com reports.

“He’s out there getting under guys’ skin, but he can make plays,” Toews said. “I played with him at the World Juniors a long time ago and I always knew he had the skill, the offense, but I didn’t know how smart he was, just positionally as well. I can see why he and [Bergeron] play so well together.”

Hey, let’s not kid ourselves either; sticking with Bergeron and Crosby at such a high level wouldn’t hurt Marchand in contract negotiations.

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    The Buzzer: Streaks good and bad around NHL; Leafs turn the page

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    Turning over new Maple Leafs

    One streak did end, although Sheldon Keefe has to hope that his NHL head coaching career will begin with a streak that goes beyond a debut win. The Maple Leafs ended their losing streak at six games by beating the Coyotes 3-1 in their first game after Mike Babcock fired. Read up on that win here.

    From hot streaks to cold

    The Islanders maintained their now-franchise-record breaking point streak of 16 games by beating the Penguins in overtime. In doing so, the Isles are also on a five-game winning streak. The Dallas Stars matched that winning streak with their fifth victory in a row, and are pretty hot in their own right, going 9-0-1 in their last 10 games. They’re also 12-1-1 in their last 14 contests.

    On the other end of the spectrum, the Flames put forth a painful, pitiful effort in dropping their sixth straight loss. The Predators were more competitive in many ways on Thursday, but Nashville has also lost six in a row. Tense times for two teams that expected to be Western Conference contenders.

    Three Stars

    1. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

    Heading into Thursday’s game, Giroux was on a three-game pointless streak, and only had a single point (one goal) over his past six games. The veteran forward exploded with a two-goal, two-assist performance to help the Flyers beat the Hurricanes.

    Giroux’s two assists were primary assists, and his second goal ended up being the game-winner. He even threw in a 17-10 mark on faceoffs for good measure.

    2. Zach Sanford, St. Louis Blues

    Despite a modest 13:19 in ice time on Thursday, Sanford helped lead the charge as the Blues humiliated a flustered Flames team. Sanford scored the game’s first goal (thus getting a GWG) and added three assists during a four-point performance that was almost as impressive as Giroux’s output.

    If you’d prefer handing this star to Jordan Binnington for his 40-save shutout, that’s totally understandable.

    3. Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers

    Florida found itself down 4-0 with less than two minutes remaining in the second period, yet managed to enter the third period down a more palatable 4-2. From there, Ekblad took over, scoring a goal and an assist during the third period, then adding the overtime game-winner to lock up a comeback win for Florida. Like Giroux, Ekblad came into the night’s action on a cold streak, having only managed a goal over seven games.

    For me, Ekblad’s little trot after the OT-GWG breaks the tie with other players who scored three points on Thursday:

    Highlight of the Night

    No doubt about it, that goes Tuukka Rask, whose save rivals Marc-Andre Fleury for the save of the week/month/year. This post has more.

    Benn the Bulldozer

    On a less busy night, Jamie Benn trucking Mark Scheifele than scoring a pretty game-winning goal would be the top dog. It’s at least worth watching:

    Factoids

    • The Panthers have now overcome four-goal deficits to win games twice in 2019-20, joining the 1983-84 Oilers as the only teams to manage such wins twice in the same season, according to NHL PR.
    • Sportsnet notes that the Flames are on a streak of 362:46 without taking a lead, the longest stretch in franchise history. Um, at least they haven’t squandered any leads, then? The Maple Leafs’ run without a lead ended at 446:47 when Tyson Barrie scored the opening goal on Thursday, also according to Sportsnet.
    • Via NHL PR: Cale Makar is the first Avs/Nordiques rookie defenseman to generate at least 15 points in a single month, and sixth overall among the franchise’s defensemen.

    Scores

    BOS 3 – BUF 2
    FLA 5 – ANA 4 (OT)
    NYI 4 – PIT 3 (OT)
    PHI 5 – CAR 3
    CBJ 5 – DET 4
    STL 5 – CGY 0
    VAN 6 – NSH 3
    MIN 3 – COL 2
    TBL 4 – CHI 2
    DAL 5 – WPG 3
    TOR 3 – ARI 1
    SJS 2 – VGK 1 (OT)
    LAK 5 – EDM 1

    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.

    Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

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    If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

    Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

    The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

    That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

    The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

    There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

    Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

    More on Babcock, Leafs:

    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.

    Blues’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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    These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

    By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

    Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

    Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

    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.

    Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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    The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

    By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

    At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

    In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

    When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

    There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

    This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

    Just resounding stuff.

    It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

    Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

    Nov. 23: at San Jose
    Nov. 25: at Anaheim
    Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
    Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
    Dec. 2: at Detroit
    Dec. 3 :at Montreal
    Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
    Dec. 7: at Dallas
    Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
    Dec. 12: at Florida

    As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

    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.